Teaching Examples

Training citizens to be journalists
January 13, 2007, 1:01 pm
Filed under: citizen journalism, international, journalism, online, participation

The Press Institute for Women in the Developing World “trains women in developing countries to serve as reporters and writers in their own communities.” This is where the rubber meets the road for citizen journalism — where people who have something important to say finally get a platform, a channel, in which to publish and broadcast.

Thanks to Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket, found via Martin Stabe.

Robin wrote that “a pilot program in Mexico is up and running, with citizen journalists there writing stories every month” and “a new program is slated to start in Nepal in March.”

I read a PIWDW story about abortions in Mexico that was well researched (and worthy of attention). Abortion is mostly illegal in Mexico, but that doesn’t prevent 850,000 abortions being performed there each year. Almost one-third of those result in the death of the woman.

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Getting their video on, in New Jersey
January 12, 2007, 3:02 pm
Filed under: audiences, citizen journalism, journalism, news, newspapers, participation, video

How’s this for attitude? “The television station New Jersey doesn’t have.”

At The Star-Ledger, a Newhouse newspaper in Newark, New Jersey, a new video site called TV Jersey features work by staff photographers and contributions from the public. That quote is the tagline for the site.

John O’Boyle, a 20-year staff photographer at The Star-Ledger, feels totally pumped about the new Web site. Rather than a sign that they’re trying to imitate TV, he says the site’s name (and the tagline) “plays off the fact that New Jersey has no television station and relies on New York and Philadelphia stations.” That’s the local angle so many news organizations are looking for.

Two REALLY interesting things about this new site: (1) The videos are all YouTube encoded! Share and share and share. Brilliant. (2) The site is built on Movable Type, a mostly blogging platform, which allows for easy posting (and searching) of new content.

The site also encourages users’ contributions in a very positive way:

TVJersey has no broadcast towers, no satellites. It doesn’t even have a studio. But it has you. And what you produce, we’ll promote.

In a frame at the foot of the home page, YouTube videos with the tag “TVJersey” are displayed. Somebody over there at The Star-Ledger apparently gets it!

O’Boyle wrote this to me in an e-mail:

There is a “video challenge” contest asking people to send in their videos on a specific topic. The current one is Valentine’s Day.

There is a [linked] list of upcoming area events [in the sidebar] that you might want to videotape. This feature taps into the newspaper’s vast database of local events.

Since much of the operation is automated, it does not require lots of manpower.

I will be keeping my eye on TV Jersey for sure.

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More competition for the local news sweet spot
January 4, 2007, 3:03 pm
Filed under: blogs, citizen journalism, journalism, online, participation

Jay Rosen writes about Placeblogger, an aggregation site for placeblogs.

What’s a placeblog? I thought you’d never ask.

Placeblogs … are about something broader than news alone. They’re about the lived experience of a place. That experience may be news, or it may simply be about that part of our lives that isn’t news but creates the texture of our daily lives: our commute, where we eat, conversations with our neighbors, the irritations and delights of living in a particular place among particular people. However, when news happens in a community, placeblogs often cover those events in unique and nontraditional ways, and provide a community watercooler to discuss those events. (From the FAQ.)

I mentioned placeblogs here in August 2006. They are not new, but Placeblogger provides a one-stop portal to them.

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Open your eyes, see what works
December 19, 2006, 3:06 pm
Filed under: business, future, journalism, newspapers, participation

The days of “throw it at the wall and see whether it sticks” must come to an end in the newspaper business.

What works on the Web? YouTube, Craigslist, MySpace, etc. Why? Because we get to do stuff. We can play. We can contribute. Never mind that only 1 percent actually do contribute — that’s okay if you have enough people in there. The ones who are just lurking like the idea that they could contribute if they really felt like doing so.

With few exceptions, the media businesses thriving on the Web either are low-cost blog-like efforts or follow a many-to-many model, in which communities create, share, and consume content. Publishing an article on the Web gets you one click; getting your users to write the article for you gets you a thousand clicks, and costs less to boot. In other words, turning your users into contributors increases their engagement with your site — each click is, after all, also an “ad impression” — while simultaneously generating more content that you in turn can sell to advertisers.

That, I’d venture, is how you start rethinking the newspaper business.

That’s from Michael Hirschorn, an executive vice president at VH1, writing in The Atlantic this month (via Jacob Sloan).

The first page of Hirschorn’s essay is all about EPIC 2015, which all of my readers have probably enjoyed many times since Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson first launched it into the mediaverse in 2004. So skip straight to page 2, where Hirschorn really starts talking.

