Tag Archives: citizen journalism

Strengthening North Carolina’s media ecosystem, from the ground up

weeds

Fiona Morgan and Ryan Thornburg issued a call to arms for citizens to become the media in today’s Raleigh News and Observer. Thornburg expanded the idea with a list of steps that communities can take to fill the gaps in news as legacy institutions operate with smaller staffs.

The call to action is remarkable in these respects: It comes from two people in academia, without financial interest in seeing more citizen participation in the media, and it calls for journalistic thinking from ordinary people. It also focuses on North Carolina and local civic news.

When news organizations, local governments or new marketing websites ask for participation from ordinary people these days, many folks react with cynicism:

“Oh, they just want free content.”

And for coders who can help parse data, the cynicism is even greater. These folks get paid to code, and we’re asking them to work for free?

But the call to action from people outside the media shows the civic pain at a time when distrust of institutions runs high. Morgan and Thornburg also bring theory down to specifics.

Their ideas echo projects proposed through the Knight News Challenge as well as the mission of the newly named Knight School of Communication at Queens University in Charlotte.

What I don’t want to see from their call to action: Yet another conference. We have plenty, even in North Carolina, planned for 2011.

What I would like to see: Specific projects or small meetups, with cross-discipline teams, aimed at small slices of the news ecosystem that are uncovered now.

Demos, not memos. Or even blog posts.

At the same time, we have to find ways to pay ourselves for the work. Foundations and nonprofits can jump-start projects, but finding business models is part of the challenge.

Background:
Fiona Morgan’s study of the news ecosystem in the Triangle. The report is long, but worth at least skimming for an understanding that news comes from a complex system rather than one place.

Fighting and dying: A few quick words on community news competition from Steve Buttry

Dandelion weeds

I planned a long post back in mid-August on competition between large companies like AOL’s Patch and homegrown local news sites for MediaShift or this site. For clarity and context, I called Steve Buttry, director of community engagement for TBD.com, a local news site in Washington, D.C., financed by Albritton. Buttry was a bit busy with a launch, but he took the time to talk, and his wise words soothed angst.

Then I got derailed by some other work. So as the buzz heats up again about competition in local online news, I’m dumping his words out of my notebook. I told Buttry I wouldn’t waste them, and they’ll do more good out here:

“I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game, especially if media companies are smart enough to expand beyond advertising and start trying to become a digital marketplace for the community.”

AOL’s Patch is launching several sites in the Washington, D.C., area.

“I think every competitor is a potential collaborator or customer (and I include the Washington Post in that statement, not just Patch).”

Buttry said TBD will aggregate information from the two existing local Patch sites from the start, as TBD aggregates from other sources throughout the metro area.

“Clearly there is some fighting and dying going on,” he said about new business models for news and niche sites. “But I don’t see media competition as a fight to the death. Look at how mobile communication has grown from its tiny (and competitive) start. Lots of fighting and dying in the process, but the market is exponentially bigger than it was a couple decades ago. I think we have plenty of room to grow the market for community media.”

Context: The Internet will likely overtake newspapers as the second largest U.S. advertising medium in the coming year, according to a June report by PricewatershouseCooper, reported at the Wall Street Journal’s Digits.

More context: J-Lab’s report on its New Voices grant participants. 36-page smart PDF, including information valuable for universities and other educational institutions on Page 23 or so.

And even more context: My initial angst about this new competition, remembering the local wars of earlier days. But back then, the ad market was more finite.

Asking “Who’s a journalist?” is so 2007

Dan Gillmor asks in a Salon piece, “Who’s a journalist?” Commenters are weighing in.

But Dan, please pardon me for this reaction.

This question is so 2007.

Howard Weaver raised it in his old blog, Etaoin Shrdlu, that year. I wrote a paper that year for a UNC class that addressed the question.

Why are we still dealing with it?

Perhaps the question still draws reaction because many journalists are finding that others are co-opting the name, or they’re unsure whether they can still use the label for themselves if they’re not getting paid by organizations anymore to do journalism.

Either way, the question resembles discussion of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, and I’d love to see us move on to other questions.

How should society pay for journalism? What can we learn from history and current experiments like Spot.Us?

How can individuals finance their journalism? Which old ethical rules should we keep?

How can experienced journalists spread the ethics, values and ideals that are worth keeping to the new creators who call themselves journalists?

Is a sports marketing company that solicits and broadcasts high school football scores through text and Twitter a journalism company? Not unless they build a system that adds verification of the information, making it bulletproof from spammers and bots who will no doubt find it.

Is a site that scrapes content from local newspapers and repurposes it without attribution on “hyperlocal” WordPress blogs journalism? No, but how do you teach small local advertisers and readers to tell the difference?

