Category Archives: citizen journalism

Catch on a string at PdF

At this week’s Personal Democracy Forum, a sponsor distributed a low-tech, but highly effective stress toy to attendees willing to listen to their pitch: a rubber ball on an elastic string that connects to a velcro band. Strap the band to your finger and you can play catch with yourself. Which is what I came to PdF to do. To my surprise, I also liked the pitch. The sponsor, a division of Washington-based public affairs consultants, uses the Internet, software and analytical brainpower to track story lines and news coverage to measure influence. Which, in a way, is what I do, too.

I discovered that a lot of folks came to PdF for the same reasons. They played catch with familiar ideas. And they used the event to measure influence, familiar and emerging. PdF soared with both activities. An impressive roster of speakers from the converging worlds of political action, civic technologies and individual empowerment stimulated, and occasionally stirred, a network of Web buddies and budding online politicos.

Missing an Aha! moment that changes the world, PdF is more noteworthy for its momentum. At this moment, you can feel democracy shifting amid civic engagement enabled by technology. PdF is a forum where you can almost get your head around that big idea. Organizers Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifrey deserve as much praise for their impeccable timing as their star-studded roster of speakers. In two days of dense programming, content frequently rose to the level of the venue, the stunning Frederick Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center overlooking New York’s Central Park.

Playing catch on an elastic string, a few highlights and insights:

– FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, high-profile tech execs and industry advocates launch an initiative to make broadband access a national priority in the U.S.

– Lawrence Lessig touts the Change Congress movement by using every distracting feature in Keynote.

– Arianna Huffington declares that she knows The Truth that others don’t. About 50 people in the audience who blog at Huffington Post say they agree with her.

– Jay Rosen likens professional journalists to a migrating tribe in the midst of a survival drama.

– Mayhill Fowler demonstrates why she’d be irrelevant without a tape recorder. Did anyone actually read her story (lead buried somewhere in the 7th graph)?

– Virtual Reality pioneer Mark Pesce forecasts that the future looks nothing like democracy “because democracy, which sought to empower the individual, is being obsolesced by a social order which hyperempowers him.” The brilliant-but-huh? text here.

– Obama Girl, because she was there.

– Elizabeth Edwards charms the conference via Skype from her living room because her flight is canceled. Husband, John, the former presidential candidate, wanders into the room and is surprised to find his wife talking into a computer.

– Mark Soohoo, the deputy internet director of John McCain’s campaign, defends his boss for not personally understanding how to use a computer. Tracy Russo, Soohoo’s counterpart on Edwards’ former campaign, takes issue. Then fireworks. The video:

Take Action: Help launch a blog about poverty in Washington, DC

Here’s a chance for members of the We Media Community to get involved in something new, practical and ambitious. Bread for the City, a food bank, health clinic and social services provider for the poor in Washington, DC, wants to use the tools of media creation and distribution to help its clients and community members tell their stories. You can help.

Adrienne Ammerman, the organization’s media and communications organizer, attended We Media Miami 08 – and she came home inspired to take action. She’d like to launch a Bread for the City blog “to create dialogue and action around the issues we address every day: hunger & poverty, food & nutrition, access to legal services, medical care, and affordable housing… to name a few.”
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Liveblog: Informed World, The citizen’s guide to media literacy

We’re about to start this panel, located on a floor accessible only by two elevators, so people are coming in in batches of 8.

The topic: “Who can you trust in the We Media landscape? Where’s the line between commerce and information? No more is it a question of parsing the biases of individual media outlets: It’s time to define a global media-education agenda so everyone can understand how today’s media works, and how best to use it. Our goal: Create a set of guidelines for media literacy today.”

Panelists: Sam Grogg (dean of U. of Miami), Vinta Srivastava (professor at Ryerson), John Bell (managing director, 360 Digital Influence at Ogilvy)

11:35: Bell welcomes us. Explains his job title: the way we’re influenced today has changed fairly significantly. Introductions. Interestingly, Vinta is being introduced but hasn’t arrived in the room yet. Consider it a pre-introduction.

Bell talks about Paper Tiger television, was popular in NYC. A group that analyzed media structure and bias. But they just had to deal with magazines, tv, radio, newspapers.

Now, we have to look at the devices (cell phones, PDAs, computers, TiVos) that deliver the content, and who owns them, and who owns the advertising. Bell has a complicated metro-style chart that shows how complicated things have become.

Grogg studied film literacy, previously in his career. He tried to educate students about this, but found it was quite difficult. His curriculum here at U of M is aiming to be an integrated look at spoken, written, visual, online, and any other imaginable form of literacy and how to become more literate over time.

Grogg: We’re forcibly becoming literate multitaskers, but we’re still not properly studying it. The faculty here has banned laptops in the classrooms; he thinks this is a big issue (i.e. a wrong decision, though he was circumspect about saying so in front of so many bloggers).

11:45: Srivastava, was a journalist for about 15 years, inc. NYTimes. Became disillusioned with mass media roung about Sept. 11, and felt that the our (journalists) media literacy fell out the window and patriotism replaced objectivity. She went (back) to Toronto to teach, and started an empowerment project.

