Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"It's all about the content. It's not about the medium"

Steve Damish, the award-winning managing editor of the Enterprise of Brockton, Massachusetts, says America's newspapers will adapt to survive.

Speaking at the University of New Hampshire last week, Mr. Damish invoked Charles Darwin to say, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one who is most adaptable to change."

Jennifer Keefe reports for the Foster's Daily Democrat:
"It's all about the content. It's not about the medium" [Mr. Damish said].

Milk, he said, comes in glass bottles, cardboard cartons and plastic containers. But it's still milk. This scenario, he contended, is very much the same for newspapers.

"We are the farmers of information," he told the students, adding that even though there might be fewer farmers in the world than there were many years ago, they're able to feed more people because of the tools now are at their disposal. It's these tools, he continued, that journalists need to use to be competitive and make the news industry thrive. . . .

"We've made it appear that our milk is watered down because we're giving it away for free," he said. "Citizen journalists think they can do it the way we do, but who else can do what we know how to do?"
More here.

Also read: Newspapers' closure adversely affects political engagement, study finds
And: Colorado town stops whining about its dead newspapers, starts a new one
And: Scholars call for tax credit for buying newspapers
: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

Citizen journalism will complement "public media 2.0," says white paper from American University

A must-read white paper on the future of public media authored by Jessica Clark and Pat Aufderheide of American University's Center for Social Media notes that citizen journalism, "blooming, often with a broad transnational focus," has emerged as a catalyst of "conversations among engaged publics."

"[P]ropelled initially by individual enthusiasm [citizen journalism] has found either foundation funding or advertising or both," the white paper notes.

Exciting experiments in public media 2.0 are already happening:

World Without Oil
The Independent Television Service (ITVS), part of public broadcasting, attracted almost 2,000 gamers from 40-plus countries to its World Without Oil (http://worldwithoutoil.org), a multiplayer “alternative reality” game. Participants submitted reactions to an eight-month energy crisis via privately owned social media sites, such as YouTube and Flickr—and made corresponding real-life changes, chronicled at the WWO Lives blog (http://wwolives.wordpress.com).

The Mobile Report
The Media Focus on Africa Foundation worked with the Arid Lands Information network to equip citizen reporters in Kenya with mobile phones. . . . (http://mfoa.africanews.com/site/page/mobile_report).

10 Questions Presidential Forum
Independent bloggers worked with the New York Times editorial board and MSNBC to develop and promote the 10 Questions Presidential Forum (http://www.10questions.com/). . . .

OneClimate Island
During the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Bali and Poznan, a news network of nonprofits, OneWorld, connected delegates and participants to reporters and advocates around the world via Second Life, an online 3-D virtual world. . . .

Facing the Mortgage Crisis
As the mortgage crisis hit home in every community, St. Louis public broadcasting station KETC launched Facing the Mortgage Crisis (http://stlmortgagecrisis.wordpress.com), a multiplatform project designed to help publics grappling with mortgage foreclosures. . . .
The white paper lists nine trends which "demonstrate a widespread, cross-sector interest in developing and sustaining high-quality public media in the networked environment."
Multiplatforming and engagement as a matter of course . . . For example, An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, is available on DVD, and has a companion book. Related downloads include widgets for bloggers, posters, desktop images of changing weather patterns, screensavers, electronic greeting cards, and a teacher’s guide. This trend is driving multiplatform training in journalism schools. Media projects are planned with the engagement of publics as a core feature.

Data-intensive visual reporting . . . Highly visual and information-rich sites, such as Everyblock (http://chicago.everyblock.com/) and MapLight (http://www.maplight.org/), demonstrate how information can be culled from a variety of online sources and combined to reveal trends and stories via interactive, user-friendly interfaces [which Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum calls “3-D” content (Dynamic, Data Driven)]. . . .

Niche online communities . . . [Virtual communities] may be based on a combination of identity and politics—such as Feministing (http://www.feministing.com), which targets young female readers through pop culture analysis, or Jack and Jill Politics, which describes itself as “a black bourgeoisie perspective on U.S. politics” (http://www.jackandjillpolitics.com/). . .

Crowdsourced translation . . . Projects such as dotSUB (http://dotsub.com) harness volunteer energy to translate public-minded content so that it can travel across national and linguistic boundaries. . .

Decoupling of public media content from outlets . . . Nonprofit projects, such as ProPublica (http://www.propublica.org) and the Center for Public Integrity (http://www.publicintegrity.org), underwrite investigative reporting that can be placed in print or broadcast contexts but also lives online on the projects’ sites. . .

New toolsets for government transparency . . . Open online access to government documents and data now offers raw material for both legacy and citizen media efforts. Open Congress (http://www.opencongress.org) invites users to view and comment on bills, track congressional votes, and follow hot issues. . .

Mobile public media
. . . Projects such as The People’s 311 (http://peoples311.com/) in New York demonstrate how mobile citizen media creation can coalesce into ongoing public media: participants are encouraged to post photos of broken sidewalks, damaged fire hydrants, and other urban blight, supplementing reports to the city’s free 311 phone service.

Pro-am storytelling . . . Filmmakers such as Deborah Scranton of The War Tapes and Anders Østergaard of Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country have based their films on footage shot by amateur contributors in high-pressure situations. . . .

Peer-to-peer public media training . . . Networks of media outlets, such as OneWorld (http://us.oneworld.net), the Integrated Media Association (http://www.integratedmedia.org/home.cfm), New America Media (http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/), and The Media Consortium (http://www.themediaconsortium.org/), working together to share and assess strategies for producing effective, public-minded content for the digital, participatory environment. . . .
Find the whole deal here.

