On the Media

0

Media: Participant Index Seeks to Determine Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter

LOS ANGELES — You watched the wrenching documentary. You posted your outrage on Twitter. But are you good for more than a few easy keystrokes of hashtag activism?

Participant Media and some powerful partners need to know.

For the last year Participant, an activist entertainment company that delivers movies with a message, has been quietly working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to answer a question vexing those who would use media to change the world.

That is, what actually gets people moving? Do grant-supported media projects incite change, or are they simply an expensive way of preaching to the choir?

Photo

“The Square” scored extremely high for emotional involvement at 97 out of 100, but dropped to 87 in terms of provoking action. CreditNetflix/Noujaim Films

More immediate, those behind the effort say, new measures of social impact will enable sharper focus and rapid course corrections in what have often been guesswork campaigns to convert films into effective motivational weaponry. That approach would apply to a hit like the movie “Lincoln,” which counseled civic engagement, or to a box-office miss like the antifracking film “Promised Land.” Both were Participant-backed films.

To get the answers it wants, Participant is developing a measuring tool that it calls the Participant Index, assisted in the effort by the Annenberg school’s Media Impact Project. In rough parallel to the Nielsen television ratings, the still-evolving index compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter and Facebook presence.

The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement.

Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life?

“If this existed, we would not be doing it,” said James G. Berk, chief executive of Participant. “We desperately need more and more information, to figure out if what we were doing is actually working.”

The answers result in a score that combines separate emotional and behavioral measures. On a scale of 100, for instance, “The Square,” a documentary about Egyptian political upheaval that was included in Participant’s first echelon of 35 indexed titles this year, scored extremely high for emotional involvement, with a 97, but lower in terms of provoking action, with an 87, for a combined average of 92.

By contrast, “Farmed and Dangerous,” a comic web series about industrial agriculture, hit 99 on the action scale, as respondents said, for instance, that they had bought or shunned a product, and 94 for emotion, for an average of 97. That marked it as having potentially higher impact than “The Square” among those who saw it.

Photo

The documentary “The Cove,” which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins. CreditOceanic Preservation Society/Roadside Attractions

Daniel Green, the deputy director for strategic media partnerships at the Gates Foundation, traces the new drive for impact measurement to a Seattle meeting in December 2011 among about two dozen representatives of nonprofits with an interest in social change.

“Grantors didn’t have a lot of sophistication around their analytics,” said Michael Maness of the Knight Journalism and Media Innovation program, a group that attended. He joined Mr. Green last month in describing frustration among nonprofits at their inability to gauge how much change their projects are prompting.

The Seattle gathering led to an association with the Annenberg school’s Norman Lear Center, which early last year established its Media Impact Project. That project then served as a consultant to Participant in creating its index, which received $4.2 million in combined financing from the Knight and Gates foundations and from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

The methodologies being used for the index will be provided on an open-source basis to those who are interested — whether on the left or right or in the center of the ideological spectrum.

“We’re developing a set of tools and measures that will be available for any researcher, no matter what their viewpoint,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Lear Center.

Participant, created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, is using that methodology to build a proprietary database. It will feature three echelons with 35 projects each, or about 100 distinct bits of media, annually.

The company will lean heavily toward films and television shows of its own, especially those carried on its activism-driven online and pay-television network, Pivot. But it will also index properties for partners, like the Gates and Kaiser Family foundations, and for companies or others who will pay a fee.

Photo

Participant was created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, left, pictured here with James G. Berk, chief executive.CreditEmily Berl for The New York Times

(Prices have not been set, Mr. Berk said, but he expects to serve nonprofits at cost. He declined to say how much Participant has invested in the index.)

In an inaugural general survey, which polled 1,055 of its viewers in March and April of this year, Chad Boettcher, Participant’s executive vice president for social action, and Caty Borum Chattoo, a researcher and communications professor at American University, found some perhaps surprising results.

Even among the presumably progressive Participant audience, crime ranked near the top of the list of 40 primary concerns. It was cited by 73 percent of respondents as an important social issue, placing it just behind human rights, health care and education.

Gay rights, female empowerment and prison sentencing reform, by contrast, ranked near the bottom of the list, while climate change was stuck in the middle, a concern among 59 percent of respondents. Digital intellectual property issues, at 38 percent, brought up the rear.

Stories about animal rights and food production, it turned out, were the most likely to provoke individual action. But tales about economic inequality — not so much.

Over all, said Marc Karzen, a social media entrepreneur whose company, RelishMix, advises film and television marketers, Participant will most likely affirm what is becoming clear to conventional film studios: Impact can be less about persuasion than nudging an audience to go where it is already pointed.

“You have to embrace your fans, not shout at them,” Mr. Karzen said. “They need to be inspired to spread the word.”

One of the weirdest problems in measuring social impact, and one still unresolved, Mr. Boettcher said, is the paradox of “The Cove.”

