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Archive for the 'Definitions' Category

Advocacy or journalism?


Is Amnesty International a media organization? Should they (or any other activist non profit organization) aim to be one? Dan Gillmor has started a great discussion on his blog about this. He says we should be finding ways to get human rights, environmental and other advocacy organizations that do large amounts of in-depth research and reporting, especially in other countries. In a discussion of business models for foreign here at Berkman yesterday, Ethan Zuckerman said that doesn’t really help solve the problem of how to get more international news to the US public, because in the end that just means Human Rights Watch will be going to the same funders as Global Voices projects for support. But I agree with Dan that getting the work of what he calls the “almost-journalists” to a broader public in a format that is based on journalistic principles is well worth doing. In a sense of course, that’s what we get when a journalist covers a report by the International Crisis Group. But NGOs have long been frustrated by how hard it is to get the media to pay attention to their issues and many are now producing not only nice-looking reports, but online articles, blogs, audio, video, and multimedia. But those materials, which range from basic to quite complex productions, don’t get the added credibility or the increased attention they would have if they reached the audiences of a trusted journalism brand, whether a newspaper, broadcaster or native-online publication.

UPDATE: I’m embarrassed to have forgotten to mention Public News Service here which seems to be doing exactly the thing I describe below, using a pool of money from nonprofits to produce and distribute radio stories that are created by professional journalists. They were languishing in my list of interesting groups to investigate more, which I will do, and write about them in a post to come.

So I believe it would be helpful if there were a way for advocacy groups to spend some of their outreach money not begging journalists for attention, but funding organizations to hire journalists who will pay attention but will also be fact-checked and edited and whose work will be included in publications/programs/platforms that reach a general audience rather than one that is seeking out information on the issue in question.

This is exactly what is happening when a group like the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund gives NPR a grant for “Three-year support for expanded international, national and local news and feature coverage on the impact of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan on American military personnel and their families.” But that is a) not as accessibly transparent as some of us would like and b) benefits only one well-funded nonprofit and one media outlet. What I want is a pool from many organizations that would fund reporters from many different media.

Top video in nonprofit/activism this week on Youtube: highlights of Al Gore’s speech on climate change. Number of views as of this writing: 79,109

Number of people who watched 60 Minutes on CBS on July 20, 2008: 8.3 million people (from TV by the numbers)

Eat that metaphor!


Two conversations today shifted my feelings about a couple of the metaphors we use a lot to talk about media and journalism:

First, the media “ecosystem,” a term some of my colleagues love and that I have resisted, with support from fellow fellow David Weinberger, including in his presentation at our March event. I felt “ecosystem” sounded too neat, too organic, too rational, to represent the messy forces at work in the media environment. In a discussion yesterday I was convinced that other people don’t get that from the word, that they think of ecosystems that can be out of balance, polluted, on the verge of collapse. So, with the idea that the multiple media ecosystems include dangerous jungles, toxic Superfund sites and great barren deserts, I’m cautiously giving the word a chance.

The second opening I’m considering is for the vegetable metaphors: usually “eat-your-spinach journalism” or “the broccoli on your plate.” This came up a lot in LA, and like Adrian Monck, I didn’t like it much. I found the implication that the challenge is to “sugar-coat the broccoli” (a disgusting image) or as Ethan more appetizingly says “make broccoli au gratin,” adding just enough cheese sauce (cheese may be cheap processed America, as in gratuitous of pictures of distressed children, the expensive artisanal (Abomination! Word Press just tried to tell me the correct spelling of that word is ‘artisinal’ the end is near) goat cheese of powerful storytelling).

Now I’ve decided the problem is not the metaphor itself, but with the implied attitude toward broccoli and other healthy vegetables, that even those of us who know we need to eat them would eat mostly potato chips and chocolate cake if we could. I think we need to give both broccoli and people more credit. Like the healthy school food movement, we need to have a positive attitude, making sure the people who prepare and serve the broccoli are passionate about vegetables and eager to share their love with others, not trying to force the kids to eat soggy overcooked frozen broccoli because it’s their duty. And we need to include the education part, where kids learn what spinach looks like growing, how to cook it so it tastes good. It’s repeatedly worked in school cafeterias. So maybe we should be looking for the Alice Waters of journalism? Oh could someone please also write the equivalent of Fast Food Nation about the media to shake people up about what’s in their journalistic lunch bag?

Photo: Broccoli
Uploaded on April 19, 2005
by Tzatziki

There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image. AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Personal Blogs – Range of Topics


The power of the social network is demonstrated by the amount of energy people will spend discussing their epic customer service nightmares in their personal blogs.

Serendipity, Greek Mythological Edition


Serendipity (…finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for…, is something my fellow fellow Ethan Zuckerman has been talking and writing about for a while. The new/old/hybrid media definition is something like this: A media thingamajig (newspaper, radio/tv program, magazine, podcast, website, blog, etc. etc.) that tells me something:
I never would have looked up in any search engine
unrelated to any topic I would put in any aggregator
no one I know would have tagged, emailed, or blogged…you get the idea.

