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Open source journalism project gets backing of Craigslist founder

An experiment which would bring together professional and amateur journalists to produce stories has been unveiled in the US. Jay Rosen, a leading proponent of civic journalism, has got a donation of $10,000 from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, to help get it underway.

Rosen, who is an associate professor at New York University’s department of journalism, launches the idea in a 5,500 word post on his PressThink blog. He explains that it is:

In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net.

The site uses open source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion; it employs professional journalists to carry the project home and set high standards so the work holds up. There are accountability and reputation systems built in that should make the system reliable. The betting is that (some) people will donate to works they can see are going to be great because the open source methods allow for that glimpse ahead.

In this sense it’s not like donating to your local NPR station, because your local NPR station says, “thank you very much, our professionals will take it from here.” And they do that very well. New Assignment says: here’s the story so far. We’ve collected a lot of good information. Add your knowledge and make it better. Add money and make it happen. Work with us if you know things we don’t.

But I should add: NewAssignment.Net doesn’t exist yet. I’m starting with the idea.

Rosen continues saying the site is for:

People who are interested in the news, online regularly and accustomed to informing themselves. They would come because New Assignment does stories the regular news media doesn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do, or already screwed up. And it allows for participation that is effective.

A sub-group of “customer” would be donors, wherever they are found. One of the major unknows is whether such donors exist.

Finally, professional journalists with the required skills and a commitment to truth. They would be there looking for contract work.

He says the journalists who contracted with New Assignment would be paid and work with the “smart mobs” who gave rise to the assignment.

It is a fascinating idea although it is clear there is a lot of working out of the details to be done, as Rosen says.

Dan Gillmor, author of We The Media (free download if you can’t get hold of a printed copy) and director of the Center for Citizen Media which is affiliated to the graduate school of journalism at Berkley, California, is supporting the idea. In an message to Rosen he said:

I continue to believe that the people who could pull this off best are the traditional media, and that there will soon be some amazing examples. But the media business can’t do everything, and we need to see experiments of this sort. I’ll be helping Jay as much as I can on this, and hope you’ll participate, too.

That also pretty well sums up my thoughts. Many of the best investigative stories in the past, such as the Thalidomide scandal, have been collaborations between journalists and “smart mobs” of experts and campaigners. The internet clearly increases the scope for collaboration, and if New Assignment can make it work to produce new stories it will be an important achievement.

Why “1,200 dead” comes third on the BBC news

Craig Oliver, editor of the BBC’s Ten O’Clock TV News has some horrifying statistics on the Editors’ blog today:

• Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.
• About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.
• And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

He explains that they were planning to run them in the reverse order tonight. It is another of the valuable insights provided by the new Blog in which BBC news editors open up on their decisions and experiences.

Why "1,200 dead" comes third on the BBC news

Craig Oliver, editor of the BBC’s Ten O’Clock TV News has some horrifying statistics on the Editors’ blog today:

• Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.
• About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.
• And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

He explains that they were planning to run them in the reverse order tonight. It is another of the valuable insights provided by the new Blog in which BBC news editors open up on their decisions and experiences.

Attacking the messengers in Lebanon and Israel

An Arab journalist was killed yesterday, overtaking the the Media Guardian lead this morning which started: “Truth, the adage goes, is the first casualty of war. But in the current conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the first casualty might be the Arab reporter.”

The Guardian’s own blogger Roy Greenslade yesterday afternoon picked up the death of Leyal Najib, a photographer for the magazine Al-Jaras, when an Israeli missile exploded next to her taxi near the Israeli-Lebanon border.

The Media section story focuses on claims that Al Jazeera reporters were being obstructed and targeted by the Israeli authorities.

Last week the Israeli Association of Journalists pulled out of the International Federation of Journalists after it condemned attacks on the Hizbullah-controlled Al_Manar TV station. They accused IFJ general secretary Aidan White of “cowardice” for not retracting the statement. (I got to know White nearly 40 years ago through the British National Union of Journalists and “cowardice” is pretty well the last work I would apply to him.)

In his statement White said:

Once media are attacked with impunity, journalists on all sides are at risk. We insist that journalists and unarmed media must be regarded at all times as non-combatants and must not be attacked by military forces.

Reporters Sans Frontiers which monitors media deaths around the word has made similarly strongly worded comments.

On the claims of bias against Al Jazerra, the Guardian quotes a Foreign Press Association statement saying: “Al-Jazeera does not appear to have broadcast information significantly different from that carried by Israeli media.”

Al-Manar is partisan but so is much of the media of any country in times of conflict. That is no reason for attacking journalists with anything stronger than words.

