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September 03 2012


Narrowing the Digital Divide: A Call to Action

To me, the true power and beauty of community-based organizing lies in a small group of individuals taking on a significant social problem and solving it for the common good. The new NetSquared platform is up and going, and I am thrilled to challenge the NetSquared community to connect with one another on solving a social problem that has everything to do with furthering the common good.

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August 22 2012


Reframing the Digital Divide

The term “digital divide” has been commonly used to represent the gap between those who have “access” to technology (particularly the Internet) and those who do not. Ten years ago when the Pew Internet and American Life Project started researching the digital divide as an issue of “access”, they found the differences in access were stark across locations, including at home, in schools and at work.

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August 21 2012


At Rural Newspapers, Some Publishers Still Resist Moving Online

In 1968, Dick Graham bought a small weekly newspaper in Ferry County, Wash., one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-four years later -- give or take a few months -- broadband Internet is arriving.

Graham and his century-old newspaper, The Republic News-Miner, have cast a wary eye toward the web and raised a legitimate question: Should rural newspapers go online?

Graham, now 75, has resisted.

"I'm old-fashioned," he said. "I don't put nothing up for nothing."

Long shielded from the pressure of Internet news competition, as well as classified competitors like Craigslist, rural newspapers have reportedly fared far better than their metropolitan counterparts. While newspapers in population centers saw growing competition from online startups in the past decade, rural newspapers have faced relatively little competition. (So-called hyper-local sites like AOL's Patch are clustered in metropolitan areas and altogether absent from rural areas in the West.)


As broadband Internet spreads into rural communities -- spurred by a $7 billion federal investment -- rural newspapers are increasingly facing a question encountered by their metropolitan counterparts a decade ago: What information should be offered online?

The considerations aren't solely economic. Rural newspapers that ignore online opportunities may be risking their relevancy -- and losing opportunities -- in their communities, experts say. And rural readers may be missing out as well; a recent survey suggests that rural citizens are going online to look for news but struggle to find local content, especially when compared to more metropolitan citizens. Instead, those readers are finding state or national media outlets that may have little or no "local" content.

That places rural weekly newspapers at a crossroads.

"It's a 24-7 world and they come out 52 times a year," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. "The worst day to die in a rural area is on a Thursday -- your obit won't be printed for a week."

'We need a business-model solution'

Digitally savvy rural journalists can quickly publish breaking community news, making their publications even more relevant to readers. But the web may not work for every rural publication; Cross said some rural papers may jump directly to mobile platforms, as phone technology rapidly evolves and cellular networks continue to spread.

Today, community newspapers are struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online, according to Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 130 community newspapers in the state.

"We have lots of business-model questions," Will said at an April roundtable discussion at Washington State University. "We need a business-model solution."

Translating digital readership into advertising dollars may be as perilous for rural news outlets as it has been for larger metros.

"They rightly have been wary of putting information online for free because that cannibalizes their print content," Cross said. "But I think there is a way to go online ... You put things online that you can't put in print."

Federal investment carries broadband to small towns


In Ferry County, the online debate has been slow to arrive.

For more than a decade, the county's residents relied primarily on dial-up connections or satellite Internet access -- about 80 percent of county residents were unserved by broadband Internet, according to the state's 2012 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington.

Three years ago, the federal government invested more than $7 billion into expanding broadband Internet access to unserved or underserved areas. The money, which was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has strengthened network capability and expanded infrastructure across the country, including Washington state.

Today, more than 96 percent of the state's households have access to broadband Internet, a network that stretches from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to rural farmland and tiny mountain towns. But rural communities still lag behind larger cities, which tend to have faster broadband access, digitally literate citizens, and journalists increasingly adept at web and social media tools.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

Three Initiatives to Help

Participants in the April roundtable, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, recommended three initiatives:

  • A news consortium to facilitate training for community journalists and partnerships with larger media organizations to increase the flow of information.
  • A grassroots campaign to increase digital literacy in rural areas, as well as with state and local policymakers.
  • An annual survey of news awareness among Washington citizens, as well as a measure of the health of the state's media outlets, and the expansion of high-speed broadband.

Obviously, that outreach takes money in a time of strained state and local budgets.

"If communities need to become digitally literate, then how can they accomplish this, given today's economic realities?" Angela Wu, former broadband policy and programs director for Washington state, asked at the April roundtable. (A full report on the roundtable can be viewed here.)

Critics say rural residents choose to live in small towns; many do, of course, but others must be close to jobs or cheaper housing. Others question whether such communities need quicker access to YouTube videos or other web diversions. Those critics fail to realize how video conferencing or a web presence can fundamentally alter rural businesses -- or educate rural citizens.

Research from colleagues at Washington State University suggests that rural residents find it "significantly more difficult" to keep abreast of local news than metropolitan residents. Rural residents are less frequent consumers of news media for local news, even though they appear to be seeking broadcast and online outlets for state and national news, according to the study by Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. (Both rural and non-rural residents say it's easier to keep up with local news than it was five years ago, but non-rural residents find it significantly easier than rural residents, according to the survey.)

That gap may be the product of a dearth of local online information in small towns. In many small communities, weekly or monthly publications may be the sole source of news, and that news does not always migrate to the web. But in the Pacific Northwest -- Ferry County -- change is coming.

In Ferry County, competing papers and approaches

In 2009, Greg Sheffield opened another weekly newspaper in Ferry County, creating a new challenge for Graham's News-Miner.


Sheffield's paper, The Ferry County View, created a competition for the county's 4,000 households. And unlike Graham, he's begun moving content online -- though not all of it.

"I'm just afraid that if we put our content online that if will remove the incentive people have to read the published newspaper," said Sheffield, a former private pilot turned publisher. "I might consider putting it behind a paywall, but it's just not my top priority."

And he's not sure it's a good economic idea.

"I wish there was an old newspaper publisher's club where I could sit down and ask, How do you deal with this?" Sheffield said. "I would love to have that opportunity."

Graham, who has officially retired as publisher of the News-Miner but still owns the publication, said his paper's circulation has dropped from 1,200 to about 900 in recent years.