Serendipity sighting yesterday — Morning Edition on WGBH, Garrison Keillor on the Writer’s Almanac read me a terrific poem by a poet I’d never heard of: “Vex Me” by Barbara Hamby. Personal serendipity squared — hearing my own name in the poem:

…Rebuke me,
rip out my larynx like a lazy snake and feed it to the voiceless

throng. For I am midnight’s girl, scouring unlit streets
like Persephone stalking her swarthy lord…

[note to developers – wouldn’t it be nice if were as easy to cut and paste the audio snippet here too?]

Sign me up for the Serendipity Preservation Society, Ethan. Persephone

User-Generated Content


I’m in no way the first to point out that UGC is an unlovely name for the small and large contributions that so many people make to the massive information sea in which we now swim.
Ed Kohler, aka technologyevangelist, has pointed out that “user” sounds like drug user.
Jimmy Guterman generated quite an active discussion on the ickiness of “user” on O’Reilly radar last year, but the comments led to the non-conclusion that many people don’t mind it and many people hate it, but no one has a better term.

Personally, I hate “user” (drugs, software, generally negative connotations) dislike “generated” (robotlike) and find “content” (bland) slightly annoying.

On the other hand, I have no good alternative name for stuff made by people and UGC, is an acronym that is actually not hard to pronounce or remember, so why not just re-purpose it, depending on the situation?

Unusually Great Contributions (for one’s own work and that of friends)
Unbearable Godawful Commentary (for other folks)

The possibilities are endless.

Ad Dictionary


Today’s edition of Online Spin, one of the many MediaPost publications that I lurve, points to a cute dictionary of online ad terms. Personally, I liked “adnausea” (noun) A feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit prompted by excessive advertising. At least ad folks have a sense of humor about how everyone else feels about their work. Persephone

No “newsline, press release or piece of note-worthy information” is good news


While looking for the price Disney paid for (never did find it), I spent a little time on the iParenting site and found myself following a link under “latest parenting news” to this article The Use of Donor Eggs for Post-40 Pregnancies. The headers above the short, unsigned text read “Preconception” (the name of one of’s “channels” and below that, “iParenting Family News.”

All seems clear, this is news of interest to people trying to conceive. But who wrote this text and contributed it to the Family News feed? Doesn’t say. The text references “a California study,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Society of Reproductive Mediine(sic). Sounds informative. It also quotes an M.D. from an infertility clinic in Illinois. Fine. And then the last line of the piece helpfully gives a link (just one) to more information – the website of that same for-profit clinic.

At this point, some iParenting readers might pause to consider whether this particular item of content falls under their personal definition of news or might in fact be, say, a pseudo-scientific press release that hopes to steer readers towards a particular medical treatment at a particular facility. But are most couples trying to get pregnant thinking about the source of their information? In answer to my query to iParenting as to whether this was in fact paid-for advertorial, I got this repsonse:

“…the item in question is not an article, rather it is a newsline*, press release or piece of note-worthy information that may or may not help our readers in their pursuit of pregnancy…News is not commercial in nature, paid advertisements nor is it sponsored. It is culled from a variety of reputable sources who put their news out into the media via press release, major information dissemination announcement or by other means.”

* “newsline” is a non-word as far as I can tell; I couldn’t find any reference except as a proper noun.

Ignoring the question of whether it’s stupid not to charge money for such clearly commercial content, is this the curse of iParenting’s fabled success? When you have so many eyeballs to sell, you need all the content you can find, right? So why not mix press releases from pharmaceutical companies and for-profit infertility treatement providers in with those from the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics? (Also random celebrity pregnancy and parenting tidbits from People – just weird) The response from iParenting subtly implies that their readers understand the difference between articles in “latest parenting news” and the bylined “articles” (the word news is notably absent from those pages). Essentially they’ve redefined the word “news” for their own purposes. How innovative.

The website of the Walt Disney Internet Group clarifies everything: “Its paramount mission is to provide a safe, secure environment for consumers to experience the Disney brand anytime and anywhere as they inform and entertain themselves, look to join communities with other Disney fans, or shop for products and services…”

There you go. Disney is not here to inform us, they just want us to experience their brand while we inform ourselves, and if we choose to be informed (or entertained) by press releases aimed at desperate couples that is our personal choice.

Universal media literacy education requirement, anyone?


Read on to scan the full email exchange

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Where is the best glossary on this stuff?


(This stuff being citizen/participatory/etc. media)

There are lots and lots out there, I’m sure this is only the beginning. Does every new project need its own?

The Online Journalism Review has a glossary of online news terms that is wondrously compact (only 19 terms) and yet manages to include “sock-puppetry.”

The New Media Glossary at ipressroom seems mostly aimed at teaching its clients what its services are.

Ourmedia’s Social Media Glossary is mostly straightforward, but I find their definition of personal media as “grassroots works such as videos and audio” a bit weird.

Not clear to me how or why Ipod made it into Mediashift’s brief glossary

The British Freedom of Express Project Glossary is interesting, venturing out into democracy, telecom companies and multilaterals, though sadly missing sock puppetry.

Then there’s the wiki-based Glossary on participatory journalism created for the (now-defunct, as far as I know) Media Center at API, which would seem like the right form, except it doesn’t look like folks are updating it much these days.

So is an individually tailored glossary simply a necessary part of any project about participatory media, a way of telegraphing priorities and positions? If so, should it be focused specifically on terms used in the work at hand that may not be familiar to some members of the target audience? Or is there still a need for a(nother) standalone glossary of terms aimed at being definitive?

More to come on this.