The jobs journalism graduates get

Kim Fletcher, writing the On the press column in Media Guardian today asks the question: “Would you let your daughter be a journalist?” The eventual answer is the “yes” that could be expected:

What if papers are dying? Surely no responsible parent would promote a moribund industry to his child? The two consistent messages of hope are that papers have years in them yet and that no one believes the new digital world can do without journalism. The medium changes but the craft continues. Worryingly, though, papers do not need such big staff and the internet will not match the wage bills of traditional media.

But do we still want news and analysis and comment and entertainment? Will we still read reports from the Lebanon? Are there still questions to ask politicians? Does our interest in sport continue? Emphatically yes. Indeed, the more information that is around, the more we will prize the information that we can trust, or that is more intelligent, or original. Who can give us that but journalists? So to return to the original question: can we recommend a career in journalism? Yes. For the bright, inquisitive, mischievous show-off with a short attention-span, it is still a good choice.

Rightly, Fletcher points to the poor pay for most journalists and the profiteering (my word) of regional newspaper groups. I have a quibble with him though when he says:

Most journalists still join local newspapers, which now take on more graduates than school leavers.

My experience tells me that is not true. Students go into a wide range of jobs in papers, magazines and, increasingly, in the web. One of my recent students from the University of Westminster print journalism post grad diploma, emailed excitedly a few weeks ago about her new work. She had beaten more than 500 applicants for a job writing mobile phone entertainment news content.

At an awards ceremony a couple of weeks back I met four earlier students who were there to pick up a prize. Two now work for the BBC online, one was at Reuters and one working for a legal magazine. While I have not done a count of former students, the numbers going into local newspapers seems to be relatively small.

Who forces fat-cats out: FT v WSJ?

The media forces companies to behave more in the interests of shareholders, according to research by an American professor of entrepreneurship. This is perhaps no surprise following a number of cases of “greedy fat-cats” being eased out, but there is a sting in the tale for the British media.

Luigi Zingales of Chicago Graduate School of Business conducted his research in Russia because the high level of corporate abuse gave him plenty to work with. He was looking at British and American media as well as Russian publications. This is what he says:

Between the two most credible foreign newspapers, coverage of corporate governance abuses in The Wall Street Journal typically has more impact than coverage in the Financial Times. This could be due to either higher credibility of the former or different audiences. To separate the effect of audience from that of credibility, the authors use the Russianlanguage publication Vedomosti for comparison. Since Vedomosti is a joint venture of The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, its credibility is likely to be similar to the two larger papers. However, as a Russian-language paper, it only reaches a Russian audience. The authors found that coverage in Vedomosti had no significant effect, suggesting that all leverage on reputation comes from exposure in the Anglo- American community.

You can hear the cries of “Ouch!”

Via Romenesko.

Press restrictions may be justified, says LSE report

Any suggestion that the freedom of the press should be restricted is greeted with horror by journalists and, to be fair to them, most politicians in western Europe, North America and many other countries. Quite rightly so: a fully free press provides the checks and balances a plural democracy requires.
The question of whether this model is the best for crisis states is raised in a report from the London School of Economics crisis states research centre. The conclusion is that it is not.

The report by Dr James Putzel and Joost van der Zwan emerges from a workshop jointly organised by the LSE centre, the Annenberg School for Communications and the Standhope Centre. It was paid for by the UK Department for International Relations and brought together academics, journalists and policymakers from around the world.

They concluded that “in situations where the state is fragile and the political process is unstable and de-legitimated, the primary objective of donor assistance should be supporting the formation of a functioning state.” Among their 12 closely argued recommendations to policymakers are:

  • Where appropriate, allow and encourage judicious state regulation of the media during the initial phases of state building in order to minimise the potential for divisive violent confl ict and maximise the potential for building national cohesion.
  • Consider supporting the establishment of a national broadcasting corporation with a national reach and detached from vested interests, where this can be governed by an independent board according to principles of journalistic integrity and public service provision. Such support needs to be long-term since, in fragile states and particularly post-war environments, it may be decades before such organisations can realistically be locally funded.

Yesterday, before seeing this report, I was thinking about writing about an Inter American Press Association delegation which said President Hugo Chaves of Venezuela was using the courts and legal reports to weaken journalists critical of his leftist government.

The story in Dominica Today was given credibility by the leader of the visiting team, IAPA president Diana Daniels of The Washington Post. she said: “We are worried that, far from improving press conditions in the country, freedom could be further restricted before and after the election [due in December].”

