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June 26 2013


What’s New in Digital Scholarship: A generation gap in online news, and does The Daily Show discourage tolerance?

Editor’s note: There’s a lot of interesting academic research going on in digital media — but who has time to sift through all those journals and papers?

Our friends at Journalist’s Resource, that’s who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what’s new and fresh.

We’re at the halfway mark in our year-long odyssey tracking all things digital media and academic. Below are studies that continue to advance understanding among various hot topics: drone journalism; surveillance and the public; Twitter in conflict zones; Big Data and its limits; crowdsourced information platforms; remix culture; and much more. We also suggest some further “beach reads” at bottom. Enjoy the deep dive.

“Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013: Tracking the Future of News”: Paper from University of Oxford Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, edited by Nic Newman and David A. L. Levy.

This new report provides tremendous comparative perspective on how different countries and news ecosystems are developing both in symmetrical and divergent ways (see the Lab’s write-up of the national differences/similarities highlighted.) But it also provides some interesting hard numbers relating to the U.S. media landscape; it surveys news habits of a sample of more than 2,000 Americans.

Key U.S. data points include: the number of Americans reporting accessing news by tablet in the past week rose, from 11 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2013; 28 percent said they accessed news on a smartphone in the last week; 75 percent of Americans reported accessing news online in the past week, while 72 percent said they got news through television and 47 percent reported having read a print publication; TV (43 percent) and online (39 percent) were Americans preferred platforms for accessing news. Further, a yawning divide exists between the preferences of those ages 18 to 24 and those over 55: among the younger cohort, 64 percent say the Web is their main source for news, versus only 25 percent among the older group; as for TV, however, 54 percent of older Americans report it as their main source, versus only 20 percent among those 18 to 24. Finally, 12 percent of American respondents overall reported paying for digital news in 2013, compared to 9 percent in 2012.

“The Rise and Fall of a Citizen Reporter”: Study from Wellesley College, for the WebScience 2013 conference. By Panagiotis Metaxas and Eni Mustafaraj.

This study looks at a network of anonymous Twitter citizen reporters around Monterrey, Mexico, covering the drug wars. It provides new insights into conflict zone journalism and information ecosystems in the age of digital media, as well the limits of raw data. The researchers, both computer scientists, analyze a dataset focused on the hashtag #MTYfollow, consisting of “258,734 tweets written by 29,671 unique Twitter accounts, covering 286 days in the time interval November 2010-August 2011.” They drill down on the account @trackmty, run by the pseudonym Melissa Lotzer, which is the largest of the accounts involved.

The scholars reconstruct a sequence in which a wild Twitter “game” breaks out — obviously, with life-and-death stakes — involving accusations about cartel informants (“hawks,” or “halcones”) and citizen watchdogs (“eagles,” or “aguilas”), with counter-accusations flying that certain citizen reporters were actually working for the Zetas drug cartel; indeed, @trackmty ends up being accused of working for the cartels. Online trolls attack her on Twitter and in blogs.

“The original Melissa @trackmty is slow to react,” the study notes, “and when she does, she tries to point to her past accomplishments, in particular the creation of [a group of other media accounts] and the interviews she has given to several reporters from the US and Spain (REF). But the frequency of her tweeting decreases, along with the community’s retweets. Finally, at the end of June, she stops tweeting altogether.” It turns out that the real @trackmty had been exposed — “her real identity, her photograph, friends and home address.”

Little of this drama was obvious from the data. Ultimately, the researchers were able to interview the real @trackmty and members of the #MTYfollow community. The big lessons, they realize, are the “limits of Big Data analysis.” The data visualizations showing influence patterns and spikes in tweet frequency showed all kinds of interesting dynamics. But they were insufficient to make inferences of value about the community affected: “In analyzing the tweets around a popular hashtag used by users who worry about their personal safely in a Mexican city we found that one must go back and forth between collecting and analyzing many times while formulating the proper research questions to ask. Further, one must have a method of establishing the ground truth, which is particularly tricky in a community of — mostly — anonymous users.”

“Undermining the Corrective Effects of Media-Based Political Fact Checking? The Role of Contextual Cues and Naïve Theory”: Study from Ohio State University, published in the Journal of Communication. By R. Kelly Garrett, Erik C. Nisbet, and Emily K. Lynch.

As the political fact-checking movement — the FactChecks and Politifacts, along with their various lesser-known cousins — has arisen, so too has a more hard-headed social science effort to get to the root causes of persistent lies and rumors, a situation made all the worse on the web. Of course, journalists hope truth can have a “corrective” effect, but the literature in this area suggests that blasting more facts at people often doesn’t work — hence, the “information deficit fallacy.” Thus, a cottage psych-media research industry has grown up, exploring “motivated reasoning,” “biased assimilation,” “confirmation bias,” “cultural cognition,” and other such concepts.

This study tries to advance understanding of how peripheral cues such as accompanying graphics and biographical information can affect how citizens receive and accept corrective information. In experiments, the researchers ask subjects to respond to claims about the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero and the disposition of its imam. It turns out that contextual information — what the imam has said, what he looks like and anything that challenges dominant cultural norms — often erodes the positive intentions of the fact-checking message.

The authors conclude that the “most straightforward method of maximizing the corrective effect of a fact-checking article is to avoid including information that activates stereotypes or generalizations…which make related cognitions more accessible and misperceptions more plausible.” The findings have a grim quality: “The unfortunate conclusion that we draw from this work is that contextual information so often included in fact-checking messages by professional news outlets in order to provide depth and avoid bias can undermine a message’s corrective effects. We suggest that this occurs when the factually accurate information (which has only peripheral bearing on the misperception) brings to mind” mental shortcuts that contain generalizations or stereotypes about people or things — so-called “naïve theories.”

“Crowdsourcing CCTV surveillance on the Internet”: Paper from the University of Westminster, published in Information, Communication & Society. By Daniel Trottier.

