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January 19 2012

15:20

How Social Media, Collaboration Fueled Reports on Australia's Refugees

An innovative Australian public journalism project has partnered student reporters and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with a refugee support agency and a social media startup.

The aim of the project, #ReportingRefugees, was to tackle problematic media coverage of asylum seekers and refugees in a volatile political climate in parallel with educating students to connect with a "citizens' agenda." The result was a student takeover of the airwaves in Australia's national capital and a fundamental shift in attitudes.

MediaShift correspondent Julie Posetti anchored the project at the University of Canberra where she teaches journalism. This is the first in her two-part series on #ReportingRefugees.

Problem: Divisive & Xenophobic National Debate

For the past 15 years, racist and xenophobic political memes have dominated public discussion of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, with asylum seekers who arrive by boat demonized as threatening aliens by politicians whose divisive messages are fanned and fed by inflammatory headlines and tabloid TV.

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In this climate, and on the back of involvement in a substantial national research project on the reporting of multiculturalism (which led to me theorizing about the potential transformative impact of minority encounters on journalists), I decided to embark on a public journalism project with my final-year University of Canberra broadcast journalism students.

The end result was two hours of radio journalism, fueled by collaboration and social media, that gave a much-needed voice to refugees, a better understanding for the public of the complicated issues surrounding them, and important lessons for those of us working on the project.

Journalism Partnerships For Change

#ReportingRefugees was built on partnerships that I forged with 666 ABC Canberra, the ABC's radio station in the Australian capital; Canberra Refugee Support, the city's best-known organization for refugees and asylum seekers; OurSay, an innovative crowdsourcing startup; and the School of Music at the Australian National University, also based in Canberra.

Reporting Refugees CRS.jpg

I made my first approach to CRS, and their initial response reflected the impact of xenophobic political campaigns and media stereotyping: They were reluctant to get involved. CRS President Geoff McPherson said concerns about resourcing the project were also paramount. But I persisted, pursuing meetings and arguing the merits of interventions in journalism education and public journalism approaches in tackling problematic reporting of marginalized communities. The proposal was for CRS to facilitate contact between student journalists and asylum seeker-refugee clients and provide advice on relevant policy and community programs, with the aim of minimizing any potential harm to vulnerable interviews and assisting in the development of culturally intelligent reporting on a complex and often poorly reported issue.

Ultimately, just a fortnight before the project kicked off, CRS agreed to participate. "The judgment of the CRS board was that the potential return on this project far outweighed the risks and (we) decided to proceed," McPherson said, reflecting on the project at its conclusion.

Collaborating with Australia's Public Broadcaster

By contrast, the ABC was keen to be involved from the outset. They were even prepared to hand over two hours of airtime on their main Canberra radio station to the students. They agreed to allow the students -- under the joint editorial supervision of the ABC, me and my tutors -- to report, produce and present a radio special devoted to #ReportingRefugees which was scheduled for broadcast on November 27 last year -- three months from the start of the project.

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Jordie Kilby, ABC 666 Canberra content director, explained the network's motivation for involvement: "We hoped for an insightful look at the local community of refugees living in the Canberra region; we wanted to build on our relationships with local refugees and asylum seekers and the community groups that help and support them. We also hoped the project would give us an opportunity to look at some future journalists and their ideas and work."

Original Student Compositions Score #ReportingRefugees

By this stage, my ANU School of Music collaborator, Jonathan Powles, had agreed to offer his students the opportunity to produce original scores to accompany my journalism students' stories. Apart from being an interesting cross-disciplinary education collaboration and a potentially rewarding creative merger for broadcaster, teachers and students alike, the provision of original music for the planned radio program meant that the ABC would also be able to podcast the show. (Copyright laws in Australia prevent the podcasting of commercial music broadcast on radio.)

Giving Citizens a Say

Finally, I decided to approach OurSay -- a Melbourne startup which partners with media organizations, universities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to crowdsource questions designed to address the "citizens' agenda." They jumped at the chance to be involved, and we launched the project's OurSay page which asked the public to identify the questions they most wanted answered by a panel of experts on asylum seeker-refugee policy during the ABC broadcast.

OurSay's CEO, Eyal Halamish, explained the role of the platform in the project: "Especially on such a contentious issue as that of refugees and asylum seekers, where the mainstream media latch onto sensationalist, short-termist news instead of taking a broader view, a social tool such as OurSay can help set the agenda more effectively and help express what the public feels about an issue, as sourced from their own questions and comments." It worked like this: Over the course of a month, OurSay users were asked to submit the questions they most wanted put to the panel, and the top five questions were selected by popular vote on the site.

The #ReportingRefugees Curriculum

With these #ReportingRefugees building blocks in place, I was able to finalize the structure of the project within the syllabus. This was no easy task! Trying to balance learning outcomes and university assessment policies against real-world media deadlines is always tricky. But doing so on a project seeking to break new ground through multiple public journalism partnerships, on a complex and sensitive reporting assignment, proved to be the most challenging teaching project I've ever been involved with. Fortunately, it also emerged as the most rewarding experience of my journalism education career.

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#ReportingRefugees became the foundation of the Advanced Broadcast Journalism unit (a class of 50 students) I convene at UC. I gave lectures on public journalism (featuring the work of professor Jay Rosen and others) and reporting trauma in the social media age. I also devoted a lecture to a live Skype interview with the ABC's South East Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, whose beat includes the massive refugee camps and asylum seeker communities of that region.

The major assessment required students to work in reporting duos networked via loosely themed production units, on original, long-form audio or audio/video stories about refugees-asylum seekers (or policies and programs pertaining to them) which would compete for selection in the final radio program. Additionally, they had to produce images and text to accompany their stories for online publication. They were encouraged to speak with, not just about, refugees-asylum seekers and to explore personal stories and angles that the media had largely overlooked. Some reporting duos were assigned to refugee-asylum seeker families and community services facilitated by CRS, while others independently identified stories and sources.

Assessing Audience Engagement and Reflective Practice

Additionally, the students were required to maintain Twitter feeds (with a focus on community building around content, crowdsourcing and content distribution) as part of an "audience engagement" assessment. They also needed to participate in Facebook groups dedicated to editorial management. The final assessment involved publication of an academically grounded reflective practice blog which required the students to critically analyze the project, their involvement in it and their experiences of it, with reference to scholarly readings.

Students' Perspective

So, what did the students think of the project at the start? Many have admitted they were daunted by the theme and the workload when they first heard about it. One, Ewan Gilbert, conceded he was initially a tad perplexed: "I went into the assignment thinking it was all a bit over the top." But Gilbert, now a cadet journalist with the ABC, clearly understood the project's purpose in retrospect: "I think one of the biggest barriers people face when it comes to understanding refugee issues, is that most Australians have probably never met one," he blogged. "Putting a face to an issue was so important to helping my understanding of the problems. You learn to treat the issue with humanity. You learn to see refugees as people and quite often extremely vulnerable people at that. If the whole refugee debate didn't have any relevancy to me before, it certainly does now."

Another student, Grace Keyworth, who was already working in the Canberra Press Gallery as a videographer when the project began, wrote that #ReportingRefugees was an important and timely intervention.

