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April 16 2012

14:00

Minmini News Uses FrontlineSMS to Share Women's Social Knowledge in Sri Lanka

This post is a guest column written by FrontlineSMS user Ananda Galappatti, editor of Minmini News, a women's news network in Sri Lanka.

Minmini News.jpgMinmini News is a local SMS news service for women in the Batticaloa District of Eastern Sri Lanka. Batticaloa is the poorest district of Sri Lanka, still slowly emerging from the destruction of a three decade-long civil war that ended in 2009.

Throughout the war, and following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Batticaloa's coastline, women played a crucial role in responding to the difficult circumstances that their families and communities had to endure. The same is true now, during the difficult recovery period after the war. However, the important concerns and remarkable experiences of women in Batticaloa are rarely reflected in the mainstream media that reaches their towns and villages. The news they receive, it seems, is not produced with them in mind.

Developing a model

In mid-2010, a small informal group associated with women's groups in Batticaloa decided to trial a model for sourcing, producing and sharing news relevant to women of the area. This model was tested through two pilot-testing phases in 2011, with small groups of 15-30 readers, who also served as the sources of news.

The data from the pilot phase showed that not only were readers overwhelming positive about the service, but that it exposed them to novel and useful information, and had some influence on their perspectives. Minmini Seithihal (translation: Firefly News) went public in August 2011.

The model tested continues to be used, and is directly based around sourcing news from the strong network of women community workers in different parts of the district. News information is collected, fact-checked, and written up in text messages by a central "news team" of one or two women. The prepared news messages can then be reviewed by an editor, and between one and three messages are sent out to readers (who subscribe to the service via text message) through FrontlineSMS each day.

Bringing meaning to events

Minmini News delivers a broad range of content to its readers. It provides information about public services relevant to women, as well as information relevant to livelihoods and cost of living. Minmini News also covers local crises, such as flood disasters or local conflicts between neighboring communities. In addition, it reports on services for gender-based violence and challenges faced by women in post-conflict recovery.

In all its coverage, Minmini News has tried to highlight the meaning that the events or processes have for the lives of women -- often drawing attention to individual stories to convey this. Rather than provide explicit editorial commentary on issues, typically a series of thematically related SMS stories are used to provide a series of factual reports for readers to interpret themselves. Stories are sourced from the team of volunteer "reporters," and also from readers.

The impact on readers and women

Independent interviews with readers and the women who have contributed to Minmini News have shown that the service is appreciated, and that it has changed relationships to consumption and sharing of news and information. One reader said, "It is difficult for me or others to go out and get news in our environment. Now we all have mobile phones in our hands, so it is good to get news from where we are [located]."

In another remarkable case, after hearing a news story via Minmini News, a community worker assisted a family to file a report on a woman who had been missing in the Middle East for over a year. When she was traced, it was found that she had been severely maltreated, and she was repatriated for care and recovery at home. Many of the effects of Minmini News are more subtle than this, but it's clear women subscribing to the service feel that the way they've engaged with mainstream media has changed, and they are more sensitive to issues related to women's lives and rights.

Learn More

Minmini News is now entering a new phase, with active recruitment of women readers in rural communities in Batticaloa, bringing new opportunities in terms of prospects for broader sources of news -- but also new challenges. To learn more about the model of this mobile news service, see some examples of content, and hear more about Minmini News' plans for the future, visit the FrontlineSMS blog.

Ananda Galappatti is a medical anthropologist and a practitioner in the field of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in situations of emergency and chronic adversity. He is a co-founder of the journal Intervention, the online network mhpss.net and the social business The Good Practice Group. Ananda lives in the town of Batticaloa on the East coast of Sri Lanka, where he volunteers as an editor for Minmini News.

April 12 2012

19:13

Don Graham: Washington Post Social Reader Facebook app has changed our demographics

In answer to a question posted on Quora, the Q&A site, Washington Post Chairman said that the company’s Facebook app has led to a “substantial” change in the demographics of Washington Post readers. “More than 21 million people have now downloaded Washington Post Social...


