Tag Archives: Citizen journalism

When “we are the media,” how does it change us or society?

The changes that smartphones with camera and an Internet connection are wreaking in society have been both thoughtfully reported upon, relentlessly evangelized and ruthlessly derided, depending upon the angle or intent of the commentator.

The past days will occupy a few lines in the history books. Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a milestone healthcare bill. And earlier in the week, a soldier killed fellow servicemen and women at Fort Hood.

Today, Paul Carr wrote that “citizen journalists can’t handle the truth at TechCrunch.

I agreed with him on a few things. The video from “This American Life” (below) that Carr embedded was deeply affecting on this point, in terms of what becoming an observer can do to our involvement in what we are filming.

Changing an avatar to green or changing a location to Tehran did not, despite good intentions, prove to substantively help students escape repression. I gather from reading accounts from journalists that the solidarity demonstrated by doing so was both noticed and appreciated there. And there was a tipping point in terms of the use of the platform to bring attention to a political cause.

Where I was left frustrated is in Carr’s suggestion that those who are watching should be doing something more, whether in the hospital or, in the case of Neda, on the streets of Tehran, instead of documenting events with the digital tools at hand.

Mathew Ingram posted a thoughtful response about this notion on his blog, “Citizen Journalism: I’ll take it, flaws and all.” David Quigg wrote   a thoughtful reply to Carr’s post as well. Dave Winer was less charitable.

I found the example of Neda to be unworthy of the point I think Carr was trying to make.

It also brushed off two key factors: the effect that the release of that video had in revealing the death of a protester and that of the bullet’s impact itself on her heart.

As Suw Charman-Anderson pointed out in her detailed critique and debunking of Carr’s post, “Killing Strawmen,” (which I won’t repeat here), there was a doctor on-site, who was unable to do anything because of the massive trauma to her chest.

In my limited experience, you provide the standard of care to which you are certified and are able to deliver, ceding primary responsibility to others more able as they arrive on scene. As an EMT couldn’t do much more, for instance, than to gauge consciousness, stanch bleeding, stabilize injuries, provide oxygen and transport people. Your choices must change if someone is in the wilderness but in most scenarios, that’s accurate. Paramedics, nurses, doctors and surgeons each have progressively more expertise and responsibility.

In all of that, communication with the nearest hospital and ER docs available is crucial. Transferring information to both medical professionals and law enforcement is something a bystander can and should do.

And to some extent, communication and documentation is precisely what a member of the public equipped with a cameraphone can contribute, despite the vigor with which Carr has chosen to deride that role.

I don’t doubt that seasoned correspondents, armed with an understanding of the ethics and laws that pertain to reporting, are needed to convey information from the battlefield or to analyze the meaning of the trends that confront us.

In fact, Brock Meeks, one such trusted newsman, made a comment on my post about Twitter lists that emphasized just how important getting the facts right is to both the audience and media.

I was left wondering about other situations where the “citizen journalists” Carr derides are providing an important function in the newsgathering ecosystem, whether in reporting national disasters, disease, voting irregularities or consumer sentiment.

A more calm approach might consider whether models of “hyperlocal” journalism that marry traditional media to online platforms might have a chance of success.

My intention is not to suggest that observers couldn’t play a useful role in a crisis. It was to say that when there are qualified staff on scene, documenting what is happening in the absence of mainstream journalists may be useful for those that follow – including news outlets that may use video or audio gleaned on site.

I agree with Paul that running images shouldn’t occur without a full understanding of the ethics or privacy rights involved.

Unfortunately, many tabloids have shown a poor grasp of either historically.

The fact that technology changes behavior doesn’t make it inherently bad. We’re all struggling to make sense of exactly what living in a modern panopticon created by one another will mean. It changes news, our conception of privacy, and even our perception of self.

The traits for good character and decency that the Greeks described millennia ago remain applicable, however, just as the ethics taught in journalism schools pertain to modern reporters armed with Flip cams, iPhones and a direct line to YouTube.

There will continue to be moments when war correspondents are confronted what choices about how covering conflict, versus participating in it, will mean.

Similarly, people driving by an accident will need to be thoughtful about “playing paparrazzi” as opposed to making sure that those involved are receiving the aid they need. Anyone who has a conflict about whether to “tweet or treat” might to do well to consider what basic human decency means to them, personally.

Does an event need to be documented? Or does calling 911 and then moving to help trump rendering assistance?

Citizens are looking for truth, honesty and facts, where ever we can find them.  That need was frequently the subject of discussion during Public Media Camp, after which I wrote that “2009 is the year of We, the Media.”

Perhaps, as news organizations and citizens alike contribute to the body of knowledge online, a new model for collaborative journalism will emerge that serves each better.

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At the NPR and PBS unconference, 2009 is the year of “We, the media”

John Boland at Pubcamp

John Boland at Pubcamp

“TV, radio and pro journalism still matter in this new ecosystem”-John Boland, PBS.

This past weekend, I attended Public Media Camp, an unconference at American University in Washington, D.C.

