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My Netroots Nation Vacation


unionbeer2Winding down my vacation here in Netroots Nation with a delicious, union-made Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat beer, thoughtfully provided by Working America and the AFLCIO. Trying to process my thoughts and impressions from 3 full days in this really interesting group.

My  panel – as usual, I can’t remember a word I said, but I’m sure I was mostly incoherent and didn’t make even half the poipittsburghatnightnts I meant to. HOWEVER, I do remember that in a Q&A about business models, I got actual applause for saying we need more public* financing for journalism. So there, journalism purists! Ari Melber was articulate as always and so right to remind people that the decline  of legacy media and the rise of participatory media are coincidental, not cause and effect. Jay Rosen was great at giving a historical perspective, however, I worry the message people might have gotten is that everything will work itself out without our help, which I don’t agree with (and am not sure is what Jay meant). Karl Frisch was articulate, but perhaps unnecessarily focused on bashing corporate media which felt (to me) like not quite the point.  Yobachi Boswell was wonderfully candid about his reliance as a blogger on professional journalism. And our one courageous representative of newspaper journalism Michael Fuoco whether intentionally or not highlighted most of the reasons why I believe most existing US daily newspapers are structurally incapable of being the organizations to preserve the core functions of journalism in a democracy:

  • he only semi-jokingly admitted his primary concern was whether the paper would stay in business long enough for him to put his kids through college.
  • he’s head of the union (note: I love and believe fiercely in unions, but I fear that the commitments many newspaper companies have to keeping their existing too-large workforces employed, whether due to union contracts or just their corporate desire not to layoff massive numbers of hardworking people, are one of many factors (their massive debt is another) that make it difficult for them to reinvent themselves in a way that supports good journalism in the public interest)
  • he feels that there’s a huge focus at the paper on the website, even though they have no idea how to make money on it (and even though they lack any number of basic things – when I searched for a link for Michael, I couldn’t find a bio page or a way to search for all articles by him and the post-gazette doesn’t appear in the first page of Google results on his name.
  • they get lots of traffic from outside of Pittsburgh and even outside Pennsylvania, most of it related to the Steelers. In fact, the Steelers have a huge impact on their bottom line. Sorry, but sports reporting is not high on my personal list of things that newspapers do that we can’t afford to lose. But with the Steelers-income link clear to everyone at the paper, who will be surprised if they lay off reporters covering education instead of those covering sports?

The plaintive op-ed in the paper today that mentioned Michael’s participation at Netroots added the final nail – too many print people seem to believe that it’s the physical paper and the out-of-date business model that accompanies it that makes their work important:

Print may not be as “sexy” as blogs as far as Mr. Clinton is concerned, but it is still the enterprise that gathers the bulk of today’s news. Through one platform or another, the Post-Gazette and other deeply rooted news organizations plan to be around and serving democracy for a long time.

Guys, it’s not about that. No one on the panel disagreed with Michael that well-done, accurate fact-based reporting is valuable, important, wonderful and that newspaper reporters often (but far from always) do it. But that reporting is a tiny piece of what a newspaper is and saving newspapers or your specific jobs  is not the most likely way to ensure that we get the journalism we need.

The audience seemed very thoughtful and openminded, neither aggressive towards legacy media nor obsessed with technology, but genuinely interested in how things might evolve and whether it will be good for democracy. Refreshing.

Anyway, AFTER I was done with my panel, I got to spend 2 days being absolutely inspired by the spirit of the people here vacillating between excitement at all the groups I didn’t know about and guilt at how little I’ve done to help the causes I believe in. Also, how delightful downtown Pittsburgh is. (no, that is not a joke) However, details on all the wonderful stuff I heard on other panels will have to wait for another post, it’s time to head for the airport.