Tags: News
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04:52

March 19 2012

11:40

State of the News Media 2012: Tech companies ‘control the future of news’

Technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple “now control the future of news.” That’s one of the take-aways from the 2012 State of the News Media report, released today by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The news industry, the report says, “finds...

Tags: News
03:01

How Facebook, Twitter differ for news consumption

People who get news from Facebook are most likely to get it from friends and family, rather than directly from a news organization they follow, according to the 2012 State of the News Media report released today by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. For Twitter users,...

February 10 2012

15:17

Daily Must Reads, Feb. 10, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1. Rodale, Time and other publishers get hit with privacy lawsuits (Online Media Daily)

2. Penguin cuts ties with e-library distributor OverDrive (paidContent)

3. Nielsen: Number of TV 'cord cutters' increases (Lost Remote)

4. WSJ uses Pinterest, Instagram to cover Fashion Week (Nieman Lab)

5. Can you use Twitter to predict popularity of news stories? (The Atlantic)

6. Study: Most people play nice on social media  (Mashable)

Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday! 


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January 18 2012

16:27

Three alternate ways to access Wikipedia

Wikipedia is among a number of sites blacking out today in protest of SOPA and PIPA, two bills before Congress that many in the tech community fear will infringe upon free expression and do serious harm to the Internet. You can read more about Wikipedia’s position and the bill here. And here...

January 17 2012

10:55

Are Newspapers Civic Institutions or Algorithms? | Endless Innovation | Big Think

"... what if, instead, we begin to think of newspapers in perhaps a more mundane manner -- as algorithms for solving problems?"
09:29

Ohio quakes raise fracking questions | Al Jazeera Blogs

Video at the bottom of the text story is very well done because it's actually thorough -- well reported -- there's even an animated infographic in the middle of it to explain fracking.

January 06 2012

15:20

Al Jazeera, Ushahidi Join in Project to Connect Somalia Diaspora via SMS

Al Jazeera, Ushaidi Join in Project to Connect Somali Diaspora via SMS

In the Horn of Africa, Somalia makes headlines, but often only because of drought, famine, crisis and insecurity. Al Jazeera launched Somalia Speaks to help amplify stories from people and their everyday lives in the region -- all via SMS.

Somalia Speaks is a collaboration between Souktel, a Palestinian-based organization providing SMS messaging services, Ushahidi, Al Jazeera, Crowdflower, and the African Diaspora Institute. "We wanted to find out the perspective of normal Somali citizens to tell us how the crisis has affected them and the Somali diaspora," Al Jazeera's Soud Hyder said in an interview.

Added Souktel's Jacob Korenblum: "The notion was that when the food crisis erupted this summer, we wanted to get word out from the ground level as to what was going on in that region."

The goal of Somalia Speaks is to aggregate unheard voices from inside the region as well as from the Somalia diaspora by asking via text message: How has the Somalia Conflict affected your life? Responses are translated into English and plotted on a map. Since the launch, approximately 3,000 SMS messages have been received. Here is just one example:

I was born in the city of Wanlaweyn, and some of the people there are destroying things. I am poor now.

For Al Jazeera, Somalia Speaks is also a chance to test innovative mobile approaches to citizen media and news gathering.

somaliamap.jpg

mobile makes sense

The campaign involves sending thousands of text messages to citizens in the Horn of Africa. With this specific campaign, a mobile approach works.

Souktel's Korenblum said that in a five-year period leading up to 2009, mobile phone penetration jumped 1,600% in the Somali region; Souktel has been delivering service in the Horn of Africa since 2008 and has a member SMS subscriber list of over 50,000 people.

There has also been considerable growth in the number of operators in the region, with new entrants almost every year. In some regions, there are as many as five mobile providers, Korenblum said. In terms of handset usage and mobile media, it's overwhelmingly done via SMS. Reaching out to citizens via SMS, then, makes sense.

SMS responses to the Al Jazeera question are sent to an Ushahidi and Crowdflower instance which enables filtering, translating and sorting of the content. These responses are then posted to the Somalia Speaks map on Al Jazeera for a larger international audience.

