Categorycitizen journalism

In London for Mozfest and Internet Week Europe

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Mozilla Festival London

Mozilla’s big open/free culture festival, aptly called Mozilla Festival, is on this coming weekend. I’ll be headed over to London and stay for the full festival as well as the beginning of Internet Week Europe. (Sadly I won’t be able to stick around for the full thing.)

Can’t wait for the festival that I’ve seen come together up close, so I trust it’ll be fantastic. (It’s organized by the good folks of the Mozilla Foundation, notably by the lovely Michelle Thorne & Alexandra Deschamps-Sansino, so I’m clearly biased.) Last year’s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona – called Drumbeat at the time (my blogposts) – was basically a geeky love fest, which I say with respect and admiration. This time around it’ll be great, too, and it focuses on a topic that hits even closer to home for me – it’s all about the open web and media.

As someone who for a long time wanted to (and occasionally did) work as a journalist, seeing these two cultures of journalists and geeks (or hacks & hackers in Mozfest speak) merge is great. There’s so much both can learn from each other.

Beyond purely personal interest, I’m also interested in how these spheres can learn from another. After all, I’ve been advising media companies for years, first as a freelancer then through my company Third Wave. So I love geeking out about these things and learn from some of the smartest folks in the industry (and beyond).

Long story short: If you haven’t yet, join us at the festival > sign up here; and I’ll be in London for a few days, so ping me to meet up.

Disclosure: I was on the jury for the Lovie Awards, which are part of Internet Week.

Wikileaks, Afghanistan & The New Rules Of Engagement

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As of two days ago Wikileaks has released 92.000 documents about the war in Afghanistan, leaked (most likely) from within the US military. After discussing this with quite a few folks, we all agreed that this will be one of the biggest – if not the single biggest – story of 2010.

As a former media and political science major, as well as a former editor, this stuff is pure gold to me.

First, what I am not going to go into: the Afghanistan conflict, its sense or legitimation or political implications; or the legalities of this kind of thing: does a leak like this break US law, and would that even be applicable? That’s for US lawyers to decide.

The basics first: What happened? Wikileaks got hold of some 91.000 military documents regarding the Afghanistan conflict, from analyst papers to ground reports. (What is Wikileaks?) Before releasing these documents themselves, they gave them in advance to three traditional news media: New York Times (US), The Guardian (UK) and Der Spiegel (Germany). (All of the links go directly to the Wikileaks specials.) After these media ran their exclusives, Wikileaks went public with the leaked documents, called the Afghan War Diaries:

The reports, while written by soldiers and intelligence officers, and mainly describing lethal military actions involving the United States military, also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and related details. (…) The reports cover most units from the US Army with the exception of most US Special Forces’ activities. The reports do not generally cover top secret operations or European and other ISAF Forces operations.

So why is the Wikileaks story so big? It’s big not just because it’s something new and a huge scoop, but because it touches on so many complex and highly relevant issues:

  • the issue at hand, the conflict in Afghanistan
  • the way the US government handles information
  • … and by extension, the bigger questions of truth & trust
  • the relationship between governments and their citizens
  • the relationship between US government and their allies, and how information flows between them
  • the way media work today
  • the (new?) role that media play today (trust center verifying information scoops rather than gathering them)
  • the way the internet changes politics and media (and how news media not bound to nation states operate under different circumstances than we are used to)
  • Is it irresponsible to leak documents?

For some great background and discussion, I recommend you jump straight to Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis, both who have great write-ups.

Trying not to repeat to many of Rosen’s and Jarvis’ points, there are a few things I find worth considering.

Truth & trust, governments & citizens The White House was clearly pissed off after seeing the Afghan War Logs emerge. Understandably so, after all those documents will clearly make a dent in the war effort, so to speak. However, legalities aside and assuming the documents are the real thing – the documents leaked are internal military documents. While it’s always painful to be called out on your own mistakes, it’s not job of the media to support certain policies; and it’s most certainly not the job of a whistleblower site like Wikileaks to support any policies. It’s their job to get out information so folks can make informed decisions.

