Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Citizen journalism: What And Why??

he citizen journalism refers to a wide range of activities in which everyday people contribute information or commentary about news events. Over the years, citizen journalism has benefited
from the development of various technologies, including the printing press—which provided a medium for the pamphleteers of the 17th and 18th centuries—the telegraph, tape recorders, and
television, each of which offered new opportunities for people to participate in sharing news and commentary.

With the birth of digital technologies, people now have unprecedented access to the tools of production and dissemination. Citizen journalism encompasses content ranging from user-submitted reviews on a Web site about movies to wiki-based news. Some sites only run stories written by users, while many traditional news outlets now accept comments and even news stories from readers.
The notion of citizen journalism implies a difference, however, between simply offering one’s musings on a topic and developing a balanced story that will be genuinely useful to readers.

The citizen journalism sites is long and includes sites limited to nonprofessional reporting, such as NowPublic and CyberJournalist, and divisions of traditional media companies that feature citizen journalism, such as CNN’s I-Reporter.

Some people use blogs, wikis, digital storytelling applications, photo- and video-sharing sites, and other online media as vehicles for citizen journalism efforts. Many projects take a local
approach, centering on news about a city or even a specific neighborhood, or focus on special-interest topics, such as financial matters or gender issues.

Many academic programs combine the study of traditional journalism with new media, and these programs typically address issues of citizen voices in reporting. Some institutions sponsor initiatives that focus directly on citizen journalism and other forms of user-created content.

Scoop08, founded by students at Yale University and Andover, is a Web site devoted to coverage of the 2008 presidential election. It bills itself as “the first-ever daily national student
newspaper,” with hundreds of high school and college students across the country submitting stories about the election.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Citizen journalism And Accuracy

Media Fact CheckerGiven a list of myths and actual facts, users are given the chance to pick out the true information and separate it from misinterpreted data.'s Media Fact Checker presents journalists and writers with examples of media hoaxes and exaggerations that are easily debunked through fact checking.
Poynter Online: Getting it Right - A Passion for AccuracyPoynter Online offers not only many accuracy guidelines but also personal anecdotes and links to other websites to promote improved accuracy practices. In this article, Chip Scanlan offers practical advice to fellow journalists to increase the accuracy level of any piece.
O'Reilly Digital Media: 10 Journalism Tips for E-WritersEven online journalists and bloggers sometimes need pointers on how to write a better story. These tips offer advice on accuracy and organization as well as several other related topics
Is That a Fact?Though designed primarily for students, journalists of any age can stand to benefit from the pointers and advice offered by In addition, the site also offers 13 how-to examples of fact-checking and accuracy tests.
Accuracy in MediaAccuracy in Media strives "for fairness, balance and accuracy in news reporting" and posts several stories a week on various topics that illustrate this commitment. Unlike other sites, this page and its related content are best used as examples of accuracy in the media rather than as a collection of helpful hints and tips.
Delusions of AccuracyIn an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Ariel Hart suggests we should become more comfortable with the fact that we make mistakes - and more open about admitting and correcting them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Independence in the Citizen journalism gives creditability to your Reporting

Independence is perhaps the most under appreciated hallmark of good journalism. What does it mean to be independent? We put the question to thought leaders in citizen media and traditional journalism. This section also provides resources and guides to achieving independent reporting.

We do know this: Honorable journalism means following the story where it leads. When media are consolidated into a few big companies or are under the thumb of governments, this cannot happen.
It is simple to be independent online. Just start a blog. But no one should imagine that the same pressures from businesses and governments will not apply when a blogger tries to make a living at his or her new trade.

News Corp to tap US faith market with takeover of Beliefnet website

News Corporation, parent company of The Times, bought the leading American religious website Beliefnet yesterday in an effort to tap the faith market in a country where 88 per cent of the population say that they pray regularly.

Beliefnet, formed eight years ago, attracts 3.1 million monthly users. It was sold by its founder Steve Waldman, who wanted to find a big media company willing to provide investment that the standalone business could not afford. No transaction price was disclosed.

Mr Waldman said in a video posted on the company’s website that he had received several approaches from large media companies, which “have come to realise that there is a thirst for information and services about spirituality”, although he said that he was “in no rush to sell”.

News Corp is perhaps best-known for its newspapers, with titles such as The Sun and the New York Post, and mass entertainment through the 20th Century Fox film studio. However, the media group also owns a handful of faith-based businesses, including Zondervan, the largest Christian publisher in the United States, and Fox Faith, which makes faith-based films.

Their presence in the company’s portfolio helped to persuade Mr Waldman to sell. He described News Corp as owning a number of “high-quality companies that produce religious and spiritual content”.

Appealing to a Christian audience is big business in the United States, where films such as Walt Disney’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are marketed, at least partly, at a Christian audience. Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of Christ earned $611 million (£295 million) worldwide despite an uncompromising narrative, of which $370 million was taken in the United States.

Beliefnet describes itself as the “largest online community” for spirituality and sends out daily e-mail newsletters to 11 million addresses. It aims to be independent of any religious organisation or movement and provides content aimed at more than merely a Christian audience.

The website will be absorbed into News Corp’s Fox Entertainment Group, owner of the Hollywood film studio, rather than its Fox Interactive Media division, which is the group that includes MySpace, the social networking website.

Dan Fawcett, president of Fox Digital Media, said that the company hoped to grow Beliefnet “across a broader media canvas”. Beliefnet is trying to develop its social networking technology aimed at the website’s users and in future the effort could see it sharing techniques with MySpace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wearing technology on your sleeve

You think the switch from typewriter to computer was a revolution? The next stage could see many of us interacting with computers inserted into our very clothes. A new project is exploring a range of applications where wearable technology could significantly improve productivity and even help save lives.

Assimilate, assimilate!” You trekkies out there will recognise the Borg mantra for the bloodcurdling ‘assimilation’ of humans by machines. On the other side of the sci-fi divide, many may recall Star Wars’ recently revived Darth Vader, the half-man, half-machine dark lord of intergalactic evil.

From science fiction to science fact, the pairing of man and machine has always been at the forefront of our fears of what the technological future might have in store. But it has also been the basis of many of our conceptions for dealing with the challenges of the future: efficient multi-medial communications, improved ecologically friendly transport and revolutionary medical applications. After all, for every space villain there is a light sabre ready to be used to chop his head off.

Today’s instances of the association between man and technology are perhaps not as impressive to the jaded cinemagoer, but just as ambitious for the impact they could have on our daily lives. The focus, though, is perhaps not so much on assimilation as it is on integration and usability European researchers have been carrying out wide-ranging testing of new wearable technology with applications in a variety of fields and with the potential of protecting and even saving lives. The vital innovation is that the technology facilitates a new form of human-computer interaction comprising small, easily accessible body-worn computers that are always on and always responsive.

If you have a desktop application, then there is always a screen, a keyboard and a computer unit, but if you have a wearable computing solution, then it can be completely different,” says Michael Lawo, technical manager of the wearIT(at)work project. “You can have speech control in one instance, gesture control in another, though the application should always be the same,” he says. The Open Wearable Computing Framework being developed essentially comprises a central, easily wearable and hardware-independent computing unit which gives access to an ICT environment. Some of the basic components include wireless communication, positioning systems, speech recognition, interface devices, and low-level software platforms or toolboxes allowing these features to work together.

Keeping an eye on work practices to  improve safety and efficiency. Photo: WearIT@work

New paradigm
The pattern of this EU-funded project is woven as much out of applications as it is technology. It uses a number of commercial, off-the-shelf components and brings them together to create a new tool with the potential to revolutionise the way we work.

“Wearable computing is a completely new working paradigm,” says Lawo. “It is a technology which can support you in a particular environment. Instead of working at the computer, you are directly supported by the technology, a bit like when you are driving a car and you get information from the navigation system supporting you in your primary tasks.”

WearIT(at)work, the largest civilian wearable computing effort worldwide, is currently being tested in four different fields. These include aircraft maintenance, emergency response, car production and healthcare. Pilot projects in the areas of bush-fire prevention, e-inclusion and cultural heritage have also recently been launched.

In most cases, the technology is being applied to people who are not accustomed to using computers at the workplace, such as blue-collar workers. “The basic idea was to make the technology available to the workers and directly improve productivity,” says Lawo.