"I'm no different than a lot of the weekly newspapers. I spent more for computers than I did buying the place," Graham said. "(A web presence) is something that we've had some inquiries about. I'm just not too sure in these small towns how well that goes over."

For Graham, who began working at newspapers at age 12, the arrival of broadband may threaten his readers' habitual perusing of the print paper each week.

"People get their paper early Thursday morning and have their coffee," Graham said, before pausing. "Of course, they're all 80 years old now."

Benjamin Shors teaches journalism at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

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July 11 2011


College Students Miss the Journalistic Potential of Social Media

This piece was co-written by Alexa Capeloto.

A couple of days after news broke of Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan, a group of students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where we teach journalism, sat in a classroom and talked about how they were first alerted to the story. Most said Facebook. Some said friends or family, primarily via text message. No one named a newspaper. One student, Josh, said CNN.

CNN? So Josh just happened to be watching cable news late on a Sunday night when the bin Laden story broke?

"Oh. No," he said. "I heard about it on Facebook, then I turned on CNN to find out more."

In these days of social media, it was surprising that Josh didn't give Facebook due credit.

After all, the discussion was about the first source, not the best. Did seeing comments on his status feed not count as information delivery in the same way a CNN report did? Was it not real for him until a traditional news outlet confirmed it?

We're used to our peers and mentors privileging legacy media -- be it broadcast or newspapers. But this is not what we expect of today's college students, a.k.a. tomorrow's journalists. In their wired world, there are increasingly fuzzy distinctions between professional and citizen, fact and rumor, confirmed and unconfirmed. We see their iPhones and Androids, iPads and laptops, and we figure part of our job as journalism instructors is to call attention to those distinctions. Yet, as Josh's answer suggests, students might be overcorrecting toward the old school, and in the process psyching themselves out of the journalism game.

Marrying the digital revolution to journalism

We consider this tendency the "digital divide 2.0," an updated version of the gap that long existed between those who could afford pricey personal computers and dial-up Internet connections and those who could not. Despite the growing affordability of Net-based personal technology, the basic class disparity still exists among our students. Now this new version of the divide adds a psychological dimension that cuts across class lines and might be harder to define, diagnose and fix.

Although our students know how to act the part of digital natives, they're inclined to see the Internet as a tool for entertainment and socializing, rather than as an information source. Facebook is for photos and "status," YouTube for cute or crazy clips to pass along to friends, and the rest a treasure trove of music, movies and TV shows (unless, of course, that history paper is due tomorrow and they need to visit Wikipedia).

Despite all the time they spend online, they're behind the curve in terms of understanding the journalistic potential of social media. In fact, some of them are reluctant to recognize the connection between legacy media and web 2.0, as if in doing so, they'd be assuming a power best left to professionals.

When our recent crop of digital journalism students were asked to create their own journalistic blogs and market their content through social media, they were uncomfortable. Although they habitually post to Facebook, the thought of actually reporting on a topic and putting their work into the public domain as journalism, versus a personal narrative of candid pictures and random Friday night ephemera, was scary.


In fact, a few students said that they didn't see blogs as journalism, because anyone could do them. They were in class to learn about reporting and writing -- capital-J Journalism -- and not to repeat what they already do on their own time.

When one of our colleagues at John Jay published a widely circulated Op-Ed in the New York Times in March suggesting, perhaps polemically, that students be taught to write Twitter feeds and YouTube captions in composition class, our students were more horrified at the thought of bringing those activities into the classroom than many of their professors.

In some regards, it's refreshing that students already know what we think we're supposed to teach them. There is a difference between what they post on Facebook and what they see on CNN. Not anyone can do journalism, or at least do it well. It does take time and training and some hard lessons to become responsible, thoughtful purveyors of information.

But no one ever gets to the point of responsible purveyor if they are too scared to test their capabilities as reporters, or too conservative as readers to trust beyond the mainstream media. If students can't see that there's journalism lurking in the everyday things they do with information, especially now that technology has made such things constant, instant and ubiquitous, then we truly do have reason to worry about the future of journalism -- particularly if the original digital divide is still a factor.

A new digital gap emerges

The digital divide reared its head this semester when one of our strongest journalism students said he wanted to sign up for an online section of Intermediate Reporting, but he was afraid to because he didn't have Internet access at home. During the summer break, the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper can't access the paper's new website for the same reason.

"If I did have the Internet, what would I use it for?" he said.

If students who know, own and regularly access technology aren't inclined to put it to journalistic use, then what of the students who don't have such access? Not having the Internet at home -- or perhaps having parents who don't possess the time or means to demonstrate the web's legitimate capabilities -- pushes some students even further
back in the march toward careers in journalism.

The digital divide 2.0 is a psychological and sometimes economic divide, but it's also a generational one. When we started college in the early '90s, the library or the campus lab was the prime source of connectivity. As a consequence, we conceived of the Internet as a tool for doing work and getting information as we would on an old-fashioned terminal-based database or card catalog, or we used it to read primitive newspaper homepages.

When connectivity comes quickly and easily via intuitive mobile devices, and when the web becomes more about entertainment than information, then the associative power of Internet and workspace is undermined. Go to any college library now and count how many screens are on YouTube, Hulu or Facebook for purposes that have nothing to do with news or research.

As for Josh, it's possible that he overlooked Facebook because it has too much power, not too little. He may not see it as an information source because it's so ingrained in his world, such an extension of the self, that he doesn't see it as an external source at all. Like the air around him, it's so essential that it doesn't need to be acknowledged.

But how can students properly examine and harness the journalistic potential of digital media if they don't even see it as media, and how can they become content creators if they don't believe their content counts?

In addition to teaching nuts-and-bolts journalism, these are questions that we need to consider as we prepare our students to be media producers and consumers in the 21st century.

Reporter's essential tools photo by Valerie on Flickr.

Alexa Capeloto and Devin Harner are assistant professors of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York where they direct the journalism program. Alexa earned her master's degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 10 years as a metro reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune before transitioning into academia. Devin has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Delaware and a background in journalism. His recent work has included essays on Chuck Palahniuk's non-fiction; on the film Adaptation's relationship to Susan Orlean's, The Orchid Thief; and on virtual time travel through YouTube.