I came away from the two days of sessions, talks, informal discussions, random encounters and rapid-fire information exchange inspired, exhilarated and a bit exhausted. That last is why it took a day to get a post up. By its nature, I couldn’t go to everything. What I did attend, I tried to take notes upon and livestream to Livestream.com and uStream. When it comes to the archiving that video, unfortunately, I endured two crashes and suffered from the lack of a decent mic. Happily, much better video will be coming online from other sources over the next week. What follows are my thoughts, links and video from “Pubcamp.”

Citizen Journalism and public media

The first session of the day remains one of the most memorable. Citizen journalists and local bloggers have much to learn from – and about – one another. “We the media” is a theme I pick up later in this post. Suffice it to say that democratization of the tools for information sharing has taken some producers unaware and left many stations understaffed, at least at the level it takes to effectively engage with those in the community creating the content. That said, many NPR editors and writers are doing quietly effective work in finding, engaging and collaborating with bloggers in the community. I mentioned Universal Hub in Boston, although I’ll leave it to Adam Gaffin, Radio Boston and WBUR to relate exactly how well that relationship works.

@jessieX referenced the tensions in this session in her post on generational differences, “My Takeaway,” where she captures the insight she shared with me in person.

Video of the  citizen journalism session is available on-demand.

Tools for curation of audience-generated content

This was one of the best attended sessions of Public Media Camp and, due to any number of reasons, one of the best, at least in my view. The standing room-only group was organized into as a circle and shared dozens of useful tools and services that can aid stations and editors in aggregating, organizing, filtering and curating pictures, video and text generated from listeners.”We all want to open up the floodgates to UGC and crowdsourcing but there’s issues of trust,” said Andrew Kuklewicz.

My favorite metaphor from Public Media came from Andy Carvin here, in the idea of “trust clouds,” or the social network of people around us that represent who we can believe, retweet, link or otherwise invest with our own reputation. A tool for doing just that if at Trustmap.org. Newstrust.net also came up as “a guide to good journalism.”

Such tools and relationships are critical to both the use of user generated content by stations and the decision of readers and listeners to trust and, in the social media world, pass on information. As I commented during the session, increasingly consumers of media follow bylines, not masthead. To borrow David Weinberger’s phrase, “transparency is the new objectivity.” By showing readers how and where the audience was sourced in real-time, media organizations can make a stronger case for the veracity of such information.

Tools included:

Greg Linch shared the approach to curation that Publish2 takes: “Social Journalism: Curate the Real-Time Web.”

Social Media Success

The most obvious case study in social media success may be Andy Carvin himself. The impact of his efforts have been deep and far-reaching throughout NPR’s shows and staffers. As Amy Woo put it, “I feel the same way about Andy and his tweeting as I do about Diane Rehm.”

Carvin offered compelling examples of success, like an NPR partnership with content discovery service Stumbleupon to create a reciprocal connection w/Twitter. With a little tweaking, a retweet can equal a stumble.

Another site, criticalexposure.org, “teaches kids to take pics as a way to be advocates for social change,” said Carvin.

He also said that NPR’s Facebook fan page generates some 8% of NPR web traffic. Their testing shows 1 post every 60-90 minutes is ideal for audience. That connection came courtesy of a listener, at least at the outset: The NPR fan page on Facebook was created by a fan. That fan then gave it back to the organization, says Jon Foreman. Carvin’s curation of public radio content took it to the next level.

Hurricanewiki is likely to be cited as a classic case in social media success, where more than five hundred people came together, organized through Twitter by @acarvin. You can see the results  at Hurricanewiki.org. Carvin also created a hurricane resources community for Gustav on Ning, built in about 48 hours.

One example that came up in multiple sessions is NPR’s Vote Report . Jessica Clark and Nina Keim wrote a report on it: “Building #SocialMedia Infrastructure to Engage Publics.” And while Carvin pointed out where Vote Report fell short, the idea behind enabling listeners to “help NPR identify voting problems” holds some promise. The use of social media for election monitoring is spreading globally now, as can be seen in Votereport.in in India.

The was a different issue with InaugurationReport:- volume. Carvin said that there was simply “too much social media content to effectively curate.” By way of contrast, even a few hundred engaged listeners could effectively use the #factcheck hashtag by http://npr.org/blogs/politics to fact check the U.S. presidential debates in real-time.

Greg Linch shared a collection of social media guidelines curated at Publish2, including NPR’s social media guidelines. There’s a careful eye keeping watch here on the ethics that go with the new territory: the @NPR ombudsman was present (she’s @ombudsman on Twitter) and brought attention to how the public will relate to any perceived bias shown on social media platform.

A standard for conduct matters. It’s not all peaches and cream, after all, given the ugliness that online discourse descend into on many occasions. “Posting on our site is a privilege, not a right,” said Carvin regarding the scrum on comment trolls, online spammers & NPR sites.

Video of the social media success session is available online at uStream.com.

