Saturday, January 31, 2009

J-Lab offers a sunshine guide to help citizen journalists cover government

Just released: "The Citizen Journalist's Guide to Open Government," a multimedia module from J-Lab's Knight Citizen News Network.

A press note from 1978-Pulitzer-Prizer Jan Schaffer, J-Lab's executive director, says the module was produced by Geanne Rosenberg, who is "a lawyer and the founding chair of Baruch College’s new undergraduate Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions... It includes input and video interviews from top media law experts around the country."
The guide features a unique interactive map that tells citizens how they can locate open-government information on each of the 50 state Web sites. Easy-to-find information on either the Governor’s or State Attorney General’s Web site gets a thumbs-up ranking. Hard-to-find information earns a thumbs down. Users can:
  • Obtain local, state and federal government records.
  • Appeal when a records request is denied.
  • Take steps if they are excluded from a meeting.
  • Learn what’s allowed in their state.
  • Understand access to court proceedings.
  • Link to more information.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"Got money to give? Give it to new journalism"

Zachary M. Seward, the young assistant editor of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, would like "philanthropists [to] step in to protect journalism, just as they have ensured that pirouettes and librettos maintain their rightful place in our culture." Seward writes:
Much of journalism is still profitable, and the rest needs more than a bailout. NYU professor Jay Rosen has been particularly eloquent of late in explaining why the future of journalism isn’t about propping up or replacing the system that we’re currently losing but building new ones. So if I had $5 billion to donate to the New York Times, I wouldn’t. I’d fund a 30-person newsroom focused entirely on investigations of local government in New York or a 30-person outfit covering the New York arts and culture. Online-only, of course. And if I wanted the best journalists doing the best work without worrying about ad sales or subscriptions, it would cost me $120 million to endow — or what the Annenberg Foundation gave in 1993 to launch USC’s journalism school.

"My industry is hemorrhaging... the center isn't holding"

New York based "Olivia Loyd" shares her solicitude about the future of journalists. An extract from the Women's International Perspective blog:
A few weeks ago an email landed in my inbox from a former classmate who, by most accounts, would be considered a journalism success story. He was hired by The New York Times soon out of graduate school and has written for some of the most venerable titles in the business as a freelancer.

“I’ve been living very shoestring for very long," he writes. "I'd like to think that I've made a good run at freelancing. I'm 29 now, and coming up on the fifth anniversary of having moved to New York to make this work. I can't say this is the first time I've given thought to leaving journalism, but this is the first time it has been a sustained thought for a considerable amount of time… I built myself back up this year, but feel like I'm in the same dreary place."

"Amateur content far more valuable if edited by professional journalists"

It is increasingly trendy for citizen sites to hire a professional journalist (or two or three) to edit members' contributions. Does that seem a bit futile for citizen journalism?

Not to Julien Pain, founder-editor of the Observers, the cit-journalism site owned by France's international television network France24. Pain explains that his site "takes advantage of the best aspects of a blog, but maintains professional direction." An excerpt from a report by Emma Heald of the World Editors Forum:
What differentiates the Observers from other similar citizen journalism projects linked to traditional media outlets, such as CNN's iReport, is that although much content is produced by amateurs, everything is professionally checked and edited. Fact checking is a time consuming process, Pain explained, but crucial to maintain the validity of the site. "Amateur content is far more valuable if edited by professional journalists," he believes, as when faced with the vast amount of citizen produced content available on the web, it is difficult to know what is reliable. The Observers is confident that is can be a trusted source, and the confirmation process often involves checking facts with more than one contact. Pain also explained that he would feel very uncomfortable about associating unverified information with The Observers' parent brand, France24.

Why pay citizen journalists?

Demotix, London's "Citizen Newswire," explains why it pays contributors, however little:
Given the success of Wikis, Creative Commons and open-source, it is tempting to see the future of journalism in free-to-edit, unpaid websites. These sites, such as NowPublic, are popular but have been criticized for being opinion-driven and derivative. You can judge for yourself the standard of articles on such sites, but what is undeniable is that only a small minority of stories are based on first-hand new information. Original journalism is in short supply....

The better the standard of photojournalism we receive, the more we can charge our media clients and pay our contributors - this will, in turn, encourage more people to take up journalism and produce better work. In this way, Demotix aims to create a ‘virtuous circle’ of citizen-journalism, which will have especially positive effects in places of the world without a free press and where selling a photo could become a crucial source of income.

Open-source, creative-commons licensed reporting is great, and it can coexist with remunerated citizen-journalism. We believe that quality journalism must survive, and that it’s worth paying for.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Citizen journalism photo competition

This British site has announced a competition for citizen photographers. Deadline to upload: February 13.
The aim of the contest is to capture the global economic crisis from a street level.
Winners may be able to profit from selling to news organizations.