Srivastava feels there are 4 pillars to media literacy (which leads to empowerment):

      Access
      Assess
      Analysis
      Production

Training people (journalists and public alike) in these skills, leads to better journalism especially in times of crisis.

At one point, Srivastava went on a leave of absence to South Africa. In Soweto, she asked hundreds of kids what they wanted to do: They all wanted to open Internet Cafes.

Bell asks the room: how many self-identify as belonging to the media: (most people) — education (a few)? — non-profit (a few) — business (more than a few).

Bell: What’s changing in the marketplace? Emerging digital media forms are creating:

* openness
* transparency
* understanding

Bell says that helping citizens to understand media — the media they consume and/or create — ensures an informed and engaged citizenry (which is good).

Grogg: Young people are coming to companies without the overall media / technology skills necessary. They can use facebook, and email, but they can’t necessarily move across platforms and not get stuck. Companies need nimble, innovative workers. Young kids are reading, constantly, hours a day, but not as often books as what their friends are writing.

Srivastava: Facebook and MySpace aren’t part of being an informed citizen

Bell: What about people who use MySpace [and Twitter] to track blackout news?

Srivastava: But that’s probably the exception, isn’t it?

11:55: Srivastava: Who’s creating the power structure? It’s not just about who OWNS the media outlet. Its about who’s participating and who’s missing in the production process. Grogg: And, who is (and isn’t) consuming it…

Bell puts up a slide: Rupert Murdoch runs a very large media empire. But smaller blog owners, like Birdie Jaworski of beautydish, also have their own sphere of influence.

Srivastava: Small bloggers still need to have enough time, and access to the tools. This isn’t a luxury that all people have. That blog is run by, probably, a middle-class, middle-aged woman. Spent time doing research with kids (African-American teens) in her neighbourhood in New York. They say life today is “white-knuckle fast” and actually said they long for the “golden age” simply because the pace of life was so much more manageable.

12:05: Audience question: New Voters Project (dang, I missed it while looking for the link. Blogging hazard.

Second question: Students don’t necessarily make the connection between the tools they use (blogging) and the influence those can have. They don’t just have to be about your life and a personal journal. They can break stories and be influential, but students don’t always make that connection or see the potential.

Bell: Marketing. The pressure in the marketplace is between privacy and advertising. Facebook’s “adventure” with Beacon (a way Facebook could amalgamate your shopping and Web browsing habits) illustrates these opposing pressures. Marketing is not necessarily transparent, and this causes issues.

Grogg: The speed of life today, for the young man Srivastava was referring to, is a common issue. Checking Facebook during class is a necessity to keep up with life (at least, students sometimes try that excuse). Grogg says, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to use technology just because it’s there. Peel yourself away from it at times — smell the roses, take a walk. But advertising is the thing creating this pressure.

Question: Given the changes questioner has seen in the past 40 years, is it even realistic to expect that someone (i.e. students) can be trained in the diversity of knowledge that encompasses all media and all skill sets? Grogg: There is a basic, broad set of skills that students would benefit from, and employers want. Srivastava: Every message has cash behind it, someone who WANTS someone else to listen, and understanding that is critical to being able to parse the message. Media literacy has to start in kindergarten.

12:15: Srivastava: In the span of one year, 2005 to 2006, students went from not understanding the term “spin” to totally getting it. Why? John Stewart.

Grogg: Students today are truly, legitmiately focused on concerns of the fate of the planet. They’re serious about figuring out what to do about the big issues facing us today. They’re not disinterested.

Bell: Personal Information. Postulate: There’s a general expectation among youth that they can transact (share) personal information in order to get something. This is a frequent issue they encounter, and an acceptable tradeoff, depending on the value on each side.

Audience: Let’s not be totally focused on kids. Adults, like speaker’s father, clicks on bold blinking text and probably needs additional media literacy training.

Grogg: Part of the power of this is in the personal. Connecting with people at a personal level. The other issue is the intellectual property issue. Two students here are doing a documentary on a Miami politician named Art Teele who committed suicide. They used unlicensed songs in their work, and when told they couldn’t, were rather surprised and said that they would certainly expect that their own work would be reused, remixe,d posted around, and so therefore were unprepared for the licensing rights associated with the documentary music they’d used.

Bell: Facebook page of man puking in toilet — will this affect the job opportunities of youth, if they don’t understand the effect of media? Audience: Depends on the job. Srivastava: I teach a class in these issues, and how to write a proper email, and so forth.

12:25: Bell slide: Dan Lyons aka Fake Steve Jobs — it’s parody, and requires media literacy. You have to know who is out there, in order to be able to participate and succeed as a journalist, and on the flip side, as someone who might be interacting with journalists. Grogg: This is true, and also, media literacy allows you to avoid the media (advertising, too) that you don’t want to participate in.

Question: ESPN has to send out internal emails from time to time with guidelines about how to search effectively, and not to use wikipedia, and how to deal with anonymous sources and tips. Even within a journalism organization, these tools and skills are sometimes lacking.

Grogg: Doctors around the country use WebMD to help diagnose folks in emergency situations. 90% of the time it works, 10% of the time it doesn’t. Grogg has talked to someone who’s working on a better search tool for these sorts of emergency situations. Srivastava: SEO is driven by market forces, and you don’t want a diagnosis to be arrived at based on which sites appear at the top of a search engine, because that’s influenced by money spent on SEO, not necessarily on what’s the best answer to the question.

