Posts about networkedjournalism

Networked journalism: Pro-pro

The Guardian team behind a huge, five-year investigation of alleged bribes from BAE, the arms manufacturer and world’s forth largest company, waxes eloquently in the Press Gazette about the power of publishing on the web and the worldwide collaboration that enables:

Leigh says he considered writing a book, but The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger persuaded him “books are old thinking – let’s do a website”. . . .

“We were able to lay everything out with no constraints of space and say ‘OK guys, here’s all the evidence’.”

Evans says that he decided early in the project that it doesn’t matter where the story goes in the paper, as long as it goes online and reaches a global audience. He says: “It’s taking a very long-term view, which editors don’t normally take: you put something out there and 18 months later it will suddenly click.”

The BAE investigation is now being followed by journalists in dozens of countries – the BAE Files website‘s interactive investigation map shows just how global the investigation is. Leigh and Evans themselves have travelled all over the world chasing BAE’s paper trail, including visits to Tanzania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Sweden. As Leigh puts it, “you’ve got to take a lot of planes to do a story like this”.

The pair openly welcome help from journalists around the world and give it freely to anyone willing to take the story on – even their Fleet Street rivals. One of the most striking parts of the website is how their evidence is published for all to see -memos, faxes, emails and research passed on to them by other journalists and authors working on the story.

“We’re trying to think our way towards a new kind of journalism,” says Leigh. “Everybody says the internet is a new world with citizen journalism, a global audience and everybody having their say, and we tried to do it that way and say ‘this is a new kind of journalism and we will put everything in front of everybody’. . . .”

There it is: networked, collaborative journalism. You can’t do it all yourself. The story gets better when the story can get bigger. Do what you do best and link to the rest. Bravo.

The Guardian journalists also appreciate the freedom of not having to chose a medium to tell their story but to use all media:

Investigative journalism has long been described as in decline or waning in importance.

But, for Leigh and Evans at least, online tricks such as graphics, video and audio can give it a whole new lease of life. “Things such as maps and graphics really bring it alive,” says Leigh. “The problem with all these bribery and corruption stories is they are often quite complicated, financial and dry. Because of the legal problems, of which there are many, you have to be quite roundabout with the things you say. But to find ways of doing it online that can bring it alive for people and give them a handle on it is a really exciting thing. You’ve seen these stories which say ‘Complex web of financial transactions’, and people’s eyes glaze over. This is about trying to find a way past that.” . . .

And they are very aware of the worldwide — and American — audience the web gives them:

One of the most striking changes to The Guardian’s editorial focus in recent years has been in response to its foreign, and especially American, audience. Leigh says he and Evans publish their work online with this new audience in mind.

“It was deliberate by us to focus on the [Prince] Bandar angle because it had such a strong American angle and we wanted to talk to our new audience in the United States,” he says.

“Everyone’s been whimpering about the death of newspapers but we’ve found a whole new audience for The Guardian and now we can address it.”

I agree with Lloyd Shepard, who pointed me to this, that it’s bracing to hear old-media people recognize and embrace the value of the new.

Networked geojournalism

Bobbie Johnson at the Guardian points us to a Google map cadged together by the BBC that delivers incredible information about the UK floods: rivers that are under warning, and pins taking us to text, photo, and video information on locations. I’m not sure how the citizens add their reports but that’s possible through Google maps mashups like Platial. What a valuable tool for networked reporting on any local story. And this requires no great feat of organization: just make the tool available.

Guardian column: Live

I’m two days late putting this up thanks to tortured internet access in my Munich hotel. The limits of technology: a revolution is stopped by a log in the road. Anyway, here’s my Guardian column about the impact of live TV news from witnesses, a polished-up version of the discussion here:

The wait for Apple’s iPhone turned out to be the great non-story: hordes slept outside Apple’s stores across America to get a phone that turned out not to be in short supply. As soon as the lines emptied, one could just walk in and buy one.

Yet I say we will mark this non-story as the moment when television news changed forever. For in those lines were people with small cameras hooked to laptops, which used mobile phones to transmit video to the internet, live. They are lifestreamers, who have been simulcasting their lives 24 hours a day. Why? Because it’s there. They’d already been blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, Flickring, podcasting and YouTubing their lives. Live video was merely their next frontier.

Yet because they were there, we saw this news covered live, in video, sent to the internet and to the public by the people in the story and not by reporters. The news came directly from witnesses to the world. Two months ago, after mobile-phone video of the Virginia Tech mass shooting went online via CNN’s website – more than an hour after the event – I speculated in this space that someday, we’d see that same video from a news event being fed live, directly to us on the internet. Well, that didn’t take long.

