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May 03 2011


Reality TV: OpenCourt has begun its livestream of the judicial system

OpenCourt is about as real as reality TV can get when it doesn’t involve Kardashians, real housewives, or people trapped on an island. That’s because OpenCourt, which launched yesterday, offers a view inside the legal system — specifically, the Quincy District Court here in Massachusetts, where traffic infractions, drug cases, and arraignments of all kinds now unfold not only in the courtroom, but also via streaming video.

The streaming is the next step in what was formerly known as Order in the Court 2.0, the winner of a 2010 Knight News Challenge grant and a project with an explicit goal of making the courts as transparent as the other branches of government. It’s something that seems simple as a premise: Put a webcam in a courtroom, and, boom, livestreamed court proceedings. But of course it’s tricker than that; otherwise, the Knight Foundation may not have awarded $250,000 to the WBUR-led project.

“The truth of the matter is when we put this out there the concept is so simple,” John Davidow, OpenCourt’s executive producer, told me. “We’re just going to stream live what takes place in public.”

A test run for transparency

The tasks OpenCourt is addressing are technical as much as they are legal, and sometimes conventional. The project operates within the boundaries of camera-use in the courts (video recording is permitted here in Massachusetts but can be limited by judges — though the current law may be broadened). But it still must confront concerns from the legal community, and ultimately try to balance the idea of transparency with the right to a fair trial.

But since there is no universal standard for new media access when it comes to the legal system in the US, OpenCourt is also a test case. Walking into any random courtroom, there’s no way of knowing whether tweeting is allowed, whether recording is an option, or even whether the use of a laptop is acceptable. That’s why Davidow says OpenCourt is an experiment, and one that will need to be watched closely if it’s to be duplicated elsewhere.

“It’s a pilot,” Davidow told me. “It’s now a reality and off the white board. More and more issues will come forward.”

And already something has come forward. On its first day of operation, the Norfolk County District Attorney’s office filed a a motion to close access to OpenCourt’s archives. An attorney from the DA’s office said the archives would present a lasting, un-editable record if inappropriate or inaccurate information — the names of crime victims, say, or of confidential informants — were to come out in a hearing. Judge Mark Coven denied the motion, saying “respectfully, I can’t address hypotheticals.”

Defining an open system

The true hurdles for OpenCourt, as Davidow described them, come in defining the parameters of how, what, and when the video feed would be active. He and his staffJoe Spurr, OpenCourt’s director, and Val Wang, its producer — decided the video stream would be live only when a judge is presiding over a case and when an OpenCourt producer is present. (In other words, this won’t be the equivalent of a traffic cam staring at the bench.) Davidow said they decided that the judge (who has a laptop monitoring the feed) will have discretion over whether the video is online or not. And that will largely depend on the case, Davidow said. (Though, after consulting with their advisory group of lawyers, judges, academics, and others, the team decided not to broadcast restraining order hearings as a rule.) The team had to be mindful, Davidow noted, of how being transparent could cause additional harm to people or prevent them from appearing in court at all.

But rather than setting out more guidelines for limiting the use of live video, the OpenCourt team has tried to find ways to make the camera and what it represents less of an issue. Beginning late last year, they held a series of meetings with the community in and around the court to familiarize others with the project, the gear, and the people who would be filming hearings every day. The camera, and the producer who operates it, have their own pocket in the courtroom and have become something of a fixture. (On the stream, you might notice, not many folks look towards the camera.)

“When you put a TV camera some place, people eventually forget about it,” Davidow said. “There’s a comfort level with it; you get used to it. That has helped the project immensely.”

Watching OpenCourt is C-SPAN-esque — or maybe Court TV-esque (or is that now truTV-esque?) — minus the call-in shows and podium-thumping speeches from politicians. Defendants shuffle in and out, charges are explained, and things follow course from there. It’s an unfiltered eye into the legal process, like staring down at an engine as it’s working.

It’s also more than a little ironic: Courts are open, but are they open open? “Courts have enjoyed what they referred to as ‘virtual obscurity,’” Davidow said. “Yes, justice is done in public, but to see it you need to go to court.”

A judicial education

Watching the video feed also makes you appreciate the simplicity of the kit OpenCourt has put together to create such a seamless product. As the team explains on their “Open Your Court” page, a DIY run-through for filming your local legal system, they use a couple of MacBook Pros, a Canon HD camcorder, and Livestream to get things up and running. One of the project’s goals, said Spurr, is to offer other courts full guidance on using cameras in court — and that guidance includes technology details and other best practices. “It’s about iterability,” Spurr said, “and being able to create an ideal environment that is forward thinking: What could a courtroom look like?”

What OpenCourt is encouraging is more interaction with, if not more information about, the court system. Aside from the livestream, the project is also providing free WiFi at the courthouse for anyone who wants to come in to cover a case. In that, Davidow said, the project could be a boon to local bloggers and citizen journalists, giving them an additional resource for covering the community. It’s also clear that OpenCourt could be useful to understaffed newsrooms as a way of keeping track of cases as they move through the system. “I’d argue that nothing compares to actually being there and seeing with your own eyes,” he said. “At the same time, maybe some news organizations would find efficiency in that setup.” (The Quincy Patriot-Ledger has already embedded the OpenCourt stream in a story.)

While the goal is to throw open the doors of the court, it is also to educate the public about the court’s workings. Though one of the benefits of operating in a district court is that it’s the most accessible step in the judiciary (traffic/moving violations, fines, the types of misdemeanors you don’t want others to know about — all go through district court), there’s still an element of the unknown about how courts work. This is why, in addition to the stream on opencourt.us, you’ll also find a schedule of the day’s cases, a glossary of legal terms, and a rundown of the people who make the court work.

“One of the reasons the courts really embraced this idea is because people don’t understand some basic concepts,” Davidow said. “The courts felt this was a way for people to start learning about how justice is done in this country.”

April 25 2011


R.I.P. Flip Cam: The Smartphone Did It (Not Cisco)

Over the last three years, I've attended all three TEDx conferences on the idyllic campus of my old alma mater, the University of Southern California. And it's been my experience that TEDxUSC is where you go to be inspired, not have your dreams relegated to the heap bin of "what if..."

But for a brief, fleeting moment last Tuesday, I was certain that all the hard work done by myself and fellow Stroome co-founder, Nonny de la Pena, was about to go the way of...well, the Flip.

ripflip.jpgThere I was sitting in the audience along with my fellow 1,200 TEDxers patiently waiting for Krisztina Holly (affectionately known around the USC campus as 'Z') to announce the rules for a TEDxUSC-themed video scavenger hunt that would re-launch our newly designed site when all of a sudden a hundred cell phones (all muted of course -- TEDxers are "disruptors," but they're not disrespectful) suddenly came to life. The news was spreading like wildfire across the web: Cisco had discontinued the Flip!!!

Now, the fact that the popular, pocket-size camera had been shuttered probably wouldn't have prompted such a profound sense of panic except for the fact that I knew precisely what 'Z' was going to say next: "And now it's time to make something together. So pull out your smartphones, your digital cameras, your Flips..."

And there it was. I'm told 'Z' kept talking. I didn't hear another word she said.

Causing Trouble for Stroome

As the co-founder of Stroome, an online video editing platform built on collaborative content creation, creativity may be the fuel that fires the engine; but without a device that can get that content into a centralized place where people actually can do something with it, you're in trouble. For the last few years, the Flip had been that device. We were in trouble.

When the Flip was introduced in 2007, it had been hailed as "the easiest way to make and share videos." What once had required thousands of dollars to procure, and an instruction manual the size of a phone book to operate, had been reduced to a single, red "record" button on a small black box the size of a pack of cigarettes that fit perfectly in your front pocket.


And while the Flip wasn't the only game in town when Cisco acquired it in 2009, by all accounts it was a game changer. Overnight, it seemed the way we documented our lives changed forever. Birthday parties, dance recitals, high school graduations -- all could be captured on a moment's notice.

But the Flip didn't just give us an easy and accessible way to preserve the defining moments in our lives; it let us do it in dazzling HD! And the best part? All this could be ours for the low, low price of $129!

And now it was over. Like some didactic Middle Eastern dictator able to cut the people off at the knees at his capricious whim, Cisco had pulled the plug on the whole damn thing.

But as I sat there in the darkness, the last 18 months of my life playing themselves out in front of me, an incredible thing happened -- a hundred incredible things, actually.

Killed by the Smartphone

As I looked around Bovard Hall -- a hundred iPhones, Androids and Evos twinkling on and off like stars against a dark night -- I suddenly realized it wasn't Cisco that had killed the Flip. The smartphone had.

iPhone4.jpgNot 15 minutes earlier I, along with my fellow TEDxers, had watched slack-jawed as former USC film grad student, Michael Koerbel, showed us a film he had shot, edited and distributed entirely on the iPhone 4. And it was in that instant that I again began to feel inspired.

But my inspiration didn't come from the fact that a 4.5" × 2.31" piece of perfectly buffed black chrome and circuitry had effectively replaced an entire film crew. My inspiration came from the fact that in the end, shooting, editing and uploading a film on a phone -- as incredible a feat as it is -- isn't enough. You still need a place to watch your 4-minute masterpiece. And if you want to watch it with others, then work together to collaboratively create the next iteration of your idea, you need a place to do that. Right now, the only place on the web you can do that is Stroome.

March 15 2011


How Social Media, Internet Changed Experience of Japan Disaster

The reports and pictures of the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week reminded me of reporting on the earthquake that leveled Japan's port city of Kobe in 1995.

On a personal level, I am praying for the people in a country I have come to see as a second home.

As a media observer, what struck me this time was how rich and multifaceted the information flow was. In 1995, I worked in the AP bureau in Tokyo, trying to understand what I could from Japanese broadcast news reports. We were sometimes able to reach someone, official or not, in the Kobe region via phone for a quick interview as the death toll rose, eventually reaching more than 6,400.

We, of course, covered the major news conferences held by agencies and government offices. For information from the region, I relied largely on the reporters and photographers  (including me three weeks and then six months after the quake) who were dispatched to the scene. Listening to and watching the broadcast channels and the other wire services was an overwhelming and chaotic but -- by today's standards -- thin experience.

Multi-platform Experience Today

The past few days, sitting at home and in my office in New York, it felt like I had more information and contacts at my fingertips than I did then as a reporter in Japan. The morning I learned of the quake, I had a TV connected to digital cable, an iPad, a Blackberry and a web-connected computer in my living room.

I flipped among ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, CNN, and BBC on TV. An iPad app gave me video of quake alerts in English and other languages from Japanese national broadcaster NHK. I dipped into the Twitter and Facebook streams.

A photo slideshow on the front page of the New York Times only a few hours after the quake gave a sense of not just the depth of destruction but also the geographic breadth. The towns being mentioned in captions spanned multiple prefectures (similar to states).