"I have been present at countless press conferences this year where the discussion of asylum seekers and refugees was completely dehumanized. There was a lot of talk of numbers, figures and 'processing' them like they're a piece of meat, but hardly any of names, occupations or their reasons for leaving their countries," she lamented. "It shows that as a society, we haven't progressed beyond the racial discrimination towards immigrants that has plagued our country since federation."

Opening Up Journalism -- Critical Reflection via Social Media

The students were encouraged to openly reflect, through their social media activity, on their pre-conceived ideas about the refugee-asylum seeker issue and broadcast reporting conventions as they worked on their stories. They had to navigate very complex issues -- such as balancing the need to avoid re-traumatizing refugee interviewees who'd survived torture against the need for editorial transparency and independence. Many encountered significant journalistic obstacles -- from paternalism within some organizations which led (inappropriately) to one service provider refusing its refugee clients permission to speak, to nervous interviewees backing out of stories close to deadline. But in every case, these experiences delivered important learning outcomes -- about the need for sensitivity and informed consent in reporting on refugees-asylum seekers, and about the need for journalistic perseverance and resilience when confronted with problems that threaten to derail stories in which many hours work have been invested.

There were logistical hurdles to mount, too. The collaborative editorial management of the project with the ABC meant that assessment deadlines had to be interwoven with ABC production deadlines. And multiple classroom visits by the busy ABC content director needed to be scheduled across four tutorials, which were timetabled for only three hours each per week.

Once the students had filed their rough-cut stories for assessment, the difficult process of selecting the content for broadcast and web upload commenced. I shortlisted stories from each tutorial with my tutors (Phil Cullen and Ginger Gorman, both of whom are experienced ABC broadcasters) but the ABC's Jordie Kilby was responsible for selecting the final line-up of 10 stories. Meanwhile, we auditioned potential student presenters, and student executive producers attached to each tutorial began wrangling students to deliver final cut radio and web stories.

Putting #ReportingRefugees on Air

Ultimately, the students broadcast two hours of moving, human radio with a focus on personalized stories, situational reports on community programs such as a psychological service which treats traumatized child refugees, explanatory journalism that unpacked highly complex and sensitive themes, and an intelligent panel discussion, featuring the former Commonwealth Ombudsman and the UNHCR's representative in Australia, that addressed the questions crowdsourced via OurSay in a way that allowed misconceptions to be powerfully countered.

As the program aired, students, listeners and ABC staff participated in a lively Twitter discussion triggered by the stories, aggregated by the #ReportingRefugees hashtag.

Additionally, the ABC website continues to host a bundle of additional student reports produced for the project, along with a podcast of the radio special (Hour 1 & Hour 2).

I'll focus in more detail on the impact of the project on those involved, its reception by audiences, and the implications for journalism education in part two of this #ReportingRefugees series, but this quote from international student Linn Loken, sums up the value of the project and makes my own very substantial investment in time, energy and effort in its execution seem worthwhile:

"Knowing a few refugees now, this is not just a word to me anymore. When I hear the word REFUGEE mentioned, I think about the people I talked to during this project and I can see their faces."

Julie Posetti is an award-winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on journalism and social media, on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She's currently writing her PhD dissertion on 'The Twitterisation of Journalism' at the University of Wollongong. She blogs at Twitter.

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July 25 2011

16:00

For the Texas Tribune, “events are journalism” — and money makers

Texas Tribune Festival logo

When Evan Smith helped launch the nonprofit Texas Tribune in 2009, he set out to get people engaged in their government again, especially in places where newspaper coverage has dwindled. The Tribune introduced blogs, multimedia, troves of government data, and something old-fashioned for an online news startup: face-to-face conversations.

The Tribune has hosted more than 60 public events — all free — attracting top influencers, big audiences, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate sponsorships. Now the Tribune is blowing up the event and throwing The Texas Tribune Festival, a weekend of ideas for policy wonks, lobbyists, and anyone else invested enough in local government to pay $125 for a ticket.

“Events are journalism — events are content. And in this new world, content comes to you and you create it in many forms,” says Smith, the Tribune’s chief editor and chief executive.

One goal: to combat low levels of public engagement on a lot of the issues the event will address. “We think much of the technology world embraces ‘push’ as opposed to ‘pull’ as a way to reach people,” Smith says. “We are taking a ‘push’ approach to content, and that means going to people with content where they live.”

The speaker list includes top names in the universe of Texas politics: energy tycoon T. Boone Pickins, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. And the topics covered are also the Tribune’s core coverage areas: health and human services, energy and the environment, public and higher education, and race and immigration.

Evan Smith

If that all sounds familiar, it’s because the idea is modeled on the New Yorker Festival. In 2009, Smith hired the person who created that festival, Tanya Erlach, the former senior talent manager for The New Yorker. (“She’s not reinventing the wheel; this is her wheel,” Smith says.) Erlach handles everything from programming to logistics.

Smith is the first to admit that events don’t only produce journalism. They also produce revenue. And even the free events, including the TribLive speaker series, have been money-makers. They are cheap to produce, for one thing, and often underwritten by corporate sponsors. Smith estimates the Tribune raised about $650,000 in corporate support last year, which includes events. He expects to raise $1.3 million this year. While major gifts from philanthropists represented almost all of the Tribune’s revenue in 2009, Smith expects more financial diversity in 2011, with income from philanthropy, corporations, and events evenly split. Altogether, the Tribune has raised $9.3 million in barely two years — far more than like-minded nonprofit startups elsewhere.

“A lot of better established nonprofit news organizations — and I’m not counting the public broadcasting TV and radio stations but the sites that are similar to ours, ones that have been in existence longer — really have not approached the task of soliciting corporate support, underwriting, and sponsorships. We’ve just not seen other folks approach this, and they started to call us and ask us and our folks, you know, ‘How are you doing this?’”

If journalism is to survive, Smith says, business must be in the DNA. It’s in the Tribune’s DNA. Another Tribune co-founder was a venture capitalist, John Thornton, who initially raised $4 million in startup funding, including $1 million of his own cash and a large grant from the Knight Foundation. While Smith does not handle fundraising, he does reach out to executives personally to solicit their support.

Is Smith sheepish about that? “Hell, no.” Is there a conflict of interest? “Our only bias is in favor of Texas.” Public radio and television, he points out, rely heavily on corporate underwriting. The Tribune is neither paying people to speak at the festival nor covering their expenses. And the only reward for a corporate sponsorship is “a handshake and a tax letter,” he says.

“The work we do is important. And it needs to be paid for,” Smith explains. “There are appropriate sources of revenue out there. There is nothing to be ashamed of when putting a ‘for sale’ sign on as much stuff as possible, provided that it doesn’t have a negative impact on the work that you do or doesn’t create a negative perception of your integrity.”

Besides the financial value of the Tribune’s events, Smith says, there’s also value in the B word — you know, the word that tends to be uncomfortable in journalism circles. “Just as some other organizations may shrink from associating with corporate interests, there are some organizations, I suspect…that don’t fully appreciate the value of branding,” he says. A big festival is a platform for the Tribune to present itself as a grown-up operation, to build credibility and attract new readers.