Public Media and Gaming

One of the more entertaining and creative sessions at Public Media Camp was the hour on gaming. Educational gaming can raise literacy rates in children, after all – could NPR deliver further by reaching into this interactive medium? Nina Wall (@missmodular) said, in fact, that PBS Kids will soon have available an API similar to NPR’s for educational games.

An excellent summary of this discussion can be found at AmericanObserver.net. Video of the public media and gaming session is available online at uStream.com.

PictureTheImpossible is one intriguing example of the genre. The online, community-based game jointly developed by RIT & the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The discussion also included  Kongregate and their “social gaming” model, which provides a platform & revenue share for developers. Could NPR follow suit?

Or what if NPR created a fantasy league for news? Points could be accrued for newsgathering, with players trading shows or writers.

It’s been done for politics – check out the case study of an @NPR fantasy league, from Julia Schrenkler: Minnesota Public Radio’s “fantasy legislature.”

My favorite suggestion, however, came from Andy Carvin: a social “Wait, Wait, don’t tell me!” game where the audience can create news quizzes and then challenge one another on Facebook or the Web.

Social Media FAIL

The first FAIL from Andy Carvin? When the hype around crowdsourcing with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk didn’t deliver. Here’s the Wired story on questions about crowdsourcing.

Video of the social media FAIL session is available on-demand. Amy Woo and other attendees offered many more examples of failures.

Apps for Public Media

The last session of Pubcamp kicked off with a description of @AppsForDemocracy by Peter Corbett. Interesting examples about:

ParkItDC helps people find parking in DC, including which meters are broken.

AreYouSafeDC shows potential threats.

StumbleSafely is a guide to bars & avoiding crime in DC.

FixMyCityDC is a web-based application that allows users to submit service requests by problem type.

And the winner, DC311, enables iPhone access (download from iTunes) to the District’s 311 city service site, coupled with a  Facebook App.

There’s more to come: In 2 years, the vision laid out by Corbett  includes “muni data standardization, open civic app ecology and the ‘real-time muni web.’ And in 5 years, the vision for includes ideas seemingly lifted out of science fiction: augmented civic reality, AI-driven civic optimization & “virtual flow working.”

What could be created for public media? Apps that enable listeners to create channels from the API for specific topics. Apps that combine real-time data feeds from government sources with local bloggers and radio stations. Apps that allow listeners to help filter the flood of information around events, like the Vote Report project.

Why develop such apps? Andy Carvin believes that  “the line between content, services & apps is blurring. To create a more informed public, it now takes more.” To not create such innovation would, in effect, be irresponsible.

More posts, eclectica and public media resources

The PBS News Hour has partnered with the Christian Science Monitor on “Patchwork Nation.”

The work of Doc Searls at the Berkman Center on “vendor relationship management” came up, mentioned by one Keith Hopper. More details at http://projectvrm.org.

FrontlineSMS.com is a free group text messaging tool for nonprofit that is useful in disaster and crisis response.

Swiftapp.org was shared by @kookster: free, #opensource toolset for crowdsourced situational awareness.

Plenty of social media application develop is going on at PBS. Their social media guru, Jonathan Coffman,  pointed to the tools at PBS.org/engage.

The Participatory Culture Foundation has launched Videowtf.com.

Economystory.org is a cooperative effort of public media producers to provide financial literacy.

Check out Radio Drupal and Radioengage.com for open source public netcasting information.

Session notes for @PublicMediaCamp are going up at the wiki at PublicMediaCamp.org and are being aggregated under #pubcamp on Delicious.com by Peter Corbett.

My Takeaways

There a lot of smart, savvy, funny geeks in public media, passionate about delivering on the core mission of education, media literacy and good  journalism.

This same cadre is pushing innovative boundaries, whether it’s engaging the audience, creating new technology platform or expanding the horizons of computer assisted reporting. Database journalism is alive and well at NPR – just look at this visualization of the U.S. power grid.

Vivian Schiller said during her keynote that “2009 was the year everything changed.” Out of context, that statement drew raised eyebrows online. In person, there was more clarity. The massive disruption to the newspaper and traditional media industry is now resulting in significant layoffs and a seachange in how people experience events, share information and learn about the issues. Despite the issues presented by ingesting a torrent of new sources of information, the concept of “We the media” has deep roots, given that so many more people now have the ability to contribute news and help analyze it now that the tools for communication have been democratized and often made freely available online.

What’s missing in that fluid mix of updates, streams and comments is trust in veracity. As we all move into the next decade of the new millennium, the central challenge of public media may be making sense of the noise, taking much the same approach that it has in the past century: report on what’s happening, where it happened, who did it and why it’s important, with a bit more assistance from the audience. Given the loyalty of tens of millions of listeners, “we the media” might just have some legs.

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digiphile: Next up from @acarvin’s presentation of #socialmedia successes: @VoteReport: “Help NPR Identify Voting Problems” http://j.mp/1fysxf #pubcamp

digiphile: Next up from @acarvin’s presentation of #socialmedia successes: @VoteReport: “Help NPR Identify Voting Problems” http://j.mp/1fysxf #pubcamp
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