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May 25 2013

19:19

Invitacion a ser parte de RedLATIC - Red de NetSquared a nivel de Latino America

Por iniciativa de algunas instituciones miembros de NetSquared ( http://www.netsquared.org) y con el apoyo de TechSoup Global (http://www.techsoupglobal.org/) estamos armando una red de organizaciones e individuos que tiene por objetivo el uso de la tecnologia para bien social ("technology for social good") en la región de Latino América llamada RedlaTic

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September 02 2012

19:25

How NCTech4Good helped a member of our group using income from our conferences

I am delighted to report that NCTech4Good, a NetSquare Local Group, bought a laptop for Janet Bauer’s project “I’m A Great Child Worldwide” to use teaching children in extreme poverty in the slums of Kenya, using income from our conferences.

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Tags: literacy youth

June 15 2011

14:43

Tanzania Media Copes with Wild Success of Feedback via SMS

For the largest civil society media platform in Tanzania, back talk is good. 



In fact, talking back is the objective of a new service at Femina HIP called Speak Up! The service aims to increase access of marginalized youth and rural communities and promote a participatory, user-driven media scene in Tanzania.



SpeakUp.png

Femina HIP is the largest civil society media platform in the country, outside of commercial mainstream media. Products include print magazines, television shows, a radio program, and an interactive website. Fema magazine, for example, has a print run of over 170,000 copies and is distributed to every rural region in the country.



Over the last few years, Femina HIP has encouraged its audience to connect and comment by sending letters, email, and SMS messages -- and comment people did. Dr. Minou Fuglesang, executive director of Femina HIP, said the platform was nearly drowning in messages.

It became clear to the team that SMS needed to be handled more systematically. Speak Up! is a service that offers a more automated, organized way to receive and respond to incoming SMS messages. With the Speak Up! service, the message flow is more systematic and organized. Femina HIP is better equipped to respond to comments and queries. A more automated system also helps Femina HIP embrace the young community -- one that feels a growing need to organize and participate, Fuglesang said.



How It Works

Femina HIP uses an application built by Starfish Mobile, a wireless application service provider. All SMS messages are sent to the same shortcode (15665) and the Starfish application sorts messages according to key word. (Senders have to begin the message with the key word of the product they wish to address, be it Fema magazine or the Ruka Juu na Fema TV Talk Show.) 



Femina HIP staff members access the application from a web-based dashboard, where they can view all incoming messages across products. Virtually all messages received are in Swahili. "It is very rare to get a message in English, let alone other languages," said Diana Nyakyi of Femina HIP. "Though if we do receive something in English, it is considered just as much as any other SMS in Swahili in terms of feedback value."



The Speak Up! service works in collaboration with local mobile providers, because the shortcode is "bound" to the providers, Nyakyi said. "However, we are keen on having a more engaging and beneficial relationship with them [the mobile operators] as partners, and some have shown interest."



Two-Way Communications

Femina HIP wants to talk back to its audience, too.

When an individual sends an SMS to the Femina HIP shortcode, he or she receives an automatic confirmation. Senders' phone numbers are automatically entered in a database, which allows Femina HIP staff to further respond to individuals. Often, this is to simply say thank you for the message. But staff can also access and respond to urgent or serious messages, including questions on issues of health, sex, suicide, or requests for advice. Currently, Femina HIP has a list of about 30,000 active mobile numbers.



chezasalama sms.jpg

The Speak Up! database can also be sorted by categories such as key word, time submitted (date, week, month), or by phone network. Statistics are available, including which phone numbers have had the most interactions with the system, and whether the interactions were via SMS vote or SMS comment. The ability to sort allows the staff to group SMS messages around content themes and inform people about relevant, upcoming programs. 



Speak Up! wants the audience to become agenda setters, and claims to achieve "a more inclusive public debate and a more investigative reporting that mirrors everyday life in Tanzania." 


Challenges and Lessons

Femina HIP and the Speak Up! service have faced a learning curve. For example, it's been challenging to help the audience understand how to send an SMS to an automated service. "It's not as easy as it sounds because people have to understand how to use the shortcode and our key words," Fuglesang said. 



If someone misses a space or spells the key word incorrectly, for example, the SMS is marked "invalid" and ends up in the trash box. 



Similarly, if people send a message that's over the 160-character limit of a text message, the second half of it is also marked invalid. Currently, Starfish Mobile does not support these so-called concatenated SMS messages. "This is causing a problem, even though we ask our listeners to send us short messages," Fuglesang said. "People write long messages." 



For example, Speak Up! had 900 responses to a recent question, but nearly 500 ended up in the trash bin because of error or length. While the messages can be retrieved, and the team is trying to do just that, "it does pose a bit of a headache," Fuglesang said.



Another issue may be cost. While there is a cost to send a text message, sending an SMS to a shortcode actually carries a slightly higher cost, Fuglesang said. "We are trying to monitor this to see if it affects the flow."



May 18 2011

19:00

Video: Civic Media Session, "Civic Disobedience"

(For great detail about the "Civic Disobedience" session, check out moderator Ethan Zuckerman's write-up.)

Download!

Watch the full video...

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March 13 2011

18:03

VoIP Drupal Kicks Off at Drupalcon

Last week I wrote about another project that's come to a boil at the Center for Future Civic Media: VoIP Drupal.

Here is a brief video of Leo Burd lecturing at DrupalCon 2011 on the release of Voip Drupal, a plugin that allow full interaction between Drupal CMS and phones.



VoIP Drupal is a project of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, with key contributions from Civic Actions.

March 04 2011

19:01

Voip Drupal

C4 has done a variety of breakthrough civic systems with phones, from Leo Burd's What's Up platform to the Call4Action class and its cool student projects.

We love these projects, but working with phones has always been a bear. A lot of custom programming is necessary, and in many cases people start with the phone and end up building custom systems that begin to represent a CMS. Projects like Ushahidi or our earlier txtMob are really just simple CMSs with a few custom features for texting inputs. So Leo Burd has been working on making Drupal more friendly for the billions of people around the world who only have access to basic telephony rather than smart phones and the web.

Leo is launching the first release of the VoIP Drupal platform at DrupalCon next week.

VoIP Drupal is an innovative framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. It can be used to build hybrid applications combining regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways, including:

* Voice- and SMS-based Get Out The Vote campaigns
* 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 lines (information hotlines)
* Phone-based community surveys
* PTA or any meeting reminder calls
* Story recording / playback
* Group voicemail
* Geo-based call-blasts aimed at specific streets or locations
* And much more!

As Leo writes:

Technically speaking, the goal of VoIP Drupal is to provide a common API and scripting system that interoperate with popular Internet-telephony servers (Asterisk, FreeSwitch, Tropo, Twilio, etc) dramatically reducing the learning and development costs associated with the construction of communication systems that combine voice and text technologies together.

The following VoIP servers are currently supported:

* Tropo, through the voiptropo.module (available soon)
* Twilio, through the voiptwilio.module

This project is under continuous development. If you would like to get involved in the project, or ask questions discussion is taking place on the VoIP Drupal Group. You can find more information in the VoIP Drupal Handbook.

The VoIP Drupal platform has originally been conceived and implemented by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, with major contributions from Civic Actions.

February 25 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: TBD gets the axe, deciphering Apple’s new rules, and empowering more news sources

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

The short, happy-ish life of TBD: Just six months after it launched and two weeks after a reorganization was announced, the Washington, D.C., local news site was effectively shuttered this week, when its corporate parent, Allbritton Communications (it’s owned by Robert Allbritton and includes Politico), cut most of its jobs, leaving only an arts and entertainment operation within the website of Allbritton’s WJLA-TV.

TBD had been seen many as a bellwether in online-only local news, as Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore documented in her historical roundup of links about the site, so it was quite a shock and a disappointment to many future-of-newsies that it was closed so quickly. The response — aptly compiled by TBDer Jeff Sonderman — was largely sympathetic to TBD’s staff (former TBD manager Jim Brady even wrote a pitch to prospective employers on behalf of the newly laid off community engagement team). Many observers on Twitter (and Terry Heaton on his blogpointed squarely at Allbritton for the site’s demise, with The Batavian’s Howard Owens drawing out a short, thoughtful lesson: “Legacy managers will nearly always sabotage innovation. Wall of separation necessary between innovators and legacy.”

Blogger Mike Clark pointed out that TBD’s traffic was beating each of the other D.C. TV news sites and growing as well. The Washington Post reported that while traffic wasn’t a problem, turning it into revenue was — though the fact that TBD’s ads were handled by WJLA staffers might have contributed to that.

Mallary Jean Tenore wrote an insightful article talking to some TBD folks about whether their company gave them a chance to fail. Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau was unequivocal on the subject: “Some of us have been talking today on Twitter about whether TBD failed. Nonsense. TBD wasn’t given enough time to fail.”

While CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis lamented that “TBD will be painted as a failure of local news online when it’s a failure of its company, nothing more,” others saw some larger implications for other online local news projects. Media analyst Alan Mutter concluded that TBD’s plight is “further evidence that hyperlocal journalism is more hype than hope for the news business,” and Poynter’s Rick Edmonds gave six business lessons for similar projects from TBD’s struggles. Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton ripped Edmonds’ analysis, arguing that Allbritton “can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in.”

Applying Apple’s new rules: Publishers’ consternation over Apple’s new subscription plan for mobile devices continued this week, with Frederic Filloux at Monday Note laying out many publishers’ frustrations with Apple’s proposal. The New York Times’ David Carr and The Guardian’s Josh Halliday both covered publishers’ Apple subscription conundrum, and one expert told Carr, “If you are a publisher, it puts things into a tailspin: The business model you have been working with for many years just lost 30 percent off the top.”

At paidContent, James McQuivey made the case for a lower revenue share for Apple, and Dan Gillmor wondered whether publishers will stand up to Apple. The company may also be facing scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust violations, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The fresh issue regarding Apple’s subscription policy this week, though, was the distinction between publishing apps and more service-oriented apps. The topic came to the fore when the folks from Readability, an app that allows users to read articles in an advertising-free environment, wrote an open letter ripping Apple for rejecting their app, saying their new policy “smacks of greed.” Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman and Apple blogger John Gruber noted, though, that Readability’s 30%-off-the-top business model is a lot like Apple’s.