Also read: A sustainable model emerges
And: 3G technology promises more power to citizen journalists
Journalism comes full circle

"The rise of citizen journalism has placed unprecedented responsibility on the reader"

The ubiquity of citizen journalists -- "non-professionals who use a digital camera and a sharing spirit to observe events and record them on personal blogs, or on Twitter, iReport, CitizenSide and other such online forums" -- demands readers to be more discerning than ever before.

Jonathan Petersen, a former religion editor with UPI, writes:
For more than a century, journalism operated the same way: a news event occurred, an “official” reporter wrote about it, an editor reshaped it, a headline writer contributed to it, a designer/producer fit the story into a prefabricated and limiting format, and it was all distributed to consumers at a predetermined time for consumption the way the “professionals” proscribed. Today, in only 10 years, that model has been ripped apart: anyone can now manufacture and globally distribute news and we can select what news we want to read however and whenever we want to read it. This is good if you believe in freedom of speech. But it’s not so good if you demand consistently high editorial standards and desire quality reporting. Since the editorial filter is non-existent in citizen journalism, every reader must exercise discernment to know what to accept as fact and what to jettison as fiction.

SPJ offers citizen journalism workshop in Denver on May 9

The Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado chapter, will organize a citizen journalism workshop at the Denver Newspaper Agency building (from where the Denver Post is published) on Saturday May 9.

The half-day workshop, christened a "Citizen Journalism Academy," will teach "journalism values to private citizens who have started covering their own communities online," according to a release.

Such workshops have already been held in Chicago, Greensboro and Los Angeles, the release added.

The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported, "The topics covered at the workshop [will] include journalism ethics, media law, access to public records and meetings, and the use of technology."
One of the organizers [of the workshop], Christine Tatum, said citizen journalists are reaching out for higher standards - to report news and opinion with integrity and in a way that engages the audience.

"Journalism is everyone's right," said Tatum, a former president of the Society of Professional Journalists. "It's a beautiful thing to me that absolutely everyone in the United States is free to practice journalism."

Fox News launches citizen journalism site

Ryan Tate critiques the hot air coefficient of TheFoxNation.com, launched only a few hours ago as a conservative counter to the Huffington Post:
Paucity of original content: Check. . . . The top five stories listed on Fox Nation right now are produced by KTAR TV, ABC News, Politico, the Porterville Recorder and the New York Post. . . .

Hysterical headlines: Check. E.g.: "Scary! Obama nominee wants one world order;" "Bill Maher smears U.S. troops;" and "GOP vows WWII over Stuart Smalley" . . .

Brilliantly insane comments section: Check. Particularly fun was the populist story "GM CEO drives off with $22 million" . . .

More here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"How can we know if a citizen journalist is not slanting/fabricating?"

On August 4 at one o'clock in Boston, AEJMC's Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group will bring together some top scholars to discuss the citizen journalism which unraveled the terrorist attack on one of my favorite cities, Mumbai, November 27-29 of 2008.

In yesterday's New York Times, foreign editor Susan Chira answers an "interesting question" from a reader in Mumbai, India.
Q. Glad to see you answering our questions this time. I am a resident of Mumbai, India, and during the horrific terror attacks in November last year, social media tools, like blogging and Twitter, came to the forefront, in terms of information avenues. Even though these tools display the power of citizen journalism, why is it that credibility is such an issue with blogger and tweeters and not with mainstream media? Especially when in dire situations, the on-the-go Twitter user provides more updates than a regular news channel. ... Is there a credibility gap or is mainstream media refusing to accept that blogs and tweets are the new face of journalism?
— Rehab G. Chougle, Mumbai

A. Dear Mr. Chougle: . . . Like many tools of the Web, Twitter, blogs and citizen journalists can be an important resource, but also present signficant challenges. Obviously, I'm biased because I'm a product of the mainstream media. But journalists in the mainstream media are expected to meet well-established criteria and standards. They go through training, sometimes in professional schools and sometimes on the job, which helps them make decisions about the reliability of information that are far more complicated than I think many citizen journalists, bloggers or Twitterers may realize. How do you weigh when a source is telling the truth? How do you identify people's ideological agendas, and how that may color the information or opinions or analysis they pass on? When are you satisified you have independently confirmed information or facts you are told to consider as a given? While of course we at the Times may stumble,and make mistakes, anyone hired here or sent abroad as a foreign correspondent has proven, again and again, that he or she understands those standards and can meet them. And The Times is an institution that can be held accountable for its errors. . . .

More here.

Plus see:
Some thoughts on citizen journalism and Mumbai
A sustainable model emerges
CCJIG's program for the 2009 Boston convention
3G technology promises more power to citizen journalists
A sustainable model emerges

And what about citizen journalism in the military?

Gadi Evron, the Israeli security expert, in Dark Reading:
Think, for a moment, about the potential chaos of [military citizen journalism]: SMS messages from soldiers up front telling of deaths before families can be notified, or live videos of bloody battles recorded from cell phones and sent to the press. . . .

This month, two civilian incidents in the United States illustrated the problem Israel faced -- and open the broader discussion about how new social technologies impact our organizational security, and our own privacy.
More here.

How is citizen journalism different from "street journalism"? Hark, Demotix CEO

At AEJMC's convention in Toronto in August of 2004, I got to briefly discuss with Michele Weldon of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism an emerging -- on the Web -- conversational style of newswriting.

