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September 04 2012

13:13

From Parenting Listservs to Comedian Message Boards, Collaboration Starts With Community

"A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members..."
- Wendell Berry

In the days immediately after giving birth, I gave thanks for a listserv.

It was Day 4 of my daughter's life, and I was having trouble nursing (sorry if that's TMI [too much information]). In a moment of desperation, I sent an email to the neighborhood parenting listserv: "Need in-home lactation consultant this weekend please." Within minutes, several strangers had emailed me the names and contact information of consultants who lived within a five-block radius of me. Talk about customer service.

A couple of months later, I turned to the listserv for nanny recommendations. One woman replied to me and asked if I might consider daycare; if so, she highly recommended a place about a mile from my apartment. Her email really got my husband and me thinking, and we ended up visiting the daycare and falling in love with it; our daughter is there now, as I type this.

Of course, the way I've described the listserv so far doesn't really illustrate collaboration at work. Fellow listserv members helped me -- and, in other instances, I helped them -- but we didn't exactly "collaborate." We didn't create something together. But wait -- if it takes a village to raise a child (and I believe it does); and if this listserv put me in touch with village members I otherwise wouldn't have known existed; then is it maybe an example of collaboration after all?

In other words, is community a form of collaboration?

I'd posit that the answer is "yes."

Quid Pro Quo

A community can help you do something better than you could have done it alone, whether that something is being a parent or being a journalist. As Josh Stearns of Free Press recently wrote on Collaboration Central, journalists are increasingly coming together to form ad-hoc networks of support. In other words, journalists are helping each other do their jobs, whether by sharing news tips or safety precautions or the best place in town to get a camera repaired. They are forming communities (Stearns uses the term "solidarity"), and collaborating within those communities on matters editorial, legal, and operational.

Back to my parenting listserv. Are we really collaborating with each other, or just helping each other out? Scratch beneath the surface and "help" and "collaborate" may not mean such different things. In an editorial collaboration, one news organization may "help" another by providing complementary resources or expertise. Is this help provided free of charge, out of the goodness of someone's heart? No, probably not.

But the parenting listserv doesn't necessarily run on goodness, either. On some level, I help other members because other members help me. That's human nature. Of course, I'm happy to help another mom if I have information at my fingertips that she needs, or to share an experience. But as a member of the listserv, of the community, I expect the help will flow back to me, as well.

Adios, Silos

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Two newsrooms come together to conduct an investigation. They share staff; they share budgets. On the other hand, two freelance journalists come together. They share story leads, sources, lessons learned from the field. Two parents come together. They share daycare recommendations, news about product recalls, and warnings about wayward dentists. (This really happened.) Whether the outcome is a news report, a scoop or an informed parent (or healthier, happier child) -- behind the scenes, the pattern is the same: individuals with a common interest coming together, instead of functioning as silos.

This is remarkable because of just how many silos continue to dominate our world.

In my consulting work, for example, I'm struck by how many organizations still have a culture where departments operate in isolation -- where an employee has no idea that the person in the office next door has information that could help her do her job better. Christa Avampato recently wrote about an innovative way to get executives and lower-level employees talking and collaborating on new product ideas.

It's staggering, really, when you consider how revolutionary it would be for more co-workers to just talk to each other, and for more people to just talk to other people in their field.

It's the People, Stupid

But for now, it's still noteworthy when a community forms, and holds up over time. In public media -- an industry where I've spent a lot of my career -- it took a handful of individuals starting a weekly Twitter chat (#pubmedia chat, R.I.P.) to get many people across the industry to begin to feel like part of a community. Around the time that chat formed, I happened to be the project manager of a multimillion-dollar collaboration funded in large part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). While we learned a lot from that project (I wrote about it here), I honestly think the chat ultimately had a greater ripple effect in terms of increasing collegiality and collaboration industrywide.

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Why? Because relationships, not organizations, fuel collaboration. In fact, the best outcome I saw from the CPB-funded collaboration wasn't one of the contractually obligated editorial deliverables -- it was the relationships between individuals. A producer at the PBS NewsHour now knew who to call over at Marketplace, or NPR, and vice versa. These folks now had history together, and therefore trust, and it was easy to just pick up the phone or send an IM. With those channels of communication open, it became easier for collaborations large and small to take root.

To be sure, public media is no paragon of collaboration -- like most industries, it has a ways to go. But that Twitter chat morphed into a Facebook group, which, as I recently mentioned, I consider an invaluable professional resource. Like the networks Stearns profiled, this community sprung up because individuals saw a need -- and it's lasted.

A Venn Diagram of Communities

I'm a performer, and in addition to public media and parenting, comedy is yet another community in the Venn Diagram of my life. When I lived in Washington, D.C., Washington Improv Theater was the nexus of my community. Since moving to New York City, I haven't felt as strong of a connection to a group of performers, but one organization that helps provide a sense of connection is G.L.O.C. -- aka Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy (recently profiled in the New York Times). G.L.O.C.'s mission is to foster community among female comedians. Another vehicle for community among comedians is the Improv Resource Center, message boards that performers all over the country use to discuss the art of improv and related matters.

And my comedy friends from D.C.? We're currently collaborating on a web series, long-distance, using Google Hangouts.

The human need for community is as old as time. The interwebs just give us new ways to connect. And these connections provide an essential framework for the kind of collaboration that helps us do our jobs better, and with a greater feeling of connectedness ... of not being in it alone. It's almost enough to make a person sing "kumbaya."

Now You

Do you agree that community is a form of collaboration? And are there areas of your life where you find community lacking -- for example, in your workplace? How can you plant the seeds of community in place of silos? What resources do you rely on to help you feel connected to the communities in your life?

"What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
- Kurt Vonnegut

Amanda Hirsch is the editor of Collaboration Central. She is a writer, social media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com spends way too much time on Twitter.

Photo above by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

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April 27 2012

15:30

Agile, social, cheap: The new way NPR is trying to make radio

Old radio

The last time NPR launched a show was five years ago. It was the Bryant Park Project, a morning newsmagazine aimed at younger listeners. The network developed the show in secret and beefed up its New York bureau with reporters, producers, and editors. The budget for its first year was more than $2 million.

BPP was cancelled after 10 months, having reached just 13 markets. The underdeveloped show could never compete with Morning Edition, whose national listenership is topped only by Rush Limbaugh. A few months later, NPR cancelled two more news programs, Day to Day and News and Notes, blaming a disastrous budget gap.

Now NPR is taking another stab at creating new programming, but the approach looks quite different. Its newest show, TED Radio Hour (hosted by Alison Stewart, formerly BPP’s co-host), debuts today in at least seven markets. Ask Me Another, a prerecorded live game show for puzzle types, begins airing next weekend in at least six markets, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. And John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders, which I guess is a variety show for hipsters, debuts later this year.

What’s different this time? The network seems to be taking a page from agile software development, the philosophy that products should be released early and iterated often. The shows are live (cheap) and/or adaptations of existing shows (easy), all produced in six- or 10- or 13-episode pilot runs instead of as permanent offerings. Listeners and local program directors are invited to help shape the sound of the programs, making it something of a public beta.

“We’ve had successful shows that have been around for decades, and the newest ones that are reaching big audiences — even those are a decade old.”

Ask Me Another, for example, is perfectly designed for social media (which, remember, barely existed when Bryant Park Project began). Because it’s a live show, every member of the audience is a potential Twitter or Facebook connection.

Word of the show spread on social media — which is how I found out about it — so NPR PR has a head start. The network says 4,000 people have already attended the live shows, pre-launch. The shows are being fed to member stations free of charge.

“Historically, the way that NPR and others in public radio have produced big programming is we come up with an idea we think is really good, we hire a staff, we keep all this very cloak-and-dagger secret, and then we try to make a big launch with it, and we end up with 30 stations and then over time more stations add to it,” Eric Nuzum, NPR’s newly promoted vice president of programming, told me.

“Using that process, it takes years to determine years if something is going to be a hit or not. And that involves millions and millions of dollars.”

In other words, failure is a much bigger fail. If Ask Me Another doesn’t take off, hey, it was still a relatively cheap experiment. Nuzum says the weak economy is driving in the new strategy. (NPR would not tell me how much money is budgeted for the programs, but it’s safe to say none of them costs $2 million.)

Two years ago, NPR conducted an “audience opportunity study” that found listeners wanted more shows that sound like them. A lighter approach, more humor. Shows like Ask Me Another could be the hook that casual listeners need to discover other radio programming, Nuzum said. Some of the most successful public radio shows, after all, are weekend shows — This American Life, Car Talk, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

“It’s much easier to describe this when I’m in person with someone, so I apologize if some of this seems vague, because I actually draw when I’m talking about this,” Nuzum said.

Don’t worry, Eric Nuzum, we got this. Here is an interpretation of what his drawing might look like, by Lisa Tobin:

Circles

“Imagine there’s a circle, and the circle’s really dark, and that circle is our current audience. And it’s dark because there are so many people — there’s like a gravitational force — that are all kind of brought together. Then imagine a much larger ring around that circle, and that’s our potential audience. What we’re trying to do is bring that audience towards that center, trying to bring them more towards our programming.

“What we did before was we were just creating shows that occupied space in that larger circle without really paying attention to how well it connected to the inner circle. These shows are much more an attempt to have something that connects both to the larger circle and the inner circle as well.”

Nuzum said he is emulating HBO’s iterative approach to programming. He’s not the first to make the comparison. Cambridge-based PRX has experimented with new programming and distribution for five years, including with Marc Maron’s podcast WTF and The Moth Radio Hour. Jake Shapiro, the executive director of PRX, has long proposed a “public radio pilot season.”

“We’ve had successful shows that have been around for decades, and the newest ones that are reaching big audiences — even those are a decade old,” he told me. “We had a really good experiment with something similar, which was Public Radio Talent Quest, but that was more focused on hosts and new voices.”

Glynn Washington, one of the two Talent Quest winners, would go on to host NPR’s Snap Judgment. But the five dozen other people seen as serious competitors were largely forgotten. Shapiro says there’s a big ecosystem of podcasters and aspiring podcasters who would jump at the chance to be a part of public radio.

“It revealed that there’s a way to take some of what is the chaotic but very effective commercial television season dance and translate it into public radio terms, where essentially we collaborate with stations to introduce new show concepts, on air and online, in a very visible, very vocal way,” he said.

Nuzum said the nimble approach to programming is more or less the new normal at NPR. “Whether [these shows] have a future or not, I’m really proud of what we’ve come up with,” he said. “The bigger experiment is the process…This wouldn’t have been possible a couple of years ago.”

Photo of an old radio by santibon used under a Creative Commons license.

December 27 2011

15:20

Public Media: A Wish List for 2012

What's the No. 1 innovation that's needed in public media in 2012?

I posed that question to the public media group on Facebook, as well as to some additional colleagues via email. The responses ranged from a focus on cultivating a culture of innovation, to calls for more innovative content approaches, to the need to grow public media's audience to provide greater support for our existing innovations. And according to some, what's needed more than anything -- more than any individual innovative approach -- is a shared, collective vision of where public media needs to go next.

Here's a selection of the responses I received:

"I think what's still needed most is a change in the culture so that innovation and risk-taking are supported and encouraged." - Ian Hill, community manager, KQED

Several people agreed with Ian, only some of whom were comfortable being quoted in this piece. Adam Schweigert, who recently departed public media (a temporary hiatus, he insists!) after 7-plus years in the system, said creating a culture of innovation "will do a lot to help recruit and retain new voices, increase diversity, (and) lead to further innovation in content and technology ..."

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Need for Resources

Veteran journalist Max Cacas, currently defense editor at Signal Magazine, but with long ties to public media, argued that a culture of innovation is well and good, but we first need the resources to support such a culture. He offered a specific recommendation:

"I think what is needed is an 'innovation seed bank' that public radio/TV/media outlets in smaller markets can tap into so that they can make efforts to serve new audiences without compromising their existing and ongoing services."

Which raises a great question (one that was still being debated on Facebook, last I checked): Does building a culture of innovation create resources to support said innovation ... or do the resources indeed need to come first?

Kelsey Proud, online producer at St. Louis Public Radio, noted, "Some things can be done without money, but others, like equipment purchases, simply cannot."

Yoonhyung Lee, director of Digital Media Fundraising at KQED, feels that we have plenty of innovation in the system ... What's needed are bigger audiences to help translate innovation into sustainability:

"(Innovations) don't necessarily pay the bills. And they don't necessarily garner the kind of audiences that ONE prime-time program, ONE hour of drive-time listening would. Innovations are great, but if we can't find the audiences to support them ... well, does that falling tree make a sound if no one is listening?"