Bell: 80% of Internet users start on one of these 5 sites: Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL Search, Ask.com

Question: Professor talks about a technology literacy general education course – “Infomatics: Computers and Your World” that’s going to be a requirement in his college. Excel, basic HTML, things of that nature. Students aren’t coming in knowing as much as we (adults) are giving them credit for. He will provide the syllabus if you want it. Ask Leonard Witt, at Kennesaw State University.

Question: Web 2.0 / del.icio.us / flickr is intimidating. Classes have been very popular, and word of mouth (about the classes) is driving a lot of traffic.

Srivastava: Let’s keep building around the 4 pillars. The questions we’re asking aren’t going away.
Grogg: It’s not easy to create media education courses in the public education system in the U.S. because that system is so slow to move. Education systems in other countries are years in advance of the U.S.’s. Eventually, the kids will demand it, or demand to know why they weren’t taught it.

Two thirds of Americans View Traditional Journalism as ‘Out of Touch’

For the second year in a row we’ve documented a devastating lack of satisfaction with journalism in American – and an opportunity to do something about it. Here’s the formal press release of the new research, which we discussed in the opening session of this year’s We Media Miami Forum and Festival. The good news: Americans believe journalism is important. The bad news: They don’t like or trust the journalism in their communities. One thing is clear: Our forecast from four years ago of “the digital everything” has arrived – the Internet is the primary source of news for more people than any other. There’s no going back. The widespread dissatisfaction with traditional journalism could be viewed ominously, by those who produce and sell it, as a cause for alarm, a reflection of ongoing decline and a likely foreshadowing of further decline. But for the We Media culture a tremendous opportunity emerges – not only to produce better and more trusted journalism but to build better communities around it. In the We Media culture that’s an opportunity for everyone, including but by no means limited to those who think of themselves as media companies or professionals. Civic groups, healthcare companies, nonprofits, local governments and activists are starting to flex their muscles as story-tellers too. The future, like the past, will be full of stories. – Andrew Nachison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Two thirds of Americans – 67% – believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news, a new We Media/Zogby Interactive poll shows.

The survey also found that while most Americans (70%) think journalism is important to the quality of life in their communities, two thirds (64%) are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism in their communities.

Meanwhile, the online survey documented the shift away from traditional sources of news, such as newspapers and TV, to the Internet – most dramatically among so-called digital natives – people under 30 years old.

Nearly half of respondents (48%) said their primary source of news and information is the Internet, an increase from 40% who said the same a year ago. Younger adults were most likely to name the Internet as their top source – 55% of those age 18 to 29 say they get most of their news and information online, compared to 35% of those age 65 and older.

These oldest adults are the only age group to favor a primary news source other than the Internet, with 38% of these seniors who said they get most of their news from television. Overall, 29% said television is their main source of news, while fewer said they turn to radio (11%) and newspapers (10%) for most of their news and information. Just 7% of those age 18 to 29 said they get most of their news from newspapers, while more than twice as many (17%) of those age 65 and older list newspapers as their top source of news and information.

Web sites are regarded as a more important source of news and information than traditional media outlets – 86% of Americans said Web sites were an important source of news, with more than half (56%) who view these sites as very important. Most also view television (77%), radio (74%), and newspapers (70%) as important sources of news, although fewer than say the same about blogs (38%).

The Zogby Interactive survey of 1,979 adults nationwide was conducted Feb. 20-21, 2008, and carries a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points. The survey results were announced at this week’s fourth-annual We Media Forum and Festival in Miami, hosted by the University of Miami School of Communication and organized and produced by iFOCOS, a Reston, Va.-based media think tank (www.ifocos.org). This is the second year of the survey.

“For the second year in a row we have documented a crisis in American journalism that is far more serious than the industry’s business challenges – or maybe a consequence of them,” said Andrew Nachison, co-founder of iFOCOS. “Americans recognize the value of journalism for their communities, and they are unsatisfied with what they see. While the U.S. news industry sheds expenses and frets about its future, Americans are dismayed by its present.

“Meanwhile, we see clearly the generational shift of digital natives from traditional to online news – so the challenge for traditional news companies is complex. They need to invest in new products and services – and they have. But they’ve also got to invest in quality, influence and impact. They need to invest in journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives. That’s a moral and leadership challenge – and a business opportunity for whoever can meet it.”

The survey finds the Internet not only outweighs television, radio, and newspapers as the most frequently used and important source for news and information, but Web sites were also cited as more trustworthy than more traditional media sources – nearly a third (32%) said Internet sites are their most trusted source for news and information, followed by newspapers (22%), television (21%) and radio (15%).

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Although the vast majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism (64%), overall satisfaction with journalism has increased to 35% in this survey from 27% who said the same in 2007.
  • Both traditional and new media are viewed as important for the future of journalism – 87% believe professional journalism has a vital role to play in journalism’s future, although citizen journalism (77%) and blogging (59%) are also seen as significant by most Americans.
  • Very few Americans (1%) consider blogs their most trusted source of news, or their primary source of news (1%).
  • Three in four (75%) believe the Internet has had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism.
  • 69% believe media companies are becoming too large and powerful to allow for competition, while 17% believe they are the right size to adequately compete.