I told Ms. Weldon the new style would drive "the newest electronic form of street journalism."

At a risk of sounding immodest may I say Ms. Weldon put my little comment in her 2007 book?

Now CEO Turi Munthe of Demotix says:
[T]he material [Demotix] tries to convey is not best described as ‘citizen journalism'; rather, the people who provide images and videos for Demotix are better viewed as ‘street journalists'. [Mr. Munthe] uses the term ‘street journalism' to emphasize the difference with the current culture of ‘office' or ‘administrative' journalism, where journalists are desk-bound and do not originate stories but rather repurpose existing material.
For more, check out Tamara Witschge, a Dutch scholar at the University of London's Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre. Dr. Witschge explores Demotix, which recently won a MediaGuardian Innovation Award, in a somewhat provocative Open Democracy piece.

She writes that the Internet has "transform[ed] the theory of media's place in democracy. It is no longer enough to be informed to fully enjoy citizenship; you now need to be an information producer."

Really? More here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

South African scholar explores how incentives to blog may enhance civic participation

What sustains bloggers? Is it public recognition, even if in the blogosphere? A perception of engagement in the community? A sense of fulfilling some purpose? Something more material?

Harry Dugmore, who holds the MTN Chair of Media and Mobile Communication at Rhodes University's School of Journalism and Media Studies in Grahamstown, South Africa, wonders:
[E]ven when a user generates great content and has a great experience doing so, or even when a citizen generates a good bit of journalism, why is the drop off rate so high? Even serious blogging sites see high attrition rates, with only a small group of hard-core bloggers blogging with reasonable regularity (and who knows what that is?!).

Mr. Dugmore is a Knight Foundation grantee trying "to better equip media producers in Africa with the skills and the software to use mobile phones to democratise both news production and news dissemination." He is helping create incentives for South African bloggers and citizen journalists.

We building platforms for user generated content and citizen journalism, and we're proving training to hundreds of school children on how to use the old/new technology of sms to contribute their issues, views, news, info, tips, photos....

What will keep users coming back to contribute more, and how, in resource deprived communities, do you remove financial disincentives - the costs of sms and using data - from getting in the way of an enlarged public sphere?

We're coming up with two sets of solutions - one educative, aimed at 'preparing the ground' for greater civic participation through the media, and the other compensatory and incentivising. Both are presenting interesting dilemmas. Here is one of the core issues to do with 'preparing the ground': in my next blog, I'll share some of our problems and solutions to the issues of reducing financial disincentives and creating a series of positive inducements for citizen journalism.
Find more here.

Obama's bypass complements journalists

President Barack Obama is fielding questions directly from citizens.

The White House's virtual "new take on President Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats" might seem like a bypass of bona fide journalists -- if only the president hadn't already held two elaborate media conferences, and several broadcast interviews with mainstream media organizations, since taking office.

CNN has a report on the online town hall. To submit questions you may use the "Ask the President Coalition."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Newspaper closure adversely affects political engagement, study finds

Fewer the stories to read about your town, less the interest you would take in its politics.

That's a conclusion of a paper authored by Princeton economists Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido.

Their study finds that in the short run, the 27000-circulation Cincinnati Post's closure has adversely affected political engagement and electoral competition in northern Kentucky. The study does not cover Ohio, which hasn't had municipal elections since the paper folded.

The Post's closing "made elections less competitive" with a "greater increase in incumbent advantage after the Post closed" (p. 15) .

"[R]elatively few people went to the polls after the Post closed in places where the Post was more important" (p. 17) .

[R]elatively few people ran for office after the Post closed in places where the Post was more important" (p. 17).
Read the study here (pdf, 266 kb) .

Colorado town stops whining about its dead newspaper, starts a new one

These are tumultuous times for newspapers. That hasn't stopped a picturesque town of 5196 in Colorado from starting a new newspaper.

When the Carbondole Valley Journal folded on Christmas Day 2008 after a 34-year print run, Rebecca Young and six other upset citizens "started a new newspaper, the Sopris Sun, run as a nonprofit and staffed mostly by volunteers."


"It just beat the dickens out of sitting around whining that our paper was dead."

Now, who can argue with that?

DeeDee Correll reports their enterprise story for the Los Angeles Times. Soraya Kishtwari has even more at Editors Weblog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Give an annual tax credit for the first $200 we spend on daily newspapers"

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, the critical scholar-activists, believe "it is not just newspapers that are in crisis; it is the institution of journalism itself."
By any measure, journalism is missing from most commercial radio. TV news operations have become celebrity- and weather-obsessed "profit centers" rather than the journalistic icons of the Murrow and Cronkite eras. Cable channels "fill the gap" with numberless pundits and "business reporters," who got everything about the last decade wrong but now complain that the government doesn't know how to set things right. Cable news is defensible only because of the occasional newspaper reporter moonlighting as a talking head. But what happens when the last reporter stops collecting a newspaper paycheck and goes into PR or lobbying? She'll leave cable an empty vessel and take the public's right to know anything more than a rhetorical flourish with her.
So what to do?
What to do about newspapers? Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial "news hole," say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper--this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms--and for us citizens--to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.

Nichols and McChesney at their provocative best in the latest Nation.

Also see: "Most two-newspaper towns will likely disappear"
And: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?
And: Can a "benevolent whirl" from government save newspapers?

Experts debate if bloggers would do well to flow with the mainstream

"Experts" aside, it seems Jared Polis suffers from a foot-in-the-mouth affection. Nearly three weeks after the Colorado Congressman (rather insincerely) apologized for his comment about the Rocky's demise, he's at it again.
Polis laid a challenge at the feet of citizen journalists. Keep evolving, he told the "netroots," those amateur journalists and bloggers.