Tech Not Always the Driver

Of course, when you ask a question about innovation, people tend to respond with their own definitions of the admittedly broad term. Some emphasized that while "innovation" often connotes "technology" in this day and age, technology should not necessarily be the driver:

"While it is a significant driver of change, technology for technology's sake has little meaning. Our imaginations must lead technology. Media makers must first decide what difference they want to make, and for whom -- then figure out the tools to get them where they want to go." - Sue Schardt, executive director, AIR

On Facebook, producer Stacy Bond agreed, voicing her opinion that we should be using technology "to innovate on-air (and in ways that are truly cross-platform, not just safe ways of paying lip-service to cross-platform)." Scott Finn, news director at WUSF in Florida, wants to see expanded digital reporting and original investigative reporting at the state and local level; "then," he said, "we need to develop the digital infrastructure to share stories across stations and with NPR."

Public media veteran Michael Marcotte agreed that sharing was key, but wants to see it on an even broader scale. While he agrees resources and culture change are key issues, he thinks the main innovation needed in 2012 is a shared vision, and a plan to go with it:

"We share the mission of public media, but we don't act in coordinated fashion for the long-term success of the entire system. I think 2012's innovation should be a national, collective, shared effort to define and refine the vision that drives strategy, policy and investment approaching 2020."

In a recent piece for Current, Melinda Wittstock -- founder of Capitol News Connection, a startup that recently closed its doors -- called public media a "cozy, clubby world," where "risk is a four-letter word." What do you think? Is public media risk-averse? Do we need to begin taking more risks in 2012? If so, which risks should we take?

What risks will you be taking in the new year?

Amanda Hirsch is a writer, online media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com and spends way too much time on Twitter.

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This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Integrated Media Association's Public Media Innovators Project, a weekly blog series about the people and projects that are helping make public media a relevant and viable media enterprise for the 21st century.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 08 2011

15:00

A Y Combinator for public media: PRX, Knight launch a $2.5 million accelerator

A new Public Media Accelerator, funded by $2.5 million from the Knight Foundation, will rapidly fund disruptive ideas in public media, PRX announced today.

Public Media Accelerator logoThe final details are still being worked out, but the accelerator is modeled on successful startup-focused initiatives like TechStars and Y Combinator. Technologists and digital storytellers will compete for cash to build their ideas. Winners will come to Cambridge for intensive, 12-week development cycles, under the guidance of mentors with deep experience in the field, all culminating in a demo day and the chance to win additional rounds of funding.

“In the digital domain we’re not setting the pace for innovation in the same way we did in the broadcast world,” said Jake Shapiro, the executive director of PRX. The accelerator is welcoming both nonprofit and for-profit ventures, unusual for public media. Shapiro said he wants to attract top talent, people who might never consider the field otherwise.

Last week, writing for Idea Lab, Shapiro said he observed a “worrisome gap” between coders and storytellers, estimating that fewer than 100 of the 15,000 people in public broadcasting are developers :

As public broadcasting goes through its own turbulent transition to a new Internet and mobile world, the technology talent gap is a risk that looms large. Yes, there are many other challenges…But the twin coins of the new digital realm are code and design, and with a few notable exceptions, public media is seriously lacking in both.

A shortage of innovation is not unique to public media, he told me. Nonprofits suffer constraints on financing ideas to scale, a lack of risk capital, and a lack of investment in deep R&D and technology, Shapiro said. The accelerator “gives license to risk in a more intentional way, and we definitely need more of that.”

The Public Media Accelerator is also another sign the Knight Foundation is taking cues from Silicon Valley’s startup culture. Knight will retain a financial stake in for-profit ventures that receive seed money, moving away from its traditional role as pure philanthropist. Earlier this year, Knight launched a venture-capital enterprise fund. And in October, senior adviser Eric Newton said the annual Knight News Challenge, a five-year experiment, will speed up to three times per year, starting in 2012.

“As we’ve started funding more smaller entities and startups, that model makes a lot more sense for us,” said Michael Maness, Knight’s vice president of journalism and media innovation. “That model allows us to go smaller, faster, more nimble.”

Even the program came together fast: Shapiro approached Maness and Knight’s John Bracken with the idea in July. Board approval came in September, and the project will formally get underway at SXSW Interactive in March.

So if for-profits are making public media and funders are buying stakes in startups, is it “public media” anymore? What is public media, anyway?

“It’s about intent and values and goals and impact,” Shapiro said. “I’ve been in endless philosophical conversations about ‘what is public media’ over the years, and in some cases there are examples of pub media that are completely outside our field. I think on good days The Daily Show is public media…I think Wikipedia is public media. I’d rather just claim them than have to reinvent them,” he said, half-joking.

The Public Media Accelerator immediately begins searching for a director to administer the fund and an advisory board. Shapiro, Manness, and Bracken will remain as advisers.

May 03 2011

14:30

PBS plays Google’s word game, transcribing thousands of hours of video into crawler-friendly text

PBS' new video search engine

Blogs and newspaper sites enjoy a built-in advantage when it comes to search-engine optimization. They deal in words. But a whole universe of audio and video content is practically invisible to Google.

Say I want to do research on Osama bin Laden. A web search would return news articles about his assassination, a flurry of tweets, the Wikipedia pageMichael Scheuer’s biography, and an old Frontline documentary, “Hunting Bin Laden.” I might then take my search to Lexis Nexis and academic journals. But I would never find, for example, Frontline’s recent reporting on the Egyptian revolution, where bin Laden makes an appearance, or any number of other video stories in which the name is mentioned.

While video and audio transcripts are rich for Google mining, they’re also time-consuming and expensive. PBS is out to fix that by building a better search engine. The network has transcribed and tagged, automatically, more than 2,000 hours of video using software called MediaCloud.

“Video is now more Google-friendly,” said Jon Brendsel, the network’s vice president of product development. Normally, automatic transcription is laughably bad — Google Voice users know this — but Brendsel is satisfied with the results of PBS’ transcription efforts. He said the accuracy rate is about 80 to 90 percent. That’s “much better than the quality that I normally attribute to closed captioning,” he said. The software can get away with mistakes because the transcripts are being read by computers, not people. (For a hefty fee, the content-optimization platform RAMP will put its humans to work to review and refine the auto-generated transcripts.)

Query “Osama bin Laden” at PBS’ video portal, and the new search engine returns videos in which the phrase appears, including time codes. ”Osama bin Laden found at 33:32,” reads one result. (So that’s where he was?) Mouse over the text to see the keyword in context; click it to be deposited at the precise moment the keyword is spoken. (Notice the text “Osama bin Laden” appears nowhere on the resulting page.)

PBS’ radio cousin, NPR, still relies on humans for transcription, paying a third-party service to capture 51 hours of audio a week. In-house editors do a final sweep to ensure accuracy of proper names and unusual words. It’s expensive, though NPR does not disclose how much, and time-consuming, with a turnaround time of four to six hours.

“We continue to keep an eye on automated solutions, which have gradually improved over time, but are not of sufficiently high quality yet to be suitable for licensing and other public distribution,” said Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s head of digital media.

Despite the expense, NPR decided to make all transcripts available for free when relaunching its website in July 2009. ”Transcripts were once largely the province of librarians and other specialists whose job was to find archival content, often for professional purposes,” Wilson said at the time. “As Web content becomes easier to share and distribute, and search and social media have become important drivers of audience engagement, archival content — whether in the form of stories or transcripts — has an entirely different value than it did in the past.”

Put another way: Readers today (kids today!) are accustomed to search as a shortcut to obtaining information. If Google doesn’t index your content, it might as well not exist. (And there are other emerging platforms in the layering-text-on-video game — Universal Subtitles, for example, which essentially crowdsources captioning efforts.) Brendsel said mass indexing is a much more complicated project for PBS, because PBS does not own its content, unlike NPR. The network has to work out rights with multiple producers. And the transcription software is also expensive, he said. PBS is still working out a financial model for extending this service to local stations.

Brendsel plans to offer human-readable transcripts on story pages soon, when the video portal gets a design refresh. That will be the final step in making PBS video truly Google-friendly, allowing search engines to to crawl its text.

March 14 2011

21:02

IMA + SXSW = Major Discussion on Future of Public Media

Public media makers found a whole new crew to hang with at this year's Integrated Media Association (IMA) Conference on March 10 and 11. Joining the mix were attendees at a Knight Foundation-supported panel on news innovation and content strategy.

Adding a further dose of excitement was a new collaboration: The IMA preceded and then flowed into the interactive track of the SXSW festival on the 12th.

Despite looming cuts and recent controversies, participants seemed eager both to learn about a raft of recent public media experiments and collaborations, and to meet their online friends and followers in the flesh. This annual public media conference, IMA, has recently been revitalized with new leadership and strategy, and felt much hipper and more cohesive than the last iteration of the conference in 2009.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's a glimpse at the conversations through the eyes of attendees -- noted in bold -- and my own running Twitter coverage at @beyondbroadcast. You can follow a larger discussion of both conferences by going to the #imaconf and #sxsw hashtags on Twitter.

The run-up

Geez -- pack for IMA or glue myself to the screen to track blowback on Schiller's resignation? #pubmedia, I can't keep up!

@rbole (Robert Bole, CPB): Getting in the shute: first #imaconf re: #pubmedia analytics, then #SXSW on open APIs and finally #mediafuturenow on digital journalism

@nextgenradio (Doug Mitchell) : @beyondbroadcast Plenty to talk about amongst the faithful at SXSWi. Leaving today for Austin.

Opening panel: Innovation Anxiety

@martineric (Eric Michael Martin) : RT @LCKnapp: Jeannie Ericson encourages #pubmedia to adopt some Texas swagger while @ #sxsw2011 & #imaconf in Austin

@aschweig (Adam Schweigert, WOSU) : @joaquinalvarado: public service media seeks to identify need and engage with communities to solve problems

PBS and NPR Local/National Strategies

Kinsey Wilson (of NPR) at IMA conf: "I am here to tell you that NPR will keep moving forward."

PBS incubation lab is building directory of station tech staff for collab projects.

At #iMAConf, #pubcorps is announcing "America's Next Top Public Media Model" contest.

Learn more about these Top Model projects and the Kindred collaboration platform at publicmediacorps.org.

LaToya Jackson from #pubcorps says that "at this moment, #pubmedia needs drastic action if it's going to survive."

@rbole: @timolsonsf (Tim Olson, KQED) sending picture of Next Top Model at #imaconf

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Beyond the Stream: Mobile Apps that Matter

mobile apps panel: Andrew Kuklewicz of PRX (@kookster), Colleen Wilson, Seth Lind, Demian Perry on which/how/why

Wilson: Interesting question re. geolocation app: "How can we get people lost?" Give people rich locative experience

Wilson: PBS/NPR already have streaming apps -- station apps need to take advantage of local assets/engagement

Seth Lind of This American Life: Exciting to be able to feature individual stories on iPad app, offer live content

Lind: "Thinking about mobile has pushed us to think about users way more actively, and it's just been great."


@kookster: Mobile is not as forgiving; you have to think about every pixel and what the user is seeing.

@kookster: variability of both networks and devices makes mobile development trickier than web by an order of magnitude.

@kookster: "people feel entitled to have amazing things in their pockets," & will tell you loudly if you fail to deliver

Lind: Users find push notifications offensive, especially when they are asking for donations

Wilson: proximity is key--finding what's near you now: discounts, stories, members

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Lunchtime Keynote

@mediaengage Top 10 #pubmedia Tech Trends, courtesy of @webbmedia at @IntMediaAssn #imaConf http://wp.me/pUN9X-a4

Re-thinking public TV

On the platform: Chris Hastings (@chrishast) and Bob Lyons from WGBH re. "Re-thinking Public TV" | http://www.worldcompass.org

Lyons: World is a national digital TV channel that is serving as a platform for independent and international #pubmedia makers

#worldchan website has a different take/voice than the channel -- younger, multicultural, multiplatform, participatory #pubmedia

#worldchan is arranged thematically, organizing a variety of content on the channel and online. Sample theme: Skin You're In #pubmedia

WorldCompass site just got redesigned for the 3rd time in 6 months; will rebrand again/ iterating on the fly #pubmedia #worldchan

(PBS MediaShift recently covered the redesign of WorldCompass.org.)

