Tagged: citizen journalism

RSF Social Finance: Relationships Matter | A Photofilm by Dan Seguin

Finance is one of those industries that, because of how negatively it has impacted so many people, it gets a pretty bad rap. Perhaps deservedly so.

But there are institutions out there that are leveraging the principles of finance and taking them to a grassroots and more human level.

My friend & colleague Dan Seguin is (among other things) a photojournalist who has put together a photofilm on RSF Social Finance – an organization that is looking at communal needs rather than personal gain, and puts finance into a different context.

Check it out.

RSF Social Finance – Relationship Matters from Daniel Séguin on Vimeo.

You can check out some of Dan’s other work on his site.

Evolving Multimedia Narratives and Storytelling

I see you...

Anyone with a scroll-mouse, or those technophiles that have harnessed the finer points of ‘page-up / page-down’ technology, can see that I haven’t posted to my beloved Fauna Corporation in quite a while.

There are a number of reasons for this, but what is most important is that I am resurfacing after a deep-thought hiatus.

Which is to say, after much consideration, I have decided to post to Fauna Corp again, but with a slightly expanded focus to the content I highlight, share and discuss.

Over the last several months of working in advertising, and gaining some distance from the harsh realities of freelance journalism in the midst of an economic downturn and an essential breakdown in the fabric of how media works, I have gained a little bit more perspective on multimedia content.

There is no need for someone like me to be wringing his hands about the future of journalism. I’m simply not plugged in enough now to really know what’s happening with the media giants, and far more attuned minds than my own could give you the 4-11 (or even the 9-11) on what’s happening.

Furthermore, at a certain level, I simply don’t care anymore. As countless experts discuss and debate, our digital culture moves forward. People upload their on-the-ground footage, others generate beautiful short films and slideshows, still more develop apps and widgets, while experts deliberate on a functioning media model in a shifting cultural landscape. It is not possible to know where we’re going, and I think my energy is best served elsewhere.

What I am plugged into (and seeing a lot of) these days is unique digital content deployed across the cultural spectrum. This has led me to think a great deal about digital narratives – the ways that we represent who we are (or who we aspire to be) through our digital ecosystem.

Sophisticated tools are becoming cheaper, average people are developing professional skills, and more and more people are using their creativity to represent their lives. It is becoming seamless, natural and, at times, deeply moving.

It is this, then, that I am going to focus Fauna Corporation on – the artists, journos and communities that document the people, places, products, ideas, stories and projects that matter most to them. The digital narratives we create and share, to connect, however briefly, with each other and those quiet parts of ourselves that represent who we truly are.

How this plays out will be shown in the next little while, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up about this shift to Fauna Corporation’s content, and thank all of you who have been regular readers despite a loooooong silence on this little blog.

I think you will enjoy where we are going…

We’ve Got Your MOJO

A great many moons ago, I reviewed Anderson Cooper‘s Dispatches from the Edge, and commented on his questionable decision to travel on his own to Somalia with only a Hi-8 camera and fake press pass as his protection.

What I did not say in that review is that I, like so many other freelance writers, considered doing the same thing: examining how many responsibilities I have to shoulder in my life, and then considering the cost / benefit ratio of just packing up and chasing the story around the globe – whatever and wherever the story may be.

This MOJO (ie: mobile journalist) idea is especially appealing now that high-grade, lightweight and broadcast quality technology has come down to consumer level pricing, and now that major media outlets have begun looking for the raw news story from the people in the streets (rather than from the people wrapped in flack-jackets and embedded with friendly forces).

In fact, my friend David Widgington at Burning BIllboard has followed this Andersoncooperean ideal to its natural extension (though certainly by his own inspiration), arriving in the Sudan with a video camera and blog log-in and little else, in advance of the Sudanese elections, making trips back and forth. Sudan, of course, has only recently emerged from 21-years of civil war and approaches its first multiparty democratic elections since 1986 (edited for accuracy – swg).

As the Sudan struggles to develop the infrastructure to support these elections and fights to discourage the ferocious mistrust that spawned its prolonged conflict, David has placed himself in the action to document, report and explore it all (I recommend checking his site out) in what can only be described as a challenging environment.