He asked them to tell him "what kind of content do you want your citizen journalists in Congress and your state legislatures to produce for you. What would be valuable?"

"Clearly mainstream media has never told a good story, or a real story about what goes on," he said. "Now even less so."

More of Polis, and finally the experts, at the Denver Post.

Also see: "Most two-newspaper towns will likely disappear"
Did the Newspaper Preservation Act encourage newspapers to ignore the competition?
"Bloggers killed the Rocky"
And: "Why did the Rocky Mountain News die?"

"American journalism's real challenge is to decouple advertising from news"

True, "free" in a context of fair use is different from free as in "free pizza." But Cokie and Steven V. Roberts reflect Leonard Witt's point of many months:

If access to news and to topical information is to be a predicate of democracy, then "the huge and unanswered question is: Who will pay for it?"

The good news is that information is not an obsolete commodity. In fact, it is more valuable than ever. In its annual report, the Project for Excellence in Journalism says that traffic on the top-50 news Web sites increased by 27 percent last year. The four leading sites - Yahoo, MSNBC, CNN and AOL - grew 22 percent and attracted 23.6 million unique visitors a month.

Clearly, professional journalists are still producing a product that consumers want. But the business model, the delivery system for bringing their work to their customers, has been decimated by technology. Gee, $1.50 and 15 minutes? Or free in 30 seconds? Not much of a choice.

"The problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem," said the Project for Excellence. "It is a revenue problem - the decoupling ... of advertising from news."

More of Roberts and Roberts here.

Also see: Who will adopt the orphan news?

A "benevolent whirl" from government may save newspapers from their "death-spiral"

Nearly two months after I made the suggestion on this blog, Johann Hari asks if the newspaper industry should get a bailout.
In an age of bailouts, several European governments are experimenting with ways to support the world of news-gathering so it will survive for the twenty-first century. The best plan has come from French President Nicholas Sarkozy. He has launched a programme where every French citizen, on her eighteenth birthday, will be given a year's free subscription to a newspaper of her choice. The effects are subtle. Many young readers will develop a newspaper habit. In turn, newspapers will compete harder to capture this lucrative guaranteed market, and make their product accessible and fresh. A benevolent whirl replaces the current death-spiral.

Of course there is a terrible danger in making newspapers dependent on the government's actions. Nobody wants that. But there are ways to avoid this trap. In 1971, the Swedish government set up a system of subsidies to newspapers allocated by an independent body on the basis of circulation and revenue data. Intriguingly, the Swedish press became more adversarial and critical after it was introduced, not less.

Find Mr. Hari's deal here.

Also see: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

Is the Web a poor medium for local news?

The Guardian's Jack Schofield celebrates Topix, the Palo Alto, CA, based citizen journalism site which pioneered the "first open development directory for the Internet."
The internet is a great source of national and international news, but it's not as good at handling the local stuff. If you want to know what's happening where you live, then your local paper - and its website - will probably provide better coverage. That's something Topix would like to change. When it was launched by Rich Skrenta in January 2004, the idea was to take a global approach to providing local news.
I'm not sure Mr. Schofield well argues for his claim that "if the US newspaper industry dies, [Topix] might represent the future of journalism, at least in part," but you should still check him out.

"As quality journalism diminishes, good writers will leave and wait tables"

Carol Forsloff, who predicts that "as quality diminishes, good writers will shrug and leave and wait tables," also rues that citizen journalists have caused journalism to become a "gladiator sport."
It turns out that good writing is the agenda for many, but not for everyone. The game is to get the most votes not to do the best and most thorough job with news. Everyone is guilty, including mainstream media. But in the war over scraps, where writing jobs are few from the United Kingdom and the United States to places in Asia, and journalists the first to go in a recession, competition is keen and increasing.
Regardless of any initial suspicion that Ms. Forsloff's words may be pejorative of bearers and butlers, you really should check out her point here.

"Most two-newspaper towns will likely disappear, perhaps by the end of 2009"

Trust CNN to document the spiral of depressing developments following the death (and cremation) of Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The chain that owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune is in bankruptcy...

[T]he Ann Arbor (Michigan) News [has] announced that it will publish its last edition in July...

[T]he Charlotte Observer announced Monday it will cut its staff by 14.6 percent and reduce the pay of most of the employees it keeps...

The situation... looks grim for The Tucson Citizen. In the past 25 years, circulation at Arizona's oldest newspaper has dwindled from 65,000 to 17,000...

The quirky San Francisco Chronicle is reported to be circling the drain. If it were to close, San Francisco would be the first big U.S. city without a major daily paper....

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Boston Globe are bleeding about $1 million a week...
But then, there's some good news: Journalism isn't going anywhere, even if a medium is. Check out Flint Journal writer Andrew Heller. He is among the uncountable citizen journalists, bloggers, and other netizens who (hope to) keep the hope for journalism -- and hence, democracy -- alive via the Web.

Also see: Did the Newspaper Preservation Act encourage newspapers to ignore the competition?
And: "Bloggers killed the Rocky"
And: "Why did the Rocky Mountain News die?"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Whither the newspaper industry?

Building off of some of Nikhil's recent postings, here are some other thoughts about the continuation of journalism by other means as the traditional newspaper industry continues to face economic erosion. They come from a blog posting by Clay Shirky that was forwarded to me by a good friend, Mike Johansson. Fittingly given the ideas in Skirky's essay, Mike is a former newsroom colleague of mine at the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle who since his departure from the paper last summer has been working at promoting the power of social media.