#worldchan is demonstrating multiplatform branding and cross-silo collaboration in #pubmedia; example: live video from The Takeaway on site

Lyons: the "visual vocabulary" of seeing the reporter unshaven and on the beat at 6:00 in the morning was exciting

Lyons: show's audio morphing into other things: audio slideshows, Snap Judgement multiplatform/animated storytelling, #pubmedia #worldchan

Lyons: #worldchan offering periodic "callouts" for public content. @chrishast elaborates. Goals: Incubate & support new creators #pubmedia

@chrishast: More goals for #worldchan--innovate new production models, bottom-up storytelling, solution-based civic discourse #pubmedia

@chrishast: Will be doing public callouts via WGBH Lab (lab.wgbh.org) to populate #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast current call is for videos re. gay rights, inspired by Stonewall anniversary #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast "In some ways we're creating a pipeline for independent makers that doesn't exist, in addition to PBS" #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast "It's not just about creating a platform for discourse, it's about solution-based discourse...not the rant" #pubmedia

@MediaFunders: Is it enough 4 public media 2 ask content makers to preformed mold? How can public truly enter the space?

@martineric: blog coverage of Re-Thinking Public TV: The World Channel from #SXSW Interactive http://worldcompass.org/blog

Open Wide: New Models for Public Media

Back at #SXSW -- at a panel on new models in #pubmedia, with Orlando Bagwell, Sue Schardt, Jacquie Jones and Greg Pak. How to innovate?


Bagwell: How to reinvent public service for a multiplatform environment?

Jones: describing trajectory of NBPC (National Black Programming Consortium)

Jones: every year that she's been at NBPC, there's been "a watershed event that galvanized an African-American public"

Jones: Began by supporting diverse producers, but then realized #pubmedia wasn't reaching minority audiences; how to create relationship?

Jones: realized there was no dedicated producer corps within #pubmedia creating content relevant to minority communities -- how to address?

Jones: next step was to create the #pubcorps in order to build linkages and skills among young producers and community/#pubmedia orgs

Learn more about the #pubcorps at publicmediacorps.org

Jones: "There's still a lot of opportunity to engage new voices and have a real impact in #pubmedia...even though we're in dicey times"

Jones: #pubmedia produced by young people may look very different: games, citizen journalism training, etc. Need to be reflected in content

Bagwell: Is there a possibility for young ideas to lead the future of #pubmedia? Jones: Yes, but it's really challenging, different process

Jones: "We learned that we have a lot more to learn"

Bagwell: a recurring issue in #pubmedia now is "how do you find the public where they are"

Sue Schardt (@Schardt) from Association of Independents in Radio (@AIRmedia) talking about vibrant, diversified universe of makers/content

@Schardt: "How in #pubmedia can we harness this invention and energy" of indy producers? MQ2 project: demo project exploring this

@Schardt: #pubmedia #sxsw You have to balance structure with creativity. Learn more about MQ2 here: http://bit.ly/Spreading_the_Zing

@Schardt: We don't throw out the existing infrastructure, but we have to reflect humanity in a relevant, meaningful way

@Schardt: It's a tremendous challege to produce authentic #pubmedia at this moment when many institutions are risk-averse

@Schardt: Every one of the MQ2 projects took themselves outside of the structure to deep into communities. #pubmedia led us there

Jay Rosen: Bloggers vs. Journalists Redux

Listening to @jayrosen_nyu deconstruct the psychology of journalists and bloggers & why they love to hate each other

@jayrosen_nyu: the "fantasy of replacement" is a phantom of journalists' fears re. waning business model.

jay rosen

@jayrosen_nyu: journalists dismiss bloggers as "compulsive," "random"--displaced anger at a public that doesn't value journalism

@jayrosen_nyu: what do journalists have against basements, anyway? pajamas? flies in the face of intrepid journalist stereotypes

@jayrosen_nyu: if it were self-evident that commercial model is better, drawing contrasts w/bloggers would be uneccessary, yes?

I always marvel at the skill with which @jayrosen_nyu brands himself and revisits his own crusades to clever effect

@jayrosen_nyu: bloggers turn critique around to claim that big media should be responsible so they can slack off. but press is us

@jayrosen_nyu: "discarded parts [of old news habits] live on in the subconscious...and have come roaring back with blogging"

@jayrosen_nyu: i.e.--Bloggers are the return of the repressed

@jayrosen_nyu: voice is what you take out of modern professional journalism--if you succeed you might one day earn a column

@jayrosen_nyu: "Bloggers disrupt the moral hierarchy" by jumping straight to voice without the discipline of flat reporting

@jayrosen_nyu: It's time for some psychiatry with journalists--to "get them to tell a better story" about themselves & the world

@jayrosen_nyu prescription: bloggers, learn some basic standards. journalists: get flexible. "mutualization"

@jayrosen_nyu: In psychology, you don't get over the things that have wounded you; instead you can open up space for motion

@jayrosen_nyu: "freedom of the press is a public possession," the right for citizens to print their opinions

@jayrosen_nyu Wants NPR to drop ideology of "view from nowhere" and replace it with pluralism & transparency

Editors' note: Read Jay Rosen's discussion of the attempts to defund public media.

@jayrosen_nyu: "so-called objectivity is a very expensive system to maintain" b/c anything that pierces it threatens outlet

@jayrosen_nyu: The only place we actuallly define journalists is via shield laws and velvet ropes

How PBS and NPR Can Support Local Journalism

Reporting from #sxswlocal panel on future of local w/ @kdando @tgdavidson @janjlab @amyshaw9net Photo: http://yfrog.com/gzfkcksj h/t @JLab

interactivepanel.jpg

Last #pubmedia panel of the day: On what PBS/NPR are doing in the local news space. @janjlab talking about variety in news ecosystem

@janjlab: lots of news innovation happening in silos; not networked in a way that can amplify news/info

Amy Shaw from the Nine Network in St. Louis talking about Homeland project, which we covered here: http://to.pbs.org/9Q6Ja0

Shaw: "I wish there was a more holistic perspective" about how to work in an community news ecosystem

Shaw: people need to "tuck their peacock feathers in at the door" and think about what's good for engaging community

Shaw: people need to be nudged around creating dialogue around stalled, intractable issues

RT @PatNarciso: Nine Network on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/STL9Network

@amyshaw9net: the master narrative about immigration is demonization and polarization of "undocumented"--wanted to deepen issue

@amyshaw9net: they are training people how to use flip cameras: young people get tech but not story; older folks the opposite

@pubmlicmic: Schaffer: Need to end mentality that once funding is over, project is over

@mediaengage: Great wisdom shared by @janjlab @kdando @amyshaw9net & @tgdavidson (and @nicolehollway!) at today's #SXSWlocal #pubmedia session

@JackLerner: "#pubmedia can help local news by being a hub, a partner, or an innovator." - @JLab's @janjlab #SXSWlocal #sxsw

And onwards...

@CJERICSON: Video or audio of #imaconf coming soon. Audio this weekend. Video next week. For all attendees & members.

@g5member: Great to meet so many of public media's creative and dedicated minds at #imaconf. Now, #sxsw time!

Full disclosure: In my role as the director of the Ford Foundation-funded Future of Public Media Project, I am working with the National Black Programing Consortium to incubate their Public Media Corps project via the Center for Social Media, and have also worked with PBS/NPR on the PubCamps and Association of Independents in Radio on a study of their MQ2 project. More details on all of these here: futureofpublicmedia.net.

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

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March 12 2011

01:30

Japan: When public broadcasting meets limited access

On the long list of things I know nothing about are (a) the Japanese language, (b) the state of fair use in Japanese media law, and (c) the legal structure of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. But this article seems to hit on a lot of the same issues we see in the American future-of-journalism world: How far can (and should) a news organization go to protect the products of its journalists? How do the duties of a publicly funded news organization differ from those of a private one? And how does the mission of serving the public match up with the mission to sustain a news organization?

The brief story, in the Japanese business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is in Japanese, so I asked our Twitter followers if someone was willing to translate.

(Huge thanks to Chris Salzberg, Annamaria Sasagawa, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Tana Oshima, and Ally Millar for volunteering to help. Our readers are awesome.)

Here’s how one of our readers, Takaaki Okada, translated the text:

NHK disallows the transmission of earthquake footage over the web

On the 11th of March, NHK disallowed the online transmission of earthquake footage by other news media outlets. “We are sending our correspondents to the ground so we can broadcast the footage ourselves, so it makes sense that the public watches it on NHK’s TV channel or website,” said NHK’s Public Relations Department.

NHK is allowing newspapers to publish images of their footage as long as they are credited, but they are not allowing other media outlets to transmit their footage online. Because of this unprecedented emergency, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei Newspaper) has requested the NHK — a public broadcasting organization — to offer their important video footage, so it can reach a wide audience, but NHK has declined this request.

Again, I have no idea what Japanese law around fair use is, or how NHK as a public broadcaster views (or should view) its role in a moment of national crisis. And NHK is no doubt spending a ton of money covering the earthquake and tsunami, and it makes sense that it should reap the rewards of that work in terms of audience. But it’s an interesting place to draw the line to say that no NHK footage should be allowed on the website of a leading national newspaper. It’s particularly interesting given that, as I type this, there are over 1,000 videos uploaded to YouTube in the past 24 hours with “NHK” in the description or title — and from scanning them over, most seem to be straight copies of NHK disaster footage.

In any event, NHK World is streaming free on its website for anyone looking for it. Our best to all our readers in Japan and everyone else affected by today’s disaster.

March 11 2011

19:00

Funding public media: How the US compares to the rest of the world

With this week’s NPR news has renewing the debate about de-funding public broadcasting, it’s worth highlighting a recent report (pdf) that puts our public broadcasting system into perspective when compared with 14 countries around the world.

Though cutting public broadcasting appropriations to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would essentially limit the “public” nature of our system by cutting out the government, it’s important to remember that most public radio stations receive only about 10 percent of their money from CPB. For many public radio stations, though, if it comes to it, the loss of this federal money may make it all the harder to sustain local programming — and local newsgathering — if it cannot be found elsewhere.

Taking a look at the report, compiled by Rodney Benson and Matthew Powers of NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication, which includes a close breakdown of the public service models of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Some key findings:

• US per capita spending on public broadcasting is $4.
• Research fairly consistently shows that public television, simply put, makes for better quality news.
• As a corollary, public service television, at least in Denmark, Finland, the UK, and the US, makes people better informed and encourages higher levels of news consumption.
• The most trusted public broadcasters are those that are perceived as closest to the public, and most distant from the government and advertisers.
• While some countries play around with appropriations, many of these are for multi-year periods, creating some insulation from political pressure. And other countries, like the UK, Japan, and the Netherlands, rely primarily on license fees.
• Independent buffers between governments and the broadcasters help keep the government out of the content.
• Public broadcasters are all over the board when it comes to Internet transitions. Some are trying to figure out how to raise the money to make things more innovative, while others, like the BBC, are pioneers.
• Government newspaper subsidies are alive and well, and have been for a long time — many since the 1970s. They help keep afloat struggling newspapers and create a diversity of opinion. In some cases, they are even sponsoring innovation online. They exist in Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.
• Public broadcasters, even in Europe, are facing pressure from commercial broadcasting — and hedge between trying to fulfill public service missions and compete by appealing to large audiences.
• It could be a lot worse.

In New Zealand, in 1989, the public broadcaster TVNZ lost all its funding and was actually required to produce dividends to pay back to the national treasury. Though some public funding has been restored, pretty much all New Zealand has is New Zealand on Air, a public media agency that gives out public funding to commercial and non-commercial channels. New Zealand has managed to keep Radio New Zealand publicly funded.

Some recommendations the report includes:

• Just because we aren’t Europe doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to have strong public broadcasting.
• Make appropriations for multi-year arrangements, or better yet, establish a trust for public broadcasting.
• As the authors note: “The question is not if government should be involved, but how, and that is a question that demands an in-depth conversation, not a shouting match.”

The report makes a claim worth interrogating, though: the idea that few outlets providing public interest programming, commercial or non-commercial, reach a broad public audience. Just to take issue with that, the evening news figures — in total viewership — for February 21, 2011 look something like this:

NBC: 9,830,000
ABC: 8,400,000
CBS: 6,450,000

But NPR’s weekly reach on Morning Edition is 14 million and 13 million for All Things Considered. So it may be that more public interest news, and public service news, is reaching more people than we think. And the audience has continued to grow.

Benson and Powers are not alone in suggesting a public trust for news; they were joined by a chorus of reports last year looking for sustainability for news. But the question is: Could such a trust be established at a time of political discord when the very viability of the concept of publicly funded media is on the table?

