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November 14 2011


CNN’s just-revamped iReport: Imagine all the data!

Today brings the launch of an overhaul of CNN’s iReport, the network’s platform for citizen journalism. As of today, iReport will look much less like a straight-up content site…and much more like a social network. One that, CNN.com participation director Lila King told me, “turns the site into something that’s focused on people far more than news stories.”

For a good summary of the overall changes in iReport, check out Mallary Jean Tenore’s overview over at Poynter, which is chock full of detail about how the revamped site will run. Though the idea of a social network for citizen journalism — particularly one that exists within the confines of a sprawling cable news website — is intriguing, I’m especially interested in what the revamped iReport will offer CNN in terms of knowledge about its own audience and participants. The new site will focus on user profiles, a big part of that being the areas of interest and expertise that users have identified. It will offer users, King says, a “very personalized experience that tailors the homepage and iReporters’ profiles toward the sources and the topics and the people that folks are interested in.”

And what that experience will mean, on the back end, is — ostensibly — tons of data about users’ (self-identified) areas of interest and expertise. According to internal numbers provided to me by CNN, iReport currently has 955,000 registered users. If even a fraction of those users go the social media route and register their interests with iReport, that could provide CNN with some immensely valuable information not only about the areas their users are interested in, but also the areas their users care about. For TV news, in particular, which has traditionally been even more detached from its audience than print journalism, that information could be incredibly useful. “In the past, we’ve collected in an ad hoc fashion groups of iReporters around particular areas of the spectrum,” King says. But they’ve never done so “in a publicly designated way.” Opening up the process — essentially, crowdsourcing user data from the users themselves — could allow for communities and itinerant publics to spring up using CNN’s site as their platform.

The core of the new iReport reminds me a lot of the Public Insight Network, American Public Media’s effort to “connect enterprising journalists with knowledgeable sources” — with the significant caveat that PIN focuses on citizens-as-sources, rather than citizens-as-producers. While iReport is focused on direct user participation, there’s also the intriguing possibility that the newly networked site could facilitate more direct collaboration between iReporters and CNN’s reporters — teamwork that makes use of user data and the power of the detailed call to action. “We’ve learned through experience,” King says, “that the best way to inspire contribution and participation is to give people a very specific call to action that’s tailored to them — and that says, essentially, ‘Here’s a story that needs your voice. Here’s how you could contribute.’”

That approach could be especially useful, King points out, for things like focus groups — particularly as the 2012 campaign ramps up — but also for “lots of other topics that we haven’t even dreamt up yet.” And: “I’m pretty sure that it will result in richer, more diverse coverage.”

So while the newly networked iReport can foster user participation with CNN, it can work the other way, as well, by allowing CNN to better connect with its constituents. It “just gives us more tools in our arsenal to include more perspectives in our coverage,” King says. More importantly, it “helps us, in some ways, get at groups of people who aren’t traditionally included in news coverage,” she points out. “Especially in the political arena, you tend to shy away from people who have very strident and public opinions on issues. But the beauty of iReport is that almost everyone who contributes contributes because they feel personally motivated to be part of the story — because it affects them in some way, because they’re living through it, or because it’s an issue that’s near and dear to their part.”

Ultimately, King says, “we’re creating a scenario where people can very explicitly say who they are and what they think and what they want to contribute to.” And as long as CNN’s staff does “the good work of journalists in being very clear and transparent about who people are and where they’re coming from when we include their perspective, I think it’s going to make our stories better.”

January 28 2011


5 Key Truths About Mobile News Consumers

Smartphones are ushering in the next wave of news consumption. These devices present an exciting opportunity for the news media to go mobile, putting endless information and the possibility of engagement in the palm of every consumer's hand.

But what characterizes the new mobile news consumer? How does he or she interact with news? And how can that shape the still-forming mobile news medium? I've laid out several key characteristics of mobile news consumers below. News organizations need to keep these basic truths in mind when developing apps and mobile sites.

Key Characteristics of Mobile News Consumers

1. They are impulse users.
Smartphone owners actively seek out bits of news throughout the day. Whether they are at the office, in a crowded bar, or in the comfort of their own home, the impulsive user wants to quickly open an app or browser on their mobile phone and, within seconds, have up-to-the-minute news. While some users are willing to spend time on longer reads, the majority are still looking for the latest, bite-sized chunks of news.

2. They're demanding.
Mobile news consumers invested in their devices as well as their monthly phone and data plans. They have paid good money for up-to-the-minute pulse.pngaccess, and that's what they expect the news media to deliver. The emergence of this on-the-go, impulsive, and demanding user means mobile news applications and websites need to adopt clean interfaces and offer powerful search functionality. The demanding nature of mobile news consumers also helps explain the growing popularity of news aggregator apps like the Pulse News Reader. These aggregators pull together top stories from users' favorite sites and offer the option to read a clean text summary of the story or go to the original article. Considering the mobile users' need for speed, news aggregator apps save consumers not only the time it takes to visit each site separately, but also the time it takes to read full articles.

