Tag Archives: citizen journalism

Disrupting the barriers of media in the 21st Century

This pre-internet installation was and remains a vital consideration in the future of media. It has been supposed for a long time that communication and media technologies allowed people who already knew each other to improve existing relationships. Alternatively, broadcast media were used to send corporate-owned messages to the ‘masses’. There has been very little in the understanding of communities and how they are built and morph through media. To date, due to the expense of entry to creating content for media communication technology, most middle class people have been limited to the telephone – and that form is one-to-one rather than the one-to-many formats offered by social media. This installation’s first day shows how people who did not know each other were able to create conversations and relationships – even for a short time.

People in the video respond a certain way because they realize people in the other location can actually see them. This created an ‘event’. In the 21st Century, when everything that happens in public locations could readily and easily be posted to the web, are we seeing a change in everyday public behaviors due to the fact that we are aware, more than ever before, that someone might be posting our actions? From music concerts to classrooms, from traffic accidents to natural environments, people are creating ‘events’. The greater questions are how have we as a community become the public entity we are creating, and what impact does this have on how we relate to each other. What has made people immediately reach for their cell phone to take a picture when something happens? This is a stage of history we’ve never faced before.

While we have come through an era where “the medium is the message,” we have moved on from this. The medium is still the technology. The message today is found in the resonance of community. One is not the other. In fact, the irony as stated by Steve Harrison in his essay on this particular video (found in HCI Remixed), is key. Separation does in fact, invite a connection. If we believe that human beings seek resonance with each other, eliminating some of the barriers to finding that resonance through disrupting the accepted norms of relationships and community will in fact deliver us to new ways of ‘seeing’ each other. Through these new ways of discovering resonance we will be able to grow an international array of communities. The international would relate not just to geographical space, but also class space. We have a media which will offer everyone an opportunity to find resonance of community with the homeless, the traditional-media famous, and their neighbor.


Do online communities pretend to care?

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to attend IMSI, the Invitational Masters Student Invitational, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the weekend of October 16-18. Given Rutgers received over 100 applications, to be one of the 25 students invited to discuss their current research and proposed dissertation topic with Rutgers faculty, existing doctoral candidates, and other invitees is a privelege and real highlight of my academic career.

In my application I had to submit an existing paper to demonstrate my research. The paper I chose to submit was on identity work performed on twitter through the use of language and sentence structure. This paper looked at how people create and present an identity of themselves on Twitter, primarily through the use of @ replies, hashtags and retweets. While it’s a decent paper, for Rutgers I’d like to extend it to look at this identity work, and how the Twitter community sees its need to create an identity of concern in crisis and tragedy. This is where I’m headed.

Online communities and crisis

We’ve all seen media stories of tragic events, and how people are affected by them – and how they’ve gathered together online as a result. While sites exist to create online memorials, sometimes it crosses over and a personal fun page is morphed into a place for others to gather when they’ve passed on. On Twitter, I have personally witnessed multiple occasions where someone has ended up tweeting their own tragic events. The death of a wife. The death of a child. I wonder what would have happened if Twitter had been so commonplace during larger tragedies such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

I have watched the online community gather to provide concern and support to individuals directly affected by tragedy. It is this kind of resonance that led me to undertake a small content analysis on the tweets associated with the Australian bushfires last year. I wanted to find out who was tweeting about it? How were they involved? What were they saying and why?

The paper was a very small, very specific analysis in which I was surprised to discover that two thirds of people who twittered during the high point of the bushfire-related tweets were located nowhere near the tragedy. In fact, they were overseas. None of them knew people directly affected. And what were they saying?

Apart from retweeting basic information, the majority of people wanted to know how could they help?

Seeking triangulation? I’m not quite there yet…

Last week I attended the presentation of Leysia Palen’s to-date work in crisis informatics at CU. And the data appears to be reflected in her unit’s research (in particular, on the American-located Red River floods) as well. Exactly the same percentage – two thirds of people tweeting during a disaster are not directly involved.

