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February 12 2011

00:58

Hello My Name Is___Ben Berkowitz__

Hi I'm Ben,

I am from New Haven, CT and am one of the Co-Founders of SeeClickFix.com. SeeClickFix is a platform that allows a citizen to report anything that is broken or needs improvement in the public space to anyone else who can help fix it including but not limited to governments anywhere in the world. 

I am interested in meeting others active on the ground in community and civic projects. I am also interested in meeting anbody who has a local blog or news site as SeeClickFix has a free widget that is widely deployed around the world.  I'm also interested in meeting existing users or anyone who has felt helpless when they wanted to get a pothole fixed.

December 21 2010

18:00

Jennifer 8. Lee on raw data, APIs, and the growth of “Little Brother”

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here, Jennifer 8. Lee gives us predictions, about the growing role of raw data, the importance of APIs, and the need for a break-out civic mobile app.

Raw data and the rise of “Little Brother”

In 2011 there will be a slew of riffs on the WikiLeaks anonymous dropbox scheme, sans gender drama — at least one of them by former WikiLeakers themselves. It will remain to be seen how protective the technologies are.

Basically, this codifies the rise of primary source materials — documents, video, photos — as cohesive units of consumable journalism. Turns out, despite the great push for citizen journalism, citizens are not, on average, great at “journalism.” But they are excellent conduits for raw material — those documents, videos, or photos. They record events digitally as an eyewitness, obtain documents through Freedom of Information requests, or have access to files through the work they do. We are seeing an important element of accountability journalism emerge.

Big Brother has long been raised as a threat of technological advancement (and certainly the National Security Agency has done its fair share of snooping). But in reality, it is the encroachment of Little Brother that average Americans are more likely to feel in our day-to-day lives — that people around us carry digital devices that can be pulled out for photo or videos, or they can easily copy digital files (compared to the months of covert photocopying that Ellsberg did for 7,000 pages) that others would rather not have shared with the world.

One notable strength of raw material is that it has a natural viral lift for two reasons: audience engagement, and the way legacy media operates with regard to sourcing and competition. Social media is a three-legged stool: create, consume, and share content. Because original material often feels more like an original discovery, it is more appealing to share. Documents, videos, and photos are there for anyone to examine and experience firsthand. The audience can interpret, debate, comment as they choose, and they feel greater freedom to reupload and remix that material, especially video.

The importance of APIs

There will also be an explosion in shift from raw data to information made available by application programming interfaces. A good example is ScraperWiki, out of the United Kingdom, which scrapes government data into repositories and then makes it available in an API.

Government agencies are hearing the public cry for data, and they are making raw data available. Sometimes it’s in friendlier formats like .csv or .xls. Sometimes it is in less usable formats, like PDF (as the House of Representatives did with a 3,000-page PDF of expenses) and even .exe files. (As the Coast Guard’s National Response Center has done with its incident data. It’s an extractable .xls with a readme. I know. It makes a lot of people cringe. At least their site isn’t also in Flash.) As part of this open push, the Obama administration has set up data.gov.

As that comes out, people are realizing that it’s not enough to get the public to bite, even though the underlying data might contain interesting material. It needs to be even easier to access. A good example of what happens when something becomes easily searchable: ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs project, on payments doctors received from pharmaceutical companies, generated an explosion of interest/investigations by taking data that was already technically public and standardizing it to make it searchable on the Internet.

What we need: the great civic mobile app

What we’re still waiting for: The break-out civic mobile app, a combination of Craigslist and Foursquare, where a critical mass of people can “check in” with comments, photos and complaints about their local community. It’s unclear how this will happen. Perhaps it will be built on the geolocation tools offered by Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps it will be an extension of Craigslist, which already has a brand associated with local community. Perhaps it’ll be something like SeeClickFix, which allows people to register complaint about potholes or graffiti, or CitySeed, a mobile app the Knight Foundation has given a grant to develop.

[Disclosure: Both the Knight Foundation and Lee are financial supporters of the Lab.]