I was able to watch Japanese TV network TBS live via a Ustream link I was referred to in a "Japan Quake" page assembled by my New York-based friend and media colleague Sree Sreenivasan.

sree japan page.jpg

Huge Amounts of Video

The sheer amount of video -- from a country that may have more cameras and camera-equipped cell phones than any other per capita -- was so much greater than ever in the TV-only era. Even on TV, I saw constantly updated videos among the various channels, rather than the same loop of packaged videos used in an earlier era.

TV anchors such as Christiane Amanpour, Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper all are doing shows live from Japan. If it seemed crass that some American networks quickly moved to a branded logo and dramatic music for their quake coverage, it was also intriguing how they now used reports from people talking via webcams.

One Westerner who spoke English with an American accent sat in his Japanese apartment and showed the cup of noodles and the Dole pineapple juice he had had for dinner 11 hours earlier and said he didn't know what else he'd be able to eat.

The technology also allowed everyone to see video I would have been able to see only as a news editor back then.

On Facebook, my stepmother from California, shared a six-minute video from Asahi TV that I'd seen clips of on TV. It showed water rushing through the streets of one town. With the natural sound, it had that much more impact than with newspeople talking over it. The surprisingly calm expressions on the faces of bystanders watching from high ground puzzled both my stepmother and me, and was something I didn't see in the multiple TV clips I had seen pulled from this video.

Soon after the quake, I got a hold of one Tokyo resident, one of my best friends, via a Skype connection to his cell phone in Osaka, where he was traveling on business. He said people there had felt the quake but that life was basically unchanged in Japan's second-largest city.

Updates on Facebook, Twitter


I confirmed that another close friend, an American who is a highly skilled translator in Tokyo, was fine by reading her Facebook wall. There, she also posted constant updates that told all her "friends" the latest reports she was seeing and hearing, as well as her feelings and what she could see with her own eyes. I could see that yet another friend was OK by reading her bylines in AP reports.

A decent amount of the Twitter stream, especially in Japanese, was not very useful in an informational sense; there were exclamations of relief or horror, or strange exclamations that seemed almost senseless. But there were also referrals to data, reports, information I could tap into quickly.

I learned, and was able to confirm, that this was either the 5th or 6th largest quake in recorded history, that a nuclear plant was having trouble with its coolant, that 200-300 people had died in one area, that a bunch of new cars were washed from a port.

nytimes image.jpg

Satellite imagery combined with Google Earth technology let many news organizations show overhead images of how towns looked before the tsunami, then after they been flooded.

Shared Details Could be Gut-Wrenching

Sometimes the little details were the most heart-wrenching, such as when a broadcaster droned the numbers of dead town by town, or when my friend on Facebook told us of the man who was riding his bicycle around with a note pinned on it about his missing wife. Here's that report from NHK via CNN:

The combination of reports provided details that gave a sense of daily life in the affected regions that in the pre-web era I never would have had living overseas, no matter how good a correspondent's reports.

By watching the live stream of TBS on Monday, for example, I learned that gas was being rationed at one station where motorists had to wait 30 minutes to get in line; heard a woman in a store complain she'd been looking for batteries but couldn't find them anywhere; and heard another express relief that one store's shelves had some instant ramen noodles. I learned details of how planned blackouts instituted to conserve electricity would take affect as a stream of related tweets moved by on the side.

Some things were much the same as in 1995: the weak pronouncements of government officials who seemed reluctant to say anything meaningful; the frustration of victims angry at not being told what to do or where to go; the sense of foreboding as the death count continued to rise.

I knew from my Kobe experience that the couple hundred pronounced dead in the initial reports would grow by orders of magnitude. I had seen Japanese reports of entire neighborhoods, even villages, that were "missing" after the mid-afternoon tsunami.

This time the feeling of being connected was much stronger, even though I was thousands rather than hundreds of miles away.

Some connections were possible this time only because of technology. I was able to observe New Jersey-based relatives of my Tokyo-based translator friend express love and relief that she and her family in Japan were safe. My friends in the U.S. and elsewhere used Facebook, Twitter and text messages to ask me about my loved ones in Japan, which let me reply in a way that was much easier to handle than in the previous era.

The media and communication technology of course do not change the scope of the disaster but do change the way we are able to experience and share it.

Resources like the Google People Finder in Japanese and English, links to aid sites, like the one on this WNYC.org page, and some social media outreach may have even changed things in a more fundamental way.

I do hope the pain and struggles of people affected are mitigated by knowing their plight can be seen and understood in a richer way, and by help they may receive more easily because of new technologies.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

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February 23 2011


Closed Captions Should Be Standard with Online Video, TV

When "The French Chef" appeared on PBS in 1972 with captions, it marked the first TV show ever to be fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. For the next decade, people with disabilities enjoyed more and more captioned TV, culminating in a 1990 law that required all TV shows to be captioned.

Fast forward to today. When viewers tune in on their computers -- now the fashionable way to watch TV and web programming -- most of the shows are not captioned. Not even "The Annoying Orange," which is the No. 1 webisode series, garnering more than 50 million monthly views on average -- more traffic than for some cable channels.

Just when the "legacy" TV and cable industry began getting into the captioning groove, accessibility seems to be moving backwards. With the rise of the Internet, video content is now moving online to meet the demands of always-on consumers -- and the captioning technology, standards, and processes must begin anew. New types of programming -- like "The Annoying Orange" webisodes -- are growing in popularity, but making them accessible for people with disabilities has been a low priority.

Big Problem

That's a serious issue for the millions of hearing- or vision-impaired Americans. In the U.S., there are 25 million people with significant vision loss, and 36 million Americans have reported some form of hearing loss -- a number that is expected to double by 2030. There are now 75 million Baby Boomers who will encounter vision, hearing, cognitive and mobility disabilities as they age, and more than 1 million veterans returning home from a decade-long war -- many with physical and mental conditions.

As consumers achieve greater freedom in how and where they watch and listen to movies, dramas, sitcoms and sports, it is increasingly important that Americans with disabilities are able to access and enjoy this programming along with them.

Solution in Sight?

The good news is that President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act into law on October 8, 2010, marking a tremendous step in the right direction for these groups. This law amends Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policies to require that any program that has been previously aired on TV must be captioned when shown online.

However, the FCC only has the power to regulate broadcast, cable, and satellite TV providers. The lion's share of emerging programming is not covered under the new law and will not be captioned or described for people with hearing and vision disabilities. This includes hundreds of hours of online-only programming like popular webisodes (yes, including "The Annoying Orange"), YouTube videos, podcasts, and movies from Netflix, which now offers streaming TV shows and movies online and through devices like iPhones and PlayStation consoles.

Recently, the Department of Justice has been looking closely at the issue of accessibility, and is considering stepping in where the FCC's jurisdiction ends. The DOJ can amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to require websites to make their content accessible. That would be a heavy-handed move -- and they will not make this decision lightly -- but the DOJ has an obligation to protect the access of the 54 million Americans with disabilities to public goods and services, which includes public websites.

Forward Looking Businesses

Fortunately, some online programmers are voluntarily choosing to make their online content accessible -- notably, Hulu. Netflix has also started to caption its online library (though it had dragged its feet for years.) Others, such as TheWB.com, which is owned by Warner Bros., and Crackle.com, which is owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, simply ignore captions altogether. They do this because they can.

Once a cottage industry, emerging online formats now have the potential to lock the disabled population out of a huge marketplace of content unless new regulation or innovation -- or a combination of both -- spurs more businesses to embrace accessibility and its implications for future generation of Americans.

Even if "The Annoying Orange" is a truly annoying show, shouldn't people with disabilities be able to make that choice on their own?

For more information, read my white paper on the issue of online video accessibility.

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody & co. and the author of "The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices." Her company provides marketing and consulting services to organizations seeking to reach the disability community. Suzanne lost her hearing at age 4 and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology." As a disability writer, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, USA Today, HealthDay, Ability Magazine and more.

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February 18 2011


How an Atlanta Ice Skater Made a Viral Video Go Worldwide

Every city has at least one iconic street. New York has Broadway. Los Angeles has Sunset Boulevard. Chicago has Lake Shore Drive. Atlanta? It has Peachtree Street.

And one frozen night in early January, within blocks of the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone with the Wind," Peachtree became more than a street -- an urban rebel christened it as an ice rink.

Peachtree St. Ice Rink in Midtown from A.Nendel on Vimeo.

There's an old saying that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. An Atlanta man named Andrew Nendel decided that when life gives you ice, go skating.

Videos of Nendel zipping up and down Peachtree between 11th and 14th Streets in Midtown Atlanta have received more than 200,000 hits and have been televised worldwide.

The Back Story

The Southern city that's been known to grind to a halt at a half-inch of snow got several inches Sunday night, January 9. A sheet of ice topped things off on Monday. Icy roads shut down schools and businesses for almost a week.

At about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, videographer and web developer Brian Danin and his wife Valerie were out walking near their Midtown loft.

"We kept saying, 'if only we had ice skates!'" he recalls. Then they saw Nendel. "Wow -- there's somebody actually with ice skates," Danin said.

This was the "money shot" of the city's worst winter storm in 15 years right in front of him. Even though Danin didn't have the gear he's accustomed to, he had his Droid X smartphone.

"It was one of those ironic moments," Danin said. So he held the camera still, braced himself against a street lamp, held his breath, followed the action, and then posted the result on YouTube.

"I knew while I was taking the video, 'Wow -- this is really cool,'" Danin recalls.

The Viral Effect

But he had no idea how popular it would become. "On a different one of my YouTube channels, I have 85 videos," Danin says. "This one video beat the other channel entirely within about four days. My mother-in-law from Colorado called saying she saw it on the news there."

Nendel, the skater, handed his pocket video recorder to a security guard and uploaded the result to Facebook, Vimeo and CNN iReport.

"I never expected this video to go viral or become so widespread throughout the news community," Nendel told me via email. "I just made the video for myself to document the night I ice skated on a major road in Atlanta." But when he woke up the next day, it was everywhere. Media outlets all over the world picked up the clip.

"My video has gone international!!!! Hello Canada, UK, and Holland," Nendel tweeted jubilantly.

CNN Student News anchor Carl Azuz closed his January 13 newscast with it, saying, "Of everyone who's ever passed through the middle of downtown Atlanta, this guy's gotta be one of the only people ever to do it on ice skates."

First Time Skating in Years

Nendel, who said his schedule was too tight for a phone interview, put enough info online to paint a picture of how the night developed. He hadn't ice skated in years, but kept his skates because he wants to get back to playing hockey and maybe coach. The storm gave him an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"When walking home I came up with the crazy idea of ice skating on the road in Midtown from 11th to 14th street," Nendel wrote on Vimeo. "The thickness of the ice on the street was just like a pond back home in Indiana and seemed perfect. I skated for about an hour while people walking by took video and drivers on the street were just confused."