Shirky writes (excerpts):

"With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

"Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

"When we shift our attention from 'save newspapers’ to 'save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

"For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need."

Read Shirky's full article here, or at the link appropriately used Mike, through TwitPwr.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A sustainable model emerges: Use collective intelligence but fact-check with journalists

My quick note on sustainable journalism originally published in CCJIG's Spring 2009 newsletter:
A clichéd refrain of critics is that citizen journalists have little incentive to check for facts or fairness, or to even write well.

So is fact-checking on life support?

Consider the evidence. More and more citizen sites are hiring a professional journalist (or two or three) to edit members’ contributions. As citizen journalism matures, it seems to be increasingly turning into a method to investigate a story rather than a replacement for professional journalism.

Is that a challenge to the very premise of citizen journalism? Quite the contrary, it would seem. Take Julien Pain, founder-editor of the French cit-journalism site “Observers.” In recent media interviews, Mr. Pain says Web traffic has zoomed with the increase in perceived credibility. He says his site “takes advantage of the best aspects of a blog, but maintains professional direction.” Clearly, the site has realized enhanced value through edits by a professional.

Another example is Cynthia Farrar’s citizen journalism forum, whose tag line boasts, “People powered, professionally produced.” The site, “Purple States,” was described by one blogger as a “new media company that gathers content from citizen journalists like you, edits their videos and interviews, and delivers those packages to major media outlets.” Its teams comprise “citizen journalists. . . who travel together to report on news from the frontlines. Their journey is professionally. . . edited, and aired on a variety of major media platforms.” Purple States’ documentaries have been streamed on nyt.com, washingtonpost.com, Verizon v-cast as well as on local television.

That seems to be the emerging model: Employ a collective intelligence but fact-check using a professional. I predict it will emerge as the definition of “sustainable journalism,” a meme to explore which Leonard Witt recently got a $1.5 million gift. The model potentially enhances citizen journalism’s credibility but also creates avenues for laid-off journalists.

A citizen site that has bucked the trend is CNN’s “iReport,” which continues to declare that “the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post.” iReport, which turned one year old February 15, has more than 25,000 reporter-members. Its virtual branch in Second Life – “our bigger, better space” as one iReporter gushed – is called iReport Island, the rapidly growing “network of 3-D citizen journalists.” iReports are also broadcast in CNN Radio feeds to “more than 1,500 affiliates in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand Aruba and Newfoundland.”

I expect that if citizen sites won’t fact-check, then others will do it for them – that is a fundamental reason why collective intelligence is a utility. For instance, check out Public-Press.org, Spot.us and Newsdesk.org. Clearly, this idea that others will do the fact-checking, has its own pitfalls given that Web users tend to frequent content which reinforces – not challenges – their attitudes. Mark Glaser of MediaShift once observed that Web traffic to non-partisan fact-check sites -- such as PolitiFact, FactCheck, and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog -- is always less than the Web traffic to partisan fact-check sites -- such as Newsbusters (conservative) and Media Matters (liberal).

Besides, consider what Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute writes in a recent Time. He calls for Web users to make a “micropayment” via some sort of EZPass system which he claims would, besides saving the newspaper industry, “nourish and encourage all sorts of citizen journalism and blogging.” A consensus seems to be developing that if citizen journalism is to have monetary value, fact-checking will be inevitable.

All of it leads me to offer that we don’t have to be particularly intrepid to appreciate the emerging model – “employ a collective intelligence but fact-check using a professional” – as worthy of our group’s careful attention.
Also see: Can selling news via the Web save newspapers?
And see:
Some thoughts on citizen journalism and Mumbai
How to add value to amateur content

Friday, March 13, 2009

Merrill criticizes public journalism for creating an "extra-press authority"

Sue Ellen Christian, who updated our civic/citizen journalism bibliography last year, alerts me to a new book by the First Amendment scholar John C. Merrill.

An excerpt from an introduction at the Marquette site:
Merrill is particularly concerned about the rise of neo-Marist theories, postmodernism, and the communitarianism and public journalism movements. "They have not directly condemned freedom, but in very subtle ways have proposed limiting the power of the media managers and putting it in the hands of the citizens or in government agencies. The assumption here is that some extra-press authority would be more responsible managers than are the current directors, publishers, and editors." He writes that "communitarianism today is trying to reestablish community and values, to put the society above egoistic individualism, and to stress social obligation rather than an obsession with personal freedom. The collectivity in a sense becomes the authority — a kind of democratic authoritarianism. Does this mean that the ‘community’ has some sort of authority? It seems so, but its nature is amorphous. At any rate, individualism must be lost or subsumed in the community."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pavlik says a repackaging of news for the digital medium will transform journalism

John V. Pavlik, a pioneering scholar of content migration online, rues that "journalism has adapted very little in terms of its fundamental form, practices and assumptions" in one-and-a-half centuries.

Professor Pavlik advises nothing less than "a complete metamorphosis" for journalism. From the latest New Jersey weekly Courier:
Through the interconnections of facts and sources, reporters, writers and editors assemble the facts into packages called the story. The story is the first level of packaging of the news. Groups of stories are assembled into a second tier known as the section, such as politics, metro, or sports. The third tier is the newspaper. There are comparable groupings in radio and television as well as online.

