Shells has created a series of official-looking street signs quoting rap lyrics that mention parts of the city – intersections, buildings, parks and other landmarks. He then posts the quotes at those locations, grounding the lyrics in the place that inspired them and creating a hip-hop geography of the city. Continue reading
Three new funding opportunities for journalists and media makers shine a spotlight on the role of media in community engagement and civic health. This comes at a critical moment when, across the journalism landscape we are finally seeing deep reciprocal collaborations between journalists and technologists. Journalism schools are combining forces with computer science programs, the Knight Mozilla fellows just placed their third round of developers in newsrooms and every week there seems to be another hack-a-thon for journalists.
Journalists and technologists working together is a good thing for journalism, but also for local communities. It is notable that this era of collaboration is coming as trends are pushing both professions deeper into the public. Borrowing a phrase from Rich Harwood, they are “turning outward,” a process that emphasizes “making the community and the people the reference point for getting things done.”
In journalism this is embodied by the rise of community engagement efforts within newsrooms. It is part of a growing recognition that journalism will rise and fall with its community. Whether it is a paywalled newspaper that depends on subscriptions or a public broadcaster who depends on memberships, building community around the news on and offline is one of the critical challenges facing journalists today.
At the same time in technology we’ve seen incredible and inventive projects that focus on how technology can be brought to bear on community issues. This civic innovation takes many forms, from public health hack-a-thons to crisis mapping. Pair this with a rise in Gov 2.0 and transparency efforts and we see people working inside and outside government to better connect technology to civic life. Continue reading
I’m not one to make predictions about the future of our media. I’m much more interested in prescriptions. Rather than talking about what we think might happen, let’s discuss what we agree needs to happen and how we might get there. The media isn’t just something that happens to us — it is something we can and must be part of creating and reshaping ourselves. Here are three critical issues we must tackle in the coming year. Continue reading
As a parent, I think a lot about the world we are creating for our children. As an advocate for press freedom and digital rights I think a lot about the web we are creating for our children too.
A lot of my work centers around creating more democratic structures and policies that shape our media, and pushing back on the companies that want to assert more and more control over the Internet. But I also think a lot about how the Internet changes the ways we communicate with each other, and thus the ways we relate to each other. When I get sucked into a Twitter fight, see a particularly ugly comment thread, or hear about bullying and harassment online, I wonder what kind of web my kids will inherit from us.
That’s why I was so struck when I read Jeff Jarvis’ blog post “We get the net—and society—we build.” Jarvis’ post (a response to this post from Amanda Palmer on “Internet hate” – also a must read) puts into words a few things I have been feeling in my gut for sometime. He writes:
“We are building the norms of our new net society. It can go either way; there’s nothing, absolutely nothing to say that technology will lead to a better or worse world. It only provides us choices and the opportunity to show our own nature in what we choose. Will you support the fights, the attacks, the hate? Or will you stand up for the victims and against the bullies and trolls and their cheering mobs who gleefully tweet, ‘Fight! Fight!’?”
Jarvis’s post is a profound reminder that each of us is making the web as we go along. Our tweets, our Facebook posts, our Instagram photos, our Reddit comments are both literally and figuratively the links that hold the web together. Online our actions don’t speak louder than words, our words are our actions, and we should make them count. Continue reading
In a recent post, John Robinson, the former editor of the News and Record in North Carolina, compared newspapers to grocery stores. He writes:
Newspapers once proudly said they were like a supermarket — they offered aisles upon aisles of choices. […] Rather than a grocery store, the paper should be more like one of those specialty shops with fewer choices but only the finest items that you’re not going to find elsewhere.
I’ve long been interested in the parallels between the rise of the local food movement and the debates about the future of local news. There are important lessons to be learned for how advocates for local food have built new infrastructure and economies around local products.
Robinson’s comparison got me thinking – what is the right analogy for news? If the metaphors we use help shape our understanding of what is possible, then how might models and metaphors from food production and distribution help us understand what’s working, or not working, in the news?
Below are some initial thoughts: Continue reading
In Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, he documents how the Internet has helped people accomplish amazing things by leveraging the power of new networks and connections. “We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action,” he writes, “all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”
However, most of the examples of social and political change that have been amplified or catalyzed via social media are episodic, not lasting (which isn’t to discount their importance). This is in part the nature of social media. The same velocity that makes social media campaigns and memes so powerful, also makes them, for the most part, short-lived or best suited to making immediate change.
