On Being a Citizen Reporter

Original Article Published in

OhMyNews and Twin Cities Daily Planet

July 14-23, 2006

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

The following are all ten parts of the series, "On Being a Citizen Reporter", reported during the International OhmyNews Conference in Seoul.  Greg Daigle was the reporter of all ten parts.

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part I

… an International Perspective

July 14, 2006         

 

The following is a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.    

 

The experiences of the reporters (some use the term journalist) are varied and represent a wide range of international experiences. They have come to Seoul to meet other citizen reporters and to hear about other efforts across the globe to organize and give voice to citizen media.    

 

The presentations reported on in this series include:   

Dan Gillmor, Director, Center for Citizen Media

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org

J.D. Lasica, founder of Ourmedia.com

Bryan Nunez, Technology Manager of Witness.org

Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of GlobalVoices online

 

Susan DeFife, CEO of Backfence.com    

Michael Weiss, co-founder of Scoop.co.il (Israel)    

Erik Larsen, CEO of Flix.dk (Denmark)    

Ramzy Baroud, editor-in-chief, The Palestine Chronicle     

Dan Gillmor, Director, Center for Citizen Media, an affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet Society at the Harvard University Law School.    

 

Today's Web is a read-write media, composed not just of blogs (though they are getting most of press) but also videos, podcasts, SMS, mashups and more.    It's not just the technology. Principles of journalism still matter: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness independence and transparency where anyone could create their own news report.  The Daily Me could be a news site written by yourself the way you want it. But that would be a singular viewpoint.  Citizen Media is about Wisdom of Crowds. 

 

We upload and create information. We blog, We explain. We annotate the Web. We discuss (argue, really). We are neighbors. We tell stories. And as a result – communities are created.    Podcasts and live uplinks via cell nets have take the place of video satellite uplinks. Such citizen media has captured tidal waves and riots, things that professionals usually report on after they have occurred. So citizen media is ubiquitous and immediate.    

 

The next Web is an alphabet soup of RSS, OPML, API, etc.  In Web 2.0 (or is it now 2.5? 3.0? Whichever…) users will collect information and mash-it-up with other information. You can do this with syndicated feeds known as RSS. The fact is that any blog can be a feed. OhmyNews is now an RSS feed on the international Herald Tribune. RSS is also adaptable. Dan Gillmor even has an RSS reader on his phone. So you don't need to create special Web sites for feeds when you have mobile readers.    

 

OPML, part of this in”fo soup" presents a list of what you’re currently reading. Put together those lists and you have created a larger community of what people are reading. It's a great tool for sharing information collectively.  New interfaces allow for mashups of data archives and the Web. 

 

For example, the Boston subway map is available as a mashup, allowing you to input and find specific addresses, show locations of hotels, even connections to the subway map. Or use the mashup Platial (not available yet) to annotate maps with text or graphics.  We should encourage journalists to use these technologies for the things that they do best.  Mashups are also about putting media together like video and politics.     

 

Read My Lips is a site that edits videos with political commentary since political commentary is part of journalism. Modifying and repurposing video is a native form of media for people who grew up with digital video media. Part of the future of journalism will be to encourage the mashups that people are inventing.    In the world of the Web lies and unintentional mistruths travel faster and more widely than truth. Dan gave the example of how just one site on Wikipedia page changed over time. Over two years it showed massive changes, but those changes were easy to overlook until it was conveyed in a playback slideshow known as a screencast. Then the changes and counter changes became very evident. The Internet allows users to correct bad information but we need better tools to more visibly portray those corrections.    What to do when there is too much information? One answer is to use filters.  Technorati (http://www.technorati.com)  is one site for tracking blogs. You can also go to Memeorandum (http://www.memeorandum.com/).    

 

Memeorandum to help sort through all the blogs. But pretty soon we will have more personalized sites where we both choose what feeds to dip into and what communities to be part of.    Today we have Newsvine (http://www.newsvine.com) and Digg (http://www.digg.com/) to tell others in our communities what we find important or interesting. Users vote on what stories catch their eye.  So the community votes on what is more important, or, most popular. This is a good first step but it will also be important to add ways to gauge the reputation of voters before we can believe that the votes are not rigged in some way.    What we now have is content, easy to manipulate, upload and discoverable.  We need to add to that the dimension of why it's important to know and care about that content.  Technology is advancing through chips, media acquisition tools, mashups. But we also need better conversation tools, ways to find news, create mixed media content and tie it all into meaningful metadata that can track and relate content.    