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February 12 2011


Hello My Name is Bobbi Newman

Hello I am Bobbi Newman, I am a librarian in a public library. I’m responsible for our website, online services, new and emerging technology and training and development for staff and the public. I am also speak and provide training for libraries nationally and internationally. 

I am dedicated to helping libraries find their place in the digital age. I’m passionate about 21st century literacies and the role of all libraries in equal access and opportunity for all. My professional interests include digital and technology based services, the digital divide, and improving existing services through expanding traditional methods, while creating innovative new practices. I write about these and other issues at Librarian by Day.


December 20 2010


Brazilian Public Media Faces Tough Digital Transition

Belém, BRAZIL -- At the mouth of the Amazon river, vendors at the Ver-o-Peso market display the region's fruits, fish and crafts on splintered tables and rusting carts. They hail prospective buyers who pass by their closely packed stalls. Just a block over, behind the security gate of the Estação das Docas, a collection of renovated waterfront warehouses, eco-tourists stroll in air conditioned comfort past many of the same goods, which have been marked up and packaged as artisanal delights. The night I visit, one of these former warehouses is dedicated to a pop-up fashion fair for rising designers; a female DJ spins club tunes and ironic T-shirts mock souvenir gear.

Such cheek-to-jowl contradictions are common in Brazil, where income disparities are among the highest in the world, and megacities like São Paulo compete for national resources with tiny towns tucked deep in the rainforest. That reality makes it a challenge for the country's strapped public broadcasting outlets to create content to serve such a wide range of publics. This was the topic of an early December conference, TV Pública: Forum Internacional de Conteúdo, held in Belém's state-of-the-art Hangar Convention Center.

Public Broadcasting Coalesces

Public broadcasting is relatively young in Brazil. While TV Cultura, a private, foundation-funded channel offering arts, kids, documentary and sports programming has been around since the '60s, it was only in late 2007 that the government launched TV Brasil, a federally funded public broadcasting network. It airs Brazilian films, regional and educational programming, and sports. The channel's national over-the-air reach is limited, but it is available via cable, satellite and online.

Locally, public stations perform a variety of functions -- such as providing access to legislative proceedings, educational content and community outreach -- but they are not networked together via shared programming, as PBS member stations are. Now they are centrally administered, as in the case of the BBC. This lack of coordination, and the limited resources allotted these stations via local government funds, will soon be compounded further as the country undertakes the switch from analog to digital broadcast.

The conference, organized by the Brazilian Association of Public, Educational and Cultural Broadcasters, explored these challenges from a variety of perspectives, including content, program coordination and scheduling, infrastructure, funding, management, unwelcome government interference in program choices, and training of a new generation of public media makers. One key question is how stations might possibly hope to fill the four digital channels they will soon acquire in exchange for their one analog signal.

While some independent and non-profit content is broadly available from sources such as
Itaú Cultural
, a cultural institute which subsidizes the distribution of regional arts and music programming to stations, few syndication or rights-sharing arrangements have been developed. Many of the attendees had been to previous conferences to tackle these issues, but this was the first international gathering designed to bring perspectives in from other countries about how to manage such a thorny transition.

brazil pubilc media1.jpg

Digital Disruption

Simultaneously, Brazilian communications and cultural authorities are working to figure out how to harness online and mobile technologies for the public good. Just weeks before, the Digital Culture conference issued a "declaration of Internet rights," which asserted "diversity and freedom are the foundation [of] democratic communication. Internet access is a fundamental right." At the TV Pública conference, one speaker described NavegaPara, a project to provide Internet access in the state of Pará, including remote areas of the Amazon.

Questions about how to use the pending digital broadcast signal to provide interactivity or web access via TV dogged the conference. The digital divide is much wider in Brazil than the U.S. While nearly 95 percent of Brazilians have access to television, high taxes and low incomes make electronic device purchases steep; wiring this large and sometimes rugged country has so far proven difficult.

Of course, none of this has stopped citizen reporters from putting the latest technologies to work. As Global Voices reported:

Young residents in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in Rio de Janeiro have begun using social and citizen media to chronicle the recent wave of violence spreading through the city. Seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist Rene Silva has set up a Twitter account, @vozdacomunidade (voice of the community), to monitor the police occupation of the favela complex, with the related hashtag, #vozdacomunidade, already beginning to trend. Meanwhile, @Igorcomunidade is also offering updates of what he calls "a guerra do alemão" (Alemão's War), and another group of young locals has started streaming footage of the occupation.

As in the U.S., producers with one foot in the old and new media worlds are growing a bit weary of discussing the myriad transitions, and are now eager to start building multi-platform public media models that can thrive. Francisco Belda, the director of a local newspaper near São Paulo that is considering ways to transition from print to digital is also a professor at São Paulo State University. He led a workshop at the TV Pública conference on how to create a new programming grid for public stations. We discussed his impatience with the pace of both industry and policy change.

"I'm tired of all this talk," he told me. "We are ready for action."

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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December 15 2010


December 10 2010


4 Minute Roundup: Minorities, Young People Lead in Twitter Use

news21 small.jpg

4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast, I look at the recent survey results from Pew Internet on Americans' use of Twitter. The research group found that 8% of American use Twitter, with 2% using it daily. That use is even more pronounced among Americans aged 18 to 29, and among blacks and Hispanics. I spoke to Pew Internet senior research specialist Aaron Smith about the survey results and how Twitter use compares to social networking use.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Pew's Aaron Smith:

smithpew final.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

aaron smith pew.JPG

After our phone interview, I asked Smith why he thought minority use of Twitter was so high compared to whites. Here's his response via email:

"There are a lot of factors possibly at play, but a big part of the story is that these groups are both younger as a whole than whites, and also more likely to access the web using a phone or other mobile device. Obviously Twitter was built with the mobile environment in mind, so to the extent that these groups are oriented around mobile access to information, they make a nice match with the service."