However, as important as that all is, the real purpose of this post is to highlight a statistic that Journalism.co.uk posted about recently – that half of the world’s jailed journalists were working online.

While mobile, online journalists are most capable of breaking stories and avoiding the ‘officially-sanctioned’ stories of repressive regimes, they are often freelancers who lack the advantages of a traditional newsroom – which could include lobbying, potential mass media coverage of their kidnapping, and the application of other reporters to investigate a staffer’s disappearance.

The new breed of mobile journalist that we’re all becoming replaces the typical foreign bureau that we grew up watching, and operates more fully as an independent newsroom (mirrored by the increasingly overlapped skillsets of writing, reporting, shooting, editing and uploading that many nu skool freelancers embody), but lacks the solid shielding of traditional media outlets under the intense scrutiny of repressive governments. The MOJOs are, for all intents and purposes, alone with only cameras and press passes as protection.

If you have been looking around your city and wondering if the grass is more newsworthy on the other side, then I simply recommend you spend some time with the Journalism.co.uk article above. There are tons of opportunities in the world for valid, significant (and freelance!) journalistic practice (as BurningBillboard and others evidence), but with each, it is critical to arrive in the trouble spots informed and protected, or risk becoming another journalist lost in the maelstrom of politics, policies and police states.

Review: The Kodak Zi8 HD Video Camera

Super-Meta: digital image of a digital image of a digital image

I recently jumped into the shallow-end of the video camera market, picking up a Kodak Zi8 pocket-sized video camera. The Zi8 is similar to the flip cameras that journos were raving about a short time ago, except the Zi8 can record in full HD quality, has both macro and landscape settings, and has an external microphone jack – which is a major advantage for journalists using such a small piece of gear.

There are several reviews online that rave about the Zi8; however, my own experience with the camera has been mixed, and I’ve yet to see a review that mentions the issues I’ve come across.

For me, the biggest negative is that the Zi8 camera shoots in H264 (read: Quicktime’s .MOV format), which works seamlessly with Apple’s iMovie editing suite, but causes a complete horror show for most Windows users.

I have used Vegas Video on my PC for awhile now, but the raw files from the Zi8 wouldn’t work with Vegas unless they were format-converted first (to MP4 or AVI), and more often than not, this conversion would then cause Vegas to crash. I have heard this same story repeated online by many other Windows / Vegas users, and each has a ten-step workaround to just get the footage from their camera to work with Windows. Yikes.

This frustrating conversion-then-crash loop went on for a few weeks for me as well, but I recently switched from Sony’s Vegas to Avid’s Pinnacle software suite, and am happy to report that Pinnacle recognizes the raw files and works with .MOV files much like iMovie does – very simply and cleanly – just drag, drop and start editing.

This H264 compatibility issue is an important one for Windows users to know before they buy the Zi8: their usual editing software may not play nice with the Zi8, and they may have to deal with techno headaches to simply edit their videos.

The other important point to note is that the Zi8 ships with out-of-date firmware, and requires an upgrade to resolve tracking issues, low-light streaking, and a subtle (but bothersome) high-frequency sound in the audio recording. The firmware update is simple, but can not be done by just plugging the Zi8 into your PC – it requires a card reader (odd, given that the Zi8 has USB ports). So if your laptop does not have a built-in card reader, you’ll have to buy one to do the critical firmware upgrade and get the most out of your Zi8.

Having switched editing software, and upgraded the firmware, I was finally able to test the Zi8′s capabilities.

The footage is pretty impressive for a pocket-camera (and a budget one, at that). From the recommended distances, the image quality is sharp and the audio from the built-in mic is passable for web broadcast. The Zi8 only offers a 4x digital zoom, and the quality drops off noticeably with each interval. Also, like all pocket video-cameras, the low-light functionality is a little grainy.

One disadvantage of the Zi8, is that while there is an external microphone jack, there is no accompanying headphone jack on the unit. This means that audio levels have to be monitored via a little bar-chart indicator, or upon playback through the Zi8′s tiny speaker. Neither is ideal for checking levels, especially given that the Zi8′s microphone input is particularly “hot” and requires external mics to be carefully adjusted to find a balance between frequency response and outright digital clipping. So that’s a challenge for journos and media junkies alike, but with trial and error, good results can be captured.