“We address fields where there are no similar applications today. Take the example of an aircraft technician. There is a person doing paperwork who has to find the relevant documentation on a computer. He has to find the aircraft maintenance manual and the parts manual, and produce a printout. These documents are handed over to the technician who then goes to the aircraft to do his work. He then has to write a report on a sheet of paper. And that is the way things work today. What we are doing is giving the worker support and direct access to the ICT system from the workplace. We get rid of the paper.”

Working with fire

With a considerable number of applications potentially possible, perhaps the most challenging test case for the project is the one involving emergency response teams, in collaboration with the Paris Fire Brigade. The technology helps support the communication, collaboration and information processes of rescue forces.

The efficiency and safety of firemen can be considerably improved by a number of light, easy-to-use and resistant devices, such as biosensors monitoring their physiological condition and improved localisation of hazards, personnel and retreat paths.

The technology has largely been well received by workers. “They recognise that this is a new technology where you can monitor working activities, but they do not hesitate to use it, and they see the advantage of it,” says Lawo.

Difficulties might nonetheless emerge in the future. “As soon as you come to the actual introduction of the technology and start negotiating with the unions, privacy will undoubtedly be an issue,” says Lawo.

WearIT(at)work already has some 42 partners, including IT giants Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Siemens, but Lawo says the project is always on the lookout for new ventures.

“Research will continue for components or for positioning systems. There is a lot of further research that can be carried out, but you can basically already do quite a lot with the application and with the technology that already exist,” he confirms.

Testing is due to continue until mid-2008 and will be followed by an initial 12-month period where the focus will shift to exploitation. “What we really want to do is introduce the system into everyday working methods,” says Lawo.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Transparency is the Third Principle of Citizen Journalism

What skin do you have in the game? Bloggers consider transparency one of the guiding principles they live by. Citizen journalists, too, should follow this simple rule: Disclose, disclose, disclose. Reveal your motives, your background, your financial interests in writing about a subject.
While no one can plausibly argue with the idea that journalists need to disclose certain things, such as financial conflicts of interest, a reasonable question is how much we need to disclose. Should journalists of all kinds be expected to make their lives open books? How open?
Personal biases, even unconscious ones, affect the journalist as well. Example: An American from a middle-class background is brought up in with certain beliefs that many folks in other lands (and some in the United States) flatly reject. We need to be aware of the things we take for granted.
Another way to be transparent is how we present a story. We should link to source material as much as possible, bolstering what we tell people with close-to-the-ground facts and data

The People Formerly Known as the Audience

The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.

Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were.

Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?
The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers!—is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:
The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.
Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.
Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.
Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.
You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own front pages.
A highly centralized media system had connected people “up” to big social agencies and centers of power but not “across” to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.
The “former audience” is Dan Gillmor’s term for us. (He’s one of our discoverers and champions.) It refers to the owners and operators of tools that were one exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their attention.
Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”
Look, media people. We are still perfectly content to listen to our radios while driving, sit passively in the darkness of the local multiplex, watch TV while motionless and glassy-eyed in bed, and read silently to ourselves as we always have.
Should we attend the theatre, we are unlikely to storm the stage for purposes of putting on our own production. We feel there is nothing wrong with old style, one-way, top-down media consumption. Big Media pleasures will not be denied us. You provide them, we’ll consume them and you can have yourselves a nice little business.
But we’re not on your clock any more. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, has explained this to his people. “The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.”
We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.
Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has a term for us: The Active Audience (“who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.”)
Another of your big shots, Rupert Murdoch, told American newspaper editors about us: “They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.”
Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, said it back in 1994: “Once the users take control, they never give it back.”
Online, we tend to form user communities around our favorite spaces. Tom Glocer, head of your Reuters, recognized it: “If you want to attract a community around you, you must offer them something original and of a quality that they can react to and incorporate in their creative work.”
We think you’re getting the idea, media people. If not from us, then from your own kind describing the same shifts.
The people formerly known as the audience would like to say a special word to those working in the media who, in the intensity of their commercial vision, had taken to calling us “eyeballs,” as in: “There is always a new challenge coming along for the eyeballs of our customers.” (John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners in the U.S.)
Or: “We already own the eyeballs on the television screen. We want to make sure we own the eyeballs on the computer screen.” (Ann Kirschner, vice president for programming and media development for the National Football League.)
Fithian, Kirschner and company should know that such fantastic delusions (“we own the eyeballs…”) were the historical products of a media system that gave its operators an exaggerated sense of their own power and mastery over others. New media is undoing all that, which makes us smile.
You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.
The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not we want you to know we’re here.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links
I have been using the phrase, the people formerly known as the audience, for a while. But I had never tried to define it. This post came out of reflections after BloggerCon IV (June 23-24, “empowering the users”) and in anticipation of the Media Giraffe conference (June 28-July 1, “Sharing News & Information in a Connected World”) but also in the course of writing Web Users Open the Gates (, June 19).
“Guys, citizen’s media isn’t fairy dust that you can sprinkle on an existing program and make it magically interactive, bloggy and web 2.0 compliant.” Ethan Zuckerman is talking to American Public Media’s “Marketplace” on how not to approach the former audience:
So let’s get this straight - Marketplace isn’t able to answer email from listeners, even when those listeners are offering to help them work on getting a former contributor out of prison. But Marketplace is interested in having me fill out a 19-field form so they can contact me via email and, if neccesary, call me for a quick soundbyte on an upcoming story.
Dave Winer gets lyrical at Scripting News (July 1):
We live in the age that Emerson predicted, self-reliance. Make your own music and your own products. Everyone gets to be creative. The brains are in what we used to call the audience. No more looking up to the ivory tower for all fulfillment. Thank god we don’t all have to be as beautiful as Farah Fawcett and Christopher Reeve. Everyone gets to sing. Users and developers party together.
Amy Gahran at Poynter about TPFKATA: “Seriously: News pros should be watching and joining this conversation.” Amy also points to a BlogPulse tool for tracking the ripples outward from this post.
Ripple: At the Associated Press Managing Editors website, Mark Briggs of the (Tacoma, WA) News Tribune says to fellow editors:
You need to read the post – and the comments – to understand what is happening “out there.” The audience is off the sidelines and in the game and is going to play. It’s up to you to play with it in a way that benefits everyone.
They used to be our most loyal customers. Fine Young Journalist, commenting on this study by a Harvard master’s student (“Emerging Collaborative News Models and the Future of News”) says about the users of, and other wisdom-of-the-crowd sites… “These aren’t just the people formerly known as the audience, they’re the people formerly known as our audience.”
Should you be in the immediate vicinity, I will be performing this post on Nantucket Island, July 26 at Nantucket Antheneum (8:00-9:30 pm, Great Hall) as part of the Geschke Lecture Series. If you are a blogger and want to attend, e-mail me.
Doc Searls is right that power “shifting,” while crudely accurate, is less than apt for my case. Power is expanding and dispersing because broader participation makes for a “bigger” press. Doc:
The expansion of authorship from few to many is a postive-sum development. So is the expansion of authority and influence that naturally grows in a market constantly enlarged by broader participation, and not merely by a growing choice of “content.”
There are lots of ways for “old” media to adapt to the new system. “Unfortunately, few or none of them are in the toolboxes of the old system.” Read his response to TPFKATA. And Doc returns to the subject here.
Ripples… Stowe Boyd: “Once power migrates to the edge, the edglings are unlikely to give it back.”
Jeremie at Temporally Relevant likes the term: “To be an edgling is to share and participate with your peers through open technology.”
Stowe Boyd’s follow-up post, Edglings: A Well-Ordered Humanism and The Future Of Everything (July 11).
Personally, I favor the term Edgling because I want to move away from media metaphors, and use economic or sociological ones. This is not about who is “producing content” and who is “consuming” it: which is the basic paradigm of media thinking. Instead, it is about control moving from the central, large, mass-market organizations — which includes media companies, but also other large organizations, like government, religious organizations, and so on — out to the individuals — we, the people — at the edge.
As power moves from the center to the edge the “Centroids” — those that hold with the centralized power of an industrial era — will scream about all the negatives that they perceive in the out-of-control future that threatens the basis of their worldview. But the Edglings will find it liberating to get out of the stranglehold on information, communication, and the marketplace that centralized organizations attempt to impose.
The Edglings vs. the Centroids. I like it.
“The concept of audience remains valid.” At First Draft, Tim Porter responds to this post:
We are all each other’s audience. A good listener is an audience. So is a critic. Or someone who clicks on someone else’s Flickr photo. The publisher-audience relationship remains, but today it is a loop, not a pipe.
I agree with Tim. The audience hasn’t “gone away.” Porter: “The ‘audience’ is out there. Journalists need to be out there, too.”
Here’s the link to a French translation of this post: Le peuple jadis connu sous le nom d’audience. And here’s a response in French to the French translation.
Other reactions of note:
Ulises Ali Mejias of Teachers College at Columbia University: “Are we really talking about a community of producers, or a mass of producers? Put differently: Is production the new consumption? My argument is that TPFKATA function as a mass of producers…” (And see this Doc Searls reply to Mejias.)
Young PR professional Jeffrey Team at Inside the Cubicle: “Well Jay, the demise of the audience is not confined to journalism, it is pervasive in all communications…I am on a personal crusade to get the public relations industry to move away from the term target audience and instead think about communities of interest.”
Independent journalist Dave LaFontaine: “I can’t help but notice that when it comes to the actual, hard data on what sites people spend the majority of their time at … well, folks, it’s the Usual Suspects. Big media.”
Dave Cormier at his Education blog: “The revolution, if there is ever to be one, is going to take years of concerted effort. I applaud Mr. Rosen for his manifesto, I worry that too many people think we have already won.”
Andrew Cline at Rhetorica: “Exactly who are these people? It seems to me they are not the majority that makes up the semi-fictional ‘mass’ audience or the thing called ‘the public’ that so interested John Dewey and Walter Lippmann.”
Tom Matrullo at IMproPRieTies: “There is much to be said for the repeating of a theme or set of key ideas, encoded in such a way as both to pique attention and to convey to the already clued-in that a certain set of assumptions about speaking, writing, community formation, were in play, harboring large shifts in power, control, and dominance.”
Jon Husband at Wierarchy: “I notice two things …1 … the antibodies and immune system are really big, and are spread out everywhere; 2 … in addition to rejecting the foreign substance/bodies/players, the extant system is also trying to swallow ‘it’ … eat it so that the fever will be killed.”
Scott Walters asks how this post connects to the world of theatre, while elearnspace says, “I’m waiting for a similar announcement from learners in corporate and higher education,” and this blog (“advocacy strategy for the age of connectivity”) says “Rosen’s riff on the Audience is directly related to the way advocacy and organizing groups think about members and supporters.”
J-school student Ryan Sholin imagines a career path in journalism starting with “the community editor’s position.”
Wherein it’s my job to bootstrap the newspaper’s online connections to local bloggers and community members, launch hyperlocal sites comprised mostly of stories written by The People Formerly Known As The Audience, and manage them. This means learning some more web design and coding to modify some existing open source software, but the hard part is getting the community (and the editors) to see your newspaper as a place for participation.
From the incomparable Cursor, Media Patrol column, June 27 edition:
A new hire by Sen. Hillary Clinton, “to help improve [her] image among liberal bloggers,” is called “a major coup.”
Whereas to Billmon’s eye, ‘The Swiftboating of Kos’ is “starting to look more and more like a coordinated effort,” Ralph Nader finds that “after a while a chronically humorous way of looking at politics becomes a distraction,” as the nation’s political life assumes the binary position year after year.
A Texas governor’s race poll finds incumbent Gov. Rick Perry leading the pack — and Independent candidate Kinky Friedman in second place.
As Fox News employees are allowed to hear the whip cracking, ‘The People Formerly Known as the Audience’ proclaim “a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve heard about.”
The Economist in April 2006:
Almost everywhere, download speeds (from the internet to the user) are many times faster than upload speeds (from user to network). This is because the corporate giants that built these pipes assumed that the internet would simply be another distribution pipe for themselves or their partners in the media industry. Even today, they can barely conceive of a scenario in which users might put as much into the network as they take out.
Exactly this, however, is starting to happen.
Seth Finkelstein dissents in the comments at Dan Gillmor’s blog:
Dan, we’re still the audience. If you don’t like my comment, you can personally attack me to a number of readers that is orders of magnitude more than I could realistically reach myself. I have no effective way to reply. That’s “audience”.
If I do volunteer journalism, but it is not propagated by A-list gatekeepers, and not appealing enough for the popular sites, it’ll be ignored. That’s “audience”.
And what happens if the professional journalist just doesn’t care if he or she gets it wrong, as long as it brings in the crowd? That’s “audience”.
Like the news media, Seth is an inflater of the balloons he pops. He refutes propositions I haven’t made: that the audience is no more, that media power has been equalized.
As I wrote in the comments to another poster:
The post I wrote does not say “the people” have the power now, and the media lost theirs. It says there’s been a shift in power. (And there has, but only a partial one.) It also speaks of a new “balance of power,” which is another way of talking about a limited change.
I’m not claiming that the power shift is total, or even decisive. Only that it’s signficant, and changes the equation.
Exclusive influence, monopoly position, the right to dictate terms, dynastic continuity, priestly authority, guild conditions for limiting competition— these have been lost, not the entrenched media’s social and market power, which as you say remain considerable.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Transparency is the Basis of Citizen Journalism