Here are some links to related sites and stories for the podcast:

8% of online Americans use Twitter report at Pew Internet

Who's Using Twitter? Some Surprising Answers at PC World

8% of Americans Use Twitter and More Stats You Need to See at Huffington Post

8 Percent of American Internet Users Go to Twitter, Report Says at NY Times Bits blog

Twitter use strongest among US minority groups - study at the BBC

There's a whole Internet outside of Twitter, so don't forget it at Zombie Journalism

5 Interesting Facts from Pew's Twitter Study at The Atlantic

Here are some of the responses to our recent poll question what people think about WikiLeaks:

wikileaks answers grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how you use Twitter:

How do you use Twitter?online survey

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

news21 small.jpg

4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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November 06 2010


Promuovere l’accesso alla Rete: Internet come strumento abilitante alla partecipazione

Non servono lunghi discorsi o complessi approfondimenti per illustrare l’ottavo articolo del Manifesto per l’Open Government: Promuovere l’accesso alla Rete.

La tecnologia, ed in particolare internet e gli strumenti di accesso alla Rete, sono elementi abilitanti ai processi di partecipazione. Per questo motivo è dovere dello Stato consentire a tutti i cittadini di accedervi e promuoverne la cultura d’uso.

Si potrebbero citare i numerosi studi che dimostrano come la diffusione della banda larga porti benefici economici e sociali sul territorio. Si potrebbe evidenziare come quattro cittadini su cinque, secondo un recente studio della BBC World Service, hanno dichiarato di ritenere l’accesso ad Internet un “diritto fondamentale”. Si potrebbe ricordare come l’Unione Europea si stia muovendo perché lo diventi davvero e – finalmente – per tutelarne lo spazio. Si potrebbe far notare che Paesi come la Finlandia (diffusione della banda larga: 96% della popolazione) lo hanno già fatto, dichiarandolo servizio universale ed operando affinché entro il 2012 tutti i cittadini abbiano un accesso a 2Mbps, per arrivare ai 100Mbps entro il 2015. Si potrebbe guardare a tutto quello che succede oltre l’orto di casa nostra insomma, per rendersi conto di come in tutto il mondo il tema dell’accesso sia considerato una priorità.

Eppure non è necessario. Per comprendere perché sia importante l’accesso alla Rete basta un semplice, semplicissimo ragionamento: Internet è uno strumento fondamentale di conoscenza. La conoscenza (dei fatti, dei diritti, dei doveri, delle informazioni) è un principio fondamentale di libertà. Internet, quindi, è uno strumento di libertà. E non serve Aristotele per definire tanto vero quanto valido questo sillogismo.

Ma internet non è solo strumento di libertà: nei processi democratici diventa anche e soprattutto strumento di partecipazione. Uno strumento come mai l’uomo ne ha avuti a disposizione. Uno strumento che consente ad ogni cittadino di partecipare davvero dei processi decisionali delle cose della cosa pubblica che lo vedono soggetto attivo e – con le reti – possono vederlo protagonista. Reale attore e non più mero delegante. Senza la Rete non può esserci quell’interazione attiva e positiva che rappresenta la base della partecipazione, connotante dei processi di Open Government.

Per questi motivi lo Stato deve farsi garante della possibilità – per tutti i cittadini – di accedere ad Internet. Per questo motivo è indispensabile promuovere lo sviluppo delle infrastrutture così che anche nelle zone più disagiate – che sono spesso proprio quelle nelle quali il ruolo di Internet potrebbe essere determinante – sia possibile accedervi con condizioni sufficientemente buone da sfruttarne i servizi.

In Italia sono oltre tredici milioni le persone che non possono avere accesso alla rete in banda larga. Una sacca di Digital Divide inaccettabile in un Paese come il nostro, che diviene tanto più allarmante quanto più ci si rende conto del fatto che le Istituzioni non solo non sono attive per risolvere il problema, ma spesso non ne comprendono nemmeno appieno le conseguenze e le ripercussioni sullo sviluppo e sul benessere dei cittadini.

E non basta. Il Digital Divide non è soltanto tecnologico, ma anche e soprattutto culturale. Ed è il Digital Divide culturale  a rappresentare il problema più grande per il futuro del nostro Paese. Per promuovere la cultura d’uso dei nuovi contesti mediali non basta insegnare ad usare il PC. È necessario insegnare i linguaggi della Rete, illustrarne le dinamiche, evidenziarne le specificità. Altrimenti si corre il rischio – tanto per fare un esempio – di confondere il fatto di essere su Facebook con il saper comprendere le logiche dei social network. È un tema, questo, di fondamentale importanza, in un contesto in cui i nostri governanti troppo spesso ritengono che il problema dell’alfabetizzazione alle tecnologie verrà risolto semplicemente con l’avvento dei nativi digitali. In realtà oggi è indispensabile acquisire le competenze ed i saperi necessari per leggere, interpretare, decifrare e codificare correttamente i messaggi nel nuovo contesto mediale. È necessaria una nuova alfabetizzazione ai media. Un’alfabetizzazione importante tanto quanto quella tradizionale. Indispensabile per non correre il rischio di ritrovarci con figli analfabeti in un mondo digitale.

September 15 2010


Public Media Corps Takes on Broadband Divide for Minorities

If there was a reality show about the Public Media Corps (PMC), the intro might sound something like this: "Here's the true story of how 15 fellows, five public media institutions, three high schools, three community organizations, a library and a museum collaborate to bridge the broadband divide."

Secretly, I wish there was a reality show about the project because I want to see how they're making it work. Many public media projects claim "community engagement" as a priority, but few make it the centerpiece of their work. For the Public Media Corps, that's never been an issue.

The PMC is a national service program that promotes and extends broadband adoption in underserved communities. It does so by placing technology, media production, and outreach fellows in residencies at underperforming high schools, public broadcast stations, and non-profit community organizations. The PMC evolved out of the New Media Institute, which was founded by National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) in 2006 to train media makers of color in new media technology.

Cool Spots

The NBPC launched the beta of Public Media Corps in Washington, D.C., this June. Since then, the group has worked steadily to collect information from the community to build projects based on the needs of people living in Anacostia (Ward 7 and 8) and in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Shaw (Ward 1) -- neighborhoods that are home to predominantly African American, Latino and immigrant communities.

"The fellows are working in teams and using survey tools to gather more quantitative information about the ways in which people use the Internet and social media and what issues and information sources are important to them," said Jacquie Jones, executive director of the National Black Programming Consortium.

Collecting such data can be challenging in a community where residents have limited Internet access. To encourage wider participation, the fellows created "Cool Spots."