A timely look at the implications of a society more deeply pervaded by surveillance technologies, this paper analyzes various web-based efforts in Britain that involve the identification of suspicious persons or activity. (The controversies around Reddit and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects come to mind here.) The researcher examine Facewatch, CrimeStoppers UK, Internet Eyes, and Shoreditch Digital Bridge, all of which had commercial elements attached to crowdsourcing projects where participants monitored feed from surveillance cameras of public spaces. He points out that these “developments contribute to a normalization of participatory surveillance for entertainment, socialization, and commerce,” and that the “risks of compromised privacy, false accusations and social sorting are offloaded onto citizen-watchers and citizen-suspects.” Further, the study highlights the perils inherent in the “‘gamification’ of surveillance-based labour.”

“New Perspectives from the Sky: Unmanned aerial vehicles and journalism”: Paper from the University of Texas at Arlington, published in Digital Journalism. By Mark Tremayne and Andrew Clark.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”) in journalism is an area of growing interest, and this exploration provides some context and research-based perspective. Drones in the service of the media have already been used for everything from snapping pictures of Paris Hilton and surveying tornado damaged areas in Alabama to filming secret government facilities in Australia and protestor clashes in Poland. In all, the researchers found “eight instances of drone technology being put to use for journalistic purposes from late 2010 through early 2012.”

This practice will inevitably raise issues about the extent to which it goes too far. “It is not hard to imagine how the news media, using drones to gather information, could be subject to privacy lawsuits,” the authors write. “What the news media can do to potentially ward off the threat of lawsuits is to ensure that drones are used in an ethical manner consistent with appropriate news practices. News directors and editors and professional associations can establish codes of conduct for the use of such devices in much the same way they already do with the use of hidden cameras and other technology.”

“Connecting with the user-generated Web: how group identification impacts online information sharing and evaluation”: Study from University of California, Santa Barbara, published in Information, Communication & Society. By Andrew J. Flanagin, Kristin Page Hocevar, and Siriphan Nancy Samahito.

Whether it’s Wikipedia, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or some other giant pool of user-generated “wisdom,” user-generated platforms convene large, disaggregated audiences who form loose memberships based around apparent common interests. But what makes certain communities bond and stick together, keeping online information environments fresh, passionate, and lively (and possibly accurate)?

The researchers involved in this study perform some experiments with undergraduates to see how adding small bits of personal information — the university, major, gender, or other piece of information — to informational posts changed perceptions by viewers. Perhaps predictably, the results show that “potential contributors had more positive attitudes (manifested in the form of increased motivation) about contribution to an online information pool when they experienced shared group identification with others.”

For editors and online community designers and organizers, the takeaway is that information pools “may actually form and sustain themselves best as communities comprising similar people with similar views.” Not exactly an antidote to “filter bubble” fears, but it’s worth knowing if you’re an admin for an online army.

“Selective Exposure, Tolerance, and Satirical News”: Study from University of Texas at Austin and University of Wyoming, published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research. By Natalie J. Stroud and Ashley Muddiman.

While not the first study to focus on the rise of satirical news — after all, a 2005 study in Political Communication on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” now has 230 subsequent academic citations, according to Google Scholar — this new study looks at satirical news viewed specifically in a web context.

It suggests the dark side of snark, at least in terms of promoting open-mindedness and deliberative democracy. The conclusion is blunt: “The evidence from this study suggests that satirical news does not encourage democratic virtues like exposure to diverse perspectives and tolerance. On the contrary, the results show that, if anything, comedic news makes people more likely to engage in partisan selective exposure. Further, those viewing comedic news became less, not more, tolerant of those with political views unlike their own.” Knowing Colbert and Stewart, the study’s authors can expect an invitation soon to atone for this study.

The hidden demography of new media ethics”: Study from Rutgers and USC, published in Information, Communication & Society. By Mark Latonero and Aram Sinnreich.

The study leverages 2006 and 2010 survey data, both domestic and international, to take an analytical look at how notions of intellectual property and ethical Web culture are evolving, particularly as they relate to ideas such as remixing, mashups and repurposing of content. The researchers find a complex tapestry of behavioral norms, some of them correlated with certain age, gender, race or national traits. New technologies are “giving rise to new configurable cultural practices that fall into the expanding gray area between traditional patterns of production and consumption. The data suggest that these practices have the potential to grow in prevalence in the United States across every age group, and have the potential to become common throughout the dozens of industrialized nations sampled in this study.”

Further, rules of the road have formed organically, as technology has outstripped legal strictures: “Most significantly, despite (or because of) the inadequacy of present-day copyright laws to address issues of ownership, attribution, and cultural validity in regard to emerging digital practices, everyday people are developing their own ethical frameworks to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate uses of reappropriated work in their cultural environments.”

Beach reads:

Here are some further academic paper honorable mentions this month — all from the culture and society desk:

Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.

August 15 2012


Sublet my amazing office/studio: available from September until next spring.

Office space in Studio Huddle. Photo by Phillip Smith.

I find it amazing to think that fall is almost here. In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be off to New York City, Vancouver, and then heading back to my home in Oaxaca, Mexico for the winter. This summer has been epic and memorable in every possible way: I only wish I could have captured every little adventure in as much detail as the recent five days in Montreal. There’s always next year!

With the end of my Toronto stay in sight, it’s time to take care of a few logistics. Number one on the list is finding a magical person to sublet my space in the shared office/studio space known as Studio Huddle. People sometimes ask why I keep an office in Toronto when I’m away for so much of the year, and there’s only one answer to that question: I literally love the people I share the space with, and the space itself is the perfect oasis away from the other distractions in life.

