I’ve been playing around with my new Nokia N95 for the last couple of weeks and quite amazed with its ability to stream live video from the phone to the Internet. Like last weekend when I streamed from the Smithsonian Kite Festival; for around 30 minutes I gave a tour of the festivities and took questions from users as they watched the stream over the Internet.
I’ve also spent some time talking it up with colleagues at NPR, brainstorming the possibilities of what would happen if reporters used these phones – or if their sources did. The example that keeps coming to mind regarding the latter scenario is the rioting in Tibet. While some video has leaked out, it’s been limited and often delayed. Imagine if the protestors were able to webcast their protests – and the ensuing crackdowns – live over their phones using China’s GSM network? The video would stream live and get crossposted via tools like YouTube, Seesmic and Twitter, spreading the content around so it can’t be snuffed.
But that raises an obvious question – how long could protestors or dissidents get away with such activities before getting caught? If you were running software on your phone to send live video over a 3G network, like I’ve been doing on my N95, you’d think it wouldn’t take too much effort on the part of the mobile provider and/or government to figure out which phone was sending the signal and its precise location.
So that got me wondering: is there a mobile equivalent of Tor?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, TOR is a software project that helps Internet users remain anonymous. Running the TOR software on your computer causes your online communications to bounce through a random series of relay servers around the world. That way, there’s no easy way for authorities to track you or observe who’s visiting banned websites. For example, let’s say you’re in Beijing and you publish a blog the authorities don’t like. If you just used your PC as usual and logged into your publishing platform directly, they could follow your activities and track you down. With Tor, you hop-scotch around: your PC might connect to a server in Oslo, then Buenos Aires, then Miami, then Tokyo, then Greece before it finally connects to your blogging platform. Each time you did this, it would be a different series of servers. That way, it’s really difficult for authorities to trace your steps.
As dissidents and protestors embrace mobile devices for conducting civil disobedience or recording human rights violations, it would make sense for Tor and projects like it to adapt to their needs. That way, if that hypothetical protestor in Lhasa tried to stream live video over Qik, post a photo to Flickr or record a mobcast via over Utterz, they’d lessen the chance of getting caught so easily.
Does anyone know if there’s a mobile equivalent of Tor, relaying voice connections or data from one network to another, anonymizing the user of the phone? If not, is it technically feasible? How might one go about creating one?
Archive for the ‘Citizen Journalism’ Category
Steve Garfield got the last word in the opening session of the networked journalism summit, which focused on local initiatives. John Wilpers had been talking about BostonNow, the Boston-based newspaper that focuses on citizen journalism content. Wilpers said that BostonNow is managing to crack the walls of old media slowly, but they’re making progress; for example, they now have a blogger and photographer credentialed to cover the Red Sox.
As the session wrapped up, Steve got the microphone and said that prior to BostonNow coming to town, “the newspapers were theirs” – incumbent media outlets called all the shots and didn’t take citizen journalists seriously. With the advent of BostonNow, Steve said, “the newspaper became ours.” Local bloggers now feel they have a larger stake in the media, and hundreds of them are taking advantage of it. -andy
The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee yesterday approved an amended version of HR 2102, also known as the Free Flow of Information Act. The purpose of the legislation is to create a federal shield for journalists so they could not be compelled to reveal their sources except in extreme cases, such as emergent national security situations and the like. Advocates of bloggers had fought hard to extend the bill’s coverage to the blogosphere, but the amendment passed yesterday might not please everyone who might feel they should be covered.
The bill defines journalism as “gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” By this definition, many bloggers could easily argue that they, too, would be covered if the bill were signed into law. The intention of this language was to get away from the notion that journalism is solely an occupation in which one works for a media entity of some sort, has an editor, etc. Instead, it defines journalism in terms of actions rather than as an occupational status.
Yesterday’s voice vote, though, complicates matters a bit for some bloggers. The Bush administration, as well as some members of Congress, expressed concerns that the bill’s original language could be used to create an enormous loophole for people engaging in criminal behavior. For example, someone who participated in a crime or assisted a criminal could point to a hastily crafted blog and claim that they were researching a story to obfuscate the fact they were engaging in a criminal enterprise or obstructing the law.
As a compromise, members of Congress decided to refine the definition of who would be covered as a journalist. To be covered, you would have to derive “financial gain or livelihood” from your journalistic activities. In other words, if you could prove that you use your blog to generate income, you would qualify as practicing journalism and thus fall under the shield law. But if you published a blog without any financial benefit, you wouldn’t be covered by the law.
I’m not surprised that Congress would offer this up as a compromise. But I also won’t be surprised if some advocates of citizen journalism take this compromise as exclusionary, since it favors those bloggers who are in a position – or make the decision – to blog commercially. I would surmise that the vast majority of bloggers make no income from their activities. Granted, many of these same folks would never consider themselves as engaging in acts of journalism, but where does that leave those who do? I know many bloggers who choose to keep their blogs advertising-free so they don’t appear to have any conflicts of interest. Does this make their acts of journalism less deserving of protection than those who decide to make money off their blogging activities?
I keep wondering how this provision would apply to me, for example. I wear a variety of blogging hats. I get paid by PBS for my contributions to learning.now, for example, but I don’t derive any income from my personal blog. And while not all of my writings on my personal blog qualify as journalism, other posts certainly do. Would I not be covered by this legislation regarding any acts of journalism I conduct for my personal blog?
More generally, will this bill lead to a wave of bloggers adding advertising to their blogs just to be covered? And if all it takes is for a person to derive some income from their blog, even if it’s paltry, won’t that mean the loophole hasn’t really been closed?
