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Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Journalism’

Ethics And Citizen Journalism

Posted by Jacqueline on October 10, 2007

According to many, one of the negative aspects of citizen journalism is that it is not as regulated as its traditional counterpart – after all, citizen journalists (e.g. bloggers and messageboard or discussion forum posters) generally aren’t considered as reliable as more professional journalists. 

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing – all journalists should carefully vet their sources anyways, it’s given citizen journalism a somewhat undeserved bad name, because really, just because someone is a professional doesn’t automatically mean they are perfectly ethical (in an ideal world, yes, however, that is sadly not the case, although they certainly are more credible than an anonymous internet source). 

However, as citizen journalism keeps gaining ground on the web, the question of ethics comes up, as well as one of regulation.  Is there even any way to set a basic standard for online, independent journalists?  First of all, if you have any ideas in that department, you should check out and enter the Knight News Challenge, especially if your plans are of a smaller scale (realistically, it’s not like anyone can regulate the entire internet).  Secondly, Tim McGuire of McGuire on Media has posted an interesting piece about ethics, the current state of journalism, and the business of journalism, and how it all goes together.  Perhaps it will inspire your entry!

Posted in Citizen Journalism, General, Journalism, New Media, Web | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Let Your Fellow Citizens Make Your Commute Easier

Posted by Jacqueline on October 10, 2007

While most people think of citizen journalism, at least at the current moment, they think of either the courageous bloggers in Burma (and other war-torn nations), or of those people who report on the minutiae of politics, especially local politics.  However, while calling it journalism might be a stretch, there are other kinds of citizen-generated content that are making an immediate impact on people’s lives.

Check out Clever Commute, a website devoted to the travel situation and traffic in the New York City area.  People use their blackberries and smart phones to share information about delays and reroutes, leading to a smoother commute for everyone involved.  No, it’s not really journalism, at least in the traditional sense, but it is breaking news.  And definitely essential knowledge for its users. 

Although public transportation systems have been offering mobile updates for some time, this is the only service that lets people reach their fellow riders (which makes things much more immediate and accurate than the typically slow transit authority updates).  Thus far, commuters using technology to help other commuters has proved to be a superior method of breaking traffic/transportation news, at least in NYC. 

Want to know more?  Check out this NY Times article on Clever Commute.

Do you have an outside-the-box citizen journalism idea?  Take a gamble and enter the Knight News Challenge – you just might win the cash and the resources to make it happen. 

Posted in Citizen Journalism, Digital Media, General, Innovation, Technology, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Keep Retailers Honest Through Crowdsourcing

Posted by Jacqueline on October 9, 2007

Talk about a way to keep retailers and store owners honest – WYNC (a NYC public radio station) has peformed a crowdsourcing experiment by inviting listeners to share the prices of a few staple grocery items in their neighborhoods.  People can compare prices on a Google map of New York City and see where the best deals/most expensive locales are.

Any ideas for a crowdsourcing project in your ‘hood?  Check out the Knight News Challenge and you could win funding for your plan.

Posted in Citizen Journalism, General | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Behind the “Great Firewall of China”

Posted by Jacqueline on October 7, 2007

Although the military junta in Myanmar/Burma is the government getting the most flack for censorship these days (and rightfully so), it’s important to remember that neighboring China isn’t exactly known for it’s openness.  In fact, many websites are blocked and there has been talk of bloggers having to register their real names with the government, in order to prevent the spread of “irresponsible and untrue information,” which is a “bad influence” on society.”  (Fortunately, this measure was not put into action). 

The Chinese government’s attempts to control their population’s access to the internet has been termed the Great Firewall of China, and although the wall is far from perfect (users can occasionally get through to banned sites, and there are numerous ways around the blocks, such as using proxies to surf the net, that people can utilize), it’s important to remember the effects of censorship, even if it has proven to be futile for the more technically inclined members of society. 