What skin do you have in the game? Bloggers consider transparency one of the guiding principles they live by. Citizen journalists, too, should follow this simple rule: Disclose, disclose, disclose. Reveal your motives, your background, your financial interests in writing about a subject.

While no one can plausibly argue with the idea that journalists need to disclose certain things, such as financial conflicts of interest, a reasonable question is how much we need to disclose. Should journalists of all kinds be expected to make their lives open books? How open?

Personal biases, even unconscious ones, affect the journalist as well. Example: An American from a middle-class background is brought up in with certain beliefs that many folks in other lands (and some in the United States) flatly reject. We need to be aware of the things we take for granted.
Another way to be transparent is how we present a story. We should link to source material as much as possible, bolstering what we tell people with close-to-the-ground facts and data.
Citizen Journalism

Fairness in citizen Journalism makes it tool to social development

Fairness is a must for all good citizen journalism. Whether you are presenting a balanced story or arguing from a point of view, your readers will feel cheated if you slant the facts or present opposing opinions disingenuously. This section offers guidance on how to play fair.

Fairness is also about letting people respond when they believe you are wrong, even if you do not agree. It also means listening to different viewpoints and incorporating them into the citizen journalism. It does not mean parroting lies or distortions to achieve that lazy equivalence that leads some journalists to get opposing quotes when the facts overwhelmingly support one side.
Ultimately, fairness emerges from a state of mind. We should be aware of what drives us, and always be willing to listen to those who disagree. The first rule of having a conversation is to listen — we can learn more from people who think we're wrong than from those who agree with what we've said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Citizen journalism: Inside information vs. outside perspective

Type the words citizen journalism into Google, and you'll get roughly 17 million results. And each will have a different definition for the term.

The discussion of the topic generally centres around blogs. Now, blogs are sort of online diary, right? Sometimes that means you're talking about just how cute your toy poodle is -- day after day after day. Entry 3368: "Toy poodle still cute! Click for video!" But sometimes a blog is a hard-hitting political report. Entry 665: "Congressman found with cute poodle!" Or it's a discussion of physics. "Entry 3.14: MA=Poodles." Or maybe it's even breaking news before the big news giants report it. "Breaking: Poodle joke stretched too far!"

Today's blog is yesterday's newspaper
So this has people all up in arms. How do you tell the "real" journalists from the amateurs if everyone can publish with pretty layouts and impressive typefaces? Whom can you trust? This debate doesn't seem much different from the kerfuffle around newspapers and broadsheets at their birth. Journalism today is much different than it's been throughout most of its history.

You see, big newspapers grew from citizens with printing presses into big companies. The same will happen -- no, is happening -- to blogs. In fact, it's happening at an accelerated rate. It already happened to Web sites as the term was used in, say, 1994. In 1994, a Web site was a very academic or possibly personal thing to have. By 1999, it was a business venture. (By 2001, it was out of business, but you get the idea.) The blog is just a very special kind of Web site.

