Across the blogosphere this week, folks have been talking about a recent post on Susan Mernit’s Blog in which Susan lays out her thoughts on what she’d like to see news organizations do to enhance their coverage of the political conventions this summer. Susan, a media consultant and veteran of the US edtech wars, notes that media outlets appear to have done little to creatively embrace tools like blogs, rss feeds, and social networks such as Orkut.com to make their convention coverage more meaningful for voters.
Among other suggestions, Susan offers these:
- Fox News or CNN with Blogger and Picasa or Typepad=Citizen Journalism
Why doesn’t one of the larger networks and their local affiliates work with a large blogging service and their photo/mobblogging capabilities to create local citizen/journal reporters who can moblog local campaign and election events and do man on the street interviews?
ALL news entities with Internet Archive and Creative Commons licensing
Why not create an open source media archive for the 2004 election? What if all the major news players decided to cooperate with the Internet Archive and build a multimedia archive for the 2004 election season? And grant a Creative Commons license for use of the materials?
For those of you who read my blog occasionally or see my posts on my discussion lists, you’ll know these are issues that are near and dear to my heart. Particularly since my acquisition of a Handspring Treo mobile phone earlier this year, I’ve been quite interested in the potential of mobile phones as blogging tools for civic journalists. After witnessing first-hand and documenting the harassment of human rights activists at the WSIS planning meeting in Tunisia last month, I’ve been quite eager to see a broader conversation on the role of blogging as a tool for civic participation, a tool for bearing witness, a tool for engendering change.
So to complement Susan’s ideas, I’d like to offer the following:
smartphone + OneWorld TV + Witness.org + CreativeCommons + DailySummit + feedster = Civil Society Holding Political Leaders Accountable
Let me parse this out a bit further, so please bear with me for a moment….
Smartphone. Pick you phone, any mobile phone with the capability to capture audio, photos, video and publish it with text to the Internet. My Treo, for example, uses Mo:Blog software to let me thumb-key text entries to my blog, Phlog.net and Mfop2 help me post photos, while audlink lets me post audio. (Alas, I still post video clips the old fashion way – FTPing them – but I’m working on it.) The Treo isn’t a cheap phone, but thankfully it’s not the only smartphone on the market — and they’re getting cheaper every month. Who needs a laptop when you’ve got a phone with a thumb keyboard?
OneWorldTV. My colleagues at OneWorld, with whom I co-publish DigitalOpportunity.org, have a wonderful initiative called OneWorldTV. The site allows anyone with a video camera the ability to upload video clips to a public database, to be used by civil society activists to put together Web documentaries. Have a clip documenting police brutality? (Or poultry workers torturing chickens, as we’ve seen to our horror this week?) Upload it to OneWorld TV so fellow activists can utilize it and spread the word — or spread the image, as it were.
Witness.org. This group, co-founded by Peter Gabriel, is one of my favorite NGOs. Recognizing the power of ordinary citizens to document human rights abuses, they distribute video equipment and offer multimedia training to community activists so they can use the technology to fight for better human rights. Think of it as a human rights digital divide organization – they empower activists with technology to address injustices in a whole new way.
CreativeCommons. This initiative simplifies the process of Internet publishers to assign or waive copyright restrictions to their content. For example, I use CreativeCommons on my website so all site visitors know they can use my content freely as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes and that they’re willing to share my content with the exact same copyright rules. CreativeCommons is more than just a button on your website, though; it adds computer code to your content that makes its copyright status detectable by search engines and other tools.
Daily Summit. During the World Summit on the Information Society last December in Geneva, the BBC and the British Council helped organize a group of British and Arab blogger-journalists to cover the event from every conceivable angle. While other news sources were largely focused on covering public speeches, press conferences, and other events dictated by the policymakers organizing them, the Daily Summit dug deep into the event, displaying a blend of skepticism and wittiness to which so many good bloggers seemed genetically predisposed. Add to that a multicultural, multilingual team of writers, and you had a recipe for solid, real-time civic journalism, with the promotional backing of a major media outlet.
Feedster. This search engine lets you sort through thousands upon thousands of blogs and news sources to find out what’s going on in the blogosphere in near-real-time. It takes advantage of RSS feeds, those pages of computer code gobbledygook generated by most blogs each time a new entry is posted. Feedster allows users to find out who’s discussing what, where and when with a timeliness that few other resources can hold a candle to.
So what happens when you throw these things into a wok and give them a quick stir-fry? A potential vision for using media to help civil society hold our leaders accountable — accountable to their policies, to the rule of law, to the universal need for human rights and good government. Tools like smartphones and other handheld devices go well beyond simple email-checking gadgets, even if that’s how they’re used by the majority of their owners; they’re a virtual printing press, microphone and broadcast antenna that fits in your back pocket. Projects like OneWorld TV and Witness.org are helping civil society members document abuses that are going on in their communities by providing technology, training and an international network for disseminating their content. CreativeCommons provides an easy-to-use system for identifying your content as copyright-friendly, with the technical savviness to make it easy to aggregate and search for other content with like-minded copyright principles. The Daily Summit demonstrated how a media outlet can throw journalistic stodginess to the wind and empower a group of creative bloggers to document an important event. And Feedster lets you follow all of it through a smart, en vivo search engine.
Individually, they each serve an important, sometimes vital purpose. Imagine if they were united and streamlined for the average citizen to use. Imagine if CNN or AOL put their support behind it. Susan Mernit has helped elevate the conversation with her musings on embracing citizen journalists. I think she’s right, and I’d add that it’s also about civil society journalism — empowering NGOs and individuals to use these digital tools to redress grievances in our society.
So much of blogging to date has been about what you might call “me” journalism — publishing what I want, when I want, how I want. The tools noted by Susan, and the ones I’ve added to the mix, hopefully may contribute to a broader discussion of “we” journalism. We must give the power of the pen, the microphone, the camera, the blog, the phlog, the rss feed, to civil society as a whole. Blogging should not be the elite domain of the digitally enfranchised — those of us who happen to be the most digitally literate and wired to the hilt. Rather, civil society as a whole, both individuals and organizations, should have the skills and tools so they may work in concert for positive social change, whether for documenting wrongs or demanding rights. It may seem naive or impractical, but in an age where terrorists demonstrate their Internet literacy by executing hostages via online digital video, we should demand nothing less…. -andy