Then Apple’s Steve Jobs sent a short, cryptic email to a developer saying that Apple’s new policy applies only to publishing apps, not service apps. This, of course, raised the question, in TechCrunch’s words, ”What’s a publishing app?” That’s a very complex question, and as Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote, one that will be difficult for Apple to answer consistently. Arment also briefly noted that Jobs’ statement seems to contradict the language of Apple’s new guidelines.

Giving voice to new sources of news: This month’s Carnival of Journalism, posted late last week, focused on ways to increase the number of news sources. It’s a broad question, and it drew a broad variety of answers, which were ably summarized by Courtney Shove. I’m not going to try to duplicate her work here, but I do want to highlight a few of the themes that showed up.

David Cohn, the Carnival’s organizer, gave a great big-picture perspective to the issue, putting it in the context of power and the web. Kim Bui and Dan Fenster defended the community-driven vision for news, with Bui calling journalists to go further: “Let’s admit it, we’ve never trusted the public.” There were several calls for journalists to include more underrepresented voices, with reports and ideas like a refugee news initiative, digital news bus, youth journalism projects, and initiatives for youth in foreign-language families.

The J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer gave 10 good ideas to the cause, and Drury j-prof Jonathan Groves and Gannett’s Ryan Sholin shared their ideas for local citizen news projects, while TheUpTake’s Jason Barnett endorsed a new citizen-journalism app called iBreakNews.

Three bloggers, however, objected to the Carnival’s premise in the first place. Daniel Bachhuber of CUNY argued that improving journalism doesn’t necessarily mean adding more sources, recommending instead that “Instead of increasing the number of news sources, we should focus on producing durable data and the equivalent tools for remixing it.” Lauren Rabaino warned against news oversaturation, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing said that more than new sources, we need better filters and hubs for them.

Blogging’s continued evolution: The “blogging is dead” argument has popped up from time to time, and it was revived again this week in the form of a New York Times story about how young people are leaving blogs for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Several people countered the argument, led by GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, who said that blogging isn’t declining, but is instead evolving into more of a continuum that includes microblogging services like Twitter, traditional blog formats like Wordpress, and the hybrid that is Tumblr. He and Wordpress founding developer Matt Mullenweg shared the same view — that “people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online,” no matter the form.

Scott Rosenberg, who’s written a history of blogging, looked at statistics to make the point, noting that 14 percent of online adults keep a blog, a number he called astounding, even if it starts to decline. “As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.” In addition, Reuters’ Anthony DeRosa argued that longer-form blogging has always been a pursuit of older Internet users.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a few ongoing stories to update you on, and a sampling of an unusually rich week in thoughtful pieces.

— A couple of sites took a peek at Gawker’s traffic statistics to try to determine the effectiveness of its recent redesign. TechCrunch saw an ugly picture; Business Insider was cautiously optimistic based on the same data. Gawker disputed TechCrunch’s numbers, and Terry Heaton tried to sort through the claims.

— A couple of Middle East/North Africa protest notes: The New York Times told us about the response to Egypt’s Internet blackout and the role of mobile technology in documenting the protests. And Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave some lessons from the incredible Twitter journalism of NPR’s Andy Carvin.

— The Daily is coming to Android tablets this spring, and its free trial run has been extended beyond the initial two weeks.

— Matt DeRienzo of the Journal Register Co. wrote about an intriguing idea for a news org/j-school merger.

— Alan Mutter made the case for ending federal funding for public journalism.

— At 10,000 Words, Lauren Rabaino had some awesome things news organizations can learn from tech startups, including thinking of news as software and embracing transparency.

— And here at the Lab, Northwestern prof Pablo Boczkowski gave some quick thoughts on how we tend to associate online news with work, and what that means. He sheds some light about an under-considered aspect of news — the social environments in which we consume it.

December 01 2010

17:56

Huge video leak of 2009 Moldovan protests and state violence

[View one of the videos.]

In April 2009, following an election widely viewed as rigged, protests erupted in Moldova.

But closed-circuit video footage of the protests and subsequent violence has been leaked, and the Center for Future Civic Media was approached by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism to make available those 16 hours of footage, now available at dickgregoryforpresident.com.

President Vladimir Voronin and the communist regime reacted violently to the protests, suspending the constitution starting with that night. The results: at least three dead youth, almost one thousand young people illegally arrested and tortured, over one thousand days of arrests issued, a president and prime-minister threatening to shoot the protesters and ordering the sequestration of students in schools.



[...]

More than a year and a half after, nobody knows the names of people responsible for the abuses committed during those days.

The site the Center put together allows users to code video content, such as the license plate of an unmarked secret police car...

jeep-ul care a adunat tineri din piata, se vede numarul (MAI 0699) - min 4.38 sau Set Time 278.39898681640625

...or requests for help identifying a group of men:

cine-s baietii astia, pe la min 4.30? baga 278.9989929199219 si apasa Set Time

Already we've heard of requests to use the footage in court cases alleging that state agents killed protestors. Overcoming the technical challenges of sharing such a volume video is almost reward enough, but to help hold accountable those who would misuse state power, that, in large part, is what civic media is here for.

November 22 2010

17:00

Attention versus distraction? What that big NY Times story leaves out

Yesterday’s Sunday Times devoted the lead slot of its front page to a long examination of the effects of the web on the attention spans of teenagers. In the tradition (yes, it is now a tradition) of Nick Carr, the piece concludes that, essentially, our smartphones — and our Facebook and our YouTube and our web in general — are robbing kids of their ability to concentrate. Neuroplasticity! “Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people,” the piece notes. “The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.”

Rex Sorgatz summed it up like so: “‘Young people suck.’ –NYT.”

The human face of the epidemic is Vishal Singh, a seventeen-year-old from, naturally, Silicon Valley. “At the beginning of his junior year,” the Times reports, “he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.” But that commitment to creation doesn’t transfer to schoolwork; though Vishal is entering a “pivotal academic year” in his life — his senior year, the year when colleges come calling and thus, ostensibly, futures are decided — he can’t seem to focus on the work he needs to do to do well.

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.

“He’s a kid caught between two worlds,” said Mr. Reilly [Vishal's principal at Woodside High School] — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.

Two worlds. One real, the other digital. And in the space between them is Vishal — and, by implication, several other wayward members of the world’s first generation of digital natives, the kids who are, per the the piece’s headline, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.” But does that binary — the ‘two worlds’ thinking that pits the virtual realm against the ‘real,’ as if the two were engaged in an epic battle for dominance of that vast land that is Impressionable Youth — really explain what’s going on here? Does it, for example, explain the nail it-to-fail it range of Vishal’s academic performance? Maybe; there’s a chance that his F in Algebra II can indeed be blamed on some unholy union of YouTube/Facebook/Sir Berners-Lee. But, then, if distraction is a diffusive proposition — if it infects all areas of intellectual life indiscriminately, and thus, ostensibly, equally — then how do you explain the A in film critique? (Also: a class in film critique? Perhaps Vishal’s problem is simply that his school is set in a DeLillo novel.)

Attention and distraction

That’s not to discount the attention-fragmenting nature of the web. “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything,” Vishal’s best friend, Sam, says in the story, after blaming the site for his inability to finish books and, thus, for his lower-than-desired SAT scores. And a distraction Facebook most certainly is. The question, though, is: distraction from what? And also: What’s inherently wrong with distraction? It seems to me that the real dichotomy here — to the extent, of course, that it’s fair to break any complex problem into reductive dualities — is less a matter of focus vs. distraction, and more a matter of the digital age’s spin-off opposition: interest vs. non-interest. Caring vs…lack of.

We talk a lot about fragmentation in the online world — the unbundling of the news product, the scattering of audiences, the unraveling of publics, etc. And when we do, we tend to focus on the entropic implications of that shift: “Fragmentation,” of course, carries a whiff of nostalgia not just for the thing being fragmented, but for wholeness itself — for completeness, for community, for all that’s been solid. What that framing forgets, though, is that the other side of fragmentation can be focus: the kind of deep-dive, myopic-in-a-good-way, almost Zen-like concentration that sparks to life when intellectual engagement couples with emotional affinity. The narrows, to be Carrian about it, of the niche. And when that kind of focus springs to life — when interest becomes visceral, when caring becomes palpable, when you’re so focused on something that the rest of the world melts away — the learning that results tends to be rich and sticky and sweet. The kind that you carry with you throughout your life. The kind that becomes a part of you. The kind that turns, soon enough, into wisdom.

It’s a kind of learning, though, that can’t be forced — because it relies for its initial spark on something that is as ineffable as it is intense. Interest has a way of sneaking up on you: One day, you’re a normal person, caring about normal things like sports and music and movies — and the next a Beatles song comes on the radio, and suddenly you’re someone who cares not just about sports and music and movies, but also about the melodic range of the sitar. Even if you don’t want, necessarily, to be somebody who cares about the melodic range of the sitar. Interests are often liberating; occasionally, they’re embarrassing. Either way, you can’t control them. They, in fact, control you.

The general and the personal

And that, I’d wager, is the root of Vishal’s academic problems: not that he’s not smart — indeed, again, “one of their brightest students” — and not that he’s the victim of a mass outbreak of web-borne distraction (again, that A in film critique). His problem is both simpler and more serendipitous than that: He just doesn’t care about algebra.

Which is a problem, of course, shared by probably 99.9 percent of the population who have experienced the particular pain of the polynomial. Rare is the person who genuinely likes algebra; rarer still is the person who genuinely, you know, cares about it. But we learn it anyway — because that’s what we’re expected to do. Formal education, as we’ve framed it, is not only about finding ways to learn more about the things we love, but also, equally, about squelching our aversion to the things we don’t — all in the ecumenical spirit of generalized knowledge. We value the straight-A report card not just as a demonstration of indiscriminate ability, but also as evidence of indiscriminate discipline: mastery over apathy. (An A in English and in chemistry! You, little polymath, are ready for polite society.)

What distinguishes Vishal’s apathy, though — and what makes it more anxiety-inducing than that of the algebraic apatheists in whose footsteps he follows — is that he is coming of age in the digital era. And the digital era is bringing a new kind of empowerment not just to interest, but to aversion. The web is a space whose very abundance of information — and whose very informational infrastructure — trains our attention to follow our interests. And vice versa. In that, it’s empowering information as a function of interest. It’s telling Vishal that it’s better to spend time with video than with Vonnegut — simply because he’s more interested editing than in reading. Vishal needs needs no other justification for his choice; interest itself is its own acquittal. While formal learning has been, in the pre-digital world, a matter of rote obligation in the service of intellectual catholicism, the web-powered world is creating a knowledge economy that spins on the axis of interest. Individual interest. The web inculcates a follow your bliss approach to learning that seeps, slowly, into the broader realm of information; under its influence, our notion of knowledge is slowly shedding its normative layers.