Insiders vs. outsiders
By accelerating the process of involvement and innovation in publishing, the Web brings into focus a cycle that I think bears directly on the idea of citizen journalism. You see, journalists are citizens. What I think people mean by citizen journalism is regular Joes with Web sites, as opposed to folks who are employed by big media companies. There are insiders, and there are outsiders. Outsiders eventually can become insiders, and less often, insiders fall to become outsiders again.

Outsiders aren't in the know. They don't necessarily have contacts, but maybe they're smart and they're observant. These are the ones mainstream media fear and deride. They don't have qualifications. They often don't have all the facts. What they do have is perspective. They aren't disproportionately swayed by the events of the things they discuss. An outsider often points out simple contradictions that insiders can't see or perhaps can see but defend irrationally. On the other hand, outsiders can also be barking lunatics.

An insider is in the know. An insider has contacts and knows the facts. An insider greets the outsider's criticisms with a smile and a somewhat condescending "Well, it's not that simple." Insiders aren't just inside the industry, they're often top journalists. They have the inside info, they know the rumours, they understand how things really work and they can explain away the seeming contradictions pointed out by the naive outsider. They often lack perspective, too. They can be affected by whatever it is they cover to the point of becoming unable to spot all the flaws or see through bad arguments and specious justifications.

Blogs are just tools
It's worth pointing out that these days many of the insiders have blogs. Writing a blog doesn't make you an insider or an outsider, as much as some insiders would like it to work that way. It's just a tool of expression that tends to be used more often by the outsiders at this point.

The joy of free expression and the great creative product of a free society is the interplay between the insiders and the outsiders. The outsiders cry foul and expose great hidden truths and often have the effect of keeping things honest. The insiders protect the system against excesses of the outsiders' ignorance or misunderstanding. It's a natural system of checks and balances that the Web helps along by levelling the playing field a little more. The insiders aren't the only ones with printing presses anymore.

When printing began, the monarchies feared it greatly because the printers were outsiders at the time. They weren't priests or rulers. They were tinkerers. It was a new technology implemented by a class that could potentially expose abuses. Quickly the establishment learned to use it to its own ends. Now the newspapers, while still employing a few outsiders, have become insiders of the establishment themselves and logically fear the outsider bloggers.

The cycle repeats
Blogs are already becoming mainstream and will eventually become the province of the insiders. But the ease of publishing will leave plenty of room for outsider blogs. They'll end up in a situation similar to that of Web sites in general. A collection of big Web sites dominate the traffic, but cool new ideas do break through from small operators. In the future, a few big blogs will gather most of the attention, but smaller blogs will still be able to bust into the pack every so often. In the process, though, blogs will no longer be cool tools for outsiders, just because they're blogs. They will also be the tools of the insiders.

But it won't end there. In fact, all this crazy Web 2.0 talk probably has the seeds of the next wave. We'll see a new technology/model/tool arrive that the outsider will dominate at first. The insiders, bloggers or not, will fear it, and the whole cycle will repeat. And it's a good thing that it will. The world gets a little bit better and a little bit more open every time it does,

Citizen journalism' battles the Chinese censors

n the strictly controlled media world of communist China, "citizen journalism" is beating a way through censorship, breaking taboos and offering a pressure valve for social tensions.

In one striking example this month, the Internet was largely responsible for breaking open a slave scandal in two Chinese provinces that some local authorities had been complicit in.

A letter posted on the Internet by 400 parents of children working as slaves in brickyards was the trigger for the national press to finally report on the scandal that some rights groups say had been going on for years.

The parents' Internet posting was part of a growing phenomenon for marginalised people in China who can not otherwise have their complaints addressed by the traditional, government-controlled press.

"The phenomenon of 'citizen journalism' suddenly arrived several years ago," said Beijing-based dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was one of the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.

"Since the appearance of blogs in particular, every blog is a new platform for the spread of information."

He cited the example of a couple in the southwestern city of Chongqing who became known as the "Stubborn Nails" in April because they refused to leave their home until they received adequate compensation from the property developer who wanted them out.

They quickly became household names in China -- and symbols of resistance against greedy land developers and corrupt local authorities -- mainly thanks to Internet postings.

"That case was first revealed through blogs," Liu said.

Also in Chongqing, parts of the city were this month set on fire following the beating of flower sellers by the "chengguan", city police charged with "cleaning up" the city's roads.

Witnesses to the beatings had appealed to local television journalists, but nothing was broadcast.

The incident only became known outside the city thanks to photos and stories published on the Internet, sparking anger among China's netizens.

"It's fascism," said one, while another mocked: "The inhabitants of Chongqing are truly naive, the Chinese media is all controlled by the Communist Party, they decide what people know."

Several days later, another blunder by the "chengguan" -- this time in Zhengzhou in central Henan province, again targeted at a street seller -- provoked further riots.

The image of protesters surrounding a police car, captured by a mobile phone, made its way round the world, after being posted on Chinese movie sharing site Tudou, then reposted on YouTube.

Elsewhere across China, protesters often seek to post photos or videos of unrest on the Internet to counter the versions from the state-run press and local authorities, who usually downplay or deny the events.

Recognising the threat of China's growing online community, Chinese President Hu Jintao called in January for the Internet to be "purified", and the government has since launched a number of online crackdowns.

"The department of propaganda has sent out regulations to try and control the opinions being spread on the Internet, but every citizen has the right to criticise or to take part in public affairs on the Internet," said Zhu Dake, a professor at Shanghai Tongji University.

"The government has to accept the criticisms of the people, it can no longer react crudely like in the past."

Julien Pain, who monitors Internet freedom issues for Reporters Without Borders, is less optimistic.

"One cannot truly say that the Internet in China is becoming more and more free, because at the same time as the development of citizen journalists, the government finds ways of blocking or censoring content," Pain said.

Reporters Without Borders, which labels the Chinese government an "enemy of the Internet," says about 50 cyber dissidents are currently behind bars in China.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Second Principle of Citizen Journalism

What is the difference between speculation and solid reporting, between passing along unverified rumors and nailing down your facts? Very often it comes down to thoroughness. This section offers advice on how to go the extra yard to inform your readers.

Professional reporters try to learn as much as they can about a topic. It's better to know much more than you publish than to leave big holes in your story. The best citizen journalist always want to make one more call, check with one more source. (And the last question to ask at all interviews is, "Who else should I talk with about this?")

In a Web-enabled world, thoroughness means more than asking questions of the people in our address books. It also means asking our readers for your input. Professionals tend not to do this; citizen journalists can be less concerned with competitive issues and more concerned with getting it right.

Principles of Citizen Journalism

Accuracy is the starting point for all good Citizen journalism. Get your facts right, then check them again. Know where to look to verify claims or to separate fact from fiction.
Being factual has many dimensions. For example, on the Web it's especially valuable to say what you don’t know, not just what you do — and to ask readers to fill you in as well. Accuracy means correcting what you get wrong, and doing it promptly.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Who's afraid of Google?

The world's internet superpower faces testing times

RARELY if ever has a company risen so fast in so many ways as Google, the world's most popular search engine. This is true by just about any measure: the growth in its market value and revenues; the number of people clicking in search of news, the nearest pizza parlour or a satellite image of their neighbour's garden; the volume of its advertisers; or the number of its lawyers and lobbyists.

Such an ascent is enough to evoke concerns—both paranoid and justified. The list of constituencies that hate or fear Google grows by the week. Television networks, book publishers and newspaper owners feel that Google has grown by using their content without paying for it. Telecoms firms such as America's AT&T and Verizon are miffed that Google prospers, in their eyes, by free-riding on the bandwidth that they provide; and it is about to bid against them in a forthcoming auction for radio spectrum. Many small firms hate Google because they relied on exploiting its search formulas to win prime positions in its rankings, but dropped to the internet's equivalent of Hades after Google tweaked these algorithms.

And now come the politicians. Libertarians dislike Google's deal with China's censors. Conservatives moan about its uncensored videos. But the big new fear is to do with the privacy of its users. Google's business model (see article) assumes that people will entrust it with ever more information about their lives, to be stored in the company's “cloud” of remote computers. These data begin with the logs of a user's searches (in effect, a record of his interests) and his responses to advertisements. Often they extend to the user's e-mail, calendar, contacts, documents, spreadsheets, photos and videos. They could soon include even the user's medical records and precise location (determined from his mobile phone).