*”public” in my definitely doesn’t necessarily imply government funding, although it certainly includes funds gathered by the gummint. $1/month tax on every subscriber‘s broadband bill could fund a Corporation for Public Journalism with a budget almost twice the size of Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Pittsburgh at Night by brunkfordbraun via Flickr

A Tourist in Netroots Nation


Pittsburgh, PA – I’ve landed in the unfamiliar nation of U.S. progressive politics, specifically its online army. Netroots Nation is the reincarnation of YearlyKos, which was the conference that grew out of the Daily Kos. I’m on a panel called Democracy Without Newspapers, with many* people who have been thinking and speaking about this stuff much longer than I have. So I’m pondering what to say to this audience.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

— assuming (hoping, praying) you folks care not just about “big D” but also “little ‘d'” democracy, then you should sign up for the movement (it doesn’t exist yet, tho colleague I chatted with on the plane mentioned plans to launch it, will let you know when that goes public) to reinvent journalism. (yes, journalism – in my personal definition journalism may be created by all kinds of people, not only journalists, even by non-people).

—  I say it doesn’t exist yet because what’s happened till now has mostly been based (IMO) on new models that reject the old, attempts to “fix” the old, or attempts to “save” the old.

—  The folks in the Tweeting in the Trenches panel talked a lot about going where people “are” as a reason why it’s key to be in social media. Which is why we need to remember that most Americans are still in front of their TV sets.**

— It’s time to stop obsessing about the medium and get back to the role of news and information in a little d democratic society.

— There are a lot of interesting experiments going on outside the U.S., both in legacy media (note no other country relies as heavily as U.S. on profit-driven, ad-supported media for their newsgathering) and in various forms of participatory media, including many projects that don’t consider themselves to be journalism projects (but to my mind could benefit from more journalism).

— I think we’re going to need LOTS of attention to how to pick up the slack on certain kinds of reporting that I don’t believe either mainstream media or volunteer online efforts have the motivation to do. I think it will require some serious, organized, not-driven-by-profit efforts that include a mix of journalism expertise, technologists, volunteers, activists and so on.

— Repeating what someone said at a conference in Berkeley recently: “Got something you want to try? Come develop it in Africa! If you can make it work there, it’ll work anywhere!” Working with people in other circumstances is a great way to open your eyes to new possibilities.

Some exampes I might mention:

Crowdsourcing by Gazeta Wyborcza

Tax returns of Brazilian politicians on Politicos do Brasil

Ushahidi – a tool for reporting on crisis

Frontline SMS – use a computer to broadcast via SMS

and of course my friends at Global Voices.

* are there really 7 people on a 75 minute panel? From bitter experience inflicting such a thing on my own conference, I mutter “O, that way madness lies.”

** Local television news remains more popular than either cable news or network news – 52% regularly watch the local news about their own viewing area, while only 46% regularly read the newspaper, and 37% of the public – including more than half (what do the other 45% do? think of them lately?) of those who go on the internet (55%) – say they regularly get news online. . (2008 News Consumption Survey Pew Research Center for the People & the Press)

Speaking out from Iran


Iranian writer and journalist Ebrahim Nabavi has written an amazing passionate letter to ayatollah Khamenei which thanks to the wonderful site we can read in English. I’m so sad I never learned farsi, I would be helping them.

khameneiInstead, I can only marvel at the courageous eloquence of the letter, here are some of my favorite parts:

“You were not to spill blood, which you did, you were to keep the boundaries, which you did not, and you were to preserve respect, which you violated, you trampled theiranprotest right of a whole nation with utmost inequity and total injustice….

Mr. Khamenei!

You do believe in the day of judgment! I’m not talking about the Armageddon that has started now in Tehran, but you do believe in a judgment day in the next world, don’t you? … How are you going to meet your teacher and mentor [ayatollah Khomeini] in that judgment day that you believe in and tell him that you have rejected all of his family? … That you denied the right of an honest man like Mousavi and put a toady liar in his place?…

People would not tolerate oppression, if you burn them their flames will rise into the air, if you beat them their screams will, if you pressure them from above they will flow like a river, and then it will be such that no one can do anything. It is not right to rule unjustly….

There are many graveyards in the world where men of politics who have spoken word similar to yours lie. They had forgot one thing, that death will also conquer the powerful. Hitler, Slatin, Pol Pot, Lenin, the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini all died, and so will you eventually. When a great man dies there are two reactions in the masses, some of them mourn the loss of the great man, and some send him an eternal curse. Dear sir! Take your words back before death has taken over you and you have been left with that eternal curse.”