For the learner, of course, that is incredibly empowering. One minute, I’m looking up a recipe for spice-roasted sweet potatoes; the next, courtesy of a few link-clicks, I’m learning that sweet potatoes are used for dye in South America, and that there exists such a thing as sweet potato butter. Which is, in a word, awesome. And it means, on the social scale, a new permission to explore our idiosyncrasies — a bottom-up shift that our top-down education systems — and journalism, along with them — are grappling with. From Wikipedia to topic pages, from social curation to the explosive little link, the global textbook that is the web takes on a self-guided brand of dynamism, a choose-your-own-adventure proposition fueled by whim and whimsy. And for digital news, as much as we talk about consumers’ desire for a curated information experience — whether on an iPad or within social networks or on the branded pages of the open web — what Vishal’s volitality suggests is that what we really want from the web is something more basic: the permission to be impulsive.

Image by Mike Licht used under a Creative Commons license.

October 10 2010

19:31

Using technology to improve the public education system

Hi everyone! I wanted to introduce our entry into the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge for immigrant youth to use technology to improve their public education system in Washington, D.C. I hope that you will consider voting for our project, and good luck to the other 89 contestants! S.M.A.R.T. is the D.C. Language Access Coalition(DCLAC)’s initiative on education and aims to educate, train and empower limited and non-English proficient (LEP/NEP) and ELL (English Language Learner) youth in advocacy, community organizing...

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August 20 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Patch’s local news play, Facebook takes location mainstream, and the undead web

[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]

Patch blows up the hyperlocal model: AOL’s hyperlocal news project, Patch, launched a site in Morristown, New Jersey, this week — not a big story by itself, but Morristown’s site was also the 100th in Patch’s network, part of the Internet giant’s plan to expand to 500 hyperlocal news sites by the end of the year. Newark’s Star-Ledger and NPR both profiled AOL’s hyperlocal efforts, with The Star-Ledger focusing on its extensive New Jersey experiment and NPR looking more at the broader picture of hyperlocal news.

PaidContent added some fascinating details from Patch president Warren Webster, such as the tidbit that Patch determines what communities to enter by using a 59-variable algorithm that takes into account factors like income, voter turnout, and local school rankings. And Advertising Age’s Edmund Lee compared Patch with several of its large-scale-content rivals, finding it most closely comparable to Philip Anschutz’s Examiner.com.

patchAs Steve Safran of the local-news blog Lost Remote noted, Patch is hiring 500 journalists to run those sites and is touting itself as the nation’s largest hirer of journalists right now. That, of course, is good news for people who care about journalism, but the far bigger issue is whether Patch will be financially sustainable. Safran was skeptical, arguing that Patch needs relevant local advertising, which requires not just reach but relationships. The Boston Phoenix found several other people who also wonder about Patch’s long-term prospects. Ken Doctor asked some good questions about Patch’s implications for local news, including whether it will disrupt the handcrafted local ad networks that have been the domain of non-templated startup local news blogs.

Facebook is going Places: Facebook made a long-anticipated announcement Wednesday, rolling out its new location-based service, Facebook Places. It’s all the tech blogs have been talking about since then, so there’s plenty to wade through if you’re interested in all the details, but Search Engine Land did a good job of discussing the basics of the service and its implications. It made one particularly salient point, given that Facebook has partnered with all of the leading location-based services (FoursquareGowallaBooyah, and Yelp): Location check-ins have officially become a commodity, and location services need to expand beyond it. (It also means, to borrow Clay Shirky’s point, that location-based technology is about to get socially interesting, since it’s quickly becoming technologically boring.)

Facebook isn’t yet doing anything to drive revenue from Places, but Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman noted that Places’ inevitable widespread acceptance could “usher in a new era of local advertising” when Facebook incorporates proximity-based advertising. Facebook is already paving the way for that shift, asking advertisers to help fill out its directory of places. Fast Company’s Kit Eaton took a deeper look at how Facebook Places will change location-based advertising, though Terry Heaton called Facebook Places’ revenue potential a missed opportunity for local news organizations.

Despite Facebook’s preemptive privacy defense with Places — by default, check-ins are visible only to friends and can be limited further than that — it still faced some privacy pushback. Several privacy advocates argued that people are going to have a difficult time finding ways to control their privacy on sharing locations, and the ACLU said that, once again, Facebook is making it much easier to say “yes” to Places than “no.” One of those advocates, dotRights, provided a guide to Facebook Places’ privacy settings.

Is the web really dead?: In its most recent cover story, Wired magazine declared the web dead, with its editor, Chris Anderson, arguing that in our quest for portability and ease of use, we’ve moved into an app-centered world led by Apple, Facebook, Twitter, RSS, Netflix, and Pandora. The result, Anderson said, is that we now prefer “semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display,” a universe not ruled by Google or HTML.

Not surprisingly, such a sweeping statement was met with quite a bit of resistance. Web luminaries Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle dived into the arcane in their lengthy debate with Anderson, while plenty of others across the web also had problems with his decree of death. Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza provided the most cogent statistical argument, showing that while Anderson depicts the web as decreasing in the percentage of Internet use, its total use is still exploding. Terry Heaton and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington argued that the web still functions well and serves as the basis for many of the “apps” Anderson makes his argument from, with Heaton positing that Wired (and Apple) are still operating on a set of scarcity-based presumptions in a world now defined by abundance. Gawker’s Ryan Tate noted that Wired first released its article on its profitable website, while sales of its iPad app are down.

Quite a few others took issue with the idea of declaring things dead in the first place. ReadWriteWeb and Technologizer tallied lists of very-much-alive things that were long ago declared dead, and The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal criticized Anderson’s view that tech is “just a series of increasingly awesomer things that successively displace each other” as long ago proven wrong. Here at the Lab, Jason Fry made a similar point, writng that “the web isn’t dying but being joined by a lot of other contact points between the user and the sea of digital information, with points emerging for different settings, situations, and times of day.”

Murdoch’s tablet newspaper plan: The Los Angeles Times reported late last week that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is developing a new national U.S. “digital newspaper” to be distributed solely as a paid app on tablets like the iPad. The publication would feature short, easily digestible stories for a general audience, and would compete with papers like USA Today and The New York Times. Its newsroom would be run under the New York Post. Murdoch said he sees this as a “game changer” in the news industry’s efforts to reach younger audiences, but news industry vet Alan Mutter was skeptical: “Newspaper content tends to attract — whether on print or on an iPad or however — mostly the same kind of readers,” Mutter told the Times. “Not necessarily younger readers.”

Mutter wasn’t the only dubious one. Murdoch biographer/gadfly Michael Wolff ripped the idea, and TechCrunch’s Paul Carr noted that News Corp. tried a similar idea in Britain in 2006 for free, which bombed. The idea this time around, Carr argued, “reflects less a bold strategy to convince a new generation of readers that good journalism is worth paying for and more the 79-year News Corp proprietor’s desperation to keep the cash flow coming until the company’s profitability becomes someone else’s problem.”

Drawing on a survey of iPad users, Mario Garcia said that Murdoch’s plan for quick, snappy stories doesn’t fit well with the iPad’s primary role as a relaxing device. At least one person was encouraged by Murdoch’s idea, though: Missouri j-prof Clyde Bentley called it the cannon shot that will scare the herd of newspaper executives into seriously pursuing mobile media.

News Corp. also made news by donating $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. I’ll leave most of the analysis of that move to the politically oriented media critics, though media consultant Ken Doctor outlined a good case for the gift’s importance in the journalism world. We also got a report that Murdoch’s British tabloid, News of the World, will go paid online by October. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade wasn’t impressed by that initiative’s prospects for success.

Reading roundup: Lots and lots to get to this week. In the spirit of Rupert Murdoch, I’ll keep it short and snappy:

— The fallout from last week’s Google-Verizon proposal continued into the weekend, with both watchdogs and Google allies raising concerns about the future of net neutrality. Harvard Internet law professor Jonathan Zittrain had plenty more thoughtful things to say about the flap, and The Wall Street Journal had a lengthy interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt about that issue and several others.

— We got some discouraging news from a couple of surveys released this week: Gallup found that Americans’ trust in traditional news organizations remains historically low, while a comScore study found that (surprise!) even young news junkies don’t read newspapers. Each study had a silver lining, though — Gallup found that young people’s trust in newspapers is far higher than any other age group, and comScore showed that many young non-print readers are still consuming lots of news online. Here at the Lab, Christopher Sopher wrote a sharp two-part series on attracting young would-be news consumers.

— Google’s Lyn Headley is continuing his series of articles explaining the new Rapid News Awards, and each one is a smart analysis of the nature of aggregation and authority. They’ve all been worth checking out.

— Two great resources on interesting trends within journalism: the Lab’s series of videos, via the Knight Foundation, of a recent discussion among a who’s-who of nonprofit journalism leaders; and Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore’s article on the encouraging resurgence of long-form journalism in its online form.

— Finally, Florida j-prof Mindy McAdams sparked a great discussion about what skills are necessary for today’s reporter. If you’re a college student or a budding reporter (or even a veteran one), give this conversation a close read.

August 19 2010

15:00

The kids are alright, part 2: What news organizations can do to attract, and keep, young consumers

[Christopher Sopher is a senior at the University of North Carolina, where he is a Morehead-Cain Scholar and a Truman Scholar. He has been a multimedia editor of the Daily Tar Heel and has worked for the Knight Foundation. His studies have focused on young people's consumption of news and participation in civic lifewhich have resulted in both a formal report and an ongoing blog, Younger Thinking.

We asked Chris to adapt some of his most relevant findings for the Lab, which he kindly agreed to do. We posted Part 1 yesterday; below is Part 2. Ed.]

Now that I have exhorted all of you to care about young people and their relationship with the news media, it’s worth examining a few of the most pertinent ideas about getting more of my peers engaged: the gap between young people’s reported interested in issues and their interest in news, the need for tools to help organize the information flow, and the crucial role of news in schools and news literacy.