So, is this real?

I hear a lot of people who doubt the friendships experienced in online communities. They say “how do you know they’re real?”

Now, of course they’re not doubting that the person tweeting is human (sometimes now, however, that presents an entirely different issue), but they are definitely doubting their authenticity. How do you know someone is really concerned about you if you’ve never met them face to face before? And it’s a really good question.

The Karen Walker factor

Karen Walker was a special character who found life, and resonance with many in the hit sitcom, Will and Grace.  While the show has had its day, there are many Walker moments that still hit the nail on the head.It is what is swimming in my head as I plan my paper for the Rutgers Invitational.will and grace

One of these is in an episode when Will and Grace are not talking (after a massive argument in which Will tells Grace to move out, which I swear was one of the strongest bits of acting on television I’ve seen). In chatting with Jack about how to get Will and Grace to talk again, she firstly says, “pretend to think, pretend to think.” She then follows it with “Pretend to care, pretend to care.” Of course Karen does care. She’s just conscious of the need to appear to care as well. Plus it’s funny.

So here I am:

* Are people who offer support in online communities ‘pretending to care’?

* Is the expressed concern a demonstration of identity work that gains them favour and positions them as caring individuals you’d want to have as a friend?

* How does the caring from the community affect the person experiencing tragedy?

Do you have any experience of this? Would you be willing to undergo an interview for my research? What do you believe is true?

My sincere thanks goes to the SJMC at CU, without the support of which I wouldn’t be able to conduct any of my research and also in particular to Dean Paul Voakes who saw fit to support my application with a letter of recommendation that I never saw, but am convinced was highly influential in my acceptance.

Don’t think influence, think resonance

The new buzzword in social media appears to be Influence. According to conferences, some marketers it’s what people want. To influence others.

This is a mistake. It demonstrates a very shallow, one-sided view.

(cartoon from xkcd.com)

Talk to most people in social media for example, and they’ll tell you the truth. What they’re doing is looking for, and responding to resonance, not influence.

What all of us seek in social media is Resonance.

The influence part happens afterwards.

In social media, you can’t influence someone unless they want to be influenced.

Guess what… if traditional media had understood the need to find real resonance with its market, it wouldn’t be in the situation it is today.

Resonance. It’s what creates meaning. Just like the rice here.

More than deputies: A definition of journalism for the 21st Century

Let’s confirm who professional journalists are: People (trained or not), paid to produce content under the mastheads of traditional news outlets.

Let’s confirm what they’re supposed to do: This is a tricky one. No matter how many times I have asked, and how many people, across Australia, the USA and the UK, nobody can give me a core definition of journalism. Maybe it’s a secret. A magician’s code. Part of the smoke and mirrors used to convince everyone they’re worth being paid for over anyone without a mogul. Professional journalists promote their work as a noble art, one that demands a rigor most can not attain. With prompting, a professional journalist will usually agree you need training, you need balance, fairness, fact collection and analysis.
In a conversation I had on Twitter with people in Australia following the Twitter’s Impact on Media and Journalism mini-conference (actually a 2-hour seminar of sorts), Brad Howarth, a professional journalist who was attending says journalism will not be “harmed or replaced by Twitter.” Another Australian, Renai Lemay, followed his presentation at the same conference with a post for ZDNet where he likens his role as a professional journalist to a knight, protecting the honour of a “great lady of noble birth” and describes Twitter as a “playground for pleasure of journalists.” Somewhere to reconnect with the audience. While Renai seeks to support Twitter’s role, he demonstrates a very Lipmann-esque view – it’s still them and us, and being able to play amongst the great unwashed is a novel way of “cutting the fat out of journalism.”