More JP Morgan than Bill Gates

Google is often compared to Microsoft (another enemy, incidentally); but its evolution is actually closer to that of the banking industry. Just as financial institutions grew to become repositories of people's money, and thus guardians of private information about their finances, Google is now turning into a custodian of a far wider and more intimate range of information about individuals. Yes, this applies also to rivals such as Yahoo! and Microsoft. But Google, through the sheer speed with which it accumulates the treasure of information, will be the one to test the limits of what society can tolerate.

It does not help that Google is often seen as arrogant. Granted, this complaint often comes from sour-grapes rivals. But many others are put off by Google's cocksure assertion of its own holiness, as if it merited unquestioning trust. This after all is the firm that chose “Don't be evil” as its corporate motto and that explicitly intones that its goal is “not to make money”, as its boss, Eric Schmidt, puts it, but “to change the world”. Its ownership structure is set up to protect that vision.

Ironically, there is something rather cloudlike about the multiple complaints surrounding Google. The issues are best parted into two cumuli: a set of “public” arguments about how to regulate Google; and a set of “private” ones for Google's managers, to do with the strategy the firm needs to get through the coming storm. On both counts, Google—contrary to its own propaganda—is much better judged as being just like any other “evil” money-grabbing company.

Grab the money

That is because, from the public point of view, the main contribution of all companies to society comes from making profits, not giving things away. Google is a good example of this. Its “goodness” stems less from all that guff about corporate altruism than from Adam Smith's invisible hand. It provides a service that others find very useful—namely helping people to find information (at no charge) and letting advertisers promote their wares to those people in a finely targeted way.

Given this, the onus of proof is with Google's would-be prosecutors to prove it is doing something wrong. On antitrust, the price that Google charges its advertisers is set by auction, so its monopolistic clout is limited; and it has yet to use its dominance in one market to muscle into others in the way Microsoft did. The same presumption of innocence goes for copyright and privacy. Google's book-search product, for instance, arguably helps rather than hurts publishers and authors by rescuing books from obscurity and encouraging readers to buy copyrighted works. And, despite Big Brotherish talk about knowing what choices people will be making tomorrow, Google has not betrayed the trust of its users over their privacy. If anything, it has been better than its rivals in standing up to prying governments in both America and China.

That said, conflicts of interest will become inevitable—especially with privacy. Google in effect controls a dial that, as it sells ever more services to you, could move in two directions. Set to one side, Google could voluntarily destroy very quickly any user data that it collects. That would assure privacy, but it would limit Google's profits from selling to advertisers information about what you are doing, and make those services less useful. If the dial is set to the other side and Google hangs on to the information, the services will be more useful, but some dreadful intrusions into privacy could occur.

The answer, as with banks in the past, must lie somewhere in the middle; and the right point for the dial is likely to change, as circumstances change. That will be the main public interest in Google. But, as the bankers (and Bill Gates) can attest, public scrutiny also creates a private challenge for Google's managers: how should they present their case?

One obvious strategy is to allay concerns over Google's trustworthiness by becoming more transparent and opening up more of its processes and plans to scrutiny. But it also needs a deeper change of heart. Pretending that, just because your founders are nice young men and you give away lots of services, society has no right to question your motives no longer seems sensible. Google is a capitalist tool—and a useful one. Better, surely, to face the coming storm on that foundation, than on a trite slogan that could be your undoing.

Source: From The Economist

Media companies have high hopes that hyperlocal news online will bolster their newspapers’ futures.

t seemed like a good idea at the time. With blogging flourishing and citizen journalism just budding, Mark Potts and Susan DeFife thought they had a winning formula for a new kind of journalistic enterprise. One evening in the summer of 2004, they sketched out their common vision: A series of hyperlocal, news-oriented Web sites whose tone and content--news, commentary, blogs, photos, calendar listings--would be supplied primarily by the people who knew each community best, its residents. By May of 2005, the venture, dubbed, was up and running, with sites serving two affluent Virginia towns in Washington D.C.'s suburbs, McLean and Reston.

The idea of virtual town squares seemed so promising that within months Potts (a veteran reporter and editor at the Washington Post and cofounder of its digital division) and DeFife (founder and chief executive of for women in business) had attracted $3 million from two venture capital firms, including one headed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The money funded an expansion program that would have made Starbucks proud (see "Dotcom Bloom," June/July 2005). By early 2007, Backfence had grown to 13 sites serving towns around Washington, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area. The partners began talking about creating as many as 160 sites in 16 markets.

And then? And then the bottom dropped out. Backfence's rapid expansion burned up its $3 million war chest. The partners have split; Backfence's staff, which once numbered as many as 25, was laid off. The company's online communities are largely ghost towns now. "We ran out of money," says a somewhat chastened Potts today. "And we ran out of runway."

The failure of Backfence may offer no greater lesson than the old one about pioneers being the ones with arrows in their backs. New ventures fail all the time. But it could also sound a cautionary note about the present--and immediate future--of hyperlocal news sites. As big-media companies and entrepreneurs alike rush into the hyperlocal arena (see "Really Local," April/May), it's worth pausing and asking: Is there a real business in this kind of business?

So far--and admittedly it's still very early --the answer is no. A few of the estimated 500 or so "local-local" news sites claim to show a profit, but the overwhelming majority lose money, according to the first comprehensive survey of the field. The survey, conducted by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism (affiliated with the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, as is AJR), documents a journalism movement that is simultaneously thriving and highly tenuous. While independent sites such as (Connecticut), (Vermont) and (Maine) have sparked useful civic debates and prodded established media outlets to compete more vigorously, the field as a whole is so far financially marginal. As the report puts it, "their business models remain deeply uncertain."

In fact, many operators don't really have a business model. The first wave of hyperlocal sites has featured seat-of-the-pants operations, staffed part-time by dedicated volunteers, community activists and impassioned gadflies. About half of the 141 respondents to the J-Lab survey said they didn't need to earn revenue to stay afloat, thanks to self-funding and volunteer labor. A full 80 percent said their sites either weren't covering their operating costs--or that they just weren't sure. Only 10 of the 141 said they were breaking even or earning a profit.

This is why industry observers such as Peter Krasilovsky remain skeptical: "I don't really see a model right now that allows [hyperlocal sites] to build up a sales staff and an editor beyond a very limited point," says Krasilovsky, a consultant and blogger (

Then again, money isn't necessarily the issue, says Jan Schaffer, J-Lab's executive director and the author of a report accompanying the survey. "When they talk about success, they're not talking about revenue," she says. "They're talking about the impact they've had on their communities." She adds, "I'm not sure in this iteration, these [operators] see themselves as making big salaries and having big offices. I'm not saying it won't happen somewhere down the road, but in this iteration it isn't there yet."

These days, the category's shining star--the anti-Backfence--is, a scrappy, snarky local-news-and-commentary site that covers the tony New York City suburbs of Montclair and Bloomfield in New Jersey. Co-owned by a novelist (Debbie Galant) and a journalist (Liz George), Baristanet is by all appearances thriving just three years after its founding. Its mix of news stories big (the arrest of a local murder suspect) and small (a debate over artificial turf at a local playing field) as well as reader-supplied commentary and photos attracts about 80,000 unique visitors a month, according to co-owner George. It's also selling ads--to local supermarkets, real-estate agents and restaurants. Baristanet has gotten so much buzz that Galant and George have recently branched out as consultants to other hyperlocal entrepreneurs.

But Baristanet (the name was picked to conjure news "baristas" serving up daily scoops) isn't exactly a big business. In fact, it's just barely a small one. The site generated about $60,000 in revenue last year. That's enough for Galant and George to hire a full-time freelance editor and a few part-time employees. Although George projects revenue of $100,000 this year, Baristanet isn't close to generating enough profit to support its owners, who aren't quitting their regular jobs. "As soon as the money's there, I'll commit to it" full-time, says George, a special sections editor at New York's Daily News. "We're growing, but we're not there yet."