That documentary, which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins, Mr. Boettcher notes, particularly among activists who are aware of the film but will not watch (and hence, would not be counted under the current methodology of the index) because of its gory content.

“They don’t want to see it,” Mr. Boettcher said, “but they will sign up.”

0

Media: Shubhranshu Choudhary: Giving a Voice to a Ravaged, Neglected Region | Innovators

news.nationalgeographic.com, June 30, 2014

As the South Asia producer for BBC TV and Radio during the 1990s and early 2000s, Shubhranshu Choudhary spent much of his time darting around the region covering wars and natural disasters, dropping into trouble spots—Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Kashmir, Afghanistan—interviewing local leaders, politicians, or NGO spokespersons, filing his story then moving on.

It was an exciting life, full of foreign travel, helicopters, and headline events, far removed from the rural coal-mining backwater in India’s Chhattisgarh state (part of Madhya Pradesh state until 2000) where he grew up, attending the local tribal school, or his first job reporting for a Hindi-language newspaper in Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, and learning English by listening to BBC Radio at night. He was well respected, well connected, with a broad view of news and world events—an accomplished practitioner of what he would later come to regard as an “aristocratic” form of journalism.

Over the years, every now and then, he would get calls from people he knew back in his old neighborhood, urging him to come back to his roots and report on the issues behind the Maoist insurgency headquartered in the hills there, a conflict that had ravaged his region intermittently for decades.

“To tell you the truth, I kind of ignored them,” he recalls. “At the BBC we had a world audience and were more interested in covering bigger international wars.” Eventually, though, when the Maoists killed 76 Indian police officers in an ambush, the story became a headline event andChoudhary found himself leading a BBC TV crew into Chhattisgarh. By then what had been a simmering guerrilla war was well on the way to becoming what the Indian government would describe as the single biggest internal security threat facing the nation.

Listening to the Disenfranchised

For Choudhary, covering a war on his home turf was a transforming experience. This was no foreign conflict, but one that was unfolding in an area he knew well and understood. From having grown up in a small railroad town and attended the school there as a child, he found he had many useful contacts within the Maoist ranks. They were keen to talk. And what they told him led him to question the role journalists, journalism, and powerful media organizations played in presenting stories to the public and in deciding what was news—and what was not.

“I saw there were really two wars going on in Chhattisgarh,” Choudhary recalled. One involved a small fraction of the rebels who were fanatically committed to communism. The other involved the vast majority of their followers, mainly poor, lower-caste tribal people, who had picked up rifles and joined the Maoists because they had run out of patience. “They could think of no other way to call attention to the grievances they had and the problems they were facing—things like poverty, lack of health care, poor sanitation, crime, corruption, unpaid wages, and the fact that nobody listens to them or seems to care,” he said. “It wasn’t communism they wanted but to have a voice, to be heard and taken seriously.”

It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology and drifted into journalism.

Their stories caused him to reflect on his own childhood years in Chhattisgarh. Although he was in school with the other children in the town, his parents were of a Brahman caste, his father had a good job with the railways, and Choudhary had naturally enjoyed the benefits of an upper-caste rearing. Although the children all played together in the streets after school, there were social, economic, and linguistic barriers between them that were as unyielding as brick walls.

Choudhary’s parents had held high aspirations for him. They wanted him to become a professional man, a doctor or an engineer, and saw to it that he had every opportunity to do so. He, on the other hand, had no such ambition. It was the raw material of life and living, the stories of the streets, that fascinated him. He studied anthropology instead and drifted into journalism.

Intrigued by the conflict on his childhood doorstep, Choudhary left the BBC, returned to Chhattisgarh, and with the assistance of a Knight International Journalism Fellowship began to study the problem of how to give disenfranchised villagers of Chhattisgarh the voice they craved and were willing to fight for. It needed to be simple, low cost, and democratic—not run by outsiders with vested interests but by the locals themselves. He wanted it to reach even into the remotest corners of the state and deliver the news and raise issues in the locals’ own Gondi language yet still reach the ears of the outside world.

A Collective Voice From Mobile Phones

Community radio would have been an ideal solution, but radio licenses are tightly controlled in India, and the nonofficial broadcasting of news, even the discussion of news and current events on air, is strictly forbidden.High illiteracy rates among the very same villagers who needed and wanted a voice in the media ruled out newspapers or magazines, and there is no Internet to speak of in rural Chhattisgarh. Only 0.7 percent of homes in Chhattisgarh have access to the Internet.

The one piece of modern telecommunications gear that has deeply penetrated most of Chhattisgarh, however, is the ubiquitous mobile phone. Many, if not most, villagers have them, and those who do not can always get access to one in any one of Chhattisgarh’s bustling marketplaces. Choudhary began exploring the idea of using mobile phones as a media platform. And with technical expertise provided by Microsoft Research India he came up with CGNet Swara: a world-first cell-phone-based news and current affairs network.