People's comments summed up their delight. "Just awesome...saw this on the news the other day -- something bright in the doom-and-gloom-and-oh-no-we're-out-of-milk-and-bread news broadcasts that have been going on," posted one admirer.

"Would you skate over my way and bring me a few things i'm running low on...I still can't get to a store and I'm out of coffee and half & half," joked another.

The video became emblematic of the pressure on the city and the state to clear the roads and get things back to normal.

"I was a little surprised how long it took to get plows out on the road," Danin says, adding that, "the first plows I saw come down Peachtree Street were Tuesday evening." He saw the first one near midnight and snapped a photo -- almost 24 hours after Nendel's ice capade.

Nendel was surprised at how long it took as well. "After the video was posted and then viewed by many via local news, Peachtree Street in front on my building was cleared within two days," he says. "The rest of the street though took a bit longer."

Clearing the Street

That Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed met with reporters at the now-cleared intersection of Peachtree and 14th -- part of what had been Nendel's public ice rink -- to say the city had ramped up snow removal efforts.

What did Nendel think of that?

"I honestly didn't think much about it, due to the video being made just for fun and not to promote some awareness of the road situation in Atlanta," he says. "I believe the Mayor handled the press situation well and the town did what they could with what they had readily available. My big complaint about the roads is all the mounds of dirt and sand now left in the street not being cleared."

Nendel's website says he works in ambient and guerrilla media, social media, design, interactive marketing, design consultation and print media. It also says Kelly Leak, a character from the movie "The Bad News Bears," was his childhood hero.

"Kelly Leak was a rebel, the cool kid, a secret loner, and knew how to get the ladies," Nendel's website says. "I look back today and still want to be that rebel I grew up admiring so much."

And has skating Peachtree brought him closer to that goal?

"Now that I'm one step closer with the rebel cool points earned by this stunt I feel this is only the beginning to the completion of my dream," Nendel says. "So keep an eye open at all times cause you will never know what I might try next."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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December 07 2010


Sale on Spark widgets, and a survey that might serve you!

Hi all,

A couple of bits of news from Call2Action that may benefit this comunity...

First, for the month of December we are dropping all set up fees on our interactive video widget, The Spark. This will save $500... I know a lot of people have expressed interest but the cost was prohibitive for a more experimental tool. So, if you are still interested now would be a great time to check it out again- especially if you have some online video you are looking to leverage... Learn more here. Our clients have had a lot of success with listbuilding, fundraising and driving folks around the web to their campaigns.

read more

November 21 2010


A Viral Video Takedown of Public Radio (in 5 Acts)

mediashift_social publicmedia small.jpg

Why is NPR such an easy target for comedy bits and video parodies? It doesn't take a regular listener of Science Friday to figure it out. They're a bunch of mega-nerds.

With every subtle use of alliteration, every time Robert Siegel says "draconian," and each transitional upright bass interlude, they slap a big fat "kick me" sign in the middle of their own backs.

Want to know the five reasons comedians love to hate public radio? As Ira Glass would say, stay with us.

Act I: Hearing Absurdly Perfect Voices

God do their voices sound good. (Ira Glass is the exception.) If we stopped absorbing the content of their reporting and just listened to their silky baritones and rich tenors, we might mistake them for come-ons. YouTube personality Liam Kyle Sullivan gives us a peek into the people behind the voice.

Act II: Attack of the Pledge Drive

We all dread those never-ending, shame-inducing pleas for our hard earned $20.00. Funny or Die explores how NPR stations use guilt to get us to pay their salaries.

Act III: Inane Topics in Soothing Tones

It seems like public radio hosts could talk about the sleep patterns of box turtles for days if we allowed them, but we all just really want to hear Terry Gross talk dirty. (Right? I'm not alone here am I?) Unless your name is Francis Davis, this classic SNL sketch is as close as we'll ever get.

And we can't forget Betty White's recent contribution.

Act IV: Stop the Music!

If I ever see a band billed: "As Featured in NPR Segues," I will run away, fast and far. Here, the always hilarious Patton Oswalt dissects the music of NPR for us (fast forward to minute 2:00 in this clip):

Jokes.comPatton Oswalt - Man Without a Countrycomedians.comedycentral.comRead Patton Oswalt's biographyWatch Patton Live at the New York Comedy FestivalFind more from this comedian in the Shop.

Act V: Those Pretentious Listeners

Public radio fans are the worst. I should know, I am one. From my colleagues at Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy:

House-Sittin': NPR BattleUCBcomedy.comWatch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at UCBcomedy.com


Got a favorite viral public media spoof? Tell us about it in the comments.

Todd Bieber writes and directs videos, mostly comedy and documentary, or some combination of the two. He is currently Director of Content and Production for Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy. Previous to this he worked at the Onion News Networks as Footage Coordinator, occasional Director of Photography, and a freelance Contributing Writer during their Peabody Award Winning year. His work has been featured in a bunch of film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and AFI. His various viral videos have been watched over 13 million times and have been featured on the New York Times' website, Entertainment Weekly's website, Huffington Post, and his mom's Facebook Wall.

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November 20 2010


How Public Access TV Evolved into Community Media Centers

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Around the country, community media centers are launching exciting new collaborations with local organizations, neighborhood activists, schools, and media outlets to create online, hyperlocal citizen journalism sites. These projects are re-imagining how Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access TV stations -- which are funded through regional negotiations with companies like Comcast -- can serve their communities' information needs in the digital age.

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These innovators are using digital and cable access technology to generate civic awareness and create diverse local media -- a function that's increasingly crucial as traditional journalism institutions face their greatest challenges to sustainability.

These centers provide much more than public access to cable television, having fully embraced computer-based production and broadband technology to augment their media training programs. As a result, innovative experiments in community news production are replacing the tired old "Wayne's World" stereotype of public access. This article spotlights five examples of how PEG access organizations are using funds tied to cable television as the bearing wall to support experiments in inclusive community news production.

Deepening Citizen Reporting

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC) launched the Rapidian in 2009 in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. At this year's Alliance for Community Media Conference, Laurie Cirivello, executive director of GRCMC, explained how her access center spent nine months generating community interest and support before launching the community news project:

This project is greatly a result of social media and community coming together. We consider ourselves a host of the Rapidian and a welcomer. We created the platform in response to what people were asking for and looking for. We held a series of town hall meetings. We had meetings where we invited our commercial media folks to discuss how this could help with what they're doing.

Out of these meetings, GRCMC staff decided to develop four neighborhood news bureaus, but they realized that they needed to connect with the community physically before the neighborhood would buy into the community news platform online.

The Rapidian and NeighborMedia at Cambridge Community Television (where I used to work) are two examples of citizen journalism projects that are leading the way in community news innovation. The good news is now other PEG access TV organizations in Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Reading and elsewhere, are launching their own neighborhood news initiatives.

Opening up Election Coverage

PEG access is often the best place on TV for residents to access local election coverage. Take the Center for Media and Democracy in Burlington, VT, which operates the city's government access TV channel. The station has been at the forefront of innovative uses of cable access TV and the web. For example, earlier this year I wrote about how viewers can access on-demand "clickable meeting agendas" via the Center's website.

During this past election, Channel 17 created Live Vermont Election Coverage, a website where residents could livestream the results and interact via CoveritLive. The Center also posted videos featuring local voices from exit polls produced by community members. When combined with new online tools, community media centers can use their TV channels to make local content more accessible and more relevant to people's everyday lives.

Hosting a Media Commons

The Bay Area Video Coalition(BAVC) operates San Francisco's Public Access TV station. Along with offering media production classes and youth media programs to Bay Area residents, BAVC has found new ways to bring cable access into the digital age.

BAVC.gifBAVC's public access website at SF.commons.tv is powered by MIRO Community, a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation. This interactive video platform gives BAVC producers the ability to share their local media alongside any other video available online using embeddable RSS feeds. For example, SF.commons.tv has a San Francisco Bay Area channel featuring local news from KQED, a public media organization in Northern California.

Creating a Civic Media Memory Bank

Access Humboldt in Eureka, California believes that broadband is the future of community media. They have established partnerships with other community organizations to develop a broadband network for the rural community they serve. Their "Digital Redwoods" project is working to cultivate a "sustainable media ecosystem." As they explain:

Local PEG Network assets are deployed and interconnected with wireless transmission networks that reach remote locations for broadcast radio, TV and Internet, and for mobile users' broadband needs. This 'digital ecology' approach takes a long term view for the growth of communication networks both on the ground and overhead, engaging local resources with any media necessary to help meet comprehensive community needs and interests for public health and safety, for lifelong learning and for civic engagement.

Access Humboldt is building on their broadband infrastructure through a partnership with the Internet Archive. The two organizations created the Community Media Collection to encourage public access centers to upload their community-produced content. Thousands of hours of local cable access programming from across the country can be viewed at archive.org.

Amplifying Minority Perspectives

After 27 years of trying to launch a Public Access TV station in Philadelphia, PhillyCam began cablecasting on October 23, 2009. A year later, it received an award from J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism to launch Drop Zone, a
"youth-led investigation into why young men of color leave school," in partnership with the Voice of Philadelphia website and YESPhilly youth training organization."

In an announcement about the project, PhillyCam partner Voice of Philadelphia said: "The effort, which will involve local youth affiliated with YESPhilly, will investigate why young men of color leave school. Aside from reporting, the project will allow VoP to engage in one of its other long-term goals - the training of citizen journalists." Drop Zone builds on PEG access TV's long-standing mission to ensure access to diverse voices in local communities.

Community Media's New Context

These innovative community news projects show the potential of PEG access TV stations to re-imagine themselves as community media centers in the digital age. However, all is not rosy for public access TV. TechFlash recently reported that SCAN TV in Seattle will shut its doors to the public at the end of the year. In the process, SCAN TV joins a long list of community media centers that have been negatively affected by an economy in crisis and by legislation that has shifted local control of media to the state over the past five years.

These cutbacks are happening at a moment when community media centers are serving vital local needs. After all, it has been proven that many support what a recent report by Blair Levin calls "a sensible approach to broadband adoption" by providing the public with media and digital literacy training.

Free Press and other public interest media organizations have called for an expanded public media system to provide funding and support for community news projects, which model an open and democratic form of Public Media 2.0. PubCamps across the country -- such as the one this weekend -- are beginning to set the stage for collaboration between public and community media. To thrive, the PEG access community desperately needs a broadband policy framework that supports such pioneering local media initiatives.