Here are two videos I did to show the “macro” and “landscape” settings on the Zi8:

Macro Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Macro Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

Landscape Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Landscape Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

The Zi8 is pretty inexpensive – about $200 Canadian – and can shoot in full HD (720p, 720p/60 fps, and 1080p), and offers both a “macro” setting for close-up and arty filming, and a “landscape” setting that uses its fixed-focus lens. Coupled with the external mic jack and the high-quality footage, in the right hands it can be an attractive prosumer-level device.

I think as more people experiment with the unit, and work out DIY microphone rigs or DIY lens conversions, the results will improve and we’ll begin seeing some very cool multimedia pieces created with the Zi8. The price point and feature set is perfect for most citizen / freelance journos and cash-strapped media outlets to test drive the unit and see how it performs in a variety of settings.

PROS:
Inexpensive, small footprint, two lens settings, HD-quality, external microphone jack, image stabilization, face-recognition, pretty slick technology.

CONS:
H264 format problematic for Windows users, no headphone jack, firmware updates require card reader, less-than-ideal zoom & low-light features.

Final Analysis:
Ultimately, I would recommend the Kodak Zi8 for guerrilla multimedia journalists and / or digital storytellers because of its ease of use and image quality. There are a few hurdles to jump through to get your footage to an upload-ready state, but avoiding the format-conversion carousel and testing out the unit’s limitations can help you capture the events you want, cleanly and easily.

Recommended by Fauna Corporation!

Public Media Comes of Age

As top-down journalism fights to redefine itself in our increasingly-connected media environment, I thought I would highlight two (closely-linked) projects related to Public Media.

Public Media (or, citizen media) has obviously proven its journalistic worth in the last few years, yet still suffers from a lack of mainstream acceptance. These two studies provide some insight on how this may change in the next little while, and which organizations offer best-practices for us all to learn from.

Note that both of these Public Media resources benefit from the deft hand of Jessica Clark, the Future of Public Media Project director, with collaboration from the Center for Social Media’s director, Pat Aufderheide.

The first study is the white paper “Future of Public Media” created by the Center for Social Media at American University. This white paper was created in order to review public media in all its developing forms, platform uses, and structures, and offer some direction for ways forward. An engaging read, and worth checking out, as it advocates a serious look at Public Media and its role in maintaining a vibrant, democratic society.

The second project, found on PBS’s MediaShift site, is a round-up of sorts called “Eight Public Media Projects that are Doing it Right” and highlights (as the title suggests) a variety of new media / news 2.0 sites that are redefining the way news is researched, reported, and consumed. These projects, by their very nature, call into question the rules that have governed mainstream media for decades, and shows how Public Media outlets are finding footholds in the cracking foundation of top-down journalism.

These two reports hopefully show how the democratization of media tools can (and should) lead to the democratization of the media itself. The Pandora’s Box has been opened, and the media’s best hope for survival is found in learning from how (the common) people are consuming, sharing, and yes, creating the news.

The Future of Journalism – Potential Business Models

blue sky in hidingwill blue skies emerge for the journalism industry?

The Future of Journalism – it’s a phrase that should come with onomatopoeic sound effects (preferably something like “Whooosh!” rather than “Plop!”), as it implies a bold future full of cutting edge techniques and narratives.

The reality is that despite the concerted efforts of experts, schools, industry leaders and journalists no one really knows what the future of journalism will be. I respect these people: I’m in the mix, too, of trying to predict (or is it decide?) what the future looks like.

Given that the jury is still out on the future of the music and film industries – two fields that have suffered through shifting business models for a longer period than journalism – I suspect it will be awhile before journalism finds its next true path. Rest assured the future of journalism will in some way be tied to the revenue models of whatever formats emerge.

In my reading, I’ve found several different models that all claim to show the future of journalism. Each has potential, in my opinion, but I’m not certain that any can truly and uniquely claim to be the future of the craft, at least at this nascent stage.

Either way, here is a sometimes baffling, sometimes inspiring, often contradictory list of potential ways forward for the journalism industry.