Republicans (79%) and political independents (75%) are most likely to feel disenchanted with conventional journalism, but the online survey found 50% of Democrats also expressed similar concerns. Those who identify themselves as “very conservative” were among the most dissatisfied, with 89% who view traditional journalism as out of touch.

Further Details: Zogby Methodological statement

Synchronicity

For class, I had my students watch the wonderful documentary, Revolution OS. It features a cast of characters that could people a graphic novel — Richard Stallman the GNUman, Gandolf to Linus Torvalds’ Aragorn. Eric Raymond, a sort of Bilbo Baggins, moving between the Cathedral and Bazaar, Bruce Perens, appearing as an Elrond figure–anyway, the idea is to make the student journalists think about Open Source both as a support system for how they get work done and as a philosophical approach to their work.

As *content creators,* students might sell their work to a publisher, as journalists typically did in the 20th century. Or they might now consider Open Source publishing options and alternatives to traditional copyright. What alternative methods exist for making money as reporter, beyond the present system of working for a corporate news organization?

The synchronicity of Microsoft’s announcement that it would provide some transparency about its code was interesting. Instead of wondering why the heck the teacher was talking about Open Source, Linux, kernels, sharing, responsibility, and democracy, they could see my assignment as newsworthy.

Wanted: Free labor

The social web depends on content, tagging and utility created or improved by the good will of the people formerly known as the audience.

Where does good will end and greed take over? That depends on whether you’re a giver or taker. Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media is bothered by the free labor scheme he sees in a corporate blog post about new features just announced at Reddit, a commercial recommendation service and competitor to Digg owned by the Newhouse family’s Conde Nast magazine group, which, along with Vogue, Glamour and Bon Appetite magazines, publishes Wired (which publishes various blogs, among which we find a recent report on a crowdsourced Shins video shot by fans).

Reddit is looking for programmers to hire – and volunteer translators. Dan is bothered by that explicit distinction of value – cash for coders, air kisses for translators.

The finger-wagging at Reddit raises this question: Is there a qualitative, ethical or rational distinction between Reddit’s overt and explicit request for help with its product, the result of which could be a more valuable service for whoever uses it, and the implied request for help from the multitude of platforms and conversation-fueled media – like Facebook, MySpace, Kos, PerezHilton – or from the non-profit competitor to Digg and Reddit – NewsTrust? (Disclosure – I advise NewsTrust). They all depend on user-supplied content, comments, tags and filtering to create any semblance of a business model. Is asking for free translations going too far? But asking for recommendations, evaluations, comments, photos or trackbacks is ok?

Comment: A backlash against uncompensated contributions to commercial media would be fun sport to watch. Imagine if millions of people decided to dump Facebook next week, just for spite.

Analysis: The hype around crowdsourcing leads, at times, to visions of an open-source digital utopia in which everything online is produced for free by righteous individuals who donate their writing, editing, video, photo, coding, translation or whatever skills to virtuous, free, universally accessible, multi-lingual projects that are made better through the collective intelligence and will of said crowd. Professionals, meaning pay is involved, not necessarily skill, fade to black in this world. Though fantastical, the vision draws on the ancient sense of human connectedness. When people put their minds to it, anything is possible. Even Wikipedia. Indeed, the principle of shared, linked intelligence – through hyperlinks – is the bedrock of the web itself.

The ideal of digital collaboration – all for one and one for all – degrades to a more distopian tragedy when for-profit companies try to persuade unpaid contributors to expand, enhance and add value to their services. AOL built its chat-driven empire on the backs of volunteer chat moderators. But recruiting volunteers to work hard and well for your benefit isn’t easy. Commercial failures in volunteer-dependent hyper-local journalism come to mind – Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere, for one, followed by Backfence. But so do commercial survivors, like delicious, MySpace and YouTube.

Forecast: The crowd will continue to create AND contribute – on its own terms, when and where it feels like it makes sense. Asking for help may at times appear selfish. The willingness to offer it reflects our yearning to link with and help each other.

Being and nothingness

washingtonpost.com’s “On Being” project is simply stunning: real stories from real people based on the simple notion that “we should get to know one another a little better.” An elegant design and interface, enhanced by professional video production standards, bring to life the musings and passions of ordinary extraordinary people. This is how journalism from MSM should look on the web: visual, interactive, compelling, real. The big problem: You can’t find “On Being” on The Post’s dense home page. Which raises the existential question of whether it really exists.
Look here: http://specials.washingtonpost.com/onbeing/

Connected to the news by a generation of wired witnesses

Unaware of a shooting in a dormitory that left two people dead, Virginia Tech graduate student Jamal al Barghouti headed across campus to meet with his advisor. Nearing Norris Hall he ran into police, guns drawn, rushing inside. As al Barghouti took cover, he pulled out his Nokia camera-phone and started recording. Then came the haunting sound of 26 gunshots. As the volley increased in intensity he unexpectedly recorded his own startled voice: “Wow,” he said.

