29 Journalism Sessions Worth Voting for at SXSW

The deadline for voting on SXSW sessions is September 4th. Below I’ve rounded up a few session ideas that caught my attention. Go forth, vote, comment and share.

Community Engagement and Public Powered Journalism

I’m most interested in sessions that look at the role of media and technology on the lives of people and communities and that explore how communities and journalists can work more closeing to co-create the future of news.

Building Journalism and Civic Tech With Community

If civic tech and journalism are about creating a more just and equitable democracy, we need to reorient our work towards building with communities, not just for them. The future of civic work is not about investing in technology, it is about investing in community. This interactive panel is designed to address this gap, demonstrating through play and dialogue how journalism and technology practices can be reconfigured to work collaboratively with diverse publics. We’ll present case studies and community-driven strategies from sectors like public art, social justice organizing and design thinking. Attendees will leave with models they can put to use and iterate on in their work. (Disclosure: I submitted this one)

Let the People In: How to Democratize Local News

We believe everyone has a stake in the future of journalism. That’s why Free Press is applying the tools of community organizing to local news engagement. Our News Voices pilot project in New Jersey brings community leaders and residents together with media makers to explore the role journalism can and must play in helping communities shape their own futures. By treating residents as active partners, we’re building a model where newsrooms respond to local needs and residents advocate for quality sustainable journalism in their hometowns. Our panel can speak from different perspectives — as journalists and community organizers — about how and why this approach works. (Disclosure: we at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fund this project)

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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

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

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

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

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

Je Suis Charlie: Defending Freedom of Expression Depends on All of Us

When I heard about the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo I was speechless. I have been writing about press freedom and violence against journalists for half a decade, but in the wake of these killings words failed me.

Words did not fail others however.

Within an hour of hearing about the attack I saw the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie gaining traction online. A few hours after that, journalists in newsrooms around the globe began posting pictures of themselves holding Je Suis Charlie signs. And by that night people were in the streets from Paris to San Francisco chanting “Je Suis Charlie.” Continue reading

The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2014

Each year I post a round-up of the best online journalism of the year. Below you will find links to more than 30 amazing, immersive journalism projects that caught my attention in 2014. But each year, my readers augment the list with their own favorites.

In 2012, the list included a lot of stunning visuals and designs that wove together text, audio, images and videos. That year, many of the innovations focused on how stories could be displayed online (think Snow Fall). In 2013, the projects tended to be more data driven and participatory.

This year new digital tools and networks seemed to influence every aspect of the storytelling process. From sensors to structured journalism, crowdsourcing to podcasting, new modes of journalism that have been emerging over the last decade took huge strides forward this year. Communities of practice grew up around new models of storytelling to formalize norms, grapple with ethical and technical questions and tackle issues of sustainability.

Unlike past lists, this year I’m grouping stories around key themes. I’ve also included new organizations and storytelling strategies in addition to great individual stories. Please add your own favorites in the comments or make the case for other trends you think defined online storytelling in 2014.

1) The Year Audio Went Viral

There was one story that didn’t fit well in my categories, but was also impossible to not include in my round-up this year: Serial. If you only listened to Serial then you missed a lot of great aspects of the story which were only available on the podcast’s website in blog posts, source documents, maps and more. Serial got so popular, so quick, Slate even created a meta podcast about the podcast.

But Serial is only part of a larger story about the resurgence of podcasts as digital audio gets woven deeply into the web, mobile phones and car radios. 2014 was also the year that Alex Blumberg created an addictive podcast about launching his new start-up (which produces podcasts). It was also the year that the podcast network Radiotopia raised $620,000 on Kickstarter, promising to reinvent public radio. There were so many good stories from the podcasts that make up Radiotopia this year that I couldn’t pick just one — go, listen, subscribe and support them.

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10 Crowdfunding Lessons From The Radiotopia Kickstarter Campaign

The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign comes to a close today after raising more than $600,000 from nearly 22,000 fans.

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The success of a campaign like this is a complex alchemy of passion, mission, timing and tenacity. There are a million things you can’t control, good and bad surprises abound. And yet, over the last month the Radiotopia team has run a superb and engaging campaign. Anyone thinking about crowdfunding for their project – regardless of what platform you choose — should study what the team at PRX and Radiotopia did.

Here are ten lessons from Radiotopia’s Kickstarter Campaign:

1) Sell the values, not the thing.