October 29 2010

20:39

5Across: Politics in the Age of Social Media

news21 small.jpg

5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

As more people use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, politicians and campaigns need to put more time, energy and money into reaching people there. According to the E-Voter Institute, 80% of people who are avid social network users consider themselves to be occasionally or very active in politics. And 34% of them rely on social networks for general information, up from 29% last year. (You can get more statistics and data on social networking use and politics in this great MediaShift report from Anthony Calabrese.)



mediashift_politics 2010 small.jpg

So for this month's episode of 5Across, I brought together people involved in politics and social media, looking at it from many angles. A local San Francisco politician, Phil Ting, discussed what he calls "user-generated government" and how online discussions can help shape policy. We also talked about the importance of being authentic on social media, and we questioned why campaigns continue to spend billions of dollars on TV ads while barely spending anything online. Finally, we discussed the exciting advent of open data from local and federal governments in the U.S., and the rise of mobile apps in campaigning -- and even fixing potholes. Check it out!

5Across: Politics + Social Media

polishift.mp4

>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

Ngaio Bealum describes himself on Twitter as "a comedian, magazine publisher, juggler, musician, parent, activist, Sacramentan, and a great cook. I also like hard beats and soft drugs." Bealum has been actively supporting the California initiative, Proposition 19, to legalize marijuana in the state.

Marisa Lagos covers state politics and government for the San Francisco Chronicle, including elections, the legislature and issues such as prisons and welfare. Over the past year her coverage has ranged from stories on the attorney general race and budget crisis to sex offender laws and legislation aimed at making sure consumers know whether they are wearing faux fur or raccoon dog (seriously). Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles Times and SF Examiner. She has written exclusively for the web, blogged and used social media to promote her work.

As communications and media director, Mary Rickles spends her days writing about Netroots Nation and getting others to do the same. She has a unique background in both traditional and new media, having worked as a reporter and with campaigns, agencies, non-profits and corporate companies on projects ranging from brand development to community outreach. She previously was communications director for the grassroots powerhouse Democracy for America and in 2009 was named one of New Leaders Council's Top 40 Under 40 Emerging Leaders. Mary grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where she got her first taste of politics by volunteering for Don Siegelman's gubernatorial campaign.

As Assessor-Recorder of San Francisco, Phil Ting is a reformer whose efforts have enabled him to generate over $245 million in new revenue for San Francisco.
Ting began his career as a real estate financial advisor, working at Arthur Andersen and CB Richard Ellis. Prior to serving as the Assessor-Recorder, Ting also had a long history of civil rights advocacy -- he was the executive director of the Asian Law Caucus. He is past president of the Bay Area Assessors Association and has served on the board of Equality California Institute.

Theo Yedinsky started Social Stream Consulting, a social media and political strategy firm and is a partner in the Oakland-based social media firm, North Social. In 2009, Theo Yedinsky served as the new media director for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign for Governor of California. At the time, Mayor Newsom's campaign boasted the largest Facebook and Twitter following for a non-presidential Democratic candidate in the country. Prior to joining the Newsom campaign, Theo served as the first executive director of the New Politics Institute, a think-tank designed to study the increasing impact of technology and new media in political campaigns. Prior to launching the New Politics Institute, he managed Simon Rosenberg's campaign to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and worked extensively on Senator Kerry's campaign for President.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

User-Generated Government

Authenticity Online

The Power of Facebook

Buying Ads Online

Open Data and Mobile Apps

Credits

Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Jason Blalock, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ

*****

What do you think? Which politicians are doing the best job of utilizing social media? Which mobile apps are helping you get local information? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

news21 small.jpg

5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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

September 13 2010

16:44

N2Y4 Project gets Local in Philadelphia

The N2Y4 Mobile Challenge called for innovative mobile applications supporting social good. There were many excellent ideas and the top 15 Featured Projects were selected through a Community Vote. Those Featured Projects came together May 26-27, 2009 in San Jose, CA, at the N2Y4 Conference to pitch their ideas, find collaborators, and get valuable feedback. Many volunteer organizers from the NetSquared Local network convened at the N2Y4 Conference to build relationships and expand their knowledge and resources for local community building.

read more

July 08 2010

20:14

News Organizations Must Innovate or Die

People in news don't generally think of innovation as their job. It's that old CP Snow thing of the two cultures, where innovation sits on the science not the arts side. I had my own experience of this at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington a couple of months ago.

