Memories of the Animas River Before it Ran Yellow

Yes, we mourn for people, but sometimes we also mourn for places.

We can mourn their loss, when we return after many years have passed and find them gone or transformed. Or we mourn their wounds, as they are devestated by a disaster.

I was born in Colorado and althought my family moved to the east coast not long after my birth, Colorado has always been an important place for me. We returned a few times when I was growing up, but the visit I remember most took place just after my first year of college.

I took a summer philosophy course on ethics and community which included a backcountry camping trip into the Rocky Mountains designed to put what we had been learning into action. The trip started on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which runs parallel to the Animas River. Our crew jumped off halfway and hiked two days into the San Juan Mountains, up to about 10,000 feet in altitude. We were scheduled to stay up there for a week but a July snow storm, and a bout of food poisoning that struck one of our faculty members, forced an early evacuation.

To get out, we had to cover two days hiking in one day, with a sick member of our group. Throughout that frenzied hike back, all we thought about was that river. We had one chance to make it back to the river in time to get onto the train. If we missed it we would have to spend another night in the woods. Continue reading

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Why newsrooms should train their communities in verification, news literacy, and eyewitness media

If newsrooms want to help stem the spread of misinformation online and get access to better eyewitness media they should embrace community engagement.

Bringing communities into the news process is a powerful way to spread journalistic values, train residents on reporting processes and foster user generated content that is more useful for newsrooms. Newsrooms are well positioned to become participatory journalism laboratories, helping more people navigate, verify and create powerful stories online and via social media.

Last month after a teen in McKinney, Texas, captured eyewitness video of a police officer pulling a gun on black teens and and pinning a young woman to the ground, On The Media produced the “Breaking News Consumer Handbook: Bearing Witness Edition.” The handbook consisted of a simple image with 11 bullet points on it outlining important legal, safety, ethical and technological advice for people who find themselves recording police activity and breaking news. It does a superb job breaking down these complex issues into something that is approachable and relevant to most people. Continue reading

Photo by Osvaldo Gago on Flickr.

New Collaboration Focuses on Building Verification Resources for Journalists and Citizens

I’m excited to be joining the First Draft Coalition, which launches today.

The coalition brings together leading organizations and individuals working in verification and eyewitness media to create new tools, resources and trainings for journalists and the public.

Here is a bit more detail from the announcement.

Our founding members, from different organisations and projects, are each dedicated to raising awareness and improving standards around the use of content sourced from the social web. They are BellingcatEyewitness Media HubEmergentMeedanReported.lyStoryful and Verification Junkie. Our aim is to open up the conversation around the use of eyewitness media in news reporting with a strong focus on ethics, verification, copyright and protection, and we want to reach and hear from everyone in the journalism community, including students, lecturers, local reporters and international editors.

The ethics and practices surrounding social media journalism and covering breaking news online are still emerging. As new platforms abound, new forms of eyewitness media emerge, raising novel questions for newsrooms and journalists. In times of crisis our communities are turning to social media for critical and trustworthy information, and increasingly, they want and need ways to assess the validity of what they find there. Continue reading

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Building Journalism With Community, Not For It

At the end of last year Kristin Hare of the Poynter Institute was collecting tech resolutions for 2015 and asked for mine. Here is what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to help more journalists build with their communities, not just for their communities.

At so many publications, journalists are rebuilding their newsrooms around new technologies from smartphones to social networks. But for the most part, the community is left on the other side of the screen. In 2015 there is a huge opportunity to engage communities in the work of helping build powerful journalism.

I want to help newsrooms design reporting projects, engagement strategies, web apps and more, through deeper collaboration, listening and empathy with our communities. Building for the community puts people at the end of the process. Building with community puts them at the start.

In the new year, let’s start the debate about journalism and technology with our communities.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation we believe that journalism sustainability is rooted in building stronger relationships between communities and newsrooms. The distinction between “building with” instead of “building for” feels at first like semantics. However, when we begin to use it as a lens to examine journalism as both a process and a product, we see numerous small and large ways it challenges the status quo. Continue reading

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A Secret History of Unmanned Bombing

Last week America’s drone war was brought back into sharp focus when President Obama admitted that a US drone strike in January killed two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” Obama told the nation.

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker noted that the apology underscored “the perils of a largely invisible, long-distance war waged through video screens, joysticks and sometimes incomplete intelligence.” Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post put it more directly in their piece, “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets.”

Two days before Obama’s press conference I was on a long drive, binging on podcasts, and found myself immersed in a kind of secret history of unmanned bombing. Two random podcasts came on almost back-to-back that were haunting in their description of the lengths humans will go to drop bombs on each other. The two stories are powerful in and of themselves, but were made all the more striking in light of Obama’s comments.

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The Art of the Commons

(This essay was originally published in Orion Magazine’s spring 2015 issue)

There is a growing recognition that the solutions to some of our greatest struggles are rooted in our relationships to one another. They are built by hand, often slowly, and begin in our communities. From the environment to the economy, conservation to culture, people are developing creative networks to tackle wicked problems at a human scale. New digital tools have helped catalyze many of these efforts, but this tendency towards cooperative, participatory, and equitable problem-solving has a long and rich history.

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Building Journalism With Community Starts With Building Trust

In early 2015 I wrote a post about why journalists should focus on building the future of news with communities, not just for them. I’m following up on that post with a series of profiles of people trying to embody this community-first approach.

Profile One: Jeremy Hay and EPA Now

Jeremy Hay is a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University who has been covering local news from San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to Sonoma County for more than two decades. Before getting started in journalism Hay worked as a tenant organizer, union staff member and house cleaner in New York City.

Through his fellowship Hay is exploring how journalists can build on “the native talents in low-income communities to create their own source of media coverage” But when I sat down with Hay in San Mateo, California, last month it was clear that he didn’t want to just build on those talents, he wanted to build with the community. His first project is designing a local news service with residents in East Palo Alto, but Hay hopes he can take what he learns there and extrapolate it out to help other communities develop their own media infrastructure.

It is still early but Hay has already learned some valuable lessons about building with community, not for it.  Continue reading