As we spend more and more of our time and energy on social networks – recent stats suggest that almost 20% of all time online is spent on social networks with the average person spending 7 hours on Facebook a month – I wonder how we can build a more consistent civic layer over the new digital public square.
Bill Maher is wrong. It’s as simple as that.
In a Facebook post hours after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the often provocative talk show host wrote, “Sorry but prayers and giving your kids hugs fix nothing: only having the balls to stand up to our insane selfish gun culture will.”
And Maher wasn’t alone. In the hours that followed the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary I saw that sentiment echoed across the web. “Stop being sentimental and starting fighting,” people seemed to be saying.
I’m a parent of young children, one of which is almost in elementary school himself. My first response when I heard about the shooting was to hold my family close and tight. In that moment I never wanted to let go.
In the title of her post at Slate Katherine Goldstein asks “Is Occupy Wall Street Outperforming the Red Cross in Hurricane Relief?” It’s a provocative question, but the article doesn’t really go very far in answering it. While it provides a glimpse of the tremendous effort and coordination behind Occupy Sandy, it doesn’t really provide any evidence with which to compare Occupy’s effort to the Red Cross’s work.
I’m not on the ground in New York so I’m in no position to assess the tactics or impact of either group, and as Andrew Katz argued on Twitter, it may be “Unfair to pit Red Cross against Occupy in a ‘who’s helping more’ debate. Similar priorities, diff abilities.” However, I’ve watched as many of my friends have headed out to help with Occupy Sandy and connected to other self-organized grassroots relief efforts around the city. What Goldstein’s post raises, and what I have witnessed online, is how fundamentally the way we respond to disasters is changing. Continue reading
I was at a digital journalism conference when Apple released iOS6 and set off a firestorm of criticism over their custom built mapping application, so perhaps it was inevitable that I would connect these things. In fact, I have written before about how journalists can be the “information cartographers” of the digital age, mapping the ecosystem of news and helping us find our way. However, as I have been reading up on how Apple built its maps I think there are some important lessons for journalists who are thinking about data and community in important new ways. Continue reading
Who produces the local news you read, see and hear? Has it been outsourced to people in another state, or maybe even another country? How can you tell?
On this week’s episode of This American Life, Ira Glass and the team explore what happens when U.S. media corporations outsource local journalism to workers around the world. Most troubling, perhaps, is the way these companies are trying to hide what they are doing. Can someone sitting at a computer in the Philippines really cover the South Side of Chicago, and do Chicago residents have a right to know who is writing these stories?
Similarly Free Press has tracked and revealed how more than 100 local TV stations have outsourced their local journalism to their competitors, so that in some cities only one newsroom is producing the news for three stations. And just last week Steve Myers at Poynter reflected on what makes a paper local in light of cuts backs and consolidation at Advance Publications papers in Alabama and New Orleans.
We are at a moment where these companies are radically changing how the news is made. However, we are also seeing new hyperlocal and nonprofit news organizations emerging, public radio and TV are investing in local journalism and some newspapers are remaining fiercely local and committed to public service journalism.
The question is, how do you tell the difference between something that’s produced locally and something that’s been outsourced? Here are 10 resources that will help you identify and support truly local journalism. Continue reading
I saw a tweet last night that went something like: “People must love biased news because CNN is doing so poorly while the other networks are doing great.” This was inspired by new reports of CNN’s second quarter ratings, which New York Times reports, “plunged by 40 percent from a year ago,” for its prime-time shows. We can all debate about definitions of doing well and doing poorly, but in general I think a lot of people agree with this sentiment that bias drives views.
CNN isn’t plummeting in the rankings because people love “biased news.” However, what MSNBC and FOX News understand, that I think CNN doesn’t, is that people want to see themselves in the stories they consume. This is as true of novels they choose as it is of the news they decide to watch.
This aspect of the debate over objectivity has received too little attention, but it is fundamental to how stories function. For a long time objectivity was a source of trust – (i.e. “You can trust me because I don’t have a dog in this race”) – but it also had a cost. The cost was journalists’ relationship with their audience and their communities. Continue reading
The recent history of journalism in America is full of tectonic shifts, brought on by changes in technology and society. For too long, many of those changes happened outside of newsrooms, but increasingly we are seeing fundamental cultural shifts in news organizations that are changing how, and to sometimes why, journalism is done.
