News & Analysis
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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

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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.

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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/

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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

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Non-Profit Press: Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Community Supported Film Launches Haitian Perspectives in Film

Training of Haitians in the production of documentary films to emphasize local experience with the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges faced since the 2010 earthquake

Boston, MA and Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Community Supported Film (CSFilm) announces the launch of its documentary training and filmmaking project – Haitian Perspectives in Film. Using CSFilm’s proven capacity building program, Haitian storytellers will be trained in the production of 10 short films. The films will focus on the causes of and solutions to the economic and social development challenges Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake. This project will be a partnership between Community Supported Film, Haitian community media organizations, and Haitian and international NGOs. The Haitian-made short films will be released as a compilation in time for the 5th anniversary of the earthquake in January 2015.

According to award winning Haitian journalist, and CSFilm’s Haitian program coordinator, Ralph Thomassaint Joseph,

“Most of the reporting in Haiti is done by Western journalists, and often about issues pertaining to natural disasters, to poverty. They show the sad face of Haiti. It does not seem to fit their narrative to show the other side of the coin, that there are so many amazing initiatives that are undertaken by Haitians themselves. There are very interesting Haitian entrepreneurs. And of course, there are people in grassroots organizations that are trying to defend the rights of the most vulnerable here in Haiti.”

Aural and visual storytelling is dominant in Haiti where the illiteracy rate is at 47%. Thomassaint says,

“Because Haiti has a high rate of illiteracy, you can bring a lot of information to people through media, radio, and images. We can use this media to educate people so that they take responsibility for the condition of Haiti. My role as a journalist and my duty as a Haitian is to try and organize people via the media so they can be part of the decision-making process to solve our problems.”

View the full article on the NonProfit Press’ website!

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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