It’s probably part of winning a military conflict to occasionally bluff and put a game face on. But it’s fair game to call that bluff; I’m guessing here, but I’d say that this can happen to a government just like to any poker player. These war reports seem to be such a case where the bluff (“the war is going kinda alright”) is called. The question is: Could the US government – instead of trying to clamp down on Wikileaks and the internal military source – try to make the best of the situation, for example by trying a crowdsourced effort to analyze the patterns of what has been going wrong in the conflict? (Might not work, but should be looked into by some of the smart folks within or around the US government.)

The new role of media What I found particularly interesting is the new role that media played in this case. This is not a case of investigative journalism by the media, but by a third (non-journalistic) party. We are talking about three of the most distinguished media outlets world wide. Yet, they did not get the scoop here, they did not have the sources inside. They were not the address the military sources wanted to talk to. (Why might be a moot question, but an interesting one still. Get back to that in a minute.) Instead, the media were there to a) spread the news and b) verify the information, to lend credibility. They served as a trust center for another organization’s scoop. Once they got the information, the media then did what they do best: sift through the material and make it more accessible, as well as spread the information.

As Jay Rosen put it, referring to a New York Times editor’s note:

“At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.” There’s the new balance of power, right there. In the revised picture we find the state, which holds the secrets but is powerless to prevent their release; the stateless news organization, deciding how to release them; and the national newspaper in the middle, negotiating the terms of legitimacy between these two actors.

So, why Wikileaks not New York Times? We can only speculate why the internal source leaked the documents to Wikileaks and not to one of the major newspapers. But there are a number of considerations at play here: First, Wikileaks is much harder to subpoena than any traditional news organization that operates under US (or European) law. Second, Wikileaks is by nature very much distributed. They are a true internet-based, decentralized organization, making it harder to suppress information. Third, Wikileaks is independent, donation-funded, without anyone to report to. This can be good or bad, of course. And on certain topics, a political biased can be assumed. But again, it makes it harder to believe there could be a reason for Wikileaks to withhold this kind of information, much unlike the news organizations that also want to send their reporters into war zones as embedded journalists along the military. Fourth, Wikileaks knows about secure communications. Maybe Guardian, Spiegel and New York Times do too, but a source wouldn’t want to take any risks. Wikileaks are strong on anonymity. They are strong on crypto. They really know how to keep communication channels secure and anonymous. All of these combined make them a more secure place to go to than any single newsroom.

Is Wikileaks acting irresponsibly? One could make the case for either the value of keeping information secret, or for absolute transparency. In a military conflict, that’s a tough one. But it seems to be like Wikileaks is going to great lengths to be as careful and responsible as the overall context allows (once it’s decided to publish leaked info, that is). They are holding back a significant number of documents until further review and clean up (think removing names etc):

We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.

Giving the documents to some trusted traditional newspapers of making sure the information is getting a decent journalistic treatment, followed by full disclosure of all the source material for extra vetting.

In other words, it’s a perfect example of getting it all right: Responsible dealing with the information as well as working the media right.

Jeff Jarvis raises an interesting point in his post: Will leaks like this incentivize organisations not to write down as much because they fear leaks, leading in the long run to less transparency? I certainly hope not, but it’s not a fear I share. Large-scale organizations need documentation, and where there is documentation there is a chance of leaks.

What I’d hope for instead is that the mere chance of leaks alone will lead to more transparency up front. After all, if an organization is more transparent the chance of getting called out on grounds of hiding information is a lot lower.

We’ll have to wait and see. Until then, if you do appreciate this kind of document leak, I do recommend you consider donating for Wikileaks.

News from the Twitter Farm

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Five journalists using only Twitter and Facebook as news sources to provide their reporting, that’s the basic setup of an experiment going on for five days. The headline, by the way, of this post is just a translation of “Nachrichten aus der Twitterfarm“, the title of a blog post announcing a news-gathering experiment by five international journalists from different backgrounds (including France Info, Swiss RTS and Radio Canada). (Here’s a random English version of the announcement.)

Now, I do find it interesting to see professional journalists experiment with alternative ways of gathering their news.

On the other hand, this experiment is so fundamentally flawed that it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Why?