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part II 

… an International Perspective 

July 15, 2006        

 

This is the second in a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  The experiences of the reporters (some use the term journalist) are varied and represent a wide range of international experiences. They have come to Seoul to meet other citizen reporters and to hear about other efforts across the globe to organize and give voice to citizen media. 

 

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org

Craig believes that their approach is a very simple one – and simple is good. Call it Web 0.1 rather than 2.0!  Craigslist is primarily a classified ads and discussion board.  Yes, it helps people but he personally believes that what's also important is the work being done for international citizen reporting. 

 

Citizen reports help add power to speech.  The changing media landscape is a whirlwind.  Lately it's been a marketplace in the ancient sense that it's chaotic, unruly and vividly human. But the landscape also provides a community service run by the people who use it.  As the people at Craigslist run their site, they are talking to people all of the time. Craig finds that people are generally trustworthy. As Craig says, “Sure, there are scammers and harassers of all sorts, but mostly people are good”.  He's also learned that the wisdom of crowd is set against the "tragedy of the commons." That is, the collective conscience of the Internet more than makes up for the abuse that people can bring to a site. So it does require some managing, tending and general watchfulness, just as any genuine democracy would.

 

There will always be disinformation gangs who use the technology to stage smear campaigns or whisper campaigns. But one singular and incorrect viewpoint never endures on the Internet. Multiple voices make corrections over time resulting in a history that is written by more than just the "victors".  Craig's involvement at today's conference is for himself, not Craigslist. He says that he wants other people to change the world, since they are witness to the many events of the world. Or, he says, he could just be lazy!  (FYI, we don't think so).  He believes that you need people to speak the truth to empower them. That's important when professional journalists such as Edward R. Murrow risked their careers to tell the truth. 

 

Today the risk is just as high. At the same time the professional journalism industry has become a somewhat dulled sword. It is Comedy Central's The Daily Show which is becoming the most trusted news on television. Laughter has power, which was forecast by Oscar Wilde who said, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."  

 

Craig mentioned several specific efforts in citizen journalism:

Center for Citizen Media (http://www.citmedia.org) on the state of the art in citizen journalism

Daylife (http://www.daylife.com/), a news/trust aggregator built on trustworthy news

Sourcewatch (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php)

Congresspedia, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy

 

He also mentioned that the BBC does have a nonprofit effort in training citizen journalists around the world. The BBC wants journalists and any interested people should contact Craig.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part III 

… an International Perspective         

July 16, 2006 

This is the third in a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

 

J.D. Lasica, founder of Ourmedia.com

J.D. contrasts citizen's media  with legacy (traditional) media, which he sees as being top-down, one-way, centralized, closed, imperious and heavily filtered. In other words something done to you, not for you.  Ourmedia is a 15-month-old nonprofit open source media project. People can post their media (photos, reports, video, audio) for others to see, hear or read. As an international platform for the global community it has only 20 percent of its members located in the U.S. Partners include Internet Archives, SFSU and others. Currently there are 110,000 members and 80 moderators from 14 countries involved.  Their efforts also include a Personal Media Learning Center (launched in mid June of this year) where you can go to find how to use media tools such as video recorders, video editors, audio recorders, podcasts, etc. It also explores issues of copyright usage for reporters.  Citizen media is part of a larger personal media revolution including OhmyNews and Wikipedia.org.  Others include:

 

MySpace (http://www.myspace.com)

YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/)

Flickr (http://www.flickr.com)

NowPublic (http://www.nowpublic.com)

IndyMedi(http://www.indymedia.com/mc/index.php)

Slashdot (http://slashdot.org/)

Metafilter (http://www.metafilter.com/)

Kuro5hin (http://www.kuro5hin.org/)

Baristanet (http://www.baristanet.com/)

Backfence (http://www.backfence.com/home/index.cfm?mycomm=BE)

Sixapart (http://www.sixapart.com/)

Wordpress (http://wordpress.org/)

Glogger (http://glogger.hopto.org) and others.  