3. They consume and contribute.
The next step in mobile news will be less about consumption and more about contribution and collaboration. Smartphones give users the opportunity to post video, images, and text to the Internet in seconds. Mobile apps like Qik and CNN's iReport currently provide some of the most visible venues for mobile users to post news as it happens. Plus, citizen-documented news is appearing on blogs, social networking sites, and YouTube. The ability for anyone to report breaking news means news organizations need to evolve further, shifting from working for the news consumer to working with the news consumer.

4. They are on multiple platforms.
The lack of a cross-platform app strategy is a stumbling block for some news outlets. News outlets and app creators need to make certain their news apps are available on all major platforms. Android is still not a priority for many news outlets, despite the fact it has more than 300,000 new activations daily and has now overtaken rivals such as RIM and Apple in U.S. smartphone market share. Similarly, Nokia's Symbian platform must stay on app makers' radar, given its massive installed base and large international penetration, with more than 450 million active devices.

5. They don't mind a little push
Traditional news outlets like CNN have catered to the new expectations of smartphone users by integrating push notifications into their apps. When major breaking news hits, CNN can push the story to a user's home screen, regardless of whether the app is open. The key is to use the push feature wisely. Many smartphone users will uninstall your app if you push too often for the wrong reasons. This is a balancing act that news organizations must pay attention to.

Patrick Mork is chief marketing officer of GetJar, the world's largest open mobile platform. He heads the company's overall marketing, branding, content and communications strategy. Prior to joining GetJar, he was marketing director EMEA at glu, where he built up the company's marketing team and helped establish glu as one of the top 3 games publishers in Europe. A former marketer at PepsiCo, Patrick has worked in venture-backed start-ups in marketing, sales and general management for the past 10 years. He holds an MBA from INSEAD and a Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University.

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February 22 2010


True North Media House, W2 Provide Citizen Media Hub at Olympics

At the Winter Olympics, members of the press affiliated with official, IOC-designated media outlets have access to the Main Media Center and are given a special accreditation badge. The MMC provides workspace -- as well as massages and McDonald's -- for "the approximately 2,800 accredited members of the written and photographic press," according to organizers.

That's been the case at many Olympics. But the Vancouver Games are notable for the alternative, unofficial media centers and accreditations that have sprung up. These groups cater specifically to independent media, citizen journalists, bloggers, and other people who seek to report and document the Games on their terms. (The Beijing Games failed to inspire a similar outpouring of citizen journalism due to restrictions placed by the Chinese organizers.)

Well over 100 unofficial media folks are united under the True North Media House, a virtual media accreditation organization that's aggregating content from bloggers and citizen journalists at the Games. The TNMH initiative also helps them coordinate and communicate with each other via a mailing list and #tnmh Twitter hashtag, while also serving as a point of aggregation for reporting and content.


If TNMH is the virtual alternative media house of the games, then the W2 Culture + Media House is the physical headquarters. Located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood known as the poorest in Canada, it provides independent media with a free lounge and range of unofficial press conferences, as well as affordably priced access to video editing suites, camera gear, and workspaces.

People affiliated with NowPublic, CNN iReport and other media are paying roughly $300 to secure a spot at W2 for the duration of the Games. To put it into perspective, that's roughly what Games organizers charge for two weeks of wireless Internet access at the Main Press Centre.

W2 Culture + Media House

I visited W2 the day of the opening ceremonies and Irwin Oostindie, executive director of the W2: Community Media Arts center, told me how the Games activities fit into their usual operations, which involve helping teach media skills and techniques and offering a space for cultural events. He also explained the significance of having an alternative media center in the Downtown Eastside:

Oostindie predicted this will be the last time we see a facility like W2's at the Olympic Games.

"We thought, 'The Olympics are coming here, so let's get together and create an experiment around running a physical social media center,'" he said. "It's probably the first and last one the Olympics will have because, essentially, Beijing didn't allow them and [I predict that] London in 2012 will embed them and monetize them. There won't be any independent social media centers in London."

He said the idea is not to keep traditional media and independent media separate, as they have a lot learn from each other.

"We're interested in bringing traditional media and online media platforms together," he said. "We feel that social media can be improved by traditional journalism, and we really feel traditional journalism could be improved with more access to online and multi-platform practices. There is a conversation to be had which does not alienate one community or another."

In addition to providing workspaces for media from Canada, the U.S. and England, W2 is hosting press conferences from community groups and people such as the female ski jumpers who were not allowed to compete in the Games.