The time has come to explode this traditional approach to news packaging. Digital technologies make it possible to individually tag each fact, its sources and other attributes and make these facts and attributes directly available to the public. Using the extensible mark-up language, or XML, each fact can be assigned meta-tags that have been commonly used for pages on the World Wide Web, but can now be assigned to individual pieces of information. Some tags can be assigned automatically, such as the time, date, location and reporter identification stamp on a photo, video or audio. Other tags can be embedded in a semi-automatic format, by utilizing real-time speech to text translation software or text analysis software to tag key words extracted from a reporter’s notes, if captured digitally. The remaining tags need to be assigned manually, by a reporter, editor or other staffer. These tags can provide not only context but can enable readers to access the facts and interpret the facts and sources in ways reporters and editors may not have previously identified.
Find the whole deal here.

How a shuttered newspaper may live online

Even if the Seattle Post-Intelligencer halts its printing presses in the next few weeks, it might still stay alive online -- like the shuttered Cincinnati Post (Ohio) and Capital Times (Madison, WI).

Eric Pryne of the Seattle Times on how those newspapers fared upon going online, and what the Seattle P-I might learn from their experience:
The Cincinnati and Madison online newspapers emphasize what's local. Both contain familiar newspaper content, such as obituaries and high-school sports results. The Wisconsin site even has comics.
Full article here.

Professors could save newspapers: NYU don

A hundred years ago a band of American journalists whom Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 dubbed "muckrakers" tenaciously exposed venal politicians/police, harsh labor conditions, food adulteration and such.

Think Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair.

Their journalism defined the Progressive Era of 1902-12.

Now Jonathan Zimmerman, the NYU historian, brings up a muckraking German-educated American sociologist who exposed Belgian atrocities in the Congo. (Ah, muckraking globalized.)

The context? Professor Zimmerman would like professors to be active, even activist, via newspapers -- all for the sake of saving the newspapers. He does not seem to be joking. From today's Christian Science Monitor:
[I]t's getting too expensive to gather news.

So here's a novel idea: Let's get university professors to do it. For real. And, best of all, free of charge.

Remember, most professors aren't paid for what they write now. When I publish an article in an academic journal, I don't earn a cent. But I also don't engage more than a handful of readers, mainly fellow specialists in my own field.

It wasn't always that way. A hundred years ago, many of the leading lights in the social sciences and the humanities wrote for the popular press. If we want to revive the press – as well as our own struggling disciplines – we might look to their example.

Consider Robert E. Park, founder of the "Chicago School" of sociology and one of the most prominent intellectuals of the early 20th century. After earning his PhD in 1904 from the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, Park became secretary and press agent of the Congo Reform Association. Park's muckraking magazine articles exposed Belgium's vicious atrocities in the Congo, helping to turn world opinion against the colonial regime of King Leopold.

Citizen journalists should be wary of distracting or ego-stroking media coverage

David Sasaki directs Rising Voices, a Web platform set up to "empower under-represented communities to make their voices heard online."

In a new column, the 2007 Knight News Challenge winner hints at his struggle to keep the focus.
Rising Voices began with the goal diversifying the viewpoints and content on the conversational web by including members of communities that have historically been excluded from both traditional and new media. However, we quickly came to realize that these projects should meet the needs of the members of the participating communities and not just the needs of international news junkies looking for a story that no one else knows about. Mobile Voices, I believe, came to the same realization. Rather than just changing popular perceptions of migrant workers, several of the participants mentioned their desire to use their mobile phones to find work and send out alerts about immigration raids.
Also see, How training can help citizen journalists

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Exploit the new reality that audience is an ally, OffTheBus director exhorts journalists

Amanda Michel authors a crackerjack piece in the latest Columbia Journalism Review chronicling the success of OffTheBus, the "citizen-powered campaign news site" which saw a 27-fold increase in contributors during its 17 months of existence ending November of 2008.

Set up to cover the American presidential campaigns, OffTheBus was joint-sponsored by The Huffington Post and NewAssignment, and hosted by NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. It was the biggest citizen journalism experiment of its kind.

Ms. Michel, "not a journalist by training," directed OffTheBus. Her must-read story is available here. An extract:
OffTheBus discovered a niche market. Our market was defined by our access to on-the-ground information that other news outlets lacked, and collaborative, crowd-powered methods of newsgathering that made some traditional journalists uncomfortable. Private fundraisers, official campaign conference calls, volunteer meetings, and rallies—where mainstream reporters found themselves stuck in pens—were our specialty. We wanted to tell stories inaccessible to the national press. This required replacing objectivity with an ethic of transparency—we would never have broken Bittergate if we had not. ["Bittergate" refers to candidate Obama's guns-or-religion comment reported by San Francisco blogger Mayhill Fowler.]

Collectively, we could do what a single reporter or traditional news organization could not. We dispatched people to report on dozens of events happening simultaneously around the country. We distributed research tasks among hundreds of volunteers, instead of a handful of paid reporters working full-time for weeks. Ground-level access, networked intelligence, and distributed labor became our editorial mainstays. More than twelve thousand people eventually signed up to participate in one way or another, including seventeen hundred writers. With such numbers, Mayhill Fowler’s Bittergate story—or something like it—was almost inevitable.

Bob Schieffer's advice: "Bring people the news no matter what medium dominates"

This month Bob Lloyd Schieffer, 72, completes 40 years with CBS News.

The eminent broadcaster and writer (and cancer survivor) spoke at Lamar State College in Port Arthur, Texas, yesterday. One report said Mr. Schieffer was "adamant that journalists have to be willing to change formats and bring people the news no matter what medium dominates."