For instance, just knowing that the government is watching tends to lead to self-censorship. which might not seem all that dangerous on the surface (especially if you live in a country where freedom of speech and the press have long been fundamental rights), but clearly, placing such restrictions can be the beginning of a downward spiral.  However, the Great Firewall hasn’t prevented the Chinese people from embracing the web – according to this study, China will overtake the United States in the number of internet users by 2009.  It’s going to be tough for the government to keep a watchful on all those people.  From the linked article:

“So what affect will the surging population of Chinese web surfers have on the Internet as a whole? China remains divided from the rest of the ‘Net by the content filtering firewall that the government maintains to suppress information and discussion of topics the government deems unworthy. In addition, the government is actively engaged in hunting down people who post negative opinions about the government on blogs, something that US companies such as Yahoo and Google have publicly condemned yet privately supported. These tensions will increase as China’s ‘Net presence continues to grow, but one wonders if the Great Firewall of China can keep up.

Can the Chinese government really keep tabs on all of these users? 137+ million users (and growing) can’t be easily monitored no matter how you slice it, and government attempts at controlling what people say online have been met with a number of high-profile controversies over free speech which have been embarrassing for China, at lest in the western world. Of course, China isn’t too worried about what the western world thinks, especially when the kinds of growth we’re seeing there gives rise to visions of dancing dollar signs and euros in the eyes of many a businessman.”

Recent attempts at controlling the media that the general population consumes include banning RSS (which had previously been a way of accessing banned sites – can’t read the blog?  Try the feed), but as reports from people “behind the wall” say, there are ways around that too. 

One question that arises from this situation is “how can anyone expect to control the web?”  After all, isn’t part of the beauty of the web in the fact that it doesn’t come from one central source?  And won’t the attempts to censor/control the web hurt China’s economy in the long run?

As always, if you have any ideas or projects related to blogging, content delivery, or citizen journalism in places like China where the web isn’t as free or open as it could (should) be, check out the Knight News Challenge.

Posted in Blogging, Citizen Journalism, General, Journalism, New Media, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Down But Not Out: Burmese Citizen Journalism

Posted by Jacqueline on October 6, 2007

The brave citizen journalists, photographers, bloggers, and videographers on the ground in Burma may be partially silenced by the military junta government’s stringent censorship, but they are not totally quiet.  Instead, they’ve been forced to utilize more complicated methods to get the word out, like smuggling images in cell phones and breaking down files in order to send out them out undetected.

According to David Mathieson, an expert from the Human Rights Watch (quoted in this New York Times article):

“It is not clear how much longer the generals can hold back the future. Technology is making it harder for dictators and juntas to draw a curtain of secrecy.

“There are always ways people find of getting information out, and authorities always have to struggle with them,” said Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at New York University and the author of “A History of News.”

“There are fewer and fewer events that we don’t have film images of: the world is filled with Zapruders,” he said, referring to Abraham Zapruder, the onlooker who recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Before Friday’s blackout, Myanmar’s hit-and-run journalists were staging a virtuoso demonstration of the power of the Internet to outmaneuver a repressive government. A guerrilla army of citizen reporters was smuggling out pictures even as events were unfolding, and the world was watching.”

Hopefully, the continued efforts of the citizen journalists and reporters in Burma will manage to keep the world’s eyes on their corrupt government – and that other nations will draw positive lessons from this situation. 

Do you have ideas for citizen journalists in places where the technological reach is small and freedom of the press is but a pipe dream?  Any projects that could help them achieve their goals?  Enter the Knight News Challenge and you could win a grant and make your innovations a reality.

Bonus links:

The Human Rights Watch’s Burma section – here’s a lot more information on the current government and the country’s recent history.

The NY Times’ The Lede Blog’s latest post on Burma – be sure to check out the comments and the reactions from Burmese peoples and other reporters who have been there in the past few months.

Posted in Blogging, Citizen Journalism, General, Journalism, New Media, Technology, Web | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Revolution Will Be Blogged

Posted by Jacqueline on September 30, 2007

Much has already been made of the efforts made by citizen journalists inside Myanmar/Burma to document the deteriorating political situation, but their work is even more crucial in light of the fact that privately-owned newspapers in Burma have decided to stop their presses instead of printing more government propaganda. 

“They are forcing us to publish their announcements and propaganda in our publications and we can’t let them do that to us,” said a Rangoon journalist.

Kumudra, Seven Days, Pyi Myanmar and many other news journals have decided to stop or suspend publication, and have already informed the censor board of their decision. Rather than give the real reason for their decision, they blamed the ongoing instability which is preventing journalists from being able to go out and report.”