Strong stuff. Sites like this and of course Global Voices, which is collecting testimonials including photos and videos of demonstrations, are invaluable as more and more foreign reporters are thrown out of the country. As Ebrahim Nabavi says to Khamenei:

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, you have restricted all media access, closing all of the information paths such that only the voice of the people can be heard. No other voice can be heard any more, not the voice of America, not the voice of England, not the voice of Israel, only the sound of the noise inflicted by the government on these channels can be heard. But the people’s voice can be heard, it is loud, up to the heavens…

I don’t believe in heaven, but I hope that he’s right.

Khamenei Poster, Tehran by cfarivar via Flickr.
Iran Election by .faramarz via Flickr.

Blogging for a cause – global voices!


You should read Global Voices Online. You should write for them. You should re-publish Global Voices stories from around the world in whatever medium you produce. You should give them money.

Why? Because how  will you find out what Bahraini Mahmood Al Yousif thinks about Obama’s choice of Egypt for his speech unless Amira tells you?

I keep asking myself why did Obama choose the most
repressive regimes in the Middle East to honour not only with his
presence, but also to use as a launchpad for his Utopian vision of a
peaceful and democratic Middle East? A vision that will continue to
remain as illusive as a desert mirage for us Middle Easterners.

Then I try to select an alternate of the 22 Arab countries where he
could have used instead, but I fail to find a single one which could be
worthy of such an occasion.

Bloggers React to Obama’s Address

indiaelectionsOr how would you find out about Mariam Zouaghi, a Tunisian student sentenced to six years in jail for her online activities? (search for her Google News turns up 3 articles, none in English) without Global Voices Advocacy?

Global Voices is important to me not because it brings us “citizen media” from around the world. As I have opined repeatedly, I don’t care whether media is “citizen” or “mainstream” and I live for the day when those words (as Henry Jenkins proposed so eloquently here at Beyond Broadcast) have gone the way of the term “horseless carriage.”

I care about good stories and authentic perspectives. And I care about the lives of people in countries that mass-market legacy media in my country ignore except when there’s a war or a US economic or diplomatic interest at stake.

Full disclosure: I’m friends with many of the people who make Global Voices what it is and I’m writing this today in response to an interesting challenge that could help bring some more money to Global Voices. But I’m not doing it to help my friends, I’m doing it because I know how hard they work, how many amazing new projects they’d like to do and how important they are to the project of bulding the cross-border connections that we all need to become  global citizens.

It is election time in India. Painted walls tells stories of political
loyalty. India is rich with political symbols some more obvious than
others. Congress’ symbol — THE HAND. Photo by Carol Mitchell via Global Voices and Flickr.

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s “Blogging For a Cause” campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about. Check it out.

Beyond Broadcast, Beyond the USA


Beyond Broadcast Some barebones notes and links, my fingers and brain not fast enough to liveblog like EthanZ – go read his blog. Also a pretty lively Twitter stream via #bb2009. (anyone got faster-refreshing twitter search suggestions?)

Most wonderful that Beyond Broadcast this year is a) much more international and b) 2.5 days long, time enough to actually talk to more of the terrific folks who are here.

Lots of video streams available too. Fascinating keynote by Sandra Ball-Rokeach, communication professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication about her work with Metamorph. I’m looking forward to spending time there.

Myoungjoon Kim, president, MediAct, seems like a great guy, his group mixes up media training and policy advocacy. He’s very worried that S. Korea is on the verge of regulating Internet content.

Lova Rakotomalala, co-founder, Foko-Madagascar, and author, Global Voices Online
Tells a moving story of Razily, a blogger who walked alone towards armed Malagasy soldiers. Meanwhile, Lova is now sitting next to me as I type this and documenting the event: Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Anthony Ian M. Cruz, president, TXTPower from the Phillipines has a membership organzation that unites cellphone users (see the “texters’ declaration” which begins:

We, cell phone subscribers of all ages and classes, inspired by our role as information providers in People Power 2, conscious of our rights as consumers and citizens, and believing that power lies at the hands of a united people, declare…

Happy to catch up with old friends from Global Pulse and MadMundo gangs, and learn the exciting news that we can now see news from Al-Jazeera English on LinkTV every evening (10 pm Eastern/7 pm Pacific). Mostly, though the non-US media folks and online activists are putting most of the rest of us to shame. Hope we can get to looking at the question of how US media can tap into all this energy.