Studio Huddle is roughly two thousand square feet of old-school style studio space on Niagara Street (just south of King, just west of Bathurst). North-facing light, white walls, and old hardwood floors — yep, it’s got it all. The space is shared by a dozen craft artists — mostly glass and metal artists — a photographer, and a couple of digital workers, including yours truly. Physically, the studio is split into five separate spaces: two craft studios, a glass studio, an office, and the large shared main space (~1000sqft). I rent a spot in the office that is located in the front of the space (north side); it’s filled with light all day and is home to roughly two digital workers and the occasional drop-in from the more creative types. More often than not, I have the office space to myself for most of the day. Rent also includes a couple of days of exclusive use of the main space, which I must admit I’ve never managed to make use of.

As mentioned, my studio mates are a super-creative bunch, and there’s just about every tool and piece of equipment that you can imagine here: think of it as a “hack lab” for non-technical types. I have to admit, it’s been a breath of fresh air to work in an environment where people are not focused on digital work … it’s grounding in some way to watch people work with their hands, and even to participate from time-to-time (now I know how to silk screen!).

My desk at Studio Huddle, complete with a nice chair, laptop stand, and reference books!

Okay, enough waxing poetic about how great the space and the people are, down to the details:

  • Sublet is available from roughly September 1st to Feb 28th, but the dates are flexible
  • The rent is $190/month and includes everything, taxes, high-speed wireless Internet, two locked storage shelves, studio fees, etc.
  • Also included is the use of my fancy-schmancy Herman Miller Mira chair, a laptop stand, a beautiful cactus, and several reference books (Canadian Oxford dictionary, Oxford Canadian compact dictionary, Bartlett’s Roget’s thesaurus, and The Chicago Manual of Style).

You should be:

  • Responsible: you need to be able to remember to close windows, lock doors, and so on if you’re the last person here.
  • Thoughtful: if you need to be on the phone all day, it’s probably not the right space for you.
  • Lightly equipped: there’s a good amount of space for a laptop and the usual office accouterments, but probably not for a giant three-screen desktop computer set-up.
  • Friendly and flexible: most days, you’ll probably be one of two or three people using the space and it’s pretty quiet, but some days there’s more going on and people are more social and chatty. If you need 100% silence all the time, probably not the right fit.
  • Creative: I think the space would be great for a freelance writer or journalists, a video editor or multimedia artists, a Web Maker, or something along those lines.

I think that’s it. The start and end dates are flexible, but it would be great — if you’re interested — if you came to see the space before September 1st.

Let me know if you’re interested by e-mail or hit me on The Twitters.

January 28 2012


Mexico: Week two, flying solo in Oaxaca

Saturday market in Xochimilco. Photo: Phillip Smith.

I had decided early on that this would be my week of exploration. I was feeling better — my head cold was mostly vanquished — and my friend, roommate, and work colleague, David was away on an adventure of his own.

The week got underway with another trip to El Hub Oaxaca to get my membership sorted; 250 pesos for thirty hours. I figure that’s enough time to give working here a try. The space is huge and lovely, and the other El Hub members are all doing interesting work. Later in the week, Gregorio corners me to ask that I translate my El Hub member profile from English into Spanish. I’ll need to wait until David’s return for this task, as my Spanish has suffered from a year-and-a-half of not being used.

I’m invited by Jena to join a few people for drinks and snacks at the hip-and-trendy Comala. The small gathering quickly expands into a large boisterous group, several tables in size, as more and more people show up — it’s clear that everyone knows everyone in Oaxaca. It’s a great night: I meet a bunch of new folks, including the dry-witted Rodrigo, who I’ve run into almost daily since.

Having lived here a long time, I pepper Rodrigo with questions. He’s humorously obliging. My number one question: bikes!? Where the hell to find them, preferably used? I mean, what exploration of a city is complete without a bicycle between your legs? This is a question that confounds even the most die-hard Oaxaca residents. I wonder aloud where all of the old bicycles go, but nobody has an answer. Rodrigo recommends two shops, Zona Bici and Bicimundo, and while doing some research for this post I find that there are at least another three shops in town. I don’t quite find the time to tour the bike shops this week, so I add it to my list for next week.

The next exploration is coffee shops. Having thought that I was allergic to caffeine, touring the coffee shops wasn’t that high on my list, but I give in to the gravity of habit and decide to check out the bohemian scene. I manage to visit Lobo Azul (the same place that hosted the forum theatre group) and Cafe Brujula — both lovely, spacious, comfortable spots with good, strong espresso — the next two on my list are Nuevo Mundo and Cafe Los Cuiles, the later which is supposed to have great food also.

What naturally follows coffee? Lunch, of course. As far as lunch places go, and there are many — lunch is a big thing in Oaxaca — my current favourite is El Biche Pobre for the “La Botana Oaxaquena,” a big plate of mostly deep fried awesomeness. There are many, many others, mostly small nameless places, that all have their own version of the “comida corrida,” a set lunch menu that leaves me ready for a nap every time.

Then came the exploration of the outdoor markets. These tend to happen on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the city. The first one I stumble on by accident is an enormous market surrounding Parque Llano with a bazaar-esq feel to it: little portable restaurants with large communal tables that are elbow-to-elbow with people eating tasty treats, rambling produce stands, clothing, electronics — you name it, it’s here. On Saturday I tackle the outdoor organic market in Xochimilco, that sits just in front of the Iglesia de Xochimilco. This is a great spot for breakfast, lots of little stands serving strong organic coffee and various other breakfast goodies, and — to be honest — some of the best cheese I’ve had in my life.

Friday market in Parque Llano. Photo: Phillip Smith

While waiting for today’s variation of corn tortilla with unknown stuff inside for breakfast, I meet Vivian, an American who is here writing a book. She is by no means the first American author in Oaxaca I’ve met. It’s either something about the air here, or something about the history of uprising and resistance in Oaxaca, that seems to attract all of the world’s lefty writers. It’s a good thing that I like lefty writers.

The weekend wasn’t complete without a lazy Saturday afternoon rooftop soiree hosted by the ladies of Pro World, Teresa and Blaze, and deejayed by the ever-entertaining Scott. The music and conversation continued well into the evening, and it was a superb vantage point to watch the sun set behind the mountains that surround Oaxaca city.

I ended my “week without a room mate” with the realization that, in Oaxaca, flying solo isn’t really flying solo at all.

January 23 2012


Mexico: Week one, a slow start in Oaxaca.

Red Wall, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Phillip Smith

As you no doubt know from personal experience, having a head cold when the sun is shining and the weather is hot really, really sucks.

Nonetheless, the week was not without some adventures, for instance:

There was the cultural experience of a trip to one of the local mobile phone companies — Moviestar — to get a local phone number. Similar to Buenos Aires, it feels like there’s an peculiar level of bureaucracy required for such a straightforward transaction, i.e.: buy the SIM card from one person, stand in line to see the next person who can swap the full-size SIM for a micro SIM, wait for a third person to activate the SIM, and back to the first person again to add credit to the SIM so it can actually be used. Ninety minutes later I have a working mobile phone with 3G Internet. It is no big surprise to me that I have felt lost without Google Maps, and it feels great to have it working again for care-free city exploring. (Bizarrely, I managed to get by in Mexico City with a paper map of all things. Go figure.)

The terrible boredom of the next few days — mostly sneezing fits and watery eyes — was punctuated by several trips to the taqueria just a few steps down the street for their tasty chicken and vegetable soup with lots of yummy avocado. Another of the week’s “highlights” was a trip to Chedraui, the local equivalent of Walmart. Clearly, this week got off to a slow start.

On Thursday I was starting to feel a bit better, so Dave lured me out to one of the culinary treasures of Oaxaca city, La Biznaga. This place deserves all of the praise that it receives for being an oasis in an oasis; between the food and the open-air ambiance, it’s hard to say which one was better. Following dinner, a quick trip to the local hipster bar Txalaparta for another of Roberto’s never-ending despedidas.

The world gets smaller, again. As I talk to Roberto’s friend, Tonto, we discover that we’re both connected to Chocosol in Toronto, Tonto through his work with chocolate and me through the Toronto Awesome Foundation (we gave them a grant in October, I believe, to upgrade their off-the-grid, mobile chocolate factory).

The whole time I’m furiously writing down the recommendations and advice of any and every person within earshot that’s willing to submit to my questions: breakfast joints, health food shops, yoga studios, bicycle shops — by the end of the week I have a list a mile long. Now I have a reason to live!

On Friday I manage a visit El Hub Oaxaca, the local node of the global network of “Hub” spaces. The gregarious Gregorio gives a tour and tells us about El Hub’s focus on supporting local social justice activists, social entrepreneurs, and a variety of other non-profit initiatives. It feels strikingly similar to the early days of the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto: a bit dusty and rough around the edges, but filled with passionate and creative people. I must have liked it, by Monday I have a desk there.

El Hub, Oaxaca

I’ve recovered enough by Sunday night that I’m able to meet up with Nelly and Amber again. They’re on their way back from a few days in Puerto Escondido and Mazunte and just passing through on route back to Mexico City. We grab a bite at the Casa de la Abuela overlooking the Zocalo, but skip the opportunity to try the local delicacy, fried grasshoppers.

After dinner, we meet Dave at the church of Santo Domingo de Guzman for an evening of dancing puppets, fireworks, and a Burning Man-esque tower of pyrotechnics.

All in all, for a quiet week, it worked out pretty nicely.

January 15 2012


Mexico: Day Four, a journey to Oaxaca de Juarez

Occupy the fields

Monday morning. Sore throat. Start of the journey to Oaxaca de Juarez — my home for the coming months.

I gather my things, check out of the hotel, and get moving south.

On route, I meet two Americans, Nelly and Amber, they are coming from Durango and heading to Puerto Escondido. We exchange travel advice and recommendations and part ways.

Oaxaca, it seems, is really a small place: I run into Nelly and Amber again this same day, later in the evening, having dinner in Oaxaca’s historic Zocalo.

I make my way to the little apartment that my friend and colleague Dave has rented in La Cascada, in the hills just north of the Zocalo. It’s a bit hard to find on winding unmarked streets, but soon enough I see Dave’s red hair and I know I’m in the right place.

Without delay, Dave whisks me out the door and into the beautiful cobblestone streets of Oaxaca.

Our first stop is the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca to inquire about Spanish lessons. What at first appears to be a large compound from the outside, opens up into lush green gardens and shady outdoor patios. Students are scattered about, studying under a tree, taking salsa lessons, or perhaps catching a nap; it’s a little oasis of extranjeros in Oaxaca (probably not the only one). We meet Ryota, from Japan, who gives us the run-down and a tour. We stop by the kitchen where a class is learning to make Oaxacan food. Our Spanish is sufficient for today, but no doubt we’ll be back here soon to improve it.

Next, we make our way to the Zocalo, where we find a small restaurant with a patio. The Zocalo is filled with people — vendors, musicians, turistas, and so on — it provides no end of entertainment over a dinner that is various arrangements of corn tortilla, beans, and cheese.

Bellies full, we wander up to the Lobo Azul for a performance of “3000 mil mujeres” by a “forum theatre” group from Puebla. The performance explored the issues around the trafficking of women in Mexico. At the end, the performers ask the audience to take the place of one of the characters and to re-enact the scenes. One after another, audience members work through the scenes, and provide feedback to the performers. It’s an eye-opening experience.