Those are the questions that matter now. People describing themselves as journalists will be best judged by what they produce. Librarians and others working with academic papers are polishing systems that assign rankings to people based on their published works. Others like Spot.Us and Publish2 are experimenting with new funding models.

How can we make new forms work? Let’s get to it.

Move beyond 2007.

Connecting the world and strengthening international reporting, through an online journalism class

Classmates Richard Smart (@Tokyorich) and Rick Martin (@1rick) collaborated on multimedia coverage of a protest in Shinjuku, Japan, against U.S. military bases on the Fourth of July. The work was part of an assignment in online journalism for a class at Peer 2 Peer University.

As the United States celebrated its birthday with parades, fireworks and the honoring of fallen soldiers, seeing a protest against U.S. military presence in other sovereign countries added rich perspective.

I would have had no idea about the protest without the classmates’ coverage. In that respect, the power of a global journalism class is remarkable.

Finding World Cup 2010 images: Searching outside the usual places

Demotix photo sharing site

The Demotix photo and video site takes a 50 percent cut of image sales.

Late Saturday, as the World Cup soccer games paused for a moment, I searched for images from the games and the spectacle through TwitPic and Flickr for a class assignment at P2PU.

To search Twitpic images, I used PicFog, an interesting, new (to me) tool.

As you would expect, Twitpic photos from the World Cup most resembled snapshots, and the best stuff was on Flickr, all rights reserved. A couple of Flickr groups, like the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 Impressions, have Getty Images managing or owning quite a few of the photos.

What remains true: “Fast, cheap or good. Pick two.”

And in some ways, it seems we’ve grown accustomed enough to new tools to know how to place and protect quality, creative work.

Of course, exceptions happen, like the use of TwitPic just after the Haiti earthquake, as a quick, available tool to transmit photos. Use of those photos led to cease and desist letters and a lawsuit.

Pricing and marketers’ percentages, however, still remain in flux, and some say out of whack.

Demotix, a site where photographers and video creators can upload their work to seek paying clients, actively sought contributors in one of the Flickr World Cup groups. The Demotix site offers a view around the world of important events in a visually pleasing way.

Demotix takes a 50 percent cut of any sales. That number is low compared to what some are saying the general Getty percentage is for photos licensed through a new deal with Flickr. Getty takes 70 percent, it appears, for some photographers.

The Getty and Flickr deal has some professional photographers concerned about falling prices for their work. I’m sure sites like Demotix could also be troubling, just as some professional writers have been concerned about “citizen journalists.”

We shall see what comes next. Anyone selling any photos through Flickr and Getty?

Free online journalism classes gain ground

Edupunk image

Edupunk

The head of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University. The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, with a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform continues to evolve, using a base of Drupal. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, and they’re refining as they go with feedback from participants.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU, an online community of open study groups, in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

The concept of coaching outside traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for almost a year, with a focus on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would edit their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

I proposed that the class use Moodle open-source software, a learning management system that is has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.

Then in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp through the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with education components to broaden capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, however, was a proven business model, with customers who can pay.

Certainly many large media companies are seeking community help covering the news these days, and the need exists to improve skills in broad communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps that business model will become clearer.

By contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining their tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

In fact, Mozilla has teamed up with Hacks/Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps we just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, media folks have shown a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started, with little regard to organizational structure. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that the possibilities exist, spread across the globe. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of Harry Potter.

What I’d like to see next: Taking the concept of online tools to teach journalism to local communities, with tools that individuals can use for independent courses, simply. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add great value.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to write their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. Thoughts?

Image credit: Image via Flickr from bionicteaching.
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Standardize basic hashtags for Charlotte

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

“People want to slice information for local cultures; this means that the local cultures need to be able to do the slicing rather than rely on institutions that are more likely to create universal organization schemas. No organization has the diversity necessary to build all of the different glocalized systems that people desire.”
danah boyd, 2005

It started with #tacos and #pbr08.
Charlotte people on Twitter early used hashtags, those words preceded by the # mark, to make jokes and organize drinking parties.
It evolved into #snOMG, a snow event in pre-Oprah 2009.

Now Dan Conover and others in Charleston have shown a way forward, a way to filter the noise of Twitter, from the beginning of the message, enabling better manual search and better search on clients like Tweetie and HootSuite. It’s a folksonomy, or agreed-upon naming convention for tags, which helps people find and share specific information. In this case, keeping it local is key.

Don’t let “folksonomy” scare you. It just means keywords that a community chooses. Charlotte already has #charlotte, used in at least one RSS feed on a commercial website for tweets from Charlotte. It used #cltgas during a shortage in the fall of 2008, borrowing from Atlanta, which invented #atlgas and, most recently, #atlflood.