Colin Rhinesmith is a doctoral student and Information in Society Fellow at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an Affiliate with the New America Foundation's Media Policy Initiative.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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October 28 2010


How the Tea Party Utilized Digital Media to Gain Power

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The biggest story of the U.S. midterm election has been the growing influence of the Tea Party movement. Since their first rallies in early 2009, these vocal, visible conservatives have succeeded in shifting the center of American political discourse to the right. This election cycle, Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against moderate Republicans like Delaware's Mike Castle. So how has this confederation of online, conservative activists used new media to build their growing political base?

Think Local; Organize Nationally

First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting to the national conversation.

"I didn't really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement," said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania's Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).

Puig said much of KTP's online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.


Using what she learned from these national organizations, Puig and co-founder Anastasia Przybylski set up the KTP's rudimentary website, which has proved effective in establishing the group's digital presence and in attracting new members. Puig said KTP has an email list of a couple thousand people and has attracted over 400 fans to its Facebook page since she created it a month ago.

These personalized digital resources have enabled KTP to stage dozens of rallies since it was founded in February 2009. They've also organized an online boycott of Dawn after it advertised during a MSNBC Tea Party documentary and are currently running get-out-the-vote operations for conservative candidates across the state.

Digital Tools

Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks' director for federal and state campaigns, hinted at another way the Tea Party has grown its online political clout: By sharing digital tools.

"We see our new model at FreedomWorks as a service center for the grassroots," he explains.

This approach is based in part on the success Steinhauser had using Yahoo Groups and viral videos to revive the University of Texas chapter of the state's Young Conservatives organization in the years before YouTube was launched or Facebook became an open network. After his graduation in 2005, Steinhauser used the same tools to help found the Young Conservatives of California. He also published a book about his campus organizing experiences, The Conservative Revolution, and launched a blog with the same name.

Steinhauser was one of a handful of FreedomWorks staffers who have shown Puig, and many others like her, the digital ropes.

"A lot of it is training," Steinhauser explained. "Most of these people are new to politics."

In addition to seminars on the background and basics of political campaigning -- from the tactics of the American civil rights movement to tips on how to stage an interesting meeting -- FreedomWorks has sessions on social media.

"It's very basic stuff, but it goes a long way toward making an impact" with the older members of the Tea Party movement, he said.

FreedomWorks also offers more sophisticated digital resources to its network of 650,000 online conservative activists. Puig initially contacted the organization to have one of the KTP's rallies listed on a national Google Map that FreedomWorks created to share information about local Tea Party events. Steinhauser's group also helped fire-charge the Congressional town halls in summer of 2009 by featuring on their website an "August Recess Action Kit" to aid supporters in exposing "the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the...health care reform legislation on the table," as Mother Jones reported at the time.

Annotated Map

For the 2010 midterms, FreedomWorks created an interactive, nationwide map highlighting candidates in races where the organization is offering its endorsement (and the generous financial support of an affiliated political action committee). Users can log into the map to learn more about FreedomWorks' official views on the candidates, or to add their own personal comments and ratings on the politicians.


Steinhauser said this user feedback is among the factors his group takes into account when deciding whether or not to support candidates that it considers to have questionable conservative credentials. One example of this process in action was in California, where FreedomWorks only recently endorsed the GOP's Senatorial nominee, Carly Fiorina.

The organization is also investing in creating new digital activism tools.

"We will have a FreedomWorks app after the election," Steinhauser said.

According to him, this organizing application will integrate with Facebook and other social networks to lower the barriers for communication and collaboration between individual Tea Parties.

"The hardest part about a new technology is trying to get someone to use it," he said.

Steinhauser expects the "Grassroots Action Center," as FreedomWorks is calling the new project, to go live in January or February. "GAC will allow us to be a bigger hub for these different groups," he predicted.

Divisive Tactics?

While the Tea Party has been criticized for being a very vocal minority and out of the mainstream, they have succeeded in getting previously apolitical Americans involved in politics. Many critics have said the Tea Party movement doesn't have a coherent message and sometimes appears to be unorganized and chaotic.

American Majority is one of a few national umbrella groups trying to change that. The conservative activism education and organizational training they provide have been also played an essential role in the Tea Party's digital success. This strategy includes everything from traditional guidance and financial support for get-out-the-vote operations -- like the one Ana Puig and the Kitchen Table Patriots are currently conducting with American Majority in Pennsylvania -- to more innovative (and arguably objectionable) online activism.

Below is footage from an American Majority seminar, featured in the newly released documentary Turf Wars. In the brief clip, the group's trainer encourages activists to game the ratings systems on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon.

"Literally 80 percent of the books I put a star on, I don't read," the American Majority employee brags. "That's how you control the online dialogue."

At one point in the video, the trainer connects the patriots of the American Revolution with Tea Partiers today.

"We become digital activists," he said. "We identify the medium, we learn the medium, we manipulate the medium. It was printing presses then, it's the Internet now."

These "guerrilla tactics," as the trainer described them, are reminiscent of the secret online campaign by the Digg Patriots to "bury" or censor progressive stories on the social news site, and to promote conservative content. Before the release of this new documentary about right-wing activism, Greenpeace online community organizer Chris Eaton pointed to the Digg group as part of what he referred to as the right-wing "echo chamber." On Digg -- and apparently Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, and other social sites -- Tea Partiers "hear what to say and repeat it often," he said.

Whether or not you agree with what they're saying, there's no denying that the Tea Party movement has effectively deployed digital technology to increase their size and political influence. But until Election Day comes to a close, we won't know for sure how receptive the wider voting public is to their strongly conservative messages.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based editorial assistant at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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August 17 2010


10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it's a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.


The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won't understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can't participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can't even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We're struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we're in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don't respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It's also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting -- it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I've done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can't watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it's mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it's conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview -- and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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August 10 2010


Online journalism and the promises of new technology PART 5: Multimedia

In this fifth and second to last part of this series I’ll review the research on how and to what degree multimedia is utilized in online journalism.

Previous parts of this series have focused on the revolution that never happened (part 1); how to define the three main assets of new technology to online journalism — interactivity, hypertext and multimedia (part 2); the research on the use of hypertext in online journalism (part 3); and the research on online journalism and interactivity (part4).

Content analysis studies

As with hypertext and interactivity, most studies of multimedia in online journalism rely on content analysis of websites. Tanjev Schultz (1999) found that only 16 percent of online newspapers in the US had multimedia applications in the late 1990s. Two more qualitative oriented content analysis studies revealed similar lack of multimedia (In the US, Canada and the Netherlands: Nicholas W. Jankowski and Martine van Selm (2000); In the US: Wendy Dibean and Bruce Garrison (2001) (only excerpt available for free)).

Jankowski and van Selm concluded that of all supposed added value facilities of online journalism multimedia “is perhaps the most underdeveloped” (2000, p. 7). However, online news sites affiliated with TV stations were more prone to utilize multimedia according to the same study. Yet, in a more extensive investigation of TV broadcasters’ online news sites in the US (pdf available), Mary Jackson Pitts (2003, p. 5)  lamented: “[t]he majority of stations provide text-only stories, thus failing to use the multimedia capabilities of the web”.

In their extensive investigation of European online journalism, Richard van der Wurff and Lauf (Eds) (2005) found that print newspapers were as much about multimedia as online newspapers (this study is not available online). Thorsten Quandt (2008) (only abstract available for free)  found that 84.5 percent of the 1600 stories he analyzed in 10 online news sites in the US, the UK, Germany, France and Russia were strictly text-based.

In Scandinavia, Martin Engebretsen (2006) (pdf available) found that online newspapers used a bit more multimedia, but still not more than found in previous studies in the US. Daniela V. Dimitrova and Matt Neznanski’s (2006) study of the coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 in 17 online newspapers from the US and elsewhere showed no increase in the use of video and audio in the US newspapers compared to Tanjev Schultz’s study published seven years earlier. Furthermore, they found minimal difference between the international and the US online newspapers (slightly more use of multimedia in the US online newspapers). However, Jennifer D. Greer & Donica Mensing (2006) (book chapter partly available through Google books) found a significant increase in multimedia use during the same period (1997-2003) in their longitudinal study of online newspapers in the US.

Interviews and surveys

Studies relying on interviews and surveys with online journalists and editors reveal some of the possible reasons for the lack of multimedia in online journalism found in the content analysis studies. According to Michele Jackson and Nora Paul (1998) (the US) and Christoph Neuberger et al. (1998) (Germany) online journalists and editors had a positive attitude towards utilizing multimedia technology, but problems related to lack of staff, inadequate transmission capacity and other technical issues obstructed the materialization of multimedia content.

Later studies indicate that online journalists and editors downscale the value of multimedia content: Thorsten Quandt et al. (2006) (only abstract available for free) found that multimedia was considered to be the least important feature of web technology for online journalism. John O’Sullivan (2005) found similar results in his qualitative interviews with Irish online journalists (only abstract available for free). Niel Thurman and Ben Lupton interviewed 10 senior editors and managers affiliated with British online news providers and found that the general sentiment was that “text was still core” (2008, p. 15). However, in his PhD dissertation (which is not available online)  Arne H. Krumsvik, in interviews with CNN and NRK (Norwegian public broadcaster) executives, found a much more positive attitude towards multimedia than towards interactivity and hypertext (2009, p. 145). And in a recent case study of multimedia content on the BBC online (only abstract available for free),  Einar Thorsen concludes that video content has increased tremendously (Thorsen, 2010).

User studies

There are not many studies that investigate the users’ attitudes towards multimedia news online.  In an experimental study (pdf), S. Shyam Sundar (2000) found that those who read text-only versions of a story gained more insight into the topic of the story than those who read/viewed multimedia versions of the same story. Hans Beyers (2005) (pdf) found that only 26.4 of the Flemish online newspaper readers in his survey thought the added value of multimedia was an important reason to read online newspapers.

Multimedia summarized

To summarize the findings of the research on multimedia in online journalism deriving from the techno-approach, it seems that multimedia remains the least developed of the assets offered to journalism by Internet technology. Online journalism is mostly about producing, distributing and consuming written text in various forms, even though some recent studies describe an increase in the use of especially video. This falls in line with the general increase in online video watching described in a recent Pew Internet report. However, it seems that online news sites are struggling to cope with multimedia.

In the last part of this series I will conclude on what we might learn from the research on the utilization of hypertext, interactivity and multimedia in online journalism. Might their be other ways of understanding the development of online journalism then through the lens of technological innovation?

July 16 2010


No, seriously: What the Old Spice ads can teach us about news’ future

BrandFlakesforBreakfast might have put it best: “…If you live in a cave, you need to be aware of the fact that Old Spice owned the internet yesterday.”

