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April 02 2011


July 28 2010


News sites based on social media content in Latin America

I have to admit I didn’t see this one coming… traditional media corporations in Latin America are launching news sites based exclusively on content originated in social media.

First of all, we have 140 – news of Twitter, a new web site lunched by Perfil in Argentina, intended as a site for “people who don’t have a Twitter account but want to find out what’s happening” in the microblogging world.

Twitter has had a tremendous growth in the country in 2010, thanks mainly to TV shows that sudenly began using Twitter as a live interactive tool with the audience.

Then local celebrities and world-cup football players joined the conversation, finishing the job of popularizing the social network, and now even politicians replace their traditional press releases with fugaceos 140 character messages that sometimes end up in front pages.

140 was created by Darío Gallo, executive editor of Perfil.com and former Director of Noticias (the most popular political magazine of the country), one of the early adopters of Twitter in Argentina. He assured me the new project is receiving good reactions and traffic.

The website feeds itself with Twitpics from celebrities, political “debates” or any piece of news that transcends Twitter.

Meanwhile, one of Gallo’s former colleagues in Perfil, Pablo Mancini, has just created a website named ReporTube as a new project from El Comercio of Peru: “A gateway to the portion of the audience that is interested in producing content”.

They already have more than a thousand video reporters in dozens of countries; but it’s not a merely citizen journalism initiative since they see ReporTube more as an aggregation site of audiovisual testimonies.

The creators say that ReporTube is an online news site, under the umbrella of elcomercio.pe, 100% made with YouTube content with a productive model in permanent construction.

“The massive amount of content available led us to believe that remixing and aggregation are concepts that complement participation and quality content that is not necessarily synonymous of original content”, Mancini explains.

Especial thanks to Facundo for helping me with my lousy English.

April 20 2010


Helium Baloons with Digital Cameras Create Grassroots Maps


I'm getting ready for day five of a two-week workshop for high schoolers at Beaver Country Day School in a suburb of Boston. The subject is my project, Grassroots Mapping, which helps teach people -- often young people -- around the world how to be activist cartographers and how to make their own maps. There's a twist, however: Instead of just marking a Google Map, or walking around with a GPS tracker, we construct simple capsules to hold a cheap digital camera, and send the whole package up on a helium balloon or a kite. The images are then stitched, geo-referenced, and published, as in the following picture:


This isn't exactly your typical high school activity. My workshop at Beaver Country Day School is part of a series of studio design-style courses that make up the NuVu Studio -- an experimental education project where the students get hands-on exposure to topics like alternative energy and "the future of labor."

It differs quite a bit from other workshops I've taught in places like Amman, Jordan and Lima, Peru, in that the idea of "subjective geography" seems somewhat less immediate. I didn't have to explain to anyone in the West Bank, for example, that mapping is not a neutral act, or that it's a social construction with a profound political meaning and agenda. But here in Walnut Hill that seems a bit distant...


Mapping a Tea Party

I did show the students maps I'd made in urban slums in Lima, Peru, and it's not that they were uninterested in the iniquities of urban slums. I'm really facing the same issue as I did in Peru: Before this kind of work (or play) seems exciting and relevant, it has to come with a sense of ownership. Unless we can find a way to situate do-it-yourself mapping, it's not going to resonate.

In Peru, the need for maps to establish land claims was obvious. Unlike here in Boston, my collaborators there had built their homes and community brick by brick with their own hands. They'd made their own geography, so mapping it was just another step.

I suggested to students that we go to a Tea Party rally where a protest against Sarah Palin's keynote speech was occurring. There would be plenty of political context there, I thought. The students were excited (even at the -- distant -- prospect of getting arrested). But our satellite building session overflowed into the afternoon, and when the rally ended we were still in the same room, covered in styrofoam bits and duct tape. Some violent "flight tests" assured that our new camera enclosures were ready for takeoff:

In any case, it's still just plain fun to fly balloons, and this week the students will choose a site to map and explain their reasoning. The hope is that this two-week course will form the basis for an international map-making competition -- a kind of student X Prize, which we're beginning to call the One Satellite Per Child project. Participants will prototype a mapping rig just like we're doing here at Beaver Country Day, collaborate with other students from around the world through a website, and win awards for lowest weight, best documentation, best application of mapping, and other goals.