Across campus, freshman Bryce Carter was hiding in his dorm room. When word reached him that fellow students had been shot, he went online. After assuring friends that he was alive, he wrote these works on Bryce’s Journal, his blog: “My friends could be dead.”

Over at the business school, computer science-business technology major Kevin Cupp was locked down, distanced from the computer servers he manages as webmaster of Planet Blacksburg. So he sent an instant message on his cell phone to Twitter, the new digital network where people describe what they are doing at the moment. His first of many posts that day: “Trapped inside of Pamplin, shooter on campus, they won’t let us leave.

What we experienced about the horrific events on a black day in Blacksburg owes to a savvy, social generation connected emotionally and technologically to its media. Their eyewitness descriptions, photos, video and reporting from a remote, rural Virignia town – one of the world’s first connected communities — made a story visceral to the world.

The ability to instantly capture and disseminate information at a time when it was most needed, as well as to communicate with each other across time and geography, has not only helped unite a community but has become a real-time example of how personal media empowers and defines communication in today’s connected society.

Watching events unfold, the shift in the power of media was perceptible. Traditional broadcasters and publishers competently covered the tragic events in Blacksburg. But the story belongs to Virginia Tech students. They were at once reporters, witnesses and subjects of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. It was like watching a new kind of reality show where the stars used their devices, their social networks, and their wits to survive and to cope.

News organizations responded by plundering material posted on the web and pumping their own content into the online ether. The Internet encouraged a collective expression of emotion that was faithfully reported by traditional media outlets. As if the world outside newsrooms didn’t already know, CBS News ran this story a day after the shootings: Students turn to web in time of tragedy. The Los Angeles Times went with: Students Trace a Tragedy Online.

So, too, did adults. While social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space became an integral part of the story, millions turned to the sites produced by mainstream news outlets for the latest from Blacksburg. But the Internet had done more than create a distribution center for news and information; it became a place for news to happen. An online community emerged around the story. The immediacy of the medium helped to relay both the scope of news as well as the full emotion of the event. Once again, citizen journalists armed with mobile phones supplied invaluable material, including pictures and video footage of the shootings, to established news organizations.

Newspapers lost more hallowed ground in the media war for immediate attention and influence. An editor for The Washington Post lamented the “dead-tree” limitations of covering a breaking story that made newspaper editions the harbingers of yesterday’s news tomorrow. A day late and many breaking developments short, the mighty Post was relegated to this headline on Tuesday, April 17, a full day after the shootings: “Gunman Kills 32 at Virginia Tech In Deadliest Shooting in U.S. History.”

There can be no denying now that We Media – the ecosystem in which everyone is media – is the dominant force of communication in our culture. The digital network has changed the way we create, access and distribute news and information.

Virginia Tech’s students shined even as it they were portrayed as victims. One articulate student-witness set the record straight while being interviewed by a testy CNN reporter. “Don’t you get it?” he asked the reporter. “Its our story, not yours.”

As the student went off to awaiting cameras for a series of interviews and special reports with the other television networks, a CNN producer channeled the network’s coverage to a report on counseling services on campus.

The TV moment recalled the recent complaint by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams that the had spent a career as a journalist only to compete now with “some guy named Vinny.”

But it was not Vinny with whom Williams had to compete in Blacksburg. It was Jamal, Bryce and Kevin. They are, for the moment, the celebrated journalists of their generation, embedded correspondents reporting from a war zone with all the courage and authenticity that radio reporter Edward R. Murrow famously exhibited covering the bombing of London during World War II.

Undeniably less sophisticated than Morrow’s reporting, their citizen journalism is shown, replayed, recast, remixed and referenced over-and-over again on the Internet as well as on traditional newscasts. The unfettered, unfiltered coverage of the shootings is accepted for what it is, unapologetic for its lack of cohesiveness or for its personal perspective. The audience understands the story is personal and incomplete, a work in progress that continues long after the network camera crews and out-of-town reporters leave Blacksburg. Suddenly, the Internet looks less like a threat to ‘old media’, and more like a resource it can easily exploit.

The We Media Generation now looks to pick up the pieces, to remember their friends, their community, and to share their stories of survival with the rest of the world. It is the informing story of their lives. No wonder they asked NBC and the outside media to leave for violating their fragile community by repeatedly overplaying, then replaying over and over, the grotesque rants of a killer, once a disturbed fellow student.

The story of a generation turned quickly to coping with unimaginable tragedy, a cruel and unforeseen twist for college students living in the sanctuary of a college campus. Amid tragedy there was pathos and authenticity in the way they mourned, grieved and supported one another through public acts of catharsis.

At the Tuesday night vigil for their slain comrades Virginia Tech students lit “The Drill” with candles and the glow of screens on their cell phones. Virtual vigils emerged across the web. Happy Slip, a vlogger in New York City, posted a photo sent via a cell phone from the vigil. These words accompanied the photo: “Know that a community here in New York was on their knees praying for you tonight.” Thousands of bloggers shared similar sentiments. Technorati, a web site that indexes blogs, tracked nearly 30,000 posts about Virginia Tech the following day.