Indeed. How the brand did that owning is fascinating (and, if you haven’t seen it already, ReadWriteWeb’s detailed description of that process is well worth the read); essentially, Old Spice’s ad agency spent the entire day yesterday curating the real-time web, writing and producing videos based on that curation, and posting them to YouTube — where, again, the real-time web could do its thing. It was, as Josh pointed out, the advertising world’s answer to the Demand Media model of content creation: research, churn, rinse, repeat.

And — here’s where Old Spice parts ways with Demand Media — pretty much everyone seems to love it. (As one web metrics firm noted, “We took a look at some of the most explosive viral videos we’ve measured, including Bush dodging Iraqi shoes, Obama giving his electoral victory speech, and Susan Boyle, and found that in the first 24 hours, Old Spice Responses outpaces all of them.”) And it’s a popularity that seems to bridge the culture. The Atlantic wondered whether the campaign augurs the future of online video, while Reddit posted an open letter declaring, “Ok, you won us all over Mr. Old Spice Man. On reddit…our demographic is notoriously difficult to crack. And hell, you cracked it well, on our home turf which we patrol carefully, and we liked it.” Online denizens from Alyssa “big on Twitter” Milano to 4chan — yes, that 4chan — have also apparently hopped onto Mr. Old Spice Man’s horse.

So (putting aside the fact that we now live in a world where the members of 4chan and Alyssa Milano have only one degree of separation between them, and thus that End Times approach) we have to wonder: What might the Internet-owning power of the towel-clad spokesman hint about, yes, the future of news?

There’s the obvious, of course: the fact that the ads are personalized. That their content is created for, and curated from, the conversational tumult of the web — “audience engagement,” personified. Literally. The videos are, in that sense, a direct assault on top-down, author’s-artistic-vision-driven, mass media broadcast sensibilities.

But they’re an assault on mass media in another way, as well. The real hook of the videos isn’t the OSM’s awesomely burly baritone, or the whimsy of his monologues (the scepter! the bubbles! the fish!), or the postfeminist irony of his Rugged Manliness, or any of that. It’s the fact that we’re seeing all those things play out dynamically, serially, in (semi-)real-time. And: in video. Video that, though laughable in production quality when compared to most of its made-for-TV counterparts, is literally laughable in a way that most of those counterparts simply are not. The ads are weird and wonderful and hilarious. And the made-for-YouTube gag is part of the joke; the poor production value, relatively speaking, is part of the point.

In other words: The process of the videos, here, matters as much as the product. (Sound familiar?)

So, then, here’s the news angle. We often, in our focus on content (the news itself) and context (the newsgathering project, engagement with users, etc.), forget the more superficial side of things: the presentation framework of news content as its own component of journalism’s trajectory. The question of production value — essentially, to what extent do consumers care about high-quality production in the presentation of their news? — is still very much an open one in online journalism, and one that probably doesn’t get enough attention when we think about what the news will become as we adapt it to the digital world. That’s particularly so for video. Any given MediaStorm video, say, with its expertise and artistry, is likely going to be superior, aesthetically, to any given YouTube video. The question, though, is how much better. And whether, for cash- and time- and staff- and generally resource-strapped news organizations, the value added by finesse justifies the investment in it.

The Old Spice videos are a particularly instructive case, since, for journalistic purposes, they essentially lack content; they’re marketing messages, not news. Measured against the high-production-value ads on TV, they allow for a nice little side-by-side comparison of audience reception. And judging by the campaign’s expansive popularity, audiences not only don’t seem to mind that the ads are relatively low in quality; they actually seem to like that they are. The straight-to-YouTube thing is not just a means to virality, or an implied little irony; it’s also part of a broader shift: low(-ish) production value as a ratification of, rather than a threat to, the content in contains. When it comes to news video, slickness can be a drawback; in an increasingly UGC-driven world, it’s video that’s grainy (and bumpy, and poorly framed, and generally amateurish) that tends to imply authenticity. As we move, in our news, from vertical structures to horizontal, our expectations about images themselves are moving along with us.

Does that mean that news organizations should abandon high-quality video production, if they’re already engaged in it? Or that their sites should eschew lush data visualizations or artistic photography? No, certainly not. But it does mean that we should be cognizant of production value as an independent factor in journalism — one that can and should be open to moderation and experimentation, either for better or, when warranted, worse. Quality content tends to speak for itself; the Old Spice ads, with their churned-out, on-the-fly, Flipcam-y feeling, are reminders that consumers recognize that better than anyone. Not all journalism needs to be slick or sharp or beautiful; some of it might actually benefit from a little messiness. And from, yes, a little spice.

July 02 2010


June 25 2010


Magazine Writers Are Slow to Take Up Multimedia

An ideal pitch for a magazine story today would seem to require great possibilities for text and for multimedia. Freelance magazine writers, one would think, would be honing their multimedia skills so they could pitch well-rounded stories to editors who could feature them in print, on the web and on an iPad or mobile device.

Surprisingly, though, freelance magazine writers don't seem to be encountering those demands, at least not yet -- even as their work becomes more critical to a stripped-down, minimally staffed magazine industry.

The fact that magazines are relying more heavily on freelancers but aren't engaging them in discussions of how their work could best be used online might raise concerns about the slow adaptation of the industry to the digital age. Or, it might reflect a reasonable and gradual movement toward online formats that is appropriate for magazines' audiences today. In the meantime, even the text of freelancers' work may also be changing in more subtle ways that most readers might not detect.

Multimedia Not Financially Rewarding

The freelancers I interviewed all said that they had only rarely been asked to provide multimedia components, or even ideas for them, alongside their stories. Their conversations with editors rarely involved the development of multimedia concepts with the story.


"On the level of thinking through a story and planning it from the beginning, I've never had anyone say, let's think about the web, let's think about handheld. We're not there yet," said John Bowe, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and author of the book "Us: Americans Talk About Love."

For most magazines, "text remains the vehicle that pays for everything else, in the kind of journalism that I do," said Michael Fitzgerald, who has written for the Economist, Fast Company, the New York Times, and other publications. "Doing multimedia stuff isn't a priority at a lot of places ... I just finished a story that would have been perfect for that kind of thing, and it never came up. I'm speculating that complete lack of margin is driving that lack of interest, or editors don't have time to think of that kind of thing."

The data support Fitzgerald's conclusion. Magazines aren't making much money from online or multimedia. The 2010 State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that only 3.1 percent of consumer magazines' revenue in 2009 came from online and mobile outlets. That number is projected to grow to only 6.9 percent by 2013.

Given what may be a small and slow return on investment in multimedia, perhaps magazines are simply delaying their involvement of freelancers in multimedia projects.

"I don't think that position from the mainstream magazines is entirely slow," said Bowe. "The audience is a mix of older and younger people, and older people are still reading the paper edition. When the preponderant weight of the audience is wanting [multimedia], they'll get it. It's a little early in the game to get all of that."

For the freelancers I interviewed, this situation is just fine. They feel most comfortable working with text, not multimedia, and so they are happy to focus on reporting and writing and not seek additional multimedia skills. They also note that multimedia production for their magazine projects would be time-consuming and not especially financially rewarding for them, either.

Elizabeth Royte, a freelance writer who covers science and the environment for national publications and is the author of two books, said that although she's had magazine editors ask her to "keep an eye out" for good multimedia opportunities or additional web content while reporting, she hasn't been asked to produce or contribute to these projects herself.

royte2.jpg"Well-established magazines like the New York Times [Magazine] have tons of people" on staff who specifically work on multimedia, she said, so freelancers aren't really asked to get involved.

Storytelling Still Critical, But Changing

At the core of their work, these freelancers believe, is still their ability to tell a good story with words. Text alone still communicates powerfully without a lot of additional multimedia.

"People want to be guided by a good storyteller. They don't want to work hard" by exploring complex multimedia, Bowe said. "There's no one so smart that sometimes they don't want to just sit there and watch the dumb Hollywood movie. Sometimes they just want the basic experience without all these goddamn widgets."

However, working primarily with text doesn't mean these writers are unaffected by the fact that their work will probably end up on the web at some point.

Bowe said he feels writing destined for online formats needs "a different tone -- hotter, quirkier, more intense," in order to grab readers' attention within what he calls "the essential boringness of the medium."


Steve Silberman, a longtime contributor to Wired and other national magazines, argued that the changes over time in magazine feature writing go beyond tone, in part because of the web.

"The standard of magazine feature writing used to be New Yorker features," he said. "However, New Yorker features used to be much longer than they are now. And for many younger people, that kind of feature writing -- that delayed nut graph until the second page of the story -- it's hard to pull off in a web-based environment. People want to know what the story's going to be about in the first paragraph, and they decide if they're going to tweet it before they even finish reading it."

These changes in the audience's reading habits, Silberman said, have combined with a cultural shift -- spurred in part by cable news and talk radio -- to push feature writing toward a "quicker payoff, less nuance, and more controversy."

"People want easy polarities and dichotomies to choose between," he said. "I have felt pressure to make my stories more simplistic, to come down hard on one side of a question or the other."

Is It Time to Innovate Yet?

Today's magazine freelancers don't yet seem to feel the need to bring multimedia into their skill set and workflow. Editors aren't demanding it -- yet -- as magazines focus primarily on recovering from the economic blows they've suffered and less on innovating for the future. Whether this focus will be shortsighted in the long run remains to be seen.

Should magazines move away from print and into digital more aggressively, however, freelancers may find themselves increasingly called upon to be involved in multimedia development. For now, though, the focus is still on text.

"Text is the least bandwidth-intensive way to communicate complex experiences to the reader," says Silberman. "Text is always going to be with us because it's highly efficient. It employs the reader's own multimedia capabilities."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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May 28 2010


Social Media Training: From Conferences to the Classroom

She sat in a chair signing an autograph, as the camera's flashes made the stones on her Ms. America crown sparkle. A man knelt about five feet in front of American royalty and drew a sketch of her on the iPad.

Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010, was addressing the audience at the 140 Character conference in New York City last month. Cameron spoke about how she is using social media to support her duties as a social ambassador and Goodwill Ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network, which raises funds for children's hospitals nationwide.

"What I want to do this year is to keep people connected through causes; keep people connected through organizations; keep people connected through community involvement," she said. "It's my job out here to let you know that I am doing a job, and you all can be a part of it."

The 140 Character conference is just one of a long lineup of social media training programs offered by marketing professionals, celebrities, and mainstream headliners. Seminars and presentations educate thousands of people on how to use social media to reach out to their target communities. Attendees mostly learn the business applications of social media and ways to engage people using social networks to promote causes, job hunts and other initiatives.

The abundance of people and organizations offering social media training naturally means there's a wide range of quality. I recently attended different social media conferences and programs and spoke to experts to gather insights about social media training. Here's a collection of what I encountered.