Tickets went on sale July 11, with a discount for Texas Tribune contributors. Smith is working out a deal with sponsors to make admission free for college students.

March 15 2011

14:00

News portal, super aggregator, and mega-curator: PBS builds a new site from scratch with PBSNews.org

PBS finds itself with what could be the definition of a “good” problem. (Well, not that defunding problem, but another one.) Here’s the scenario: Under the PBS umbrella you’ll find news shows like PBS Newshour, Frontline, and Nightly Business Report, among others, all producing content that lives primarily on air and on individual websites. While video clips and stories are pulled into PBS.org, that site’s primary function is not to be a news source like, say, its cousin NPR.org.

With all that news and information swirling around PBS, though, it makes sense to have a sort of super aggregator, something to pull together the threads from various shows around news or topics. Think about it: What if on a broad story like the economic crisis, you could pull together a NewsHour interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on changes to borrowing policies for US banks along with a Frontline clip from “Breaking the Bank” on the merger of Bank of America and Merill Lynch? Of course what we’re talking about is not simply aggregation, but also curation — and actually, considering the hours of shows PBS has at its disposal, mega-curation.

Consider all of this and you’ll know where the team behind the PBS News Blog is coming from. It’s PBS’ effort to launch a new site that is both a news portal for readers and a new channel for PBS programming. The new site, which should launch soon, will be called PBSNews.org: The News Navigator.

When I spoke with Tom Davidson, PBS.org’s senior director and publisher for news and public affairs, he told me the new project will essentially start from scratch, partly because a central news division has never been part of PBS, but also because PBS wants to take advantage of the opportunity to build a smarter news site. “Historically PBS has tended to not create content itself — it was founded as a programming service” that would pool member stations’ financial resources “to allow other independent producers to make that content,” Davidson said.

Over the years, PBS has built out a universe of news and current events programming — and in recent years, that’s been matched by further investment in digital tools and websites starting with PBS.org, Davidson said. Again, they’ve created a good problem.

Instead of offering another site for breaking news, the News Navigator team wants to build a site that moves past daily headlines and offers more comprehensive coverage on news or topics — the kind that can come to bear when you have a satellite staff of journalists, producers, and documentarians working on pieces. That staff will rotate around a central hub, the News Navigator staff (which is growing as we speak), which will include producers, data specialists, writers, and editors.

So what could the News Navigator look like? Davidson said the mission will be to present “the knowledge that defines what’s going on on a story behind the headline.”

More specifically they want to meet the balance of context and timeliness in news by having something similar to topic pages that would provide news, raw data sets, timelines, video and other background from across PBS programs. These deep dives, as they call them, will include areas like Afghanistan, same sex marriage, health care, and Congress.

The point in all this context-focused curation isn’t to out-NYT the NYT, but rather to add value by finding new angles on big stories. “I will try lots of crazy things,” Davidson said. “But I’m not going to try and take on CNN.com, CBS.com or NYTimes.com. We lost that battle 15 years ago. Let’s not fight that battle now.”

PBS is also creating issue clashes — an adaptation of a familiar feature of many PBS news shows, the two-analyst, head-to-head debate, adapted for online. Think Shields and Brooks, only on the web — and with the audience empowered not only to vote on the winner, but also to add their own arguments.

Of course, there are hurdles in building out a new news site, particularly one that will need to pull news and videos from across a multitude of other sites, each of those operating off of different frameworks and content management systems. It’s not as easy as connecting tube A to slot B. Instead of trying to put all its programs under one system, PBS instead decided to build the equivalent of a massive card catalog, naming it Merlin. Merlin is essentially a database of PBS content tagged with metadata to allow sites, either from programs or member stations, to pull up material they would like to use. (Merlin was a contributing factor in PBS.org’s recent redesign and iPad offering.)

Jason Seiken, senior vice president of Interactive, Product Development and Innovation for PBS, told me that Merlin came from the need for something that could act as a publisher and distributor of content that would benefit both programs and stations. Once stories or videos are tagged, they can be pulled up on PBS.org, the News Navigator, or WGBH, as an example. “Merlin is in essence a distribution channel,” Seiken said. “It turns PBS.org into a distribution network for local stations.”

Along with Merlin, PBS rolled out a standalone video player and management system called COVE. (While it may seem like online video is ubiquitous, in the past there was no quick, easy, or unified way for stations and programs to share video on their sites, Seiken said.) COVE allows sites to pull together video from across PBS in the same player, meaning a piece from KQED could be coupled with a feature from Need to Know or Sesame Street.

After PBSNews.org makes its debut, Davidson said it will still be in something of a rolling beta. He sees the site as a startup whose features PBS will constantly adjust. The challenge for PBSNews.org, Davidson said, will be growing an audience for it while also finding its place within the PBS family. Its job won’t be to recreate what others have done, but instead to complement and synthesize it. “We don’t see ourselves competing with NewsHour on reporting the news of the day,” Davidson said. Instead, “we see ourselves first and foremost as translators for the consumers.”

March 04 2011

17:25

World TV Revamps Site to Entice a Younger Audience

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

How can public media spur multi-platform engagement through a national TV channel? That's the challenge that was posed to the team developing WorldCompass.org, the companion website for the World TV channel, a news and documentary channel now available in parts of 32 states.

The World channel, originally called PBS World, was piloted in 2007 in the northeast U.S., putting PBS programs (mostly documentaries) that were still in rights on a 24-hour channel. The channel went national in 2007. In 2009, WGBH instigated an effort to turn the channel into a multimedia project that invited new voices to public media. (To date, the World channel has not conducted national ratings, although a plan to obtain national numbers is in the works.)

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the World channel is the result of a collaborative partnership. The channel is produced and distributed by WGBH Boston, WNET New York and American Public Television in association with PBS and the National Educational Telecommunications Association, which is more commonly known as NETA.

The website has a slightly different makeup of partners. WorldCompass.org is managed by WGBH, with American Public Television overseeing marketing and managing relationships with stations. The site has also pulled together a team of informal advisors from across the system to offer feedback on a multi-platform strategy.

New Media Mission

Part of World's mission is "to create a new model of content creation and delivery for public media 2.0, one that exemplifies diversity, digital media and dialogue." WorldCompass.org builds upon the broadcast offerings by offering its own curated content, blogs, and social media features.

Despite facing many of the common public broadcasting challenges -- most importantly, a small staff and a wanting budget -- WorldCompass.org has made clear strides since the beta launch and the staff is optimistic for the future. A revamped version of the site just launched in response to lessons learned through the initial beta site, which had been in operation since July 1, 2010. Expanded features include more integrated social media tools and organized menu items that help to reinforce the relationship between broadcast and online platforms. The updated site hopes to take advantage of new tools to engage with "hip" 30- to 45-year-olds and capture the elusive 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

"Currently, a majority of our viewers are your usual PBS demo of 50- to 60-year-olds," said Matey Odonkor, WorldCompass.org's manager of online communications. "Not that this is a bad thing."

Still, World TV has a different mission and audience in mind. "We want to offer age-relevant programming to young adults who grew up watching PBS programs with their parents but stopped watching," said Odonokor.

