Tagged: trad-news

The Medium: Virginia Heffernan’s Final Column for NY Times Magazine

onward and upward

(Onward and upward for Virginia Heffernan)

Last week marked the final time that Virginia Heffernan’s The Medium column would run in the New York Times Magazine. I think it’s a shame that this column has been rendered obsolete by the magazine’s Secular Overlords (or whoever makes the decisions at the NYTimes).

In the four years that her technology column ran, Heffernan was always a moderate voice in an industry full of overblown hype and wide-brush lifestyle marketing. At once informed and curious, Heffernan’s column (along with Randy Cohen’s The Ethicist — also nixed by the mag last week) became a primary reason for me to read the magazine every week.

Heffernan’s final column for the NYT Magazine addressed the changes in the web over the last 2 years, where commercialized add-ons and targeted promotions have overrun genuine culture and idea exchanges. Heffernan presents the Kindle as an example of a consumer space aimed at the pleasures of culture, rather than the business of it.

Fittingly, I found Heffernan’s columns to be the same way – a lucid examination of the (often) ridiculous eccentricities of the net that increasingly come to define how we live and communicate. Heffernan’s columns were always respite from the histrionics that come with emerging digital culture, and while I mourn the loss of her column, I will enjoy reading its archives and following Virginia Heffernan’s upcoming work.

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.

The Gap Between Journalism and Marketing Gets Smaller

Astute readers of Fauna Corporation (or those who simply scroll down) will know that I was working a contract for a digital ad agency before the Holidays.

As it turns out, they liked my moxie so much they offered me a full-time position, which I’ve accepted. I’ve just come through my first week as an official employee there, and boy are my arms tired – or however that old joke goes.

Working in an ad agency is a bit of a weird shift for me (though not outside my employment history), given my heavy focus on multimedia journalism, so I thought I would take a second to try to let you know where this decision came from.

First, I want to confirm that my love of journalism continues, and my interest in trying to figure out (with you all!) where the industry is going remains as strong as ever.

But the reality – for me, at least – is that the technological advances, emerging narrative tools and the unbelievable creativity of multimedia journalists has far outpaced the journalism industry as a whole.

Personally, I had no problem landing writing gigs (for terrible freelance rates, naturally), but I had a lot of trouble landing contracts for my multimedia work, despite genuine interest and positive feedback from the web- and section-editors I spoke to.

The issue seems to be that the larger media structure is still struggling with how to carry multimedia work, how to market it, how to deal with the reciprocal loop it can create with viewers, etc..

Meanwhile the technology still advances, the narratives become ever more layered, and the e-journos continue to produce novel, intelligent work. These developments, coupled with the state of our media, generally, have become a recipe for disaster for freelancers.

When an opportunity came along to work for a cutting-edge digital agency, I realized the potential of working in an industry that was not behind the e-curve (and is, in fact, is often pioneering new communication techniques), and I recognized that I could learn an awful lot about building and deploying online content from creative experts.

So that’s what I’ve decided to do. I hope that doesn’t make my usual readership think I’ve sold out to The Man. Or even, A Man.

In my opinion, the days of journalistic purity are pretty much over, as each journalist increasingly becomes his own brand and entrepreneurial skills become ever more important in getting eyes on your work (let alone be paid for it), as the industry crashes all around us. It doesn’t mean the ethics of a journalist have been or should be compromised, only that the (often fictitious) divide between editorial and marketing is dissolving ever more.

So far, the new job has been very challenging and rewarding, and I think it will benefit my journalism work in the long run if I can continue racing up the (steep!) learning curve. My hope is to bring new insights to the Fauna Corp readership, while still sharing interesting and engaging multimedia journalism content with you all, as we try to figure out where journalism is headed.

2010 promises to be an interesting new year, and I hope you all stick with Fauna Corporation for the ride.

Let me know your thoughts about all this, leave a comment if you have anything to share. No sales agents will visit your home.

The Media of the Future – Reach Out and Touch Your Content

Whew! This whole accelerated world we’re living in has been exhausting lately.

But I must say, the technology finally seems to be catching up to the creativity of content creators, and is also coming in line with the demands of consumers.

As usual, I find the discrepancy between what consumers are looking for, and how journalists & news outlets are talking to them, to be the biggest hurdle facing journalism as a whole.

My accomplice and I recently picked up iPod Touches, and have been experimenting with different ways to use these cool gadgets to actually enhance our lives (rather than just, you know, be cool gadgets). That’s been a fun process, but there have been a couple of videos out lately that show other potentially ground-shifting tools that are coming to market.