After one of the sessions I spotted an editor whose newspaper had adopted hNews (the Knight-funded news metadata standard we developed with the AP). "How's it going?" I asked him. "Is it helping your online search? Are you using it to mark up your archive?"

Before I had even finished the editor was jotting something down on his notepad. "Here," he said, "Call this guy. He's our technical director -- he'll be able to help you out."

Technology and innovation still remain, for most editors, something the techies do.

So it's not that surprising that over much of the last decade, innovation in news has been happening outside the news industry. In news aggregation, the work of filtering and providing context has been done by Google News, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, NowPublic, Demotix and Wikipedia...I could go on. In community engagement, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter led the way. In news-related services (the ones that tend to earn money) it has been Craigslist, Google AdWords and now mobile services like Foursquare.

Rather than trying to innovate themselves, many news organisations have chosen instead to gripe from the sidelines. Rupert Murdoch called Google a "thief" and a "parasite." The U.K.'s Daily Mail has published stories about how using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer,, referred to someone as a "Facebook killer" (as in murderer), and runs scare stories about Facebook and child safety. And let's not even start to take apart various news commentators' dismissive attitude towards Twitter.

When they have seen the value of innovation, news organizations have tended to try and buy it in rather than do it themselves, with decidedly mixed results. Murdoch's purchase of MySpace initially looked very smart, but now, as John Naughton wrote over the weekend, it "is beginning to look like a liability." The AOL /Time Warner mashup never worked. Associated Newspapers in the U.K. have done slightly better by making smaller investments in classified sites.

Most news organisations do not see innovation as a critical element of what they do. This is not that unexpected since they spend their day jobs gathering and publishing news. Unfortunately for them, if it doesn't become more central to their DNA they are liable to become extinct.

Speed and Unpredictability of Innovation

At last week's Guardian Activate Summit, Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, was asked what kept him awake at nights. "Almost all deaths in the IT industry are self-inflicted," Schmidt said. "Large-scale companies make mistakes because they don't continue to innovate."

Schmidt does not need to look far to see how quickly startups can rise and fall. Bebo was started in 2005, was bought by AOL in 2008 for $850 million, and then was sold again this month to Criterion Capital for a fee reported to be under $10 million.

The problem for Schmidt -- and one that is even more acute for news organizations -- is the increasing speed and unpredictability of innovation. "I'm surprised at how random the future has become," Clay Shirky said at the same Activate summit, meaning that the breadth of participation in the digital economy is now so wide that innovation can come from almost anyone, anywhere.

As an example he cited Ushahidi, a service built by two young guys in Kenya to map violence following the election in early 2008 that has now become a platform that "allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline." It has been used in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, Gaza, Haiti and in the U.S.

He might also have cited Mendeley, a company which aims to organize the world's academic research papers online. Though only 16 months old, the service already has over 29 million documents in its library, and is used by over 10,000 institutions and over 400,000 people. It won a prize at Activate for the startup "most likely to change the world for the better."

The tools to innovate are much more widely available than they were. Meaning a good idea could be conceived in Nairobi, Bangalore or Vilnius, and also developed and launched there too, and then spread across the world. "The future is harder to predict," Shirky said, "but easier to see."

That's why Google gives one day a week to its employees to work on an innovation of their choice (Google News famously emerged from one employee's hobby project). It is why foundations like Knight have recognized the value of competition to innovation. And it's why Facebook will only enjoy a spell at the peak.

Some Exceptions

There are exceptions in the news industry. The New York Times now has an R&D department, has taken the leap towards linked data, and published its whole archive in reusable RDF. The Guardian innovated with Comment is Free, its Open platform, and the Guardian Data Store. The BBC developed the iPlayer.

The Daily Telegraph had a go, setting up "Euston Partners" under then editor Will Lewis. (Although setting up an innovation center three miles away from the main office did not suggest it was seen as central to the future of the business.) The project was brought back in-house shortly after Lewis left the Telegraph in May 2010 and has been renamed the "Digital Futures Division."