Partnership is Key

Somalia Speaks stems from earlier cooperation among the various partners. Souktel has had a long-standing relationship with both Ushahidi and Al Jazeera. The groups have worked together in the past on a campaign focused on events and citizen reporting from the Gaza Strip. "We all three found it was very successful in terms of giving ordinary citizens the ability to really have their voices heard, in a process which is usually reported on by news outlets and not much more than that," Korenblum said. "It was a good way of democratizing the flow of information."

And they are back at it again in the Horn of Africa, where Souktel has for years operated large-scale mobile information services. Because of this, they have outreach and solid relationships with the mobile network operators in the three primary regions in the Horn of Africa. "Coming together on this campaign was a very natural thing for us to do," Korenblum said.

Each partner brings unique expertise and fulfills a specific role. Souktel facilitates the creation of the free local short-code for users across the different regions and mobile network operators. It also leveraged its 50,000-plus member SMS subscriber list to send the initial SMS messages.

Ushahidi and Crowdflower work together to translate, categorize and geo-locate the incoming responses, which can be viewed here.

Al Jazeera's Hyder described the Ushahidi role as crisis mapping with a twist. "We are not mapping out a crisis but information that could provide more insight," he said.

"I think this a model for a good partnership between a media outlet, a mobile service provider, and mapping platforms," Korenblum said. "I think it's a decent use case for this sector on how different players in the social mobile landscape can come together to really help give a voice to communities."

A Pilot for Citizen Newsgathering

Somalia Speaks is a pilot project. While the responses help amplify voices and stories of everyday life from an under-reported region, the project also provides editorial insight as to where Al Jazeera should focus in going forward with its citizen reporting efforts.

"We are also looking at how to streamline news gathering workflows to get news directly from the people," Hyder said. "It's like taking citizen journalism to the next level."

Al Jazeera has received story tips and leads from Somalia Speaks participants. "We found out, for instance, there was a fire a week ago, and this was under-reported by all mainstream media," Hyder said. "This gives us an easier way for sourcing and finding information."

Somalia Speaks is helping create a more optimal model for sources of information in the region. With the fire report, for example, an editorial team investigates and can follow up by using stringers or calling local telephone numbers in the area of the fire. Cynara Vetch, also with Al Jazeera, added that another positive thing about mapping and SMS is that volume can help with corroboration. "So many people submitted similar reports, unprompted," she said. "This volume itself helps verify incidents."

The Somalian diaspora is getting involved, too. Hyder said that originally, the project was only going to focus on citizens within the region. "But there is a lot of input from the diaspora," Hyder said -- meaning that Somalians in the diaspora have valid arguments and points to add to the discussion. "Editorially, we had to open up the scope and see how the story grew," Hyder said.

There is an international number for anyone to send in a report (+45609910303) and people can also submit comments online in a section called "Diaspora Voices," including video links, photo uploads, and text descriptions.

The project itself is not without challenges. There is also a larger so what question as to the value of, and reaction to, such messages being mapped and posted. For more, read the complete case study here on the Mobile Media Toolkit.

January 04 2012

13:32

December 31 2011

14:51

December 20 2011

15:20

7 Ways Salespeople Can Better Understand the Editorial Side of News

There was quite a reaction to my previous column, suggesting editors learn more about, and cooperate with, the business sides of their organizations.

This time, I'd like to talk to people on the business side about how they can cooperate with the editorial side to work effectively to keep a news organization solid while also increasing revenues and ensuring the organization's survival.

First, though, let me respond a bit to the critics. A lot of the comments, on Facebook, Google+, blogs and elsewhere indicated people had read the provocative headline, "Tear Down the Wall Between Business and Editorial," perhaps a subhed or two, but not the piece in full, or even half. Some were nasty, political or ad hominem attacks (one called me Mr. "Bank Oil," the kind of play on my name I hadn't heard since elementary school), others were amusing, and a fair number were supportive and thoughtful.

One careful and considered rebuttal came from the liberal Common Dreams site, which called me "oblivious to the dangers of basing your business model on giving the sponsors what they want."