Although the nation is sadly no stranger to protests, riots, and the resulting violent response by the military regime, this time it is even worse than the previous 1988 uprisings.

“In 88 journals published news about the riots and shootings, but it is not as easy to do that now. The situation has changed – soldiers are shooting at everything now – so we can’t do it,” said the journalist.”

Both quotes are taken from this article on the Democratic Voice of Burma, a nonprofit organization that gives voice to the disenfranchised Burmese people and serves to inform the rest of the world about the real state of that nation.

In a country where freedom of the press is greatly compromised and censorship is the norm, it is paramount that brave citizen journalists still relay news to the outside world in order to make sure that the voice of the people is heard and make the international community aware of their plight.  After all, does anyone think that Myanmar/Burma protests and their sad consequences would currently be enjoying the same level of awareness without the work of the bloggers, photographers, and videographers who are sending reports out?  Yes, the UN would probably get involved, but by posting images and video clips of the actions taken by the military junta they’ve received an impressive global outpouring of support that would have otherwise been unlikely.

Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic writes about how satellite photos of the riots might be available soon.  “Maybe technology can keep the world focused”, he says.  In addition, “Keeping the world’s attention through the blogosphere is now essential. The revolution is not only going to be blogged; in some respects, the blogosphere is now critical to the survival of the revolution.” (Guess who inspired the title of this post?)  Thanks to technology, the outside world cannot be locked out and the Burmese military regime cannot be left to commit their atrocious human rights violations in private.

One more note – although the current Myamar government is trying to cut their people off from the outside media with measures like cutting off most internet connections, they can still view channels like CNN and BBC from their isolated compounds, according to the UK Telegraph:

“The bureaucracy has been moved to Naypyidaw, far away from ordinary people, and army families live in colonies cut off from civilians.

“I think the regime really believes this is just a few individuals stirred up by ‘destructive elements’, not the makings of a popular uprising reflecting the will of the people,” said a western diplomat.

“I think they believe their own propaganda.”

But he added that, although isolated, the generals are not completely immune to foreign pressure.

“They have the BBC up there in Naypyidaw. They have CNN. And I’m sure they’re watching it,” he said.

Yet another example of the internet making the world smaller and allowing ordinary people to make a huge impact, although this one isn’t nearly as warm and fuzzy as most of the others.  And as always, if you have ideas on how to help citizen journalists in situations like this one get the word out, you should check out the Knight News Challenge.

Posted in Blogging, Citizen Journalism, Digital Media, General, Journalism, New Media, Web | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hometown Heroes: How Can Local Bloggers Get Organized?

Posted by Jacqueline on September 29, 2007

With the recent events in Myanmar/Burma, citizen journalists, the events they report, and the technology they use to do are getting plenty of airtime and column inches.  After all, this is perhaps the first time in history where the revolution will be blogged, flickred, and youtubed.  However, not to discount the incredibly impressive efforts of the Burmese bloggers, or to take away from citizen journalism’s day in the sun, this is not the only way to be a citizen journalist or local blogger.

Before the Myanmar protests and the resulting escalation of violence and the military crackdown, citizen journalists toiled away, reporting on local events, breaking news stories literally as they happen, and yes, even recording history as it unfolds.  Think about – how much video footage and images of major events have been recorded by what is essentially a random person on the scene with a camera?  Even before citizen journalism became a widely understood concept (and a popular catchphrase), intrepid souls have been taking it upon themselves to commit history to film.

From the many bloggers who make up the politically opinionated ranks of Daily Kos to the network of writerswho contribute to the Gothamist network of blogs (the Chicagoist, LAist, SFist, etc.), the group of bloggers, photographers, and videographers that make up the ranks of citizen journalists is immense.  In addition, you have all the bloggers who occasionally post something about current events or the goings-on in their hometown.  Really, if you look at it that way, we’re all citizen journalists.

Now, that’s all well and good, but searching for information in this genre, deciding what is useful to you, and organizing all this content is no easy task.  Besides the simple fact that the web is vast and you probably don’t have tons of free time to sift through it, it’s tough to discern what is valuable and what’s irrelevant – and wouldn’t you rather have the content come to you in the form of newsfeeds or RSS?