But mostly people in news don't really do innovation. They're too focused on generating content. But as the Knight Foundation has recognized, doing news in the same old way not only doesn't pay -- it doesn't even solve the democratic problems many of those in news are so rightly concerned about. For some people FixMyStreet.com or its U.S. equivalent SeeClickFix is now more likely to give them a direct relationship with their council than the local newspaper.

News and media organizations have to realize that they are in the communications business, and being in that business means helping people to communicate. Giving them news to talk about is a big part of this, but it's not the only part. The sooner they realize this and start to innovate, the better chance they have of surviving the next couple of decades.

June 30 2010

18:01

Spot.Us Lessons: Journalists Work in, and For, the Public

In a previous post I introduced the most significant findings from my recent case study of Spot.Us, a crowdfunding platform for journalism. In this post I discuss what my findings mean for journalism, and for the role and the work of a journalist.

Renegotiating the Role of a Journalist

A crowdfunded journalistic process brings a new element to a journalist's job: Pitching in public. Traditionally, a journalist pitches his or her story directly to an editor. The journalist doesn't need to think about marketing the story to the readers.

In a crowdfunded model, a journalist has to be willing to raise awareness about the pitch in order to attract donations. That means they have to assume responsibility for the marketing of the pitch by convincing the community of the significance of the story topic.

However, Spot.Us reporters expressed discomfort with pitching their stories in public and with asking for donations. To this end, the element of pitching in public brings new requirements and shifts the nature of the journalist's role.


Similar shifts are occurring in creative industries as brands and institutions such as record labels and media institutions lose power. According to Mark Deuze, an associate professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, creativity and commerce in cultural work are increasingly coming together.

This development presumes that creative workers see their skills, ideas and talent in commercial terms. Traditionally, journalists have embraced creative autonomy and peer review rather than market appeal. In crowdfunded journalism, however, market appeal and readers' opinions become more important than peer review.

These new requirements challenge the traditional journalist's self-perception as that of an independent creative worker whose story topics are first and foremost accepted by colleagues, rather than by the public.

Participatory Culture Motivates Journalists

On Spot.Us, a participatory culture manifests itself in many ways: Community members (readers and donors) can donate money or talent for a pitch, they can leave a comment, submit a tip, or take on an assignment that a reporter has assigned to the readers.

These options for participation -- particularly reader donations for a story -- have a strong, positive impact on a journalist's motivation to work. One of the Spot.Us reporters I interviewed said it was "beyond professionally motivating" the see that the public is willing to support her work by donating money.

From the journalist's perspective, the act of donation creates a strong connection between the donor and reporter. Reporters find it rewarding to have a direct link to readers. This connectedness also creates a strong sense of responsibility for the story.

Typically, though, donors prefer to participate solely by donating; they are not eager to leave comments or submit tips, nor do they get engaged in the story process to the extent that they closely follow any story updates. For the most part, donors feel that they've done their part by offering up money.

Spot.Us: A Journalist's Personal R&D Lab

For Spot.Us reporters, this platform is more than just a way to finance their work; they see it as an opportunity to experiment with new methods of journalism, for example in reader engagement.

The reporters also see Spot.Us as an opportunity to experiment with tools such as video and infographics. The site gives them the freedom to experiment that they seem to have been longing for. They feel there is a lack of opportunity to try new things when working for traditional news operations.

Reporters also consider Spot.Us as a good way to find partners for collaboration.

Donating for a Better Society

spotusdonor.jpgDonors don't seem to be contributing to a specific journalistic piece as much as they are donating for the common good. Donors rarely follow up with the stories they help fund, and they might not even check up on the finished story.

For them, it's not about the story; they want their donation to be a catalyst for change in society. They're hoping the story helps make this happen.

This notion provokes a question about journalism's role in society. Is the role of journalism only to inform people about issues and problems? Or should journalism also give the public a chance to make a difference, to attempt to solve a problem? If the latter is valid, then perhaps advocacy, cause-driven, or problem-solving journalism is more meaningful for the community than neutral, objective journalism that provides information but not the means to solve problems.