In the four years since it went live, in February 2010, it has transformed the way news is shared among the rural poor in central India. More than 300,000 reports have been called in by the new citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh, and 4,700 fact-checked stories aired and shared, many of them translated into Hindi and English and posted on CGNet Swara’s website, where they have been picked up by mainstream media in India and abroad, bringing the voices and views of the villagers in rural Chhattisgarh to the outside world for the first time and providing a peaceful vehicle for change.

Model Citizen Journalists

Its success has spawned similar cell-phone-based news services in other far-off regions around the world, from Somalia to Borneo, and earned 45-year-old Choudhary the 2014 Google Digital Activism Award—beating out NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the distinction. “If we want to live in a peaceful society, it is not enough for our elections to be democratic,” he says. “We need for the media to be democratic as well, so that everybody, all of us, has a say in deciding what issues are going to be discussed, not just a few wealthy media proprietors and their chosen editors.”

Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market.

Chhattisgarh is a heavily forested state in central India that forms a part of Gondwana, India’s rural heartland. (The “CG” in CGNet Swara stands for “Central Gondwana”; swara means “voice” in Sanskrit.) As when describing the American Midwest or Appalachia, there are no formal boundaries to Gondwana. The name derives from the Gond people, a widespread ethnic minority whose language is spoken by an estimated eight million people in the region’s crowded streets and marketplaces and distant mountain villages—but by very few journalists in any of India’s mainstream publications.

None of India’s influential newspapers or magazines are published in Gondi, nor does All India Radio—that nation’s sole radio broadcaster—provide any broadcasts in the language. Despite their numbers, poverty, remoteness, high illiteracy rates, and the general “otherness” of the Gondi speakers didn’t make them an attractive market. Indeed a recent study showed that mainstream media outlets across India devote as little as 2 percent of their coverage to India’s poor tribal minorities.

Serendipity: Choudhary Meets Thies

When Choudhary seized on the idea of a grassroots mobile-phone-based news service, using playback voicemail to “broadcast” the stories, he faced some technical stumbling blocks that he was unequipped to solve. Serendipitously, Choudhary happened to meet Bill Thies at a mobile technology conference in 2008 in Bangalore. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) doctoral student in computer science, Thies had recently taken a job as a researcher with the Technologies for Emerging Markets Group with Microsoft Research India.

Thies had been working on an MIT-sponsored project called Audio Wiki, a user-generated platform for publishing audio content to a wider audience, which proved to be an ideal starting point for building a mobile-phone-based news network. The two men hit it off. And from their collaboration CGNet Swara was born.

“It was no great technical breakthrough,” says Thies. “All we had to do was modify a voice mail message system so that messages could be edited and then listened to by anyone who called in and pushed number two on the menu. It was more of an engineering problem. What we have accomplished, though, will make it easier to set up similar systems elsewhere.”

Already a community-based news service modeled on CGNet Swara is being planned in Somalia, while in Indonesia a text-based service is up and running and proving popular in Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. “It is the sort of thing I think we are going to be seeing a great deal more of in the future,” says Elisa Tinsley of the Washington, D.C.-basedInternational Center for Journalists, who attended CGNet Swara’s inaugural workshop in 2010 in the remote village of Jashpur, where locals were introduced to the service, shown how it would work, and given instruction on filing stories.

“The big challenge is going to be how to sustain it in the long term,” she says. At present CGNet Swara is a free service, the cost of running it underwritten by grants from the UN Democracy Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cultural activists are traveling from village to village in central India to tell people about CGNet Swara through song, dance, and drama.

Eyewitness Reporting

It is a sultry morning early in May, with the heat and humidity in Chhattisgarh ratcheting up ahead of the approaching monsoon. From a town called Dharamjaigarh, a man who identifies himself as DS Maliya phones in to report that two herds of elephants have been terrorizing villagers there who are afraid to go to sleep at night, but government officials refuse to do anything about it; another caller from a remote village in Madhya Pradesh reports that laborers who have been working on a dam project are being paid only 98 rupees a day instead of the government-mandated minimum wage of 146 rupees, and urges the broader community to put pressure on the company to pay up.

Meanwhile, that same morning, a woman from Dharampur calls in with the happier news that following an earlier broadcast on CGNet Swara, local pickers of tendu leaves—an ingredient in Indian cigarettes—are at last receiving their wages after having gone unpaid for months.

She reports that a payroll officer hastened to the village before dawn that morning, waking people up and hurriedly making the long-overdue payments ahead of a visit from a high-ranking government official who was expected to arrive later that afternoon and look into the report himself.

These calls, and others like them—about 500 per day—come in to the CGNet Swara headquarters, in Bhopal, where they are reviewed and filtered by a team of moderators, who check the reports for accuracy, relevance, and fairness, editing them for length and clarity as needed.