140 Character Conference


Jeff Pulver, organizer of the 140 Character conference in New York City, said the way that people and organizations communicate has dramatically changed. He was master of ceremonies to a long lineup of people who have been able to leverage Twitter and other real-time social applications to develop their businesses and professional profile.

"Here at the 140 Character conference we are looking at the effects of the real-time Internet on business and also on people," Pulver said. "Four words: listen, connect, share and engage. If you understand what that means you have a head up on everyone else who doesn't."

He said that, regardless of the different professional backgrounds at the 140 Character conference, we are all people.

"This conference celebrates life," Pulver said. "It celebrates the humanity of it, and some of the amazing business opportunities that are becoming because of it."

One speaker at the 140 Character conference is a world-renowned entrepreneur by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk. He built his family's wine business from a $4 million brick-and-mortar store to a $60 million dollar business supported by a retail website, and a vlog where Vaynerchuk reviews a wide variety of wines. He's also a bestselling author.

I caught up with Vaynerchuk when he was back at home and conducted a video interview with him about social media training and the lessons he's learned. Two people also tweeted questions for Vaynerchuk before the interview -- Eric Sornoso and Rodney J. Woodruff -- and Vaynerchuk responded to both during our discussion:

Edelman's Program

Along with Vaynerchuk, I ran into Rick Murray at the conference. He's the president of Edelman Digital. He shared some of the logistics of Edelman's social media training program. The first phase is all about defining ethical behavior on social networks.

"The second thing we talk a lot about is community management," Murray continued. "[What] you could do to help our clients out whether it's either promoting their brands or it's protecting their brands, in either shape or form; the third thing...is how you craft the kinds of content that the audience which your clients are trying to seek is compelling."


The Edelman training program also covers how content can be optimized for social search. The classes cater to all the regions in which Edelman operates and are culturally sensitive to help employees appropriately engage people all over the world. Each online module is self-paced. Upon completion of each training sequence, a belt is awarded to a participant, as in karate. Employees must schedule the four minutes to take each module to be awarded a belt and be able to take the next training sequence.

"Once people are underway we've actually had internal competitions to get to various belt levels in office competitions," Murray explained. "We're not against public shaming as well; we have names on walls of people who haven't taken any of the modules at all."

Social Media Skills With Sree

Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School, started the institution's first public Social Media Skills course. The class is four weeks long and, as it states in the syllabus, aims to teach journalists how to "find new story ideas, trends, and sources; connect with reader and viewers in new ways; bring attention and traffic to their work; and help them create, craft and enhance their personal brand."

I took Sreenivasan's workshop called "Smarter Internet Surfing Tips" while in my broadcast journalism class in New York University. He has been teaching Internet Surfing Tips through his online directory since 1998. He helps journalists learn to use the social media tools that will help them do their job more efficiently. Sreenivasan carefully chooses which platforms his students should be using as journalists and media professionals.

"I'm not on MySpace but in certain industries MySpace is absolutely critical, like the music industry, entertainment, but it doesn't make sense for me at the moment," Sreenivasan stated. "I say that for technology to be useful it has to fit into our workflow and our life flow; when it does both, then its ready for use around the country, around the world."

sree.jpgSreenivasan said that training is necessary for everyone. "I know somebody who has 25,000 followers on Twitter but still wants help," he said.

Sreenivasan instructs his students to be active on digital communities before big events happen. He stresses that students should be in "listening mode" and participating in the digital communities they are engaging. "I tell people that when the plane lands in the Hudson, it's too late," he said.

Moreover, Sreenivasan teaches that social media is simply there to support your professional endeavors. Your skills and background should still be proficient.

Although Sreenivasan's class is designed primarily for journalists, people of all professional backgrounds have attended his class, such as marketers, publicists, and librarians. Sreenivasan said he has instructed people under the age of 15 and over the age of 80.

Tamar Weinberg

I first met Tamar Weinberg as a power user of the social news channel, Digg.com. Tamar has been working online as a social media consultant for 17 years and is also the author of "The New Community Rules," which teaches readers how to raise awareness for their brands using blogging, micro-blogging, and other social platforms.

tamarweinbergweirdness.jpgShe has spoken at numerous conferences and has delivered lectures for groups ranging from 30 to 2,000 people. Weinberg teaches people to participate by contributing to social platforms before trying to have them bear value. She discusses best practices and tactics, which attendees could use to expand their business presence online. Weinberg also discloses some tactics that she employs to continually learn how to engage target communities on digital networks.

"I would recommend finding influencers who are of interest to you; find out who influences them," Weinberg said. "It's very easy to do because if they have a Facebook fan page, if they have a Twitter page, they're often sharing links and tweeting about these individuals. Find out what they're sharing and use that as a guideline as to what to follow."

Weinberg said that she works with people in organizations large and small, who fill a variety of roles. Working with multiple-levels of hierarchy can sometimes pose a challenge in training. She notes that lower-level personnel usually adopt digital platforms, which can often lead to internal challenges in terms of pushing ahead new initiatives.

"Things don't happen quickly because of the need to go through legal red tape," Tamar said. "If you get the CEO on onboard things will happen a lot quicker."


Most social media training programs focus on managing and building communities on major social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc. Glen Allsop runs ViperChill, where he teaches his readers how to build social communities on blogging platforms.In six months Allsop has built ViperChill to reach 1,500 unique visitors daily and 70,000 pageviews monthly; the site has over 6,000 subscribers.

"As I make money online on other sites, I don't need to monetize it," Allsop said. "I do have a blog that makes over $10,000 per month which received 800,000 pageviews in March, with most of its traffic coming from Google."

Allsop built his first website at the age of 15 after he saw a friend build a site using Lycos Tripod Sitebuilder. Allsop built websites about his passions such as DJing and optimized them to receive more exposure from search engines by guest posting on other blogs and using other social media engagement tactics he teaches on ViperChill.

"Find blogs relevant to your industry by searching Google for phrases like "top [insert topic here] blog" or "best [insert topic here] blogs" to find relevant sites to engage with," Allsop said. "Once you've found popular blogs in your target market, start interacting with the author on multiple platforms like Facebook and Twitter to build up a relationship."

Allsop is among the few people teaching how to use social news aggregation channels, like Digg, but with a niche focus.

"For example, there is a social voting website for the IM [Internet marketing] industry, called Sphinn," Allsop said. "There are also ones for technology, sports like basketball, and even country specific sites like IndianPad."

Allsop's biggest challenge in teaching the use of social media channels to connect with their target communities lies in keeping people from always wanting to manipulate the digital networks. He also notes that convincing heads of management in large companies is harder because it is difficult to track results than when using search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising campaigns.

Neal Rodriguez features some of the brightest minds in cyberspace including thought-leaders in social media marketing and search engine optimization on nealrodriguez.com, where he offers his own social media and blog training program.

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April 04 2010


Video at newspapers needs to improve

I was disappointed after this year’s NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia Contest results were posted . In the News Video category, I won an honorable mention. Great! That’s until I realized  my video was the only award given in the category. What gives? This is the second year in a row I’ve placed in this News Video category. Last year I received a 2nd place, , but no third was given.  This troubles  me. Not because I didn’t place higher, but because the judges didn’t see a video that reached a high enough level of excellence to place.

During an online chat on the Poynter Institute’s website, I asked the judges:

“Why didn’t you award first through third in news video?”

The Response:

1:27 theresa: @colin – this was a real struggle for us. Many were full of technical errors and ignored the basic principles of photojournalism. We saw lots of evidence of urgency, however we really couldn’t award anything that had technical or fundamental errors.

I stewed about this for a time. Then after helping judge the NPPA’s Monthly Multimedia Contest last week, I began to understand the BOP judge’s dilemma.

Bottom line: Video at newspapers needs to improve. Dramatically.

The problems I continually see:


Many still photographers have not transitioned their storytelling skills effectively to video. Editing a video story is different from editing still photos for a newspaper picture story. With video, you have to master the fundamentals of sequencing and audio before you can tell an effective story in video. Too many still photojournalists have dipped their toes in the video world with limited training and it shows.

Bland Videos

Many newspaper-produced video stories are boring. The best stories have surprises sprinkled throughout the timeline, which helps keep the viewer engaged. This is mature storytelling that most newspaper video producers have failed to master.


A great video story is one that pulls you in from the opening sequence and never let’s go of your attention until it fades out at the end. Weak video jars you out of the moment, whether it’s from a technical issue like distorted audio, or from a narrative that fails to captivate the viewer. So many things can go wrong with a video story. Understanding these pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them.


You can have great raw video, but fail miserably in the edit. Pacing, narration, use of transitions, sequencing, layering and mixing audio all have to come together like a well–oiled orchestra to make a  video story work. Fail at anyone of these and your house of cards comes a tumblin’ down.


Lots of newspaper-produced video is weak in basic journalism. Many videos I’ve watched have only one person as the subject. How many print news stories would get past an editor with only one source?


For the longest time I told myself that I didn’t want my videos to be like TV. I worked hard at telling a story by using only the subjects as my narrative spine. What you risk, doing it this way, is a story that rambles along and is not defined until long after the viewer has hit the back button. Get past the idea that narration is a bad thing. Good scripting moves a story along and serves as an objective voice for facts.


So you say you hate the sound of your voice and you don’t feel comfortable writing a script. Then get out into your newsroom and find a writer with a great voice and collaborate. I like to voice my own videos, but I also know my limitations. Some of my best work has been when I’ve worked with a reporter on a video story. I shoot and edit the story; he or she scripts and does the voiceover. We play to each other strengths. The final product, in the end, is better than if I tried to do it all myself.


When I started this blog, I wrote a post called “Can’t we all just get along?.” The crux of that post : TV news shooters have done video storytelling decades longer than us newbie’s in the newspaper biz, and we can learn a lot from their successes. If you are lucky enough to go to a TV video workshop, you’ll get the fundamentals drilled into your head–Shoot wide, medium tight, super tight. Shoot action, then reaction. Get that camera on sticks! Use a wireless mic. Gather natural sound. What’s your opener? Closer? And, for Christ sake, white balance your video!

These are the just the basics of video news production. Yet many newspaper video producers are still unaware of these fundamentals.

If you can, my advise is enroll in a video production workshop like the Platypus, or the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop that is coming in May. Until you know what you are doing wrong you can’t improve your video storytelling.

March 11 2010


Witness Creates Sophisticated Evaluation Tools for Video Impact

Last month, Jessica Clark and I explored how various Public Media 2.0 projects are measuring their level of success in informing and engaging publics. We found that many public media organizations are struggling to measure impact -- and some are relying only on traditional indicators of reach, as opposed to other elements of impact such as relevance, inclusion, engagement or influence. Some projects, however, are taking a more holistic approach that is matched closely to their mission.