A gap between interest and news consumption

The data seem to suggest that young people are simultaneously interested and uninterested in the world around them. For example, a 2007 Pew survey [pdf] found that 85 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds reported being interested in “keeping up with national affairs” — a significant increase from 1999. Yet in a 2008 study [pdf], just 33 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds (and 47 percent of people aged 25 to 34) said they enjoyed keeping up with news “a lot.” Young people also tend to score lower on surveys of political knowledge — all of which suggests that their information habits are not matching their reported interests.

There are a few compelling explanations for this apparent contradiction (beyond people’s general desire to provide socially agreeable responses). The first is that many young people may not see a consistent connection between regularly “getting the news” and staying informed about the issues that interest them. If we accept that most young people get their news at random intervals (and the overwhelming body of evidence suggests that this is the case), it’s easy to see how reading a particular day’s New York Times story about health care reform, for example, might be rather confusing if you haven’t been following the coverage regularly.

Many young people also report feelings of monotony with day-to-day issue coverage and a distaste for the process focus of most politics coverage. Some share the sentiments (about which Gina Chen has written here at the Lab) of the now-famous, if anonymous, college student who said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.” The cumulative effect of these trends is that young people go elsewhere to “keep up”: to Wikipedia articles, to friends and family, to individual pieces of particularly helpful content shared through social networks.

The “too much information” problem

Several studies have highlighted the fact that many young people feel overwhelmed by the deluge of information presented on news sites. (My two favorite pieces on this are both from the Media Management Center, found here and here here [pdf].)

This sentiment is understandable: On one day I counted, the New York Times’ homepage offered 28 stories across four columns above the scroll cutoff and another 95 below it — for a total of 123 stories, along with 66 navigation links on the lefthand bar. CNN.com also had 28 stories on top and 127 total, along with 15 navigation links. Imagine a newspaper with that many choices.

The point is that news sites need to be designed to help users manage and restrict the wealth of information, rather than presenting them with all of it at once. People can and are doing the work of “curation” on their own, of course, through iGoogle, Twitter, RSS, and social networks both online and off — but those efforts leave behind the vast majority of news outlets. Better design allows news organizations to include the kind of context and background and explanation — not to mention personalization features — that younger audiences find helpful. That idea isn’t new, but its importance for young people cannot be overstated.

Schools, news, and news literacy

News organizations need to learn from soda and snack producers and systematically infiltrate schools across the country with their products. There’s strong evidence that news-based, experiential, and interactive course design [pdf] — as well as the use of news in classrooms and the presence of strong student-produced publications — can both increase the likelihood that students will continue to seek news regularly in the future.

Many teachers are already using news [pdf] in their classrooms, but face the pressures of standardization and an apparent lack of support from administrations. A 2007 Carnegie-Knight Task Force study [pdf] also found that most teachers who do use news content in their curricula direct their students to online national outlets (such as CNN or NYTimes.com) rather than local sites, which suggests that local news organizations need to focus on building a web-based presence in schools. The Times Learning Network is an excellent model.

And when news media finally fill school halls like so much Pepsi (or, now, fruit juice), young people themselves will also need help to navigate content and become savvy consumers, which is where news literacy programs become important. The Lab’s own Megan Garber has explained their value eloquently in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review: “The bottom line: news organizations need to make a point of seeking out young people — and of explaining to them what they do and, perhaps even more importantly, why they do it. News literacy offers news organizations the opportunity to essentially re-brand themselves.” The News Literacy Project, started by a Pulitzer-winning former Los Angeles Times reporter, is a leading example.

The point of these ideas is that there are significant but entirely surmountable obstacles to getting more young people engaged with news media — a goal with nearly universal benefits that has received far too little attention from news organizations.

I’ll conclude with a quote from NYU professor Jay Rosen, buried inside the 2005 book Tuned Out: “Student’s don’t grow up with the religion of journalism, they don’t imbibe it in the same way that students used to. Some do, but a lot don’t.” Changing that is the difficult but urgent challenge. I don’t want to be that guy who says “_____ will save journalism,” so I’ll just say this: It’s really, really, really important.

And I should probably mention that there are hundreds of recent journalism school graduates who would be more than willing to help.

Image by Paul Mayne, used under a Creative Commons license.

August 18 2010

19:00

The kids are alright: How news organizations can tap the vast potential of younger consumers

[Christopher Sopher is a senior at the University of North Carolina, where he is a Morehead-Cain Scholar and a Truman Scholar. He has been a multimedia editor of the Daily Tar Heel and has worked for the Knight Foundation. His studies have focused on young people's consumption of news and participation in civic lifewhich have resulted in both a formal report and an ongoing blog, Younger Thinking.

We asked Chris to adapt some of his most relevant findings for the Lab, which he kindly agreed to do. Below is Part 1; we'll post Part 2 tomorrow. Ed.]

There are three “truths” the journalism world seems to acknowledge about the current generation of young people: They like cell phones, they use Facebook, and they never read newspapers. This is frequently interpreted to mean the end of the storied twentieth century tradition of reading the newspaper at the breakfast table, and, therefore, the end of democracy.

Perhaps it’s youthful naivete, but I’m fairly certain there are a few steps between reading the news on a mobile phone and the inability of a people to govern themselves. And this isn’t the first time a generation of young people has been accused of marching the world toward languid doom. The question that matters is this: What will replace the morning newspaper as the news habit of the first generation of Americans to grow up immersed in a digital culture? I recently finished a year of research and review in an attempt to find some answers to this question.

What I found was this:

With a few exceptions, the journalism world hasn’t been particularly effective at connecting its concern about young audiences to better understanding or better action. Which is an unfortunate failure, because young people have a lot to teach — both about themselves as current and future news consumers, and about the social and technological trends that shape the news ecosystem.

The broad summary is that most of today’s young people (the “millennials”) are interested in local, national, and international issues — and a strong majority are at least somewhat engaged with news media, predominantly online, through social networks and on television. Yet there is also great untapped potential resulting from the troublesome fact that most news outlets simply aren’t very good at reaching or serving young audiences.

Without significant changes and experimentation, news organizations are likely to miss the democratic, journalistic, and financial opportunities that are latent in the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. It is a common-sense but regrettably neglected point: If you care about the future of news, you need to care about (and understand) young people.

At the conclusion of my research, I compiled a list of the ten ideas I believe hold the most promise for getting more young people engaged with the news media. The general theme is that news organizations need to create a more usable, relevant, and explanatory experience and combine it with serious support for news literacy and news-in-schools programs that communicate to young people why they ought to use and support journalism. These aren’t complex or novel ideas individually, but if they’re to be effective, they’ll need collective attention.

I’ll explore a few of the most pertinent ideas in more detail in the next post, but I’ll conclude here with three points I think are vital to understanding young people’s relationship with the news.

1. The cliche that becomes the assumption. Too many stereotypes about young people get worked into news experiments aimed at them. One example: while it’s true that most young people feel more comfortable with technology and the Internet than their elders do, we don’t possess some sherpa-like, innate ability to navigate poorly designed, poorly organized information (as the Media Management Center’s excellent research demonstrates). Recreating an old experience in a new format is an ineffective way to reach young audiences.

2. Boring or fluffy. Most sectors of journalism thought have rejected the bimodal theory of news: either it’s inherently boring but deeply important (town council minutes) or entertaining but inane (Lindsey Lohan updates). Yet for some reason the assumption of bifurcation continues to pervade news outlets’ discussion of young people: Journalist types implore young people to eat more broccoli, while most news organizations’ efforts to reach young people assume they’re only interested in candy. (See Chicago’s RedEye or Denver’s failed 2005 experiment, Bias Magazine.) The potential is in the elusive middle ground — which I suppose, to follow my own analogy, would be “tasty vegetables.”

3. Why young people get the news. It’s an obvious, but often overlooked, point that the news needs to be designed with an awareness of how and why the audience experiences it. As for the latter, there are many theories about why young people read the news (and some excellent research, such as this ethnographic study [pdf] by the AP): the social capital theory (also known as “I want to seem smart by being able to talk about the oil spill’s effects on the brown pelican”); the democracy theory; the habit theory. The truth is probably a combination of these three, but they all point to the idea that news is both social and functional. Most news organizations do a poor job of providing an experience that, for young audiences who have a different level of knowledge and experience than older consumers is either of those things.

The point: Journalism needs to focus on young audiences and experiment with new approaches to engaging them. The results of that would be beneficial for everyone involved. Here, again, is my list of ten ideas for making it happen. What would you add?

Image of a paper-reader by foreverphoto, used under a Creative Commons license.

August 06 2010

14:19

Re-imagining Gaza: Youth Video Evaluation and Community Screenings

With the end of our youth media program in Jabaliya refugee camp last week, we conducted evaluations and screenings of the films with the families and local community, along with a photography exhibition and large public screening hosted at the Mat’haf (Gaza Museum) from August 1 - 13, 2010.

The workshop evaluations were conducted in focus groups through follow-up questionnaires and group discussions, as well as video-based interviews conducted by youth among themselves. See a brief excerpt of evaluation interviews edited by youth in the 4-min video below.


Both the community and public exhibition and screenings were a huge success with nearly 250-300 people in the audience, Q&A with the young filmmakers, a diploma ceremony that the youth and their families looked forward to, and interviews with youth conducted by Al Jazeera’s Arabic language TV correspondent. The images on the Voices Beyond Walls blog give a sense of excitement about these events.

The youth continue to work on independent media projects and short films, with the support of their trainers through an on-going follow-up program. It’s been an exhilarating summer for everyone involved and we’re proud to have an extraordinary team of young filmmakers pushing the boundaries of participatory media in Gaza.

July 30 2010

15:26

Re-imagining Gaza: Youth Photo Exhibit & Films Premiere :: Aug 1st

The “Re-imagining Project” is a program of digital video, photography and storytelling workshops that supports Palestinian children and youth in expressing their cultural identity, personal narratives, and creative visions through participatory digital media.


The photo exhibit and screening events showcase work emerging from two 3-week digital media and storytelling workshops conducted from July 4 – 25, 2010 with 10-15 year old children, in collaboration with the Women’s Program Center in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza and the Al Aroub Play and Animation Center in Al Aroub refugee camp, West Bank.

West Bank Event: Al Aroub Camp, Hebron, July 29, 2010

Gaza Event: Al Mat’haf, Sodaniya, Beach Road, Gaza
Photo Exhibit: August 1st – 13th, 2010

Exhibit Opening Reception and Film Screenings:
Sunday 5:30pm – 8:30pm, August 1, 2010

The program has been conducted by Voices Beyond Walls with community centers in refugee camps in the West Bank since 2006. In June-July 2010, the project was launched in Gaza in collaboration with Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE) and participating community centers.