15:00

This Week in Review: NPR at a crossroads, hyperlocal’s personal issue, and keeping comments real

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

A bad week for NPR execs named Schiller: For the second time in five months, NPR has found itself in the middle of a controversy that’s forced it to wrestle with issues of objectivity, bias, and its own federal funding. This one started when the conservative prankster James O’Keefe orchestrated a hidden-camera video of a NPR fundraising exec bashing Tea Partiers and generally straying from the NPR party line while meeting with people pretending to represent a Muslim charity. (The “donors” also met with PBS, but their people didn’t take the bait.)

Reaction was mixed: The right, of course, was outraged, though others like Slate’s Jack Shafer and Gawker’s John Cook downplayed the significance of the video. NPR was outraged, too — “appalled,” actually, with 21 journalists condemning the remarks. CEO Vivian Schiller said she was upset and that the two execs had put on administrative leave, but within about 12 hours, however, Schiller herself had been forced out by NPR’s board. The New York Times has good background on the shocking turn of events, and Poynter summarized the six months of controversy that led up to this, stretching back to Juan Williams’ firing (the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder called Schiller’s ouster “Williams’ revenge”).

Reaction to NPR’s handling of the situation was decidedly less mixed — and a lot more scathing. In a chat and column, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard ripped just about all parties involved, and the online response from media-watchers was just as harsh. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen called it “profoundly unjust,” and several others blasted NPR’s leadership.

The Awl’s Choire Sicha called NPR’s management “wusses,” CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis called the NPR board “ballless” and said the episode exposes the difference between NPR and the stations who run it, ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg lamented NPR’s allowing the O’Keefes of the world to take over public discourse, and Rosen and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy told NPR to start fighting back. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Joel Meares put it best, saying the fiasco “exposes them as an organization that is fundamentally weak — too concerned about its image to realize that ‘surrender’ is not always the best option.”

The episode also stoked the fires of the perpetual debate over whether public radio should keep its federal funding. The Atlantic’s Chris Good looked at the political aspects of the issue, and The Christian Science Monitor examined whether public radio stations would survive without federal money. A few calls to defund public radio came from outside the traditional (i.e. conservative) places, with Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan and media analyst Alan Mutter arguing that NPR will be in an untenable situation as a political football as long as they’re getting federal funds. Meanwhile, here at the Lab, USC’s Nikki Usher did give some encouraging information from the whole situation, looking at Schiller’s legacy of digital and local innovation during her NPR tenure.

Making hyperlocal news personal: AOL continued its move into local news late last week, as it bought the hyperlocal news aggregator Outside.in. In an excellent analysis at the Lab, Ken Doctor argued that the purchase is a way for AOL to get bigger quickly, particularly by bulking up Patch’s pageviews through cheap local aggregation tools. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick took the opportunity to ask why hyperlocal news technology services like Outside.in, Everyblock, and Fwix haven’t been as useful as we had hoped.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM posited an answer: Hyperlocal journalism only works if it’s deeply connected with the community it serves, and those technologies aren’t. Without that level of community, “AOL is pouring money into a bottomless pit,” he wrote. The Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran said that might be where local news organizations can step in, focusing less on creating news articles and more on using their community trust to make local information useful, relevant and findable.

Elsewhere on the cheap-content front: All Things Digital reported that AOL is laying off hundreds of employees (including the widely expected gutting of several of its news sites), and Business Insider snagged the memo. Wired talked to two Google engineers about its anti-content farm changes, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said good content is created either by passionate fans or by proper journalists being paid a fair amount. But, he said, “paying people a very low amount of money to write about stuff they don’t care about — that doesn’t work.” And Dan Conover at Xark warned against turning content — especially hyperlocal — into a franchise formula.

Accountability and authenticity in online comments: TechCrunch was one of the first companies to try out Facebook’s new commenting system, and after about a week, MG Siegler noted that the number of the site’s comments had decreased, and they’d also gone from nasty to warm and fuzzy. Entrepreneur Steve Cheney proposed a reason why the comments were so “sterile and neutered”: Facebook kills online authenticity, because everyone is self-censoring their statements to make sure their grandmas, ex-girlfriends, and entire social network won’t be offended.

Tech guru Robert Scoble disagreed, arguing that TechCrunch’s comments have improved, and people know real change and credibility only comes from using their real identities. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo made a somewhat similar argument, eloquently making the case for the elimination of anonymous commenting. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram weighed in by saying that Facebook can’t make or break comments — it all depends on being involved in an actual conversation with users. He pointed to a brilliant post by NPR’s Matt Thompson, who gave numerous tips on cultivating community in comments; much it went back to the idea that “The very best filter is an empowered, engaged adult.”

Meanwhile, Joy Mayer of the Reynolds Journalism Institute got some advice on cultivating online reader engagement from the Wall Street Journal’s (and formerly the Lab’s) Zach Seward, and the Lab’s Megan Garber reported on the results of some research into which stories are the most liked and shared on Facebook.

More paywall test cases: Newspapers continue to pound the paywall drumbeat, with the CEO of newspaper chain Gannett saying the company is experimenting with various pay models in anticipation of a potential one-time company-wide rollout and the Dallas Morning News rolling out its own paywall this week. Ken Doctor crunched the numbers to try to gauge the initiative’s chances, and media consultant Mike Orren disagreed with the News’ idea of how much a metro newspaper’s operation should cost.

Elsewhere, Reuters’ Felix Salmon made the case that Britain’s Financial Times’ paywall strategy has contributed to its decline, writing, “the FT strategy is exactly the strategy I would choose if I was faced with an industry in terminal decline, and wanted to extract as much money as possible from it before it died.” Meanwhile, The New York Times’ public editor, Arthur Brisbane, chided the Times for not aggressively covering news of its own paywall, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM called paywalls a futile attempt to hold back the tide of free online content.

Reading roundup: Some things to read in between SXSW Interactive panels:

— New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote a rather odd little column taking shots at news and opinion aggregators, especially Arianna Huffington. Everyone then took shots at his column, including Huffington, TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, and Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan.

— Newsweek published its first redesigned issue under The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown this week. The Society of Publication Designers had a look at the issue, which Slate’s Jack Shafer panned. The New York Times noted the issue’s familiar bylines.

— A few Apple-related notes: At MediaShift, Susan Currie Sivek looked at the impact of Apple’s 30-percent app subscription cut on small magazines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow urged Apple-fighting publishers to move to the open web, not Android-powered tablets. GigaOM’s Om Malik joined the chorus of people calling for iPad apps to be reimagined.

— Two great posts at the Lab on search engine optimization: Richard J. Tofel on why the web will be better off with the decline of SEO, and Martin Langeveld on the SEO consequences of including paid links on sites.

— Former Guardian digital chief Emily Bell gave a fantastic interview to CBC Radio about various future-of-news issues, and Mathew Ingram summarized a talk she gave on newspapers and the web.

— Finally, two must-reads: The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote a thoughtful essay arguing that we should take the contemporary journalism environment on its own terms, rather than unfairly comparing it to earlier eras. And at the Lab, former St. Pete Times journalist and current Nebraska j-prof Matt Waite called news developers to let the old systems go and “hack at the very core of the whole product.”

February 11 2011

19:30

#gave4andy: Andy Carvin and the ad hoc pledge drive

One of the winners of the January 25 uprisings in Egypt — besides, of course, the people of Egypt — has been Andy Carvin. NPR’s social media guru has been doing an exemplary job of curating social media to report on a weeks-long protest that seems to have transformed, today, into a democratic revolution.

Carvin’s work cultivating sources and sharing their updates has turned curation into an art form, and it’s provided a hint of what news can look like in an increasingly networked media environment. “It really has stood out as an alternative model of news,” says Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s senior vice president and general manager of digital media. It’s also led to earnest talk of a Pulitzer for social media curation (with Carvin, of course, as the prize’s first recipient) and to equally earnest discussions, among Jeff Jarvis and others, of how to translate Carvin’s curatorial prowess into a full-fledged business model.

It’s also led, Wilson told me, to more immediate questions of financial support among those who’ve been following, and benefiting from, Carvin’s coverage. How, they want to know, can they donate to it?

A few hours ago, Carvin hacked together an ad hoc response to that question. He sent out a non-news tweet to his Twitter stream: “Wanna support my #egypt tweeting? Pls donate to your NPR station http://n.pr/b7N0RZ then tweet amount & station w/ tag #gave4andy. PLS RT”

The tweet, so far, has been retweeted directly by 54 people. And, more to the point, it’s been responded to with actual donations to NPR stations. (NPR doesn’t take money directly through its listeners, but rather through its member stations.) So far, the on-the-fly pledge drive has raised over $2,000, by my rough count — $2,215, to be precise — for member stations both big (WNYC, WBUR) and small (WOUB from Athens, Ohio).

I should stress, of course, that the donation stats aren’t based on official, station-based pledge data. The info is cobbled together from the hashtag stream itself — by me, no less, not anything reliably automated — and, furthermore, it’s based on self-reported donation amounts and self-reported donation recipients. Some people who tweeted to the #gave4andy tag have indicated that they’ve donated, but haven’t included the amounts they’ve pledged (and so aren’t included in the total amount). Others have mentioned vague donation amounts — “monthly installments” and the like — and so, similarly, aren’t counted in the total. Still others may well have made donations without noting that they’ve done so on Twitter (or within the #gave4andy hashtag stream). So: Huge grain of salt.

Still, though, the tweet, the tag, and the response combine to form an intriguing example of what can happen when you harness the power of a particular event, and a particular moment — and translate that energy to financial support. People, as the tweets flooding Twitter and the updates flooding Facebook can attest, love to feel that they’re part of something — particularly when that something is the making of history. Contributing financially to the reporting of human events can be a small, but quite meaningful, way to be part of them.

The carpe hashtag approach is also an indication of what can come when news organizations give their individual staffers the power to experiment — even when it comes to the business side of the news. “This was spontaneous on his part — he did it on his own initiative,” Wilson notes of Carvin’s tweet. (Carvin himself, by the way, is still tweeting up a storm — and after that, we hope, will be #giving4andy some well-deserved downtime.)

Not only was Carvin’s seize-the-moment spontaneity not a rogue move; on the contrary, Wilson says, “it’s exactly the kind of initiative that we try to encourage people to take — to be nimble and smart and take what I’d classify as ‘prudent risks.’”

That’s significant, because Carvin’s curation could easily be a matter of tension. Carvin works closely with NPR’s news team, Wilson notes, and “there’s a lot of communication back and forth”; still, the work he’s been doing — with Egypt, and before that with Tunisia, and before that with Iran, etc. — has largely been done under the auspices of his personal Twitter account. To the extent that, when people think of “that awesomely curated Egypt stream,” they usually associate it with @acarvin, rather than @NPR or @NPRNews.

The hashtagged pledge drive, though, offers a kind of reconciliation for that personal/organizational disconnect: It’s a way to ensure that the exemplary work of an individual employee accrues, financially, to the employee’s organization. It’s also, more broadly, a way to ensure that work Carvin — and, by extension, NPR — is investing in generates reward beyond Twitterspheric plaudits. One of the questions NPR asks itself, Wilson notes, is what becomes of public radio’s traditional means of financial solicitation — the pledge drive — in a new and constantly shifting media landscape. With the ad hoc hashtag, “we may have stumbled onto a useful way” to rethink the pledge, Wilson says. It’s way too early to come to any concrete conclusions about event-specific solicitations, of course. Still, though: ”There may be a kernel in this.”

January 10 2011

17:07

Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made 15 recommendations on how America can have a bright info-future. One of those recommendations was for increased support for public media predicated on public media efforts to "step up," for lack of a better term.

Public media has been on the minds and lips of a lot of Americans. Certainly the last few years have seen a growth in public media across the board from Corporation for Public Broadcasting entities (PBS, NPR) to less formal public media entities like PRX and PRI. Recently, as a follow-up to the work of the Knight Commission Barbara Cochran wrote a policy paper "Rethinking Public Media: Mort Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive." From the Knight Commission blog post:

At a time when government funding for public broadcasting is hotly debated, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," a new policy paper by Barbara Cochran, offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations to reform public media.


It's an excellent piece of reading that breaks down some of the roadblocks and opportunities that lay ahead for public media.

Beyond white papers, however, it's important that the public be able to speak their mind about public media. That's why, thanks to the support of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the institutional home of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Spot.Us surveyed 500 members about the state of public media in their community.