Cross-Platform Integration

Like the World channel, WorldCompass.org aggregates content around monthly themes (The Skin You're In, Diaspora, etc.), including audio documentaries, feature length films, video blogs, television episodes, and other media. The monthly themes highlight connections among a wide range of stories -- both big and small, and objective and subjective.

This month's theme is Land, and content includes a selection of audio (like this State of the Re:Union broadcast on Greenburg, Kansas) and video features (like this American Experience episode featuring the Civilian Conservation Corps), plus a request for users' own stories about their experiences with land. There are currently no responses for this request, although it's still early in the month. However, February's request for users' own childhood stories only garnered one user response during that month.

"The fun part," said managing editor Kavita Pillay, "has been connecting with emerging voices in public media -- people like Glynn Washington, Hari Kondabolu and Zadi Diaz."

Hari Kondabolu is an up-and-coming comic, who recently starred in a "Comedy Central Presents" special. His videoblogging for WorldCompass is more intimate and personal than his stand-up but no less funny. Here's a contribution he made to the Diaspora series:

'Thematic Evolution'

"The hope is to give the user/viewer an 'I never thought of it that way' moment as they go through a theme," Pillay said.

Currently, the topics are chosen by WorldCompass.org's staff and advisors. But, said Pillay, "at some point, we're considering a 'thematic evolution,' meaning that we'll retain the creative approach to themes but maybe present them in a different way or on a different calendar. And we'd love to start taking theme suggestions from users!"

Integration between the website and the channel has increased with the relaunch. Streamlined menu options include TV schedules and "Where to Watch" options. The site also now includes video previews and written summaries for films and programs airing on the World channel. WorldCompass.org producers are looking to increase this type of cross-platform promotion by highlighting broadcast content through more live chats, excerpts, deleted scenes and online exclusives.

On the broadcast side, the World channel runs regular interstitials sending viewers to the website for engagement activities and online extras. And, added Odonkor, "The presence of World's crop of talented and funny videobloggers on TV and the website helps to tie the two platforms together."

Increasing Engagement

WorldCompass.org pairs content pieces with crowdsourcing activities. Such "Call-to-action items" include polls, quizzes, trivia, weekend assignments, and live votes. These often link users to WorldCompass's Facebook page or a partner website. For example, this Faces of America video includes a poll item about Henry Louis Gates' lineage. To find the correct answer, users are directed to an ABC News story.

In addition to its Facebook fan page, which currently has 285 fans, WorldCompass has integrated social media with a Twitter account (96 followers), and a YouTube channel (44 subscribers). While these numbers are small, the staff is experimenting with ways to increase them.

"When we can, we try to be creative with our use of social media -- for example, we organize Facebook live chats [with] viewers and producers," Odonkor said. "For what we do online, curating shorts, it's important we provide extras to engage users and invariably increase time spent on the site or the Facebook page."

WorldCompass.org also employs social media to promote partners' work. For example, the organization teamed up with the National Black Programming Consortium to promote Season 3 of the AfroPop Series that is airing on World TV.

Looking Ahead

So far WorldCompass.org's focus has been on introducing more appealing content -- and engaging users with it -- rather than convening citizens around particular issues or problems. The tone mirrors other productions and channels aimed at this smart, mobile, multi-ethnic demographic, such as Current TV or IFC. It may be too early to tell how well this approach is working, or whether the site has succeeded in attracting viewers who don't already watch the channel. PBS has long been attempting to court a younger, hipper demographic with less than stellar results.

Stay tuned for additional videobloggers joining the team over the next few months. In addition, WorldCompass.org is about to increase its original content in the near future, using a combination of licensing, commissioning, and crowdsourcing.

"The site and the channel are works in progress," said Pillay. "We know that there's a wonderful opportunity for us to find new ways to bring together content from users and emerging producers as well as from established folks."

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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November 25 2010

17:30

8 Key Lessons the CBC Learned Working with Citizen Journos



mediashift_social publicmedia small.jpg

The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto marked the first time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation collaborated with citizen journalists on a large and integrated scale.

In the lead up to the event, we noticed our online community was passionate about the topic. As a public broadcaster, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to tap into that conversation and encourage members of our wider online community to share their perspectives and reflect them back to the rest of the country.

In addition to our extensive TV, radio and online coverage, the CBC News social media team worked with a number of citizen contributors who shared their perspectives on the summit -- and the protests -- taking place in their city by blogging, tweeting, and filing photos to our website. They also appeared live on CBC News Network, CBC's 24-hour news channel.

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While CBCNews.ca had produced community initiatives in the past, the G20 project was a key moment in the evolution of our approach to engagement -- moving from a user-informed model, to user-driven. In the end, the G20 Street Level blog won a 2010 Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Community Feature and was a finalist in the Community Collaboration category at the Online News Association's 2010 Online Journalism Awards.

Eight Lessons

Here are eight lessons our team learned from working citizen contributors on a major and fast-moving news event:

  1. Know why you are working with your citizen contributors: As citizen journalism becomes part of the coverage of our news organization, it's important to differentiate our offering and create meaningful community editorial. It's no longer good enough to simply feature a citizen's content in a silo. To collaborate with our community in unique ways, we must develop clear editorial goals and integrate them into our storytelling. For the G20 Street Level project, our team wrote a project statement, which informed everything from how we communicated our ideas to our internal partners in radio and television, to how we developed our call-outs for contributors and developed the editorial plan.
  2. Expect the unexpected: When you plan an editorial package produced by paid staff or freelancers, you set filing dates and times. Barring any last-minute curve balls, you have a fairly good idea of how your content will roll out. When you're working with citizen contributors who are volunteering on a project, you can't -- and shouldn't -- make the same demands of them as paid staff. Flexibility and the ability to improvise is key. You will have influence over filing dates, times, volume of content and consistency -- but very little control.
  3. Plan what you can: Not having control over certain things isn't an excuse to not plan. Ultimately, our audience expects us to deliver a consistent, well-rounded experience. To meet this expectation, we devised an editorial plan for our CBC journalists to help make some of those "unknowns" more manageable. We ensured that our blog host and CBC contributors filed every day, and we integrated the citizen content as we received it.
  4. Recruit more volunteers than you think you will need: I'm a big believer in always planning for the worst-case scenario. When our team debated how many contributors to recruit, we realized that there was no "right" answer. My gut told me that more was better than fewer. We ended up with thirteen in total. In the end, having a bigger citizen team paid off, as some contributors filed more content than expected, and others dropped off the radar or had to pull out.
  5. Survey your potential citizen contributors: A few months ago I took part in a Poynter webinar covering credibility and social media in news organizations. They recommended surveying potential citizen contributors before working with them on projects. It's one of the best tips I've received, and now our team uses a survey as part of our standard chase process for these types of collaborations. The survey shouldn't be long but it should ask specific questions about contributors' familiarity with the topic, their writing and social media experience, and their technical proficiency and access to tools (cameras, smartphones, laptops). It's also helpful to ask them to write a bio and tell you the type of stories they're interested in filing. This last point will clearly illustrate both their potential and commitment level.
  6. Educate your contributors: You may notice volunteers feel a little intimidated after you notify them they've been selected to participate in your project. To avoid this, create an open and supportive environment from day one: Take time to call each person and discuss what it's like to collaborate with your newsroom; demystify terms and processes they may encounter ("graphs", "cut lines", and "vetting" will likely sound foreign to them); assure them that no one expects them to be the next Joan Didion or Bob Woodward, and remind them that there are no dumb questions.
  7. Contributions come in all shapes and sizes: In the kick-off call with our G20 contributors, we gave them two pieces of advice: Don't compare your work to that of our journalists, and don't get overwhelmed and feel like you have to write feature-length blog entries. It's key that your contributors are encouraged to tell their stories in the way they're most comfortable -- be it text, photos, tweets or video. During the G20 project, photos capturing breaking news were often more powerful than any number of words could have been.
  8. Be prepared to feed the beast: When working with volunteers, it's key to get their material up in a timely and consistent manner. The reward for them is their byline and recognition from family and friends; they want to send out links to their work as soon as possible. After notifying a contributor that their submission was live, we'd receive an excited email thanking us and then witness a flurry of activity from their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Be prepared to ramp up on staff and schedule for hours you may not usually work. I didn't do this and paid the price: Many a late night leading up to the summit was spent in front of my laptop, keeping up with an enthusiastic bunch. In retrospect, it was a great problem to have.