I'm not. But I have seen multiple news sites struggle to survive, including ones where I've had to cut staff.

Common Dreams asks for donations, and I hope they get enough to support their operation. Most news organizations, though, cannot survive on charity. Many are in deep trouble and have gone out of business or are struggling to survive.

News media executives and entrepreneurs -- including one who praised the previous column -- have told me how pained they were at their inability to financially sustain sites they considered superior editorially.

Overcoming Skepticism from Editors

timr.png

"With many news publishers, the online brands haven't had the revenue to support the reporting and editorial operations, let alone the rest of the staff and infrastructure that's needed for a modern news organization," Tim Ruder, chief revenue officer of ad optimization company Perfect Market, told me last week.

Ruder has often faced skepticism and even the ire of editors at major news companies when offering his company's technology, which optimizes page layout and links to get more readers in and serve them higher-value ads. The editors, understandably, don't want their pages changed in any way.

But, Ruder continued, "If these type of revenue opportunities can support the newsroom without compromising reporting, that's not to be ignored."

The news is not all glum, either. I have seen entrepreneurs make a business out of news while cultivating their ability to do great work.

Part of the reason is their keen focus on what matters most. Which leads me back to the point of this column: How the business side can intelligently do its work to sustain and enhance the organization over time.

1. Remember, It's the News Business

Your product is news. News is nothing without credibility -- and that credibility can be damaged by the wrong kind of ads or sponsorship. I spent a lot of my time at ABC News explaining to the sales side why we couldn't do one thing or another while trying to suss out the advertisers' goals to reach them within the bounds of editorial tenets.

After all, the credibility and association with your site is a good part of the reason advertisers want to be on it. Without that credibility, they'll lose the venue to get the word out about their products.

If something you're proposing calls the reliability of the organization -- its credibility or trustworthiness -- into question, that damage is very hard to recover from.

2. Know and Advocate For the "Product"

I've worked with salespeople who seem to see a news page as an array of ads, with the text and pictures simply filling up the space in between.

Even if you think of the business as only a business, not a special public trust, you have to respect the product and not bastardize it in the name of making quick money. Part of your job should be to help sustain the business over the long-term.

You can't really sell the news unless you have a powerful, abiding respect for what it is and can do, the ways it serves, informs, motivates and even impassions a community. You'll be much better able to intelligently sell the advertiser on that community if you understand what motivates the people in that community, in addition to their demographic profile.

3. Get At The Client's Real Goals

Sponsors will sometimes try to push the envelope, or get something they've envisioned that's not on your site. They'll ask if they can put this extra doodad here, get that ad size or flashy thing there.

When it's not possible, any intelligent sponsor or media buyer should be able to tell you something of what the goals are. Maybe you can offer that special something in another way, or achieve their aim with an offering you already have in your arsenal.

Sponsors who are considering your organization are doing so not only because you offer them exposure to a certain user base or group, but also because of the environment they get to be in.

It can be a bit of work, especially when you're dealing with media buyers who are trying to fit you into a spreadsheet model as part of a larger buy. But I've found that more often than not, there's a way to help them understand, then reach an accommodation.

4. Understand the Line, Then Help Hold It

It's very tempting when there's money on the table to say "yes," then run to try to get the request fulfilled. Cultivate and listen to the voice in the back of your head that will tell you when something goes a little, or a lot, too far.

A sponsor may request something you are pretty sure won't fly. First you have to understand why. It's not enough just to know the rules. You have to grasp the reason you can't do something a sponsor is asking.

I give a flat "no" when asked if sponsorship would guarantee news coverage of a given client and am ready with very clear reasons for giving that answer. I also then work to get at the client's underlying goals to find a way to reach them within the strictures. (See the previous point.)

To salespeople, editors can seem like "no" machines. If an editor objects to something you're proposing to offer, he or she may seem obstructionist, but there may be a legitimate reason.

Just as I called on editors to work with the sales side, the sales side has to understand the editorial imperatives and try to work within them. It helps, too, if the business side works with the editorial side to devise the strictures.