This is definitely gonna be an interesting debate. -andy
Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading to the airport at the crack of dawn for a quick daytrip to Boston. I’ll be giving a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the impact of Web 2.0 and social media on journalism, particularly coverage of election 2008. Here’s a draft of the powerpoint presentation I plan to share with the audience. I wish I could stay longer, particularly because the Open Society Institute is convening a forum on youth media in Cambridge, with some of my favorite people and thinkers, including Ethan Zuckerman, Dina Mehta, Jennifer Corriero and Danah Boyd. Unfortunately, as soon as my speech is done, I need to bury my head in proposal writing and related meetings. Such is life…. -andy
This moving video of the candlelight vigil at Virginia Tech was posted on Planet Blacksburg by Tim Leaton. Along with being a moving tribute to the lives lost this week, it’s also a demonstration of the power of online video editing tools. The video was edited using Jumpcut, a website that works like video editing software. You can upload your own clips or find other clips on the Internet, and use their tool to edit it together, and invite other people to edit it as well. For example, this particular video is open to editing, so anyone could use the footage to craft their own tribute. It will be interesting to see if more people use tools like Jumpcut to collect and edit their own memorial mashups based on other people’s footage. -andy
The Lithuanian parliament has denied a Lithuanian blogger’s request for accreditation. The reason? Bloggers aren’t journalists, as far as they’re concerned. The blogger, Liutauras Ulevicius, had applied for accreditation so he could cover the parliament more effectively. They rejected his request. “The Media Law describes a journalist as a person who collects, disseminates and provides information to the media, based on a contract with the media, or who is a member of a journalists’ union,” stated the parliamentary committee handling his request. Ulevicius vows to appeal.
More about the story on Yahoo News. -adny
Later this afternoon I’ll be interviewing former CBS anchor Dan Rather, and I’d like your thoughts on what I should ask him. When the interview was booked, I told his assistant that I’d want to talk about the changing media landscape, including citizen journalism. Among the topics I’m hoping to discuss with him:
- The jailing of video blogger Josh Wolf for contempt of court;
- The new law in France that would ban citizen journalists from recording or transmitting acts of violence;
- The role of Fire Dog Lake in the coverage of the Scooter Libby trial;
- The role of YouTube and other video-sharing sites in Election 2006 and 2008;
- The role of bloggers questioning his coverage of the Killian documents;
- The decline of evening news;
- The decline in foreign news bureaus in contrast to the rise of blogging worldwide;
- The evolving relationship between bloggers and mainstream media;
- The effects of media concentration on local and national news coverage
Are there any other topics you think I should address? (Apart from asking him, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?“) If so, please post a comment on the blog or twitter me, and I’ll try to include them in the interview. -andy
Jon Lebkowsky, moderator
Shava Nerad, TOR
Ethan Zuckerman, Global Voices
Rob Faris, Harvard Berkman Center
Shahed Amanullah, HalalFire Media
Yasmina Tesanovic, Serbian filmmaker
Perhaps shaken by the long jail stint of Josh Wolf or rattled by the effect that the export of America’s Funniest Home Videos has had on Francophonie, France has decided to ban citizen journalists from recording acts of violence. As reported by MacWorld and elsewhere, the French Constitutional Council has approved a law that would criminalize the recording or broadcasting any type of violence by non-professional journalists. Take those riots that happened in France not so long ago. Whipping out your phone and recording footage of someone setting a car on fire – or getting pummelled by police for that matter – could subject you to a five-year prison term and nearly $100,000 in fines. Taking it a step further, the French government has proposed a system to regulate websites, blogs, mobile phone operators and other purveyors of content in order to offer certification that they are or aren’t government approved.
Reporters Without Borders is none too pleased with the new policy:
[A]ll Internet users are now in a position to participate in the creation and dissemination of information. They are often the “recorders” of an event, especially thanks to mobile phones with photo and video capability, and can disseminate their own content online.
These “citizen journalists” can play a role in monitoring the activities of the authorities throughout the world. In Egypt, for example, bloggers recently revealed a series of scandals involving the security services and showed, by means of video recordings made clandestinely in detention centres, that torture is still regularly practised in Egypt.
In the field of human rights, it is them and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the government. Reporters Without Borders thinks it would be shocking if this kind of activity, which constitutes a safeguard against abuses of authority, were to be criminalized in a democratic country.
In an ironic twist, the decision was announced on the 16th anniversary of a certain George Holliday using his videocamera to tape a group of policeman beating down an African American man named Rodney King. If the incident had instead taken place today in France, I wonder if Monsieur Holliday would have hesitated grabbing that camera knowing that he could get stuck in jail until 2012. -andy
Hat tip: Farivar, Doctorow
Josh Wolf, as photographed by Amanda Congdon
Earlier this week I was perusing the Wikipedia entry for Josh Wolf, the video blogger who recently set the record for being the journalist with the longest time spent in jail for contempt of court. As I first blogged last August, Josh has been sitting in jail for refusing to turn over footage he shot at a protest in California. A police cruiser was allegedly set on fire by protestors, and the feds demanded that Josh turn over his source materials so they could review his footage. Josh refused, arguing that a journalist shouldn’t be force to turn over such materials, and he’s sat in jail ever since.
Josh’s case has fueled an ongoing debate among some folks over who is a journalist and who isn’t, trying to drive yet another wedge between mainstream media on the one hand, and bloggers and vloggers on the other. Jay Rosen famously wrote two years ago that this particular war is over. Yet the debate continues to flair up in some circles, most recently on PBS Frontline, as Jeff Jarvis lamented this week. It’s flaired up on Wikipedia, too – and part of it appears to be my fault.