Kim Fox is the senior producer of social media for CBC News. She leads the community team and aids in the development and execution of social media, community management and user engagement strategies. The team garnered international attention and awards for their community features during the Haiti earthquake and G20 global summit.

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November 23 2010

21:30

Innovative Projects at Public Media Camp 2010

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Ira Glass. Gwen Ifill. Big Bird.

These are some of the public faces of public media, but behind the scenes lies a nationwide army of talented, passionate individuals whose efforts often go unrecognized. This weekend, around 300 of these workers -- producers, designers, strategists, engineers, and more -- gathered at American University in Washington, D.C. for an unconference called Public Media Camp, or "pubcamp," as the cool kids call it. A few game souls took a moment in between sessions to answer my question, "What's the coolest thing you're working on right now?"

With apologies for my rudimentary video skills, I hope you'll take a minute to take in the diversity of innovative projects happening throughout the public media ecosystem:

I also have to share a contribution that came in via Twitter from Annie Shreffler, a producer at the WGBH Lab who couldn't attend PubCamp in person, but followed the weekend's events closely via Twitter and a livestream. She said the coolest thing she's working on right now is building a community of public media audiences, video journalists and aspiring filmmakers to document today's gay rights movement. This is being done in conjunction with a documentary, "Stonewall Uprising," that's airing on American Experience this spring (watch a preview of the documentary here).

How about you? What's the coolest public media project you've come across lately? And if you work in public media and I didn't get you on camera - tell us, what's the coolest thing you're working on right now?

The former editorial director of PBS.org, Amanda Hirsch is a writer, improviser and digital media consultant. Learn more at amandahirsch.com and follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 19 2010

18:27

Public Media Experiments Show Promise, Need to Involve Public

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This article was co-authored by Jessica Clark, with research support from Christopher Ali and Erin Roberts.

After a slew of reports, conferences, and hearings, the calls for public media to step into the journalism breach have been met with action. Over the past year, there has been a wave of experimentation in local news projects in public media, a trend that is increasing rapidly, especially at radio stations. As Ken Doctor sums up in this Newsonomics post:

We've seen 12 topical sites prominently launched in major cities, under the rubric of Project Argo. We've seen National Public Radio building out a state-of-the-art internal wire (the NPR API), facilitating the sharing of national, global and local stories among public radio stations. We've seen the Corporation for Public Broadcasting fund various new initiatives, including the Local Journalism Centers, aimed at improving regional issues reporting. We've seen Boston's WBUR, the Bay Area's KQED, the Twin Cities's MPRNews.org and L.A.'s KPCC all launch standalone news sites over the last year, moving beyond the programming brochure look that has long characterized public radio on the web.

These projects are just the start. They are matched by ambitious proposals to ramp up stations' reporting capacity, such as Bill Kling's push to add over 300 new reporters to local public radio newsrooms, and NPR's new Impact of Government initiative, which will add reporters to cover state governments in all 50 states.



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Eight Strategies

How often and how well are rising public media news projects actually engaging members of the public? Researchers at the Center for Social Media (CSM) have been examining the rise of multiplatform local news projects in our Public Media Showcase, profiling the efforts of stations including KQED, KETC (now the Nine Network of Public Media), WHYY; nationally funded projects including the Local Journalism Centers the Public Insight Network; and individual programs like the PBS NewsHour. Through this research, we've observed some trends, some challenges, and some hopeful indicators for the future of public media. (View highlights from our journalism and public media coverage here.)

A year ago here on MediaShift, we outlined eight strategies for effective public media 2.0 experiments: Involve, go deeper, reach new and nontraditional publics, repurpose/remix/recycle, collaborate, enable media literacy, play with form and promote political discussion. Our research since has focused in particular on the first strategy, examining diverse efforts to involve users in news creation, curation and conversation. But along the way we've found evidence that the other strategies are also gaining traction.

Several prominent projects have emphasized "going deeper" in their news coverage -- see, for example, Argo and the Local Journalism Centers, which depend on particular content verticals to draw users. Many station sites now include social media features that repurpose, remix and recycle content, and we're seeing more and more projects that experiment with form -- using maps, databases, widgets and visualizations to present information.

Some stations are moving beyond distributing content and incorporating digital literacy efforts as well -- one gateway for reaching new and nontraditional publics, where there's still a lot of work to be done. This year's election also provided the chance for both national and local news projects to build upon the electoral experiments launched in the last two cycles. We cover several of these trends in more depth below.

A Continuum of Engagement

Stations, makers and programs are adopting a range of engagement strategies to involve users, from closed to open. In our past year's research, we've explored numerous multiplatform and participatory reporting models, from the hyperlocal to the global. Figuring out how well public media projects are working requires a more nuanced sense of how members of the public are expected to interact with them. Informed by interviews conducted by CSM research fellow Erin Roberts, we've developed the following scale to help assess the openness of a given news project, and the corresponding roles expected of users. (See the main image to the right.)

  • Editor-driven approaches follow the traditional journalistic model, with editors controlling the production of news from start to finish, engaging users only once content is broadcast or posted.
  • Interactive approaches provide users with narrowly focused options to interact with content, usually through features such as clickable maps, blog commenting, moderated discussion forums, Twitter and Facebook accounts, etc.
  • User-informed approaches actually position users as sources, relying on them for information, perspectives, and crowdsourced research, which are then filtered through an editorial process.
  • Community-centered approaches invite users to participate in the production process, with a small amount of guidance.
  • Finally, on the most "open" end of the scale, user-driven approaches embrace users as full collaborators in news production.

Not surprisingly, we discovered that most public broadcasting news initiatives are still clustered on the closed end of the spectrum. While many have begun to embrace interactive features, few are actually inviting users to become full creative collaborators. In fact, the potential of users as collaborators is only beginning to be realized, with just a few public media organizations inviting users to create and repurpose content. Examples on the open end of the public media scale tend to be outside of traditional public broadcasting -- community media projects, and hyperlocal citizen journalism sites -- which offer the virtues of inclusion and active engagement for users, but don't share the same level of trust as big brands like PBS and NPR.