Merely subscribing to your local paper’s feed and a few local bloggers might not give all the news and updates you’re searching for, and anyways, how do you know which bloggers are reliable?  The citizen journalists who work with credible news sources (Reuters, for instance, has used them) are probably a safe bet, but they may not be as entertaining (hey, who says news has to be boring or serious – look at Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert) or as relevant to your interests as another choice.  And really, just because someone is not affliated with a newspaper or news agency doesn’t mean they are not reliable or trustworthy.

Clearly, the world of citizen journalism needs some kind of organization – but however, something too stringent or reminiscent of professional journalism would be detrimental to the ear-to-the-ground, passionate nature of citizen bloggers.  The person or group who can figure out the best way to accomplish this without destroying what makes citizen journalism so valuable will definitely reap some rich rewards (and as always, if you have ideas related to these topics, you should enter the Knight News Challenge).

Posted in Blogging, Citizen Journalism, Digital Media, General, Journalism, New Media, Web, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The More They Try To Suppress The Situation, The More Will Come Out”

Posted by Jacqueline on September 28, 2007

Two days ago I wrote about how citizen journalists were taking advantage of technology to report what the real situation on the ground is in Myanmar/Burma, and although the current military junta regime has been trying to staunch the flow of information exiting the country, reports and photos are still making their way into the inboxes of reporters and bloggers outside the country.  It seems that the truth will come out, whatever the cost.

The Wall Street Journal covered it the story again today:

“In the age of YouTube, cellphone cameras and text messaging, technology is playing a critical role in helping news organizations and international groups follow Myanmar’s biggest protests in nearly two decades. Citizen witnesses are using cellphones and the Internet to beam out images of bloodied monks and street fires, subverting the Myanmar government’s effort to control media coverage and present a sanitized version of the uprising. The Associated Press reported yesterday that soldiers in Yangon fired automatic weapons into a crowd of demonstrators as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters converged in the capital. Wire services have reported the number of dead at nine, citing the state media. (See related article.)”

If you look at it philosophically, one of the key aspects of Web 2.0 is the committment to transparency – in the Information Age, it is no longer possible to completely control your public image, whether you’re a celebrity, a corporation, or even a government.  Whistle-blowers, citizen bloggers, and other investigative types will make the truth known; and although we don’t yet know how the political situation in Burma will play out, there is something wonderful about the fact that the current government cannot hide behind an iron curtain of silence, guarded borders, and a lack of technology/internet access.  The implicit promise that all actions will be performed with the global stage is a powerful message.

The Lede blog at the New York Times also discusses Myanmar/Burma, including the U.S. government’s reaction.  Author Mike Nizza writes:

“The White House is not buying that technical difficulties caused the internet shutdown in Myanmar today. “They don’t want the world to see what is going on there,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman.

In another sign of a government campaign to extinguish media coverage, a witness told The Irrawaddy (one of the blogs posting citizen reports) that soldiers were “singling out people with cameras” today.”

So how is this related the Knight Foundation’s challenge?  Figuring out a way to channel  and organize all the information coming out of Burma (and similar situations that unfortunately, will probably still occur in other nations) and making it possible for citizen journalists to work together and share information in a safe, protected (read: totally anonymous with encrypted IP addresses) fashion.  Instead of focusing on technology that makes people’s lives a little easier, a development like this could make a very real life-or-death difference.

*This is probably painfully obvious, but some of the links in the above stories include rather graphic images and video clips, so consider yourself warned.*

Posted in Blogging, Citizen Journalism, General, Journalism, Technology, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Citizen Journalism in Myanmar/Burma: Tales of Conflict Writ Large and Live on the Web

Posted by Jacqueline on September 26, 2007

It’s tough for any news organization to report on remote corners of the globe, particularly one that tends to be fairly closed off to outsiders.  Especially when it is a place like Myanmar, where the political situation is deteriorating and the threats of violence are escalating (A quick summary – an increasing number of protests and marches have beeing taking place, and the current military junta government has used deadly force against a peaceful protest that consisted of thousands of people, including local monks.  The U.S. and the European Union have condemned the attacks).  You can check out the country’s Wikipedia, which has been kept updated as to the current state of the nation, for more background on this story.