Spreading the News

Ideally, says Choudhary, and in the future, the moderators will be elected from the community to keep the news service true to its democratic roots. But for now the network’s staff of four moderators are trained journalists who happen to speak and understand Gondi—among them a lawyer who has some journalism training. “We have to go out of our way to be scrupulously accurate and impartial,” says Choudhary. “One mistake and we could be accused of spreading propaganda. Remember, there is a war going on here.”

Approved reports—such as this morning’s herd of rogue elephants, the plight of the underpaid dam workers, and the victory enjoyed by the tendu leaf pickers from Dharampur—are published and made available for playback by anyone who dials in and presses two on the menu. A message is sent out via Google’s SMS messaging service to notify users that a new story has been posted. Along with reports made by Chhattisgarh’s citizen journalists, relevant news items from the major newspapers are translated into Gondi and added to the list.

Selections of stories are posted as audio tracks on the CGNet Swara website, together with written translations in Hindi and English to make them accessible to the mainstream media in India and abroad. Stories are also shared on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, in addition to being published on CGNet Swara’s blog.

Radio broadcasts in Gondi and other tribal languages would still be the gold standard, says Choudhary, who is exploring ways of getting around the Indian government ban on independent radio news by setting up shortwave broadcasts from Europe and making available clockwork radios—which work by being spring-wound, like old-fashioned alarm clocks—to villages in isolated areas that do not yet have electricity.

A Growing Sense of Community

In the four years since CGNet Swara went live, the service has chalked up a number of victories, large and small, for the Gondi-speaking villagers who had been ignored until now—from unpaid wages to broken wells to publicizing a police attack on three tribal villages that left two dead, homes burned, and a woman raped. That particular story was picked up by the mainstream media, and as a result the UN Human Rights Council got involved and issued a formal report, and the Indian Supreme Court ordered an investigation.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community.

Perhaps the most potentially lifesaving result of CGNet Swara’s stories is the increasing awareness of malaria in Chhattisgarh. So ignored was the province by the mainstream press and government health statisticians that the official figure for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh for 2007 was zero—this in a steamy tropical part of India with a population of 25 million. “It was absurd,” recalls Choudhary. “Every single village loses many people to malaria every year, thousands of deaths in all.” Since the citizen journalists of Chhattisgarh started reporting on malaria and other health care problems in the region, official figures for malaria deaths in Chhattisgarh have soared—giving rise to a joke that the new news service was the biggest cause of malaria in central India.

It isn’t just news and current events that CGNet Swara is disseminating: The calls coming in are full of stories, poems, songs, recipes, and herbal remedies as well, creating a growing sense of community. They find they have much to talk about. Choudhary recalls wondering how well his grand idea was going to work in real life at the first workshop to teach Chhattisgarh’s would-be citizen journalists how to participate in their new community-based news service. He needn’t have. On the long drive to the nearest airport and their flight home, Thies tried dialing the new CGNet Swara number, curious to see if it was working and if anyone had begun using it yet.

“He listened for a moment, and then his face lit up,” Choudhary recalls. “He passed me the phone and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this.’ It was incredible. Some young guy had filed a story about a protest rally against the opening of a new mine. He introduced the story with the sounds of the protesters yelling, then faded out like he was in a studio and went straight into his reportage. He couldn’t have done it better if he had been with the BBC.

“I wondered why I ever doubted,” Choudhary mused. “You take a people with strong oral traditions like the villagers in Chhattisgarh, and what is the one thing they are going to do very, very well? Tell a story. Now they can tell them to the world.”

0

Media: Citizen journalism gets more stories out than traditional reporting in war-torn Syria

phys.org, June 29,2014

Citizen reporters are increasingly getting stories out of remote areas of Syria, which are difficult for traditional media to reach during the conflict, according to data collated for Index on Censorship magazine.

It showed more reports were coming from citizen journalists than, in all areas of the country, with the exception of Homs.

Index on Censorship magazine worked with Syria Tracker, the independent news tracker, which has scanned 160,000 news reports and updates to look at the scale of citizen journalism. Syria Tracker verifies and analyses data before publishing on its own website. Only 6 per cent of data is considered to be well enough sourced to be published.

“Syria Tracker monitors 2,000 different news sources, including pro-regime outlets. Add to this 80 million social media updates and 4,000 eyewitness reports, and you can draw some interesting conclusions,” according to Index on Censorship’s deputy editor and author of the article, Vicky Baker. “For example, female deaths at the beginning of the conflict totalled one per cent, but then sharply rose to reach 18 per cent – clearly suggesting a point where citizens became targeted and were not collateral damage. This data analysis has also shown that children make up 11 per cent of all documented killings in Syria – with reports suggesting they have been targeted while at school, at home and while waiting in bread lines.”

“These sort of projects are vital to worldwide news organisations and, when aided by data journalism, can help us gain a fuller picture of the devastation being wrought,” Baker says.