An example of problem-solving journalism is Huffington Post Impact, where journalism is married to causes. The stories on Huffington Post Impact report on issues like hunger at schools, or the misery of a family that lost a home in a flood. At the end of the story, the reader is given a chance to donate to a non-profit organization that can help alleviate the problem.

Based on my findings, at least some people consider journalism to be a means for contributing to social change. Therefore, journalism organizations should embed tools similar to SeeClickFix or new Knight News Challenge winner CitySeed, which allow the public to contribute to the betterment of the community with one click. Readers want constructive ways to participate, and journalism should give them the tools.

Journalism Aligned With Cause Marketing

Because the public donates for a cause, and not necessarily for journalism, the pitches on crowdfunded journalistic platforms such as Spot.Us should be more aligned with the features of cause marketing, a term applied to marketing efforts by non-profits working for social change.

In this era of declining media conglomerates, journalism organizations should have a clear message to readers as to why their stories matter, and how a reader can make a difference in society. It is important to note, though, that the strategy of cause-marketing works only for certain types of topics and journalism, such as the field of investigative reporting.

Participation as a Tool for Identity Building

In crowdfunded journalism, people share more than just the actual story -- they share the story of their participation in the process by tweeting and Facebooking. This act of participation binds people together. As one donor put it: "I felt I belonged to a community when I donated."

When Spot.Us donors spread news of their donation, they are also building their own identity. It says something about them, and they want to share that. That's a significant result and benefit for donors. As a result, journalists should think of how they can provide the public with ways to link identity and causes to reporting.

For more information about the study, please contact me at tanja.aitamurto at gmail.com, or on Twitter @tanjaaita

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about the changes in the field of communication. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Tanja splits her time between San Francisco and Finland, her home country.

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June 02 2010

19:20

WaPo rezones a neighborhood on its site, builds a new local point of entry

Following its recent launch of PostPolitics, The Washington Post today unveiled another stand-alone landing page at PostLocal.com. The page pulls together existing local content from its Metro section, plus houses new blogs and a few interactive features. The goal is to build an engaged local community around a site-within-a-site.

The timing of PostLocal coincides with a hiring frenzy at its new startup competitor in Washington, TBD. The local online-only news venture, owned by Politico parent Allbritton, plans to launch this summer.

Maria Cereghino, a spokeswoman for the Post, told me in an email that she “would not characterize” PostLocal as a response to TBD. Still, there are some prominent similarities between the sites. PostLocal hosts the Post’s new local blog network, which offers a platform to a selection of local bloggers. TBD is working on a similar model and is currently in the midst of solidifying relationships with its own set of local bloggers, Steve Buttry of TBD told me.

PostLocal is also home to interactive tools, like “The Daily Gripe,” powered by SeeClickFix. Locals can post a complaint about problems in their neighborhoods, like a broken street sign, or a large pothole. The tool automatically sends a notification of the problem to the proper authority. Users can vote on gripes they like (or, perhaps, dislike) most; one gripe per day gets a full report.

PostLocal and PostPolitics represent a shift in thinking about how newspaper readers arrive at the paper’s website. Aside from readers who arrive via search or inbound links, the homepage has always been the primary point of entry for regular visitors. But as major news organizations have expanded their content in myriad directions, Post content is competing with itself for reader attention and a showcase spot on the front page. The PostPolitics redesign sought to change that, creating a place for politics-obsessed readers to get just the content they want, something they’ve already been able to do at sites like niche sites like Politico. Now, readers looking for just local content can do the same; if the Post can convince some portion of its audience to use PostLocal as its front door, that could mean a wider array of stories getting attention.

And there’s a potentially lucrative reason to build an engaged local audience. One startup, for example, Main Street Connect, which hopes to get 3,000 franchise-style sites off the ground in the next few years, just attracted $3.97 million in first round financing. AOL thinks it can make money on its growing network of Patch sites. Yahoo is wading in as well. Local advertising remains a largely untapped resource online, and newspapers still have the largest set of relationships with local advertisers in most markets. So even if the Post isn’t seeing a threat, it must at least see some dollar signs.

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