As expressions of sorrow and support, memorials proliferated on the web. West Virginia Blogger collected links to the personal web sites of victims, many on My Space or Facebook, as a way of paying tribute. “It’s one thing to hear a list of names on TV, or read them online,” she wrote, “but if you take a second to view a bit of the person’s personal life it will give you a deeper understanding of that person.”

Forums were established on sites such as VTtragedy.com and VTincident.com for students to express their condolences and grief. The creators of OneDayBlogSilence.com proposed a day of silence in the blogosphere to pay tribute to the victims. Citizens of the virtual world Second Life established a memorial for visitors to leave virtual notes and flowers.

The big news organizations did their best to compete with the raw elegance of user-generated tributes, but their stories seemed trite amid the outpouring of personal expression.

As the world tries to understand what happened in Blacksburg, the conversation should once and for all dispel the “derivative myth” spun by newspapers and news broadcasters. The myth holds that most news of value is created and owned by the newspapers who publish it or by the broadcasters who air it. While there is no denying that news organizations may add value to news by employing large numbers of specialists to gather, create, edit, produce and distribute it, the notion that they either “own’ the news or that they are the original source for it becomes irrelevant, if not absurd, when everyone is media.

Today’s news tumbles through a connected society, spiraling through media, changing as it goes, an organic story with no beginning, middle or end. What seems chaotic is actually a story arc that assumes clarity, context and meaning as it unfolds through a proliferation of sources, many accessible to anyone. The days of once-a-day publishing cycles and scheduled news broadcasts are mere supplements to a continuous stream of news and information available any time through a variety of sources and ubiquitous devices.

With their cell phones, networks and knowledge of place, Virginia Tech students were better prepared to report the events overtaking them than the swarm of professional reporters who descended upon Blacksburg following the shootings. On camera the students appeared more composed, informed and sure-footed than the confused reporters from the big cities.

Community – a word that is now used to describe the digital connections among people, as well as the social and emotional ones – was the word heard time-and-time again from Blacksburg. Extended by personal media, the Blacksburg community quickly expanded to include students on campuses everywhere, as well as a diverse, caring generation connected to each other through digital media.

“Today we are all Hokies,” student leaders proclaimed when asked by reporters how the tragic events would impact Virginia Tech. In a show of support, fellow students at universities across the U.S. created video tributes and memorials on You Tube, some remixing an audio track of Avril Lavigne’s “Keep Holding On” with slideshows of photos grabbed from Flickr. Many of the videos ended with a slide displaying the logo of their universities next to the words “today we are all Hokies.”

Powerful forces were in play in Blacksburg that week. One was the invisible infrastructure of digital networks, wired and wireless, connecting a geographically isolated community to itself and to the world. Another was the connected culture of young adults, savvy content creators and communicators who instinctively use social media as integral parts of their life. When shots rang out, the story unfolded through their devices and their networks.

A new generation of media experts provided an indelible record of what happened on a terrible day in Blacksburg. They have created a lasting tribute to and by its community. The way we are informed will never be the same.

We Media analysis and links

I’ve been reflecting on our experiences at We Media Miami and digesting a great deal of reporting and analysis about what happened. It’s ALL been helpful. The diversity of viewpoints again underscores the eclectic and complex nature of “We” – and the promise of invention and innovation driven by the We Media community.A number of exciting ideas and outcomes emerged from our conversations in Miami, including a variety of projects and collaborations we’ll be talking more about in weeks to come.

Meanwhile, here are some We Media links:

  • You can find a still-growing archive from the forum – now with audio and some lovely photos: here.
  • Robin Miller of Slashdot produced a nice montage video – just ignore my babbling about cheese and skip ahead to the palm trees and sunshine.
  • The We Media blog includes a compilation of the “ahas” suggested throughout the forum.
  • Steve Rosenbaum, a film-maker-story-teller and newly funded CEO of Magnify.net, has been hanging and talking with us for several years. He sees how our conversation and the work of iFOCOS has moved forward. “Since my last visit with the WeMedia team, things are different. In an important way. It’s changed. the WE in WeMEDIA got bigger, the ‘MEDIA’, got smaller. Or more intimate, more more focused. Not sure which.” Steve, yes – and thanks for noticing.
  • Jemima Kiss must have typed her fingers to the bone with all of her live blogging and follow-up reporting for The Guardian, starting with our opening-round fire alarm and continuing this week with an item about Craig Newmark, who spent some of his time in Miami doing virtual battle with Wikipedians over the content of his own biography.
  • Rebecca Weeks, the director of business development for Real Girls Media (which just launched Divine Caroline) captured the frenetic flavor of a real-life forum with lots of people and ideas swirling around everywhere – sometimes you’re not sure who’s saying what. Kinda like when you say, “I saw it on the internet. Somewhere.” In Rebecca’s case, the Miami story incorporates the insights of “a panelist” and “an audience member.” Yes, I heard them too.
  • Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, wrote for his newspaper that Miami seemed less rancourous than the previous two We Media forums – and I agree, “but a few grenades were tossed between the new and the old.” Rich wrote:

    The media are an unsettled lot today, with new media drawing audiences but rarely making money. Some rather ceremoniously swear off the almighty dollar.But not all. The angst rose when a panel of venture capitalists said they would insist on financial returns, traditional as that may be, and when foundation executives spoke of “investments” in new media based on performance instead of merely handing over money.