Syria Tracker has been hacked and targeted with threats; some of its citizen reporters are missing, possibly dead. If citizens had abandoned the project a few months after the 2011 launch (as was anticipated), our understanding of events between Syria’s borders would be even more limited.

Tass Kass-Hout, Syria Tracker’s founder, said the work was relentless, and like a hurricane happening every minute. Yet Syria Tracker provides another tool for those attempting to piece together the full picture of what is happening during the war. “This is not a clinical trial,” says Kass-Hout. “We are telling a story, it’s a living record.”

Few professional journalists can reach remote regions of Syria. Instead thousands of citizens are helping to get the news of the devastation out. To date, Syria Tracker has mapped over 4,000 geotagged verified eyewitness reports, and uses large-scale data mining to scan news reports and social media updates. Only verified data are published – around six percent of what Syria Tracker receives. Manual checking can take several days, and includes correlating nearby reports and sometimes involves scanning gruesome and shaky video footage. Members of the core team work two to three hours each day in addition to their day jobs.

Syria Tracker offers us a window into the future of journalism, in particular war reporting, says Baker. International press and aid organisations are unable to rely on their own personnel on the ground, and so the world is looking to citizen journalism and crowdsourcing more than ever. Data compiled for Index on Censorship showed that the majority of (June 2011 to Feb 2014) outside Homs were sourced via crowdsourcing, rather than traditional news journalism. For instance in Aleppo, 184 reports came from news articles, and 18,776 from crowd sourcing, according Syria Tracker data.

Explore further: Syria state news agency under hacker attack

0

Media: Yes, media freedoms can be measured

cima.ned.orgby Mark Nelson, June 19, 2014

If you hang around the halls of United Nations and World Bank long enough, you’re sure to encounter the old saw that goes something like this: “We have nothing against setting targets, but things like governance and press freedom just can’t be measured.”

Well, the old saws are being sharpened yet again today in New York City. A large group of negotiators are trying to decide on new targets for the 15-year period after 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals will expire.  And a large group of global media development professionals want freedom of expression and access to information to among the targets. Target No. 16, known as the governance target and covers “peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions,” is up for discussion today.

In preparation for the negotiations in New York, CIMA hosted a meeting of media experts last week under the flag of the Global Forum for Media Development. That meeting resulted in a statement that argues for including freedom of expression and access to information among the post-2015 targets.

After all, freedom of expression and the right to disseminate and receive information are already enshrined in international law. These rights were part of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and have since been reaffirmed in numerous other international conventions.

The GFMD position paper points out that UNESCO, a UN agency with the mandate for ensuring compliance on the freedom of expression and media issues, is already producing a wide variety of indicators, and other UN agencies—from the International Telecommunication Union to the Office  of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—are also producing valuable statistics that could help track the health of media and information systems.

From the GFMD paper:

Proposed revisions to sub-goal/ targets Illustrative Indicators
  1. Implement effective regimes for public access to government information and data
  • Legal guarantees: access to information laws and/or constitutional guarantees
  • Readily, freely available public access to public information, including online
  • By 2030, ensure that all laws are publicized and accessible by all
  • Improve public access to information and government data, including on public management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans, extractive industries
  1. Promote freedom of expression, media, association and assembly
  • Freedom of expression is guaranteed in law and respected in practice
  • Legal and regulatory environment that ensures the rights of civil society to operate freely
  • Universal access to ICTs
  • People can use ICTs to communicate and associate freely
  • People are not subject to threats, harassment, surveillance or physical attacks as a result of gathering or disseminating information
  • Absence of criminal penalties for libel, defamation
  • The strengthening of an enabling environment for independent and pluralistic media

Of course, some of the most valuable data on the media sector is produced by non-UN agencies such as Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and IREX, which produces the Media Sustainability Index. But in the highly contested world of measuring media and other freedoms, the debate is not only about whether these things should be measured at all, but also about who gets to hold the yardstick.

The talks today are not likely to be the last word on this issue. The final list of targets won’t be finally agreed until the fall of next year. In the meantime, the media development community will need to build international alliances and convince a lot of countries, some of which will win no gold stars for their performance on media freedoms.

******

To access the full position paper, go to GFMD’s website here: http://gfmd.info/index.php/news/freedom_of_expression_and_access_to_information_post-2015_measurable_target/

0

Media: The Christian Science Monitor is thinking about the best ways to turn reading into action

niemanlab.orgby Jeff Israely
Lucia Moses has a story in Digiday about a new redesign of The Christian Science Monitor’s website. Here’s a promo video for it:

But aesthetics aside, the most interesting change on the site is one still in progress. The Monitor has added a new Take Action page to its top nav and wants to feature, at the bottom of some stories, specific ways for readers to do something about the issue it’s about. Says editor Marshall Ingwerson:

At the Monitor, we’re committed to providing the most illuminating, non-partisan reporting possible. That will never change. However, we’re also interested in providing paths to action for readers who’ve been inspired by a story or something happening in the world. Below, you’ll find a few of the simple, initial ideas we’re considering. We’d love to get your feedback. Which paths to action would you welcome and use?