"Cool Spots are mobile Internet assessment hubs," said Jones. "The fellows set them up at block parties, festivals, and outdoor markets and events where the public uses netbooks onsite to complete the online surveys and learn more about the PMC. The Cool Spots are also 'hot spots' with free Wi-Fi to promote broadband use."

Starting this month, the PMC will begin using the data collected at Cool Spots to select three to four projects for the fellows and community partners to collaborate on and ultimately implement in communities for the final months of the D.C. beta.

Collaborating with a Cast of Dozens

Building trust and establishing communication channels are often the first challenges of any large-scale collaboration. With so many people, organizations and communities involved, I was curious to hear just how the PMC staff, fellows and partners were tackling it.

"PMC staff is in frequent communication with partners, stakeholders and the fellows through electronic means and meetings to discuss progress, performance, resources that can be shared and potential projects for the fall," said Kay Shaw, director of Public Media Corps. "The fellows prepare detailed weekly reports and meet as a cohort every Wednesday to discuss their activities, share insights and challenges, site needs, and how to build more collaboration between partners. The staff and the Fellows look forward to these meetings because of their vibrancy and the information and ideas that are shared."

The PMC experimented with several platforms for sharing information electronically. The two that stuck were Google Docs and Dropbox, a web-based file-hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files. The fellows use Google Docs to collaborate on writing projects. They post their weekly reports and media to Dropbox.

Ashley Mosley, a PMC fellow, video producer and community organizer, offered some perspective on the challenges and rewards of collaborating at this level.

"Collaborating with so many community groups has offered a broader perspective, because the personalities of the wards are so different," said Mosley. "The most challenging aspect of this project is building trust within my organization. However, the challenge has been rewarding. Community members have invited me into their personal circles, hangouts, and meetings and they now feel more comfortable discussing the disconnect that they feel with both public media and digital technology."

Measuring Success

Another hurdle collaborations face is measuring success. When working with multiple stakeholders and communities, priorities have a tendency to become malleable and impact ambiguous. To keep the focus on results, the PMC has placed a high priority on collecting data throughout the six-month beta.

"While there is no dearth of projects or project ideas, how many projects can we definitively say have been successful on a large scale in diverse communities?" said Shaw. "That's why we consciously decided to do the research and collect data first and let that inform the projects we would develop to ensure the best chance of gaining traction and making a significant impact in our focus communities."


The PMC is measuring levels of community engagement, use of public media resources, technological capacity of partner organizations and broadband adoption and patterns of use within the communities.

In addition to collecting community data, the PMC will seek feedback on the performance of its fellows from a team of technologists and public media stakeholders, who will conduct site visits and one-on-one meetings with the fellows.

"They will offer suggestions or adjustments to the project to improve impact and relevancy," said Jones. "American University's Center for Social Media is taking the lead in assessing the evaluation team's observations and recommendations, analyzing the data from the surveys, evaluating and assessing the impact of the projects, culling and documenting best practices, and producing a written report that will be distributed to the public in 2011."

Lessons Learned

In advance of the official 2011 report, I asked Jones and Shaw what they have learned so far from collaborating with the various community groups, fellows and the public on a project of this scale.

"On the one hand it is exciting and rewarding to work with organizations committed to and excited about the project and ready to learn how to expand their capacity to use and leverage public media assets," said Shaw. "On the other hand, because of the interest and need there are lots of demands on the project and we are constantly adjusting to accommodate new information to ensure relevancy and impact."

"One of the greatest challenges to innovation is the need to be constantly adaptive," said Shaw. "That's why we designed a process with maximum flexibility."

Jones' advice to organizations that want to increase collaboration and community engagement is succinct: "Be prepared to abandon your assumptions and what you think are your best ideas."

As for the fellows, they offered some advice of their own for future PMC participants.

"I would advise future fellows to make sure to engage not only their community organization, but also the surrounding communities," said Mosley. "It's important to establish trust. Oh... and of course, to have fun!"

Olivia Rubagumya, a PMC fellow working with PBS Interactive suggested that it's important to "be a good listener and observer. People's realities are often more complex than we can assume them to be, so remain open and attentive no matter the challenges -- the experience is a two-way street."

A public relations and social media consultant, Katie Kemple works with public media clients to build community, develop strategic partnerships, and create integrated public relations campaigns. Over the past ten years, she has held positions at WGBH, WETA, Capital News Connection, and Public Media's EconomyStory. You can find her every Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Twitter, as a co-host and organizer for #pubmedia chat.

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February 25 2010


How Mobile Voices Enables Day Laborers to Tell Their Stories

LaJornada.pngThis is the second of two articles about Mobile Voices, a project based in Southern California. The first post can be found here.

Voces Móviles / Mobile Voices, a Los Angeles-based citizen media project, a collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California (ASC) and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA). Mobile Voices describes itself as "a platform for immigrant workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones. [The project] helps people with limited computer access gain greater participation in the digital public sphere."

I previously wrote about how Mobile Voices developed the software for its citizen-media platform. Recently, I spoke to Amanda Garces of the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA), and Madelou, a blogger with Mobile Voices, to find out more about how laborers are actually using the platform. (Madelou asked that we not use her full name.) I wanted to find out what is working for the project, and some of the challenges it faces in bringing marginalized voices to the public.

Telling Stories

Mobile Voices is motivated by the desire to enable day laborers to tell their stories from their own perspective. It was born to provide day laborers and migrant workers a chance to write their own histories, as Garces put it, at the same time many other people and groups are trying to write it for them. They work to counteract the negative images of day laborers and immigrants created by anti-immigrant propaganda. Anti-immigrant voices have long used blogs and websites to further their agenda. Sites such as DayLaborers.org features pictures of day laborers showing the camera the middle finger, and also lists day laborers with criminal histories as being "Most Wanted." The day laborers, on the other hand, hardly have a presence on the Internet. There is a stark digital divide. Mobile Voices aims to close this divide. After surveys revealed most day laborers used cell phones, Mobile Voices began brainstorming a platform to use mobile phones to tell the stories of day laborers. Five active day laborers in the IDEPSCA community were selected as pilot users, and Mobile Voices began building the platform. As of now, three more bloggers have signed up via word of mouth.