Oaxaca Theatre

We wind up the evening in Xochimilco at a “despedida” (going away party) for Roberto, an linguist & activist who has been living and working in Oaxaca for the last six months but is soon to return to the US. Here I also meet the rest of Dave’s witty, smart, radical crew: Simon from Occupy Oakland, Erin who works with The Berkana Institute and facilitates “The Art of Hosting” workshops, Jenna (or Juanita) who is in Oaxaca doing research for her dissertation, Moravia who is here working with Witness for Peace, and also Yeyo and Ana. This lively bunch will no doubt be a recurring theme in my Oaxaca experience, and I’m grateful for that.

Alas, my sore throat is starting to feel like a cold, so I skip the generous and plentiful offers of Irish whiskey, which is always for the best as it has gotten me into trouble more than once, and head home exhausted and sober.

What a few days it has been. Sadly, the next several days are punctuated by a nasty head cold. Rather than bore myself by writing up my trip to the pharmacia to procure tissue and cold medicine, I’ll just pick up the story when it picks up again.

Hasta pronto.

January 12 2012


Mexico: Day Three, Mexico City. Pedestrian Sunday, Flash Mob, and The Zocalo.

The Zocalo, Mexico City. Photo: Phillip Smith

It’s Sunday. The last two days of exploring have taken their toll. I give myself a pep talk and manage to get outside around noon. Today’s mission: The Zocalo — the main square in Mexico City’s historic centre.

Google Maps says that it’s forty-five minutes from Zona Rosa. I figure I’ll walk there, wander around for the afternoon, have some lunch, and try to navigate the subway back. I set out in the direction of the Angel of Independence; from there I should be able to follow Paseo de La Reforma, a six-lane main artery of downtown Mexico City, all the way downton.

I arrive at La Reforma expecting the vehicular mayhem that is common to such large avenues, but instead find that it is filled with bicycles, people on roller blades, and random salsa classes. It seems that Kensington Market’s “Pedestrian Sundays” is not such a novel idea, nor nearly ambitious enough. Each Sunday in Mexico City, La Reforma is closed to vehicle traffic and is transformed into a playground for people. I walk down the centre of this huge avenue all the way to the historic centre.

A short pit stop at the Palacio de Bellas Artes is made more enjoyable by an impromptu interview. A group of five local students ask if they can interview me on camera for a school project:

“What is your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“What do you do there?”

“What is your favourite thing about Mexico?”

You never know when you’re going to get your fifteen seconds of fame.

Interview complete, with appropriate compliments paid to Mexico and its people, I’m off again. Cultural perceptiveness may not be my strongest skill, but — as I wind my way toward the Zocalo — I’m noticing that an ever increasing number of people are, um, not wearing any pants. At first it’s just a few here and there. Then more and more people appear wearing only underwear on their bottom half. It’s a jarring — but not entirely unpleasant! — sight. What is going on? I’m keen to investigate.

In the final block before the small street open into the massive square pedestrian traffic has come to a stop. Ahead is what appears to be a protest. A large crowd has filled the block and is chanting loudly. The chant grow louder and louder and then — suddenly — break into boisterous applause and cheer. The apparent cause of the cheer: a person waving their pants from a window above the crowd.

I push my way through. I want to know what’s happening. I’m now surrounded by people with no pants. The pantless mob randomly descends on those people still wearing pants and chants in Spanish “Take them off! Take them off!” (or something like that; admittedly, my Spanish isn’t great). If the person strips, the crowd goes wild. I find a few pantless warriors on the edge of the mob and enquire “Que esta pasando aqui?” Flash mob.

Having arrived at the Zocalo without having to remove my pants, I duck into the Hotel Majestic and head up to their rooftop restaurant, La Terraza. I sip a beer, take in the view overlooking the entire historic square, and snap a few photos.

The area and streets around the Zocalo are filled with vendors of all kinds. Some streets are so densely packed that it makes walking almost impossible. There are many performances happening simultaneously. It’s a swirling, noisy placed filled with bright colours and every smell imaginable. Definitely worthy of more than a few short hours of exploration.

It’s time to head back. I’ve read about a place — Plaza de Computacion, an indoor market of electronics — that I want to find on route to the subway. I head down Eje Central Avenue, a large busy street with lots of vehicular mayhem, and pedestrian mayhem also. Eje Central is not a pretty street. It’s busy and loud and the sidewalks are full with street vendors. I find the Plaza de Computacion. It’s a multi-floor market of mostly cell phones, video games, and pirated music and movies. A bit of a let down, but worthy of a quick tour nonetheless.

With the metro station Salto del Agua in sight, I make my escape from blocks and blocks of bustling commerce back to the relative quiet of Zone Rosa.

A quick stop at the local taqueria reminds me that I don’t like Dos Equis that much.

A sore throat sends me off to bed early.

Tomorrow morning I journey to Oaxaca.

January 10 2012


Mexico: Day Two, Mexico City. San Angel, Coyoacan, and La Condessa.

A park in the San Angel district of Mexico City. Photo: Phillip Smith.

Zona Rosa never sleeps and neither did I.

I'm up, but Saturday is already half over. Yikes! Gather my belongings and my wits, consult my options for the day — today is the day for markets in Mexico City. I'm off.

The first destination is the San Angel district for the Bazar Sabado in Plaza de San Jacinto. It's a lovely spot full of rambling cobblestone streets and a large central plaza full of vendors selling mostly art and hand-made crafts. I duck into a little taqueria and over lunch I make a note to come back again and to bring a camera.

Next, I'm off to Coyoacan. There is a rumour about good artisanal markets there too. I ask for directions. Nothing is as close as it looks on a map in Mexico City. The directions involve at least one minibus, if not two; I think about it for a minute, then I take a taxi.

The taxi drops me in front of a huge shopping mall. Not quite what I was looking for… but, hey, why not? I take a spin through the mall. It's very upscale. I think I saw a Prada store on my way out. I get new directions and head along Calle Mexico toward destinations unknown.