Image: Lova’s cameraphone shot from the afternoon breakout on conflict and media shows me blogging, with Ethan (on floor) and Colin in the background.

When is corruption in Iraq funny?


“Stories of corruption are common in Iraq. Prosecutions for corruption are not.”

Steve Inskeep and J.J. Sutherland discussed the fact that the Iraqi trade minister has been arrested for astonishingly bold corruption. In their conversation  (if you have four minutes – go listen) sounded alternately shocked, shocked at the stuff this guy got away with and impressed, in a paternalistic way, that he’s actually been caught and the Iraqi people are actually EXCITED to have seen the televised hearings. Gosh, democracy in action, isn’t that SWEET? But it turns out that the prosecution might be motivated by (gasp) party politics.

Sutherland: “…one MP told me, “You can fight corruption and play politics at the same time.”

Inskeep: LAUGHTER “Well it’s good that they’re honest about it.”


The true cognitive dissonance was that I heard this icky bit of us/them journalism just a few minutes after the newscast in which (you’ll have to take my word for it, I can’t find NPR archiving their newscasts on the web in audio or text, and they don’t seem to have done a “real” story on it anywhere) they reported, calmly, that KBR (remember them?) was being sued for faulty electrical work for the US military that resulted in multiple deaths. The brief report ended blandly with the sentence: “A spokesperson for KBR said the company was not responsible for the deaths.” Gee, wouldn’t it be funny if we had some politicians willing to fight that corruption?? (See a not-bland story on the scandal at RealClearPolitics).

To review: corruption in Iraq worth millions and resulting in death and injury, but  practiced by a US corporation? Gotta be reported of course, but no emotion required, and certainly no attempt to question why Dick Cheney isn’t joining the Iraqi Trade Minister on trial. Corruption in Iraq practiced by Iraqis and little signs of real democracy in this otherwise comic state? Now that’s funny.

Real journalism, real courage


Speaking in a small basement “banquet room” in the Rayburn Office Building, two journalists who have risked their lives to report the truth and some of the folks who support them reminded me why it is that I care about saving journalism (which does NOT mean saving newspapers).flowersbailey

Jenny Manrique and Fatima Tlisova have reported on the violent, corrupt abuse of power by agents of the governments and criminal elements in Colombia and Russia, respectively. The stories of the things they witnessed and the reaction from those whom their reporting challenged are chilling. Both women were harassed and threatened; Tlisova was detained, beaten and poisoned. Amazingly, each of them said they only decided to leave when the threats involved their families. Tlisova is currently winding up a fellowship at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation;  Manrique was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship. But these fellowships, wonderful as they are, only last a year.  The violent hatred of their governments for those who speak the truth lasts much longer.

Tlisova opened her talk noting that she had spoken to Congress  two years ago about the threats to human rights in Russia and that sadly she could not report that there was any improvement at all. Nonetheless, even from her location outside her homeland, she continues to report on events in the Caucasus.

Joel Simon of the Committee to evloevProtect Journalists (CPJ), noted that in addition to continued attacks on traditional journalists, online journalists are increasingly at risk and now more of the journalists jailed for their work publish online than in print. Fittingly, CPJ today announced the Ten Worst Countries for Bloggers.  When asked what could be done to mitigate the risks to online journalists of harassment based on the actions of internet providers of platforms, Simon pointed to the recently launched Global Network Initiative as the best hope. Meanwhile, Rodney Pinder of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) called on internet news companies to chip in to support training and other kinds of protection for journalists at risk.

The event was organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and supported by the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, whose co-Chair Rep. Adam Schiff opened the panel. It being Washington, someone asked the question of whether trying to get the US make a fuss about jailed journalists didn’t risk “distracting” from the larger issues of US foreign policy. Ugh. Joel Simon answered with great restraint that it wasn’t his job to worry about US foreign policy, it’s his job to worry about the journalists.

