Saturday, June 16, 2007


The International Institute for ICT Journalism(Penplusbytes) has a limited number of scholarships for practicing Newspaper and Magazine designers with West African Print media organizations to attend a design course at the 11th Highway Africa Conference in Rhodes University, Grahamstown South Africa from 10th to 13th September 2007.
design2007communication website

Sunday, June 03, 2007

'Giving voice to the voiceless': How the Internet can fulfill public radio's mission

Jay Allison, 55, is a broadcast journalist and producer whose pieces have aired on National Public Radio's This American Life, All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Along the way, Allison has picked up five Peabody awards and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award, the industry's highest honor. In other words, he has a "golden touch" in public broadcasting.

Allison's touch seems just as potent on the Internet. In 2001, he helped launch two Websites, and the Public Radio Exchange that encourage citizen involvement in public radio. "I would like to see public radio become more invitational," he says, "and the Web is the way to issue that invitation."

Allison spoke to OJR about the future of public radio on the Internet; about what makes powerful Internet audio; and how he hopes the Internet will help bring new voices to public radio.

OJR: What the original goal was for starting and how that goal has evolved since that time?

Allison: When we started it, it was kind of cutting edge and now it's sort of old fashioned. It's hard to keep up with the changes in literacy and expectation and community tools and all those kinds of things.

But in the beginning it was simply an effort to give out the tools and ideas that people might want to be able to tell their own stories on public radio. I'm a lifer in public radio and I've always had the notion that public radio could be a little bit more like the way the Internet has turned out to be--namely that the users are also the content providers.

When we started Transom there was no real repository of either the practical tools to make programming or the sort of philosophy and mission behind the origins of public broadcasting. My interest is in getting more voices involved and from communities we may not be hearing from and from demographics we may not be hearing and ages we may not be hearing from. The Internet presented itself as a chance to build a library of that kind of thing and keep that library current.

OJR: How is Internet audio different from public radio pieces?

Allison: I don't think it is all that different but I think the point is that in public radio it would behoove us to admit a greater range of style. I think one of public radio's weaknesses is a sameness of style and an expectation of a certain kind of presentation and a certain attitude and sensibility. While it is important to be able to rely on the credibility of the source and it's comforting to know what you're going to get, that can also be a weakness. It eliminates the element of surprise, which is one of the things that captures attention.

I think I'm more often surprised on the Internet than I am by public radio. At Transom we hope to embrace a greater range of style--we don't impose an expectation of how someone should sound or how a story should be told.

Which means that some of the pieces we put on the site may not ever make it to public radio because they are too far out of an accepted existing style. Still it's important to explore those boundaries and very important I think to talk about what makes the cut in public radio and what doesn't, and, more importantly, why.

OJR: Is that line shifting, as to what will make the cut in public radio?

Allison: I think public radio is scrambling to figure out what its identity will be, and it should. Since public radio began, there have been so many changes. Its earliest incarnations were as an educational broadcasting system. Most of the early stations were University licensees. As they began to get into the news, it was far from the mainstream. I think it considered itself a kind of an alternative news source in the early mission statements, with language about giving voice to the voiceless, and shining light in the shadows. It suggested that our obligation was to look where others were not.

Then public radio became the radio source of record. It now is relied upon by many for their daily fix of news and information, and it's no longer an alternative. The Internet has created greater public involvement and, in that framework, public radio needs to figure out what its role is.

OJR: What can it learn from what's going on in the Internet in terms of audio and the ways of presenting the news?

Allison: I think it's a lesson in humility, and that it's important to recognize that if you are not delivering a tone and style and substance that people want, they now can find it elsewhere.

OJR: What I see now in terms of community citizen journalism is very text-driven. What role is Internet audio is playing in citizen journalism?

Allison: I tend to be more involved with citizen storytellers rather than citizen journalists. Journalism is an actual profession and does have a sense of ethics and boundaries and rules, which are appropriate. On the other hand each of us has stories to tell which don't require a particular training other than making it a good story. I've always been a champion in all kinds of projects of trying to get people to realize that they can take advantage of the opportunity to get their stories and voices heard.

OJR: Is there more tolerance for different sound quality on the Internet?

Allison: I have a pretty great tolerance for a range of sound. The problem is if the sound interferes with your comprehension or hearing the heart in the voice, which is what's important. If technical issues overwhelm our ability to hear the piece then it's less effective.

OJR: And those are the rules that you still teach on Transom?

Allison: Yeah, simple stuff like: "mic close to your mouth" and "get the appropriate levels."

OJR: Many citizen journalism sites tend to tend to cover a small community or a niche topic. That generates community involvement and debate. When I look through Transom there is just such a richness of topics from different places. Can you get the same kind of sense of community when the topics vary so widely?

Allison: When you are organized by theme or subject or special interest, you'll get the zealots involved. Whereas at a site like Transom you are focusing more on the skill and practice and effectiveness of the story, and therefore the story can be about Possums or it can be about torture. And our goal is to get people to be able to communicate their story and truth, no matter what the subject. The community gathers around the practice of using the medium rather than a given topic area.

OJR: Transom still relies on the community to give you the stories?

Allison: Yeah, Transom spawned another site, Public Radio Exchange, which is built with the next generation of tools. Transom covers the how-to and the why of making and the Public Radio Exchange deals with the distribution of that content. It's been a rather effective tool in getting people to the air on public radio stations around the country.