A couple of older quotes from the host of Face the Nation (a talk show "still information driven and not about anchors showing off"):

"For all the technology, [journalism] still comes down to the individual reporter....who has the courage and the expertise and the knowledge, who goes to wherever the story is, gets the story and then tells it..." (At his alma mater, Texas Christian University, a couple of months back)

"These have always been businesses. We talk about the citizen journalist, and we talk about bloggers. No blogger could afford to pay just the security costs alone that it costs Bill Keller to keep seven reporters in Baghdad. … This is America. It’s free enterprise. Who else would finance it unless it would be private enterprise?” (On the corporate ownership of media in TCU Magazine many months back)

"To survive, newspapers must provide a window into the local community"

Daniel Zarchy, student journalist at City on a Hill Press:
Though many lament the drop in subscriptions and advertisers as effects of the economic crisis, papers have been failing in their mission. As children of the Internet age, we know the first rule of economics in our bones, something that the newspaper industry as a whole has failed to acknowledge: people will not — ever — pay for something that they can find for free.

To survive, a local paper needs to provide something more than a dressed-down version of a story from NYTimes.com. It needs to provide a local window into our community.

Newspapers shouldn’t be a charity, and subscribing shouldn’t be an altruistic act. Support your local paper, but push for them to deserve your business. Make it known what you expect, and hold them accountable. A world with a vibrant journalistic industry is better for everyone, and an interested, proactive public is the key.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Have citizen journalists demonetized the scoop?

If you deal in the currency of hand-wringing -- "Oh, woe is me, citizen journalism is stealing the mainstream media's business!" -- here is the other side of that coin.

The mainstream media are -- finally -- spending nary a dime on exclusives procured from citizen journalists.

Philip M. Stone, formerly of UPI and of Reuters, in Follow the Media:
[I]n the good old days when everyone didn’t have camera phones and a motorist happened to be passing with a camera and managed to shoot a few frames, a phone call to a Sigma or Magnum or even an international news agency could be worth big bucks. The photo agencies knew how to sell to magazine publishers exclusively in every country and would rake in the really big money with the photographer getting a split.

The unknowing photographer might sell the frames for a fixed price and no revenue share and that’s when the agency really made out like a bandit. Remember the Air France Concorde crash back in July, 2000 in Paris? A couple of East Europeans happened to be passing by in their car, had a 35mm camera, shot a few frames, and sold the roll to Reuters for a fixed price. The news agency put a couple of the frames on its international news pictures wire and the rest it started selling exclusively to magazines around the world. It did so well out of it that it actually paid the East Europeans more than it promised. Then a couple of days later the AP came upon, for a price, some video someone had shot and so the value of all the pictures came down, but for a couple of days at least Reuters did really well, not only financially but also with branding for everyone knew it had been the only agency with the crash pictures.

But it is doubtful anyone did financially well on that Turkish airliner crash [of February 25 in Amsterdam]. It was all up there on Twitter for the world to see instantly. No exclusivity and perhaps more important to the news organizations in these hard times, no payment.

Further, "the days of exclusives on breaking news may be near over, but it also means more than ever that an editor’s job is even more important." More Mr. Stone here.

Also see, Big media smells the salts, embraces citizen journalism

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bloggers killed the Rocky, avers Congressman Polis

Amusing exchange of the day:

Jared Schutz Polis, Colorado's wealthy U.S. Rep. (Dem.), quoted in today's Denver Post:
"Who killed the Rocky Mountain News? We're all part of it, for better or worse, and I argue it's mostly for the better. . . The media is dead and long live the new media."
The response from
John Temple, former publisher and president of the Rocky Mountain News:
"It's just another example of the poor judgment of Jared Polis. . . The Rocky Mountain News was a pioneer in citizen journalism and is an award-winning Internet newspaper."
Also read: Did the Newspaper Preservation Act encourage papers to ignore the competition?
And: Why, oh why did the Rocky Mountain News die?
Update (March 3): Jared Polis apologizes

What will the future newspaper look like?

Nimble, limpid, cut-rate -- think Kindle 2 or BeBook, only a hundred times more willowy. Could such a lithe, customizable electronic reader be the medium of the future newspaper?

One citizen journalist's fantasy:
The optimum newspaper device will have a thin organic screen that can be folded or rolled just like a piece of laminated note book paper and have the life of a plasma television. It will be user operated by a touch screen and be able to display full color animation.

The organic screen will have to be bright enough so you can read it easily in daylight and all this technology will be operated by a thin printed low voltage power storage source that has the weight of less than a penny and a charge that can last up to 24-36 hours of continuous use.

It will have WIFI and Bluetooth built in so that it can update automatically wherever in the world you happen to be. It will sport a single or maybe a double page format that you can operate with your finger just like todays touch screens but be a feather weight device.

You will be able to subscribe to whatever content you like and you will most likely pay for that privilege on a subscription basis because advertising revenues alone will not be able to support the price it takes to produce the quality content needed to be as relevant as todays printed newspaper.

The cost of these appliances will have to be extremely inexpensive because they are going to be made for the masses. Like the personal computer or cell phone almost every single person on the planet will eventually own one of these gizmos.

Big media smells the salts, embraces citizen journalism

Jeff Bercovici sums it all up for business magazine Condé Nast Portfolio:
In the past week, Hearst Newspapers, The New York Times Co. and the Washington Times have all announced plans to harvest the reporting of non-professional volunteers. Hearst is partnering with Helium, an online freelance-writers' network; the New York Times is launching a string of local news sites with contributions from area residents; and the Washington Times will tap members of the military to cover the bases where they live.