It's a sunny warm afternoon and the city is still quiet from the Christmas holidays. I pass the Viveros Coyoacan, another of the enormous and well-appointed parks that I've come across. A wrong turn here and there and I stumble on La Casa Azul, the birthplace of Frida Kahlo. I take a break in the courtyard and absorb some sun before heading off in search of the Leon Trotsky museum (which I'm not destined to find this day).

A short walk away along Avendida Miguel Hildago I find the centre of Coyoacan, near Jardin Plaza Hildago. Old narrow streets open into several blocks of connecting squares and gardens, all of which are filled with activity: vendors, musicians, food stands, an open-air theatre and much more. I spot a congregation of tents and political information — perhaps part of the Occupy movement here? I'm not sure. At the far end of all this is the Kiosko de Coyoacan, a two-floor building filled with crafts and food shops. I could easily spend a whole day exploring this part of Coyoacan, but it's dark now and I head back to Zona Rosa.

Old friend from Argentina, Clare, tells me that, similar to Buenos Aires, people eat late in Mexico City. We arrange to grab a bite at 10 PM. I walk from Zona Rosa to La Condesa along Avendia Oaxaca passing several hopping "Cervezarias" as I skim along the edge of Parque Espania. The streets here are not on a grid and it's easy to get turned around; I end up on Tamaulipas, a long stretch of "fresa" (slang for roughly 'hipster' and 'posh') bars and restaurants. I wind my way back to Nuevo Leon and to the small oasis that has been built at the corner Mexicali in front of the restaurant Bacan.

A bottle of Escorihuela Gascon brings back memories of Argentina and sends me on my way home.

January 09 2012


Mexico: Day One, Mexico City

El Angel de la Independencia in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I left for the airport at 4 AM on January 6th. It’s always pretty quiet in Toronto at 4 AM and this day was no different.

This is my first time departing from the American Airlines terminal. It’s pretty run down. The U.S. Customs agents hadn’t even started their day yet. We all waited staring at these big metal gates, like the ones you see on TV at the border between two countries that don’t want each others people to come in. Eventually, and probably reluctantly, they opened the gates.

“What’s your business in the United States?”

“I’m going to Mexico.”

“I didn’t ask where you are going, I asked what your business is in the United States.”

“Um, I’m traveling through the U.S. to go to Mexico?”


I’m at the Dallas airport around noon I think. I’m looking for some food. I hear thunderous clapping. I think the Rolling Stones must be getting off a plane or something. I wander over to check it out. Hundreds of U.S. Army troops are returning from Afghanistan. They’re receiving a standing ovation from everyone in the airport. It’s both beautiful and frightening. I duck into the Au Bon Pain.

The plane lands in Mexico around 3 PM. I quickly read some information about what you can and can’t bring into the country — not the best timing, I know (honestly, I’ve never been great at planning trips). Whoops, I’ve brought along two laptops. Seems that you’re only allowed to bring one. No worries, I probably won’t get searched. Put my bags through the X-Ray: no problemo. Push the button that “randomly” picks people for searches: red light, oh shit. Act stupid, speak English, smile, and slip through with two laptops and a warning. Today is my lucky day.

Taxi downtown to the Zona Rosa. Walking around and I’m struck by the U.S.-ness of Mexico City: McDonald’s, 7-11, Chilli’s, GNC, Starbucks, and so on. I wander over to El Angel de la Independencia and take in the city for a while; it’s huge, but not intense like Buenos Aires. Nothing like swirling chaos around the Obelisco on 9 de Julio.

Dinner at Fonda del Refugio because it was written up on Wikitravel. Guacamole, little fried quesadillas, and chicken with mole sauce. Hey! When in Mexico… No celebrities, sadly, only a bill for 300 pesos.

It’s a Friday night. Zona Rosa is on fire. Boom, boom, boom goes the disco music until 4 in the morning.

September 05 2011


Mexico - school teacher, radio presenter face 30-year prison terms for spreading false reports via Twitter

Guardian :: Gilberto Martinez Vera, 48, a private school teacher, and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, a radio presenter, were accused of spreading false reports that gunmen were attacking schools in the south-eastern city of Veracruz, Mexico. The resulting panic caused dozens of car crashes after parents rushed to save their children and jammed emergency telephone lines, which "totally collapsed" under the pressure. Both are now facing 30-year prison terms in Mexico. Their lawyers have argued that both were repeating rumors they had already seen on the internet.

Justified? - Opinions differ.

Continue to read Jo Adetunji, www.guardian.co.uk

June 02 2011


CPJ’s 2011 Impunity Index: where journalists are slain and killers go free

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) :: Russia and Mexico, two of the world’s most murderous countries for the press, are heading in different directions in combating deadly anti-press violence. CPJ's Impunity Index found improvement in Russia as journalist murders ebbed but deadly anti-press violence continued to climb in Mexico.

Clipped from: cpj.org (share this clip)

The Committee to Project Journalists' Impunity Index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

Continue to read cpj.org

April 01 2011


Lessons on newspaper paywalls from Mexico

In the session on paywalls at the ISOJ, Jorge Meléndez, vice president for new media, Grupo Reforma (Mexico), explained how the newspapers have had paywalls since 2002.

The newspaper sites were free for the first two years. But they realised there was a very small online advertising market so the group just did it. Part of this involved an active strategy to convert newspaper subscribers online.

The impact of the paywall was a 35% drop in traffic. But Meléndez said they stopped minor circulation declines.

Access to all of the the news sites is free for newspaper subscribers. The prince for an online subscription is 80% of a newspaper subscription, as a way of encouraging readers to take the newspaper.

Meléndez explained there is some free content, such as the main page and emailed links.

The group provides apps for free, at least for now, said Meléndez. It has an “aggressive” app strategy, with dozens of apps for different topics.

Meléndez said broadsheet circulation is holding steady and tabloids have grown by 5% over last 8 years. Advertising and classifieds have also grown.

