Posts about networkedjournalism

Local lives

NowPublic’s Leonard Brody’s a smart guy but I think he’s full of gas when he says that local doesn’t matter. He told Liz Gannes at GigaOm:

“I not a believer in local anymore,” said Brody. “I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under especially, the concept of local is very different. Like Facebook publishing the news feed… it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal.” Weather, traffic, and crime are important, but they’re commodities, he said, adding local politics might be the exception, but nobody cares about them anymore.

I agree with Rafat Ali’s reaction to that: “What he really means: local’s hard as hell.”

Amen. But important as hell. Let’s look at the front page of NowPublic right now. Here’s a story about a Caracas metro crash. Now I’m very sorry for the victims of this tragedy, but it doesn’t touch my life. It’s not local to me. It touches lives in Caracas. It’s local to them. Here’s a story about a fire in the Jersey pinelands. I’m in Jersey but that’s not local enough for me. But to the folks who can smell the smoke, it matters. It’s local. The UK floods story is international — at least on this end of the world — but it’s also a different story locally (see what the BBC did with maps in networked geojournalism).

Local is damned hard because no one yet — apart from newspaper companies — has managed to get a critical mass of local content and no one — including me — knows yet how to create an alternative that can gather and share that much and more on new economics. But I have no doubt — no doubt — that there will always be a market for local news. And I have no doubt, too, tnew tools and means and people — like those behind NowPublic — can be used effectively to help gather it. Still, it’s almost impossible for a metro paper — let alone an international citj service — to say it is local because the odds that it will have what is local to you are next to nil still. That’s what makes local so hard.

Not every story is local. And lots of local angles are insipid. But to say that young people don’t care about local is making the mistake the AP made with asap (see below). Beware.

I care about local and so do most people I know, regardless of age. We care about our local taxes, restaurants, crimes, construction, economy, services, communities, neighborhoods, and gossip, too. I would take in more local reporting — more broadly definied — if it existed. I say we need more local reporting, not less, and it needs to get more local. I would like to see how the NowPublic infrastructure could be outsourced to help incumbent local news companies and new local news companies do that. I think that would be a more productive path for discussion than just dismissing local as the province of provincial old farts like me. And then we need to organize it and that’s why I’m excited by Outside.In (to which — full disclosure — I am an adviser).

The great opportunity in local is that no one has solved it yet.

Investing in citizens

It’s odd to congratulate anyone for getting venture funding: Oh, good, now you have people properly breathing down your neck to make sure you perform; now your ass is on the line. In any case, I congratulate Merrill Brown and the guys at NowPublic for getting venture funding. I’m especially glad that there is investment going into networked journalism, citizens’ journalism, pro-am journalism, call it what you like: the growth of journalism. (Now Public will be among those talking at the Networked Journalism conference I’m holding at CUNY on Oct. 10.)

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 uStream.tv and Justin.tv, 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 Digg.com, 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 iJustine.tv, 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.