The desire to a path for readers to “take action” after reading a story is a common plaint in some corners. Ethan Zuckerman was just talking about that at a panel we were on last week. Elise Hu and Laura Amico both wrote about similar ideas in our year-end predictions package, and the solutions journalism movement is playing in the same yard.

But it’s sometimes proved difficult to align that instinct with traditional journalistic norms around the view from nowhere and objectivity.

Like other places, the Monitor hasn’t figured out exactly what taking action will look like yet. (There’s a screenshot of what looks like a draft version of it at 42 seconds into the video above.) But it’s considering a number of ideas and putting forward for reader feedback. It’s a nice taxonomy of some of the different ways to prompt reader action:

Conversation Starter: A set of relevant questions — with additional background information provided as necessary — on a specific news topic to help you initiate a dinner or a party conversation. For example, “Would you rather donate time or money to stop elephant poaching? Why?”

People Making a Difference: Read profiles of (and get inspired by) ordinary people who are making effective, positive changes in their communities.

Volunteer Match: Enter your location and what cause is of interest to you and this widget will provide you with a listing of volunteer opportunities so you too can take action.

Contact Your Congressperson: Not sure of your congressional district or who your representatives are? Let the Monitor assist you by matching your ZIP code to your congressional district and providing contact information so you can voice your opinion on issues that matter to you.

Connect: Information on and links to reputable and relevant organizations that will help you get involved by learning more, making a financial contribution or otherwise taking action to support a cause of interest to you.

You, dear reader, should Take Action by leaving a comment on what you think about these ideas and whether you’d like any of them (or something else entirely) on your news site.

— Joshua Benton

0

Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

0

Media: Does good journalism promote transparency?

Does press freedom promote democracy or the other way round? Martin Scott considers the influence of the media

by Martin Scott, Guardian Professional, 

chinese media

Is journalism really an effective ‘searchlight on corruption?’ Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

One of the aims of World Press Freedom day in May was to encourage us to reflect on the value of an independent media. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently while writing a new book on media and development and co-producing the video below. How exactly does good journalism promote transparency and accountability? What role can technology play in enabling ordinary citizens to promote good governance?

One of the most famous answers to such questions comes from former World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, who said: “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”

These are fine words. But what do they actually mean? It’s not clear to me how a “searchlight on corruption” leads to the building of consensus, for example, or whether consensus is always the result of “enfranchising poor people”. We might also wonder whether public consensus is an effective mechanism for change in any context other than a fully functioning democracy. Indeed, does press freedom promote democracy or does democracy promote press freedom?

Unfortunately, such grand and over-simplified claims about the role of press freedom in development are common in public discourse. Whether in stories about mobile phones and good governance or internet access and economic growth, it’s much easier to persuade people of the importance of press freedom if you pretend that the links to development are direct and clear-cut.

The trouble is, they are not. The media have multiple, overlapping roles which are fundamentally shaped by local contexts. Pretending that they don’t leads to bad project design and policy making. It also fuels the mistaken belief that access to technology alone is enough to solve problems.

Such misleading stories about the inevitably positive role of technology are not limited to the subject of press freedom. Those concerned with behaviour change communication also tell exciting tales about the benefits of mobile phones, for example, in promoting flood safety oreducating young mothers. Yet disseminating information through the media will only change behaviours in very specific circumstances – when the right people, can access the right information, at the right time, understand it, trust it and be able to act upon it. It’s no use telling people to boil their drinking water, for example, if they don’t have the means to boil it.

The point here is not that the media doesn’t matter for development. It does. Increasingly. The point is that efforts to highlight the importance of the media should exist alongside, rather than seek to obscure, recognition of the complexities of the media’s role. Ultimately, it’s not helpful to pretend that the media always have a direct and positive influence on development.

Martin Scott is a lecturer in media and international development at theUniversity of East Anglia. Follow @martinscott2010 on Twitter.

Read more stories like this:
• #BringBackOurGirls: the verdict

0

Media: The role of media in the South Sudanese conflict

Sudan Tribune, April 2nd 2014

By Alyssa Mesich

If good information is not available then rumors will spread. The weak media culture in South Sudan continues to fuel the ongoing conflict because of limited legal protection for public broadcasting, media regulation and freedom of information. Additionally journalists face safety concerns, restrictions on what issues they can report, and limited funding and training.

Accurate news coverage has been difficult to obtain, allowing warring parties, responsible for countrywide atrocities, to escape accountability for their crimes. The media sector in South Sudan needs to be strengthened to promote accountability and transparency of all parties involved in the conflict. This can be done if the package of media legislation can be signed by the President and if there is a national effort between the government, bilateral organizations, national media groups and journalists to promote countrywide news reporting. Increasing the availability of reliable information will decrease the spread of rumors, improving cross tribal communications and peace building.