The group has 300,000 newspaper subscribers for all papers. 50,000 are only online subscribers. In terms of traffic, the sites have six million unique visitors, with an average of eight pages per user.

Meléndez said they learnt that people do not read instructions. Online, people just expect to click. So use action verbs and clear instructions, with as few words as possible, he urged.

The reasons behind the success of paywalls is local content, argued Meléndez. And the sites have more local content than in the newspaper. “Local is very important for us,” he said.

But when it came to today, he said the situation with paywalls was more difficult than in 2002. People are used to free, there is more competition and newspaper metrics are “so bad.”

October 12 2010


Statistical analysis as journalism – Benford’s law


drug-related murder map

I’m always on the lookout for practical applications of statistical analysis for doing journalism, so this piece of work by Diego Valle-Jones, on drug-related murders, made me very happy.

I’ve heard of the first-digit law (also known as Benford’s law) before – it’s a way of spotting dodgy data.

What Diego Valle-Jones has done is use the method to highlight discrepancies in information on drug-delated murders in Mexico. Or, as Pete Warden explains:

“With the help of just Benford’s law and data sets to compare he’s able to demonstrate how the police are systematically hiding over a thousand murders a year in a single state, and that’s just in one small part of the article.”

Diego takes up the story:

“The police records and the vital statistics records are collected using different methodologies: vital statistics from the INEGI [the statistical agency of the Mexican government] are collected from death certificates and the police records from the SNSP are the number of police reports (“averiguaciones previas”) for the crime of murder—not the number of victims. For example, if there happened to occur a particular heinous crime in which 15 teens were massacred, but only one police report were filed, all the murders would be recorded in the database as one. But even taking this into account, the difference is too high.

“You could also argue that the data are provisional—at least for 2008—but missing over a thousand murders in Chihuahua makes the data useless at the state level. I could understand it if it was an undercount by 10%–15%, or if they had added a disclaimer saying the data for Chihuahua was from July, but none of that happened and it just looks like a clumsy way to lie. It’s a pity several media outlets and the UN homicide statistics used this data to report the homicide rate in Mexico is lower than it really is.”

But what brings the data alive is Diego’s knowledge of the issue. In one passage he checks against large massacres since 1994 to see if they were recorded in the database. One of them – the Acteal Massacre (“45 dead, December 22, 1997″) – is not there. This, he says, was “committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians … According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

The post as a whole is well worth reading in full, both as a fascinating piece of journalism, and a fascinating use of a range of statistical methods. As Pete says, it is a wonder this guy doesn’t get more publicity for his work.


Statistical analysis as journalism – Benford’s law


drug-related murder map

I’m always on the lookout for practical applications of statistical analysis for doing journalism, so this piece of work by Diego Valle-Jones, on drug-related murders, made me very happy.

I’ve heard of the first-digit law (also known as Benford’s law) before – it’s a way of spotting dodgy data.

What Diego Valle-Jones has done is use the method to highlight discrepancies in information on drug-delated murders in Mexico. Or, as Pete Warden explains:

“With the help of just Benford’s law and data sets to compare he’s able to demonstrate how the police are systematically hiding over a thousand murders a year in a single state, and that’s just in one small part of the article.”

Diego takes up the story:

“The police records and the vital statistics records are collected using different methodologies: vital statistics from the INEGI [the statistical agency of the Mexican government] are collected from death certificates and the police records from the SNSP are the number of police reports (“averiguaciones previas”) for the crime of murder—not the number of victims. For example, if there happened to occur a particular heinous crime in which 15 teens were massacred, but only one police report were filed, all the murders would be recorded in the database as one. But even taking this into account, the difference is too high.

“You could also argue that the data are provisional—at least for 2008—but missing over a thousand murders in Chihuahua makes the data useless at the state level. I could understand it if it was an undercount by 10%–15%, or if they had added a disclaimer saying the data for Chihuahua was from July, but none of that happened and it just looks like a clumsy way to lie. It’s a pity several media outlets and the UN homicide statistics used this data to report the homicide rate in Mexico is lower than it really is.”

But what brings the data alive is Diego’s knowledge of the issue. In one passage he checks against large massacres since 1994 to see if they were recorded in the database. One of them – the Acteal Massacre (“45 dead, December 22, 1997″) – is not there. This, he says, was “committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians … According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

The post as a whole is well worth reading in full, both as a fascinating piece of journalism, and a fascinating use of a range of statistical methods. As Pete says, it is a wonder this guy doesn’t get more publicity for his work.

October 05 2010


Knight Center maps Mexico gangs’ violence against journalists

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is tracking incidents of violence against journalists working in Mexico using Google Maps.

The map identifies direct attacks on media and journalists during 2010, demonstrating the wave of violence that has shaken the Mexican press. Many of these attacks are linked to organised crime and the majority of these cases still remain unpunished.

Last month Mexican newspaper El Diario published an open letter to drug cartels operating in the country pleading with them to end violence against journalists.

Click on the pins to show more information.

View Knight Center map of threats against journalism in Mexico in a larger map

Full map at this link via Google Maps…Similar Posts:

August 24 2010


The New Online Journalists #10: Deborah Bonello

As part of an ongoing series, Deborah Bonello talks about a career that has taken her from business journalism in London to video journalism in South America, and a current role producing video at the FT.

What education and professional experience led to your current job?

After I graduated from Bristol University in 1998 (I wrote for my student newspaper Epigram for most of my time there), I moved up to London and started working for Newsline, an online news service run as part of the media database product Mediatel.

A year later I was taken on by New Media Age as a reporter, where I got to watch the dot com boom become the dot com crash and work with the then-editor, Mike Butcher, now the editor of TechCrunch Europe.

From there I moved to Campaign to edit their Campaign-i section, and when that got cut because of budgets after a year I spent the next few years freelancing on media business magazines (Campaign, Media Week, NMA, FT Creative Business) and watching how the traditional publishing industry took on the internet.