One of those shifts has been the emphasis on community engagement. The media landscape is shifting and becoming more participatory, and our communities want to do more than just read the news. They want to be co-creators, collaborators, distributors and they want to put the news to work, to improve their lives and communities. At the same time, financial challenges have forced news organizations to build new networks of support with their audience and community.
While newsrooms have invested in various forms of community engagement – from mobilizing local bloggers into coordinated networks, to robust social media strategies and community events – there is still a lot we don’t know about how to assess and measure the impact of community engagement. Continue reading
The annual Pew State of the News Media report is like a yearly physical exam for journalism in America. This year the prognosis is mixed, at best. Newspapers are still raking in double-digit operating margins, but after years of consolidation they are over-leveraged with debt that is cutting into their profits. There are more hours of news on local TV, but much of it consists of rebroadcasts, meaning there is actually less original reporting. Tablets and mobile devices are driving significant new traffic to news sites, but monetizing that traffic is still difficult.
A Stress Test for Civic Health
Underneath all the numbers is a troubling narrative that has spanned the last few Pew reports and continues through this year’s study. Everyone agrees that we are in a tumultuous time for journalism in America, with both enormous opportunity and profound challenges — the numbers confirm that. But what is harder to quantify is the impact this unevenness and uncertainty is having on local communities. The authors of the Pew report provide some hints.
“The civic implications of the decline in newspapers are … becoming clearer,” the authors write. “[M]ore evidence emerged that newspapers (whether accessed in print or digitally) are the primary source people turn to for news about government and civic affairs. If these operations continue to shrivel or disappear, it is unclear where, or whether, that information would be reported.”
While a growing cadre of reporting projects and journalism sites is contributing in critical ways to expanding news in many communities, most still come nowhere near the size of traditional newsrooms, and many are struggling to transition from startup to sustainability. Some of those startups are being developed by committed journalists who have left newspapers. Pew estimates that 1,000 newsgathering jobs were lost in 2010, which is a small number compared to the years prior, but still significant. Continue reading
In today’s New York Times there is a piece by David Bornstein entitled “Why ‘Solutions Journalism’ Matters, Too.” Here is a clip:
“Journalism is a feedback mechanism to help society self-correct. We know from behavioral science that information about a problem alone is rarely sufficient to generate corrective action. People need to know what they can do ― and how. That doesn’t mean including a little “good news” now and them, but regularly presenting people with innovative ideas and realistic pathways and possibilities that remain outside their view frame. In this sense, solutions journalism needs to be interwoven with traditional journalism ― it rounds out the story, so to speak.”
There are a lot of reasons I think this idea is important, which I get into more below, but in general I think it’s vital that those of us who are working to remake journalism are able to describe the kind of diverse news ecosystem we want to create. As Bornstein points out, it is not enough to simply describe the challenges and problems facing journalism, we need to also be exploring and experimenting with the solutions.
A few years back Jay Rosen published a “flying seminar on the future of news,” a short round-up of one conversation from one month in March 2009. Today, I want to offer my own flying seminar on “Solutions Journalism.” Consider it a reading list for those who want to dive deep into this idea and continue the conversation in the new year. There are quotes from each post below, but be sure to read each post in full and add your voice to the conversation.
I came to journalism through community organizing, so for me, news and information has always been important in the context of our communities. That’s perhaps why I was so struck by the way Melanie Sill, executive in residence at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, puts community at the center of her new report “The Case for Open Journalism Now.”
Like many journalism reports released in the last five years, her report begins by asserting that journalism is a “public good.” However, where other authors have used that frame to explore business models or argue for new funding streams (including my own 2009 report), Sill is more interested in how the journalism itself needs to change.
“We need a new orienting idea for journalism,” she writes. If journalism is a public good, she asks, how must it change and adapt to the new digital public sphere and the demands of newly connected (and disconnected) communities. “To bring real change,” Sill argues, “we must reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities.”
“Open journalism’s core principles are transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration and connection. … It’s an idea for making quality journalism a collective endeavor and transforming it from a product driven by factory processes to a service driven by audience needs.”
In this way, open journalism brings together the democratic needs of communities with the increasingly networked technological shifts in media and information. Part argument, part case study, and part handbook for newsrooms, her paper offers a wide range of concrete examples drawn from a diverse set of journalism organizations across the country. As such the paper reads as a study of an emerging movement, one which is gaining steam but still facing very real challenges.