The goal was to find out where public media is strong, weak and what suggestions the public might have for public media. Not only did this survey raise awareness about the growing role of public media, it supported media as well. Every member of our community that took the survey was given $5 in credits to fund the story of their choice on our site.

And The Survey Says....

How Big Is Your Community?
Before we can examine the survey in-depth I should remind folks that this is a sponsored survey of a somewhat self-selecting community (and our community is perhaps more media-savvy than other websites). That said, our first question was aimed at getting a sense of where people lived. One of the trends we often hear is that major metropolitan areas are better served by public media than smaller locations. Our survey affirmed this.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were from major metropolitan areas. Another 17 percent were from large cities. Only a handful (12 percent) came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Our survey skewed toward major metropolitan areas and in total they were happier with public media than folks in more rural areas. This should be kept in the back of our minds when we dive into the remaining questions and answers.
Spot.Us community member Mike Labonte summed up the frustration with public media in small towns when he wrote his suggestion to improve public media in his town: "Presence. The only public media in my city of 70,000 is the local public access cable TV station."

The next question in our survey allowed for multiple answers: "Who has an influential role in shaping media in your area?" It's an important question to ask because while the ecosystem continues to change many charge public media with the role to unite various media forces together. The results of this question were proven interesting again; as much as things have changed -- they also stay the same.

Newspapers and national broadcast television were considered influential by the most respondents. Just over 75 percent of people who took the survey selected papers as being influential. Local bloggers garnered 188 votes or just 37 percent of those that took the survey. While that's still a hefty number, it was the lowest concrete choice (it performed better than "other") and came in just below "elected officials."
Community member Laurie Pumper noted: "One small but telling example: Public radio went out of its way to keep a citizen journalism organization from providing live-streaming of a gubernatorial debate in Minnesota. If an organization accepts public funding, I expect better cooperation with other sources of media."

Next we asked how people got involved in public media. The respondents had three overwhelming answers: Social media, the general website and donating. The overlap between these three was also very strong. Almost everyone who said they donated engaged through the website and social media. Although the reverse trend was not as strong (i.e. somebody who engaged through social media might not donate), there was still a correlation.

In light of the number of respondents who said they volunteer or worked for public media, the number of people who attended events at their local public media station seemed a little low. Getting out the word can be very important as community member Ben Melançon said: "Dedicating the resources to come and ask what's up, once a month. Taking matters of interest common to multiple local areas they cover and doing very in-depth reports on them."
Next we got to the heart of the survey: How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren't an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either "good" (33 percent) or "fair" (32 percent). Because these two combine for 65 percent of all responders it's worth examining the exact language of these answers:
  • Fair -- There are occasional examples of diverse programming, but it's not the norm.
  • Good -- While not perfect, there are obvious efforts to make programming more inclusive.

While these lukewarm answers were the majority only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an "excellent" or "very good" job of reflecting a community's diversity.
And then came the meatiest question: "How well do public media do of informing you about local issues?"

Again we find mixed results, but the overall trend was positive. A majority 69 percent said public media was doing either "average" or "above average" at covering local issues. While it's great to see so few select "poor" (six percent) or "below average" (17 percent), there is still lots of room for improvement when we note that only 8 percent of responders thought public media was doing "fantastic."

In an interesting contrast with an earlier comment, community member Alexis Gonzales said this about the size of a town:

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover 'neighborhood' issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller city (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think public media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e., neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.



Taxes

The survey also threw in a playful question regarding taxes. Since public media's funding has been a topic of discussion, why not ask the public what they think? The question was arguably loaded, but still worth asking.

The exact language was: "British citizens are taxed $80.36 a year to support the BBC. United States citizens are taxed only $1.36. Knowing it would mean more taxes you believe the following." Then respondents could decide if they wanted to lower taxes to $0 or raise them to "beat the British."

This question was asked in part to educate, since many people don't realize how little our media is subsidized by taxes compared to other countries and in part to provoke responses around a hotly debated topic.

About 20 percent of responders thought the taxes should stay the same or even be lowered to $0. Nearly half thought of expanding the taxes a little either doubling it to $2.70 or expanding it to $30. And perhaps because of how the answer was worded  ("Let's beat the British") a whopping 34 percent wanted to raise taxes to $80.37 to fund public media. Either the Spot.Us community has lots of public media fans or a reminder that the British public media is out-funding ours 80-to-1 was too much to bear. (Also note 49 individuals who took the survey work for public media according to their answers to question #3).


From the public's mouth

Finally, our last open-ended question sought advice and input about how public media could improve at the local level. We received 500 responses and below I have republished some of the best with the survey respondents' permission.

Wendy Carrillo

I live in East LA / Boyle Heights. It's very rare that good positive stories are told about my community via TV news. LA Times covers some good stories, but it's not the norm. I would like to see my community being covered w/ national issues other than immigration. Like Latinos who serve in armed forces, or those who are making a difference in the classroom.

Tom Davidson

Engage the emerging local blogosphere -- providing them promotion/audience and, potentially, revenue via bundled sales using the bully pulpit of public media. In other words, why can't a local PBS or NPR station serve the same role as a TBD.com in Washington?

Tim Gihring

They could spice up the reporting. The no rant/no slant approach is appropriate, but the reporting is often simple, dry, and probably not engaging as broad an audience as possible as a result.

Henry Jenkins

Right now, Los Angeles seems poised to lose its PBS station, which is going independent. This is a good news, bad news situation. Some of its best current projects are local and these will continue and grow. But we will also lose some of the programs from PBS which we have come to expect and they will be missed.

Ruth Ann Harnisch

Deploy the resources of journalism majors and graduate students in the many universities and colleges located in and around the major metro areas. Collaborate with universities and colleges to cover more beats, produce more stories, create more outlets, uncover more potential advertisers and train better journalists.

Tom Stites

My community, Newburyport, Mass., is an hour north of Boston, a half hour south of Portsmouth, N.H., and an hour and 10 minutes south of Portland, Maine. I listen to public radio from all three, and no one covers Newburyport or its surrounding area. In fact, we're in a fringe reception area for all the stations. What would be really cool would be to have a low-power, listener-supported station right here in Newburyport. There's a local AM station that plays old music but has no local news presence.
Perhaps where I live makes me an outlier, but I suspect that my situation is quite common -- most public radio stations are in big cities or on university campuses in smaller places. That said, most smaller communities, including mine, don't have colleges.

Jake Bayless

Public media is largely the only not-for-profit trusted local and regional source of info, and source of curated content. I'd like to see that trust "capital" realized -- my local station is in the process of retooling for the new media revolution -- it's not easy to change the battleship's direction. More and amplified info like that from the Knight Commission needs to be put out there. The public at large doesn't yet understand how vital public media SHOULD be in their lives as info consumers. Public media orgs all should adopt "Community Media Projects" in order to learn, listen and meet the information and democratic needs of the communities they serve... everything else is broken, untrustworthy or unsuitable.

Arthur Coddington

Awareness that public media is frequently a partnership between national providers (NPR) and local stations. Those that don't understand this partnership can dismiss the programming as not locally relevant. Visibility. Police who are present and interacting with local residents can generate greater trust and participation in public safety. Similar thing could be true of public media. If they are visible -- if they are not "they" -- then we feel more connected to the stories, more possibility to reach out to them when new issues arrive, etc. Engagement. Partner with schools, libraries and service orgs to unearth essential local stories, create broadcasts about them, and follow up to track impact.

Andria Krewson

Be more aggressive about giving up old ways (and sometimes long-time staffers) to free up resources and time to explore new ways of sharing information. Note on the tax question: I'd support more taxation for public media, but I'm discouraged about the track record used to spend tax money recently and would need total transparency (and some influence) on how money is spent in order to support more taxation.

Chris Mecham

We have a very active NPR-supporting community here but the simple fact is that they are charged with providing service to a huge, mountainous geographic area and while we may, as a community, have an above average rate of contribution, we also have greater infrastructure expenses than many other areas. Considering what Boise State Public Radio does with their resources I think they are doing okay. One of the features of public broadcasting funding in Idaho is that up to a fairly generous limit our contributions are counted as a tax credit. Not a deduction. A credit. "Do I want to give Butch Otter my money or do I want to give Terry Gross my money? Hmmmm."

Lisa Morehouse

Experiment. Be willing to try and fail at new shows, new ways of delivering the news. Invest in reporting. Pay freelancers a fair wage so that journalists without financial support can enter and stay in the profession (not possible now).

Bill Day

Public media should pioneer efforts to build real-time citizen journalist networks. Using low cost distribution and collation tools, public media could become hubs for high-quality, low cost information sharing -- school test scores, water quality, traffic needs, etc.

Sabine Schmidt

Through reaching out to organizations and individuals representing under-served parts of the community, especially economic and ethnic minorities. The demographic makeup of my metro area is changing rapidly due to growing Hispanic, Marshallese, and Hmong populations; except for some Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, few media outlets report on issues such as immigration, wage theft, bilingual education, etc. Public media could a) report more extensively on those topics -- not as "minority" issues but as issues affecting members of our community; this would require b) establishing a broader definition of what our community is; and c), public media could offer internships and fellowships to young and/or freelance journalists, especially because the local NPR station is run by the university's journalism department.

Antonio Roman-Alcala

I like the Bay Citizen model, and the Public Press ... one for exposing local issues to a broader audience, the other for in-depth local news for locals. I don't know if that counts as public media? Overall, I don't pay much attention to TV news, even public channels...so I'm not sure about that. Public media seems generally underfunded; I'd like to see more funding for it, as well as movement towards a more public-serving private news media (though we know, of course, that's easier said than done).

Alexis Gonzales

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover "neighborhood" issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller cities (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think Public Media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e. neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.

Kaitlin Parker

Find positive happenings to report in communities that are typically only covered when something negative happens there.

Anthony Wojtkowiak

For lack of a better phrase, they need to grow some balls. My town in New Jersey is influenced by political boss George Norcross, the unions, and the mafia. And that's not even the corruption and hubris that goes on in the city itself. What our reporters really need is assertiveness training, media law training, and self-defense courses. But most of all, they need the courage to use all of that stuff.

Todd O'Neill

Our public radio and public television are separate entities that don't work together. Although our public radio is beefing up it's news reporting it seems simple to bring that reporting over to television. But public media is NOT JUST NPR and PBS. We have struggling cable public access community (no funding or support from the city) here and a number of online only community journalism operations (including a Knight grantee) that are all doing their own thing without coordination. Big Public Media (NPR/PBS) should be a leader to bring all of these "under the tent" and provide a real media public service to the community.

Charles Sanders


Actually, local issues aren't my concern. I wish public media reinforced its international coverage and improved its drama, comedy ... content. I envy the BBC.

Martin Wolff


As someone who listens to public media daily, it is sad that I have to try hard to think about a local issue being covered. In that respect, almost anything would improve the coverage as it feels almost, but not quite, non-existent. When local issues are covered they seemingly come in only two forms: 1. A feel good issue that is barely an issue and will create nearly zero discourse in the community. For example, holiday-lights festivals. 2. Wimpy. The interviewer/broadcaster will do nothing while two sides of an issue actively lie to the community and directly contradict each other. Fixing #1 is easy -- nobody really terribly cares, so we don't need 10 minutes of coverage about a mayor flipping the switch and lighting a tree up. Fixing #2 is harder. The public media must stand up for itself better and call out the guilty parties. The public media must step up its role as a sort of police officer of society and arrest those who break the rules.

Yvette Maranowski


ALWAYS retain vigorous capacity for citizen reporters. Fund them with equipment and training. People are busy now and have to work independently, but with lifelines keeping them connected to their media outlets. Use McChesney and Nichol's idea of $200 in tax credit going to every citizen, so that the citizen can donate their credit to whatever organization they choose -- such as journalistic ones. Constantly produce and air/publish material about the importance of journalism -- keep hitting the public with that message!

Andy Edgar


Survey people in the neighborhood for their backgrounds, locations and topics of interest, get them interested in issues that affect everyone. Focus on things like air and water quality, advice on picking up litter and why it's important not to litter, community events, getting to know neighbors' talents/skills, healthy alternatives to fast food and big box grocery stores. Community based ways to prevent crime/hate acts should be talked about explored and tried.

William Forbes


In my community (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), "public" radio and television are HUGE cash cows. They do a good job and are influential but the real inclusive and diverse media that truly serve the under-represented populations of our area are Community Radio Stations, in particular KFAI. MN Public Television/NPR/MPR/PBS could do a much better job but they are more concerned with maintaining (and increasing) corporate and government funding than with covering issues that don't always have universal appeal.