Bringing it to the US, last night, on Lou Dobbs’ show on CNN, the Face Off segment featured a rather strange topical area of ‘Social Networks & Journalism: Is traditional media obsolete?’, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University held the same line as Renai. He described citizen journalists as “acting like deputies … it’s just like we used to use eyewitnesses.” In what was supposedly a debate (which Dobbs pointedly remarked at the start he hoped would be won by Professor Thompson), Micah Sifryn, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum began well by saying “anyone can commit and act of journalism.” However he followed that up by agreeing with Lou Dobbs that it “takes more than just holding up your mobile phone and filming stuff and then putting it online to be a journalist.”

Oh really?

My issue is that all of this is either a. focused on the media used for journalism rather than what journalism actually is, or  b. garbled propaganda nonsense.

Let me be clear. For those who don’t know me, I was a traditional, paid journalist for 15 years. I then moved to Public Relations, and then into teaching journalism, marketing, PR, event management and advertising at college. Happily, I’m back in traditional professional journalism myself, as the Boulder Startup Examiner for Examiner.com. (I make enough for a cup of coffee a week). I’m even currently undertaking graduate research in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at CU in Boulder (on social media communities), and I TA on the Intro to Journalism and Intro to Advertising classes. I’m a co-founder of a startup which will enable people to create more content and make better connections online. I’m pretty well engaged on all fronts.

And my question is thus: If traditional, professional journalists (those I’ve identified above) want to say what they do is different to what is able to be done by anyone else, I believe they have to say what makes it so, in order to be understood. So let me help you professionals out. The book, Elements of Journalism, authored by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel, provides 10 elements of journalism. They are:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
3. Its essence is discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.
8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
10. The rights and responsibilities of citizens to be media literate.

But I’m questioning these traditional elements. While the 10th Element only appeared in this text in 2007 as a direct response to the power of Web 1.0, I believe it’s time to entirely redefine the concept of journalism. To strip it back and challenge the notion of what it is – a notion that has root in the medium, not the craft. All of the above elements of journalism reflect a somewhat Lipmann-esque attitude. But at last in the 21st Century, John Dewey really gets a turn. At journalism’s very core is one thing – communication. So I’ve developed a new definition of what journalism is:

Journalism is communication through any means that enables two things – a. the transmission of factual information about all factors that make up society, and b. validation, authentication and discussion of opinions, beliefs and commentary.

In the past, given the limited and expensive range of tools open to people, journalists were defined as a separate group of people. Training in the media they worked in, and how best to ‘do’ journalism to communicate messages were the focus. But those constraints have left us. The best journalism does not rely on the old elements – nor the old media. It doesn’t rely on training, or a paypacket.

Will journalism still exist when the moguls move onto more profitable ventures? Yes. Is it noble and necessary for democracy? Yes. Does it need defending? No (from what?). Is it the realm of the few? No, not any more. It’s not Twitter that is changing it. It’s Web 2.0. All social media. It’s going to be even greater when even more people are creating the content. That’s democracy.

The chick flick of startup founders

Sometimes I get reminded why I’m doing this.dreamstime_2419283

There’s so much going on right now. I’m exhausted a lot of the time. I have no idea how Jed keeps this relentless pace up. No wonder I’ve called him robot boy for so long.

Today I managed to squeeze in coffee with my good friend, Mark (@soctechnologist) after my first meeting for the day, and before I came home to hit more screen time. During our chat, we talked about something that happened in my TheFunded class last night. One of the mentors asked who planned on building the next billion dollar company. Many hands went in the air.

But I hesitated.

Why? As a startup founder, I run across lots of other startups whose focus is on the dollar. That’s what they’re interested in. That’s what lots of people create their lives around. For many people, being involved in a startup is kinda like taking an entry in the lottery – it’s that kind of gamble. For some it’s that gambling addiction that keeps them in there. It’s all about the payout. Money is the focus. Startups for them are like a drug.

But not me.

As I said to Mark today, heck, if money was my focus I’d still be living in Sydney, in my house with my secure job (that I loved), our two cars. My family. My friends. My dogs. I wouldn’t have packed it all up and moved here. I didn’t do it for a gamble. While I enjoy the odd flutter, I don’t buy lottery tickets.

