Monday, February 12, 2007

Associated Press Connects With Citizen Content

Announced during the "We Media" conference in Miami, Associated Press(AP) and NowPublic are working on an innovative initiative designed to bring citizen content into AP newsgathering, and to explore ways to involve NowPublic's on-the-ground network of news contributors in AP's breaking news coverage.
"The Associated Press has a long tradition of pursuing citizen contributions in breaking news events worldwide," said Jim Kennedy, AP's vice president and director of strategic planning. "This relationship will make that connection even stronger and result in more news and images from people who are in the right place at the right time."

"NowPublic's idea of a working relationship between the public as citizen media, and traditional reporters in the mainstream media started taking shape in 2006," said NowPublic co-founder and CEO Leonard Brody. "This collaboration is one of the initial endeavors."

Contributions to the AP news report from NowPublic's network of participants could take many forms over time, said AP Deputy Managing Editor for Multimedia Lou Ferrara. "They could range from simple eyewitness accounts to originally produced content.”

This development helps to answer two of the main questions about community and investment asked at the "We Media" event.

# Community: How can media and communications in a multitude of forms, produced or influenced by an ever-expanding multitude of sources, serve and strengthen the communities where people live?

# Investment: In a shifting communications marketplace, how will investors, public and private funders or new formulations of social entrepreneurship pay for and sustain the civic enterprises of news and information?"

There is no information yet on how contributors may be paid for content used by AP but presumably the arrangement will help to build the structures around NowPublic. AP bureaus will soon work with NowPublic communities in selected locations on ways to enhance regional news coverage. Later AP news desks also may tap the network in breaking news situations where citizen contributors may capture critical information and images.

It was also announced during the conference that The University of Miami will develop a new, permanent Knight Center for International Media, with the two Knight Chairs, one focusing on visual journalism and the other on cross-cultural communication. Funding comes from the Knight Foundation, which also supported the event.

"This grant is based on the simple idea that the world will not solve its most difficult problems unless its people can communicate effectively across national, ethnic and cultural borders," said Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation.

"Journalists can play a major role both in bringing clarity to complex issues and bridging cultural divides. The Knight Center for International Media at the University of Miami will be dedicated to the proposition that we can understand each other and will train journalists in the use of many forms of media to achieve that goal. I am particularly pleased that the Center will place a major focus on photojournalism and the use of electronic media."

The "We Media" conference attracts a wide range of people and there is some tension between the social media and the large organizations. Mark Glaser from PBS MediaShift explains it like this- "Thanks to the audience taking control of their media experience and creating their own media in blogs, podcasts, video and social networks, the people who are losing control have decided to meet and meet, and meet again until they figure out how they can take back some control of this uncontrollable situation."

Some of the tension comes across in discussion about "citizen journalism," a term that many professional journalists are reluctant to accept. Jemima Kiss wrote a blog for The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper that I personally read most days, both online and on paper. She highlighted some new words with a jargon alert.

"Now we have soft media to describe blogs and independent, non-professional media. But that's actually a pretty good term. Can we use that in place of 'citizen journalism' please?"

There is no explanation of objections to "citizen journalism" but there is also reference to "networked journalism" with more involvement from professionals. "There was also a good example of crowdsourcing, or networked journalism -- the collaboration of professional journalists and the audience." Kiss describes a case study in which Gannett newspapers work closely with local communities on specific issues, although they avoid the word "journalism" to describe what citizens do because that word is too big. "We say help us, get published and tell us what you know."

The Guardian has published a number of articles in recent months that show concerns about citizen journalism. In January Simon Jenkins wrote --
"The Internet has certainly torn up the media of communication pioneered by Gutenberg and Caxton, Marconi and Reith. The anarchist in me is attracted by the sovereignty of the mob, I like to see the market, the audience, hitting back occasionally -- even if it does so from the Tower of Babel."

A more disturbing opinion came from Marcel Berlins in December, apparently based on a lack information.

"OhmyNews has.... some 40,000 non-professional contributors; they are, of course, untested and unvetted, their submissions unchecked, their motives unknown. The reader of the website can have no idea about the accuracy of the information on it; yet it is one of the main sources of news for South Koreans."

The credibility of OhmyNews is based on the work of editors who factcheck all articles. There is also a comment option so any errors are often spotted and corrected. I know this from my own stories. It seems to me that "citizen journalism" is a process involving the readers and the editors. It allows the citizens to influence the agenda.

Some of the alarm from print journalists is caused by the drop in circulation figures. In the previous event in London, Mark Thompson from the BBC stated that he saw new technology as disruptive and that he did not expect all existing news organizations to manage the required transition. This year in Miami the problems of large organizations seemed not to be the priority. There was a Media Summit in New York during the same week at which Rupert Murdoch described newspapers as "very vulnerable".

Jemima Kiss reported on a presentation at "We Media" by Jason Pontin, editor of the MIT Technology Review.

"The death of print. After some deliberation, Pontin has now decided that the printed form of news will die, although he emphasized that the role of the editor will remain crucial. He referred to E Ink's electronic paper which will have all the form factor benefits of newspaper. Sony ships something similar this year, although I doubt electronic paper will be enough to convert those hardened print hacks who are still addicted to their olfactory implants of toxic black ink.

Print, he said, "is in its last 10 or 20 years."

Pontin emphasized the role of editors.

"Forums are wonderful and the web advocacy groups are right, but there is still an important role for editors. I don't mean as gatekeepers, but more like bartenders at a favorite bar. You expect a certain kind of experience, standards of ideas and identity and you trust them. That won't go anywhere any time soon."

In March The Guardian will host a conference in London about personalised media. The scope may include how newspapers can adjust as news organisations. However there are still occasions when print is discussed in isolation. A story in The Guardian of recent ABC circulation figures makes no mention of competition from the Web or comparisons of numbers for newspaper Web sites. ABC, the organization that audits circulation in the U.K., has announced plans to include digital editions, download versions of newspapers, but so far none of the U.K. titles will make this information public. Discussion around the issues raised at "We Media" is likely to continue.

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