The program is led by an international and local team of filmmakers, artists, photographers, educators, and youth community animators. The project is supported in part by Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE), Sharek Youth Forum, Tamer Institute, Canaan Institute for New Pedagogy, the French Cultural Center in Gaza, UNRWA, the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, and the Genevieve McMillan-Reba Stewart Foundation.

The photo exhibition is hosted at Al Mat’haf (the Museum), a one-of-a-kind recreation and cultural center that showcases Gaza’s rich historical past and seamlessly blends it into the context of contemporary life in Gaza. At a time when many in Gaza have forgotten its rich cultural heritage, Al-Mathaf aims to preserve the region’s historical treasures, provide a venue for modern cultural dialogue, and support the new generation in creating a brighter future.

More on our blog: http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com

July 23 2010

12:56

Filming and Editing with youth in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza – Week 3

The final week of our workshop in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza focused on getting youth narratives filmed on-location along with editing the video shorts. In the upcoming days we plan to finalize all films and screen them in the local community, along with post-workshop evaluations.

More photos and updates on our blog: http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com

The following summarizes our experiences in the final week:

Day 11: A day of ups and downs shooting video in the camp…

A day with many ups and downs - we had left video cameras with all groups and trainers to continue filming over the weekend. All but one group reported in their morning check-in that they were nearly done with their primary shooting. Many had worked hard on the weekend in new locations and reworked narratives.

However, during our video footage review it became clear nearly all had critical challenges, which nearly left their films either unusable or fairly flat. These included very poor audio and lighting for many crucial scenes; interestingly at least 2 groups shot scenes in the center (when they were unable to get permission to shoot elsewhere) but somehow failed to notice the roaring diesel generator running in the background, muting all but the loudest characters in the scenes. Others shot indoors in very poor lightning or composition and outdoor shots at a distance had little or no expression seen in the characters. Natural and dramatic acting was also turning out to be a challenge for many groups in difficult locations with little preparation, coaching or rehearsal.

There seems to be a dilemma to get the right balance between indoor/outdoor shooting to handle light and the inevitable noise in the camp. So we suggested good "location scouting" was most crucial for all groups, along with getting compelling characters in desirable roles. In some cases, simply casting other individuals in critical roles that are more authentic, was the only solution to make the films seem compelling. Finally, we urged some trainers to work closer with the other teams to provide more guidance and support.

One could feel the exasperation of the teams as they watched their footage and we noticed that many scenes re-shot had only gotten worse. This was certainly not an outcome we all wished at this stage of the workshop with all the training and critical reviews we had done. So we simply went around and got everyone to give constructive suggestions to each group as they presented their work; clearly seeing it on large format screen really helps each time. At least two groups decided to completely re-write their stories or choose a new concept, as they saw their current work fall flat. We decided to work intensively with the two groups most in need to get them back on track.

The only group that finished shooting all footage was the one doing the silent abstract film which they shot in a new location around destroyed buildings by the sea - the effect was quite moving and everyone clapped at the end. I suggested they combine their footage from the previous location to retain the urgency and dramatic character they originally achieved. Overall, this group appears to have some powerful footage to go into editing.

With the inspiration from the last group's footage, we got all other groups to meet separately with us to consider how to improve their work. Roger and Maha worked closely with a group where the children quickly developed refreshing new story, which they are excited to shoot tomorrow.

I had one group, which was a bit demoralized due to internal dynamics and trainer issues, to revert back to a piece they originally developed in the first week, focusing on human rights issues and persons injured in Jabaliya camp during the war. They were psyched to get back on-location and begin shooting. So we developed a new angle where we would have one team interview and shoot the emerging story, while another "camera crew" would film them doing so, thus creating a film inside a film. We had the "camera crew" of a 11-year old boy (Mohammed) and girl from another group use Roger's professional Panasonic video camera for the secondary shoot; they both took to it readily panning gracefully between the interview and the team filming it.

The pairing worked really well as we re-interviewed the Hammad family who suffered during the war; they welcomed us back in their home as both teams filmed them in a somewhat odd fashion (one saying "action" after the other). They understood the concept and that it was for training purposes as well. The camera team also filmed the group making decisions about their shots and preparing for interviews while walking along, so the film may turn out to be fairly compelling once it’s completed. The team plans to meet Mezan, the human rights center in the camp and film two other cases as part of their documentary narrative.

This was a great high-point for the frustrating day as the group felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing a concept come together quickly and having a workable plan of action to produce something effective in a short time. Let’s see how the rest goes with all other groups as they wrap up shooting tomorrow, and get into editing...

Day 12: Wrapping up shooting and brief editing tutorial

The day started with all the groups eagerly waiting in the courtyard of the center holding tripods and cameras ready to go for their final shoot. I came in with a large tray of Bakhalava to celebrate the arrival of my little sister's baby boy this morning. Just enough sugar to get everyone recharged for their filming on-location all morning.

Each team went out to their final locations; I took our group to the Mezan Center for Human Rights to see if we could get them to take us out for an interview with a family. No one was around, so we instead went to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), also nearby... they too were hesitant (and asked for formal letters of request), but the young team persisted and the staff finally asked a field officer to take us out to a site in Beit Lahiya where several families and schools had been hard hit. The group worked in two teams conducting the interviews and filming the film; I was impressed at their clockwork dynamic. Even the 11-year old Mohammed closely held his professional Panasonic DVX camera (which was way bigger than his sholders) and shot footage indoors and in the streets, walking rapidly backwards to frame the shots.

The group filmed 3 families two of which were in Jabaliya camp, each with devastating stories of loss and inspiring resilience. Abeer, the 15-year old girl directing the group, conducted most interviews along with Nour, while others assisted with photography and basic production work - a natural team with each one taking turns to manage the shoot. We did many interviews indoors, with several shots in the open to capture the destroyed homes and conversing while walking with our characters in the narrow alleys of the camp. Both cameras captured multiple angles of the shots; with nearly 3 hours of video it will be quite a bit of work for the group to begin sorting out and trimming their final scenes during editing.

In the afternoon, I conducted a brief hour-long tutorial of the VideoStudio editing software using an example of the "Rabbit City" film this group had shot last week. They have subsequently abandoned the story in favor of the human rights piece. So it made for a good example that was fun to edit. They learned the key elements of editing, trimming, sound tracks, audio recording, titling and transitions with only a few special effects in the context of this narrative. They suggested slow motion and repeat takes in some scenes, which all added nicely to the final film rendered.

Tomorrow all groups will begin organizing and capturing their footage to begin editing in groups, so we hope to get them off on a good track, though some may still insist on re-shooting a few scenes with audio/lighting issues. Let’s hope we can keep the full group engaged in the editing process somehow or find other constructive video/photo activities as the Al Aroub team has been trying.

Day 13: Power cuts and video editing...

A frustrating day for many groups as we struggled to begin video editing with just 3 laptops available for 5 groups. One finally finished shooting its last 2 scenes, while the others tried to review their footage, logging scenes, writing up key descriptions, and sequencing them on paper.

The center had no power for most of the day - later we heard it was a scheduled power outage throughout the camp, and the center's only diesel generator simply broke-down. So we tried to use laptops with whatever battery charge was remaining, while some groups reviewed their footage on the tiny video camera screens. At some point 2-3 groups tried to move to other buildings (a nearby UN office and a special needs center) for an hour or so to continue working, however most simply fizzled out by early afternoon with all the logistical challenges and resource constraints.

Only one group managed to finish most of their initial editing (for the abstract silent film) while 2 others made it part way through their footage. My group had shot nearly 3 hours of interviews (using two cameras), so it took a great deal of time to sort through and select some key scenes from just one camera - turns out to be a more ambitious effort than expected. We have a great deal more to do tomorrow. The remaining two groups are still essentially beginning their editing work tomorrow.

So the next 2 days will remain intensive if we can keep groups focused and manage with the power outages; our plan B is simply to move to another center temporarily. We'll review rough cuts tomorrow late afternoon, and hope to get all shorts completed by the end of the week for final screenings.

I expect we'll do our post-workshop evaluations on Sunday morning, so all groups have enough time to wrap-up prior to it. I'm working on a new questionnaire for the evaluation.

We plan to do a community screening in Jabaliya camp early next week with families (Monday), and hopefully a public screening in Gaza the following weekend. That should give us more time to refine and finalize all films with subtitles, print a selection of photos (from both workshops) and arrange some publicity to attract local audiences in Gaza.

Day 14: Power back on and video editing progressing

Today was much better as we miraculously had power nearly all day at the woman's center in Jabaliya camp. After a quick warm-up we asked everyone to discuss their editing and shooting experience thus far, to get some feedback on things we can improve - of course power and access to working laptops on-time were their biggest concerns.

We then broke up into our editing teams and tried to get everyone back on track; two groups waited around for new laptops to arrive which we had to setup with the editing software , both of them had to switch mid-stream twice, as their laptops crashed... and lost their initial edits. This was quite disruptive and frustrating, but the groups pressed ahead.

My group spent a great deal of time reviewing and capturing a selection of key scenes from over 6 hours of video they shot using the two cameras. We finally got through most of it by the end of the day and made an initial rough-cut which fairly coherent. It’s the story about 3 families in Gaza devastated during the war, as captured through interviews by a team of young girls and their camera crew.

We made a brief review of 4 out of 5 films that completed rough-cuts today in a small group of children and trainers remaining late this afternoon. The feedback was very helpful to the groups. One group with the silent abstract film decided to lay a music track over it which nearly destroyed the overall effect of the power footage they shot. Many of us suggested they try creating another version with just natural sounds of the locations and spaces they used, and see what resonates better with everyone in the final reviews tomorrow.

After the long day, I spent another few hours in Gaza city meeting folks at the French Cultural Center, YMCA and Palestinian Red Crescent Society trying to get a venue for our exhibit and screening. I’m also checking with the Museum in Gaza (the "Mathaf") - a newly renovated private space by the sea near Beit Lahiya. Lets see what works out in the next few days. The event will likely be on August 1st for the opening, with the exhibit on for 2 weeks hopefully.

Day 15: youth video shorts making progress....