  • Community Funded Reporting: As represented by Spot.Us, the public can commission investigative pieces by journalists, which can then be re-purposed by other (ie: larger, mainstream) outlets. The community members make donations that, with reporter fund-raising, offset the costs of the investigative pieces. If pieces are purchased by larger outlets, the community payments are reimbursed, and if not they exists for wider distribution under a Creative Commons license. The public benefits from having topics of concern looked into, the journalists benefit by having the high cost of their investigations covered (ideally), and mainstream news outlets benefit by picking up pieces from a wide pool of proven freelancers.
  • Hyperlocal and Nichepaper sites: To offset the crazy glut of information that we are all drowning in, Hyperlocal and Nichepaper sites suggest a radical reduction in the amount of news received, through very deliberate filtering. Hyperlocal sites (such as EveryBlock, or Placeblogger) carry or aggregate the news of extremely specific locations, such as certain districts, neighbourhoods, or even street corners; Nichepaper sites (such as TalkingPointsMemo, the now-defunct Pharmalot, or even Huffington Post) create and filter content specific to certain topics, such as politics, entertainment, etc., and allow a more profitable advertising margin for parent companies due to targeting a more dedicated audience.
  • Online Only News Sources: As obvious as it may seem, the move to online-only news sources seems to be a relatively new model for news delivery (at least in terms of professional journalism goes). This could be a result of traditional (print, broadcast) media outlets not knowing how to heavily monetize the ‘net, or not trusting the web as news source without being complemented by more traditional delivery models. Online News Sources such as Global Post, the recently-shifted Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or Ground Report represent examples under this model.
  • Foundation-Funded News Sources: ProPublica comes up as an example of the newer breed of foundation-funded media outlets. Courtesy of the Sandler Foundation (and, to borrow a phrase, “viewers like you”) ProPublica uses its funding to focus on investigative journalism, which is usually the most respected but least funded area of any news outlet. Other outlets (such as Grist) are funded by a combination of foundation funds, advertising and donations – it is a similar model to PBS and NPR in the US.
  • Please Ignore the Dinosaurs: Sites such as Open Salon, NowPublic, and a great many others, bypass the top-down traditional media model entirely by carrying content written by the laymen (note: some of these laymen are actually experienced journalists). The model is gaining momentum, despite the obvious concerns about the veracity of information, sources and formal training, and could offer a way forward – especially if this flat business model is hybridized with other models, such as the hyperlocal example above or page-count-based model below.
  • Please Feed the Dinosaurs: This model suggests that citizen journalists feed stories into the more traditional news outlets, who can then run with the story. At its best, this model offers a hybrid of trained journalism and the immediacy of on-the-ground footage and opinion (an example being NewAssignment). This model offers hope for the future because it is based on the engagement of readers and (again, at its best) a conversation between a news outlet and its committed readership – an arrangement of interest to many advertisers, with potential for value-add branding opportunities – that also benefits from the standards of professional journalist involvement. (NOTE: Before everyone gets their hackles up about me calling print-based newspapers dinosaurs, rest assured that I am both a fan and subscriber to the old, flat trees.)
  • Page-Count-Based Journalism: A model that pulls straight from web analytics tracks the popularity of a journo’s piece and generates revenue for the writer based on the amount of advertising the page brings. Sites such as Newsvine even offers a leaderboard where you can see how popular contributors’ pieces are.
  • Underwritten Journalism: Finally, a model representing the Ol Skool (as in, the ol skool patronage of the Medici family) sees writers receive funding from companies for the content they write. One example would be Xconony, whose writers are not specifically journalists (rather, writers are presented as “experts” in their field), or Stephenville Dreams, where the corporate sponsor expects no specific mention of their products in the site they helped originate, fund, host and benefit from. Clearly there are some gray areas in these models that raise concerns about conflicts of interest (or the payola models of mainstream radio), but perhaps there are ways to operate inside these models with transparency.

The above is only a short list of ways that the journalism field is trying to revolutionize its business model. Each of these examples is in use now, and we’ll be able to assess the effectiveness of each one in the coming months and years, as more information becomes known and more writers experiment with different revenue structures.

As well, new models will emerge as technology changes and new tools become so widespread as to become ubiquitous – a recurring theme in the news media.

If you know of other models that I’ve overlooked, or have thoughts on the above, please leave a comment.