Michael Hopkins

In its current state, public media is dangerous because it offers the illusion of complete objectivity and truth. Too many people listen to it uncritically because of this. I would like to see public media representatives ask much tougher questions of everybody and hire a much more diverse staff of journalists. The illusion will still be there, but it will match reality more closely.

Jeffrey Aberbach


My community now has a Patch website. It's too early to judge how successful it will be in reaching out to our diverse community, but so far it appears to be more successful than the established, corporate-owned media outlet in town (a poorly staffed small daily newspaper that generates little local content).

Jeddy Lin


In my area, despite being close to a large university, not much of a public media movement exists. A more visible public media would go a long way towards creating a more progressive, diverse community.

Kitty Norton


They could provide better coverage for schools. They seem to report statistics and not real life goings-on in our schools to the community.

Luke Gies


I don't have any television or newspaper service, so I am somewhat "self isolating" from our local media. I get most of my news from the Internet, so I think one area of improvement for local media would be to increase the content and improve the usability of their websites. That is more of an improvement in distribution than in "covering the issues," but distribution is a key component to the reporting of news.

December 20 2010

20:52

Brazilian Public Media Faces Tough Digital Transition

Belém, BRAZIL -- At the mouth of the Amazon river, vendors at the Ver-o-Peso market display the region's fruits, fish and crafts on splintered tables and rusting carts. They hail prospective buyers who pass by their closely packed stalls. Just a block over, behind the security gate of the Estação das Docas, a collection of renovated waterfront warehouses, eco-tourists stroll in air conditioned comfort past many of the same goods, which have been marked up and packaged as artisanal delights. The night I visit, one of these former warehouses is dedicated to a pop-up fashion fair for rising designers; a female DJ spins club tunes and ironic T-shirts mock souvenir gear.

Such cheek-to-jowl contradictions are common in Brazil, where income disparities are among the highest in the world, and megacities like São Paulo compete for national resources with tiny towns tucked deep in the rainforest. That reality makes it a challenge for the country's strapped public broadcasting outlets to create content to serve such a wide range of publics. This was the topic of an early December conference, TV Pública: Forum Internacional de Conteúdo, held in Belém's state-of-the-art Hangar Convention Center.

Public Broadcasting Coalesces

Public broadcasting is relatively young in Brazil. While TV Cultura, a private, foundation-funded channel offering arts, kids, documentary and sports programming has been around since the '60s, it was only in late 2007 that the government launched TV Brasil, a federally funded public broadcasting network. It airs Brazilian films, regional and educational programming, and sports. The channel's national over-the-air reach is limited, but it is available via cable, satellite and online.

Locally, public stations perform a variety of functions -- such as providing access to legislative proceedings, educational content and community outreach -- but they are not networked together via shared programming, as PBS member stations are. Now they are centrally administered, as in the case of the BBC. This lack of coordination, and the limited resources allotted these stations via local government funds, will soon be compounded further as the country undertakes the switch from analog to digital broadcast.

The conference, organized by the Brazilian Association of Public, Educational and Cultural Broadcasters, explored these challenges from a variety of perspectives, including content, program coordination and scheduling, infrastructure, funding, management, unwelcome government interference in program choices, and training of a new generation of public media makers. One key question is how stations might possibly hope to fill the four digital channels they will soon acquire in exchange for their one analog signal.

While some independent and non-profit content is broadly available from sources such as
Itaú Cultural
, a cultural institute which subsidizes the distribution of regional arts and music programming to stations, few syndication or rights-sharing arrangements have been developed. Many of the attendees had been to previous conferences to tackle these issues, but this was the first international gathering designed to bring perspectives in from other countries about how to manage such a thorny transition.

brazil pubilc media1.jpg

Digital Disruption

Simultaneously, Brazilian communications and cultural authorities are working to figure out how to harness online and mobile technologies for the public good. Just weeks before, the Digital Culture conference issued a "declaration of Internet rights," which asserted "diversity and freedom are the foundation [of] democratic communication. Internet access is a fundamental right." At the TV Pública conference, one speaker described NavegaPara, a project to provide Internet access in the state of Pará, including remote areas of the Amazon.

Questions about how to use the pending digital broadcast signal to provide interactivity or web access via TV dogged the conference. The digital divide is much wider in Brazil than the U.S. While nearly 95 percent of Brazilians have access to television, high taxes and low incomes make electronic device purchases steep; wiring this large and sometimes rugged country has so far proven difficult.

Of course, none of this has stopped citizen reporters from putting the latest technologies to work. As Global Voices reported:

Young residents in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in Rio de Janeiro have begun using social and citizen media to chronicle the recent wave of violence spreading through the city. Seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist Rene Silva has set up a Twitter account, @vozdacomunidade (voice of the community), to monitor the police occupation of the favela complex, with the related hashtag, #vozdacomunidade, already beginning to trend. Meanwhile, @Igorcomunidade is also offering updates of what he calls "a guerra do alemão" (Alemão's War), and another group of young locals has started streaming footage of the occupation.

As in the U.S., producers with one foot in the old and new media worlds are growing a bit weary of discussing the myriad transitions, and are now eager to start building multi-platform public media models that can thrive. Francisco Belda, the director of a local newspaper near São Paulo that is considering ways to transition from print to digital is also a professor at São Paulo State University. He led a workshop at the TV Pública conference on how to create a new programming grid for public stations. We discussed his impatience with the pace of both industry and policy change.

"I'm tired of all this talk," he told me. "We are ready for action."

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

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17:24

NPR's Project Argo Creates National Content at the Local Level

argo_promo_sites_sm.jpg Jason and the Argonauts were the mythological Greek heroes who set off on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Like its namesake, NPR's Project Argo is off on another noble quest -- to strengthen local journalism, particularly on digital platforms. Project Argo is a partnership between NPR and member stations, funded by the Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its focus is building and launching niche, topic-focused websites for NPR member stations that can be models for the rest of the system.

We're proving the notion that a news organization can quickly build authority, engagement and traffic without large-scale increases in newsroom staff. Argo sites are piloted by one reporter-blogger (in a couple of cases, two reporters share one full-time job).

The topics we cover vary from Global Health to Higher Education and from Climate Change to Crime and the Courts. Argo stations include Oregon Public Broadcasting, KQED and KALW in San Francisco, KPCC in Pasadena, KPBS in San Diego, KPLU in Seattle, Minnesota Public Radio, WBUR and WGBH in Boston, WNYC in New York, WXPN in Philadelphia and WAMU in Washington, D.C.

Although each of the Argo sites is producing very different types of content, they're linked to one another in a network dedicated to quality journalism. We think you'll find the same serendipity that carries you from a climate change story to a health care story on NPR programs such as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" will also inform and entertain you online in the Argo network. The organizing principle is that you will find the same high level of quality throughout the network.

Reporting, Aggregation, Community

Make no mistake; the Project Argo sites are local. But we are covering news that resonates nationally. WBUR's blog, CommonHealth, may become your new favorite site devoted to reporting on health care costs if you live in Boston. But it might also be required reading if you live anywhere, from Chicago to Corpus Christie, from Miami to Missoula, and anywhere else in between.

The Argo sites are based upon the principle that in order to bring the world to our readers, our reporters must report and write outstanding enterprise blog posts. But they must pay equal attention to curating the conversation by aggregating the best content from across the web that is relevant to his or her beat, and by fostering and participating in a robust community.

As a key deliverable for Project Argo, we were expected to build a new free-standing, web-based content management system using open source code and free software commonly available. By the end of the project's pilot phase (December 2011), we will open source that platform.

Platform

In building the platform, the questions we needed to answer were:

  • Will it allow journalists to publish quickly with minimal training?
  • Will it allow journalists to perform the role of content curator and community manager? In other words, can we empower a single person to run an entire site?
  • How can we ensure we use entirely, or as much as possible, open source software for easy and low-cost reuse throughout public media?

To achieve the goals, we needed to build a foundation for the Argo Network that could provide the structural underpinnings for any Argo site, and at the same time be flexible enough to accommodate the unique needs of individual sites.

WordPress provided the most advanced starting point of the options we evaluated in terms of basic blog publishing. We have added a good deal of customization and also integration of other open source or free technologies like Django, Delicious and TwitterTim.es to create efficiencies, promote content and create a new way of displaying aggregated headlines.

All 12 websites were live by the end of August 2010. We will check in back here at Idea Lab from time to time to talk about various features that we roll out, and overall progress. We'll also be completely transparent about our process and training for Argo bloggers at our Argo Project blog. Let us know how we're doing and what you might like to see.

November 18 2010

18:10

Special Series: Public Media 2.0

CSM logo small.jpg

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.

About this Series

How are public media makers and outlets evolving in the digital, participatory age? Stories in this week's special package examine how various players are rising to this challenge, from public stations, to community access projects, to citizen journalists. MediaShift contributors will report back from this weekend's national Public Media Camp in D.C., where developers and community members will join public broadcasting staffers to brainstorm digital projects and engagement strategies. Kim Fox of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer crowdsourcing and citizen journalism lessons learned from its coverage of the G20. And we'll take a look at what viral public broadcasting spoofs tell us about what still needs work.

The entire series is linked below.

Check Out All the Posts

> 5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0 by Jessica Clark

Coming soon

Friday: Katie Donnelly analyzes a raft of public broadcasting news experiments

Saturday: Colin Rhinesmith reports on how community access centers are supporting more inclusive reporting

Sunday: Todd Bieber of the Upright Citizens Brigade dissects viral video spoofs of public broadcasting

Monday: Public Media Camp coverage from Corbin Hiar and Amanda Hirsch

Tuesday: Dorian Benkoil on how WNYC has changed its business model

Wednesday: 5Across show produced and hosted by Mark Glaser, with guests from KQED, Oakland Local, Bay Citizen and ITVS

Thursday: Kim Fox of CBC shares lessons learned from the online team's street-level coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

CSM logo small.jpg

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 is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 29 2010

15:30

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ latest doc drop, the NPR backlash, and disappointing iPad magazines

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

WikiLeaks coverage gets personal: There were two big stories everyone spent the whole week talking about, and both actually happened late last week. We’ll start with what’s easily the bigger one in the long term: WikiLeaks’ release last Friday of 400,000 documents regarding the Iraq War. The Iraq War Logs were released in partnership with several news organizations around the world, including Al-Jazeera, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. (The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a good roundup of the initial coverage.)

The Guardian and The Times in particular used the documents to put together some fascinating pieces of data journalism, and The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner looked at how they did it. The folks at Journalism.co.uk wrote a couple of posts detailing WikiLeaks’ collaborative efforts on the release, particularly their work with the new British nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A French nonprofit that also worked with WikiLeaks, OWNI, told its own story of the project.

Despite all that collaborative work, the news coverage of the documents fizzled over the weekend and into this week, leading two reporting vets to write to the media blog Romenesko to posit reasons why the traditional media helped throw cold water on the story. John Parker pointed to the military press — “Too many military reporters in the online/broadcast field have simply given up their watchdog role for the illusion of being a part of power” — and David Cay Johnston urged journalists to check out the documents, rather than trusting official sources.

There was another WikiLeaks-related story that got almost as much press as the documents themselves: The internal tension at the organization and the ongoing mystery surrounding its frontman, Julian Assange. The Times and the British paper The Independent both dug into those issues, and Assange walked out of a CNN interview after repeated questions about sexual abuse allegations he’s faced in Sweden. That coverage was met with plenty of criticism — Assange and The Columbia Journalism Review ripped CNN, and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald joined Assange in tearing into The Times.

After being chastised by the U.S. Defense Department this summer for not redacting names of informants in its Afghanistan leak this summer, WikiLeaks faced some criticism this time around from Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and Gawker’s John Cook for going too far with the redaction. A few other WikiLeaks-related strains of thought: Mark Feldstein at the American Journalism Review compared WikiLeaks with old-school investigative journalism, Barry Schuler wondered whether the governmental animosity toward WikiLeaks will lead to regulations of the Internet, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis wrote about the way WikiLeaks is bringing us toward the dawn of the age of transparency. “Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad,” he said.

NPR, Fox News and objectivity: The other story that dominated the future-of-news discussion (and the news discussion in general) was NPR’s firing last week of news analyst Juan Williams for comments about Muslims he made on Fox News. Conversation about the firing took off late last week and didn’t slow down until about Wednesday this week. NPR kept finding it tougher to defend the firing as the criticism piled up, and by the weekend, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller had apologized for how she handled the firing (but not for the firing itself). NPR got a bomb threat over the incident, and even PBS, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Williams, was deluged with angry emailers.