Since independence the government has cracked down on the media through the harassment of journalists and the use of fear to limit the spread of information, according to journalists who wish to remain nameless. Just this month, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, the Minister of Information tried again to limit news coverage by warning reporters not to interview opposition groups or else risk arrest or expulsion from South Sudan. The legal uncertainties in South Sudan make journalists more susceptible to threats and abuse by the authorities. The signing of the media legislation package by the President will establish a legal framework that protects journalists and media outlets. Implementation of the media laws will be another issue, but passing the media legislation is the first priority.

South Sudan will be celebrating its 4th Independence Day this July. As the world’s youngest country it is difficult to build up a media sector on par with the rest of the world- the U.S. has had over 200 years to build its media network. Additionally, South Sudan has experienced some setbacks, such as the closing of the journalism program at the University of Juba. But national and international development groups have met setbacks with coordinated efforts. The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and Association for Media Women in South Sudan (AMWISS) are offering training focused on long-term capacity building for journalists. These national organizations having been partnering with bilateral organizations, such as the Norwegian People’s Aid, to increase the number of journalists trained and to improve the media sector through coordinated efforts focused on skill building.

There have also been coordinated efforts in the media field by UNESCO, Fondation Hirondelle, BBC Media Action, Internews, AMDISS and AMWISS to work together for regulatory changes and advancing the field of journalism. The Ministry of Information has been involved in some of the capacity building efforts, including a Media Sector Working Group, and their participation is important to ensure the safety of journalists and having a dialogue on pressing national media issues.

The on-going conflict has disrupted the growth of South Sudan since independence. South Sudan is facing development issues along with the struggles of being a young nation. Only 37% of the population is literate, based on responses to a 2013 South Sudan National Audience Survey by Internews. How can literacy and education improve for the next generation if, according to the UN, over 1 million people have been displaced? Is the literacy rate going to take a similar path to GDP, which according to the World Bank has had a negative 47.6% growth rate in 2012? The conflict has had devastating effects on the South Sudanese today, but it will continue to be felt for generations to come if something is not done to stop it.

Peace talks in Addis Abba continue to be delayed and there is no promise that they will lead to reconciliation. Although it will be difficult to do, it is in the government’s best interest to promote a healthy media field because it will improve the development of the nation and will be a major factor in ending the conflict. Media is a tool that South Sudan can use now to facilitate peacekeeping. If the government works with bilateral organizations and national organizations it can pass the media legislation package, increase the safety of journalists and a focus on promoting accurate news coverage.

The writer is a holder of a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice Candidate 2014, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

0

Media: Does social media have the power to change the world?

0

Why do African media get Africa wrong?

Most African media only broadcast to home viewers and use wire services for their broader audience.
Last updated: 08 Jan 2014 11:32

Patrick Gathara is a strategic communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist based in Nairobi.

Due to shrinking budgets, journalists ‘parachute’ in for a few days to cover crisis spots [Reuters]
Nanjala Nabola recently caused a bit of a stir with her Al Jazeera article asking, “Why do Western media get Africa wrong?” Reading through the piece, which was both interesting and informative, I couldn’t help but wonder: Just who does get Africa right? Is there even such a thing as getting Africa right?

From the outset, let me state that I agree with many of Nanjala’s criticisms of media coverage of events on the continent. As she says, much of it is devoid of nuance and context and seem oblivious to what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes as the “danger of a single story” – the reductio ad absurdum of the tale of a continent of over a billion people and 54 countries, their existence, history and stories compressed into one simple, superficial, easily regurgitated cliche: “The hopeless continent.” “Africa rising.” “Magical Africa.”

However, it is not just Western media (itself a rather obtuse concept) that are guilty of reporting in this manner. African media commit many of the same sins though, given the fact that most only broadcast to discrete home audiences, it is easy for them to escape censure. While Africans in almost every country on the continent have the opportunity to be regularly appalled by their portrayal on CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC, it is rare that Kenyans will flip the channel to check what Nigerian journalists are reporting about them.

This is because few African media houses are actually trying to cover the continent for the continent. Many have their hands full reporting (or not reporting) news at home and do not think of Africa so much as a story that needs to be covered, but as part of the rest of the world and take their cue on reporting it from the Western outlets. As South African photojournalist and film-maker Greg Marinovich notes, “Most African media stories on Africa are from international wires.” Few have bureaus or send reporters outside their home countries, choosing to rely on the same Western reporters they delight in bashing.

Look at South Sudan, CAR, Congo or even Somalia, for instance. Most media on the continent remain supremely oblivious to the happenings there. Even in neighbouring nations such as Kenya, which has paid a huge price for Somalia’s instability, media only seem able to regurgitate the Western tropes about fighting terror and Islamic extremists. Few journalists bother to understand the genesis of the two-decade long anarchy or to explain the reasons and wisdom of Kenya’s intervention. In October 2011, many were busy beating the patriotic drum of war and most have since lost interest in what Kenyan troops are doing across the border.