By then, I was fed up of London and business journalism, so I headed off to Latin America. After a year in Argentina as a print only journo, I moved to Mexico to launch NewCorrespondent.com, an experiment in digital journalism, with help from Mike Butcher.

The idea was to use free online tools – YouTube, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, BlipTv and more – to publish multimedia journalistic content. NewCorrespondent.com became MexicoReporter.com and three months became three years. After my first six months of running the site in Mexico, I got taken on by the Mexico bureau of the Los Angeles Times, started shooting video and got trained in it by some of the best in the business (Scott Anger and Tim French). I contributed daily written and video dispatches to their Latin America blog, La Plaza, as well as latimes.com and the newspaper.

MexicoReporter.com became a go-to for English-speakers living in Mexico, as well as people around the world, and it was through the site that I also got commissioned to produce video pieces for the Guardian and Al Jazeera, amongst others, as well as for radio comment on breaking news such as the swine flu epidemic, violence against journalists and escalating drug-related violence in the country. The video caught the attention of the FT, and as the Los Angeles Times took their foot of the video pedal, it seemed like a good moment to move. I am currently working as a video producer and journalist in the FT’s London office.

What does your job involve?

I film, produce and edit video news, features and interviews for the Financial Times website, sometimes working as a one-man-band shooting operation, sometimes working with in-house camera operators and our correspondents around the UK and abroad.

Where do you see your career/job developing in future?

That all depends on how video journalism develops, but I am very excited about the potential of online journalism and video. TV and video are converging, which means new program formats and genres are emerging all the time, and everyone is experimenting with different styles of telling stories in video and multimedia.

I am especially interested in how the costs of technology have come down so dramatically that we should see a new generation of visual and text storytellers base themselves abroad at a fraction of the cost, tapping into the need for reduced costs in foreign reporting that the traditional media so desperately needs to survive to keep that content strand going.

Right now, if you’re a journalist that isn’t using new technologies to tell stories, you’re edging yourself out of the job market. Rather than the end of journalism as we know it, I think multimedia signifies a brave new world where our old disciplines still count but can manifest themselves across so many different platforms and media that your work is as creative and innovative as you want it to be. We just have to make sure we keep our eyes on the journalistic disciplines, and use technology as a means to an end rather than just for the sake of it.

In the long-term, I see myself based out in the Spanish-speaking world as a multimedia foreign correspondent.

August 18 2010


Mexican drug cartels silencing country’s reporters

Reporting on press freedom issues in China, Russia, South Africa, Sudan or elsewhere, we are accustomed to thinking of censorship as the work of the government and the judiciary. But according to a Los Angeles Times report, newspapers in Mexico are subject to an altogether different kind of restriction – “narco-censorship”.

It’s when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been intimidated, kidnapped and killed.

Drug traffickers are reportedly co-opting the country’s journalists, who fear for their life following the murder or disappearance of more than 30 reporters since a drug-war was declared on the cartels by President Felipe Calderon in December 2006.

From the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua and into the central and southern states of Durango and Guerrero, reporters say they are acutely aware that traffickers do not want the local news to “heat the plaza” — to draw attention to their drug production and smuggling and efforts to subjugate the population. Such attention would invite the government to send troops and curtail their business.

And so the journalists pull their punches.

Full report at this link…Similar Posts:

August 05 2010


Journalists in parts of Mexico advised to wear body armour and helmets

Journalists in dangerous areas of Mexico have been advised to take extra security measures, including the wearing of body armour and helmets, according to a report by the Times of India.

The article claims that Mexico’s journalist association has adopted a new “security protocol” regarding reporting in the Chihuahua state of Mexico, named the nation’s most dangerous place to practice journalism by the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics. The new protocol is reportedly based on measures outlined by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission.

The measures recommended by the State Human Rights Commission for reporters in the US border region is included in a new guide handbook, which details other safety advice such as waiting for security forces to arrive at a crime scene first, and to devise escape routes by car for when situations deteriorate.

This follows the news last week that four journalists were reportedly kidnapped, and later released, by a drugs gang after covering a protest outside a prison in the Mexican state of Durango.

See the full post here…Similar Posts:

June 14 2010




INNOVATION’s Chiqui Esteban is posting some of the best infos about the Soccer World Cup.

Including his animated ones from lainformacion.com

What a fantastic crop!

Kudos to La Prensa Grafica in El Salvador and Record in Mexico.

Yes, infographics is a latino manía.

They rule.


June 07 2010


Mexican Senate uses Google Moderator for a Q&A session with citizenship

Built upon the Google Apps Engine, Google Moderator is the tool used by the Mountain View company’s executives to hold their town hall meetings that sometimes include Q&A sessions with thousands of people from all over the world. The software allows participants to submit questions and vote for those who want to meet with priority.

Google has announced on its official Latin American blog that the President of the Mexican Senate will use Google Moderator to answer questions to the citizenship next June 14th.

“El Senado Responde” (The Senate answers) is the site that will host all the questions from the Mexican public to Carlos Navarrete, President of Senate.

The Q&A session will also be broadcast live through the Senate Channel and website, and later will be uploaded to YouTube.

January 18 2010


freemedia.at: Abducted journalist found dead in Mexico

More tragic news from Mexico: “Police found the remains of Radio Linea Directa crime reporter Jose Luis Romero wrapped in a black bag near Los Mochis city, in Sinaloa province, on Saturday,” reports the International Press Institute (IPI).

Bullet wounds were found in his head and shoulder, and his hands and leg were broken, news reports said. On 30 December, Romero was abducted at gunpoint from a restaurant in Los Mochis, according to the Associated Press (AP). The chief investigator into the kidnapping was murdered a few hours later. Romero’s body was found by a highway near Los Mochis.

Full story at this link…

Similar Posts:

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