Conversation centered on two issues: First, and more immediately, why Williams was fired and whether he should have been. Longtime reporter James Naughton and The Awl’s Abe Sauer thought Williams should have been fired years ago because he appeared on Fox, where he’s only used as a prop in Fox’s efforts to incite faux-news propaganda. NYU professor Jay Rosen put it more carefully, saying that given NPR’s ironclad commitment to the objective view from nowhere, “there was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules — which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust — and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience” — not to mention that that viewlessness renders the entire position of “news analyst” problematic.

Along with Rosen, Time media critic James Poniewozik and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau advocated for greater transparency as a way to prevent needless scandals like these. Former NPR host Farai Chideya emphasized a different angle, asserting that Williams was kept on for years as his relationship with NPR eroded because he’s a black man. Said Chideya, who’s African-American herself: “Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network.”

The other issue was both broader and more politically driven: Should NPR lose its public funding? Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said he would introduce a bill to that effect, and conservatives echoed his call for defunding (though NPR gets only 1 to 2 percent of its budget from direct public funding — and even that’s from competitive federal grants). Politico noted how difficult it would be to actually take NPR’s public funding, and a poll indicated that Americans are split on the issue straight down party lines.

Those calling for the cut got some support, however indirect, from a couple of people in the media world: Slate’s Jack Shafer said NPR and public radio stations should wean themselves from public funding so they can stop being tossed around as a political pawn, and New York Sun founding editor Seth Lipsky argued that NPR’s subsidies make it harder for private entrepreneurs to raise money for highbrow journalism. There were counter-arguments, too: The Atlantic’s James Fallows gave a passionate defense of NPR’s value as a news organization, and LSU grad student Matt Schafer made the case for public media in general.

Magazines disappoint on the iPad: Advertising Age collected circulation figures for the first six months of magazines’ availability on the iPad and compared it to print circulation, getting decided mixed results. (Science/tech mags did really well; general interest titles, not so much.) The site’s Nat Ives concluded that iPad ad rates might drop as result, and that “Magazines’ iPad editions won’t really get in gear until big publishers and Apple agree on some kind of system for subscription offers.”

Former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh gave a stinging critique of those magazines’ iPad apps, saying they’re at odds with how people actually use the device. “They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all,” he said. In a follow-up, he talked a bit about why their current designs are a “stand-in for true experimentation.”

Meanwhile, news organizations continue to rush to the iPad: The New York Post came out with an iPad app that The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer really, really liked, The Oklahoman became another one of the first few newspapers to offer its own iPad subscription outside of Apple’s iTunes payment system, PBS launched its own iPad app, and News Corp. is moving forward with plans for a new tabloid created just for tablets.

Two opposite paid-content moves: It was somewhat lost in the WikiLeaks-Williams hoopla, but we got news of three new online paid-content plans for news this week. The biggest change is at the National Journal, a political magazine that’s long charged very high prices and catered to Washington policy wonks but relaunched this week as a newsstand-friendly print product and a largely free website that will shoot for 80 updates a day. The Lab’s Laura McGann looked at the National Journal’s new free-pay hybrid web plan, in contrast to its largely paid, niche website previously.

Meanwhile, Politico said it plans to move into exactly the same web territory the Journal has been in, launching a high-price subscription news service on health care, energy and technology for Washington insiders in addition to its free site and print edition. And the Associated Press gave more details on its proposed rights clearinghouse for publishers, which will allow them to tag online content and monitor and regulate how it’s being used and how they’re being paid for it. We also have some more data on an ongoing paid-content experiment — Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times of London. Yup, the audience is way down, just like everyone suspected.

Reading roundup: Outside of those two huge stories, it was a relatively quiet week. Here are a few interesting bits and pieces that emerged:

— The awful last few weeks for the Tribune Co. came to a head last Friday when CEO Randy Michaels resigned, leaving a four-member council to guide the company through bankruptcy. The same day, the company filed a reorganization plan that turns it over to its leading creditors. The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner gave a good postmortem for the Michaels era, pointing a finger primarily at the man who hired him, Sam Zell.

— Wired’s Fred Vogelstein declared Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon our new (media) overlords. (No indication of whether he, for one, welcomes them.) MediaPost’s Joe Marchese mused a bit about where each of those four companies fits in the new media landscape.

— The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a thought-provoking expression of a popular recent argument: If the Internet gives all of us our own facts, how are we supposed to find any common ground for discussion?

— And since I know you’re in the mood for scientific-looking formulas, check out Lois Beckett’s examination here at the Lab of Philly.com’s calculation of online engagement, then take a look at her follow-up post on where revenue fits in.

October 04 2010

19:21

Spot.Us Users: Public Media Higher Quality Than Commercial

This post was written by Jonathan Peters. The data comes from the Free Press sponsorship on Spot.Us, part of our experiment with the Reynolds Journalism Institute in Community-Focused sponsorship.

Profits are killing journalism.

Publishers and editors care more about the bottom line than the quality of their reporting. Newsrooms are shrinking, as a result, and good stories have gone untold. The public is worse off because of it.

So goes one argument, at least, in the debate about public funding of journalism. It's a hot topic that appears immune to any clear-cut solution, and it's shaking the foundation of what it means to do journalism and the best way to do it. Among the big questions are:

Should public funding expand to cover the gaps left by the shrinking private news business?

Could it expand without government support, and would this create conflicts?

Would a heavily subsidized public media serve us better than the private media?

If so, how?

With a sponsorship from Free Press, we asked the Spot.Us community to tell us what they thought. We then invited the 407 users who took the survey to decide where the sponsorship dollars would go, which is to say we handed over a part of our budget to them in return for their two cents.

Survey Results

Keep in mind, the survey was not scientific, and there was a degree of audience self-selection, i.e., the Spot.Us community. Nonetheless, with several hundred respondents, we did get a diverse set of answers. One interesting thing to note is that, while a previous survey showed a split (almost 50/50) in the "objectivity" debate, this survey on public/private media showed a much more one-sided response. This might be because, as previously suspected, Spot.Us' community overlaps with the "public media" demographic.

To begin, the majority of respondents reported that they listened to NPR (71 percent), read the news online (79 percent), or used non-profit news sources (58 percent), while the minority reported that they received a newspaper at home (37 percent) or donated to non-profit news media (41 percent). From these numbers, we can see among other things that, although the majority listen to NPR or use non-profit news sources, there is a sizeable gap between using non-profit media and donating to them.

In response to a question about programming --"In general, how would you rate the quality of
news, arts and education programming on public media versus commercial media? -- the vast majority (74 percent) said the programming on public media is of higher quality. A mere 19 percent said the programming on public and private media is of equal quality, and only 5 percent said public programming is of lower quality.

Half way through the survey we even switched the ordering of these potential answers to ensure no undue influence. The first half of the respondents saw the answer "public media is of higher quality" first and the second half saw that answer last. In either case the majority viewed the programming as higher quality.

When asked if they would support the creation of a public media endowment to increase funding for educational programs, arts, and investigative journalism, respondents overwhelmingly said yes (84 percent), with only 3 percent saying no and the rest undecided. Likewise, they would overwhelmingly support (93 percent) the creation of a matching grant program that would combine foundation grants with public funding to support innovation and investment in local news and journalism.

So far, all of this suggests that respondents like to use non-profit media; they believe public programming is of higher quality than private programming; they would support public endowment and matching grant programs to increase funding; however, they do not necessarily make personal donations to those ends.

The respondents, with their generally favorable view of public media, also said more conflicts arise in journalism that relies on commercial advertising than in journalism that relies on taxpayer funding.  Fifty-seven percent believed that to be true, while 12 percent said taxpayer funding creates more conflicts, and 31 percent said neither creates more conflicts and that strong firewalls between funding and journalists can prevent bias.


Other Questions

We also asked a few open-ended questions.

The first one was, "What should be the role of public and noncommercial media in the future of journalism?" Below are a few anecdotal responses from Spot.Us members who gave us permission to publish their views.

"Journalism should be supported by the public, but traditionally the expectation by newspaper executives has been to not ask for the public to support their product. Journalists and news executives have an obligation to build better arguments for the public to support the news. In order for that to happen, though, journalism needs to demonstrate value to readers." -- Denise Lockwood

"Non-profit and other alternative funding models will increasingly have to make up for the loss of advertising funded journalism. NPR has done this already but more needs to happen. There will need to be a broader range of non-profit media orgs than we have right now, and non-profits focused on substantive issues (environment, human rights, etc.) will increasingly become news providers themselves. Hopefully, some of these new iterations will be exemplars in terms of how to establish and benefit from partnerships and collaborative models. We may see more "temporary" journalism outlets as non-profit news outlets spring up and die out in this transitional period." -- Melissa Wall

"Journalist(s) need to figure out how to make their product of value to the community. While I love NPR and that model, nothing is wrong with a profit. Good journalism should be able to support itself, but for decades now people have ranked journalist right up there with lawyer, car salesman and politician. That has to change and we need to be honest why people feel that way." -- Eddie North-Hager

"Ideally, publicly funded media should focus solely on communications that are not commercially viable. However there has to be focus on what the public is interested in, not just what is in the public interest. Without remaining relevant and interesting, public media becomes irrelevant." -- Spot.Us Community Member

"Another question should be what is the public's role in public media. I think public media should be a place where people can go to tell their stories (think storycorps) where discussions can happen where people of all sides can hear each others voices (think bbc's have your say); Chicago's vocalo is interesting in this way. Recent "pubcamps" are interesting in this way. NPR opening up its API is interesting in this way, in that they invite programmers and technologists to participate. I think the quality of public broadcasting is high, but airtime is at a premium, they should find ways to put MORE programs on the web and open up the airwaves for new talent. I think funding is an issue too. I live in Paris and stream programs live from any number of stations; I also podcast my favorites. I don't know which station I should support, I know I want to support specific programs. I know I want to support NPR; but I don't have a local station and I don't know that I want one." -- John Tynan

The second open-ended question was, "In the past, government has provided tax breaks to media companies, given broadcasters free licenses for public airwaves, funded PBS and NPR, and subsidized newspapers through legal ads and postal rates. What should be the government's role in the future?"  Below, again, are a few anecdotal responses:

"Regulation is necessary (else, the commercial media could say anything they wanted, regardless of effect or truth), but I don't like the government's involvement in the money behind broadcasting.  Things start to sound like China with its enmasse censorship of media incoming and outgoing. Free speech should remain free - free of censorship and influence. If you think publishing or reporting a story will keep the government from sending you extra funds, you aren't likely to print it. Thus, the free press becomes the mouthpiece for a government and nothing more.

This said, I think government subsidizing of NPR and PBS is important because these are services funded by donations from watchers/listeners, and that is who they (should) have loyalty to first because that is where the money is coming from, rather than political parties or politicians." -- Kaylene Narusuke

"The old models don't work because in the 1980s, newspapers made a lot of money from ads and became very profitable, changing the expectations from the owners. Those expectations haven't changed while the competition for ads has. Newspapers adopted the USA-Today model, dumbing down stories, writing shorter and more shallow stories. People want deep, well written stories in any format. Government agencies could support investigative reporting, specialty reporting, and reporting on the arts, but the public has to be willing to pay for responsible journalism." -- Yvonne

"Government should recognize that high-quality journalism is an important part of a healthy democracy, and that well-informed citizens are more engaged and more likely to vote. Government should expand direct funding for public media beyond PBS and NPR by creating a grant program for organizations developing new kinds of public-media models." -- Lila LaHood

"I don't see a problem with calculated tax breaks for the media industry whether it's limiting taxes on the purchases of paper products or electronic devices. To me that's no different than oil companies, banks, light manufacturing getting financial breaks or incentives to conduct business. Those who represent converged or multimedia take issue with this, citing these as out-dated mediums with failed business models. Therefore, they should not be buoyed with tax dollars and in a true capitalism, failed businesses disappear and make way for newer, better models." -- Kevin Smith

"All of these things are helpful, but American journalism really needs something more revolutionary right now. Stop thinking about tax breaks and advertising and start thinking about something equal to the National Endowment for the Arts, but replace 'Arts' with 'Journalism'. I hope our leaders act now before we lose the 4th Estate, and a generation of enthusiastic young journalists." -- Daysha Eaton


So there you have it, the views of the Spot.Us community on public vs. private journalism.  Any of it surprise you?  Confuse you?  Bore you?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!