  • More on the angst and ennui of making money in Rich Skrenta’s follow-up thoughts. Rich, CEO of Topix, must have had a bleak flight back home. Citing the failure of Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere, and many other citizen journalism projects that have “largely failed,” Rich wrote:

    By implicit definition, participatory media is non-commercial. If it’s commercial, someone owns it, and it’s not “we” anymore.

    That’s got to be especially bad news for the failed projects on his list that are new or still breathing – such as NewsTrust; but good news too, since NewsTrust is non-profit (Discosure: I’m an advisor). Is Rich right? I don’t think so, and I’ll elaborate on this down the road. To begin with, most new businesses fail. Period. Meanwhile, the definitions of success and failure have changed for media (though I’ll stipulate that going out of business counts as failure). Modest success – and profitability – is not failure. It’s the long tail, which leads to …

  • Wired Magazine editor/Long Tail author Chris Anderson was not in Miami, but like many others who weren’t there, he contributed to the conversation. He responded to Rich: “We Media is alive and well. It’s just the would-be We Media institutions that are not. A phenomenon is not necessarily a business. That doesn’t make it any less of a phenomenon.”

WE MEDIA-ZOGBY POLL: Interview with John Zogby

“Are blogs really that important?” asks Jemima Kiss in this post. That’s the question renowened pollster John Zogby addressed during his presentation on the results of the We Media-Zogby poll.

During his presentation, he indicated that:
- “Only 27% of the public said they were satisfied with the news but 76% of people inside it are satisfied.
- Only 12% of the public read newspapers but 26% of the industry reads them.
- 32% of the public get their news from Tv but only 5% of the media does.
- 40% of the public gets their news form the internet but 60% of the media industry does.
- Just over half the public said blogs are important but 86% of the media said they are.”
(excerpted from Jemima Kiss’s detailed notes)

We caught up with John Zogby afterwards to ask him a few more questions (Click here to view the interview):

interview zogby

Craig Newmark on the Sunlight Foundation Initiative

During the panel discussion about “The Power of Us”, Craig -aka Craig of Craigslist- mentioned his support for a brand new initiative recently launched by the Sunlight Foundation. Out of curiosity, I buttonholed Craig after the conference to find out more about this initiative, how it illustrates “the power of us” to improve democracy, and his forecast on other similar initiatives in the run-up to the 2008 election:

WE MEDIA –ZOGBY POLL: Most Americans say bloggers and citizen reporters will play a vital role in journalism’s future

Online survey finds general public, media conference attendees agree that traditional news outlets could do a better job

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 15, 2007

A majority of Americans (55%) in an online survey said bloggers are important to the future of American journalism and 74% said citizen journalism will play a vital role, a new We Media – Zogby Interactive poll shows.

Most respondents (53%) also said the rise of free Internet-based media pose the greatest opportunity to the future of professional journalism and three in four (76%) said the Internet has had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism.

The We Media survey results were released by iFOCOS and pollster John Zogby as part of an iFOCOS conference on media innovation hosted by the School of Communication at the University of Miami, with major support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

In the national survey of adults, 72% said they were dissatisfied with the quality of American journalism today. A majority of conference–goers who were polled on the subject agreed – 55% said they were dissatisfied, and 61% said they believed traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.

Nearly nine out of 10 media insiders (86%) said they believe bloggers will play an important part in journalism’s future.

“We are now seeing mainstream acceptance of what we call the Power of Us – the value, credibility, and vital expression of citizen and collaborative media,” said Dale Peskin, a managing director of iFOCOS, the organization that conducts the annual We Media conference. “We’ve arrived at a tipping point. A new definition of democratic media is emerging in our society.”

Peskin said that, until recently, many traditional news enterprises have been skeptical about We Media. “They were either fearful or dismissive of our 2003 research forecasting and documenting the change in the media ecosystem,” he said. “Now the Zogby poll provides additional evidence that “We Media” is an essential component – perhaps THE essential component – for the agenda for news and information into the future.”

“The research documents the widespread recognition that control and influence on how we know what we know is shifting to a vastly more distributed network of empowered individuals and organizations,” said Andrew Nachison, co-founder of iFOCOS. “This obviously will have a big impact on how media organizations evolve and conduct business, but it’s really about how we all discover, create, share and apply information, and that’s important to all industries, to entrepreneurs, to non-profits, to governments, to individuals and to society as a whole. We are all part of the ecosystem.”

We Media Miami was conducted Feb. 7-9 with major support from Knight Foundation. The conference brought together more than 250 leaders engaged in media innovation. Participants represented a range of sectors impacting media, including new and traditional media organizations, investors and analysts, information technologists, educators and researchers, as well as bloggers, citizen journalists, and news-and-information entrepreneurs.

The Zogby Interactive survey of 5,384 adults nationwide was conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2007, and carries a margin of error of +/- 1.4 percentage points. The Zogby Interactive survey of 77 members of the media who attended the Miami conference carries a margin of error of +/- 11.4 percentage points. While periodic audits show the results from Zogby telephone and Internet surveys closely track each other, a companion telephone survey of this topic was not conducted.