On the whole, both stations and national public media news projects are centrally concerned with retaining editorial control in order to remain authoritative and balanced sources of news and analysis. Conversation with users on sites like PBS NewsHour is lively but highly moderated, with editors directing specific questions to anchors, or calling for participation sharply limited by topic. Interactive projects like public media games, widgets, maps, etc. retain this same centralized feel, but give users focused options for engagement and content creation.

The aim, says Dave Gustafson, the NewsHour's online news and forward planning editor, davegustafsonheadshot.jpgis to foster "high minded discussions of important topics" -- closer to the authoritative vibe of a magazine like the Economist than the staccato, 24/7 pace of a site like Yahoo! News.

"We want to be as open and engaging as possible while still protecting ourselves from the free-for-all," Gustafson said.

Like many outlets, public broadcasters are struggling to ward off online trolls who discourage civil exchanges with name-calling and flame wars; NPR recently contracted with professional moderators to help field thousands of comments per day. Projects such as the Public Insight Network are now figuring out sophisticated ways to open the doors to deeper consultation with users. Some of the more daring station-based news experiments have also begun to adopt some of the methods and values of community media makers, such as the Nine Network of Public Media and WHYY, with projects described below.

The most promising projects combine elements from across the continuum, providing users with a core of trusted information, along with robust interactive multimedia packages, opportunities to comment on and suggest coverage, and spaces for inclusion, debate and content creation. Learning how to mix and match these approaches coherently and intelligently will be an ongoing challenge--one that promises to turbocharge the relevance and depth of public media.

Collaboration is Key

This year, we've seen increased cross-platform collaboration among public media outlets, perhaps most notably with the CPB-Funded Local Journalism Centers, which consist of regional partnerships working to address broad topics, such as health, agribusiness and regional economies. These projects are progressing at varying rates, with differing approaches toward online and in-person community engagement. Kathy Merritt, CPB's senior director of program investments, said, "CPB is really trying to drive the ongoing conversation around collaboration. We think it's really important. And, frankly, it hasn't really been the practice up till now."

Although stations are collaborating more with one another, there has been both tension and promise when it comes to partnerships with outlets outside of the public broadcasting system. James Rainey's recent article in the L.A. Times describes the competition between public radio news, local newspapers, and new online outlets:

Don't count on any clarity in the local news space any time soon as newspapers tenaciously cling to their incumbent advantages -- including staffs still larger than most of the upstarts -- and upstarts continue to crowd the space.

I'm doubtful of the few who have been suggesting that public radio stations and their websites will become the primary sources of local news. I expect we're looking at a more cacophonous future -- with the radio news sources just one of many voices in the room.

beacon.gifThe Nine Network of Public Media/KETC has circumvented this tension by actively embracing a partnership with local newspaper, the St. Louis Beacon. KETC and the Beacon collaborated on both Facing the Mortgage Crisis and Homeland, which Amy Shaw, the network's vice president of education and community engagement, said has been "to the benefit of both organizations."

Nationally, collaborations are starting to bubble up in order to fill gaps in investigative reporting left by receding print coverage. The Public Insight Network recently announced an ongoing partnership with ProPublica, Center for Investigative Reporting and The Center for Public Integrity. ProPublica, Frontline and the Times-Picayune also teamed up on a multi-media investigation of the New Orleans police department earlier this year. And last month, Frontline and ProPublica partnered on The Spill, an hour-long documentary on the BP oil spill. These strategic partnerships have successfully employed the strengths of each organization, and it's likely we will be seeing more of them in the future.

Increased cross-platform collaboration is likely to be of great benefit to public television stations, which simply have not been able to capitalize on local news the same way that public radio stations have. In February, Center for Social Media researcher Christopher Ali conducted a descriptive content analysis of the news and information programming of all PBS stations with available websites.

Ali found that 70 stations produced no local newscast at all; 86 stations produced a weekly newsmagazine; six stations produced a newscast that aired one to three times per week; and just 13 stations produced a nightly local newscast (four times per week or more).

There are several reasons for the dearth of regular local newscasts -- the most obvious is the cost of production. However, we have observed some successful cross-platform news experiments like KQED News. Additionally, we've seen some improvements in national public television news programs, like the NewsHour, which launched a rebranding effort last year to attract more digitally savvy young adults, and has been gaining both audience and redistribution of content through its coverage of the BP oil spill and the recent elections.

Diversifying the Public Media Audience

One of the blatant gaps that public media makers are still struggling to fully address is reaching new and non-traditional publics. In a recent study of PBS's major public affairs shows, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting found guest lists that were "strongly dominated by white, male and elite sources, who are far more likely to represent corporations and war makers than environmentalists or peace advocates." (PBS's ombudsman, Michael Getler responded that "counting heads on a news program is meaningless unless one also analyzes what they are saying.")

Most pubcasters would agree that widening representation is a good thing, and that it is only a first step towards reaching new users. Currently in a beta phase, the WORLDCompass.org site represents a step forward, serving as "an all-inclusive platform for anyone with something interesting and thought-provoking to share," aggregated around monthly themes that include topics like Diaspora and The Skin You're In.

Another gap that still persists is the very real struggle with differences in digital literacy -- some users clamoring for mobile, others still learning how to use email. Researcher Christopher Ali documented this gap in his coverage of WHYY's new NewsWorks initiative: "This digital divide was illustrated by one of WHYY's community forums held at a community digital media center. Here, one room featured WHYY proselytizing the value of NewsWorks, while in another room, community members were attending a regularly-scheduled class on how to use e-mail."

Some public media initiatives, Ali noted, could find themselves in a Catch-22 trying to reach everyone and end up "both too early for digital neophytes and too late for early adaptors."

However, some stations are doing an admirable job of addressing this particular issue. WHYY itself offers a host of community media options, with the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons offering training courses for adults, after school programs for youth and professional development for educators. This type of training serves multiple purposes: It builds community engagement and brand loyalty, and provides locally produced content from a community perspective. The Nine Network of Public Media combines media training and distribution with their NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The academy is in turn an intrinsic part of the station's Homeland project, which covers immigration issues.

The Public Media Corps project, which the Center for Social Media is helping to incubate, is also experimenting with community-driven models for digital literacy training and engagement with local news. Check back on MediaShift early next year for best practices gleaned from this beta test.

Persistent Challenges

Many of the challenges facing local public news initiatives are immediately apparent: Funding, staffing, training, and the hotly debated tensions between local versus national coverage and broad versus vertical approaches. Having a digital expert on staff can make a huge difference, as can a relatively small amount of funding to devote to digital resources.

During this time of great experimentation, we have found that innovative approaches may not always immediately attract users. In cases like these that rigorous impact measurement is crucial for strategic, iterative project development.

Public broadcasters face the difficult task of finding new ways to characterize success in an open environment, as CSM's Erin Roberts points out in her coverage of NewsHour: "Until recently, public broadcasters have focused almost exclusively on how many people encountered their content, not who those people are or how they interacted with the content."