 

What are the distinctions between traditional media and citizen's media? Though not absolutes, these include:  

- Traditional media gives lecture,s while citizen's media promotes conversations.  

- Traditional media assumes passive consumers, while citizen's media empowers users.  

- Traditional media is one to many, while citizen's media is many to many.  

- Traditional media is corporate/autocratic, while citizen's media is democratic and collaborative.  

- Traditional media is composed of elite professionals, while citizen's media is consumer driven.  

 

Playing nice with others is important since interoperability is key! The Open Media Coalition (http://www.openmediacoalition.org/) has forty different programmers combining coming together to create interoperability and sharing resources between different citizen sites. These new standards include xm, media RSS, open APIs, metadata and more.  

 

Ourmedia wants people to partner with them, showcasing compelling citizen's media content from partner sites on their front page. You can search for media by topic, group, top media, page views, comments and channels.  One of their partners featuring "bottom-up" film translations is at dotSUB (http://www.dotsub.com/) you put up any video you may have and others will translate it into other languages. For example, from English to Portuguese. If you are proficient in the originating language and others you can translate it into another language yourself. 

 

Right now they offer the choice of translating video into any of 200 languages.  You can go there to try it out yourself and try creating translations in your own language. To do so log in using "ohmy" as the username and "news" as the password.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part IV 

… an International Perspective         

July 17, 2006 

This is the fourth in a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

 

WITNESS was featured on CNN and PBS show NOW. NOW host David Brancaccio interviewed Peter Gabriel on Human Rights, devoting an entire program on Peter's dedication to human rights issues and on WITNESS' work. Mr. Gabriel, an internationally known musician, is on WITNESS' Board of Directors.

 

Bryan Nunez, Technology Manager of WITNESS.org

WITNESS is a human rights organization based in the U.S. Theirs is a human rights perspective but one that employs technology rather than having technology as their focus.  WITNESS' current model is to equip and train other human rights organizations on the ground with video equipment to capture and document human rights violations. Their first operational model was to establish a few core partners with whom to work and provide strategic guidance in addition to equipment, training and periodic assessments of successes and impacts.  Another model WITNESS has more recently employed is "seeding video advocacy" where they address a wider audience than is accessible through the few core partners. They seed communities seeking social justice with ubiquitous technologies such as video cameras (in their various forms). This, in turn, has increased the expectations of various groups as to the beneficial impact of Witness's work and further spread word of their work. 

 

On their home page they employ their "Rights Alerts" which are calls to action and video alerts done in partnerships with groups such as Democracy in Action (http://www.democracyinaction.org). Such groups provide extended services, such as hosting their petitions, allowing users to sign petitions or write to local representatives via fax or email.

 

A new effort, not yet launched, is their Human Rights Video "HUB". The HUB is a complement to the existing WITNESS models. Just as they progressed from core partnerships to seeds in order to cast a wider net, this is a third provision of services. With the HUB they seek to help users create mobile content (employing Web 2.0 technologies) for those who do not have access. To do this they seek greater mobile access for people in the global southern hemisphere. They are looking to social networking and content aggregation by utilizing existing Web sites. Better to use what exists now rather than reinvent it. 

 

There are definite concerns, such as maintaining human rights standards and securing protection from governments through privacy implementations. Anonymity provides protection against potential dangers, so any technologies that provide anonymity can help prevent unwarranted persecution.  HUB will be partnering with other groups, including Global Voices online (http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/) and OneWorldTV (http://tv.oneworld.net/) to provide greater exposure for their submissions. Because the video may require translation for a larger audience, they are working with dotSUB (http://www.dotsub.com/)” and Babel Fish (http://babelfish.altavista.com/) to arrange for translation services. In addition, they are working with www.transmission.cc (http://www.transmission.cc/), a group of video makers, programmers and web producers developing online video distribution standards as a tool for social justice and media democracy.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part V

… an International Perspective         

July 18, 2006 

This is the fifth in a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. 

 

GlobalVoices is sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/) at the Harvard Law School. A growing number of bloggers around the world are emerging as “bridge bloggers”, people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Global Voices is a guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.