Despite such modest returns, mainstream news organizations seem determined to enter the field. Sparked by such early hyperlocal innovators as the Journal-World ( in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver (, established media companies see hyperlocalism as a way to win back lost readers and to target mom-and-pop advertisers who can't afford to, or simply don't want to, reach every household in a region. New entrants include Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, and the Chicago Tribune, which in April launched, aimed at nine towns in the southern and western suburbs.

The Tribune's foray into the burbs is "a way to make the [paper] more relevant to people who are farther and farther away from the central city," says Ted Biedron, who heads Chicagoland Publishing Co., the Tribune subsidiary overseeing the project. "Every major metro paper," he adds, "has this issue." True, but the Tribune isn't making any bold pronouncements about Triblocal, including revenue projections. The project seems modest so far: Triblocal has hired only four journalists to collect and organize material for the eight towns it is initially targeting online.

But Biedron notes that the project may prove more successful as an offline venture than an online one. This summer, the company will "reverse publish" its hyperlocal content, creating tabloid papers that will be inserted into copies of the Tribune bound for the distant towns.

A more ambitious hyperlocal effort is unfolding in my backyard, via my employer, the Washington Post. A 10-member team at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, the company's online division, has been working since October on the first of what it hopes will be a series of "microsites" covering the Post's home circulation area. The first such site, scheduled to go up in June, will target Loudoun County, Virginia (population: 255,518), a sprawling, exurban locale about 40 miles from downtown Washington. This is, in many ways, uncharted territory for the Post, which has tended to train its journalistic resources on Washington's government institutions, war zones and exotic foreign capitals.

WPNI picked Loudoun for its first hyperlocal effort because of the county's growth rate and affluence--its median household income of $98,483 is among the highest in the nation--and because Loudoun has just one moderately large municipality, Leesburg. This means that Loudoun's many subdivisions receive services from the county government, giving an otherwise disconnected place a common identity. Or so the folks at WPNI hope.

"What we're struggling with, and every major paper is struggling with, is how to reach our audience on a granular level, in a way we've never reached them before," says Jonathan Krim, WPNI's assistant managing editor for local and a co-leader on the Loudoun project. "People in the community want to know when that danged Dunkin' Donuts is finally going to move in. Or why there isn't a stoplight at the intersection where there have been a lot of accidents. There's a whole range of stories that, let's face it, a lot of newspapers and Web sites aren't engaged in, but that we know are really important to readers."

The Post already prints two Loudoun Extra sections a week with a staff of four reporters. But, as the new microsite will be called, will also rely on its own "citizen army," as Krim puts it--a network of bloggers and amateur contributors who live in the county.

The site will also have several new features that the printed paper can't match. Rob Curley, WPNI's vice president of product development, takes on a nearly evangelical fervor as he talks up what he's got in store. Whipping out his ever-present Apple laptop and clicking frantically, he shows off a database that includes panoramic photos of every high school football field in the county; click on sections of the grandstands and you can see the sight lines to the field. There will be podcasts of some local church sermons, real-time accounts of high-school games and highly detailed restaurant guides, too. "You want to know which [county] restaurants are open after 11 p.m. on a Thursday? Boom! There you go!" he says, triumphantly displaying such a list.

Curley, a much-heralded veteran of similar projects at the Journal-World and at Florida's Naples Daily News, says newspapers can't afford not to add such bells and whistles.

"As my publisher in Lawrence used to say, 'Newspapers have to start driving with their brights on,'" he says. "My gut feeling is that a lot of newspapers aren't doing that right now.

I don't know what it is about the newspaper industry, but it has a way of taking great ideas and making them into OK ideas."

But let's get back to the bottom line again and ask a simple question: Will initiatives like have much of an impact on a newspaper that generated about

$675 million last year from print and online ads? Will such efforts add up to much for an industry that seems to be grasping daily for the lifeboats?

Krim is hesitant. "We don't really know yet," he answers.

Still, he adds, "It's important to do this, even if it isn't a panacea. No one thing is going to change [the newspaper industry's] future. But a lot of things might. That's why we have to do this, even if we can't say for certain what kind of business success we might have. It's part of our mission. It has to be part of our mission in serving our readers and our communities. Do we hope, at the very least, that people looking at will give the Washington Post a second look? Sure we do."

There are, of course, some good reasons for modesty. The Post, after all, isn't the first media company to discover Loudoun County. In addition to a local radio station, Yellow Pages publishers and coupon mailers, will have to compete for local advertising with no fewer than 11 weekly newspapers, says Paul Smith, the executive editor of the county's biggest weekly, the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Smith points out that most of the weeklies have larger editorial and sales staffs than the Post in Loudoun (the Times-Mirror has 15 full- and part-time newsroom employees). What's more, the weeklies have an unquantifiable advantage over the big-city paper: local brand names and strong ties to the community. The Times-Mirror, for one, can trace its founding to 1798.

"The Washington Post is a great paper," says Smith. "I love to read it every morning. But sometimes when you're a little bigger, you think bigger is better. It's not necessarily so." Online restaurant guides are nice, but Smith says bread-and-butter news still sells: "Can they cover the school board meetings?" he asks. "Can they go to local sporting events? Because people still want to read about those things."

Mark Potts, late of, can tell you all about the pitfalls of hyperlocal journalism. Although Backfence had its internal stresses, with the partners clashing over strategy (DeFife eventually resigned because of them), the company had two basic structural problems: getting the word out and getting the money in.

Raising awareness among residents of a community was a constant challenge, he says, particularly since Backfence's competitors were reluctant to sell advertising to a would-be rival. So, Potts and DeFife tried grassroots promotion, such as handing out flyers at civic events and speaking to community groups. But such efforts are difficult to sustain. "Where we fell down was getting the initial traffic in," he says. "When it works, it's mind-blowing. But it takes time to build, and it's difficult if you don't have a big media organization behind you."

Attracting local advertisers wasn't really an issue; Backfence had more than 400 of them on its many sites. "We were happy with the advertising we got, but it didn't grow as quickly as we thought it would," Potts says. Some ads sold for as little as $50. Laments Potts, "Small businesspeople just don't have a lot of money to spend" on advertising. (Indeed, Krasilovsky, the industry consultant, estimates that two-thirds of small businesses don't even advertise in traditional Yellow Pages books, let alone online.)

But Potts remains optimistic. "I believe there's huge pent-up demand for this," he says. "It's still a good idea. And it's going to happen. It's just a question of where and who and how all the pieces come together."

He thinks hyperlocal news sites will succeed if they can keep operating costs to a rock-bottom minimum, and if the sites are clustered--that is, strung together over a wide territory. That way, he says, a publisher won't be dependent on ads from just the local pizza parlor or the neighborhood dry cleaner. With enough "mass," a hyperlocal publisher might even attract regional and national advertisers, too.

It's a paradoxical notion, one that seems to strike at the whole notion of "hyperlocal" journalism: To stay very small, you may have to get very big.

Citizen journalism works best when it has a good story to tel

Way back in 2005, when the Web 2.0 boom was just beginning, a number of new ventures were launched under the rubric of "citizen journalism" and "hyperlocal publishing”. While the details differed greatly, all these companies aimed to build new types of publications by encouraging citizen participation and providing online information and services that were not readily available on the local level. My company, NewWest.Net, was among that generation of start-ups. So was a company called, which announced last week that it was shutting down.

Backfence attracted a fair amount of attention in its brief life, mainly because it raised $3 million in venture capital and counted a well-regarded Washington Post editor as one of its founders. Now that it's failed, it's also attracting a lot of attention from people who are trying to figure out what's working and what's not in this new area of media. Some say Backfence was a good idea that was badly executed; others say it's proof that there's no money in local online media, or that the sector isn't appropriate for venture capital funding structures; still others suggest it's proof that citizen journalism doesn't work.

But I don't think any of these are exactly the right lessons. I think the problem with Backfence, and with a number of the other early experiments in online community journalism, is that they aren't quite "about" anything. They have no editorial angle on the world, no story they are trying to tell, and thus they become a boring hodge-podge of information titbits. In the rush to reinvent local journalism, the journalism piece is getting lost.