These new tools display some creative uses of cross-media delivery by magazine publishers, and seem to really enrich the user experience. Check it out:

First, Multimedia Shooter has posted a great list of sports-related, multimedia journalism pieces which is worth reading. This Sports Illustrated video shows how SI is planning to unveil their magazine in tablet form, and, despite the hokey digital hands, shows how the magazine’s main assets of stunning photography, quality writing and box scores, will be further enhanced by the tablet technology:

Also, I thought I’d include this video from Outside Magazine, displaying their idea of how an interactive magazine feature may work in the near future. I originally found this video from one of my RSS feeds, but now can’t remember which website posted it (apologies for that). Instead, I found the same video piece at the Living Art Media site. It’s a little hyperbolic, but the overall effect is very cool:

Both of these videos are ‘aspirational’, but they show that the technology we are becoming accustomed to on our hand-held devices are now beginning to inform the decisions of media outlets and how they craft the content we’ll be enjoying in the coming year(s).

Short Silence and Three Posts to Check Out

Apologies all around for the longish silence here on Fauna Corporation. I’ve been working a writing contract for an advertising firm and have had less time for posting. The contract goes well, thus far, but I don’t want to forget my Fauna readers so I thought I would put something up.

On that note, while I haven’t been posting, I have been seeing some interesting content for Next-Gen Journos. The following are a few things that I’ve seen over the last few days that I thought you would all enjoy.

First, from Journerdism, a list of the 8 must-have skills for the journalists of tomorrow. The list is a little broad (ie: including programming skills), in much the same way that one could list the top 8 skills for tomorrow’s Olympian and include being multilingual and 12 feet tall. I mean, it can’t hurt, but in reality there are only so many hours in the day, so one must pick and choose what to learn. However, the list is pretty solid on the whole and does mention the ability to focus on experimentation and focus on creating artful, cross-media pieces, which I sincerely believe will be necessary to capture the next wave of web- and mobile-savvy media consumers. Of note, “fundamental journalism skills” comes in at number 8.

Next, 10,000 Words has a great list of gifts for the Journalist in your life, just in time for the holidays. While some are sort of obvious (newsprint t-shirts and boxers), some are totally awesome (CTRL, ALT, DELETE cup sets!), and either way, there is always a good reason to visit to 10,000 Words, so click on through.

Finally, from ProBlogger (a site worth visiting if you haven’t yet), a short list that substantiates the importance of having a product to sell. As journalism changes and freelancing rates remain dismal, this idea of having a product – whether it is your work, a collected series of pieces, an ebook, how-to, or anything else – becomes very important to grow revenue and audience (which in turn grows revenue and audience). While there is an argument to be made against every journalist being entrepreneurial, as technology changes us, we must change with technology. Increasingly, being entrepreneurial is tied to those changes.

Again, my apologies for the relative silence here on Fauna Corp. I am happy that my traffic has not dimished over the last couple of weeks, despite it. I will continue to do my best to keep you all up-to-date with what is happening with evolving multimedia journalism, and as always, I thank you for stopping by.

PBS NewsHour Changes – An Insider’s Look

My fiancee and I are big fans of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I recognize how geeky this makes us (being “big fans” and all), but we’re pretty dialed in to non-apoplectic news coverage, and we really enjoy the balance and depth of coverage that the NewsHour offers.

We comment on Jim’s usually excellent choice of ties, we tune in on Fridays to catch analysis by Shields and Brooks (and we’re Canadians!), and we hold the NewsHour up as an example of what news coverage should be (along with CBC’s National and BBC’s World Report).

So I read Anna Shoup’s piece on the changes at PBS, and the new iterations of its website, with interest and fascination (found out about the piece courtesy of Will Sullivan’s Journerdism site). It is not often that you get an insider’s candid take on the shifts inside a major media outlet, especially when the insider is a multimedia content producer who is be integrated into the larger media framework. That in itself is a bit of a switch-up from what’s happening in other news rooms.

Ms Shoup’s report suggests a progressive mindset in the NewsHour bullpen, but she’s still open about the grinding gears that sometimes happen when two carefully crafted machines try to mesh. Whether the new media shifts at the NewsHour are a result of progressive thinking – or merely survival – I think is irrelevant. In the current media climate, any steps that do not hold fast to the conventional broadcast model should be seen as progressive, simply because they are not status quo, or (worse) trying to regress to the sunnier times of media monopoly.