Why Grassroots Maps?

Grassroots mapping provides an exciting context for situated learning, including subject material from history, geography, physics, politics, and even chemistry. As an example, when we were trying to lower the cost-per-flight, we used stoichiometry to find out how many aluminum soda cans we had to mix with lye to produce enough hydrogen to fill a 5-foot balloon. (Answers varied from 15 to 33.8 cans -- we'll have to try it to find out who was right.)

This is the dream-stuff of many educators, and indeed we often have more interest from Beaver Country Day's teachers than their play-it-cool high school seniors. I've been asked several times whether teachers can take the course, and perhaps that's more important anyways, given that it may represent an opportunity to influence how education works.

Soon we'll start to tackle some advanced projects, like a camera-carrying remote controlled airplane, and an inflatable kite filled with helium. Stay up to date on our progress at the Grassroots Mapping blog.


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April 08 2010


Reporting for an ideal: IDL-Reporteros, investigative journalism in Peru

Independent investigative reporting projects seem to be on the rise, especially in developing nations. Gustavo Gorriti is an experienced Peruvian journalist who decided to establish an independent team of investigative journalists, with a mission to “report, investigate, uncover and publish the events and subjects that hurt the rights, property and the destiny of people“.

Peru is a democracy with a high level of corruption, and Gorriti set out to put journalism at citizens’ disposal and make the powerful accountable. The result? IDL-Reporteros. Jacqueline Fowks is part of this team and she explained to Journalism.co.uk why projects like this are so important.

[JF] The audience is still expecting investigative journalism stories today, the role of the press as a watchdog has not disappeared yet. In Peru – as in most Latin American countries – newspapers publish less investigative stories every day and the investigative teams decline or vanish. As global investments increase – and as state corruption climbs to higher levels in Peru (in concessions, mining, energy and public infrastructure) – there is an urgent need to dig deeper.

Why does it take an independent enterprise to do it? Has mainstream media pulled itself out of the game?

[JF] Even though polls demonstrate that there is a massive rejection of politicians, news media do not necessarily follow, investigate and report about corruption. Investigating corruption takes a lot of time and some amount of resources: most newsrooms decide not to invest on it, some lack staff and resources. Others just do not want to make politicians and companies accountable.

IDL-Reporteros started in October 2009 with a team of two and it is backed financially by the Open Society Institute, a foundation that promotes democracy and human rights-supporting initiatives that help shaping public policies and fight corruption and rights abuses. In January 2010 the whole team was completed and now they have four reporters/writers, an administrative assistant, an IT assistant and the director.

According to Fowks, “each reporter works on two or three stories at once. Some of the themes require additional support of a colleague, especially when there is a need to update promptly. The director monitors – very closely – the progress of each story.”

There is no print edition, so all the stories are published on the website. Feedback so far on the initiative has been quite good.

“There have been important and supporting comments every time we publish a special feature story in our website. Similar comments have appeared on Twitter and on our Facebook wall. The Peruvian mass media has also echoed and covered the stories IDL-Reporteros launched,” says Fowks.

Fowks believes journalism is a cornerstone to democracy even if others feel it’s “inconvenient”: “Some public officials and public servants do not like us much, but we can’t expect to make friends in this job.”



Country: Peru

Website: http://www.idl-reporteros.pe/

Twitter: @IDL_Reporteros

Description: Independent investigative journalism

Staff: Four reporter-writers, an administrative assistant, an IT assistant and the director.

Funding: IDL-Reporteros receives a grant from the Open Society Institute.

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