The Radiotopia campaign was never about just supporting some podcasts, it was about “remaking public media.” The Radiotopia team always led with the values and vision they were bringing to the table. This is especially important for mission-driven crowdfunding efforts like journalism and documentary projects, but even with gadgets or other products, crowdfunding tends to be about selling a story not a thing. “It’s not just an amazing group of podcasts, it’s an amazing group of people” writes Roman Mars on the campaign’s homepage. “Radiotopia is bringing a listener-first, creator-driven ethos to public radio.” The team was explicit about tapping into their audience’s values – a love of storytelling and public media – and made it clear how a donation wouldn’t just fund a podcast, it would help you feed your passion.

2) This isn’t just a fundraiser, it is a friend-raiser.

Kickstarter campaigns are about raising money. But that’s not all they accomplish. The best campaigns become a locus of attention and activity for a passionate group of people to come together and support a shared vision. The Radiotopia crew understood this, and they made their campaign as much about making friends as it was about making money. Early on in the campaign Roman Mars introduced one of the campaign’s key goals: To reach 20,000 donors. Yes, that goal carried with it a financial challenge from a corporate sponsor, but what was more important for the longterm sustainability of the collective, is that it presented an opportunity to introduce Radiotopia to legions of new people (and to turn current fans into donors, even if only at $1 each). One of the campaign rewards was even a chance to be connected with other fans as pen pals. The best Kickstarter campaigns are not just financial investments, but also investments in relationships between creators and their community. Continue reading

Five Kinds of Listening for Newsrooms and Communities

In 2002 NPR’s vice president for diversity, then a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, described an idea he called “The Listening Post.” “Journalists interested in telling more of a community’s ‘truth’ need to establish listening posts in the places that fall outside the routine of journalism,” he wrote. “They have to leave the office, the neighborhood, maybe even the comfort of personal likes and dislikes in order to make this happen.”

More than ten years later Internews and local New Orleans public radio station WWNO launched a project with the same name and built on some of the shared values. The New Orleans Listening Post combines digital recording stations across the community with text messages and online engagement to “establish a two-way conversation with the citizens of New Orleans” where they can both contribute ideas and commentary to the newsroom and also receive news and information about their community. Internews and WWNO partners with Groundsource for the project which is building a mobile first, text message based platform for listening.

Almost 1,000 miles to the north, Jenn Brandel is pioneering a different kind of listening project called Curious City at Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ. Curious City is part journalism project, part listening platform, and in the words of Brandel, is “powered by open questions.” The Curious City team has collected thousands of questions from Chicago residents in the field, via a toll-free number and online via their custom-built platform. The public gets to vote on what questions journalists pursue, and the Curious City team brings the public into the reporting project along the way.

From Transactional to Transformational Listening

Last November I wrote about the need for listening and empathy in journalism, arguing that “better reflecting and responding to our communities has to start with better listening.” A year later, I’m encouraged by the growth of projects like The Listening Post and Curious City as well as the many newsrooms who are hosting events dedicated to listening to the diverse voices of their communities.

While these promising experiments and new start-ups a proving the value of deeper forms of listening, as an industry we still have a lot to learn. Listening is after all not a passive act, but rather an active skill that we can learn and employ strategically. As the examples above make clear there are many different kinds of listening with different goals and outcomes. Below I’ve tried to map out five models for listening at the intersection of newsrooms and communities. Continue reading

How To Get Your News From Poems

I came to journalism by way of poetry.

For a long time, poems were my workshop. Through poetry I experimented with language, learned how to make meaning and build empathy. Poetry, like so much good journalism, helped me see the world in new ways.

This week, the nation’s largest poetry festival kicks off in Newark, New Jersey. Over four days, on nine stages, more than 70 poets will take part in 120 events. In a preview of the festival, the New York Times called it “a literary bonanza.”

For me, the festival feels like a homecoming. Six months ago I began working as the Director for Journalism and Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the hosts of the Dodge Poetry Festival. I’ll spend the weekend surrounded by some of the people whose poetry sparked my love of writing early on.

“It is difficult / to get the news from poems,” wrote American poet William Carlos Williams, “yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And yet, we are seeing more and more efforts to combine poetry and reporting. Recently, the Center for Investigative Journalism partnered with the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks to create the Off/Page project mix spoken word with investigative reporting. In 2009 Haaretz newspaper in Israel replaced its reporters with leading poets and authors for a day, and later in 2012 NPR invited poets into the newsroom to translate the day’s news into verse. Continue reading

Why Journalists Need to Take Reader Privacy More Seriously

(A version of this post originally appeared on Medium)

Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: “We’ll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called ‘targeted advertising.’”

This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare.

Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It’s time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance.

Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations’ use of encrypted HTTPS connections. “Virtually none of the top news websites,” writes Kevin Gallagher, “including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers.” Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website.

Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, theWashington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. “Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings.”

And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue. Continue reading