 

Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of GlobalVoices Online.

Ethan hopes to rewire the media by refocusing attention away from North American and N.E. Asia to other parts of the globe. The existing focus on Western and Asian cultures is not new, you see it in the history of media. To understand, look at Japan and Nigeria (which have roughly the same populations). Both have no shortage of news coming out of them but there is an eight times greater chance of news coming out of Japan than Nigeria. That is out of balance.

 

Eblogs first started as techy forums. Now they represent more of an international viewpoint covering far more than technology issues. But how do you get information from parts of the world that don't normally produce much media information?  Blogging is one answer. Blogging has exploded in these underrepresented countries. KenyaUnlimited (http://www.kenyaunlimited.com/) is one good example of Webrings (collections of blogs) in underrepresented countries. GlobalVoices Online (http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/) focuses on making more visible those international blogs that already exist rather than creating new content. The site summarizes for readers what is going on in blogs across the world in underrepresented countries. They search 10,000 blogs a day. Regional editors find the interesting bits. Longer stories are also offered, but through contributors, not editors.

 

They have 110 editors and hundreds of thousands of posts representing over 150 countries. Translation services for these blogs becomes a key feature. For example, they ask that a posting in Arabic or Chinese be translated and summarized into a language from which they translate. They translate from seven different languages. Since all content is available under a Creative Commons license it can be translated and reposted without copyright issues. Without the translations it might not make it to Aljazeera (http://english.aljazeera.net/) or Instapundit (http://www.instapundit.com/).  To grow, they maintain a Wiki that allows people to suggest new blogs they should review for contributions. Ethan refers to this effort as citizen media rather than citizen journalism. They are not reporters. They are pointing to opinions, photos and stories that give a slice of life. A story may not be journalistic but may give insights through their personal views. They try to provide context, interesting stories and explain why this is important.

 

With so many sources, aggregation of content can help channel multiple points of view. For example, one podcaster takes the most interesting podcasts and mixes them together to provide an audio collage. So, different media such as audio or video can also be addressed.  In some underrepresented regions you may have a lack of technology or even a lack of power. If there is no power, it's unlikely there will be bloggers. A night view above our planet from space will show the lights of global power grids. Where you see lights around the globe would indicate the presence of bloggers as well.

 

Lack of access may also accompany a lack of civil rights. How to keep bloggers out of prison? How to give them the tools that will give them voice?  Hao Wu is a blogger and filmmaker who was detained by the Chinese government for five months without any explanation as to why. Though not professional journalists, bloggers are clearly at risk. So one of Ethan's concerns is how to make blogging safer by making it anonymous.  They are constantly faced with how you get people around the world to pay attention to the blogs GlobalVoices Online promotes? In part, they have found that you need both a context and a human face to care about. Show us the people in those places and we'll care more about their stories. That is their mission -- to inspire caring.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part VI

… an International Perspective

July 19, 2006 

This was a presentation by Susan DeFife, CEO of Backfence.com, to OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 14. 

 

Susan DeFife, CEO of Backfence.com

Backfence is a for-profit collection of hyperlocal community sites consisting completely of citizen reported news and emphasizing neighborhood-level information. Their ideal targets are suburbs and "ring" cities of 50-60,000 surrounding medium to large metropolitan areas. They are now in Washington D.C., Palo Alto and three other sites. The Chicago area will be one of their next expansions.

 

Susan says that it's all about user-generated content. There are no editorials and it is not edited. They don't pay for the content either, offering no payments or incentives for stories generated by citizen reporters. The only editorial control they maintain is the home page for each community.  The home page is automated to pull and display the articles that are most viewed, most commented upon, etc. However, there are also safeguards so that one person can not dominate the home page with frequent postings.

 

The contributing writers determine what to submit and to which section of the site they post their stories. Citizen reporters cover local news that would otherwise be cost prohibitive for traditional media --- but not for an online effort. They see themselves as complimentary to traditional local media, not competitive with it.  They are supported by display ads and classifieds from advertisers within the local community. It is comparatively very affordable for advertisers and it gets their ads to their local readers. No popups nor interstitials are allowed, just block ads. Susan said that theirs is a low-cost, high-profit model.  She reports that Backfence's plan is to hit 16 metropolitan areas within three years, building 10 community sites across suburbs or nearby cities. 