For one, the basic premise that news reporting as it is today is what we should try to replicate is wrong. News not taking into account different sources is just one problem there, but it’s also that news today are based on the production mechanisms of the middle of last century. They hardly allow for localized news or customization, nor for real-time updates or discussion.

But more importantly, relying only on social media for news gathering is exactly what you should not be doing. It’s all about the mix! It’s about taking into account other sources and then going out and verify them. It’s about enhancing your fact gathering portfolio, not restricting it. (Imagine, when the first vox pops came up, reporters only using those for reporting. Sounds like a dumb idea? Go figure.)

My guess is that the not-so-surprising result will be something along those lines: yeah, a few interesting nuggets of news will have been found; and that oh no, haha, a major story or two slipped by almost unnoticed by the five reporters. High five, everybody, we proved that social media is overrated for reporting. Only that’s not the case.

This experiment is, in theory, great. There should be more like it. But please think it through. It’ll be interesting to see if those five brave social media souls (and I’m sure they have to take a lot of criticism during their regular work) will come up with new conclusions. But please don’t take it for anything like real journalism unless the news organisations get the basics right.

Two Takes On The Future of Media: Rubert Murdoch and Clay Shirky

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Today I happened upon these two videos in which two experts share their take on (among many other things) the future of the media. The two experts are old-school media magnate Rupert Murdoch, often called one of the most influential people in the media industry; and NYU professor Clay Shirky, who I think is one of the most brilliant thinkers on the topic of how media work nowadays and will be working a few years from now. (You can tell I’m biased, and strongly so.)

What you’ll see in the videos are two judgments (or rather: worldviews) that couldn’t be more different. Murdoch argues that the audience should be charged for news, and that search engines shouldn’t be allowed to “grab our content and run” (i.e. to index it). Shirky on the other hand says that newspapers probably can’t be saved and moves on to save journalism instead, and putting up a paywall certainly doesn’t enter the equation there.

But watch for yourself, you’ll be entertained (by the first video) and enlightened (by the second).

(via boingboing)


(via netzpolitik.org)

Some Impressions: Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum

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Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Panel about Citizen Journalism

Just coming back from Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) – and on my way to Barcamp Cologne 3 – I’m in a little cafe in the middle of nowhere (sorry dotdean), where Cappuccino still tastes like early 90s cappuccino, and where laptop dwellers in cafes are still greeted with curious stares. It is, to be short, the opposite of GMF – a truly global, international, intercultural event, and a remarkable one at that.

Why the praise? It’s the people of course. I can hardly remember another conference where so many folks working on such courageous projects get together not to have themselves celebrated (like we occasionally do at all those web conferences), but to talk, on eye level, with each other, exchange ideas and experiences, and seemed to be humbled by each other’s presence. When I was sitting on the panel with four bloggers, activists and citizen journalists in the old German parliamentary buildings (full disclosure: I was invited as moderator by Deutsche Welle, paid gig), I couldn’t help but feeling awe in the face of what these folks pull off in their day-to-day lives. Who was on the panel? Nancy Watzman, investigative journalist, consultant to the Sunlight Foundation, and author of Political Party Time; Israel Yoroba who writes Le Blog de Yoro; Oliver Nyirugubara, Program Coordinator for Voices of Africa; and a blogger/activist from Iran who asked not to be named because it would put her under unnecessary risk.

These are the prototypical bloggers and activists we read and talk about all the time, the ones who fight within or from the outside for freedom of expression in the repressive regimes in their countries (or in one case: corruption in their not-so-repressive regime). These are folks who take real risks every day to do what they’re doing. And I can’t overstate how much that demands our respect and support.

The Global Media Forum will be on again next year. If you get the chance, don’t miss out. It’s inspiring, and impressive.

For more impressions, Nancy Watzman also shares some of her thoughts on the conference, as does Kevin Anderson.

Photo by Deutsche Welle: Panel on Citizen Journalism and Freedom of Speech, with Gabriel Gonzalez (center) giving a brief introduction

Music, Video, Links: Some Brainteasers for the Weekend

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Hey there. Since an appointment just got cancelled I figured I might as well put together a post with some brainteasers and fun stuff I stumbled upon over the last couple of days. In other words: Welcome the weekend!