The international human rights group Witness, which provides training, support and visibility for local groups producing documentaries about human rights issues, has created a Performance Dashboard that tracks more than just the number of viewers. Using "at a glance" metrics, descriptive analysis and direct feedback from participants, the Performance Dashboard provides a concise overview of impact.

It combines traditional metrics -- such as sales and licensing numbers, email subscriptions, blog statistics -- with more nuanced data, including a timeline indicating progress of core partnerships. These reports are published twice per year on the Witness website, and they are made available to other organizations under a Creative Commons license.


Videos With a Purpose

Witness is able to efficiently track progress in large part because they begin each media project with clear advocacy goals. According to Sam Gregory, Witness's program director, all work "springs out of an advocacy strategy." He said Witness is focused on "making videos for a purpose as opposed to making videos about an issue."

Each video project starts with the completion of a Video Action Plan, which encourages partners to think purposefully about intended impact, avenues for action, and measures of success.

Some of these measures of success are particularly striking. For example, Witness worked with the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), a human rights organization, to create a film about the displaced Endorois community in Kenya. The film ended up being presented as evidence in a landmark case in which the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled in favor of the Endorois community. Last month, the African Union, the highest legal authority in Africa, ruled in favor of the earlier decision and ordered the Kenyan government to provide the Endorois with compensation and reinstate their land.

While a direct causal link can be difficult to prove, clearly this film did its job. In a case such as this, the element of impact that is most important is influence, not reach. Gregory explained that even if only a few people saw the film, the film achieved its desired impact because they were the people with the power to decide the case.

New Focus: User-Generated Video

Witness hopes to broaden its impact with a new strategic vision that addresses the exponential growth in user-generated video. The organization is focusing on how user-generated video can be used by human rights advocates. (MediaShift reported on the organization's earlier experiments with viral video in 2006.) Witness currently trains about 500 people in human rights filmmaking across the globe per year, and recognizes the need to shift to a more scalable training approach. One of the ways that Witness will make this shift is by developing shared virtual spaces for fostering discussion on what works and what doesn't.

Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm, Witness's executive director, explained the strategy in a blog post:

Right now and right here Witness, with your help, can exponentially expand its impact. But the demand for our services is far greater than our capacity. Witness's New Strategic Vision is designed to scale our impact. So beginning in 2010, in addition to continuing to train and support individual grassroots organizations, Witness will forge relationships among organizations and networks, creating a broader, more interconnected global human rights community. By doing this, we'll play a seminal role in forging coalitions that seek shared goals, with video emerging as the common language across all types of borders. In addition, we will scale our work by creating video toolkits and other web tools that facilitate knowledge sharing.

With the new focus on networked campaigns, in some ways, impact will become more difficult for Witness to track. What is the most effective way to measure impact when the media in question spans across so many different modes, timeframes, countries and (sometimes overlapping) networks?

In the future, Witness will likely spend more energy tracking the connections that form within and among networks. The Witness team is currently working through the process of adding new categories to the current Performance Dashboard.

The dashboard offers a great model for other media projects. But it's also clear that projects without similar, specific advocacy goals will likely have a harder time making use of the tool. Outlets and creators with more neutral goals of spurring discussion or raising awareness may have to turn to some of the existing impact assessment toolkits -- or perhaps even develop their own.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

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March 06 2010


4 Minute Roundup: Viacom Yanks Shows from Hulu; FT's Pay Model

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the recent move by Viacom to pull "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" from Hulu, and run them on their own sites. Plus, the Financial Times said it would start charging for day passes and weekly passes to augment its metered pay system online. And I asked Just One Question to PEJ's Tom Rosenstiel about their recent report on the interactive news consumer.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

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

Listen to my entire interview with Tom Rosenstiel:

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

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

Why the Daily Show Left Hulu by Andrew Baron

Viacom Will Take 'Daily Show,' 'Colbert' Off Hulu at NYT Media Decoder

Viacom's departure from Hulu comes with a bite at CNET

Hulu loses shows in pricing clash at FT

Hulu, Colbert, And The Recentralization Of Video On The Web at TechCrunch

Loss of Daily Show, Colbert puts more pressure on Hulu at Yahoo Tech blog

FT CEO says improving ad trend continues at Reuters

Financial Times Website Turns To PayPal at Fishbowl NY

FT to use PayPal for daily, weekly online access at Editors Weblog

FT Will Use PayPal For Daily, Weekly Payments at PaidContent

Understanding the Participatory News Consumer at Pew Internet

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how you plan to experience the Oscars:

How will you experience the Oscars?answers

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.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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February 23 2010


Courts Still Wary About Webcasts, Live-Blogs, Tweets at Trials

mediashift_legal small.jpg

One of the most watched television events in U.S. history was the announcement of the verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial in October 1995. By the time that trial was televised, the public had become accustomed to watching footage of both civil and criminal proceedings in state courts, and such proceedings continue to be broadcast today.

But shortly after the O.J. verdict, the United States Judicial Conference, the administrative body that oversees the operations of federal courts, formally approved a recommendation against broadcasting federal court proceedings. As a result of that policy and the various court rules adopted in response, with a handful of exceptions, cameras have been kept out of federal courtrooms.

The emergence of new channels of communication via the Internet has prompted some recent efforts to use new technologies to expand access to proceedings in federal courts. In two civil cases involving controversial subjects of great public interest, federal District Court judges approved plans to stream the proceeding via the Internet. But both plans were successfully challenged on appeal in opinions that cited the 1996 Judicial Conference policy, calling into question the potential for new technologies to bring federal court proceedings into greater public view.

The Prop. 8 Trial

In the most recent failed effort to stream a federal court civil proceeding, the U.S. Supreme Court on January 13 halted plans to provide live streaming of audio and video of the controversial "Prop. 8" trial in California.

The Prop. 8 lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarznegger, is just one chapter in the ongoing political and legal struggle over same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs are proponents of same-sex marriage who are seeking to establish that the repeal of California's same-sex marriage law by the Proposition 8 ballot measure violates the federal constitutional rights of same-sex couples. Because the named defendants in the case refused to defend Prop. 8 (including state officials such as Governor Arnold Schwarznegger), defense of Prop. 8 is being undertaken by a group of defendant-intervenors that includes the organization that campaigned successfully for its adoption.

Due to the enormous public interest in the case, District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker approved a plan to stream live video and audio of the non-jury trial to an overflow courtroom in the same courthouse, as well as to several other federal courthouses throughout the country. The broadcast plan was fashioned as part of a pilot program approved by the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The defendant-intervenors objected, arguing that broadcast of the proceedings would violate their due process rights to a fair trial, because all of their witnesses declared that they would refuse to testify if the proceedings were broadcast. The intervenors cited the 1996 Judicial Conference policy, which was based upon a study recommendation against allowing such broadcasting on the basis that "the intimidating effect of cameras on some witnesses and jurors [is] cause for concern."

Hollingsworth v. Perry


The defendant-intervenors ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the broadcasting plan, where the witness intimidation argument was well-received. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 09A640 (U.S. Jan. 13, 2010), the Court ruled that the process that led to the approval of the broadcast experiment was flawed, and that the defendant-intervenors had established that irreparable harm would result if it was allowed to take place. In an unsigned ("per curiam") ruling, the Supreme Court delved into the minute details of the rules and policies governing federal courts. The Court concluded that under those dictates there was insufficient notice and opportunity for public comment before the court rules were changed to allow the pilot program under which the plan was approved.

But the Court didn't stop at disapproval of the procedure by which the broadcast plan was put in place.

Even if the relevant court rules had properly been amended, the Court commented, "questions would still remain" about the District Court's exercise of its discretion to allow broadcasting in a trial in which witnesses had "stated concerns for their own security." That the case was a "high-profile" one was a reason not to allow the broadcasting on an experimental basis, the Court found, because no studies had been conducted to analyze "the effect of broadcasting in high-profile, divisive cases."


The Court's decision was not unanimous, and revealed a split on the issue of courtroom broadcasting along partisan lines that are familiar in other contexts. A dissent authored by Associate Justice Steven Breyer vigorously challenged the legal basis for countermanding the District Court's decision. On the question of potential harm to the witnesses, he pointed out that the witnesses were not anonymous, that each of them had already been "publicly identified" with the Prop. 8 cause by appearing on television and Internet broadcasts, touring California to support its adoption, or because they had "already engaged in extensive public commentary far more likely to make them well known than a closed-circuit broadcast to another courtroom."

Justice Breyer also pointed to the extensive public coverage of the impending trial, which had drawn the attention of "literally hundreds of national and international newspapers." Associate Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Sotomayor joined in the dissent.

The Tenenbaum Trial

Preceding the Supreme Court ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a similar controversy arose over plans to allow Internet streaming of a hearing in a high-profile, peer-to-peer file-sharing case in federal court in Massachusetts. In January 2009, District Court Judge Nancy Gertner approved a plan proposed by the defendant to "narrowcast" the hearing to a single location in Boston, where it would then be made publicly available via a further webcast.

Although existing Court of Appeals and local District Court rules prohibited broadcasting, Judge Gertner concluded that she nevertheless had the discretion to approve broadcasting in individual cases. She rejected the arguments of the record company plaintiffs that the potential jury pool for the impending trial on the merits would be prejudiced by the broadcasting plan. On the contrary, Judge Gertner concluded, "the public benefit of offering a more complete view of these proceedings is plain, especially via a medium so carefully attuned to the Internet Generation captivated by these file sharing lawsuits."

The recording companies appealed, and in a ruling that presaged the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the First Circuit Court of Appeals disapproved the plan. In this case, the appeals court concluded that Judge Gertner had misinterpreted the District Court's local rule, and that there was no "discretionary catch-all" exception to the general prohibition against broadcasting civil proceedings. The appeals court also rejected the defendant's argument that the blanket prohibition in the local rule violated his right to a public trial.

With a nod to the emergence of new technologies for providing access to trials, the court commented: "While the new technology characteristic of the Information Age may call for the [change] of some boundaries, the venerable right of members of the public to attend federal court proceedings is far removed from an imagined entitlement to view court proceedings remotely on a computer screen."

Circuit Judge Lipez dissented, echoing Judge Gertner's conclusion that there were "no sound policy reasons" not to allow the broadcasting plan. He emphasized that the proceeding that would be broadcast was not a trial on the merits, only the oral arguments of the attorneys. He, too, referenced the impact of new technologies on access to the court, but drew a different conclusion from the majority opinion.

"Since [the adoption of the District Court rule], dramatic advances in communications technology have had a profound effect on our society," Lipez wrote. "These new technological capabilities provide an unprecedented opportunity to increase public access to the judicial system in appropriate circumstances. They have also created expectations that judges will respond sensibly to these opportunities." Accordingly, Judge Lipez called for an immediate re-examination of the blanket prohibition in the local rule.