Erasing the boundaries between “us” and “them”

Many of the so-called citizen journalism efforts by established news organizations are actually pathetic little ghettos on the outskirts of the “real” newspaper. A true revitalization (or transformation) of this business requires more:

… the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization [than it] has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Some information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties and even competitors. Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web.

(Sounds like what I’m doing in this post!) That’s from a blog post by Paul Gillin, a consultant based in Massachusetts (thanks, Chris!). He goes on to describe a practice that I know full well would horrify a large number of journalists:

Reporters will file copy directly to the Web, often without a review by an editor. Readers will be a central part of the process, correcting and comment[ing] upon articles as they are taking shape. Reporting will become, in effect, a community process.

As Tank said to Neo on his first day of training, “Damn! It’s a very exciting time!”

Rather than quote further from Hirschorn and Gillin, I’m going to treat you to something I read Sunday night in one of the all-time great works of media theory, a slender book of essays by the late James W. Carey. This is not to impress you with my scholarly chops but rather to try to provide a useful thinking tool.

Talking “at” vs. talking “with”

Carey draws a neat distinction between the “transmission” view of communication and the “ritual” view of communication. The transmission view is what we spend most of our time assuming communication is — we send messages back and forth to each other. We transmit signals. We send data, information, facts and maybe, sometimes, knowledge (but in fact knowledge probably cannot be transmitted). “We” might mean two humans, a newspaper and its audience, a teacher and a roomful of dozing students, or four friends in Starbucks.

The ritual view is different, but not hard to understand. A group of people praying or chanting (or even singing) together in a religious practice can illustrate this view of communication. They might be “sending a signal” to God, but then ask yourself, why are they doing it together, and out loud?

And after you wrap your mind around that, you can re-examine your mental picture of the two humans, a newspaper and its audience, a teacher and a roomful of dozing students, or four friends in Starbucks. You can apply a ritual view to them too.

A ritual view of communication, Carey wrote, is:

… directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs (1988 [1992], p. 18).

Before you argue that the newspaper business has no connections to a ritual view of communication, please read one more pearl from Professor Carey:

News reading, and writing, is a ritual act and moreover a dramatic one. What is arrayed before the reader is not pure information but a portrayal of the contending forces in the world…. The model here is not that of information acquisition, though such acquisition occurs, but of dramatic action in which the reader joins a world of contending forces … (pp. 20-21; emphasis mine).

I would like to echo and reinforce Michael Hirschorn now: That is how you start rethinking the newspaper business.

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Why people post content (when it’s not their job)
December 14, 2006, 4:00 pm
Filed under: citizen journalism, community, online, participation

I was thinking about writing about what motivates people to contribute photos, stories, etc. You can call it citizen journalism or whatever, that’s not the point.

Limor Peer (research director for the Media Management Center and Readership Institute at Northwestern University) saved me the trouble. She wrote a thoughtful, intelligent post (but it’s not overlong) that covers just about everything you should be thinking about when you try to set up the kind of environment (or community) that encourages people to share stuff. Like YouTube. Or MySpace.

What I have to add (two things):

(1) There is a long and detailed article about Incentives for Participation that examines these “fixed and fluid models”:

  • Fixed: BlogBurst, Current.tv, NewAssignment.Net
  • Fluid: Google, GroundReport, Newsvine
  • Hybrid: OhmyNews

Tobias Assmann wrote the article.

(2) Yochai Benkler, in his 2006 book, The Wealth of Networks, discusses extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in Chapter 4. Extrinsic motivations are imposed on us from outside (“Be good”), while intrinsic motivations come from inside (“I believe this is right”). Payment can have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation: You might not want to do it, because taking money for doing it seems “wrong” to you.

Payment can increase or create an extrinsic motivation (“I would not normally do that, but if they pay me, I will do it”).

We should not ignore social relations as a form of “payment.” If I gain face (or social standing) by doing something, then that might motivate me to do it. If I lose face (or social standing), then that might motivate me to avoid doing it.

There are probably some things you will only do for free.

Bottom line: “Money-oriented motivations are different from socially oriented motivations” (p. 97).

I posted a presentation about Benkler’s chapter on this topic on SlideShare. (This provides a really clean, easy way to share and view a PowerPoint presentation online without a big download. It employs a cool little Flash-based viewer on the Web page, and it’s free.) This is an example of social sharing. What is my motivation? I think what Benkler says in this chapter is very important. I think people should be able to get the gist of it in a relatively quick and painless way. And I had the PowerPoint made anyway, for my class. SlideShare is free. So all it cost me was about 15 or 20 minutes of my time.

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