This changes the relationship of witnesses to news and news organisations. When witnesses can feed their views live to the internet, news producers will not have the means or time to edit, package, vet and intermediate. All that news groups can do is choose to link or not link to witnesses’ news, as it happens. This means that we in the audience may not see the news on the BBC’s or CNN’s sites or shows; we may see it on the witnesses’ blogs via embeddable players from services such as and, which enable lifestreaming.

This presents an infrastructural challenge for news groups and consumers: how will we know where to find this news? For a time, we may go to portals for live TV, but they are overcrowded with content – and anyway, portals don’t work any more. Instead, I imagine that news organisations will devote people to combing live video to see what’s happening out in the world. Or collaborative news collectors, such as, will find and pass the word about news now. The real value will then be alerting all the rest of us to something going on now so we can watch on the internet … or perhaps on our iPhones.

And soon, those very phones will be a means of gathering and sharing news. Lifestreamers have had to carry their apparatus in backpacks, which sounds onerous until you consider all the equipment and expertise still hauled around by the networks. One of the lifestreamers covering the Apple lines at the gigantic Mall of America, Justine Ezarik of, has glamorous looks destined for broadband. She wouldn’t let a backpack spoil her image. Instead, she perched her tiny camera jauntily on a fashionable cap and hooked that into a tiny laptop in her purse. Yes, news gathering is now purse-sized.

The fact that this coverage from the scene is live also means it can be interactive: the audience may interact with the reporter, asking questions, sharing information, suggesting they go shoot this instead of that.

Now add in global positioning technology and the ability to email or SMS people who happen to be near a news event and it becomes possible to assign witnesses to open their video phones: everyone at Glasgow airport with a camera could have received an SMS suggesting that they start shooting and sharing what they saw moments after the flaming car rammed the terminal. They also could be warned to stay away from the danger. Live.

Problems? Of course, there are. Yes, someone could fake a broadcast. So producers may choose not to link or may issue caveats. It is incumbent on journalists and educators to instil an ever-greater scepticism as a keystone of media literacy in the era of ubiquitous news. And, yes, through each lens, we’ll see just one angle of the story; it is necessarily incomplete. But we can also get more people to show more perspectives on that story than was ever possible with coverage from the networks.

In a comment on my blog, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen said this is a case of “media evolving toward a more and more complete imitation of life”. Or perhaps the two begin to merge: life becomes news.

Towns are hyperlocal social networks with data (people that is)

I think I’ve been thinking about hyperlocal the wrong way. Like most everyone else chasing this golden fleece, I’ve defined it as content, news, a product, listings, data, software, sites, ads. It’s not. Local is people: who knows what, who knows whom, who’s doing what (and, yes, who’s doing whom). The question should be — in Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-if-I-have-anything-to-do-about-it phrase — how we bring them elegant organization. They already are a community, already doing what they want to do, already knowing stuff. How can we help them do that better?

Local is people. Our job is not to deliver content or a product. Our job is to help them make connections with information and each other.

In truth, that was, long ago, the job newspapers saw for themselves. That’s why they lived to get as many names in the paper as possible. They knew: Local is people. Newspapers gave us news that mattered to us and would be trivial to anyone else. Newspapers were small and local and served their communities — and their advertisers — better. This is very close to the real mission of a newspaper, a mission we have lost as they got bigger and more egotistical and more powerful, as they become one-size-fits-all monopolies. Except today we have new tools (and new competitors). No one can or should do it all anymore. We need to help people do it themselves. Yes, themselves.

I’m not suggesting that hyperlocal is just a social networking tool. Or just a forum. Or just a bunch of blogs. Or just a listings tool. Or just a search engine. Or just a news site. It needs to end up being all those things and more. And as I said the other day, this will not happen in one place, on one site, but will be distributed across wherever people are being people and communities communities, locally. The trick, once more, is to organize it all. Elegantly.

And this will not happen all on its own. It needs investment, motivation, leadership, shared and distributed ownership.

What exactly does this look like? I’m not sure yet. I’m working on that. But I’m getting a better idea, I think, by working from a new starting point: People, not content. People, not data. People, not software. Long ago, when I launched the GoSkokie project at Northwestern’s Medill, I told the students that towns know things I wanted them to figure out how to tap that keg of knowledge. They got partway there with (which was a model for Backfence, by the way), but that was only partway.

I now believe that he who figures out how to help people organize themselves — letting them connect with each other and with what they all know — will end up with news, listings, reviews, data, gossip, and more as byproducts.

Thoughts from the beach. Stay tuned.

The 11th principle

Washington Post editor Len Downie issues a set of 10 web principles and they’re good — as far as they go. They summarize:

These principles emphasize our commitment on the Web to around-the-clock breaking news, scoops and original Washington Post added-value journalism, in addition to multimedia and interactivity. They embody the same standards and values for our journalism on the Web as the printed newspaper. And they commit us to flexibility and change in newsroom structure and forms of journalism to adapt to the rhythms and opportunities of the Web.