5. Work With the Editors, and Let Them Help You

Having a strong relationship with editors can beget other benefits. Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, a site that serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area, put the newsroom and sales teams in the same room.

MikeOrren.jpg

"Our ex-newspaper restaurant critic was yelling across the room saying there was a review coming, and the sales team might want to pitch them," he said, noting that the critic didn't say whether the review was good or bad. Either way, the sponsor might want to be there -- if the article is negative, the sponsor may want the opportunity to counter that perception. But "never was she [the critic] going to let somebody tell her how to review a restaurant," Orren said.

The sales team also helped the editorial side. "Sales would tip the editorial team that someone wasn't paying bills and maybe were going to go out of business," Orren told me at the Street Fight Summit earlier this fall. "We got more scoops out of our sales team than probably anywhere else."

6. Don't Underestimate How Hard It Is To ...

  • Get a story. The text and video you see that magically appears day after day takes a lot of time and effort to gather, edit and produce -- especially in a reliable and trustworthy way. A lot of reporters work all hours and sacrifice health, sleep and social life to get a story. Understand and respect that dedication. It can be a lot harder than it looks.
  • Get people to look at it. A lot of the work of getting people to discover a story once it's been produced falls on the editorial team, especially in the digital realm. That, too, takes time, effort and understanding of the community.

7. Now, More than Ever

For a few decades, news in America had a heyday of nearly unsurpassed profitability brought about by advantages such as high barriers to entry, limited distribution channels, and advertisers with few other ways to reach consumers. Salespeople could literally sit and wait for the phone to ring.

"It's like printing money!" one publisher gleefully exclaimed to me, holding up a classified page on which every column inch represented more dollars.

Those reliable and hefty profits supported all kinds of editorial efforts that, unfortunately, can no longer be sustained in the same way.

As the industry restructures, I have suggested editors learn how the business works and how far they can go to help it without compromising the operation. Sales needs to understand that "money talks" but the people making "the product" are ultimately responsible for whether it's worthwhile for those who consume it.

I want to see news organizations survive and do great work, and I believe that today, the only way to ensure that is to take a more holistic approach to the business of news.

An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

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December 18 2011

08:59

Catalyst – Cash for community projects

Catalyst is a £1.9m research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council looking at how different communities use technology to make ‘the world’ a better place. It’s lead by Lancaster University and promises (mainly local) communities’ access to money, staff and facilities to build their better world.

At the obligatory launch event back in late November invitees were given a roadmap of the process which includes an opportunity for communities to bid for ‘launch-pad’ or ‘research sprint’ funding.
Three weeks later marked the real start of the project at the first Ideas Lab on December 14th. In contrast to the grey December day around 30 handpicked participants from voluntary organisations, community groups, Lancaster City Council, small businesses and academics met in a light, airy space at the Storey Gallery in Lancaster to kick the process off. Those present earned a place in the lab after submitting an idea for a community based project that broadly answered one or both of two big questions, framed by the research team;

  • what stimulates people to participate in civic actions and why,
  • and what next generation digital technologies best support how people want to innovate in a civic action setting?

Jez Hall was at the Ideas Lab. Jez is a community activist and director of ‘Shared Future’. He also works freelance for the participatory budgeting unit, a charity promoting citizen led democracy – which seems to fit perfectly with the aspirations of the research team. He came to the Lab with two clear ideas of what he’d like out of Catalyst. Both stretch way beyond building tech to the far trickier real world implementation raising the question of how citizens can improve their lot by co-designing, valuing and delivering activities within the social or public economy, to create a more sustainable, just, responsive society.

The Catalyst team are promising people like Hall the financial, human and technological resources to work with academic research teams on his projects. Project leader, Professor Jon Whittle from Lancaster University is keen to point out that the bulk of this resource will take the form of support from University staff offering their expertise in computing, environmental science, design, management and social science. However, there will also be smaller amount of cash for equipment and expenses.

The next step down the road requires community groups to submit a second, more refined proposal to the Catalyst team by 22nd December. At least they won’t be busy writing this funding application over the festive break.