 

Despite this aggressive growth plan it's important to have a local presence in the communities they serve, and they do so with a local bureau office. They put a local content manager on the ground, as well as some sales people and a general manager as well.  In searching for content contributors, they find that small organizations respond best. Little Leagues, PTAs, arts organizations, etc. are prime customers. As Backfence becomes part of the community there is a trust factor involved. You are to the community what you said you would be, so transparency is important.

 

Since the local Backfence site may become the outlet for local news, it must be done so in a respectful environment.  Backfence sets the community culture and sets some safeguards (for example, no anonymity) but each site establishes its own personality.  In McLean, Virginia, the whole town was excited about Girls Little League and how their local team worked their way up to win the Girl's Little League World Series. The traditional media coverage was sparse until the win.

 

Readers can search on articles by writer, subject or date. In their early days they did put up a Wiki on the site to allow readers to edit each other's stories, but found that people didn't want to edit the work of others so they took it down.  What they have found is that viewership is evenly distributed in age and sex for registered members. Each month 6,000 unique members visit. They have found that 10 percent of the local population is reading content on their site and 1 percent is producing content for the site.  

 

Finally, Susan mentioned that tensions do arise between the writer/reader and the business model for Backfence. Readers have been slow to accept that there is no content without their contributions. There have also been those who want to provide stories covering an issue broader than their local demographics, but they have not allowed these stories, as that would not benefit Backfence's local advertisers.  

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part VII

… an International Perspective

July 20, 2006 

This was a presentation by Michael Weiss, co-founder of Scoop.co.il, at the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum held in Seoul, Korea, on July 15. Scoop is the first Israeli citizen journalism site. 

 

Michael Weiss, co-founder of Scoop.co.il (Israel)

This is Michael's second year at this conference. Last year he was the only Israeli, now there are three ... he quipped that he might be presenting in Hebrew next year!  [Note: Scoop is published entirely in Hebrew; there is no English version yet.]  Scoop (http://www.scoop.co.il/)  is about vision, and vision is the tool for making change. Though they began operations just in January of this year he believes that citizen journalism in Israel can add significantly to the journalist scene. Israel has 7 million people, just a third of Seoul's population. 60 percent of Internet users in Israel read online news on a daily basis and there are 3.6 million Internet users daily. They found that 45 percent of Internet users visit 2-3 professional news sites a day, mostly to compare information. So there is an opportunity for citizen journalism in Israel to grow and to have an impact.

 

Michael believes there is a place for user-generated content. Yes, there is competition but he and his co-creators of the site thought that people would want to hear what "regular" people have to say. There were several difficulties in starting up, including competition from legacy media. The three largest news sources in Israel also had an Internet presence. But he also knew the OhmyNews' success was real and could indicate a blueprint to follow, not only in technological standards but in journalistic ones.  Launching Scoop began with their choosing between the many bloggers that exist in Israel. They began here because these people have the minimal skills, passion and time to post stories. They sent out personal invitations to bloggers and the response was overwhelming. Their first edition started with an online introduction page and a registration form to contribute writings. They also put up posters in journalism offices to entice professionals to participate. By January 15 they had 150 reporters ready to write.

 

What are they offering citizen reporters? Primarily a place of influence. People will read you, people will know you. They give away gifts as incentives for articles. These range from T-shirts to webcams to yearly subscriptions for a daily newspaper.  On their site they reserve a space called "the reporter zone". The reporter zone is a special section reserved just for registered reporters to compare techniques, ask questions, and share experiences.

 

News is organized by region so, for example, you can search just for northern Israel news. It is also organized by type of news and most popular news. Reader views indicates popularity and is another way to search for news on their site.  Readers can also influence the ranking of the articles through rating an article's popularity. They list the ten most highly rated articles. Articles can stay up on the list only seven days. The rankings and recommendations of readers are very important to them.