To me, they leave out a vital 11th principle: They should be committed to working in new and collaborative ways with the people formerly known as readers. They should be recasting their relationship — and institution’s and each journalist’s relationship — with the community.

These principles still show that the paper thinks it is at the center. It’s all about how they operate as an institution. They need to break down their walls and recast their role in the world around them.

The local challenge

The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?

After trying one of everything in hyperlocal, I’ve come to believe that this will happen only by combining those various models — so people can join in however they want to — and by answering the questions: How much news will members of the community create and share? What do they need to do that? What motivates them? How can local news organizations enable and encourage them?

Hyperlocal will not, I firmly believe, happen at one site. It will work only via networks: content, commercial, social. It will work by gathering, not producing.

But I still don’t know whether it will work. We need to do a lot of development and experimentation.

That’s why I’m sad to see the long-time-coming closing of Backfence — not just for the founders, who are smart people and friends, but because we’ll now hear hand-wringing about hyperlocal, just as we did when Dan Gillmor folded his local efforts. There were particular reasons behind the fate of each. Paul Farhi acknowledged that in this roundup of the state of hyperlocal efforts.

But Farhi, as most do, just talked about the fate of local sites. I think we need to look at local networks. No one can do it all. Newspapers can’t afford to cover everything. They never could but now they can afford to cover even less. TV and radio stations are covering next to nothing themselves; they have no idea how to get very local. New local ventures, as Backfence proves and Fahri points out, are finding it tough to do it themselves. Individual bloggers don’t pretend to do it all and need help to get their stuff found and get revenue. And today there just isn’t enough stuff from all these players together to add up to a critical mass of coverage for almost every town and neighborhood in the country. We need more but we don’t yet know how to get it. I believe we can figure this out. But we have to try.

That, to me, is the state of hyperlocal. The work has barely begun.

I think we need a combination of platforms. Everything will not happen in one place; that is why, in my view, both newspaper local sites and independent, stand-alone ventures like Backfence haven’t worked. That is why lone bloggers have trouble making a business of it. They have to work together. They have to become networks that organize, enable, and monetize.

Newspapers will produce journalism, I hope. Individual bloggers will produce reporting, I hope. And people who are doing neither will want to contribute what they know to this pool of information without having to have their own sites. So we will need a combination of models and platforms: Newspapers will have local sites. Local bloggers will do their own thing. There is a need for group sites like Backfence or GoSkokie, which helped inspire it, where people can contribute. There is a need to organize all this; I hope can do that (disclosure: I’m an adviser). There is a need to support all this financially; that is where newspapers can play a crucial role, setting up ad networks and infrastructure. And then we still need to see what will motivate people to contribute what they know: money, ego, influence, what? And we need to see what help people need: technology, attention, training, support.

But nobody can do it alone. That is the real lesson of hyperlocal thus far.

I hope we don’t get discouraged when some efforts die. (And I hope we discuss this and commit to new experiments at our meeting at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism on networked journalism as part of my News Innovation Project in early October.)

Citizen historians

Ken Burns is urging “the YouTube generation” to take up their video cameras and interview veterans of World War II to feed an archive of personal histories at the Library of Congress. Citizen historians. He says in USA Weekend:

Thanks to a cooperative effort involving PBS and the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, anyone can get a camera and conduct his or her own interviews of a loved one who lived through the war. All submissions will be cataloged by the library to become part of the permanent Veterans History Project collection. This is a great opportunity: When I made my Civil War documentary, participants were obviously long dead. But World War II remains very much alive in the memories of millions of Americans.

Get ’em while they’re still warm.

NewTeeVee points out the sad irony that Burns and the LoC are not having the YouTube generation use, uh, YouTube to share these videos. That makes this a rather closed, controlled effort: old media, old style, last generation. Imagine what could be loosed if they’d just use the tools of the age.

Of course, this isn’t the first effort to capture large orgal histories. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation has been collecting the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In New York StoryCorps has been urging people to interview someone and some sometimes great radio comes out of this.

I frankly fear what Burns will do with this material. I know it’s heresy, but I find him and his work dull and dutiful: as predictable as the Ken Burns effect in iMovie.

But I do give him credit for thinking openly and publicly and inviting in more filmmakers to make more film: big pat on the back.

Indeed, think of all the journalism and history that could be gathered if we just dispatched people to take the cameras and ask people questions: Ask teachers about teaching, doctors about doctoring, children about technology. Let’s turn the cameras on our friends and family and see what learning comes out of it.

Citizen journalism meets voter activism on YouTube

Just posted over at PrezVid Chris Dodd’s call on voters to take their cameras and go up to their senators and representatives and ask them about supporting the Dodd amendment, which calls for starting the pullout from Iraq in 30 days. Then he wants them to put the videos up on YouTube.