The Audience

Garces said their audience is multi-layered. One group is the public and media, who do not have a good perspective on the lives of day laborers. "They need to see these stories," Garces said, "and Mobile Voices is a platform that will generate these stories."

Another audience is the day laborer and immigrant community itself. Finally, some of the bloggers lso want to educate city officials and employers about the life of a day laborer.

However, much of the work that is aimed towards addressing broader audiences is still in the brainstorming phase. It is very unclear what the immediate audience is like becasue the project doesn't track a lot of its traffic. Sasha Constanza-Chock, who works on the platform, said the site needs to be redesigned in order to be more welcoming to visitors. They plan to add social media tools that will enable easy dissemination of content, and are working on getting more day laborers to start blogging.

What Has Worked?

When I asked Garces what has worked well with Mobile Voices, she immediately mentioned the dedication of the bloggers. She said their commitment to the project, and the dedication and hard work they've committed to create content has been impressive. As if to prove the point, Madelou told me there were many days when she spent more than eight hours covering events, which included the time required to create, edit, and submit content to Mobile Voices. Recently, for example, she visited Phoenix to cover a march against the notorious, local anti-immigrant sheriff there, Joe Arapaio. She generated eight posts, reporting with text, audio, video, and photos. Other bloggers seem similarly committed. Adolfo has written more than two blog posts a day on average since at least August 2009.

Talking to Madelou, it was clear the project has had a positive impact on the bloggers. Besides covering events, Madelou reports about others in the day laborer and immigrant community. To her, the most important thing is the need to write people's stories as they tell it. She complains that American mass media doesn't do a good job of presenting laborers' stories from their perspective. She wants others to listen to the voices of those whose stories she is telling. To her, Mobile Voices provides a platform through which she can broadcast the voices of the silenced; it's a way to break th dominance of mass media.

For Madelou, Mobile Voices filled a major gap. She was so hungry to broadcast and project voices of the immigrant community that she spent time blogging without even knowing who read or saw what she wrote. When I asked her who reads what she writes, she said she didn't know, but that she hoped whoever came across it would find a new perspective. Other bloggers were similar.  They were all glad to find a platform to express themselves; not one of them talked about the audience.

Even though Constanza-Chock said Mobile Voices hasn't started measuring site traffic, the response to the project has been positive. Many of the laborers were also involved in producing an IDEPSCA newspaper before they started blogging for Mobile Voices. In their latest installment, they adapted some of their blog posts for print (The PDF is here).


So far, many of the challenges have been technical. This is partly because Mobile Voices is still in its pilot phases. More challenges may come as Mobile Voices expands the number of day laborers blogging on the site, or when the audience begins to grow. To expand the base of day laborers using Mobile Voices, IDEPSCA is designing training material. It will cover three broad sections: A section on how to use phones better and how to make sense of phone plans; a section on using cell phones to document abuses such as unpaid wages; and a section on using the Mobile Voices platform for blogging.

A challenge that Garces foresees in giving out this training is the revolving-door nature of the resource centers. Laborers are bound by work schedules and therefore make irregular visits to the center, which may make it hard for IDEPSCA to run sustained training programmes. Training is already a challenge. Garces noted that it's an ongoing process to show bloggers how to use Mobile Voices. Some are sophisticated enough to edit audio before posting, while others are still just taking one picture and uploading it. (The longest-serving bloggers have been on the system for almost a year and a half). The time Madelou spends on some of her blogging shows that rich media uploads can require a large time commitment.

Another thing Garces worries about are new phones and plans that won't work well with the system, especially when it comes to posting MMS messages. In this pilot phase, all but two of the bloggers are using the same phone, which were donated by Nokia for the project. (When using these phones, their MMS messages are paid for by the project.) They already had problems configuring phones, so Garces worries new ones will only cause more problems.

Finally, there is the challenge of increasing the audience of Mobile Voices. Garces told me that they are still brainstorming answers to questions David Sasaki asked in his blog post:

If one of the objectives of the blogging component of the project is to challenge the negative stereotypes against migrant workers then how do they plan on reaching readers [who are now informed by anti-immigrant sites]?


For now, Mobile Voices has created a project where a few dedicated bloggers from the day laborer community have produced an incredible amount of content about their lives. Since November 2008, there have been more than 3,000 posts on the platform. Many questions and hurdles remain before the project can reach its general goal of bringing day laborers' voices to the American public. Still, Mobile Voices has enabled parts of the day laborer and immigrant communities to write their own histories.

This series is cross-posted on MobileActive.org

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January 15 2010


Free Kiswahili synthetic voice for Freedom Fone a possibility

Freedom Fone's ability to fulfill it's promise as a must have tool for bridging the digital divide has yet to be determined. Millions of poor people have access to mobile phones, but with tariffs as high as they are in countries like Zimbabwe, experimentation in this field is still costly. And of course, for our project these are early days. The development team is still in the process of creating the variety of features that will distinguish Freedom Fone from the technically intimidating (to ordinary folk) IVR products like FreePBX, Trixbox and PBX in a Flash.

One of the recalibrations for me has been a growing appreciation of the relevance of text-to-speech synthetic voices for our platform. This isn't news to our Project Architect, Alberto Escudero Pascual. He's been convinced of its relevance from the start. In fact, in order to build an interactive online demo for Freedom Fone he integrated a commercial synthetic voice from Cepstral called Allison as a quick option for building and testing a voice menu.

As you can imagine, English speaking Allison, as good as she sounds given she's synthetic, is not an ideal voice for enunciating other languages.

As a project located in Africa we are keen to develop/acquire free synthetic voices for some of the continent's many languages and include them with the Freedom Fone software. As an open source project I hope that we can attract the contribution of free synthetic voices for many of the world's languages over time.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Etienne Barnard at Meraka Institute in Pretoria, South Africa. To my delight he indicated that work already done in Kenya on text-to-speech for Kiswahili by a team led by Dr Mucemi Gakuru at the University of Nairobi some years ago, might be updated and made available in time for our July release of Freedom Fone version 2.