 

Reassurance that reporters are who they say they are and accountability for accuracy of content are also very important to Scoop. Scoop requires detailed registration and part of their pre-activation process includes a phone call by an editor to the prospective reporter.
Cross-checks on stories are run by editors to assure accuracy of third-party responses. They want to ensure that what's being posted is really true and accurate. They then do a keyword check in Google to make sure that the article wasn't posted through other sources then just repeated with a new reporter byline.  What's new?  ScoopTV will be coming soon. It is a news-oriented video channel where users and reporters can send video clips and broadcast personal shows. Rankit! is a user-generated ranking module they will employ anything and everyone is rank-able. Scoop International will also begin soon, exposing Scoop's stories to the world and giving them a more international audience (i.e. an English edition).

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part VIII

… an International Perspective

July 21, 2006 

This was a presentation by Erik Larsen, CEO of Danish citizen reporter site Flix.dk, at the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 15. 

 

Erik Larsen, CEO of Flix.dk (Denmark) (http://www.flix.dk/) is a very different story than Scoop (see part VII). Erik is a professional writer by training and is as interested in storytelling as news reporting. Flix began in 2003 as an experimental site developed on a personal server in his apartment and grew from there. Startup cost for software was – zero, due to its being based upon an open source software for editorial collaboration.  Erik first heard of OhmyNews from an article in magazine. 

 

As reported in other presentations at this conference, OhmyNews was the model Flix used when creating their citizen reporter site.
After establishing Flix as a prototype and spreading word of its presence, the response was wonderful, with inquires coming in from all over Denmark. The competition between traditional news outlets in Danish media is very high, but Flix does not consider them competitors because telling news stories in a traditional mode is not Flix's niche.

 

Erik and his collaborators want to employ both sound journalistic practices and user-centered content. To achieve this they coach citizen reporters to become better writers. They also encourage the sharing of peer knowledge between reporters. They hoped this would result in higher accuracy of information, greater transparency, a more democratic environment and a change of world view.  So far it's working.  At first they were little more than a newsletter sent to 75 people -- mostly colleagues, friends and family. They watched the Danish weblog community closely, inviting talented writers and watching for interesting stories. Word spread quickly through personal contacts. On Nov 5, 2003 they officially launched.

 

Early in 2004 Flix helped the cause of a blogger being pressured by anti-piracy lawyers. They championed the case and brought it to the attention of the established media. It ended in a live radio show on national radio where the blogger Mr. Back (it was known as the Keld-Back case) was given an apology by the Danish Anti-piracy Group that had formerly accused him. It was great exposure for Flix and gave them tremendous respect in the blogosphere.

 

Another boost was an article on graffiti in Copenhagen. It created a boom in readers from graffiti societies from all over the world. Until then they didn't know exactly who their audience was or who it impacted. It was their first encounter with the viral effect of online news distribution.  Flix is steadily building a core of enthusiastic citizen reporters who have been the driving force behind the creation of content. They have also had stories first appearing there in Flix and later appearing on national television. They are proud to have been the first media outlet publishing stories about the poor treatment of Muslims in Denmark, a topic underreported in the traditional media outlets.

 

What are their challenges? Danes are individualistic. So some would ask why not just start your own weblog and not write for a citizen journalism site? One answer is the increased readership experienced by reporters writing for Flix.  If increased readership is your goal you could just write for traditional media as opportunities for citizen reporters open up within these legacy media outlets. However, Erik's colleagues at Flix have found that even when traditional media employs citizen reporters to provide content, the traditional media outlets maintain their legacy focus. Stories submitted are often selectively picked over for the more sensational news or the emphasis of stories is twisted from the original intent of the citizen reporter.  The technical challenges ahead for Flix are huge. They are growing to the point of technical breakdown. 

 

A very popular story recently killed their server, completely bogging it down. Finding partners and funding for technical and editorial expansion remains a serious challenge.  Another challenge for them is their full-time staff being picked over by traditional media headhunters. What they find is that many of their staff tend to be part-time with them and part-time in traditional media.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part IX

… an International Perspective

July 22, 2006 

This was a presentation by Ramzy Baroud to the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 15. 

 

Mr. Baroud's work has been published in hundreds of newspapers and journals worldwide, including.  The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, The Miami Herald, The Japan Time, and Al-Ahram Weekly. He has been a guest on numerous television programs including CNN International, BBC, ABC Australia, National Public Radio, Al-Jazeera and many others. He has contributed to many anthologies and his 2002 book, has received international recognition.