Charlotte also has #cltcc for the city council, although perhaps it’s sometimes overused by some candidates running for election. It was documented by Brandon Uttley on what the hashtag.

Of course, Twitter itself is working to enhance filtering, creating lists, in which people will be able to group sources together.

Even so, power remains in shared, collaborative keywords, first developed on Twitter during the San Diego fires of 2007 and popularized after a post by Chris Messina.

Conover’s story shows that a filtering method is available now, controllable in a shared way by individuals. He told the tale at Columbia’s Social Media Club on Thursday about a hashtag summit, in which local media representatives and bloggers met at a bar and agreed upon basic hashtags for the Charleston area. And they discussed principles, like uniform length (short) and amount of total tags.

As of Friday night, the basic tag, #chs, has been used in 722 tweets, with 242 contributors, for an average of 103.1 tweets per day, in the past week.

Conover made it sound so simple, but I suspect it was more like herding cats, in a day when many people are seizing branding opportunities in social media. Getting competing media to agree on using standard hashtags isn’t necessarily easy. Conover and others in Charleston deserve credit for a strong example of cooperation.

“During the boom, there was a rush to get everything and everyone online. It was about creating a global village. Yet, packing everyone into the town square is utter chaos. People have different needs, different goals. People manipulate given structures to meet their desires. We are faced with a digital environment that has collective values. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in search. For example, is there a best result to the query “breasts”? It’s all about context, right?”
danah boyd, 2005

Conover said cities like Louisville, Ky., and Vancouver have adopted similar practices since Charleston’s effort. And in Charleston, “even the police use it,” he said at the social media summit. On the panel with Conover, discussing the future of journalism and social media, was Charlotte’s Jeff Elder, who took this video afterward of Conover explaining Charleston’s efforts.

And in Asheville, Jeff Fobes of The Mountain Express announced a change on Oct. 7 from branded #mxnow tags to community centered #avl tags. The Mountain Express is a weekly paper that embraced hashtags early on its website, allowing community members to tweet information and have it appear on the site easily.

To be effective, the hashtags need to be well-known, documented, shared and short. Getting buy-in from others also seems to require a bottom-up, collaborative approach. So, to get things rolling, I’ve added to Uttley’s documentation of the #cltcc tag on what the hashtag, borrowing liberally from Charleston.

Here are Charlotte’s proposed tags, many of which are already in widespread use but weren’t necessarily documented previously:

  • #clt A short general tag for Charlotte. It’s been around awhile and echoes the airport code. Use of it doesn’t mean #charlotte goes away, especially if RSS feeds have been built on the longer tag. But it’s a suggestion for a shorter, standard tag that already gets used fairly often, going forward.
  • #cltvote A tag for tweets about voting and elections in Charlotte.
  • #cltwx Proposed tag for tweets about Charlotte weather. Local TV weather guy @wxbrad is promoting the use of the tag #severeweather, but #cltwx is consistent with others’ use, could provide more geo-specific information and be shorter.
  • #cltbrkg Proposed tag for Charlotte breaking news, copying Charleston’s similar tag.
  • #clttrfk Proposed tag for Charlotte traffic.
  • #clteats Proposed tag for food and drink in Charlotte.
  • #cltdeal Proposed tag for deals in Charlotte.
  • #cltbiz Proposed tag for business news in Charlotte.

Remember, what the hashtag is a wiki, so if you think that list excludes a tag you want to see, you can add it yourself. In addition, you can edit existing entries. Certainly it seems Charlotte needs a documented school board tag, and it would be great to create #cltneeds to help with efforts like Mission Possible. I suspect we need to add tags for Ballantyne, Plaza Midwood, the Eastside, Uptown, etc.

Hashtag conflict.

Hashtag conflict.

Of course, the shorter the tag, the more room you have for your tweet or other tags. At the same time, the shorter the tag, the more likely it will conflict with someone else’s use.

Specifically, #clt appears to be used in India as well. What the hashtag makes a graph of the number of times the tag is used and who’s using it, so the wiki can be used for data analysis and conflict resolution as well as documentation. And sometimes collisions happen: #cbj apparently stands for the Columbus (Ohio) Blue Jackets as well as the Charlotte Business Journal. But that’s why a wiki matters: It can help sort out conflicts.

Few of these tags should be static; our world is constantly changing. We can at least begin. If you want to talk more, I plan to be at BarCamp Charlotte on Oct. 17.

“It’s important to realize that Web2.0 is not a given – it is possible to f*** it up, especially if power and control get in the way.”
danah boyd, 2005

Further reading: danah boyd.