OJR: You talked about how there is often a formulaic expectation on public radio and now if a site that helps people get back on the air, maybe they are not going to be as experimental or creating new ways of telling story. Might Public Radio Exchange actually have the opposite effect of what you may want?

Allison: I think you'll find a huge range at the Public Radio Exchange, everything from your "meat-and-potatoes" public broadcasting reports to lots of experimental and odd and interesting stuff. It really just depends on the taste of the public radio station as to whether they'll take a chance in airing it.

OJR: Print news organizations now use audio, video and photographs to complement their print pieces on the Internet. Radio is posting the audio on the Internet along with photos and video. What does that do to the visceral connection one feels when listening to audio? When you bring in images, how does that change the audio storytelling?

Allison: Well, dramatically. Images are very powerful. I've worked in television, I used to shoot specials for Nightline and the image tends to rule the eye. So sometimes if you want your listener/viewer to simply pay attention to the story and you have an image present, the image can often work against you. It can work against your receiving that voice and letting it fully get inside you because the picture captures you in an instant.

We're soon going to have a new feature on Transom with a guest talking about attaching images, slideshows and video to audio. They will discuss how to keep a program audio-driven when there are visual images. We will also feature two pieces. One about the last day of an old country store and one about a guy who was released off death row on DNA evidence. Both of them are slideshows but the narrative could stand alone as radio pieces.

Assessing Legal Risks and Guidelines for User Comments

By Al Tompkins

As newsrooms across the country grapple with online user comments, the discussion often turns to legal implications. I wanted to demystify the matter and sort through the rumor and rhetoric. So I went after some straight answers from people who actually know.

I consulted two media attorneys in a market I covered for years, Nashville, to learn more about what legal concerns journalism organizations should have when they allow members of the public to freely post comments on public Web sites. I interviewed (by e-mail) Alan E. Korpady, of King & Ballow, and Robb S. Harvey, of Waller, Lansden Dortch & Davis.

What are the legal issues that newsrooms should consider when opening their Web sites to public comment?

Harvey: Newsrooms not only as a matter of common sense but also for reasons of self-preservation must consider whether their Web sites are likely to attract comments that could pose liability risks. In recent years, numerous claims have been asserted regarding Web site postings, including defamation, invasion of privacy, misappropriation of likeness and right of publicity, infliction of emotional distress and negligence. Even if lawsuits by those being commented upon, posters or even other readers may ultimately be found wanting or even frivolous, those claims impose time demands, expense and substantial distraction. Newsrooms and their counsel must carefully consider immunity and safe harbor protections under statutes such as the federal Communications Decency Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as well as other recently enacted state statutes and common law.

Korpady lists the main legal concerns:

* Potential liability for direct, contributory or vicarious copyright infringement

* Potential liability for trademark infringement

* Potential liability for defamation by bloggers

* Application of the "journalist's privilege" to blogging

* Application of the "media exemption" from the definition of expenditure under the Federal Election Campaign Act

* Application of licensing laws to bloggers giving or disseminating what might be characterized as "professional" (e.g., legal or medical) advice

* Vicarious liability for the wrongful acts of a blogger as a "general partnership," especially if the blogger accepts advertising

Is there any truth to the commonly held belief among news executives that if they do not edit comments they are more protected from defamation and/or libel claims than if they edit feedback?

Harvey: There is some truth to this belief, but like most things, it cannot be assumed to be an absolute rule. Substantial case law has developed over the past several years recognizing "Section 230 immunity" under the federal Communications Decency Act. This immunity is broad, and has been applied to entities such as Internet service providers, Web site operators, computer equipment lessors, municipalities and forum board operators.

Korpady: Generally, it is likely that is true. The case law has not developed to the point where we can provide such advice with anything approaching real comfort. Section 230(c) of the federal Communications [Decency Act] provides broad protection to the "provider of an interactive computer service" for statements or information provided by "another information content provider." In the limited research I did to support this general response, however, I found no case that expressly extends that protection to newspapers. If, however, a newspaper is put on notice of defamatory speech, it is also protected by Section 230(c) if it restricts access to such speech. Some courts have held that even a distributor of information (no editing or selection of content), must act "reasonably" when put on notice of defamatory speech.

If newsrooms do allow public comment, what would you recommend as rules of engagement for the public to follow?

Harvey: Although the following is not provided as legal advice -- the reader should consult counsel of his/her choosing in this area -- among the considerations to be taken into account [is] the need for the newsroom to impose robust "terms of service" on all posters. Posters should be informed that they are responsible for their own postings. The newsroom should consider advising readers that the newsroom does not control or monitor what third parties post, and that readers occasionally may find comments on the site to be offensive or possibly inaccurate. Readers should be informed that responsibility for the posting lies with the poster himself/herself and not with the newsroom or its affiliated sites.

Korpady: Adopt and include in the access agreement with bloggers a "notice and take down" policy reserving the right to refuse to post or to restrict access to defamatory or infringing speech.

Adopt and include in the access agreement with bloggers an agreement not to post defamatory, infringing or other harmful content.

And be aware that the blogging community is very jealous of its unfettered right to speak and has on a number of recent occasion "mobbed" an Internet service provider that took down clearly infringing content (e.g., You may be caught, without a remedy, between a defamed person and the defaming blogger or between the owner of a copyrighted work and the infringing blogger that posted it.