I think we got a lot done today as all groups were more focused on completing their editing. In the morning, we reviewed a check-list of things each one had to consider for their final pieces, including:

1. Writing up a title, summary, brief synopsis, and group names for each film
2. Ensuring their video sequences are coherent and concise to represent the intended storyline
3. Completing all voice recordings, soundtrack and adjusting audio levels for all scenes
4. Simplifying any transitions and effects to maintain a seamless flow in the visual narrative (and not distract the viewer)
5. Add the title and credits including acknowledging the community center and voices beyond walls
6. Writing up an Arabic dialog script with timestamps for the entire film, and translating it to English for subtitles
7. Ensuring any images or music in the film are copyright free or get permission or credit them. This year we need to ensure that copyrighted material is well handled if we plan to post the youth shorts on YouTube and submit them to film festivals.

The groups got through most items on the checklist, though many still need to adjust audio levels, and complete the Arabic/English scripting and subtitles. We plan to extend the workshop into Saturday to finalize their films (given the power cuts and laptop issues all week). All groups and trainers are eager to wrap up their films and are willing to work through the weekend.

On Sunday we plan to do our evaluations in focus groups for both the video workshop and the Dabke workshop kids (our comparison group). I'm working on the questionnaire this weekend.

Finally, we plan to do our community screenings with the families and distribute diplomas to all children at an event in the center on Monday evening, followed by a more public screening in Gaza at the “Mat’haf” (Museum) next Sunday. A satisfying close for a long and productive week; we are on our last stretch to complete the youth films by early next week.

July 17 2010

21:03

Creative Writing & Filming with youth in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza – Week 2

In our second week of the workshop the children and trainers in all groups began developing their story concepts and storyboards, along with acting and shooting video on-location for their films. Below is a day-by-day summary of our experiences with the workshop in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza.

More photos and updates on our blog: http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com

Day 6: Creative story-writing

We began the workshop with a focus on creative story-writing; the session was lead by Asmaa Elghoul, an award winning writer and journalist in Gaza, who's been volunteering some time with our workshops.

After a quick warm-up yoga stance and physical ice-breaker, Asmaa began the session with having everyone introduce themselves to her and describe their dream the previous night; this elicited some hilarious and touching thoughts. She then discussed what children felt were key story elements like place, climax, plot, ending, turning point, dialog, writing style, characters, context etc. We noted these points on a large sheet and referred to them often during the day as they spoke about their own narratives.

We then broke-up in 5 groups and Asmaa handed each one an illustrated storybook to read and decompose the key story elements we had discussed. Each group leader spoke a summary of the story (often acted out in funny ways) followed by one of the children presenting key elements. We then had each group participate in a rapid story-writing game we developed as follows:

1. Children in each group wrote a character, object and place on separate pieces of paper and threw then into 3 baskets.
2. We shuffled each one and handed them back to children in all groups (3 for each person).
3. Then children worked in their groups to quickly write a story comprising of these elements in 15 minutes.
4. Trainers reviewed the stories written among the groups asking about key story elements and the narratives were refined.
5. We collected the pieces of paper and re-shuffled them in the baskets, handing them back once again to children in all groups.
6. Children repeated the exercise and wrote new narratives from the elements they received.
7. After a quick review among the groups, we then collected everyone for a class wide activity called "story chains". Here we asked one person to read their story and then using elements in their narrative, someone else with similar elements (each a character, place or object) had to read their story... this continued till nearly everyone read theirs, while we often chose children who were shy or had not spoken earlier.

The entire activity was devised by us on the fly and it went really well; it got all the groups really engaged and internalizing some of the story elements we discussed earlier.

After lunch we watched two short films made by youth in previous workshops, Lamees Daydream and Street Lesson, to discuss story elements in the films, using the later to develop a storyboard of key scenes. This went quite well as the children understood the reasons for storyboarding, to better communicate ideas and break narratives down to the visual elements for filming.

The final exercise was to discuss stories they wrote over the weekend in their groups; there was less time for this and given the long day I think children were less creative and energetic at this stage. The narratives they read were typical of a day in their life with few if any imaginative elements (though one was about dreaming a trip to the moon). One that struck me was about a magic stick and a couple seeking counseling from a psychiatrist... though the story was under-developed, I suggested making the psychiatrist the one needing help - visiting families in the families in his neighborhood to figure out his dilemma :-)

Trainers felt this was the hardest activity for the children and many thought it would take a long time to get children into a more creative space. They were less optimistic but I mentioned that we've always experienced these challenges at this stage of the workshop.

Overall, I think our creative exercises in the morning were valuable but we need to spurn the children into more imaginative thinking; we'll try a few other exercises the next day, like developing narratives from photographs, story circles where children start a story and others in the circle have to complete it, improvisational stories by acting out character roles assigned to them, and perhaps going back to their neighborhoods or a brief field-trip to activate their imagination.

Day 7: Improvisational play - The psychiatrist and the donkey...

Our day began with the usual warm-up; this time children lined up along a cross-bar and playing a game of swapping themselves like musical chairs quite rapidly. I could barely make sense of it all. I'm just amazing with the creative new exercises they keep devising each day.

Asmaa and I then led our next stage of creative narrative sessions; this time we played the "story-chain" in the full circle of the group of 20 children and their trainers. Asmaa started with one example phrase "One day as I was on my way home ..." and then asked me to continue as I said "I met an elephant" .. and so on. The children at first were a bit slow to keep up the pace but eventually got the hang of it and created quite an imaginative storyline towards the end of the circle.

I then suggested we repeat the "story-circle" and I started with a more specific context to spur a richer storyline. I said "There was once a psychiatrist in Jabaliya camp, who thought he was going crazy and wanted help ..." and then the next person said "and he ran down the street and met a donkey" ... "who told him about his problems" ... and so on... by the end we had a hilarious and touching storyline that had a rich array of characters including "donkeys who protested their working conditions (i.e. DR - or donkey rights)", "mice who stole their petitions", and "a magician on a broom stick" who tried to solve their dilemma. In the end the psychiatrist wakes up from his "dream" but as he washes his face sees a "donkey" in the mirror... and runs back into the street seeing donkeys everywhere... I think they wanted to imply that the psychiatrists' problem was inside him and only he could solve it by introspection - yet instead of a direct message, the children suggested an "open ending" - leaving that up to the audience. It felt more like a version of the "Twilight Zone" :-)

We than asked the children to script-out and storyboard the tale they devised for practice... this worked well as we went through key details for each potential scene devising better characters and transitions within the story. We got the children to make a play with the storyline. We selected Abeer (one of our best participants) as the director and got the children to "audition" for each of the roles, rehearsing key scenes several times, with a virtual film crew. Finally, Roger decided to film the full play and it went surprisingly smoothly (after many chaotic rehearsal takes). The acting was amazing with Abeer finally playing the psychiatrist (after directing many actors to do it) and little Hammad acting as the cool donkey wearing shades. I was impressed that everyone played their roles so well; feels like many children opened up in the exercise and there's pretty good working dynamics within the group.

We then screened the video and children got to see a complete concept to video example in less than 2 hours. It was a huge morale boost and hilariously fun to perform. They also talked about the difficult job of the director and importance of a really detailed script. We then watched another example youth video short "Mother of Palestine" (Jenin 2007) which also had a good storyline and discussed various aspects of the narrative and video shooting thereafter.

In the last hour we broke up into newly selected groups (we thought mixing them up again would bring fresh ideas) and had them each try developing new stories for their films the next day. The groups struggled a bit at first but then after we asked some of the children to close their eyes and imagine a few key characters and situations, got them to develop narrative scripts and storyboards together.

We plan to review the storyboards in the morning and have them act out the key scenes, before doing a sample video shoot in the afternoon. I expect many of their stories tomorrow will still be rather preliminary so they may get better refined/expanded as they shoot or they can simply develop a new one after this initial video trial. I think its best not to push the groups too hard to have coherent narratives in the first go, but let them get comfortable with the full process of concept to video and later develop better narratives as they mature their ideas.

Day 8: Refining story ideas, animation and video tutorial

Today the groups presented their storyboards and scripts for potential films they plan to work on. Here's a quick summary of the key ideas emerging thus far:

1. A folk tale about a lion that harasses a colony of rabbits ("Rabbit City"), asking for one delivered and sacrificed to him each day for his meal; finally the rabbits protest and devise a way to trick the lion into thinking another lion is vying for his share. The lion sees his own reflection in a pool of water and jumps in; it’s a simple tale but the group narrated it with a lot of symbolism and metaphors about Palestinian children under occupation.

2. A film about the "noise" in the camp from generators to street vendors selling watermelons... it was an unfinished story until I suggested bridging it with one they worked on about the deaf girl Amna. Here they story would transition from an annoying noise filled day in the life of a child in the camp to meeting Amna and transforming her world through Amna's impairment, and thus learning to appreciate the richness of the soundscape around her.

3. A child experiences nightmares and is unable to sleep, while his parents complain about his performance in school. The story drifted a bit with an accident experienced by the boy, after which the parents are sympathetic to the boy. We suggested the issue of problems with sleep in the camp may actually be useful to emphasize in the film (as we heard it from many of the mothers in our focus groups). The children are refining their narrative (including perhaps an animated dream sequence) and may try to make the script more dramatic.

4. A story about Ahmad and Anna on their last day in school. Ahmad is a poor child living in the camp and Anna in a more affluent neighborhood in the city. A series of events happen in their lives until Ahmad finds a jewel on the beach - a turning point in the story, after which their roles may switch after which they may both appreciate each other lives better.

5. A story about separation among Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. It shows children walking lonely and confused in both places looking for each other, with Palestine being their mother. The film is a rather abstract performative piece with much symbolism.

After some long and constructive critique the narratives appear to be shaping up a bit - lets see what the groups try to make of them.

In the afternoon we watched an animated film presented by a guest speaker, Tilda, a photographer from Belgium, who worked with children in Nablus on the short. The kids got excited to try such animations for some scenes in their own films though they were well aware of the efforts needed.

Finally, Roger conducted the video session as planned quite thoroughly with some camera demonstrations on-screen, watching scenes from shorts like the Pole, Lamees Daydream, Theater of Stones and Take it or Leave it, to reinforce camera angles and composition. The session was long and needed to be a bit more interactive and hands-on.

By the end the children were losing steam and we ended the day with a quick review of their scripts in groups to start video shooting the following morning.

Day 9: First day of video shooting on-location

Today we began preparing groups for their first video shoot on-location. After revising their scripts and reviewing them with us, they had to develop detailed production plans with key characters and locations of scenes and also assign roles for the director, photo/video camera persons and actors. In some cases groups had to find extras for their films in the locations itself.