Digital civic engagement may never scale up to the level estimated broadcast audience, but as the continuum above suggests, more participatory approaches position publics for deeper involvement, which in turn can open up new opportunities for both local relevance and fundraising.

The National Center for Media Engagement's recently revamped guide for producers lays it on the line:

The best engagement projects reflect thoughtful consideration of issues, audiences, alliances and, most importantly, outcomes ... While it's simpler and possibly more appealing to imagine a family gathered in front of a glowing TV set, eating popcorn and enjoying every minute of your program, the reality is more complex. If you want to affect the way people think, believe and act, you must engage them across platforms, in different settings and over time.

Given the ever-shifting ground for public media news projects, stations and producers need better tools and opportunities to share best practices with one another in a clear and systematic way. Establishing formal and informal hubs for networking, learning and information sharing among these projects -- like Idea Lab here on MediaShift, or Harvard's Nieman Lab -- could help to catalyze the creation of new and better projects around the country.


As we move towards 2011, there are even more shifts on the horizon. For now, however, public broadcasters still lag well behind local newspapers in their range and volume of coverage -- as a set of recent local news ecologies conducted by the New America Foundation suggest, they're a key but incomplete solution to the problem of diminishing accountability journalism in U.S. communities. More is needed on all fronts -- funding, sharing of best practices, and systematic assessment -- to transform this moment of experimentation into a vital public news service that not only informs citizens, but gives them the civic agency to actively participate in our democracy.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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October 01 2010

18:05

KETC Works with Community on 'Homeland' Immigration Project

Fresh from their ambitious multi-city Facing the Mortgage Crisis project, KETC/Channel 9 in St. Louis has launched a new community-based news project on another hot topic: immigration.

Homeland aims to "apply public media sensibilities, expertise and capacity to address a complicated and polarizing issue," said Amy Shaw, KETC's vice president of education and community engagement. The project includes a website that will feature original content created by community members and KETC staff, a series of facilitated community meetings in the St. Louis area and across Missouri, and a four-hour nationally broadcast television series. This combination, said Shaw, is designed to "push the boundaries of what public media can do."

According to the site:

The Homeland initiative is the embodiment of what public media can do well -- we generate awareness around the important and complex issues that need to be addressed in our communities, and then we create impact by mobilizing people to address these issues. In the process of talking to people throughout our region, we want to show, analyze and present what we learn. We're not going to tell people what we think about immigration or what is right or wrong, good or bad. We intend to help people embrace and understand the complexity of important issues to help communities address them in a more authentic, rational way.

NineAcademy Trains Community Members

Shaw said the project is "rooted in needs of the community," and it is clear that KETC takes community engagement seriously. Homeland is teaming up with KETC's NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The best productions will be featured on the Homeland site and on KETC.

Although NineAcademy has already trained community members ranging from middle schoolers to senior citizens, KETC is intent on "meeting people where they are." Aware that some community members lack internet access, KETC staff has made sure that phone, face-to-face and snail-mailed correspondence is valued as much as online interaction. For example, KETC is experimenting with the idea of "conversations in a box" -- mobile storytelling kits, including inexpensive digital video recorders, that are mailed to community members. When they have finished recording their stories, they send the kits back to KETC for redistribution.

So far, according to Shaw, promotion for the project has been minimal, as the project website is still developing.

Five Sections of Site

At present, the site includes five sections that demonstrate the participatory and collaborative nature of Public Media 2.0, in varying degrees.

360 Degree Perspectives is a blog that explores multiple perspectives on immigration issues, based on KETC's meetings with community members from all spots on the political spectrum, including Tea Party members, far-left groups, and the very wide swath of Americans who don't currently identify with a particular political point of view.

Fact vs. Myth takes a nuanced look at some of the common information and misinformation surrounding the immigration debate. Check out this Fact vs. Myth video created by a NineAcademy graduate DeAnna Tipton:

Your Voice is a discussion forum for community members. Right now, the conversation is heavily populated by KETC staff, but Shaw is confident that the balance will shift over time to allow for more user-directed conversation.

Homeland Series is a behind-the-scene look at the making of the four-hour series that will air in 2011. The broadcast element of this project is, as Shaw explained, "a piece of puzzle," not the be-all end-all culmination of the project. In fact, no pieces related to the project have aired yet, although there has been much activity both online and face-to-face. Community meetings have shaped the entire direction of the project, including the decision to create the four-hour broadcast piece.

Finally, From the Beacon showcases related work from KETC's newspaper partner, the St. Louis Beacon. The Beacon was a partner in the Facing the Mortgage Crisis project as well, providing cross-platform news coverage to the benefit of both organizations.

Challenges

Although the project is developing smoothly, Shaw said that, "We were a bit naive in considering how challenging it would be to take on one of the most difficult and challenging issues of our time." As polarizing as this issue may be, the tone on Homeland remains congenial with only minimal moderation, indicating perhaps that people are tired of the sensationalized, black-and-white coverage of the issue that is often provided by traditional media.

In addition to the polarizing nature of the subject matter, KETC is also dealing with the fact that the station has not traditionally been a news organization. Now, as they experiment with community-based public affairs coverage, the team must constantly evaluate what works and what doesn't or, as Shaw put it, "go through a daily recalibration." The lessons that KETC's staff learn through this project could very well inform a powerful community engagement model for other stations around the country.

In the coming months, the Homeland team will continue to tweak the design and engagement aspects of the project in order to make the site more community-oriented. KETC is also working on some major internal shifting, and a rebranding effort to highlight the station's overall push toward public engagement. In the future, KETC will be taking on more than one in-depth community engagement project at a time. The subject matter for these future projects will come from -- where else? -- the community.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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May 25 2010

20:39

PBS NewsHour Collaborations Require Buy-In from the Top

Collaboration is one of the public broadcasting buzzwords of the moment. The new PBS NewsHour is a national news organization that is trying to figure out how collaboration works.

Collaboration was one of the bullet points when we announced the changes to the program. As with the staff reorganization, which I wrote about in my previous post on MediaShift, our collaboration efforts are moving along but still have a ways to go.

There are barriers between organizations within the public broadcasting system that we need to continue to break down before real editorial collaboration becomes a part of our natural process.

For us, it will take time and it's harder to do when HD video feeds are involved, since that requires a high level of quality. But it's not impossible. It requires creating open communication channels between partners and connecting them with the right people internally who can listen and follow through.

Driving Collaboration From the Top

The plans and intentions for each broadcast are more visible now that I sit in the middle of the newsroom. I'm happy to report that after years of thinking I was one of the only people around who cared about local stations, the new PBS NewsHour is shifting how our producers think about working with our friends in the public broadcasting system.

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It's much easier to move mountains when you have buy-in from the top. And that is what I think we have now, starting with Jim Lehrer who is a big fan of the stations. This is reinforced with support from Linda Winslow, our executive director, and Simon Marks, our associate executive producer.