Where Journalism Is Going & Why There Should Be Optimism

lying in the weeds
is the answer for journalists simply lying in the weeds?

An interesting article by Katharine Mieszkowski for the Future of Journalism blog on Open Salon ponders what would happen if the top journalists for the New York Times left to form their own news outfit.

The idea is spawned by the idea that these writers carry niche / brand cachet that would translate to a credible value-add for related advertisers: advertise your product here and get access to a proven, committed audience (and, indeed, the NYT’s experiments with pay-walls suggests that they too recognize the potential profitability in these writers).

In a related move, many sites are commenting on AOL’s latest activities, which include hiring up journos from across the US (to the tune of 500 full-time and 1,000 freelance staffers) to staff an emerging journalism uber-pipeline.

Although it is unclear what AOL has to gain from doing this, given the market declines in the journalism industry as a whole, the move seems to be based on the Google-buys-YouTube or Yahoo-buys-Flickr models, which is: something, somehow, is going to happen with this industry and we want to be there when it does. In general, it seems the mega-companies are content to operate at a loss for several years on speculation that they’ll eventually corner a specific media market.

And in this, AOL may not be wrong. Despite the crushing defeats of traditional (print-based) media, the ubiquitous nature of the web and the growth of nifty little content delivery tools has brought a renaissance of sorts to journalism.

However, this growth is not just Citizen Journalism specific – since 2000 Journalism Programs have experienced a 4% annual growth at the undergrad level and a 5% annual growth at the graduate level despite the gloomy picture painted for the industry as a whole.

It seems that while publishers and prognosticators are wringing their hands about the future of the field (and, I would argue, rightly so), students, citizenry and major media outlets think there is enough potential in the emerging models to invest their effort, time and money.

While all this may not necessarily assuage the fears of full-time journalists (or dry the sweat from the brow of freelancers), it should offer some level of reassurance.

After all, given the difficulties journalists face in this shifting economy, even the most jaded journalists must feel that journalism is still something to believe in.

These recent developments suggest that others still believe in journalism, too.

Italian Bloggers Go On Strike Against Proposed Law

on strike or locked out
locking dissent out, or locking frustrations in?

Italian bloggers are striking in order to challenge a newly proposed law that would hold all bloggers financially liable for “offensive” comments in their posts, according to Global Post.

The law, dubbed the Alfano Proposal (after the Italian Minister of Justice, Angelino Alfano), would require bloggers to edit or delete any post that Government officials deemed to be inappropriate. Should the bloggers not comply they would face stiff penalties – they could be sued by any allegedly defamed citizen for as much as $18,000.

For their part, the striking bloggers maintain that in a country where the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns the three largest TV channels, the biggest publishing house, a major advertising agency and oversees all national public television, they require the full freedom of the press that bloggers in other countries enjoy in order to express any level of dissenting opinion.

There’s a good chance that striking bloggers – ostensibly refusing to post anything to their blogs during the strike – are exactly in keeping with the spirit of the Alfano Proposal. That is to say, the proposal ultimately aims to have the bloggers simply shut up, and by striking in reaction to it the bloggers are fulfilling the proposal’s intended goal.

However, while nobody seems particularly certain of where the convergence in media is taking us, or how we can navigate the thorny issues of defamation in cyberspace, those who believe in freedom of the press would do well to put their support behind the striking Italian bloggers.

To do so means that open communication and discussion in society is actively encouraged, and provides texture to any media palette dominated by large scale, mainstream media outlets – regardless of the country of origin.

As we stumble forward in this age of multimedia information overload, I maintain it is better to keep the gates wide open and make a few mistakes along the way (defamation and otherwise) rather than scale back and try to lock out the messiness of dissenting opinion.

By making it financially untenable for bloggers to deliver a differing opinion we do not dispel the spirit of dissent, we merely frustrate its most natural voice. But human nature dictates that this voice will find another vehicle for expression, and possibly with greater vehemence, due to earlier efforts to silence it.

And that expression can sometimes involve the sticks and stones that break our bones, rather than the names that really cannot hurt us.

Altered News – When Is Photo Manipulation Considered Acceptable?

the way forward?
is this the way forward? this photo has not been retouched.