To back up for a minute: aimed to build local sites in mostly suburban towns around the country, beginning with two in Virginia. Local citizens would be invited to submit stories about the happenings in their town – things too small to command the attention of professional journalists, perhaps, but important enough if you live in the town. Local businesses would have an easy, low-cost way to advertise, both via Yellow Page-style listings and traditional web banner ads. Local residents could find the Little League scores, or share their photos of a family wedding, or gossip about the city council, or opine about which businesses served them best. The problem was that Backfence put up the sites – and nobody came. As it turned out, it's hard to get people to write stories or even share gossip on a local website. They certainly won't do it if there is no audience, creating the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. Plus, people who are already active participants in online conversations already have their own communities – be it on Facebook or MySpace or Yahoo! Groups or the local biking club's list serve. People who are not active online take a lot of convincing.

The "if you build it they will come" approach most definitely does not work when it comes to local online media and citizen journalism.

Furthermore, Backfence and others were oddly positioned in that they were trying to do several very different things from the outset. They were trying to compete with Google, the Yellow Pages, and scads of other directory, classified and search services in helping people to find an apartment or a pizza joint or a plumber. They were trying to compete with the Facebook and MySpace and a flood of specialised social networking sites and blog communities in helping people to connect with one another. And they were trying to compete with newspapers and local TV and radio in reporting news in their communities.

It is possible to do several of these things at once – but only if one of those things is initially drawing the audience that might then be interested in the other things. The reason newspapers became the source for classified advertising is because they had the distribution to get the ads in front of people; they had the distribution because people wanted to read the news.

Virtually every successful web media business, even ones that are now very broad, got to where they are because they had a strong editorial proposition that drove readership and created a community. Craigslist was originally about finding apartments in San Francisco. Facebook was about learning more about your college classmates (in case you wanted to date one of them.) Daily Kos was about Democratic electoral politics. Gawker was about Manhattan media gossip. And so on.

Journalists are often the first to forget that creating community via publishing is not something that came with the internet era, or something that requires cutting edge Web 2.0 tools. It's something that great magazines and newspapers have been doing for 100 years – by having an appealing and unique editorial proposition.

NewWest.Net is about growth and change in the Rocky Mountain West in all of its dimensions: political, cultural, social and economic. We have hyper-local sites in seven towns, and while they offer many different things they are all informed by our over-riding interest. That editorial proposition – which we pursue via a hybrid of professional and citizen journalism – is what motivates people to be a part of NewWest.Net. And once you've got people involved, there are lots of ways to "monetise" (hint: it's not all about advertising).

I always appreciate people taking a swing at things and I think Backfence was a brave pioneer. But let's not learn the wrong lessons from its demise. It's not enough to give people a place to talk. There has to be something to talk about.


Jonathan Weber is the founder and editor in chief of NewWest.Net, a regional news service focused on the Rocky Mountain West in the United States. He was previously the co-founder and editor in chief of the Industry Standard

MSNBC buys Newsvine as a route into citizen journalism

News company MSNBC (which is owned by Microsoft and NBC Universal) has bought Newsvine, its first acquisition after 11 years in business. According to MSNBC's own reporter, Newsvine is "a small but innovative player in what is known as 'participatory journalism'."

Rex Sorgatz, Executive Producer of, writing on his personal blog, says:

the gist is this: we plan to leave Newsvine alone -- learn from it, integrate little pieces of it, watch it grow. The site will continue to run independently with Mike at the helm; meanwhile, we will incrementally find sensible ways to integrate the "social thinking" of Newsvine into the "big media thinking" of

I'm convinced that Newsvine represents a different way of thinking about traditional media -- as merger of gathering, interacting, and consuming. By positing news as an ecosystem rather than a hierarchy, the philosophy of Newsvine is actually an old one. News has always been conversational, but only recently have we begun to rediscover the tools to bring it back to its networked mode. Mike and his team have built an amazing site, and we are excited to turn some of our large audience onto it.

Newsvine is rather small -- half a dozen people -- so I reckon it will need to keep its distance to avoid being crushed

You Tube and my Space where are they heading for??

In a matter of months, this online phenomenon went from zero users to millions. It was hugely popular with media-loving teens and young adults, whose participation drew in even more people. And for many, it became a daily obsession.

In 1999, the phenomenon was called Napster, a service that allowed users to swap songs through the Internet. Two years later, a pair of competing file-sharing networks -- Morpheus and Kazaa -- enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise. In 2005, a new version arrived -- this time in the form of the social-networking site MySpace (and, in a more modest way, Facebook), which allowed people to post profiles to the Web and communicate with friends through them. This year's model is the video-sharing site YouTube. As of October, MySpace had almost 50 million users, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, making it the runaway king of social networks. YouTube, meanwhile, had 30 million users, making it the most popular user-generated video site.

The two companies differ in fundamental ways from their file- sharing predecessors, but their popularity flows in part from the same source: a supply of free media contributed by users. On YouTube, it is video clips; on MySpace, it is clips (often provided through links to YouTube) and music. In fact, the two sites each show more videos than any Web site except Yahoo, according to a recent study by comScore Media Metrix, which tracks online activity.

And now, with both sites drawing flak from copyright holders, the question is whether they'll follow their predecessors' rapid path downward too. The descent of the file-sharing companies was fueled mainly by their inability to satisfy the demand for free downloads that they had stoked. When the courts ordered the original Napster to prevent users from downloading copyrighted songs, for instance, it lost more than 60 percent of its audience in five months, according to comScore Media Metrix. It never recovered.

MySpace and YouTube are in a different position legally and economically. They're Web sites, not software programs designed to copy digital files (so the companies can argue that they are protected from liability by special rules for Internet providers.) And their owners -- News Corp. and Google, respectively -- have very deep pockets and can afford to fight any challenges.

Still, the communities they have created rely to a great extent on users' ability to express themselves through media, and frequently the copyrights to that media are owned by a major music company, TV network or studio. While arguing that they aren't liable for their users' infringements, the companies also have tried to placate copyright owners by striking deals to share revenue with them (e.g., YouTube's deals with Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group) or sell their content (e.g., MySpace's deal with Snocap to help sell songs from unsigned artists). But the major labels and studios have not been mollified and have continued to press the companies to block copyrighted works from being posted on their sites unless specifically authorized. YouTube is developing technology to do just that.

Depending on how restrictive copyright owners decide to be, MySpace and YouTube could face a Hobson's choice. If they accede to the demands of Hollywood and the record labels and allow only a fraction of their works to be posted, users might be driven away because they can't express themselves the way they want to. And as their audiences thin, so will the glue that binds many users. It's the "network effect" in reverse: As users leave, the sites' breadth diminishes, prompting more people to go elsewhere.

Alternatively, MySpace and YouTube could refuse and continue letting users post whatever songs or clips they please, removing material only if the copyright holder complains. Some copyright specialists argue that MySpace and YouTube are shielded by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which exempts Internet service providers from liability as long as they remove infringing material when asked. But other experts disagree, saying the exemption doesn't apply to MySpace and YouTube. Universal Music Group, among others, doesn't believe it does; it sued MySpace and News Corp. for copyright infringement Nov. 17.

It's ironic to see News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox movie studio helped bring the lawsuits against Kazaa, Morpheus and numerous individual file-sharers, on the defensive. At the same time, it's refreshing to see an important copyright-law case litigated by parties with comparable resources on both sides, rather than having the entertainment industry pound away at much smaller figures.

The best result would be for Universal and its entertainment brethren to work out a way with MySpace and YouTube to turn people's enthusiasm for posting songs and clips into a robust revenue stream - - assuming that the sites can gin up enough money to make everybody happy. In another parallel with the original Napster, MySpace and YouTube haven't found a way yet to generate much revenue from advertisers or users. And the longer that remains true, the greater the chance that the companies will meet the same fate.
John Healey is an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Maka-Maka is Google's Answer to Face Book After Failure to Acquire It

Google may have lost the bidding war to invest in Facebook, but it is preparing its own major assault on the social networking scene. It goes by the codename “Maka-Maka” inside the Googleplex (or, perhaps, “Makamaka”).

Maka-Maka encompasses Google’s grand plan to build a social layer across all of its applications. Some details about Maka-Maka have already leaked out, particularly how Google plans to use the feed engine that powers Google Reader (known internally as Reactor) to create “activity streams” for other applications akin to Facebook’s news and mini feeds. But Maka-Maka goes well beyond that.