Nanjala also points out that in most Western reporting of Africa, “The Rest is necessarily set up in opposition to the West,” resulting in coverage where “issues or situations are rarely, if ever, analysed for their intrinsic impact or worth. Events or situations are analysed as what the West is not.” But that, too, cuts both ways. Sometimes, African media will mirror this and set up the Rest in opposition to the perceptions of the Western press.

Another example from Kenya: As the elections last year approached, the country was inundated by Western journalists, many undoubtedly there in anticipation of a repeat of the 2007/8 post-election bloodshed. Most Kenyan media-folk were appalled, having themselves determined to practice something called peace journalism. In any case, their resultant, overly uncritical reporting of the election seemed at least partly motivated by the desire to prove to their Western counterparts that Kenya was not another African basket case.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.

Shrinking budgets

To be fair, when gauging their performance, one has to also consider the environment in which African media operate. Many operate under severe government restrictions, with limited resources. Shrinking budgets are, however, a worldwide phenomena. Much has been made about the phenomenon of journalists parachuting (not literally) to crisis spots for a few days and filing reports with neither context nor understanding. However, as Suzanne Franks noted nearly a decade ago:

“An important gap in the way that Africa is reported is not just the disappearance of regular correspondents, but also of longer more considered television documentaries.As current affairs coverage has declined, the only television outlet left for factual programming about Africa is on the news. So the kind of explanations and background context that would once have been contained in a thirty or forty minute programme, if they happen at all, now have to be compressed into a two or three minute package. It also means that the nature of what is covered will be dictated by news priorities. TV news, which is how most people find out about the world, is an event driven operation. Contemporary news reporting in Africa is invariably of the ‘fire fighting’ tendency. In the absence of resident correspondents, a highly professional reporter – well attuned to the needs and expectations of the various outlets- is flown in when disaster occurs and expected to deliver something within days if not hours.”

Remember that African news outlets are dependent on Western-based international wires to tell Africa’s story. Also recall that they take their cue on what their audiences need to hear from Western news outlets. That means they are in no position to pick up the slack. In fact, they are part of the problem, perpetuating and disseminating as they do Western perspectives, biases and stereotypes. (Let me hasten to add that by no means are all Western journalists or all journalists working for Western-based outlets guilty of this.)

Perhaps the answer lies in an approach that does away with the idea of covering Africa. Since, like Chimamanda, most people on the continent do not primarily identify themselves as Africans except in opposition to those who aren’t. As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere observed, “Africans all over the continent, without a word being spoken either from one individual to another, or from one country to another, looked at the European, looked at one another, and knew that in relation to the European they were one.”

To cover Africa is necessarily to step outside of it, to see it in relation to “the European”. Such a perspective is hardly going to reflect how Africans see themselves. It is not an invalid perspective though. Just, again to borrow from Chimamanda, an incomplete one.

Maybe media, whether Western or African should just cover stories in Africa, as opposed to seeking African stories.

1

Media, Afghanistan: Do Not Trust my Silence

Watch this short documentary film about street harassment in Afghanistan by Sahar Fetrat!

“When I first joined the Afghan Voice’s media training, I had the vision of making a documentary about street harassment. This documentary for me is more than just a 10-minute film, there is a lot in it. There is a big pain in it that all women, especially Afghan women, can feel. This documentary shows only a little of what we see, feel and experience every day.” -Sahar Fetrat

0

Media, Development: Launching “A Burmese Journey”

GlobalPost Special Reports, Open Hands Initiative and GroundTruth are teaming up to bring you along on “A Burmese Journey.”

Five teams of top, young journalists set out from Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon to better understand how the country is changing under a reform-minded government. Travel along with these 20 reporters — 11 Burmese and 9 American — as they journey the ancient Burma Road, through the country’s capitals past and present, down the Irrawaddy Delta, onto Inle Lake and across Yangon itself at a critical time in the country’s history.

Read more about “A Burmese Journey” on GlobalPost Special Reports HERE.

0

Media: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

In its latest effort to push the boundaries of massive online training in journalism, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has brought together five experts, including practitioners from The New York Times, ProPublica, NPR and the Houston Chronicle, to teach the Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) in English, “Data-Driven Journalism: The Basics.” Click here to register!

Read more about the program HERE.

 

0

Media: Egypt’s Political Revolution, Explained by Young Ali Ahmed

I don’t know what you were doing in middle school, but reading newspapers and using words like “theocracy” probably weren’t among your normal activities.

But for Ali Ahmed, a young Egyptian recently interviewed by El Wady News, grasping his country’s ongoing revolution and its political intricacies is as elementary as a spelling lesson.

This video is making the Internet rounds. …it’s being applauded as a great introductory primer on Egyptian politics.

To read more from this article by takepart.com, click HERE.

 

Page 6 of 6« First...23456