Over the last several months I’ve been reading a lot of books about professional journalism, and the many-pronged battle that journalists and media outlets are fighting in the current media climate. Primarily due to several instances of fabricated news, the public’s trust of journalists, while rebounding slightly from early this decade, is still extremely low (only 49% of Canadians say they trust journalists, according to a 2006 Leger Marketing poll).

Also, citizen-generated media is evolving from random smatterings of photos and videos into a sophisticated journalism vehicle in its own right, competing for the public’s attention and destabilizing the foundation of traditional journalism which is largely still based on an “us-to-you” model, despite journos themselves calling for and seeking out updated models.

From all I’ve read, journalists and media outlets that have analyzed the current media landscape maintain they still represent a viable information source, in congress with citizen media, with journos finding stability primarily because of their professional training, adherence to ethics, and transparency in delivering the news.

Given this, I am struck by an interesting “convergence” of issues through the New York Times LENS Blog coming to light this week.

While the NYTimes Magazine is under fire for (unwittingly) carrying a photo essay that has been proven to be digitally manipulated – counter to their own, expressed, statement of journalist ethics – the newspaper’s LENS blog is carrying a rich slideshow of citizen-generated cellphone photos, with accompanying text about how the cameras on cellies alter the image with artful effect. Some of these photos were reworked using applications that mimic older cameras (such as Holgas, Poloroids and Leicas), and post-production photo software is almost a given in the digital realm now.

The differences between the two is subtle: the NYT Magazine piece is considered photojournalism and therefore meant to be above the slings and arrows of digital trickery, whereas the citizen-generated photos on the LENS Blog are (I guess) best considered Citizen Photojournalism and therefore held to a much lower standard.

As recent events have shown, however, Citizen Journalism is often more newsworthy than traditional media because of its immediacy, ubiquitousness, and ability to get stories from shadowy areas that journalists (despite best efforts) are not allowed access to.

On the whole, though, I have a great deal of respect for the New York Times in carrying both of these pieces on the LENS Blog, and see their actions as a great example of where traditional media can stake a claim as media models evolve.

Ironically, by highlighting the controversy facing the photo essay in their print magazine, and updating the public on their own and the photographer’s reaction to the public outcry about the manipulated photos, the NY TImes are displaying the transparency and ethics they must rely on to maintain public trust (ie: admitting to mistakes, however inadvertent they may have been, despite how this may further erode credibility).

To do so while also carrying the photo essay of citizen-generated cellphone photos on the LENS Blog, the Times are showing an openness to public reportage and highlighting their search for a hybridized style of news gathering – one that grows in the grassroots, finds wider broadcast upon the pillars of the Fourth Estate, and seeks that discussion with the public about what is manifest and what is latent is the shadows between the two.

In my opinion, by being transparent in admitting the errors of their traditional, print magazine, while also carrying a vast array of public reportage, the Times do not undermine their journalistic credibility, but rather strengthen their relevance as a media source as we all try to find our footing in the shifting media landscape. It is really the only way forward.

And perhaps this is merely another step toward bringing public trust back to journalists – at least edging closer to 50% of the public trusting journalists again.

Is All Citizen Media Created Equal?

After seeing so many articles in mainstream news outlets celebrating the level of citizen journalism coming out of Iran, I am surprised by how little coverage I am seeing of events in Honduras.

The coup d’état is basically seven days old, and it is widely known that the mainstream non-Micheletti news outlets have been stifled, but I am not seeing the same depth of citizen news carried in the mainstream outlets as I did with Iran’s recent election protests.

I am wondering if the story of the Iranian protests (for the Press at least) is the explosion and immediacy of the citizen journalism itself. Once that story has been covered there is, again, less urgency to fully regard citizen news as a viable layer to breaking news journalism.

Or it could just be that there is just a lot less citizen news coming out of Honduras, due to differences in personal technology use / availability, or economics.

But either way, it seems that the mainstream news outlets could be building toward more fully integrating the two journalistic forms to offer the best of both worlds, learning from the impact of Iranian coverage to offer media consumers the rigor and expertise of professional reporters with the immediacy and context of citizen journalists.

I think that news consumers are not only ready for this, they expect it.

And I am surprised that traditional outlets are not more willing to integrate these emerging information sources for fuller context, given how fresh the lessons of Iran are.