Before leaving we also asked all trainers to conduct brief hands-on video camera trainings with all children in their groups, reinforcing lessons learned on shot framing, angles and composition in the video tutorial by Roger the previous day. Finally, we asked all groups to register themselves in a sign-up sheet with the center so we knew who was on-location and what equipment they took along. We insisted on all group members wearing their badges on-location as well. All the preparations were meant to get them to take their shooting seriously and think through their efforts more professionally as they go forward.

The five groups managed to spend 2-3 hours on their first shoot; each seemed quite satisfied with their experience. A de-briefing discussion among all later that afternoon indicated a few points. Groups took care to shoot several scenes in multiple takes to get it right; some had a hard time getting extras on-location or other characters for their films but managed partly - though will need to go back and shoot more with other characters the next day. One group had a hard time getting the hearing impaired girl to be in the film as she was not around and they felt the sign translation would take more effort, so they may have an actor in her place.

My group recruited half a dozen kids on-location to wear masks as rabbits and over 20 spectators (unintentionally) in the station park (apparently the only open green play-space in Gaza) where they shot their lion and rabbit tale. Most people there turned out to be quite helpful. The group managed to use many sections of the park as key locations for different scenes (but had some trouble maintaining scene continuity shooting a forest in an urban space); they generally enjoyed the shoot, despite the blaring sun.

Getting permission to shoot in other locations was not easy e.g. a UN school and a special needs center, so these needed to be negotiated in advance; some eventually worked out through personal connections. One group wanted to shoot in an open desert area, but when they got there, many new homes were being built to their surprise and they felt uncomfortable shooting due to the police there. They finally got assistance from a popular old man in the neighborhood to get access from the community. Most did not give up easily and tried to get many of their scenes done. "Location Scouting" in advance is an important lesson they recognized.

The groups mentioned that everyone took to their roles easily and many got to use the video camera as well, though often only 1-2 were assigned the video camera. Most said they used lessons learned in the video tutorial the previous day, though I expect many mistakes in their shots. I noted some using zoom and rapid movement too often, so I think stable shots maybe something they learn over time. We'll see how their first day of footage turned out during video reviews the following day, and whether they can turn these into their final films. I expect quite a bit may need to be re-shot or scripts re-worked, but its still a good learning exercise.

Day 10: Reviewing Video Footage and Group Critique

In the morning, we had Jehan, a drama trainer from Tamer, come back to conduct a drama session with the group. This was really refreshing for all after a long day of video shooting the day before. Jehan led them through a series of movements, gestures and role playing exercises. Her goal was to make them less shy, more expressive and improve their body language on-screen while acting out their stories "in character".

We than lead a long session of video footage reviews among all groups. Roger and I had watched and compiled key scenes from the group's footage the night before and we examined these "shot selections" carefully to highlight good and poor examples of camera techniques used, along with overall composition and how the scenes actually convey the narrative intended. We were actually quite impressed with the content and composition of many of their shots (thanks to their photo training), though all noticed critical issues with camera stability and movement. One of the more powerful set of scenes was completely silent, with shots composed of the actors running and searching through a barren and destroyed landscape - almost felt like a surreal David Lynch scene or an apocalyptic Mad Max film.

We downloaded all footage into the VideoStudio software for each group as a separate project to show an overall summary of visual footage shot, and also culled 3-4 shot selections from each for illustrative purposes into its own project folder for review. We had labeled all scenes, shots and takes for all projects and the footage selections over 2-3 hours the night before; this was very helpful during the review as we screened different takes and shots of the same scenes to demonstrate techniques used.

This overall session went really well with much of the critique coming from the children themselves as they saw their footage projected on a large screen, with all of the challenges they encountered on-location including camera movement, shot stability, excessive zooming, sound quality, and acting. Jehan, Roger and I helped summarize key lessons learned on a poster including improving shot stability using a tripod and no zoom, breaking up scenes into multiple shots (instead of zooming midway), using cameras closer to the subjects to get more expressive features and better audio, improving overall shot composition with attention to lightning and framing of subjects, acting tips for being "in character" rather than reading out lines, not looking directly at the camera but not turning ones body to it either etc. We asked them to consider consider when and how the camera itself becomes a unintentional "character" in the film if its used with excessive movement and zooming, while POV shots need to be done intentionally to match story outcomes.

The discussions were very lively and I think the groups loved talking about their shots and recognizing things they had simply not noticed during the shoot. We asked each to refine their storyboards for a visual summary of shots and the dialog in their scripts, before continuing shooting. We've now given cameras to all their trainers over the weekend to continue shooing as they have time to meet, and extended their shooting schedule through Sunday, after which we hope to begin video editing tutorials with them next week.

We are generally going on-track this week and it’s been good to do a critical review of their footage before the weekend to get them to re-think their visual aesthetics and techniques. I have a feeling they'll do a great job on their next days of shooting with trainers, now that there's a higher-bar for what we expect to see. They're really motivated and psyched to work on their films...

July 11 2010

00:25

Youth Media Workshop in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza – Week 1

Voices Beyond Walls and Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE) began its first participatory digital media and storytelling workshop in the UNRWA Woman’s center in Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza from July 4 – 25, 2010.

The three-week workshop is being conducted with five local staff members from the woman’s center and 5-6 volunteers (from youth organizations like Tamer and Sharek), all of whom participated in the Training of Trainers (ToT) course previously conducted by Voices Beyond Walls at the Canaan Institute of New Pedagogy from June 28-30, 2010. The workshop participants include 25 children (boy and girls aged 10-15) from Jabaliya camp.

Another “comparison group” of 25 children are participating in a Dabke (traditional Palestinian dance) workshop conducted in parallel at the center, as part of the pilot research study led by Dr. Nitin Sawhney, examining the role of interventions supporting participatory media, creative expression, and civic engagement among marginalized children undergoing conditions of protracted conflict.

Pre-workshop Planning and Preliminary Focus Group Evaluations

On July 3rd, one day before the workshops began, we met with the center staff in Jabaliya camp to review all workshop logistics, working guidelines and preparations. We then conducted two preliminary focus group sessions with a small group of six mothers and eight children who planned to participate in the workshop.

We discussed the key issues of critical concern among mothers about the lives of their children in the camp including psychosocial trauma from the war, ongoing political conflict, blockade and everyday concerns regarding the frequent power outages, health, safety and attitudes/behaviors of children at home and in the community. We discussed their hopes and expectations, evidence of creative engagement, and media exposure among their children. The mothers were more than willing to discuss a wide range of issues and appreciated our interest in better understanding these aspects of their lives.

We then probed the group of children (two boys and six girls aged 12-15) about these issues through an exploratory exercise of having them draw their hands on a sheet of paper and noting their background information (name, age, siblings etc) and drawing out a sample daily diary of their everyday lives; this provided some background information on their routines, media consumption patterns, socialization, family life, and sleep, much of it apparently shaped by the nature of power cuts experienced on any given day.

Inevitably, socializing with friends and family through face-to-face and online means constituted an important part of their lives, at least during the summer. When asked about a significant moment in their life over the past year, most discussed effects of the war, personal loss or challenging events at school. As for problems they faced nearly all mentioned power cuts and political situation (particularly factional fighting) as primary issues. Interestingly, children with greater media usage patterns and socialization seemed more open and optimistic – yet this remains anecdotal evidence at this early stage.

The focus groups helped us develop a more detailed questionnaire and approach which we hoped to administer among all children participating in the workshop the following day.

Day 1: Focus Group Evaluations and Introduction to Photography

We began the day with ice-breakers conducted by local trainers, which energized the group of 25 children who came to attend the first day of the workshop. They later watched 2-3 short films including Nablus Tragedy, Memories of Nakba and the Pole (the funny short made in our ToT). The children especially loved the Pole, given its simple message of civic action to keep streets clean.

Maha and Asmaa worked hard to translate the evaluation questionnaire (to Arabic) in time for our focus group sessions. We had at least two facilitators each pair up with a group of 5 children to interview and capture their responses to the questionnaire. The hand drawing exercise worked really well and the daily diary revealed a great deal, though we had to probe some children harder to be more expressive about their opinions. Some questions could be framed better and it would have been helpful to conduct trainings with our evaluators to pose the questions better. All focus groups went well, with reams of hand-written responses and drawings produced by children.

After some home-made pizza at the center we had Jehad from Tamer lead the photo session, which went quite well. He previously had some children take a few shots with his camera over lunch and discussed them, along with youth photos from previous workshops in Jerusalem for review. The children engaged in amazingly critical discussions of photo aesthetics and narratives in the shots. I was quite impressed with their aptitude and they were no longer shy to be expressive.

Our digital cameras arrived just in time (donated by Tamer and Sharek) to begin hands-on photo sessions in groups; with 30 minutes of outdoor shooting, they managed to incorporate many of their ideas from the photo review session. We had an informal discussion in the courtyard about their experience, which seemed both fun and productive. The best part about our first day into the workshop was the genuine enthusiasm and attitude of all the children and trainers involved.

Day 2: Sensing and Mapping Everyday Spaces

We started with a warm-up among the children as usual and quickly moved into focus groups to complete our hopes and expectations evaluation. Shortly thereafter we conducted a photo review of a selection of the children’s work from the previous day, which went very well.

Afterwards Nasser (from EJE) lead a great session on smells, tastes and perceptions by having two children and one trainer blind-folded and passing around various spices and materials; this turned out to be a really fun activity and quite hilarious for all. This lead into each group conducting a mapping exercise within different rooms in the center and presenting their maps after lunch. It was too hot to send children out for fieldwork, so we decided to do some other exercises indoors (despite ongoing power cuts).

We then conducted a session on the rights and responsibilities of children as young journalists in training. Here the children came up with a set of rules and regulations that they would place on their own "press pass". Finally, we watched 2 video shorts "Al Hakawati" (the storyteller) and “Intensive Care Unit” (which they liked most) to prepare them visually for their neighborhood mapping fieldwork the following day.

The first 2 days have been long and tiring for all participants and trainers, but the following days will be more hands-on and fun.

Day 3: Neighborhood Mapping in Groups

Today's workshop was probably the most enjoyable as the teams had a chance to do some fieldwork to develop neighborhood reportage.

We started with a warm-up as usual; I'm amazed to see how many unusual ice-breakers our Jabaliya trainers continue to come up with. Today was the "ship and the lighthouse" - where we gathered in a circle in pairs with one sitting and the other behind, as the "lighthouse" winked to call out someone else in the circle. Hard to describe but quite fun once you get the hang of it.