How training can help citizen journalists

David Sasaki, the Latin American blogger who also operates Rising Voices, has an IdeaLab post in which he supports training programs for citizen journalists.
As Juliana and I emphasized during a presentation at last year's MobileActive conference in South Africa, just because over three billion people are equipped with cell phones, which can be used as tools for reporting during emergencies, that doesn't mean the world has three billion citizen journalists ready and able to cover every natural disaster, political uprising, and news-worthy event they encounter.

The recent coverage of Tropical Storm Eric, Cyclone Fanele, and the ongoing protests and political turmoil in Madagascar by local citizen journalists reveals the importance of 1.) citizen journalism training programs, 2.) the translation and contextualization of local content for a global audience, and 3.) networks of media groups so that local voices can be amplified and understood when breaking news hits.

iPhone application for citizen journalists

Check this out. The popular French citizen journalism portal CitizenSide (in which AFP holds a 30 per cent stake) has followed in the footsteps of Le Figaro and USA Today to offer its members a free iPhone application. Using it, CitizenSide's citizen reporters can now instantly upload their content, from-the-spot.

GlobalPost debuts with a novel revenue model

The international news aggregator GlobalPost, launched earlier this month by Philip S. Balboni and Charles M. Sennott, is trying a novel revenue model.

In addition to selling online advertisements and syndicated stories, GlobalPost offers a "Passport" by which for a $199 annual subscription, a member may request exclusive political and economic stories. It seems to be an action version of representative journalism.
Passport also gives you a significant voice in the news. We invite you to join us in reinventing the media equation, empowering members for the Web 2.0 era. Instead of the old top-down model where editors decide what you need to read, as a Passport member you play an unprecedented role in shaping the stories that get covered, via ForeignDesk, Correspondent Calls and Newsmaker Interviews. Simply put, it’s access that gives you an edge.

Would a co-op newsroom help save the Times?

Leonard Witt's idea for the New York Times to have all the operating capital it needs:
Right now the Times has approximately a circulation of about 1 million. To have it delivered can cost a subscriber as much as $600 a year. What if The New York Times said we want to put the newsroom into a cooperative trust owned by its readers as it eases into the online world.

We own the newsroom, the New York Times owns everything else and the governance for the newsroom would remain much the way it has been in the past.

If everyone who subscribes to the New York Times paid $400 a year, just for it online, but also got shares into the cooperative, that would be $400 million a year. The Times newsroom costs about $200 million a year to operate. The extra $200 would go into an endowment, so in five years there would be a billion dollars, in ten years $2 billion. Enough that the subscription rate would go down for anyone who contributed for ten years. A ten year investment would be $4,000 or $2,000 less that what you pay for the newspaper now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

Should President Obama's $820 billion economic stimulus plan, zooming through Congress at the speed limit, include the tottering newspaper industry?

After all, is advancing the First Amendment any less important than advancing automobiling?

In a way the issues might overlap, considering that "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" is inextricably linked to their ability to travel. The motor car may well be a tool of freedom of expression.

So think of Madison as you crank up that shiny new Ford.

Seriously, a case could be made that the administration's offer to myriad businesses of tax credits on past profits should be extended to newspapers as well.

In France President Nicholas Sarkozy has already bailed out the French newspaper industry. In America as things stand there's clearly a shortage of tycoons in shining armor.

David Westphal of USC's Annenberg School indicates that desperate newspaper editors are willing to seek even philanthropy.
With for-profit media watching their news-gathering resources dwindle, some editors say they're open to the idea of seeking help from donors.
Whatever works, for now is indeed the time for all good men -- and women courtesy MacKinnon -- to come to the aid of the party (emphasis mine).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Teaching ideas competition: Newspaper Division invites entries by March 1

Dr. Andrea Frantz of the Department of Communication Studies at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania, would like to make this announcement:

AEJMC's Newspaper Division is sponsoring Teaching News Terrifically in the 21st Century, or TNT21, a competition rewarding good ideas for teaching newswriting, reporting and editing.

Three $100 prizes will be offered for the best idea from each of the following entrants’ categories:

* full-time faculty;
* adjunct professors; and
* graduate students.

The entry form may be had via this page or by email from competition coordinators 
Susan Keith or Andrea Frantz.

The completed form and any supporting materials should be e-mailed back to the coordinators at this email address.

The deadline for entries is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time March 1, 2009. Winners will be announced on the Newspaper Division's site about April 15.

If you have questions or would like to serve as a judge, please email Dr. Susan Keith or call her at 732-932-7500, ext. 8235.

Teaching tips should be suitable for use in newswriting, reporting or editing courses, though they might be tailored for specific versions of those courses. For example, tips for teaching ewswriting across media would be welcome, as would tips for teaching a specific type of reporting, such as public affairs reporting, business reporting or environmental reporting. Tips can address teaching practical skills, such as tracking down public information in online records or editing to improve the organization of a story. Entries also can focus on conceptual knowledge, showing, for example, how to teach students to report ethically or edit to avoid libel.