I explained, looking around the enormous room we were in at all the people sitting with their coffee and lunch, that if we asked everyone in that room who had used a search engine on their computer the last time they were on it, I’ll bet every hand in the room would go into the air (and in fact, I bet all of them would have said Google was the search they had chosen). People are automatically going to look for stuff online. They do it automatically. That’s what the internet is for, right?

I then said if we asked all those same people who created content at any point in the last week, a minimal number of hands would go up. And I’m talking about any kind of content. Video, audio, text. A reply or comment on someone else’s creation, even.

Everyone looks for stuff, but a tiny percentage actually create it. And that’s bad.

StatementThe democratization of media – the real power of the internet – happens when people create content, not just when they search and read other peoples’ stuff. Democracy is not just about the infrastructure being there, it’s about people using it to interact and get involved.

I am jumping into this startup because my focus is on making creating content easier – for everyone. The internet won’t be fully democratized until everyone has a real voice, and the barriers to using it are minimized. Scribetribe.us will provide the whole world with that opportunity. From a small perspective, right here in America, I want to empower that homeless guy brandishing a cardboard sign outside the supermarket who has access to the internet at the local library for free, to have his presence felt. I want him to be able to more easily build his own blog, interact with others, get onto Twitter. Have a voice.

Imagine what an impact that would have.

And then take it across the world. That’s what I’m a part of. That’s the vision.

As I said to both my team last night and to Mark this morning, I’m probably best described as the chick flick of startup founders. I’d really like to be able to stop scrounging for quarters, but that’s not why I’m doing this. While others in startup land might be chasing the big money payout, my focus is elsewhere. And you know what? I’m more than happy with that.

A completely new form and hope for democracy

I do wish people would stop analysing the ‘death of print’ and focus on the future of journalism. There are so many traditional media with stories like the nicely titled “Is democracy written in disappearing ink” which attempt to say journalism will die along with the traditional formats. While I like the title, the answer if obviously “only if you guys want it to!”

Suck it up people. Democracy is alive and well, and professional journalists have never had a better opportunity to tell all the stories they need to tell. The web gets rid of all your publishers, advertisers… financial concerns which could be seen to impact on your ‘professionalism’. If your primary focus is to make money, then I’m putting it to you that democracy doesn’t sit well with that.

If the key to democracy is myriad voices gaining exposure, then democracy has never been better served.

Learning how citizen journalism works

What is the difference between citizen journalism and traditional media?

That’s the question BlogWorld & New Media Expo, being held in Las Vegas from Sept 19 to 21, 2008, seems to not know the answer to.

Billed as the world’s largest blogging and new media conference, BlogWorld is holding a one-day workshop for citizen journalists.


While I don’t want to offend anyone with my own opinions on this, I felt pretty offended by what followed. Looking through the program overview, it appears that to be taken seriously as a citizen journalist, you need to be trained by traditional journalists. After all, as the site says, “Traditional media has tried to learn from the blogs…  Now it’s time for the bloggers and other new media journalists to mine the history, tradition and most importantly, the knowledge base of traditional journalists.”

Simply part with $350 and you too will be able to be trained by four out of five people who don’t actually practice citizen journalism… or that even have blogs. In fact, upon looking through their bio’s which are linked in the speaker profiles, only one of them (the same one) actually has any relationship with Web 2.0 at all.

And at the end, you’ll get a certificate which you can have on paper, or for those ‘new media’ types, in a web badge format! What a bargain!

I’m sure that Norg and allvoices will be searching out for cit j’s with accreditation offered by BlogWorld. Nope. Maybe it will make me feel more ‘professional’ or make me more ‘influential’ or add to my branding?

I really don’t think so.

Getting trained by old media journalists and academics who work in a model which is failing to profit doesn’t reflect the demands of journalism of the 21st century. If I had $350 to spend, it wouldn’t be here. But I’m sure many will.

Monetizing citizen journalism… at last someone’s worked out how to do it. Thanks BlogWorld!