Tags: News

December 08 2011

16:42

New York Times launches Election 2012 app

The New York Times has launched a stand-alone election app, including the latest poll numbers, candidate information, state-by-state updates and the top headlines from both The Times and other websites. Watch for more stand-alone election apps from other news organizations coming soon. Among the...


December 07 2011

16:15

December 01 2011

02:53

The Future of Media: Apple TV, Pandora in cars, engaging tablets

What does the future of media hold? A new Apple TV, Pandora streaming in cars, increased reader engagement thanks to tablets, according to the speakers at the first day of Business Insiders’ Ignition: Future of Media conference. Among the most interesting take-aways so far: Apple analyst Gene...

01:51

The world’s top 30 social entrepreneurs

Some entrepreneurs are after more than making money or a great company – they want to help solve the world’s problems. Forbes has assembled a list of the world’s 30 leading social entrepreneurs. They define “social entrepreneur” as a person who uses business to solve social issues....
Tags: News

October 06 2011

03:06

Steve Jobs’ on death: ‘The single best invention’

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away tonight, once described death as “the single best invention of life.” Why? He said that’s because death “is life’s change agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Amazing words from one of the greatest...

September 14 2011

07:51

Newspaper video: Time to reconsider your video strategy?

A few issues have popped up in my reading round the web that make me think that if online video has fallen off your agenda then it may be worth thinking again. A few things make me think that.

Engagement with HTML5 by publishers means that the idea of cross platform (web, tablet etc) video becomes a reality. The recent announcement by FT that they were moving away from the apple fold to deliver their apps from a web base shows a certain maturity in that area. It may not be universal but those publishers who engaged with apps with half an eye to html5 and associated tech are starting to see the benefit. They also have an exit route from Apple’s walled garden.

The announcement that the WSJ is upping it’s online video would, on the surface, seem to be a simple illustration of the point. But theres a bit more to it:

The Journal has expanded its video content in spite of its contract with CNBC, the leading business news network on television, and in spite of the fact that The Journal’s parent has its own business network, Fox Business.  The CNBC contract expires in about 15 months, but already Journal reporters tend to appear more often on Fox than on CNBC.

The shifting approaches of print in particular to the challenge of keeping your voice in a spreading market, often rests on the idea of impartiality. An alignment to Fox is as blunt a move to prove the point as you can get. But if you want to establish a ‘voice’ then video can be a key part of that changing ‘brand’.

Newsless broadcast

But there is also a shift on the other side of that relationship. There is a very clear by broadcasters towards product and not a service focus. That will leave a gap that print will have to backfill. Yes there is a big investment in online delivery services but the commercial driver is very much a product proposition. Most of the large broadcasters are seeing a real benefit in exclusive and value-added programming online. The ‘watch again’ of the iplayer-like channels, the webisodes and web exclusive episodes are all examples of how broadcast has ‘finally’ found its feet online.

I think that news is low on the agenda in a broadcasters strategy. For broadcasters, news is very much a service. It’s often something they have to do as a requirement to a license or a sop to public service. It’s easier to advertise around the x-factor than it is news at ten and that’s where the money will go. Non-broadcast providers will pay the price for that.

If you buy in your video from a third party, expect the prices to go up and the quality, range and relevance to go down. 

LocalTV

Here in the UK, we also have the looming Spector of localTV. There is obviously a new market to explore there. I’m skeptical about the range, depth and return that market will have for journalism but, hey, it never hurts to consider it.

So video gives you a good opportunity to extend your identity and cut free those ties with an increasingly newsless broadcast sector. Just invest a little in understanding the technology underlying the new platforms.In the long run it might be a better investment than simply paying to be on those platforms.

 

July 31 2011

00:43

The 10 Best Multimedia Training Opportunities

In an effort to help you with your continuing education in the art of multimedia, I wanted to post a few workshop opportunities that I highly recommend. My recommendations come from my personal experience  teaching at one of the listed workshops OR being very familiar with the trainers. I know these are quality experiences and [...]
Tags: News
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