First up, I strongly recommend you check out TheSixtyOne, a great music discovery and sharing service. The service comes with a lot of built-in challenges, making music discovery even more playful than other services. (Yes, you can level up, too.) It’s as interactive as it could possible be, and therefor pretty much addictive. It’s worth it, too. Also, you can also choose to browse Creative Commons licensed music only, which I always find neat. Particularly, and despite the NSFW title, I recommend this song:

Also, Us Now is a great 60 min documentary about grassroots initiatives and social media. I haven’t yet managed to finish the whole movie, but I’ll definitively watch the rest this weekend:

Us Now and the next recommendation, Brain Pickings, via my buddy Johannes Kleske. Brain Pickings is a blog full of true brainteasers and awesome stuff. Somewhat along the same line, also more geared towards trends & design, is PicoCool by Emily Chang, which just was relaunched.

In other news:

  • Thomas Praus and I will be taking sponsors for Likemind Berlin (the next month or two are covered, but afterwards it’s your chance – it’s the best, cheapest and most fun sponsorship you could wish for). Get in touch via Twitter (@thewavingcat) or email (peter at thewavingcat.com).
  • Sunday, 7 June is election day for the European elections. This is important; if you live in the EU, please vote. If you don’t vote, stop reading this blog ;) On Youtube, you can find plenty of hilarious election campaign TV ads (German clips; it’s really unbelievable what kind of videos the parties produce.)
  • Next week at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum (GMF) I’ll be moderating a panel on Citizen Journalism and Freedom Of Speech with interesting and incredibly brave bloggers, activists and citizen journalists.
  • Being around the corner for GMF anyway, I surely won’t miss out on BarcampCologne3 (hashtag #bcc3). If you’re there, say hi!

That said, have a great weekend.

Liveblogging The BOBs

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THE BOBsThis Thursday (27 Nov 2008) I’ll have the honor of liveblogging the award ceremony of The BOBs, the Best of the Blogs awards. (More about the BOBs in my first announcement or the official FAQ.)

Nutshell version (from the press release):

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard was a member of the BOBs jury last year, and sees a real benefit to promoting freedom of opinion in the blogosphere. ‘Reporters Without Borders is proud to promote online free speech,’ Julliard said. ‘Blogs are often a means for people to express their views in countries where they generally cannot do this. The Internet is a revolution for voices that governments try to silence or harass. It was a great experience to be part of the jury as the BOBs are an excellent way of exploiting the Internet’s possibilities with regards to freedom of information.’ Among those nominated for this year’s Reporters Without Borders Award is the Cuban journalist Yoani Sanchez, who Time magazine voted one of the 100 most influential people of the year in 2008. Another nominee is Zeng Jinyan, the wife of the human-rights activist Hu Jia. She is currently under house arrest in China. The blog from the 4Equality project was also nominated. The project is aimed at collecting a million signatures in favor of more rights for women in Iran.

The liveblog will go online around 8pm Berlin time (GMT +1) and there’s a number of ways to follow the event:

First, and of course best, is being there, live in the meatspace. If you’re in Berlin, don’t miss out, it should be great. The ceremony will take place in the Museum for Communication (Google Maps). It’s free and open, and after the ceremony you’ll have the chance to meet the jury.

Second, and hopefully not bad either, there’ll be live coverage: I’ll be liveblogging both here and on the BOBs website. (Full disclosure: This is a paid gig.) Personally, I’d recommend you watch it on the BOBs site, as there’ll also be a live video stream. You’ll get the videostream on your left and my liveblog on the right. Of course, you can also grab the embed code and spread the work (and thereby promote freedom of speech) on your own blog. Feel free to do so!

You can register here if you’d like to get an email reminder:

 

Update: Get the whole picture! I figured it might be even more interesting to follow both the liveblog and see what others are saying about the BOBs. So here’s what the folks on Twitter are saying:

    The box above is done via Twemes.com, a pretty useful little service that aggregates in one place every tweet tagged with #thebobs. If you discuss the BOBs on Twitter, just include #thebobs in your post and it will show up here.

     

    Update: Chinese jury member couldn’t leave China The Chinese blogger, citizen journalist and member of the jury Shuguang Zhou was restricted from leaving China. This sadly shows how important these awards are.