Basically, people are consuming the news differently. The NewsHour has always been able to cut through the media static to report solidly on essential issues, and their decision to more fully integrate multimedia elements and web-based pieces into their broadcast model is one that I’ll be watching with interest.

The NewsHour will launch their new website on December 3rd, and the new iteration of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (re-branded as PBS NewsHour) will debut on December 7th. Perhaps it, like the NewsHour’s coverage itself, will be a litmus test that other news organizations can learn from.

Looking Five Years into the Future of Journalism

When speaking about the future, it seems that 5 years is the most popular milestone for people. Not far enough off to suggest silver hover-cars and jet packs, yet distant enough that we’ll accept some fantastic possibilities (especially if we consider Moore’s Law and it’s rate of acceleration), the 5 year plan allows us to see the road immediately ahead and plan for it.

The unfathomable future – Suddenly Fathomable!

This past week I found two informative pieces about the future of journalism that suggested what trends will become important for the media in the next 5 years. While everyone can predict the future, and every megalomaniac can build a 5-year plan, I thought these pieces were great food for thought for multimedia journos.

The first piece comes from (the awesome) ReadWriteWeb site, and features a brief excerpt of an interview with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. The 6-minute segment discusses the role of video, non-English language communications, social media and bandwidth in the coming age, and also offers a fascinating look at how Google predicts media trends (non-separation between consumer and enterprise applications, for instance).

The excerpt on ReadWriteWeb is most pertinent, but I also watched the full 45 minute piece on YouTube and, while less relevant to journos, it was still informative. Check it out.

The second piece about the future of the web comes to my attention from Will Sullivan’s Journerdism site, and he draws it in from Noupe. Noupe’s piece asks “where will the web be in 5 years” and then presents 15 trends to consider. The Noupe article is pretty detailed, with examples, pundits (both pro- and con-), further reading and what I think are some pretty hilarious photos in support of their arguments.

Highlights include a prediction that consumers will gravitate toward web experience as the centre of their media world, where social media, net-based entertainment, mobile apps, and collaborative tools all become a core set of entertainment, education and creative tools for consumers. Essentially, the web (and its apps) will become stronger and we, in turn, will become more fluid in our integration of this experience into our lives.

While not Nostradamus or the Mayan Calendar (shout out to the 2012-ers out there!), the 5-years-into-the-future predictions are popular, and the two pieces cited above contain some excellent ideas to consider. Part of considering the future of journalism is intrinsically linked to considering the future of all consumer and enterprise media, and the articles in Noupe or ReadWriteWeb offer a great road map for next-gen-journos.

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.

This Just In – And Reported On Your Tablet

On a quiet news day, if you focus and listen carefully – over the noise barrage from 24hr news services, the hand-wringing sounds of millions of journalists decrying their lot, and the scratching of next-gen journalists at the doors of mainstream media – you can hear a small murmur of information about digital tablets.

Digital tablets, or Tablet PCs, are pen- or touchscreen-interacted computers that emphasize portability and readability, and they’ve been the answer for mainstream newspapers for years now, whether they realize it or not.

The ability to have a small, newspaper-esque (really, more ‘zine-sized) piece of gear that allows user interactivity (ie: hyperlinks, comments boxes, multimedia assets) is the boon the newspaper industry has needed for many years. Newspaper tablets allow a decent viewing size for content, a departure from the phenomenal cost of print production and distribution, and offer a sophisticated multimedia vehicle with a clean, familiar interface.

An article on The Street today discusses that the New York Times is investigating Tablet PCs, mostly in preparation of Apple’s foray into the field (something that, until very recently, Apple has denied any interest in doing). While I disagree with hyping one brand over another (particularly with prototypes), it does seem wise for newspapers to wait until Apple has entered the fray, given how they tend to be game-changers with portable, personal media devices.

Whether these products roll out in 2010 or beyond (and my thinking is we’ll be seeing them sooner rather than later), there’s little doubt that they will shake up the way we consume media – much as the iPod changed how we consume music (and, uh, media).

While I don’t think the news media should try to adapt to every new piece of technology that is released, I think there’s evidence that Tablet PCs will have strong consumer uptake. The smarter newspapers would do well to plan for this revolution now (as the NYTimes, Washington Post, and a few others are doing), rather than waiting for the change in consumer habits to dictate newspaper development.

This could be the make-or-break situation the industry’s been expecting during it’s long, slow decline.

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’├ętat 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.