In recognition of the competitive mobile phone tariffs prevailing in east Africa and the willingness of organisations there to experiment with information on demand voice services, we will create our first localisation of the Freedom Fone GUI for Kiswahili in February 2010. The possibility of including a free synthetic voice for this audience is exciting.

So why this interest in synthetic voice? Doesn't this just mean a horrible robotic sounding Kiswahili voice? Obviously original audio files with perfect inflection are the first choice, but not all information requires the effort associated with recording audio files. Freedom Fone helps with the automatic conversion of audio files for voice menus, and it will be improved over time to make it as easy as possible to create audio files using a basic microphone attached to a computer. Still, it would be a lot quicker to automatically convey information received/produced in text format, like product prices, weather reports, breaking news using text-to-speech.

And ... not all synthetic voice sounds dreadful. Build and test your own voice menu in English using Allison and our online demo. Make it the default audio menu and call in to listen for free using Skype. To do this you will need to add Skypiax4 as a Skype contact. Let us know what you think of the experience!

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December 08 2009


What’s your problem with the internet? A crib sheet for news exec speeches

When media executives (and the occasional columnist on a deadline) talk about ‘the problem with the web’ they often revert to a series of recurring themes. In doing so they draw on a range of discourses that betray assumptions, institutional positions and ideological leanings. I thought I’d put together a list of some common memes of hatred directed towards the internet at various points by publishers and journalists, along with some critical context.

If you can think of any other common complaints, or responses to the ones below, post them in the comments and I’ll add them in.

Undemocratic and unrepresentative (The ‘Twitterati’)

The presumption here is that the media as a whole is more representative and democratic than users of the web. You know, geeks. The ‘Twitterati’ (a fantastic ideologically-loaded neologism that conjures up images of unelected elites). A variant of this is the position that sees any online-based protest as ‘organised’ and therefore illegitimate.

Of course the media is hardly representative or democratic on any level. In every general election in the UK during the twentieth century, for example, editorial opinion was to the right of electoral opinion (apart from 1997). In 1983, 1987 and 1992 press support exceeded by at least half the Conservative Party’s share of the vote. Similar stats can be found in US election coverage. The reasons are obvious: media owners are not representative or democratic: by definition they are part of a particular social class: wealthy proprietors or shareholders (although there are other factors such as advertiser influence and organisational efficiencies).

Journalists themselves are not representative either in terms of social classgender, or ethnicity – and have become less representative in recent decades.

But neither is the web a level playing field. Sadly, it has inherited most of the same barriers to entry that permeate the media: lack of literacy, lack of access and lack of time prevent a significant proportion of the population from having any voice at all online.

So any treatment of internet-based opinion should be done with caution. But just as not everyone has a voice online, even fewer people have a voice in print and broadcast. To accuse the web of being unrepresentative can be a smokescreen for the lack of representation in the mainstream media. When a journalist uses the unrepresentative nature of the web as a stick, ask how their news selection process presents a solution to that: is there a PR agency for the poor? Do they seek out a response from the elderly on every story?

And there is a key difference: while journalism becomes less representative, web access becomes more so, with governments in a number of countries moving towards providing universal broadband and access to computers through schools and libraries.

‘The death of common culture’

The internet, this argument runs, is preventing us from having a common culture we can all relate to. Because we are no longer restricted to a few terrestrial channels and a few newspapers – which all share similar editorial values – we are fragmented into a million niches and unable to relate to each other.

This is essentially an argument about culture and the public sphere. The literature here is copious, but one of the key planks is ‘Who defines the public sphere? Who decides what is shared culture?’ Commercial considerations and the needs of elite groups play a key role in both. And of course, what happens if you don’t buy into that shared culture? Alternative media has long attempted to reflect and create culture outside of that mainstream consensus.

You might also argue that new forms of common culture are being created – amateur YouTube videos that get millions of hits; BoingBoing posts; Lolcats; Twitter discussions around jokey hashtag memes – or that old forms of common culture are being given new life: how many people are watching The Apprentice or X Factor because of simultaneous chatter on Twitter?

The ‘echo chamber’/death of serendipity (homophily)

When we read the newspapers or watched TV news, this argument runs, we encountered information we wouldn’t otherwise know about. But when we go online, we are restricted to what we seek out – and we seek out views to reinforce our own (homophily or cyberbalkanisation).

Countering this, it is worth pointing out that in print people tended to buy a newspaper that also supported their own views, whereas online people switch from publication to publication with differing political orientations. It’s also worth pointing out that over 80% of people have come across a news article online while searching for something else entirely. Many websites have ‘related/popular articles/posts/videos’ features that introduce some serendipity. And finally, there is the role of social media in introducing stories we otherwise wouldn’t encounter (a good example here is the Iran elections – how many people would have skimmed over that in a publication or broadcast, but clicked through because someone was tweeting #cnnfail)

That’s not to say homophily doesn’t exist – there is evidence to suggest that people do seek out reinforcements for their own views online – but that doesn’t mean the same trend didn’t exist in print and broadcast, and it doesn’t make that true of everyone. I’d argue that the serendipity of print/broadcast depends on an editor’s news agenda and the serendipity of online depends on algorithms and social networks.

‘Google are parasites’

This argues that Google’s profits are based on other people’s content. I’ve tackled the Google argument previously: in short, Google is more like a map than a publication, and its profits are based on selling advertising very effectively against searches, rather than against content (which is the publisher’s model). It’s also worth pointing out that news content only forms around 0.01% of indexed content, and that news-related searches don’t tend to attract much advertising anyway. (If it was, Google would try to monetise Google News).

It’s often worth looking at the discourses underlying much of the Google-parasite meme. Often these revolve around it being ‘not fair’ that Google makes so much money; around ‘the value of our content’ as if that is set by publishers rather than what the market is willing to pay; and around ‘taking our content’ despite the fact that publishers invite Google to do just that through a) deciding not to use the Robots Exclusion Protocol (ACAP appears to be an attempt to dictate terms, although it’s not technically capable of doing so yet) and b) employing SEO practices.

Another useful experiment with these complaints is to look at what result publishers are really aiming for. Painting Google as a parasite can, variously, be used as an argument to relax ownership rules; to change copyright law to exclude fair comment; or to gain public subsidy (for instance, via a tax on Google or other online operators). In a nutshell, this argument is used to try to re-acquire the monopoly over distribution that publishers had in the physical world, and the consequent ability to set the price of advertising.