Maka-Maka will be unveiled in stages. The first peek will come in early November. As we reported previously, Google is planning to “out open” Facebook with a new set of APIs that developers can use to build apps for its social network Orkut, iGoogle, and eventually other applications as well. To recap what we wrote earlier:

Google will announce a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google’s social graph data. They’ll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google’s personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time.

On November 5 we’ll likely see third party iGoogle gadgets that leverage Orkut’s social graph information - the most basic implementation of what Google is planning. . . . Google is also considering allowing third parties to join the party at the other end of the platform - meaning other social networks (think Bebo, Friendster, Twitter, Digg and thousands of others) to give access to their user data to developers through those same APIs.

We’ve now learned that the original November 5 date Google is shooting for may be delayed. “They need more time,” says one outside developer working on the project. “It is a challenge for them,” confirms another. Still, the expectation right now is that some announcement will be made the week of November 5 (perhaps the 8th or the 9th), and will most likely be limited to Google’s existing social network, Orkut. The APIs will be announced, along with as many as 50 partners that have created applications on top of the APIs. (Most of the top app developers for Facebook will be included—think RockYou, Slide, iLike, SocialMedia, etc.—and a few new ones as well).

All eyes will be on Google, but don’t expect anything too earth-shattering straight out of the gate. Many of these apps will be copycats of what is already available on Facebook (just as the very first apps on Facebook were ported over from other parts of the Web). This first go-round, Google will just be trying to match Facebook’s ante. Remember, even on Facebook, the best apps didn’t emerge on Day One. And now Facebook has a six-month lead.

The bigger challenge for Google in the U.S. is Orkut itself. While there may be 24.6 million monthly visitors to Orkut worldwide, only 500,000 of those are here in the U.S., according to comScore. Cool social apps aren’t much good if none of your friends use them.

That’s where the bigger plan for Maka-Maka comes into play. Maka-Maka is very strategic for Google. Responsibility for it goes all the way up to Jeff Huber, the VP of engineering in charge of all of Google’s apps. Huber is on record as saying that the way Google plans to compete is by using the Web as the platform instead of trying to lock developers into Google’s own platform. One way it will do that from the start is by creating two-way APIs so that any app created for Google can be taken to other Websites. (Whether this will extend to actual user profile data within Orkut or elsewhere inside Google remains to be seen because of privacy issues, but the apps themselves will be portable). And data from other social sites will be able to be imported into Google’s social apps as well.

The bigger vision is to combine all of Google’s apps and services through Maka-Maka. Google already has so much data on you, depending on how many Google apps you already use. It just needs to bring everything together. Your contacts are in Gmail. Your feeds are in Google Reader. Your IM buddy list is in Gtalk. Your upcoming events are in Google Calendar. Your widgets are in iGoogle. And don’t forget about your search history. Overtime, Google will connect all of these together in different ways, along with data about you from other social services across the Web, and give developers access to the social layer tying all of these apps together underneath. The real killer app for Google is not to turn Orkut into a Facebook clone. It is to turn every Google app into a social application without you even noticing that you’ve joined yet another social network

Murdoch, a Folk Hero in Silicon Eyes on Future of Media

At the Web 2.0 Summit a few weeks ago, MySpace held an after-party at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. With a guest list of Silicon Valley luminaries and a party room redone in white — carpet, chairs, table and yes, mostly people — it was a very post-modern indication that MySpace, the social network owned by the News Corporation, was ready to engage with its brethren to the north by opening an office here.

Half an hour into the party, there was a ripple of excitement, and people started murmuring and pointing toward the door. When the crowd parted, I expected to see Mark Zuckerberg, the young overlord of Facebook, or Steve Ballmer, the battle-hardened Microsoft veteran. Then again, this is a MySpace party, so maybe Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan? Instead, it was Rupert Murdoch — old school, old media, and at 76, just plain old.

From the reaction of the crowd, it might as well have been Lindsay Lohan. He was overwhelmed by an immediate onrush of hospitality as the geekerati lined up to get a word with him.

Back East, the elites generally regard Mr. Murdoch, most especially with his purchase of The Wall Street Journal, as if a particularly unpleasant coup was under way. He is treated much the way he is in London (where he has owned The Times for more than 20 years), as an immigrant, a man of suspect values and provenance, even though he runs a $70 billion diversified media company.

In the United States, Mr. Murdoch’s appeal is thought to work in the heartland, where Fox News takes aim. But on the left coast, Mr. Murdoch is truly among friends. The attendees at the Web 2.0 conference know him as the ultimate market timer, the guy who swooped in out of nowhere and bought MySpace for $580 million two years ago, before its audience doubled and before social networks became the platform of the future. And this was before Facebook got a valuation of $15 billion via an investment from Microsoft on Wednesday.

“This is not just another rich guy — there are a lot of those around here,” said John Battelle, one of the summit’s hosts. “He built News Corp. from not much, with his own two hands, and this is a room full of entrepreneurs. The other thing this room respects is intelligence, and they can tell he is smart, really smart, not just from what he says, but what he has done with MySpace.”

The same characteristics that make Mr. Murdoch a nonmember of the club in the East — a lack of correctness and, occasionally, business civility — make him something of a folk hero in the context of the new economy, which is peopled by insurgents who see him as a fellow pirate, even though he already captains a giant ship.

In a joint interview on the stage of the summit with Chris DeWolfe, a MySpace founder, earlier that night, Mr. Murdoch brandished both humility and hubris. He said that the folks at News Corporation were “trainees” when it came to new media but added elsewhere that CNBC was “half dead,” that MySpace was probably worth 30 times what he had paid for it, and he all but licked his lips when he responded to a question about whether he would like to use The Wall Street Journal to “kill” The New York Times.

“That would be nice,” he said.

At a conference where most chief executives proceeded with euphemistic elegance — Mr. Ballmer stonewalled questions about negotiating for a piece of Facebook even as the deal was being consummated and gave a long answer to a question about Google without mentioning its name — Mr. Murdoch answered almost every question put to him, often naming names and frankly laying out his ambitions. He was a hit in the room and the belle of the ball afterward.

And in a move that plays like raw meat in this lion’s cage of developers, Mr. DeWolfe and Mr. Murdoch said MySpace would open the platform to applications or so-called widgets from outside programmers, a decision Facebook made in the spring.

“He is candid and he is aggressive,” said Jason Calacanis, who sold his start-up, Weblogs, to AOL for a reported $25 million two years ago. “He said during the discussion that he basically wanted to crush The New York Times and crush CNBC. When do you hear somebody in that kind of position being so candid?”

It’s not just Mr. Murdoch’s aggression the audience responds to. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005, Mr. Murdoch suggested that newspapers were “immigrants” to the digital space who needed to learn from “natives.”

He seems to have gotten the hang of things pretty quickly, telling the Web 2.0 crowd, “No one delivers huge audiences anymore.” One of the conference’s themes was that advertisers, who will finance things as diverse as cellphones and desktop applications, are no longer after just eyeballs, but consumer behavior, too.

For a so-called old media company, News Corporation has done significant work to move from taking orders for mass inventory to offering focused buys with specific audience characteristics. Mr. Murdoch recently bragged at a conference about being able to deliver, say, all the optometrists in the London area — which is very Web 2.0, as they say.

I waited my turn in the queue at the party, and Mr. DeWolfe, who had just signed a deal for two more years with News Corporation, made an introduction. Amid the throbbing house music, Mr. Murdoch and I chatted briefly about his purchase of The Wall Street Journal, which will be completed in December.

Perhaps in an effort to keep cognitive dissonance at bay, the journalists I know at The Journal have changed posture from doomsaying to a growing curiosity about what it will be like to work for someone who actually wants to invest in newspapers. I mentioned as much to Mr. Murdoch. “That is the sense I am getting,” he said.

I also joked that he might have to cut a lot of checks to compete with my employer for national and international news, adding that this has been a tough business of late. But he insisted there was “plenty of room for growth” in the newspapers.

“We can’t wait to get started,” he said.

Others can’t wait either. “Who isn’t interested in seeing some other newspaper people who want to fight and do bold things?” Mr. Calacanis observed. “Murdoch is someone who is actually investing in newspapers. Even you have to be rooting for that.”