We then broke out into our teams, this time rearranging the trainers into stable pairs and balancing out the boys/girls and dominant children a bit more, to plan our mapping fieldwork. The center managed to create "press badges" for our young journalists in training as they preferred to call themselves. The badges had the rules and responsibilities that they crafted the day before, on the back.

The 5 groups went out for their neighborhood mapping trips. I "shadowed" one group that decided to examine the human rights situation in their camp through mapping. They met with the PCHR and Mazen offices and interviewed their staff. I was quite impressed with their interview skills and team coordination while some wrote summaries and others photographed. Fortunately, one of the staff at Mazen took them out to meet a family whose home had been bombed during the siege in Jan 2008.

We met the father who lost his right hand and one of his children, while another suffered shrapnel wounds. I only learned about all this as the interview progressed and still taken aback by the warmth and hospitality of the whole family, who insisted on serving tea. The young group conducted their interview tactfully and professionally to the point where I joked with the Mazen staff member that they may make for good recruits in this organization.

While we got back to the center, other groups were already preparing their maps on large sheets; one involved a narrative about a water pollution and a filtration facility near the camp, while another took a field-trip to a Bedouin village nearby. They presented their maps to the groups by the end of the day, which went quite well.

Groups began trying the VideoStudio software in their groups to sequence their photography; some did a quick rough-cut but others got distracted by the software and its playful special effects (mostly due to their trainers). I tried to focus the groups back on the narrative of their neighborhood trips and challenged them to create something they might feature as reportage on Al-Jazeera. Hopefully, their ideas will get more imaginative once we've done more drama and story-writing exercises next week.

Day 4: The Silent Beauty of Amna’s Visual Senses

This was a challenging day for all; we started out fine with the groups going out to their sites to complete their neighborhood narratives.

Roger Hill, a filmmaker from San Francisco who just arrived in Gaza, joined my previous group (doing the human rights story), while I shadowed another one examining special needs children in the camp. We visited a center that introduced us to a young girl Amna who is hearing-impaired. The group managed to conduct an interview with her through a sign translator, which went really well and then proceeded to give her a digital camera to shoot some photos with them to share a part of her world through the language of photography; Amna was really wonderful and the children took a liking to her right away. I asked the children to image a silent world as we walked along with Amna in the busy noisy streets of the camp.

Roger later commented that Amna’s photos were far more engaging; the children in this group plan to work her photos into their narrative (with a silent sound track on her world). They even shot some photos of shadows of their hands doing sign language to add to their montage.

This experience left me to think that we could organize a small workshop with our young Jabaliya team working with some special needs children on joint photo narratives where one does the photo and the other the soundscape, perceiving each differently through their own senses.

That afternoon the children continued to work on their first photomontage using the editing software, despite many frustrating challenges due to power-outages, viruses on laptops, and a steep learning curve to master the technical aspects of the tool without much training. The day took a toll on most of us as we strove to find better ways to tackle such issues going forward.

Day 5: Psychodrama and Screenings of Photomontage

Our final day of the first week in the workshop ended better than expected, after all the chaos and frustration of the previous day.

We managed to address most of the challenges plaguing us over the week regarding computers and pacing of the sessions, though power cuts and trainers out sick are hard to deal with easily.

We started the day with an excellent two hour psychodrama session led by Jehan, a drama trainer from Tamer, who had attended our ToT in Gaza last week. She was amazing with the group, walking them through a series of exercises that helped them moving and physically expressing themselves in ways we had not seen. She eventually got children to meditate and relax to soothing music and some massage, while having them imagine and draw a scenario describing "home". The children later acted out some short improvisational plays.

Meanwhile a group of 25 children showed up in the morning to take Dabke lessons with a team of staff trainers; they were the "comparison" group we requested. The boys were already quite good at Dabke, while the girls were making a great effort; it was rather touching to watch as one of the young trainers who lost his arm (presumably in the war) taught them vigorous dance moves.

After their two hour session, Amani and Mustafa, lead the evaluation sessions with the children. These were conducted as one large group in the center library as we didn't have enough staff for in-depth focus groups. But remarkably the children took to the evaluation quite well and ended up drawing their hand exercise and daily dairy quite well, subsequently writing brief responses to Amani's questions. While it was not structured as key informant interviews in small focus groups, the children provided some good background info. on 2-3 sheets each.

After lunch our groups were eager to complete their photo-montages, even before we had a chance to fully prepare all the laptops. In the morning we worked with the center staff to have all our laptops scanned for viruses, checked software and data, and labeled each one with group IDs so they had stable machines for photo editing.

We got each group to work in a different room at the center so they could do audio recordings easily. All worked out much more smoothly this time around; the children were much more so in control of the photo editing and managed to record voice narratives for all their shorts. One group had to restart all over after the power went out and their laptop had no battery; their patience was impressive despite it all.

Finally, we got nearly all montages ready to screen and I decided to conduct our evaluation de-briefing with them for 30 mins before the final presentations. I would have preferred a more creative focus group-style evaluation but we just ran out of time...

The children were generally quite happy with the workshop - many remarking that this was their best day as they got to complete their photo narratives. Others felt the workshop got them out in their community getting to understand local issues in ways they never did and they really appreciated being asked to take on a responsible journalistic role. Others really enjoyed the photo reviews and editing techniques, not to mention the calming drama session earlier.

We insisted on hearing some difficulties they encountered; the children were frank to indicate some points including their surprise at some local community folks not wanting to be interviewed or photographed (though some children found that they were able to go back the following day and break the ice with many such folks). They complained about not having enough cameras in their groups and not enough time for editing. Others indicated the days were often long and tiring.

They also felt that the changes among children and trainers in groups (particularly in the first few days) was disruptive and with some trainers having to leave early or miss a day (due to exams or illness) lead to swapping trainers affecting group dynamics, and left the children hanging in their assignments at times. I mentioned that we really appreciated their feedback and would take that into account to improve the coming days, while encouraging us to meet us individually to offer more feedback anytime.

We finally watched the photo montages and this was deeply satisfying for all; below are the five main narratives they produced:

1. A photo montage on keeping the streets clean - the children visited a juice factory to ask about their practices to make better products and produced a piece that highlighted the community's responsibility.

2. A piece about the special needs center in the camp and how the group met a young hearing-impaired girl, Amna, whom they interviewed and trained to use a camera. It was a touching story that the children themselves felt transformed their experience spending time with Amna.

3. A detailed journalistic report on the Abu Rashed Pool, a rain-water collection facility in the camp that was often flooded or polluted. They did a great job producing a fact-filled photo essay with some imaginative writing.

4. A piece on the human rights centers in the camp with intensive interviews of the Hamad family that was devastated during the war. The piece was really well done, especially the interviews and photos with the father who lost his arm. The words and haunting music were powerful and I think it left a mark on the children who produced the piece as well.

5. A visit to a Bedouin village outside the camp and the traditional lives they lived, including mud homes they still continue to build. This group probably enjoyed their field-trip the most and produced the most dazzling photo transitions and music thanks in part to their artistic trainer, though we remarked that the special effects were probably unnecessary.

Overall it was a great screening to close the first full week of the workshop in Jabaliya camp. The children here really seem to be looking forward to the week ahead on creative writing and acting out their fictional narratives.

A selection of photos from the workshop are posted online here:
http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com/2010/07/week-1-workshop-in-jabaliy....

July 02 2010

22:02

Participatory Youth Media Training Conducted in Gaza

Voices Beyond Walls conducted its first ever 3-day Training of Trainers (ToT) course on participatory digital media and storytelling with youth at the Canaan Institute of New Pedagogy in Gaza City from June 28-30, 2010. The ToT was led by Dr. Nitin Sawhney, with assistance from Asmaa Al Ghoul, an award-winning writer and journalist in Gaza, and Nasser El Sayyed, the lead coordinator for Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE) in Gaza.

While we expected around 20-25 participants, we were surprised to see around 36 young men and woman coming to attend all 3 days of the course. They all had prior experience working on creative programs with youth in local community centers including Canaan, Tamer Institute, Sharek Youth Forum, Right to Play, and the EJE woman and children’s centers in Gaza refugee camps like Al Abraj, Jabaliya and Rafah. Many even had experience with photo, video and drama techniques and contributed to the critical dialogue in the sessions quite well.

In this blog posting I describe the outcomes of the three days of participatory media, photography, neighborhood mapping, child rights, drama, storyboarding and video sessions conducted in the training.

To see more photos and videos visit the Voices Beyond Walls blog here:
http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com

read more

21:49

Launching the Re-imagining Project in West Bank and Gaza in Summer 2010

Since 2006, I have been leading a participatory media program called Voices Beyond Walls in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with a local and international team of artists, filmmakers and educators. This summer our teams are launching a program of parallel workshops in the West Bank and Gaza, as part of our new Re-imagining Project.

The “Re-imagining Project” is a program of digital video, photography and storytelling workshops that supports Palestinian children and youth in expressing their cultural identity, personal narratives, and creative visions through participatory digital media.

This project is a collaboration among Voices Beyond Walls, Les Enfants, Le Jeu et l’Education (EJE), UNRWA and participating community centers in Al Aroub and Jabaliya refugee camps.

The program consists of the following key activities in summer 2010:

I. Conducting two 3-day Training of Trainers (ToT) sessions in Ramallah and Gaza City between June 28 to June 30, 2010. It will be conducted with 20-30 Palestinian volunteers from local youth centers, to provide participatory youth media training and prepare them to serve as potential workshop facilitators.

II. Conducting at least two 3-week digital storytelling workshops between July 4th to July 25th, 2010 with around 18-24 children (both boys and girls aged 10-14), in collaboration with community centers in Al Aroub camp in the West Bank and Jabaliya camp in Gaza. Many joint activities will be conducted among children in both workshops via video conferencing and online sharing.

III. Conducting baseline surveys, ongoing monitoring, and follow-up evaluations with all participants in the training and workshops in collaboration with EJE, UNRWA and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP).

IV. Screenings and exhibitions of the youth media work in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, as well as international festivals and venues abroad in 2010-2011.

We have an exciting international and local team of filmmakers, artists, photographers, researchers, educators and community youth activists involved this year. The project is sponsored in part by the Genevieve McMillan-Reba Stewart Foundation and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stay tuned for regular updates on our blog and website:
http://voicesbeyondwalls.blogspot.com
http://www.voicesbeyondwalls.org

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