"The NewsHour recognizes that collaborations with like-minded journalists are a good way to both enrich our content and extend our reach across many different platforms," Winslow told me. "Most successful collaborations require constant attention and hard work, but the rewards are potentially immense. As news organizations strive to find new ways to engage an audience, partnering with people and organizations who are dedicated to reporting stories fairly, accurately and in some detail is, we believe, one way to ensure the survival of serious news coverage of both domestic and international developments."

Sample Initiatives

Here are some examples of how the PBS NewsHour is looking to other public broadcasters for collaboration:

I'm sure you'd get mixed responses if you asked the different parties how well these collaborations worked. That's part of the learning process. Expectations need to be set from the start, relationships need to be built slowly, and the conversation should continue after the report is posted.

Changing Roles

My job has changed, too. Since our redesign, one of my main jobs is keeping stations informed of our editorial plans, and making sure the best reporting by other producers or stations makes it onto our home page.

People who tried to partner with us in the past may find a different organization this time around, whether it's working together on a widget or co-producing a series of reports. In terms of collaborations, we're still not all the way there, much like the way PBS NewsHour's complete reorganization still has some kinks to work out.

Fellow public broadcasting collaboration veteran Amanda Hirsch, the project manager for the recently ended EconomyStory project, summed up some of the collaboration projects from the past in her own MediaShift post.

She's right on many points. I also think it takes a significant amount of internal pressure within an organization to make working with other organizations a priority. And unlike in her post, our online department is no longer in the ghetto. (My first post talked about the creek we had to cross to talk face to face with a broadcast colleague.) I now have a sunny newsroom office, and we're working hard to bring collaboration to our now-merged PBS NewsHour.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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January 06 2010

15:00

Eric Newton: Shame on us if we don’t take the steps needed to feed knowledge to our democracy

[In October, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy issued its report on how our media need to evolve to serve the public interest in the digital age. The effort included some big names: Google's Marissa Mayer, former solicitor general Ted Olson, ex-L.A. Times editor John Carroll, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, and new media researcher danah boyd among them. Here our friend Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation explains how the report fits in a tradition of media self-examination and issues a call to action. —Josh]

Way back in the age of paper, in 1986, professor James Beniger, then at Harvard, produced a useful chart on the civilian labor force of the United States. It showed how the bulk of American workers had moved during the past two centuries from working in agriculture to industry to service, and now, to information. Point being: the digital age didn’t just sneak up on us. It’s been a long, slow evolution. So shame on us for not changing our rules and laws and institutions for this new age.

We were well warned. Just after World War II, the Hutchins Commission said that traditional media could do much better: they should take on the social responsibility of providing the news “in a context that gives it meaning.” In the 1960s, the Kerner Commission said mainstream media wasn’t diverse enough to properly tell the story of this changing nation. Same decade: the Carnegie Commission said the status quo was simply not working, that public broadcasting must be created to fill the gap.

After that, a stream of reports — from the University of Pennsylvania, from Columbia University and others — agreed and repeated the same three fundamental findings:

— Hutchins: Our news systems are not good enough,

— Kerner: They don’t engage everyone,

— Carnegie: We need alternatives.

Here comes digital media, and — boom! — an explosion of alternatives. And we’re all — shocked? Apparently. So let’s try it again. This time, the big report comes from the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, prepared by the Aspen Institute with a grant from Knight Foundation, where I work.

A new examination of a familiar problem

Why a new commission? We are now deep into the second decade of the World Wide Web. It was our hope that when our leaders were finally ready to change things, they would consider a new perspective. Hutchins, Kerner and Carnegie and the others focused on what should be done to improve, diversify, add to — and nowadays the talk is to save — traditional media.

The Knight Commission started with communities, by visiting them and hearing from their residents. News and information, the commission says, are as important to communities as good schools, safe streets or clean air. Journalism, it says, does not need saving so much as it needs creating.

As a former newspaper editor, that last point seems pretty important to me. Of the nation’s 30,000 burgs, towns, suburbs and cities, how many are thoroughly covered by the current news system? Ten percent? Five? Less? We’re talking about knowing how to get, sometimes for the first time, the news and information we need to run our communities and live our lives.

Is the Knight Commission making a difference? We hope so. The Federal Communications Commission has hired Internet expert Steve Waldman to study the agency, top to bottom, thinking of reforms with Knight’s 15 recommendations in mind. Free Press, the nation’s largest grassroots media policy group, embraced the report, especially its call for universal affordable broadband. Ernie Wilson, dean of USC’s Annenberg School and chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, announced he is boosting innovation in public media. CPB backed NPR’s Project Argo in a partnership with Knight Foundation.

Community lawmakers are agreeing with commissioner and former FCC chair Michael Powell’s points about “information healthy communities,” about the role of open government and public web sites in local information flow. Commissioner Reed Hundt, also a former FCC chair, presented the Knight findings to the Federal Trade Commission.

Librarians across the country are pushing the role they can play as digital training and access centers. In addition to its dozens of media innovation grants, Knight Foundation itself took the commission’s advice: it has made more than $5 million in grants to libraries.

Taking the next steps

Now what? The policy work needs to come down to the detail level. Steve Coll and New America Foundation are among those thinking about that. How can we really spur more marketplace innovation? How can government rules and laws make it easier for newspapers to be nonprofits, treat student and nonprofit journalists equally, require the teaching of news literacy?

The hard part is ahead of us: that is, involving every aspect of our communities in this issue, governments, nonprofits, traditional media, schools, universities, libraries, churches, social groups — and, especially, citizens themselves. How do you do that? How do you make “news and information” everyone’s issue? It’s a tall order, perhaps the most difficult thing of all.

Universities could help here. Nearly two thirds of the nation’s high school graduates at least start out in a college or university of some kind. These institutions could make news literacy courses mandatory for incoming students. Understanding and being able to navigate the exploding world of news and information is as fundamental to the college students of our nation as knowing English. Stony Brook has already been paving that path. There, nearly 5,000 students have taken news literacy under the first university-wide course of its kind.

Colleges could set an example for the rest of our institutions. We are, after all, at the dawn of a new age. Who a journalist is, what a story is, what medium works, and how to manage the new interactive relationship with the people formerly known as the audience — all of these are changing as we speak. The complete metamorphosis of how a society connects the data and events of daily life to the issues and ideas that can better its life — would seem to be something colleges should want all of its students to think about.

This is hardly a short-term project. It took more than 200 years for America to change from a country where most people work growing food to one where most people work growing information. It will take time for the wholesale rewriting of America’s media policies, not to mention getting up the guts to spend the trillion dollars or more needed to remake our access to high speed digital systems and ability to use them.

Yet all of this is needed for America to become an information-healthy nation. A nation without universal, affordable broadband is like a nation without highways and railroads. We would be stuck on the surface streets of the new economy, tracing our fall from a global force to a secondary society.

More than 70 years after Hutchins, the basic story is still the same. The country’s news and information systems still aren’t good enough, still don’t engage everyone and still invite alternatives. It’s time to start doing something about this issue. Our rules, the laws, the policies — even the high school and college classes we teach — these things matter to how the news ecosystem in any given community is shaped. They can speed innovation or stunt it. So pick a recommendation — the Knight Commission lists 15 — and have at it.

[Disclosure: The Knight Foundation is a supporter of the Lab.]

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