 

Ramzy Baroud, Editor-in-Chief of Palestine Chronicle (http://www.palestinechronicle.org/)

Palestinian-American journalist Ramzy Baroud came from a refugee camp in Palestine's Gaza Strip, one of the least understood areas on earth. As a journalist, he has a sense of urgency that the Palestinian story (and much of the Middle East) is either not being told or being told from a point-of-view inconsistent with reality. For Ramzy, telling the story is a national responsibility and it must be done so properly and with greater accuracy.

 

Twenty years ago in the Gaza Strip, there was an Israeli military curfew. The army had orders to kill anyone leaving their homes and some died within their homes just for looking out their windows. Ramzy's father cautioned his family not to sneeze, not to breathe heavily lest soldiers break down their door. One boy who died that day was a classmate of Ramzy's, yet traditional media outlets mentioned little or nothing of the curfew and killings.

 

Growing up, he was to train as a doctor, as several of his family members are physicians or professionals in the field of medicine. But, instead, he chose to divert from medicine to become a journalist. Ramzy began his work as a journalist at a young age, writing part-time for local newspapers in Palestine.

 

In 1999 he went to Iraq to report on the radiation-related deaths of children. Children were dying of leukemia reportedly caused by the presence of depleted uranium ammunition by U.S. forces during the first Gulf War. His focus remained on the children and their mass burial, managing to stay away from the politics of the day.  But it was the Palestinian Uprising of September 2000 that turned his personal Web site into the "Palestine Chronicles". That site became the vehicle through which he and others could express their anger and disappointment in not being able to tell the story of Palestine through traditional media outlets.  Their efforts now have multiple POVS, but his is decidedly biased toward Palestinian issues. For example, the UN sent a team to the West Bank to investigate the Jenin massacre, but they were blocked by the Israeli government. No one was allowed into the refuge camp. Ramzy's entry was blocked as well. However he found a group of people, Palestinian residents of the camp, who would agree to be reporters.

 

Ramzy wanted to know what happened in Jenin and he didn't want third-party interpretations. Based in Jordan at the time, he was backed by a Washington newspaper. He heard testimony, transcribed it with his editor (also his wife) and tried to focus upon just the facts – not speculation. 

 

Searching Jenin became a best seller at Amazon.com. Its success is a real vote of confidence for citizen journalists. Later, he worked with Professor Noam Choamski of MIT (an Honorary Editorial Board member of Palestine Chronicle) and others to get his most recent book published, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle.  What's next for Ramzy? After he gets established in a professorship in London, he will go to Fallujah to get citizen reporter accounts of atrocities. This is not about filling in the holes (which are many), but in countering a mainstream narrative that has been self-serving and biased for so many years.  Ramzy says that we must bring that balance back to the press in order for democracy to be meaningful and to resist its being hijacked. It's about counterbalancing the self-serving mainstream narratives all over the world.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle

 

 

On Being a Citizen Reporter, Part X

… an International Perspective

July 23, 2006 

This was a presentation by Prof. Gary Chapman to the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest International Web sites for citizen journalism.

 

Dr. Chapman is Director of the 21st Century Project and a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin.  [This is the final installment on this series on the OhmyNews conference]  

 

Prof. Gary Chapman, Director, 21st Century Project

Topic: Citizen Journalism and the Digital Divide.  The term Digital Divide is falling out of favor in government circles. It is being replaced by either the term “Digital Access“ or “Digital Opportunity”. The Austin campus of the University of Texas recently held a world congress on the Internet, and its theme was Digital Opportunity. This change of terms is not done so lightly. It was meant to reorient the debate to the positive aspects of digital inclusion, rather than stressing exclusion. It urges us to think about this gap in different terms.