There's a healthy dose of irony here, especially when it comes to Hearst, which also said last week that it plans to start charging for much of the content on its newspapers' websites. In essence, Hearst is saying to readers: Please start paying us for our content, and, while you're add it, please supply the content.

Also see: Jai Ho to America's newspaper of record

And: Broadcast stations enlist college students as citizen reporters

And: 3G technology promises more power to citizen journalists

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Did the Newspaper Preservation Act encourage newspapers to ignore the competition?

The Rocky Mountain News' failure represents the fall also of the joint operating agreements (JOAs) enabled by the Nixon-era Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970.

Catherine Tsai writes for the AP:
The joint operating agreements that were meant to save dying publications in two-newspaper cities like Denver are themselves dying off.
What are the JOAs about? Is their impending death a tragedy? Consider:
  1. The Newspaper Preservation Act allows an antitrust exemption if two competing newspapers, via JOAs, merge business/printing to stave off the failure of one of them. Questions to ponder: (a) Is two newspapers thus maximizing revenues by controlling price an affront to the free marketplace? (b) Does it potentially affect choices available to readers/advertisers? (c) Does it affect our expectation of the press as watchdog? (d) Does it create an uneven playing field for magazines and other journals in the market?
  2. For approval of a JOA, the newspaper publishers must apply to the U.S. attorney general. Questions: (a) Is that akin to an 18th century printer applying to the British monarch for a license? (b) Does it contradict our understanding of the First Amendment in which starting the 1860s a lack of prior restraint -- discriminatory taxes, licenses, injunctions, whatever -- is a precept of the freedom of expression?
  3. JOAs have killed many competing papers compared to the few benefited. Question: Did the Act defeat itself by catalyzing the very monopolies it was supposed to preempt?
Ms. Tsai further writes:
The [A]ct assumed that the costs of putting out a newspaper every day were so high that two newspapers wouldn't be able to survive in the same town, [Michigan State University journalism professor Stephen] Lacy said. But the real issue, he said, has been ad sales.

Advertisers tend to pour dollars into the paper that draws the most readers. The more popular paper would use its cash from advertisers to gain more readers, thereby drawing more advertisers in a spiral that eventually weakened the second newspaper.

So why are newspaper managements overwhelmingly in favor of the Newspaper Preservation Act? History offers a clue.

American newspapers' record of supporting expressive freedom may be overrated. John Lofton has found that newspapers tend to favor efforts to suppress deviations from political orthodoxy over any right to dissent -- except when their own freedom is at stake. In The Press as Guardian of the First Amendment, his provocative tome of 1980, Mr. Lofton writes, "In the matter of war and political ideology the press has been reluctant to defend freedom of expression when the challenged material offended the dominant views of its own constituency" (p. 281).

With their bottom line on the line, accepting the protection of the law must seem like a no-brainer. The Newspaper Preservation Act offers the newspapers a mirage of security, but it probably makes them take their eyes off the ball -- the multimedia competition.

Look where that has got them.

We will miss you, Rocky.

Also read:
Why, oh why did the Rocky Mountain News die?

Can selling news via the Web save the newspapers?

Should selling news on the Web be the grail of America's newspapers?

Less than a month after Aspen president Walter Isaacson called on media organizations to stop giving away content via the Web, Michael Hoyt of the Columbia Journalism School expresses confidence that "the recession won't last forever."

Mr. Hoyt, who edits the
Columbia Journalism Review, as quoted by CBS:
A complicating factor is papers offering their content on their Web sites — content they might want to charge for, but that people are used to getting for free. "About ten years ago," Hoyt says, "newspapers around the country made what amounts to an historic mistake. They believed it would be wrong to charge extra for online customers, and thought they could rely on advertisers for all their revenue.”

Now, he adds, the consensus is shifting. “You can sort of feel it moving toward, ‘Maybe we should sell our content.’ It’s an unknown (whether that could work). Content’s gotta be good enough to buy.”

The New York Times had been charging for online access to its columnists, but has stopped that, for now at least. Newsday is reportedly readying to charge readers for online content. If it catches on, it would create a model. But the jury's still out on whether people will pay for something they're used to getting for free. In the meantime, they have to hope the money will come from more traditional sources.
Also read, "Stop giving away content via Web"

Broadcast stations cope by enlisting college students as citizen reporters

New York's WPIX-TV, which beams into 10 million homes, is the latest broadcast station to enlist journalism students as (unpaid) citizen reporters.

WPIX, which is owned by the CW Network, has offered Stony Brook University's pupils 18 new video cameras. WPIX news director Karen Scott says, "It helps to have more eyes and ears around the area."

Students of a few other area universities, including Rutgers, Fordham, and NYU have already received a similar benefit, as have students in other states. From an AP report today:
ABC News last fall began a partnership with Arizona State, Syracuse, Florida, North Carolina and Texas universities to set up news bureaus where students can be trained and contribute content. They've already done a lot of work online, and student contributions were used for "Good Morning America" stories on innovative ways students are cheating and how the economy is affecting colleges.

This month ABC expanded it with a "roving reporter" initiative online, allowing college students anywhere to pitch and potentially do stories under the network's guidance.
Clearly it's a great deal for the journalism students -- or is it? Is it sucking up the very jobs those students are training to get? Which comes first, layoffs or citizen journalism? And should viewers worry about individuals "who are less than qualified journalists" (words of Jim Joyce, an official of a broadcast technicians union) gathering news and making editorial decisions?

Old questions for us at CCJIG, but never more relevant.