Tag Archives: Citizen media

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.

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.

Finding hidden gold by looking the other way: Underground Charlotte

Tunnel near downtown Charlotte

Tunnel near downtown Charlotte.

I’ve always heard my city had historic gold mine shafts in unexpected places.

But some poking around online opened my eyes to some intriguing hidden spots with amazing visuals in my city, and the people who explore them.

This photo is from aurelie, created on Sept. 13, 2009, and shows a drain that resembles a mine shaft in urban Charlotte, about 2 miles away from downtown Charlotte’s shiny new office towers. There’s much more, from across North America, at Urban Exploration Resource.

In my media bubble, I had no idea there existed such a network of underground and up-high creators on blogs and forums, seeking adventure.

It’s a good reminder that not everyone is broadcasting on the big social networks and that niche communities are creating amazing content in their own hidden gardens.

Those gardens aren’t even walled; they’re just niche.

Smart information curators and journalists will keep in mind they exist, and turn around occasionally from the direction where everyone else is looking, to find unique, interesting content and perspective.

See more for yourself, at No Promise of Safety.

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.

Building an open Carolina news network

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Chip Oglesby's Publish2 links for Boeing

Warning: News geek alert. I hope this post will be of great interest to a small group of people, but I’m throwing out ideas that might be filled with jargon.

The recent rains that paralyzed Atlanta taught a lesson: Building a network before critical need arrives can make the sharing of news and information faster, more powerful and effective.

In the case of the Atlanta flood, local leaders in the Twitter community brought together people by advocating the use of a tag on Twitter that was easily searchable.

But we have more network tools than just Twitter, and the principles of networking apply across social networks.

One emerging news tool is Publish2, which is a for-profit company that allows journalists to bookmark links and tweets and share on their websites with widgets. The company also has widgets that allow website managers to add a request for tips from readers.

The New York Times uses Publish2 to aggregate “What we’re reading” posts. The (Columbia) State’s Chip Oglesby used Publish2 to aggregate stories about the Boeing move from Seattle to South Carolina, including posts from Seattle that gave a different perspective on the move. The screenshot above shows his work.

But Publish2 also has the ability to let journalists collaborate across newsrooms, building lists of links about a particular topic in newsgroups. Then different newsrooms (or blogs) can share the crowdsourced links with widgets on their own websites.

That’s a powerful tool, as illustrated with the crowdsourced use of hashtags on Twitter during emergencies and breaking news. And in the Publish2 case, the crowdsourcers are all pre-approved, theoretically “reliable sources.”

Another example: The hearings about former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley have generated widespread coverage, and interest, across the state. Mark Binker of Greensboro is generating amazing quick coverage on Twitter, and the Greensboro News and Record is using Cover it Live to aggregate those tweets. Raleigh is taking a different approach, using live video, live blogging and comments on the News and Observer site.

News organizations across the state have interest in the hearings but can’t always afford to staff them. Publish2 could help them work together to aggregate coverage and link out to original sources from their own websites.

Admittedly, Publish2 is a for-profit company. Where this goes, I’m unsure. Perhaps Google Wave will make this collaboration easier in a different form in the future. But not yet, and hey, Google is a for-profit company too, just like Twitter (some day).

It’s past time to try out Publish2 collaboratively and learn some broad principles that can apply to networking the news. Let’s build a North Carolina network and a Carolinas network before we get hit with a hurricane or some other big news event that will need all our resources, collaboratively.

Perhaps some day, we’ll find similar tools that are open source and free.

Let’s experiment and iterate now. I’ve created the groups and seeded them with some Carolinas journalists on Publish2.

I have to acknowledge this: I’m throwing out this idea from outside any legacy newsroom, and I understand the heavy competitive pressure within those newsrooms. Perhaps this idea won’t fly in those newsrooms. But then, it might fly among the growing ranks of independent journalists. And as we experiment, other projects like the J-Lab Networking the News effort are encouraging cooperation among independents and legacy newsrooms in two N.C. cities, Asheville and Charlotte.

Ryan Sholin and Greg Linch of Publish2 are behind this idea and willing to help.

If you’ve already used Publish2 and want to join the North Carolina or Carolinas networks, let me know. If you want to be an administrator, let me know. If you think it’s a dumb, stupid idea, let me know.

Update from comments: If you’re not already on Publish2, send the email address you want to use to sign up in a direct message to Underoak on Twitter (me), or email it to me at akrewson45cATmacDOTcom. It looks like that method will automagically put you in the newsgroup or groups.

Try. Try again. Repeat.