Live Blogging and Tweeting

Are the federal courts closed to all new reporting technologies? Not completely. Although the broadcasting plan in the Prop. 8 trial had to be scuttled, the District Court did allow live blogging, apparently without much comment or disagreement on the part of the parties to the litigation. See, for example, the Prop. 8 live-blog archives at firedoglake.com, and the San Jose Mercury News.

But there is disagreement on the issue of whether live blogging is a form of "broadcasting" that must be evaluated under the same standards as a live video or audio feed. The issue was addressed in United States v. Shelnutt, a criminal case in the Middle District of Georgia, in which the District Court based its decision on Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53. While broadcasting may be allowed under some local federal rules in civil cases, under the federal rule the prohibition against "broadcasting" in criminal cases apples to all federal district courts nationwide.

In Shelnutt, a reporter for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newspaper who was covering the trial, made an application to the court to be permitted to use a handheld device to live blog the trial via the newspaper's Twitter account. In declining the reporter's request, the District Court relied upon a 2002 amendment to the federal rule that replaced the prohibition against the "taking of photographs" and "radio broadcasting" with the more general term "broadcasting," for the express purpose of covering "modern technology capabilities."

The District Court in Shelnutt ruled that "the contemporaneous transmission of electronic messages from the courtroom describing the trial proceedings, and the dissemination of those messages in a manner such that they are widely and instantaneously accessible to the general public" fell within the definition of "broadcasting" in Fed. R. Civ. P. 53. Thus, no live blogging was permitted.

Reporters in other jurisdictions around the country have met with mixed results on their requests to live blog court proceedings. For example, reporters were permitted to live blog from the Scooter Libby criminal trial in 2007, although they did so from an overflow courtroom to which the proceedings were broadcast by live television feed.

The Citizen Media Law Project guidelines on Live-Blogging and Tweeting from Court cite a number of other state and federal courts that have allowed live blogging in the past. They wisely suggest that such reporting not be attempted without advance court permission, and provide helpful tips on how to make an appropriate request.

The Future of New Media in the Courtroom

While some lower federal courts have shown flexibility in allowing new communications channels access to their courtrooms, they are doing so against the grain of long-standing negative views in the federal judiciary on the issue of live reporting. These negative views have deep roots in U.S. Supreme Court rulings such as Sheppard v. Maxwell, in which the Court found that intrusive press presence in the courtroom in the sensational murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard was a factor in depriving him of his right to a fair trial.

The ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry is also a reminder of the Supreme Court's historic, arms-length relationship with both the press and the larger public. The Court has famously refused to allow either live or delayed television broadcasting of its own proceedings, and although audio tapes of the arguments are made, they are not released to the public until the end of each term. The Court began making exceptions to this policy on a case-by-case basis in the litigation following the 2000 presidential elections, to allow same-day release of audio tapes. But television broadcasting remains completely off-limits, and some justices, most notably Justice Antonin Scalia, have publicly expressed their strong opposition to any change in that policy.

With the departure of Justice David Souter, who declared in 1996 that cameras would roll in the U.S. Supreme Court "over my dead body," it was thought that the Court might warm up on the subject. Souter's replacement, Associate Justice Sotomayor, expressed her positive experience with cameras in the courtroom during her nomination hearings. But the ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry seems a likely signal against change at the Supreme Court level.

Without a change in the prevailing attitude at the U.S. Supreme Court or a widespread move on the part of federal appeals courts and local district courts to modify their rules, live reporting via new media channels is likely to be limited to the courtrooms of individual judges with more liberal attitudes toward access to the courts, and to cases in which none of the parties is motivated to challenge a court's decision allowing it.

Jeffrey D. Neuburger is a partner in the New York office of Proskauer Rose LLP, and co-chair of the Technology, Media and Communications Practice Group. His practice focuses on technology and media-related business transactions and counseling of clients in the utilization of new media. He is an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching E-Commerce Law and the co-author of two books, "Doing Business on the Internet" and "Emerging Technologies and the Law." He also co-writes the New Media & Technology Law Blog.

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January 29 2010


GlobalPost Expands Partnerships, Struggles with Pay Service

A year ago, GlobalPost launched online with an ambitious mission to "redefine international news for the digital age...with a decidedly American voice." The idea was to hire freelance stringers around the world to report back to the U.S., and thereby fill the gap left by the closure of traditional media's foreign bureaus. While the site has forged important partnerships with CBS News and others, its hybrid business model of online sponsorships and a paid premium service has been slow to gain traction.

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When I spoke to GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni last year, he was confident that an online-only news operation could be leaner than a legacy one. "We can do it on the web, where we can reach our audience very inexpensively and [we've developed] a business model that allows us to be profitable without having to jump over the moon," he told me.

One year later, Balboni said he is proud of the work done by the army of GlobalPost correspondents in 50 countries, including World of Trouble, a massive report on the global economic crisis that included work from 20 correspondents. The site also broke the story that U.S. military aid to Afghanistan was helping enrich the Taliban.

"I think we succeeded in our first year by bringing back great international coverage, with extraordinary reporting," Balboni said. "We now have a legion of freelancers, and have had 4 million unique visitors in all of 2009. Our goal was to hit 600,000 monthly visitors to our site, and we exceeded that with 750,000 visitors last November, and 618,000 visitors in December."

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Balboni was also happy with the growing number of syndication partners for GlobalPost's content. Last September, GlobalPost announced a partnership with CBS News that has brought in more exposure and pay for its correspondents, some of whom have been featured on the "CBS Evening News." Not only did Balboni promise to be a non-partisan outlet, he delivered with partnerships with outlets across the political spectrum, from Huffington Post to Reuters to Newsmax. GlobalPost headlines are even featured on Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly's home page.

Seth Kugel, a GlobalPost correspondent based in Brazil, told me the CBS News partnership paid dividends for him.

"I have made a decent amount of money from the partnership with CBS, which shows that they are being pro-active about getting us opportunities with their partners," Kugel told me via email. "I really feel GlobalPost understands reporters and does everything they can to support us, within their limited means."

Business Model Challenges

While the site has established itself as a player in the news business in its first year, it has also struggled to bring in steady revenues from its premium Passport service, which has just 400 subscribers. The site initially planned to charge $199 per year for access to special content from correspondents and inside information. The price is now down to $99 per year, with a discounted $50 rate for seniors or academics.

Balboni told me Passport members especially liked being included in the story-making process via a feature called "Foreign Desk" that allows them to suggest topics and story ideas to editors. But he also said GlobalPost did not meet its revenue goals in its first year, hitting the same wall as other media companies during the economic meltdown. Balboni said GlobalPost is revamping Passport and will announce something on that front in the spring.

So far, Balboni said advertising is bringing in about 70 percent of revenues, with syndication deals and Passport bringing in 30 percent. He hopes the split will move closer to a more ideal 50/50. "The less dependent we are on ads, the better," he said.

Steve Safran, editor in chief of Lost Remote, has worked with Balboni in the past as a consultant to GlobalPost and at Balboni's previous venture, the New England Cable News network. Safran says Balboni succeeded in establishing GlobalPost as a respected news site.


"GlobalPost has had a successful first year by any measure," Safran told me via email. "I dare say that this, its second year, will be even more critical. This is when we'll see if the the site and its reporting can keep growing to a point where it's clear whether this is a successful business model."

Alan Mutter, a media consultant and Newsosaur blogger, was also impressed with the ambition, scope and seriousness of GlobalPost, but took issue with the tone and content.

"The work typically is solid, but often prosaic and seldom distinguished," Mutter said via email. "You can get more up-to-the-minute news at Google News and many of the articles seem to lack the political, economic and strategic insight that characterizes the best of foreign reporting...I suspect they will get better and find their voice as time goes on."

Support for Correspondents

One of the challenges for GlobalPost is keeping its corps of freelance correspondents happy. The correspondents receive stock options in GlobalPost, as well as about $1,000 per month to produce one 800-word reported piece per week in addition to blog-like "Notebook" entries. That pay is not nearly enough to cover living expenses for most correspondents, who must field other full-time or freelance gigs to survive.

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Jean MacKenzie is the GlobalPost correspondent in Afghanistan who broke the story on U.S. aid going to the Taliban. She told me via email that the exposure she's received while being a correspondent for GlobalPost has been satisfying. But she had to run an NGO that trains journalists in Kabul in order to make enough money.

"I have relished being a reporter again, and I believe that having to produce my own stories has made me a better trainer as well," she said. "The downside, of course, is the lack of adequate financial compensation, which keeps me from being able to devote as much time as I would like. In order to live and work in Kabul, which is a surprisingly expensive environment, I have to have a full-time job in addition to GlobalPost. That makes things a bit frustrating, since I sometimes cannot get as deeply into the story as I would otherwise."

Kugel, the Brazil correspondent, also has to juggle other freelance writing work with his GlobalPost reporting. Kugel said he would appreciate getting paid more, though he's thankful that the company has covered some expenses, in addition to the extra work for CBS News.

"Of course, I would like to be paid more, and there have been times where I've put in many days on a story and realized that my hourly pay was something god-awful," he said. "But most stories are not like that, and these days [GlobalPost] has gotten much more flexible about allowing us to do major projects that pay more, and give us expenses to work with...I should note that no one can live off what GlobalPost pays, but that is part of the model: we're freelancers that devote ourselves part-time to GlobalPost."

David Carr, media reporter for the New York Times, is amazed by the diversity and quality of the content at GlobalPost, but worries that correspondents who come from legacy media backgrounds might not be able to pass the torch to a new generation of seasoned reporters.

"Many of the best people who file on GlobalPost are correspondents who gained years or even decades of experience while living in far-flung lands on the nickel of MSM outlets," Carr told me via email. "Those operations now find themselves in reduced circumstances and as a result have cut their global news efforts and the people who make it happen...I'm thrilled to still be reading the work of many of them, but once that generation of talent that was sustained and educated under an old media paradigm peters out, where will the talent come from?"

While GlobalPost has done a good job establishing its credentials as a serious, non-partisan news organization, it still has work to do in exploiting the online medium. Balboni said they had plans to integrate Facebook more deeply into the site, the way that Huffington Post has. And while they have increased video reports to at least two on-location reports per week, the videos are still not embeddable.

"In many ways, GlobalPost piggy-backs on other organizations, since a correspondent is forced to use resources from other jobs (Internet, housing, drivers, translators, etc.)," MacKenzie said. "This is not exactly fair. But as I have said, these are teething problems that will have to be worked out if the organization is to progress. GP will have to have dedicated reporters, not stringers who have to chase a million other gigs in order to survive. For now, we are all feeling our way forward -- can this new model work? If it does, it is an exciting step for journalism."


What do you think about what GlobalPost has accomplished in its first year? What do you think it could improve, and would you be willing to pay for a premium membership? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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.

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