 

Here is the situation with the Internet. Users on the Internet just passes 1 billion. It is the first communications technology to reach everyone over the globe in the same format. It looks the same to everybody.  The Internet is also growing fastest in regions where it has been hardest to find over the past few years. In the Middle East its growth over the past few years is at 267%, Africa is nearly 200%, and the growth is solid-but-slowing in North America. Latin America /Caribbean’s growth of the Internet is 211% and the world growth total is 146%. India and China have grown in reach and speed. The growth of broadband in China is 918%. To meet this need for connectivity urban Internet approaches have been very innovative, including cyber cafes Community Technology Centers, PC Bangs (in China, for example), Yahoo! Tarjeta Prepago and Brazil's Computador de Uno Reale.

 

Tarjeta Prepago uses cash cards prepaid with pesos for Internet time. Uno Reale is a CD-ROM that you take with you to a cyber cafe. It brings up your entire desktop from a server regardless of where you are.  Rural Internet approaches include satellite-based Internet connections and solar-powered PCs. In the village of Masai Mara, Kenya, there are two ISPs both running on satellite. This is a very remote area yet demand for computer access is increasing, having grown more than double over the past 5 years.  One new device is a solar-powered Internet station, the Inveneo  (http://www.inveneo.org/). It's a dumb terminal, but builds a wireless mesh network of these solar devices.  Digital audio and community radio has been used for remote locations. ALIN (http://www.alin.or.ke/) – Arid Lands Information Network – uses satellite connections via internet radio in some remote areas. You can download data over digital radio modem cards and into your laptop. Hybrid systems are also gaining popularity where access and connectivity are limited. Connecting computers to small radio transmitters that broadcast mp3 files is a practical hybrid where local people carry small transistor radios.  

 

Many places in Africa (and the world) have no power. FreePlay devices, which are hand-cranked devices are very useful. Motorola makes the FreePlay mobile phone and radio.  Datamules "store and forward" technologies employ small computers and WiFi on a motorcycle. The motorcycle rider receives the stored files at one location, travels to the destination, then downloads them via Wifi to villages PCs. It's just a guy on a motorcycle, but it works where it's deployed in Thailand and South Africa using thumb flash drives. In Argentina there is a boat with a WiFi connection exchanging information with villages along its route. Simple is sometimes best.

 

MIT's $100 laptop (http://laptop.media.mit.edu/) and AMD's (http://www.amdboard.com/pic.html) “personal internet communicator”, or PIC, are two new relatively low-cost technologies.   PIC is now being tested throughout the world. PIC runs on 10% of the power for a PC using either a car battery, solar panel, bicycle power or other options.  Six thousand residents of New Orleans were bused to Austin. AMD donated 100 machines with low-energy requirements that all plugged into one outlet! PICs are targeted at households with $1,000 to $7,000 income, which is really middle class for much of the world. Remember that what the developed world denotes as the poverty rate in the income made by over 1 billion people worldwide.  Due to the limited availability of power, the developing work is very interested in hand held devices. One billion mobile phones are supposed to be sold this year. 

 

The PicoPeta Simputer is a small handheld computer made in India. Not as successful as they had hoped, but this might lead the way for other successful introductions.  Challenges in the developing world include the non-existence of telecom. Electric power may also be spotty or non-existent as very few water driven power plants can generate power during a drought. Climate change had made drought more common.  When farmers leave and that pulls children away from villages as well – meaning devices installed in schools go unused.  Price point is also a big factor, as is the technology literacy of users, social relations and political context.  What are the other opportunities in the developing world? Wireless infrastructure is much cheaper, including WiFi and WiMax. One advantage of WiMax over WiFi is that it has a huge range of 15-25 miles rather than 200 ft.

 

Free open-source software is a major advantage for lower cost hardware like PIC. One such example is Ubutu  (http://www.trap17.com/index.php/ubutu_t23146.htm) which is being employed in Africa. Also, free online tools like Google spreadsheet and locally-developed content such as citizen journalism help give a focus for the hardware tools.  Tragedy also makes the case for ubiquitous universal, including the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, bird flu epidemic (for tracing outbreaks even in very small villages). We need information from places where the internet is rare today to supply information on global warming and peacekeeping operations that affect us all.  The near-term future of universal access includes a trending fall in hardware costs, new devices and new markets.  In addition, there is an expanding telecom infrastructure in some regions, such as a new trans African fiber loop.

 

Global leadership at local and national levels is needed to convince people how they will benefit from new technologies.

 

©2006 Gregory Daigle