Tips that help professors address the challenges of teaching in a world where technologies are rapidly changing are especially welcome.

Teaching ideas will be judged for their originality, innovative nature, ease of application, completeness, writing and whether they would work in more than one course and/or at different types of schools.

All entries should reflect original teaching ideas that have not been published elsewhere and have not been finalists on display in other teaching awards competitions.

Citizen-J group at Linked-In

A new citizen journalism group has been started at the Linked-In professional social networking site. It was started just recently, and has about 30 members -- who seem to be mostly industry people rather than academics. So I posted links to this blog and the CCJIG Web site there (as well as J-Lab and PJNet) in the hopes of getting some cross-traffic, maybe widening the scope of the conversation for all concerned. Anyone who happens to be a member of Linked-In might want to check it out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Media innovation cannot be dependent on advertisers"

In an engaging ZDNet Rational Rant Mitch Ratcliffe seems to hark back to Leonard Witt's old question, "What will happen when only the journalism is left?"

Noting that we no longer need "a big company to distribute articles and programming," Ratcliffe offers an alternative to the ad-based model.
In the simplest scenario, then, what does an independent journalism supported by the users of information, as compared to being designed to support the producer-of-information’s advertisers, look like? How about this? Pay $1 a month or $12 a year to a reporter who has offered an online “contract” to deliver thorough coverage of a topic. They might ask for more, but they’d have to sell the idea, just as they do in editorial meetings today. In exchange, you’ll get alerts about new articles and comments by the writer through email, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed or SMS. Another feature would be a social page of your own, where your input to the feed is available, delivered to the reporter for their thoughts, and your own feeds to share with friends. The reporter benefits from these re-feeds by supporters as a form of marketing for their work.

Boston convention: Speaker funding deadline nears

AEJMC can reimburse the expenses of any guest speaker you invite to your convention session.

The deadline to apply is January 30. Please fill out this form and email or fax (989-774-2426) to me so I can sign and send it off.

The fund is limited. In recent years about half of all requests have been successful, some only partially.

Only regular co-sponsored sessions are eligible for the funding; tough luck for sole-sponsored sessions and pre-cons . You don't need to know the speaker's name when you apply, only that he or she is not an AEJMC member.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Internet weakens the press' authority"

In graduate school my understanding of "sphere" was almost entirely from J├╝rgen Habermas' expositions.

Imagine my fascination, then, to be able to reconstuct the term through Jay Rosen's counterintuitive lens.

Rosen, the activist-scholar who advocates citizen journalism as a predicate of democracy, argues, via a conversation with Daniel C. Hallin, that the Internet actually weakens the authority of the press:
Now we can see why blogging and the Net matter so greatly in political journalism. In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized— meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

"There's a plane in the Hudson"

U.S. Airways flight 1549 touched down on a frigid Hudson in New York shortly after 3.31 p.m. on Thursday.

When I read about it on AP around 3.50 p.m., I immediately expected Captain Sully's crash to make citizen journalism (I'm a bit embarrassed to admit).

And it did. Twitpic contributor Janis Krums (jkrums) beat AP to the story.

Update: Check out Lisa Respers France's CNN report of Krums' scoop.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Shift from serious journalism will doom the Times"

Is the message killing the medium? Michael Hirschorn of the Atlantic offers a provocative analysis of the New York Times.
[T]he business strategy of The New York Times, as practiced since Abe Rosenthal’s editorship in the early ’70s, when New York magazine first threatened the daily’s stranglehold on the city’s lumpen upper-middle class—and as imitated by countless papers around the country—has undermined the perceived value of serious newspaper journalism as well. Under the guise of “service,” The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable. The fluff is more fun to read than the loss-leading reports about starvation in Sudan, but it isn’t the sort of thing you miss when it’s gone. Not many people would get misty-eyed over the closure of, say, “Thursday Styles,” fascinating as its weekly shopping deconstructions often are.
The New York Times Company is piqued enough to send a rebuttal. Catherine Mathis, senior vice president, scoffs at Hirschorn's guess that it is "certainly plausible" the Times would go kaput as early as May of 2009. “Uninformed speculation,” she scolds.

Are citizen contributors liable to pay gift tax?

Might citizen journalists have to pay a gift tax when their work is used by mainstream media organizations?

Rhonda Roland Shearer and Danielle Elliot investigate at
Is the "donation" of a citizen's content (video, articles, commentaries, images) to for-profit media outlets that exceeds a fair market value of $12,000 in any single year subject to gift tax? Judging from the IRS guidelines, the answer is "yes."
Find the whole deal here.

Rhonda directs New York's Art Science Research Laboratory, a non-profit she co-founded with her husband, the late Stephen Jay Gould.