Dissatisfaction with today’s news reportage is greater among those nationwide online respondents who identified themselves as conservative – 88% said they were unhappy with journalism, while 95% of “very conservative” respondents said the quality of journalism today is not what it should be.

Among those respondents identifying themselves as liberal, 51% said they are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism. Dissatisfaction levels were also highest among older respondents – 78% of those age 65 and older said they are dissatisfied. Most respondents (65%) also said they believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news, with the highest levels of dissatisfaction with traditional journalism among those age 70 and older (74%), the very conservative (95%), and libertarians (89%).

Despite concerns about its quality, 72% of those in the national survey said journalism is important to their community. More respondents (81%) said Web sites are important as a source of news, although television ranked nearly as high (78%), followed by radio (73%). Newspapers and magazines trailed – 69% said newspapers and 38% said magazines were important. While blogs were rated as important sources of news by 30% of the online respondents, they were not considered as good a news source as the backyard fence – 39% said their friends and neighbors are an important source of information.

However, a majority of the nationwide online respondents said Internet social networking sites and blogging will play in important role in the future of journalism. But they added that trustworthiness will be important to the future of the industry – 90% said trust will be key.

Liberal and progressive respondents were more likely to say newspapers are their most trusted source than those with more conservative ideological mindsets. But radio is the most trusted source for 28% of those who describe themselves as “very conservative”, compared with just 9% of liberal respondents.

More online respondents nationwide said the Internet was their top source of news and information (40%), followed by television (32%), newspapers (12%) and radio (12%). The youngest adults in the poll, those age 18-24, were far more likely to say they mostly get news from Internet sites—58% said the Internet is their main destination for news, with television coming in second at 18%. Fewer than one in 10 in this age group said they get the majority of their news from newspapers.

For comment or reporting on We Media, contact dale AT ifocos DOT org or andrew AT ifocos DOT org.

For a detailed methodological statement on the survey, please visit:

http://www.zogby.com/methodology/readmeth.dbm?ID=1170
For more on the We Media conference, please visit:

http://ifocos.org/2006/09/01/we-media-miami-overview/

About iFOCOS

iFOCOS is an independent not-for-profit organization committed to enabling a better-informed society. It provides a variety of services, activities and training that help individuals and organizations worldwide understand and use expanding media and communications technologies to innovate as well as to create better-informed global citizens. More about at iFOCOS at: www.ifocos.org

Pitch this!

The “pitch this!” session is unlike any other. The tension is palatable, as people are sitting around the table, as if in a boardroom, ready to pitch their project in 3 minutes or less to professional investors and strategists.

Images and Voices of Hope goes first. The initial pitch is a little fuzzy (by contrast with the “judges”, I have the luxury of being able to pull up the site to read more about the organization), but the judges bring it back on track with no-nonsense, to-the-point questions. Don’t worry, no one gets fired at the end: this session is designed to help community-oriented initiatives deliver a lean and mean pitch to take it to the next level.

NewsTrust has been very visible so far in this conference. The no-frills website capitalizes on all the ingredients of social media, while offering some trust-ranking mechanism (“a Digg-like for grown-ups”) to address the ever-present credibility issue of “citizen media”. “Very crisp pitch”, lots of possibilities. The discussion yields new perspectives to leverage the proprietary technology beyond the mere news business.

Magnify.net is all about communities and video 2.0. Users can come in and create their video channels, skin them, and build their communities. By comparison with similar sites, users can manage the meta-data, yielding powerful metrics to the advantage of advertisers and… users who can benefit from the 50/50 revenue-sharing model. Verdict: definitely interesting, go talk to (investor’s name withheld for obvious reasons ;-)

The Press Institute for Women in the Developing World project is a perfect fit for this conference, as hyper-local content and user-generated reporting in hard-to-access places have been a major topic of conversation so far. All judges are impressed by the project, one-upping each other with good advice to help the project scale and find partners.

Pegasus News offers an interesting mix of professional content for local news and user-generated content. Rather than compete directly against local papers, Pegasus provides local news about hyper-local events not covered elsewhere.

The J-Zone, by the International Center for Journalists, gets pitched as a “facebook” for jounalists”. As large media organizations cut back on their international correspondents, the J-Zone offers an opportunity to build up a network of journalists around the world, offering advice, best-practice sharing, and assignment opportunities.

Stateline.org (hey I know these guys) covers policy and political news from all 50 State capitals: inside-the-beltway people to cover outside-of-the-beltway policymaking. How about working with other publications and syndicating content to other media organizations? Otherwise, charging a subscription-fee to lobbyists –a prime audience- appears to make a lot of sense (as long as citizens don’t get shut out in the process).

The last orator gets the prize for the most emotional and convincing pitch in terms of improving the livelihood of communities (in sub-Saharan Africa as it turns out) through an ingenuous idea of “buddy payments” via mobile technology. Good idea, already-available technology: next step is to package it and … pitch it.

Why Media? How we get media literate

Last night at a Miami/We Media bloggers dinner (hosted by Alex deCarvalho of Scrapblog)  Andy Carvin and I got into a discussion about how we got blogging…which got us thinking:  how do bloggers get to be bloggers?  Why do we take up self-publishing?  Where did the passion for media–that’s evident in so many of us–come from?

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