When you work with media and journalists for a long time, cynicism becomes more or less the air you breathe. It’s important (on World Press Freedom Day, which is May 3, and every day) to be reminded of the bravery that many many journalists around the world demonstrate and the dedication of the groups that work every day to support them and keep them safe. I wish I had half of their strength.

Flowers for Bailey
Uploaded on August 10, 2007
by Maynard Institute for Journalism Education

Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey was killed in August 2007 allegedly for investigating criminal activities of Your Black Muslim Bakery. (via On the Media)

Magomed Yevloev (Магомед Евлоев), found of, died in Russian police custody.

What Twitter is good for


Today’s local gov’t digital responsivess score: Boston Police 1, MBTA 0

Riding the #1 bus across the Charles to Cambridge for the last half-day of Media in Transition this morning, was mildly horrified to notice our driver holding the wheel with his forearms. Both hands were engaged with the keyboard of his cell phone and his gaze shifted between the road and his tiny screen. Didn’t think quickly enough to pull out the iPhone and snap a picture, but when I had settled into my conference session to listen to Ben Peters explain the failure of the Soviet Union to develop the Internet, I searched on Twitter in vain for an official MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) Twitter address (a few informal ones and one set up to insult the “T” as we call the Metro here in Boston). But the Boston Police are there! So I tweeted as follows:

8:50AM headed to #MIT6 just missed getting photo of driver on #1 texting while bus moving. MBTA not on Twitter!! Maybe @Boston_Police care?

And some while later, the Boston Police answered:

thanks – will forward to T.

Now that is the just the kind of civic participation instant gratification elation the Twit-o-sphere is made for.

They also thoughtfully advised me on the proper use of their Twitter:

Thank you for following the Boston Police(beta). We monitor @ replies, but in case of emergency, always phone 911.

Kudos to the Tweeting Boston Police, and Mass voters, please support increasing the gas tax to fund more better and more responsive mass transit.

Kids Crossroads and DCTV take Europe by Cyberbus!


What do 6 teenagers from 3 former Soviet Republics want to learn about Europe? My old long-time friends Jon Alpert and Manana Aslamazyan (at left, expressing their love for each other with the help of a horse) are finding out, as they travel with a group of young journalists from the South Caucasus (2 each from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). The journalists are all part of the team that makes an amazing weekly pan-Caucasus youth TV program called “Kid’s Crossroads.” The trip is taking place on Downtown Community Television‘s world-famous Cybercar, which was shipped from NYC to Europe for the trip. After a couple days in Paris, the group headed out into the countryside toward Lyon, where they talked to journalists at Euronews and to students from around the world at  the International School of Lyon.

The cyberbus is a travelling video production studio and talk show set – the visitors from the Caucasus hold “town meetings” where they can show video stories they’ve  produced at home and discuss them. At the same time, they’re filming and interviewing people everywhere they go. The trip is part of a project funded by the European Commission’s European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) through a grant to Internews Europe in partnership with Internews Georgia, Internews Armenia and Internews Azerbaijan. Today they made it to Strasbourg and the European Parliament. If my previous experience with the Cybercar with Jon and 6 Russian journalists is any guide, everyone involved is having a life-changing experience. All photos by Jon Alpert.

Media in Transition (MiT6 at MIT)


HJI’m honored (not to mention intimidated) to be joining a panel with some of my favorite super-smart people (Ellen Hume, Pat Aufderheide, Jessica Clark, rock star* Jake Shapiro plus Dean Jansen whom I don’t know yet but am sure is also very cool) at the Media in Transition conference on Friday evening in Cambridge. The conference runs at MIT this Thursday – Sunday and it is so jammed with interesting presentation that my brain is spinning just reading the abstracts. I hope I can find a few things from my oddball pragmatist int’l development perspective that will be interesting to these folks. Looking forward to learning a lot.

* no, I mean literally a rock star.

Image: Henry Jenkins, because (according to the conference site): “The first Media in Transition conference was held in 1999 and marked the launch of the MIT graduate program in Comparative Media Studies. Since then, four bi-annual conferences have been held, co-sponsored by CMS and the MIT Communications Forum, with each new conference generating a more internationally diverse audience than its predecessor. “