"We're hosting a cluster of voices that are rather relevant to the content of the Olympics being held in Vancouver," he said. "Playing the role of a neutral infrastructure provider is kind of interesting for us. We're kind of a mixing point. It's a space where the Olympic Resistance Network can come and [so can] corporate sponsors and Olympic athletes."

As can people like Percy Lipinski. A former diplomat, the Vancouver resident is a dedicated and prolific contributor to CNN iReport. He paid to have a workspace at W2 for the Games, though he isn't reporting the entire time. Last week I reached him in Costa Rica, where he was shooting stories that he planned to submit to iReport.


"I read about W2 in one of the local magazines in Vancouver and it appealed to me because I had applied for and received credentials [for the B.C. International Media Centre (BCIMC), which is operated by the provincial government] through iReport -- and then a week before the Olympics started they said, 'We decided you're not really a reporter' and denied my accreditation," he said.

The BCIMC is a center where media without IOC accreditation can work from. The people controlling its accreditation process eventually relented and gave Lipinski his pass back. But he had already decided that W2 would be the place for him.

"For [$300] I got access to youngish, good news editors and camera people and the ability to work at the desk," he said.

True North Media House

Last Wednesday, an email went out on the True North Media House email list to let people know the group would be holding an "Olympic Hockey Tweetup" the following day between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. at a local club. "There will be an appearance by special guest Guy Kawasaki at about 8 p.m.," the message said.

Apart from a few organized events like that one, the people sporting TNMH badges have largely roamed Vancouver on their own, or in small groups. They go where they choose (and where security lets them) and report, photograph and tweet what they see. As a result, the TNMH news feed is an eclectic mix of content. It's also spreading far and wide, according to Dave Olson, one of the organizers.

"What we're starting to see now is people are getting their coverage up and out and distributed well before the mainstream media," he said.

Olson, whose day job is the marketing/community director for Twitter client HootSuite, hatched the idea for TNMH with Robert Scales, who runs Raincity Sudios and VancouverAccess2010.com, and local photographer Kris Krüg, who is contributing photo essays to MediaShift during the Games. (Krüg is also involved with W2.) You can watch the documentary With Glowing Hearts to see the history of TNMH, as well as the W2 project. Here's an excerpt of the film's look at TNMH:

WGHthemovie.ca- Webisode #2 'True North Media House' from Andrew Lavigne.

Now that the games are up and running, Olson said it's a matter of letting the TNMH-accredited reporters go about their business, produce content, and see what happens. One surprise so far has been Aleks, a 5-year-old Vancouver boy who's blogging about his Games experience with the help of his dad. He proudly wears his TNMH badge wherever he goes.


"We have people who four or five days ago didn't self-identify as social media reporters, but they had a passion for photography or making videos," Olson said. "Once the Games were on, they realized they see stuff no one else sees. A lot of people are just stepping up and saying they want to be a part of this."

The reports in the TNMH news feed and discussion on #TNMH bring to mind the old saying that youth is wasted on the young. It's hard to imagine professional media are bounding around with as much joy, delight and enthusiasm. Certainly, not having an assignment editor or producer harrassing you on deadline helps keep the TNMH crew happy. But you can't help noticing how much fun they seem to having.

Business Analyst Gets Accredited

John Biehler is an e-business analyst for an insurance company in Vancouver, but he's also a self-described camera geek. He loves taking pictures and shooting video, and he shares his work on a blog and on Flickr.

Biehler booked off three weeks of vacation so he would be able to document the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, and now spends his days and nights reporting on everything from the torch relay to tall ships and zip line rides. His videos and photos are available in a special Olympic section of his blog, but they're also showing up in the news feed of True North Media House.

Biehler proudly wears his TNMH media accreditation badge around his neck, and is often stopped by people who ask what it means, and where he got it.

"Some of the [people wearing the badge] have been able to get past security and get into venues because security think it's official," he said. "They don't know we printed them out on a home printer and went to Staples and got them laminated."

Documentation or Journalism?

Biehler is enjoying a unique experience because he has both a TNMH pass and an official one from the BCIMC. He is among the lucky few bloggers and folks from online media outlets granted access to the province's media center. For the most part, he said, the professional media folks have been welcoming.

"They seem to work more hours," he said of the pros, "and it's been interesting talking with them about what I'm doing and what I'm working on, and comparing gear. Even if they're working for a big company we're similar in that we're just trying to figure out the best way to do something."

Olson said TNMH is more about documentation than journalism.

"But we've taken great pains to educate people about journalistic standards and how to tell a mixed media story," he said. (The resources section on the website offers a wealth of useful information.)
The night we spoke, Olson was rushing off to meet a group of hockey fans from Latvia, an experience he looked forward to documenting.

"How often do you get a chance to meet someone who has come halfway around the world to your city to enjoy something that you're also passionate about?"

To which he could have added: and then share that experience with world.

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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