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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September 15 2010

17:18

PRX Story Exchange, Spot.us Bring Crowdfunding to Public Radio

Story Exchange (formerly Story Market) is a way for local public radio stations, producers, and listeners to pitch, find and fund documentaries and stories on important local issues. We're also one of this year's winners of a Knight News Challenge grant.

Here's how we envision it working: Let's say that in Kentucky the issue of mountaintop mining needs a deeper investigative look. On Story Exchange, the Louisville public radio WFPL station can invite producers to bid on reporting the story, ask listeners to contribute funds as well as ideas, and see the story through to completion for broadcast and digital distribution.

You can also watch this video to learn more:

Story Exchange has deep roots as an idea at Public Radio Exchange. Since we first launched in 2003 the core service of PRX has been an open online marketplace for public radio stories -- audio documentaries, interviews, features, and other pieces that might have already aired somewhere locally or nationally but have continued value in distribution. Over time we have built a robust market where today over 2,500 local stations, independent producers and others regularly buy, sell and distribute tens of thousands of stories (over 8,300 purchased so far just this year), reaching millions of listeners through broadcast and digital channels.

PRX Today

PRX's approach has been to create efficient tools for distribution and discovery that reduce barriers and friction, establish incentives for participation, and increase the overall pool of talent, content, access, and reach. (PRX has expanded its services and recently announced a significant round of funding.)

But even as this has succeeded on PRX.org, we see ongoing gaps in supply and demand, and new ways to use PRX's growing community and platform to connect stations and producers -- and the public -- around issues that need coverage.

Today a typical transaction on PRX might consist of a local public radio station looking for an hour-long documentary on, say, urban agriculture. They search the site, find a handful of results, audition them and then license one for broadcast. PRX charges a license fee and pays producers royalties when their work is used.

If the results turn up empty, or stations wants something customized for local use, the most PRX can typically do is help connect them with producers as a kind of talent broker. (Producers maintain LinkedIn-style resumes and portfolios on PRX.)

But what if stations, producers, and listeners themselves could use PRX as a way to seed, surface, and fund original content matched to a direct distribution opportunity? What if donations from "listeners like you" weren't just for the news you already use, but for what's missing?

This is the idea behind Story Exchange.

Story Exchange

When we were gearing up to pitch Story Exchange as a News Challenge project, we came to an interesting conclusion. While we had been kicking around the idea for several years, by now there were similar projects taking shape. Some were in adjacent fields like indie music (i.e. Sellaband), and one in particular in journalism (Spot.us, a previous and prominent News Challenge winner).

The News Challenge states up front that criteria for selection include innovation and originality. Rather than try to claim Story Exchange as a unique insight, we stated what our idea had in common with Spot.us and proposed a code-level collaboration as a signature approach of the project.

By joining the open source development of the Spot.us codebase we're going to help develop and extend the platform, integrate it with PRX's own services, and add functionality specific to the public radio system. We see this as a unique opportunity to build on a promising new model with an open source approach.

Knight's commitment to open source software sets an important threshold, but while there's important value in ensuring that investments in software stay accessible, most open source projects fail to attract a community of developers beyond the project's original team. A benefit of PRX joining forces with Spot.us is the greater likelihood that the codebase will evolve and stay relevant as ours and other projects incorporate it.

Story Exchange is just getting under way, we're planning our first pilot later this year with our partners at Louisville Public Media. Right now we're working out the details of various APIs and user authentication integration with our friends at Spot.us (If you're a coder you'll be interested to know that Spot.us and PRX are both using Ruby on Rails -- one more incentive for our collaboration -- and you'll be able to track our progress on GitHub).

We anticipate (and will blog about) some of the challenges to come, including the ways that Story Exchange runs counter to some of the ingrained public radio culture, the obstacles we encounter integrating a new model into the existing PRX system, the tech partnership, and the overall merits and successes of the emerging crowdfunding model for journalism. Stay tuned!

July 06 2010

17:39

6 Key Lessons From NewsHour's Coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has lasted more than two months now. It is the worst spill in U.S. history, and it is likely to continue until at least August. And in covering it, PBS NewsHour has broken every traffic record it ever had thanks to great reporting, our live video feed of the spill and the ticker showing the number of gallons released.

So what have we learned? Below are some of the insights we've gathered so far. (Quick note: A lot of the thinking behind this post comes from a debriefing at work with my colleagues Vanessa Dennis, Travis Daub and Katie Kleinman, and from conversations about the spill and our coverage with other people in and out of the newsroom. Just so no one thinks this is all coming out of my head. Now then...)

1. Embrace the Uncertainty

New York University professor Jay Rosen recently wrote:

It's incumbent upon journalists to level with people. If that means backing up to say, "Actually, it's hard to tell what happened here," or, "I'll share with you what I know, but I don't know who's right." This may be unsatisfying to some, but it may also be the best an honest reporter can do.


Portraying conflicting accounts or clashing interpretations is an exacting skill, which does require a certain detachment. But there is no necessary connection between that skill, or that kind of detachment, and the ritualized avoidance of all conclusions, such as we find in He Said, She Said and the View from Nowhere.

Rosen is talking about political journalism, but I think it applies very well here (and there are plenty of political facets to this story). As I said in my earlier post on the spill on my personal blog, part of what made me hesitant to make that now-famous ticker that tracks the spill was having to choose a flow rate when there were so many conflicting reports.

Uncertainty is part of the story here. Sometimes it's a huge part. There are probably a lot of journalists uncomfortable saying so explicitly, "We don't know, and neither does anyone else," but it's what the story is here.

2. Commit to the Story

For big, complicated events where lots of people are watching -- where knowing what happened is easy but knowing what it means is hard -- the NewsHour has learned how to tell the ongoing story and, critically, to stick to it.

We don't do this for most stories. There are lots of one-off blog posts and features, and plenty that can be told with one segment on the show. The stories where we can dive in and hang on, though, is where the good stuff happens.

Also, putting it all in one place is helpful.

3. Give Users Tools to Answer their Own Questions

Here's what I told Poynter's Al Tompkins about creating tools for users:

The NewsHour is a public media company, and I think part of our mission is to give the public tools to understand the news better. People see this and have different reactions, and by letting them embed it on their own sites, we allow the conversation to spread beyond areas we can think up ourselves.

There are questions we'll never think of. That's true of the NewsHour, and it's true of the New York Times. And even if we could think of every possible angle to a story, there is no guarantee that we'll answer your particular question. Building tools our users (and reporters) can use gives us a way to catch more of those questions and find more of those answers.

4. Build Things That Make your Reporting Better

Here's what I'm most proud of about the widget/ticker that I didn't want to build: It made our reporting better.

If we were going to estimate how much oil had flowed into the Gulf, it was vital that we knew what the estimates were, how they were made and what numbers were defensible. I've rewritten the JavaScript a handful of times as the situation has changed, and tracked those changes. My colleague Lea Winerman has gone back to scientists repeatedly to get their read on the latest data. We can stand by our math.

Most of this is just good beat reporting -- but having a constant, visual reminder that we need to be right is a nice prod.

5. Do Something New

Probably obvious, but it bears repeating.

6. Be Clear

I've written a lot of blog posts about math lately. I try to make these as readable as possible -- but it's still math. And I think it's important to explain where we're coming from and how we reach the numbers and conclusions we reach.

This comes back to embracing uncertainty. Here's what we said a week ago, as we struggled to find out whether more oil was coming out of the ruptured well after BP cut the riser pipe:

Did the flow rate increase significantly after June 3, when BP cut the riser pipe in order to put the current containment dome in place? And if the flow rate did increase, by how much?


We haven't found a clear answer to that question. An Interior Department official said that preliminary analysis suggested a modest increase, but that they didn't have definitive information to measure the change.


And Ira Leifer, a researcher at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a member of the flow estimate panel, told us in an e-mail that the scientists can't be sure of whether there was an increase because BP didn't provide enough data from before the riser cut to get a good estimate of the flow then.


Given that uncertainty, we initially left the minimum flow rate in our Gulf Leak Meter at 20,000 barrels per day, reflecting what the government's Flow Rate Technical Team reported on June 10 -- an estimate they based on data from before the riser was cut.


But today, BP says it captured 16,020 barrels of oil and flared another 9,270, for a total of 25,290 barrels (1,062,180 gallons) diverted from the Gulf.

(I say "we" in this case because parts of that post were written by me, and parts by Lea Winerman.)

This is getting awfully long, so in keeping with the above principles, I'm going to open it up from here. What other lessons should we learn from covering the spill? What lessons have you learned? Share them in the comments below.

Chris Amico is a journalist and web developer based in Washington, DC. As the interactives editor for the PBS NewsHour, he tells stories with data and documents. He built the database application behind the award-winning Patchwork Nation, along with other tools used by NewsHour reporters and producers. He blogs about news, code, China and travel at chrisamico.com.

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June 16 2010

19:30

Knight News Challenge: PRX’s StoryMarket will bring Spot.us-style crowdfunding to public radio

Most of the projects awarded grants in the Knight News Challenge come out on top because they offer something new: they’re innovative, they’re different, they’re unique. One of this year’s crop of winners, though, made a selling point of its similarity to a previous Knight grantee. The Public Radio Exchange’s StoryMarket project will build on — and collaborate with — Spot.us, one of the best known Knight winners, to bring crowdfunding to public radio.

Per Knight’s official announcement of StoryMarket’s $75,000 grant:

Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.

“This has been an idea that PRX has been kicking around for a while,” says Jake Shapiro, PRX’s CEO and the leader of the StoryMarket project. And it’s one that “really takes advantage of the platform that we have in place.” Which makes the project unique…by way of similarity. As Shapiro told me of the project’s proposal: “This would be one of the first ones, as far as I know, that help anchor a collaboration with another promising Knight investment.” (Another of this year’s winners also has a history of intra-KNC collaboration: Tilemapping has worked with past winner Ushahidi.)

The PRX-Spot.us collaboration will be a core component of the StoryMarket project — in particular, Shapiro points out, “at the code level,” where much of the partnership will be focused. The PRX technology team (some ten members strong at the moment, with an additional six or so working on a contract basis) will work with the Spot.us coders to “add value to the investment made in the open-source code base to date — and increase the likelihood that it’s a worthwhile investment.”

That synergy — wheel-reinvention, in reverse — also means that StoryMarket will be insulated in ways that ground-up, from-scratch projects don’t tend to be. “There are risks in all of this,” Shapiro allows, “but some of the things that are typically risks are not ones for us.”

At the user level, in turn, PRX will adopt much of the Spot.us approach to crowdfunding to raise money for its own stories — a significant shift for the public media platform. “The way that PRX had, for the most part, been available was more as an aftermarket for existing work,” Shapiro points out, “where somebody who had stories and had created documentaries would use PRX as an additional distribution path for broadcast and digital.” StoryMarket is an attempt to make PRX an up-front and active participant in the entire production process. “The fundamental driver of it, and the outcome, was to create original, new stories that are important on a local level,” Shapiro says. Only “instead of having the chain wait until you’ve identified, developed, and produced a story, and then look for a media partner” — the Spot.us model, essentially — we’re beginning with media partners.”

The first of those partners? Louisville Public Media in Kentucky — “a very forward-looking, ambitious station in a smaller market in the South, where historically there’s been less investment in this kind of work,” Shapiro says. Not only is the station not among “the usual suspects, which are the major-market stations that we work a lot with” — and not only is there “no shortage of important stories to be told there,” from mountaintop mining to race relations in public schools — but LPM’s size means that its status as a PRX media partner will offer a challenge. In, you know, a good way. A core goal of StoryMarket, as it is with most Knight winners, is scalabilty — and with LPM’s relatively small number of producers, “it’s going to be an interesting test of how much the network effect will kick in,” Shapiro says.

Helping that effect along will be the Public Media Platform, the behemoth digital distribution network launched on Monday. The platform, a collaboration among American Public Media, NPR, PBS, Public Radio International and, yes, PRX, should amplify StoryMarket’s reach. To collaborate with PRX is to collaborate, in effect, with the entire network.

At the same time, though, StoryMarket will also be a test of local news outlets’ ability to generate financial support for individual stories in addition to their broader, brand-based fundraising efforts. With national public programming widely available, stations now “have an even deeper interest in being relevant locally,” Shapiro points out. Competition means that “they’re increasingly wanting to differentiate themselves by making sure they do good local coverage.” And StoryMarket, for its part, will mean that the public has a new way to express what “good local coverage” actually looks like.

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