‘Bloggers are parasites’

A different argument to the one above, this one seeks to play down the role of bloggers by saying they are reliant on content from mainstream media.

Of course, you could equally point out that mainstream media is reliant on content from PR agencies, government departments, and, most of all, each other. The reliance of local broadcasters on local newspaper content is notorious; the lifting of quotes from other publications equally common. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – journalists often lift quotes for the same reasons as bloggers – to contextualise and analyse. The difference is that bloggers tend to link to the source.

Another point to make here is some blogs’ role as ‘Estate 4.5‘, monitoring the media in the same way that the media is supposed to monitor the powerful. “We can fact-check your ass!

‘You don’t know who you’re dealing with’

On the internet no one knows you're a dog

Identity is a complex thing. While it’s easy to be anonymous online, the assertions that people make online are generally judged by their identities, just as in the real world.

However, an identity is more than just a name – online, more than anything, it is about reputation. And while names can be faked, reputations are built over time. Forum communities, for example, are notorious for having a particularly high threshold when it comes to buying into contributions from anyone who has not been an active part of that community for some time. (It’s also worth noting that there’s a rich history of anonymous/pseudonymous writing in newspapers).

Users of the web rely on a range of cues and signals to verify identity and reputation, just as they do in the physical world. There’s a literacy to this, of course, which not everyone has at the same levels. But you might argue that it is in some ways easier to establish the background of a writer online than it was for their print or broadcast counterparts. On the radio, nobody knows you’re a dog.

Rumour and hearsay ‘magically become gospel’

They say “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” And it’s fair to say that there is more rumour and hearsay online for the simple reason that there is more content and communication online (and so there’s also more factual and accurate information online too). But of course myths aren’t restricted to one medium – think of the various ‘Winterval’ stories propagated by a range of newspapers that have gained such common currency. Or how about these classics:

Express cover: Migrants take all new jobs

The interactive nature of the web does make it easier for others to debunk hearsay through comments, responses on forums, linkbacks, hashtagged tweets and so on. But interactivity is a quality of use, not of the thing itself, so it depends on the critical and interactive nature of those browsing and publishing the content. Publishers who don’t read their comments, take note.

‘Unregulated’ lack of accountability

Accountability is a curious one. Often those making this assertion are used to particular, formal, forms of accountability: the Press Complaints Commission; Ofcom; the market; your boss. Online the forms of accountability are less formal, but can be quite savage. A ream of critical comments makes you accountable very quickly. Look at what happened to Robert Scoble when he posted something inaccurate; or to Jan Moir when she wrote something people felt was in bad taste. That accountability didn’t exist in the formal structures of mainstream media.

Related to this is the idea that the internet is ‘unregulated’. Of course it is regulated – you have (ironically, relatively unaccountable) organisations like the Internet Watch Foundation, and the law applies just as much online and in the physical world. Indeed, there is a particular problem with one country’s laws being used to pursue people abroad – see, for example, how Russian businessmen have sued American publishers in London for articles which were accessed a few times online. On the other hand, people can escape the attentions of lawyers by mirroring content in other jurisdictions, by simply being too small a target to be worth a lawyer’s time, or by being so many that it is impractical to pursue. These characteristics of the web can be used in the defence of freedoms (see Trafigura) as much as for attacks (hate literature).


Trivial is defined as “of very little importance or value”. This is of course a subjective value judgement depending on what you feel is important or valuable. The objection to the perceived triviality of online content – particularly those of social networks and blogs – is another way to deprecate an upstart rival based on a normative ideal of the importance of journalism. And while there is plenty of ‘important’ information in the media, there is also plenty of ‘trivial’ material too, from the 3am girls to gift ideas and travel supplements.

The web has a similar mix. To focus on the trivial is to intentionally overlook the incredibly important. And it is also to ignore the importance of so much apparently ‘trivial’ information – what my friends are doing right now may be trivial to a journalist, but it’s useful ‘news’ or content to me. And in a conversational medium, the exchange of that information is important social glue.

To take journalists’ own news values: people within your social circle are ‘powerful’ within that circle, and therefore newsworthy, to those people, regardless of their power in the wider world.

‘Cult of the amateur’ undermining professionals

This argument has, for me, strange echoes of the arguments against universal suffrage at various points in history. Replace ‘bloggers’ with ‘women’ or ‘the masses’ and ‘professionals’ with ‘men’ or ‘the aristocracy’ in these arguments and you have some idea of the ideology underlying them. It’s the notion that only a select portion of the population are entitled to a voice in the exercise of power.

The discourse of ‘amateur’ is particularly curious. The implication is that amateur means poor quality, whereas it simply means not paid. The Olympics is built on amateurism, but you’d hardly question the quality of Olympic achievement throughout time. In the 19th century much scientific discovery was done by amateur scientists.

Professional, on the other hand, is equated with ‘good’. But professionalism has its own weaknesses: the pressures of deadlines, pressures of standardisation and efficiency, commercialism and market pressures, organisational culture.

That’s not to say that professionalism is bad, either, but that both amateurism and professionalism have different characteristics which can be positive or negative in different situations.

There’s an economic variant to this argument which suggests that people volunteering their efforts for nothing undermines the economic value of those who do the same as part of a paid job. This is superficially true, but some of the reasons for paying people to do work are because you can expect it to be finished within a particular timeframe to a particular quality – you cannot guarantee those with amateur labour (also, amateurs choose what they want to work on), so the threat is not so large as it is painted. The second point is that jobs may have to adapt to this supply of volunteer information. So instead of or as well as creating content the role is to verify it, contextualise it, link it, analyse it, filter it, or manage it. After all, we don’t complain about the ‘cult of the volunteer’ undermining charity work, do we?

Thanks to Nick Booth, Jon Bounds, Will Perrin, Alison Gow, Michele Mclellan, King Kaufman, Julie Posetti, Mark Pack, James Ball, Shane Richmond, Clare White, Sarah Hartley, Mary Hamilton, Matt Machell and Mark Coughlan for contributing ideas via Twitter under the #webhate tag.

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