In response, Venezuela’s Information Ministry called IAPA’s conclusions biased and deceitful, accusing it of doing the bidding of government opponents.

But while my journalist’s instinct was to write about the pressures on Venezuelan journalists something stopped me and I dug a little deeper to find there was a history of animosity between the Venezeulan government and the IAPA run by Julio Muñoz.

Editor and Publisher reported that last fall, Venezuela’s vice president, José Vicente Rangel called IAPA a “latrine” that represents the “murkiest and darkest of the media world.”

An interview with Muñez by Diana Barahonain in the left-wing Venezuelan Analysis provided more context. Moving her questioning to the attempted military coup against Chavez in 2002, Barahonain the interview went like this:

  • DB – Do you support freedom of the press to participate–in other words, publishers or TV journalists or owners of the media like Gustavo Cisneros [Venezuelan-born media owner] and others–participate in plotting with the military in overthrowing a democratic government?
  • JM – Yes. Everybody can have their own position, but…
  • DB – I’m not talking about positions, I’m talking about plotting with the military to overthrow a democratic government.
  • JM – Well, yes, of course. I don’t see anything wrong with any particular person that can have opposition against a military government.
  • DB – Excuse me, I’m talking about plotting with the military to overthrow a democratically elected government.
  • JM – Can you reword your question because I don’t follow you…

Clearly Venezuelan analysis has an axe to grind and I don’t know how accurate the report is but it has a ring of accuracy.

If the Crisis States report encourages journalists to look more closely at issues like the restrictions on the press in Venezuela it will have done good.

Lebanon and the impact of news pictures

Trawling through Lebanese blogs this morning I found the recurrent image was not of bloodied faces or bomb sites (those are there also in all their horror) but of sweet young girls writing in felt tip on bombs.

They are in Israel and were taken for AP by Sebastian Scheiner.

Ahmed, a computer engineer in Lebanon, in his Colddesert bog writes:

Yesterday I got these photos; Israeli kids writing messages on bombs before they are sent to Lebanon. Daniele, the cute girl in the photo, is writing on the bomb a message of love. That’s nauseating, if this is how children are raised in Israel, there is no chance of any peace in the middle east, not now, not in a 100 years.

A close investigation of the message written on these bombs reads, “To Nazrala [Nasrallah] with love from Daniele and Israel.” I am afraid that these rockets will not hit Nasrallah, most likely they will be used to kill another civilian (with love). I wonder if the kid below was wounded with a bomb sent with love?!

Sabbah, who is in Bahrain, writes of the same pictures:

There is nothing better than these days to explain the importance to propaganda.

The photo story about the Israeli girls signing bombs to Lebanese has spread like fire on the Internet as well MSM [mainstream media], and as you can see the sample of comments following my post, it’s a sample of everything. Yes, everything!

Of course, not everyone sees it the same way. Hyscience which describes itself as middle-of-the-road conservative and is based in the US, had a post headed: AP And Foreign Press Do Their Part To Create Anti-Israeli Sentiment: ‘When A Picture Isn’t Worth A Thousand Words’

The circumstances in which these pictures were taken will probably be discussed for some time.

The fact is that they have had a tremendous impact and blogs are giving journalists, trying to pierce the fog of war, some insight into what ordinary people are thinking.

Corporate speak and blogging

John Petter, BT’s chief operating officer, is to start his own blog, says the Financial Times. It seems the blog is something of a riposte to Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse and his TalkTalk free broadband.

Mr Petter tells the FT that customers are “suspicious of ‘corporate speak’ and they want it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

If he avoids clichés he could do better than Dunstone who recently wrote in his blog: “Provisioning of new customers continues to go well and we are once gain (sic) confident enough to raise our daily throughput of new connections.”

Kristine Lowe has a nice take on this in her post, Blue chips and PRs joining the blogosphere.

“Web first” is madness says Kelner

Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent, believes a web first policy for news is “complete madness”. He told a Press Gazette breakfast that his newspaper came first and the web second, adding: “It’s fair enough for The Guardian, because they don’t have shareholders to answer to.”

He has to answer to Sir Tony O’Reilly, chief executive of Independent News and Media who, last year, suggested newspapers should take “napster-style” actions for breach of copyright.

Sir Tony also told the Sunday Times that the newspaper industry would challenge the “rise of the internet as an advertising medium”.

Twelve months on, and it would seem nothing has happened to change his view.

Later addition: Roy Greenslade has written, in his Guardian blog, a considered appraisal of Kelner’s case concluding with a paradox: in order to save newspapers the net has to be embraced.