Enter brave citizen journalists like the ones who are posting photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, updating Wikipedia, and generally giving the international community with an insider’s view on what’s happening.  This kind of ear-to-the-ground preporting is especially vital in places where the country’s leaders are not exactly known being forthcoming to foreign press corps, to say the least. 

You can view pictures of the protests on Flickr, here, here, and here.  And if a picture’s worth a thousand words, video has to worth at least a million; therefore, you can check out clips on Youtube.  Maybe this time, as Khengze from the Webs at Work blog says, the revolution will be YouTubed.  He also writes about how the Burmese uprising is becoming a textbook example for future citizen journalists in Asia and elsewhere, particularly the developing world (for instance, cell phones with cameras are becoming fairly ubiquitous globally, allowing virtually anyone to document history as it happens and upload it to the web).  In addition, he mentions Burmese born, London based blogger ko htike’s site, which has become a repository of images and breaking news gathered from a variety of sources. 

Obviously the situation isn’t exactly rosy, (as freedom of speech is still curtailed – bloggers in the country have been arrested for posting images of the protests and related stories).  However, intrepid citizens have been overcoming this block by emailing people like the aforemention ko htike or tipping off news services.  They also use proxy websites like YouTube and Flickr, which have the additional benefits of bypassing the language barrier – the images of the protests hold universal meaning.

Kudos to the brave bloggers, photographers, and videographers who are working to make that there will be instant global ramifications of the current military government’s actions.  Although there are indeed stringent censorship laws, Myanmar has slowly become more open to the outside world, and these people are definitely taking advantage of it by making sure that their government’s actions are depicted honestly on the international stage.

Have an idea or method to compile all this into one hard-hitting citizen news site or some kind of massive “report from the scene: Myanmar” newsfeed?  Maybe you should enter the news challenge yourself. 

Posted in Blogging, Digital Media, Innovation, Journalism, New Media, Technology, Web, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Welcome to the Knight News Challenge

Posted by Jacqueline on September 26, 2007

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?  Do you have a groundbreaking idea that could change the way that web journalism works?  Does this idea foster community in a specific region, or is it be limited to one locale?  Are a lack of funding and support the only things that are preventing your goals from reaching fruition?

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If the above paragraph feels like it applies to you, check out the Knight News Challenge.  The Knight Foundation is looking for cutting edge ideas from anyone, anywhere in the world, and their motto is “you invent it, we fund it!”.  With $5 million dollars earmarked for this year’s winners (individual entrants can get up to $500,000 each), it is music to entrepreneurial ears.  And if you have an idea that can inform, inspire, and engage a group of people, the Knight Foundation wants to hear from you.  One caveat – stick to one geographic region (you can always scale up later).  Although the web is indeed making the world smaller, the news challenge is focused on helping people who already live in the same community interact with each other.

At the most basic level, the goal of the Knight News Challenge is to bring people together in the real world through the use of digital technology (computers, cell phones, PDAs, and all those myriad other gadgets that we have).  By holding this contest (it’s a yearly thing, this year there is $5 million earmarked for the winning entries), they hope to give people with big, innovative ideas enough funding and support to make those ideas a reality. 

Unlike many contests and grants that are restricted to U.S. citizens, this contest is open to anyone, anywhere in the world – all you need is an amazing idea and an internet connection to send a proposal in with – there is even an under twenty-five category for all you wunderkinds out there; if you’re under eighteen, the award will be designated to an intermediary, but you can still enter (by the way, wouldn’t a winning entry look great on a college application?)

So what kinds of projects qualify?

It should go without saying that it needs to be groundbreaking and use digital technology, and your idea also needs to involve giving people access to breaking news or vital information in a timely manner.  It also needs to be local in the sense that helps foster community in a specific geographic area – so while you may have an idea that could scale nationally, but concentrate on your immediate surroundings for the moment.  The focus is on open-source creations that might not have enough profit potential for the venture capitalists, but are still exciting and can make a significant positive social impact.

Does all this sound like you or someone you know?  Go to www.newschallenge.org and apply.  You have nothing to lose by taking a shot- they even ask that you submit a short description of your idea before you compose a long proposal, so there’s not even a risk of sinking tons of time into something that might not pay off.

Best of luck to anyone who enters!

Posted in Entrepreneurship, General, Innovation, Journalism, New Media, Technology, Web | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »