Citizen Media Watch

oktober 12th, 2009

The Guardian to contract bloggers for local news

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

While Swedish national papers have moved away from local news initiatives, as local advertising markets are not ready to support costly coverage, there are examples in other countries of how to build coverage by collaborating with local bloggers. The most recent comes from the Guardian, who are looking to contract bloggers in Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Media and technology reporter Mercedes Bunz reports:

”Guardian Local is a small-scale experimental approach to local newsgathering. We are focusing on three politically engaged cities and we expect to launch in early 2010,” said Emily Bell, the director of digital development at Guardian News & Media. Sarah Hartley, the Guardian local launch editor said: ”While researching developments at the grassroots of community journalism, I’ve been impressed by the range and depth of coverage from local websites and blogs. This experimental project reflects both the shifting nature of journalism and the reality on the ground.”

The focus is on local political decision making, and Bunz draws a parallell to the public subsidy NPR has received in the States, pondering if this might be a model for the UK too. Another option is funding from organizations like the Knight Foundation.

In Sweden we’ve seen several local newspapers/sites collaborating with bloggers for local and hyperlocal news (one recent example is Smålandsposten’s Mitt Lammhult), but the national papers seem less prone to. The largest daily Aftonbladet still has its locally contracted bloggers on the larger cities’ pages on Bloggportalen – for instance Norrköpingsbloggen on the Norrköping page – but with the loss of the local sections on Aftonbladet.se I doubt they get much public or journalistic attention. A lot of them are no longer active.
At the same time there are cities and even whole regions who lack journalists covering them, reports Swedish journalists’ union’s paper Journalisten (unfortunately I can’t find the article available online).
It’s not a problem in itself if national media skip local coverage as long as there are local initiatives – by journalistic sites of bloggers with an interest in these issues. Where they’re lacking, though, there’s a danger that corruption spreads.

(via Jeff Jarvis)

Disclaimer: I am a former employee of Aftonbladet.se.


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december 20th, 2008

News Mixer – a great new tool for news discussion and fact-checking

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

The recently released test site for News Mixer is a tool for discussing news and posting your own. The focus is on Eastern Iowa – the project is a collaboration between the Medill School for Journalism‘s Crunchberry project and Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids. So it’s not – atleast not yet – a global or even nation-wide service. But it’s attracting interest because it’s quite cleverly set up. It plugs into Facebook though Facebook Connect, so when you’ve connected your account, you can see who of your Facebook contacts are on News Mixer and follow their actions on the site.

News Mixer

The site has received a lot of love in the comments in the sidebar. What I like most about it is the way that any story can be scrutinized paragraph by paragraph by adding questions and answers, thus providing a tool for collaborative fact-checking and discussion about the validity of statements. It is also a social tool, letting me know when my contacts have been active on the site. And it flattens the news hierarchy (though not completely – you cannot add questions or answers to stories posted by users, and those are limited to 250 words). The news can come from traditional news stories or from other members (through letters to the editor), questions can be posed by anyone, replied by anyone (not just the reporter/writer) and anyone can comment.

Joshua Pollock writes at the Crunchberry project blog:

it harnesses the credibility of an established media company, leverages existing online social networks and gives people a constructive way to interact with each other and the news.

Comments, called quips in News Mixer lingo, are limited to 140 characters, making them similar to microblogging posts.

And, last but not least, it’s open source. So Eastern Iowa will be the first site in what will probably be a long number of local and national efforts. Looking forward to see this evolve. I hope to see a Swedish site not too far off in the future.


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december 9th, 2008

Sandra Jakob at HD.se – It's not laziness, it is fear

Posted by Gitta Wilen

This is a conversation with Sandra Jakob about online journalism, transparency, the future way of publishing on the web and the need to inspire colleagues to explore and to use the internet.

Sandra Jakob works as an online journalist at hd.se. Helsingborgs Dagblad is a daily newspaper situated in the south of Sweden, in Helsingborg.

CMW: What are you thoughts about the editorial work at HD in the future. Do you think you will have to change the way you work and think differently about the way you are publishing your content?

Sandra thinks that they have to start to think about how to publish the news, based on the type of content, instead of the editorial staff.

– The process of integrating the different channels into each other will be more important. I think that it will somehow be the ultimate test to see which newspaper that will make it out of this big crisis that we are in, that everybody is so afraid of.

– If we are starting to think about how we are going to, all together, work towards a goal of reaching out with our information and news. Then we are going to be successful, Sandra says.

CMW: Why are journalists avoiding to embrace the internet and use it the way it can be used? Is it about fear, laziness or convenience?

Sandra does not think it is laziness and it is not the lack of journalistic confidence. She thinks it is about fear. Not knowing how to use the technical tools and how to communicate on the web.

– You just have to somehow go over the threshold and try it once for yourself and see that you can’t ruin everything. We have backup systems, she says.

Sandra thinks that the biggest challenge of reaching out to a journalist who is not used to working with the internet, is to show them that it is not dangerous. It is not going to make them look stupid. That it is going to help them and that is going to change the way they will go about their work in the future.

– People that are very humble and say that: ”I don’t know this but I’m willing to learn,” that’s an amazing start. If I just get that, I am very happy, she says.

When Sandra teaches her colleagues at hd.se how to use the blog tool, they sit down and walk it through step by step. After trying it out for themselves for a while, they do think it is so much fun and easy. She believes that you should not be afraid of the blogs just because the word blog is misused by a lot of people, it is an information source like everything else.

Sandra did work for Mindpark earlier this year. Mindpark is a web developing agency with the swedish morning newspaper industry as its main clients and beneficiaries.

Sandra Jakob and Joakim Jardenberg had this conversation (in Swedish) on her first day at work.

[Roughly translated]: The conversation, which contained nine parts of laughter and one part of seriousness (before the editing) was about why journalists should blog, why user generated content is a good thing and a little about where Rubbet is heading. [Published at mindpark.se 2008 03 06]

Joakim asked Sandra if she could come up with a more suitable word for the concept user generated content. She promised to think about it.

CMW repeated that question and asked her if she had managed to find a better word for the interchange of content and information:

Sandra has thought about it but she thinks it is hard to find a new word, because it is user generated content. Even though she does not like the word user.

– They are people that we work with, because they send us their pictures and their movies. They call us and give us information, she says.

Sandra believes that user generated content is the best terminology at the moment.

In the Mindpark sofa, Sandra also talked about the need of linking to the blog, as the original source of the news or the conversation.

CMW asked her if she still thinks it is the way to work. Does hd.se link to bloggers and external sites?

– Yes, I still think it is is the only way to go, Sandra says.

Sandra think it is important to pick up subjects that people are talking about and that it is important to give credit to the person that wrote about it on her/his blog. She thinks that if they start a conversation about the subject, it will only benefit the newspaper in the future. Sandra hopes that people will see that the newspaper do respect their work and what they are doing and that they do want to be in contact with them.

Sandra has not yet any example of a local blogger that has been creating any news for hd.se, but she does hope that it will happen soon. But they have been writing about bloggers and the internet.

– Then we are always make sure that we do link back to the person that we are writing about, she says.

CMW: The web is about conversations and expressing personal thoughts. Do you think that journalists should be more open with their personal opinions?

Sandra has an example from hd.se sports blog Sportbloggen. In the beginning they were only linking to funny YouTube clips.

– It did generate a lot of ha ha-comments, but it is nothing that will draw attention in the end, Sandra says.

She advised them to have a personal opinion. If they can have that in a column in the newspaper they can have that on a blog too.

– But, you have to think about it. What am I comfortable with saying? Can I stand for this?, Sandra says.

Sandra believes that you have to be comfortable with what you are saying on the blog. If your are not, maybe you should not do it. They want their journalists to blog, but everybody might not be comfortable doing it.

– If you are open with where you stand and what you think, the audience is going to respect you more, she says.

CMW: How are journalists going to handle transparency? Is there a good transparency level for a journalist?

– There is a bad transparency level, let’s start with that, it is so much easier, Sandra says.

She thinks that a bad transparency is when you tell everybody who gave you that tip. All of their sources are protected by the Swedish law. But a good level of transparency would be to be more open with the process of working as a journalist. It could be as a blog where you write about what kind of seminars and conferences you go to and tell more about how you find information about the subject you are writing about.

– I would love to see somebody who writes about the process and all the frustration there is to be a journalist. It is not always that fun even though we love it. Because there are people hanging up on you, people not liking you. Maybe you get the answers that you would like but it still doesn’t happened. Or you don’t get the result you would like to have, Sandra says.

She believes that bad transparency is when you tell people exactly who told you what, that is gossip. Good transparency is being open with the process, how you think, how you work, how you relate to your readers – both negatively and positively. And It is important to be honest.

– Because if you’re not honest, in the end it is coming back to bite you, Sandra says.

CMW: Do you still think that the internet is something good and useful for a journalist?

As a curious journalist Sandra does think that internet is an amazing way of possibilities and she loves the conversation that is going on out there, even though you have to be critical as usual against information and disinformation.

Sandra talks about the way the Swedish blogs handled the FRA affair. She thinks that it is a good example of a subject raised by bloggers and that ended up as a discussion in old media.

– I can only see the internet as a very positive thing, she says.

CMW: What do you think the newspaper will look like within five years. Do you think that they are still going to exist in print?

Sandra does still believe in the printed newspaper but not the way it looks like today. But she thinks it should be more of a magazine and not be distributed seven days a week. Maybe three days a week, or just over the weekend. A magazine that is going to be customized. More feature, more background and more thoughts.

– I still believe in print in some other way than we have today. The feeling of using print paper and have it in your hand, is something that we can not replace with a PDA or a mobile phone, she says.

CMW: Where do you see yourself with in five years?

Sandra hopes she will be able to dedicate herself full time working with inspiring colleagues to use the internet in a useful way. Integrating and developing newsrooms for the internet. She hopes to be working, not with in the news rush, but with people that works with news and that are interested in new ways to come out with their information and keep track on what is happening on the internet.

– I love developing stuff for newsrooms and news organizations. I hope I will be able to work with something like that, she says.

Sandra Jakob ends our conversation with a request. Sandra would like to have a conversation about online journalism if you are interested, you are welcome to contact her at sandra.jakob@hd.se.

And of course and as always, you are welcome to post your thoughts about this subject as a comment.

Related post: Will there be a dark period for journalism? Joakim Jardenberg at Mindpark on how Helsingborgs Dagblad can survive as an online paper. A version in Swedish at mindpark.se.


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december 2nd, 2008

Pownce shutting down, becoming part of Six Apart

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Microblogging/microstreaming service Pownce announced yesterday that they are closing down the service and becoming part of Six Apart.

Leah Culver writes:

We have some very big news today at Pownce. We will be closing the service and Mike and I, along with the Pownce technology, have joined Six Apart, the company behind such great blogging software as Movable Type, TypePad and Vox. We’re bittersweet about shutting down the service but we believe we’ll come back with something much better in 2009. We love the Pownce community and we will miss you all.

We’re very happy that Six Apart wants to invest in growing the vision that we the founders of Pownce believe so strongly in and we’re very excited to take our vision to all of Six Apart’s products. Mike and I have joined Six Apart as part of their engineering team and we’re looking forward to being a part of the talented group that has created amazing tools for blogging and publishing.

So it looks like some microblogging functionality will be integrated into these blogging services. I for one think it’s only natural that we see some microblogging services closing down. There will probably be a concentration to Twitter, Jaiku and a couple others that turn out to be the better ones, or simply where people you know are. Though it’s a piece of cake to automatically update several microblogging sites, there’s little point as long as there are no smart ways to keep track of replies and be a part of the conversation without having to check all the sites manually. If you know of a good service that does that, please let me know.

Other news from Six Apart: they are giving away free pro accounts to laid-off journalists (via CyberJournalist) in the TypePad For Journalists Program.

We want to help independent journalists become more entrepreneurial, and to give you the tools you need to succeed with your own blog.

Cool initiative. For those who are not accepted, there’s always WordPress, of course.


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november 28th, 2008

Good use of microblogging in journalism – give us more examples!

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Whether status updates on social media sites should count as microblogging or not, the walled garden that Facebook still is to a large extent, makes status updates if not useless from a publishing perspective then atleast difficult to accommodate as they are on an open to all site. The same goes for users whose updates are not public on regular microblogging services. For crowdsourcing, feedback and research they are still good tools.

There are good examples of microblogging serving a journalistic purpose, though these initiative do not necessarily come from professional journalists.

  • The Twitter Vote Report is one, where Americans across the country made short reports on how the voting in the US election was really going, using hashtags to pinpoint where they were and what their report was about, for instance #machine for problems with the voting machines. They also reported on waiting times. It all ended up on a big map where you could follow the progress in real time.
  • Get eye-witness reports and comments. For instance check out this Twitter channel on the bombings in Mumbai. More on the Mumbai coverage here.
  • Live reporting from an event. By using an established microblogging site you get comments from site members and you invite them in a natural way.
  • Live commentary to tv shows. One example is Drive on Fox.
  • Coming up with questions for interviews. By asking people what they want to know from a person you’re to interview you get more interesting questions, and you know you’re asking stuff your audience want to know.
  • Local news gathering. Here’s an interesting example from Harrisonburg, VA. Or even as a source for bigger breaking news.
  • Cynthia McCune talks about microblogging as a ”21st century police scanner”, listing these uses for reporters: keep up with sources, get quick feedback, get referrals, post live updates to sport scores.
  • Breaking news. Anders Brenna at digi.no writes: ”Twitter is both the perfect journalist tool for being first with breaking news, and the best relief from the tyranny of breaking news.” Super-fast publishing of the latest news without risking that the reader won’t come to your site for the full story. You can even send a message and point to it once it’s out.
  • Paul Bradshaw has some advice for anyone wanting to use microblogging to cover a topic. Check out the comments too for a few ideas on good use.
  • Another post on how news makers have to change and use micro-blogging tools.

Do you have more good examples? We’ll collect them and update this list (giving you credit, of course).

Also, here’s some advice on what not to do.


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november 24th, 2008

Jeff Jarvis on the future of news: Investigative journalism will survive

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Speaking about the future of news, don’t miss Jeff Jarvis‘ long post on this topic over at BuzzMachine. Its focus is on local news but there’s general ideas to apply on national/topic news as well. Some great stuff! And I like his focus on community/network driven news.
Jarvis doesn’t believe investigative journalism will suffer. He writes:

The fear I hear constantly is that investigative journalism will be the first form to die. That would be foolish and news organizations will learn that. In a link-and-search economy, you must create unique content with strong value to get attention and audience. Investigations matter more than ever; they will have greater audience and thus business benefit.


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november 18th, 2008

Will there be a dark period for journalism?

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Will we see the collapse of journalism as papers fail to take the step over from dead wood publishing? Or are we at a dawn of a smarter news industry? Opinions vary, and we take a look at what some are saying right now.

Joi Ito at SIME '08At SIME, Joi Ito expressed concerns that professional journalism journalism may perish.
– It would be very difficult for a blogger to get a military unit to fly them into Sudan to cover that in first-hand. It would also be very difficult when you write a scathing article about corruption in Singapore to fight the libel suit you get from Lee Kuan Yew and try to stay out of jail. Legal protection against libel suits and also heavily funded first-person war journalism, that’s going to be a while before amateurs will be able to deal with that, he said, and continued:
– I think that everywhere where we’re losing the revenues of physical distribution or transaction costs, whether that’s the financial markets affording analysts or whether it’s academic journalism affording peer review, all these professionals that used to be hired to deal with quality are being put out of business because the distribution can’t afford to pay those guys anymore, they’re all suffering from the same thing. I think bloggers and all the amateurs will pick up a bunch of that, but there’s still going to be this gap. I think it’s going to be a while before we get organized enough. And I’m afraid that professional journalism may collapse before we pick up, and there may be a kind of a ”dark period” when we can’t send people to Sudan or we don’t have the ability to fight against the biggotous people that we ought to be going after.

David Sifry at SIME '08David Sifry thinks the future of journalism lies within the blogosphere.
– I think we actually have a responsibility, given the fact that we are all disintermediating these big media companies, to make sure that we can find a way to help make sure that journalism survives.

Joi Ito and David Sifry in a panel debate about blogging and journalism during SIME 2008.

Joakim JardenbergYesterday, Joakim Jardenberg of Mindpark wrote a long blog post describing the steps necessary for a paper distribution-dependent local newspaper to make enough money online to be able to survive without the paper edition, should that be necessary. It’s in Swedish, so I’ll take you through his main points.

His solution has three parts: having enough visitors, knowing/keeping track of visitors and using advanced mechanisms to match them with advertisers. Like Jardenberg says, this is no rocket science and behavioural targeting is nothing new. But it hasn’t been evolved enough, and that’s why Jardenberg’s take is interesting. He gives an example with real figures from local paper Helsingborgs Dagblad, and he’s pretty convincing. They need a 40 percent share of the money spent on local advertising in their area to make it.
Though the solution can be explained in a few simple steps, those are not easy steps to take, and Jardenberg is aware of it. He lists these obstacles (my translation):

  • Technology isn’t quite mature enough. But with baby steps in the right directions we’ll make it in time.
  • Local sites might lose their relevance. Without an audience the revenue model collapses.
  • We might not have the stamina. This won’t pay off tomorrow. Count on 5-10 years to reach those 40% in a healthy way.
  • Our sales force is immature, we still sell paper ads online. Our main advantage, our local sales people, are also those who need to change the most.

Joakim Jardenberg's slide on HD's reach
A slide in a presentation by Joakim Jardenberg about the decline in Helsingborg Dagblad’s reach.

Jardenberg goes into more detail, and has interesting ideas about data collection and transparency, so if you’re interested, here’s a rough translation of the text through Google Translate. On the whole, he is optimistic about the future of journalism.

The death of local relevance, as mentioned by Jardenberg above, is one of two threats addressed by Jonathan Kay in a blog post at Canada’s National Post’s Comment section’s blog, Full Comment. Kay talks about saving the print media, but this could well be applied to local journalism on the whole.
Kay writes:

The breakdown of Canadians’ sense of community has also contributed to newspapers’ challenges. Slogging through stories about the people who share your city, your province or your country makes sense only if you feel a sense of emotional investment in your neighbours. But in a globalized age, an increasing share of Canadians don’t feel that way. As office-bound yuppies, they commune with their distant college-era friends using Facebook or email, but don’t know the names of the people they pass on their street.

Kay’s other point is the death of spare time. If people don’t have time to read, journalism is in trouble. Print even more so. The three types of print media that will survive are, according to Kay:

(1) Business-oriented media that cater to older, more affluent readers of the type who can justify the expense of long-form news consumption (in both time and money) as a work activity.

(2) Premium publications that cater to the ideologically involved and intellectually upscale

(3) The hyperlocal.

As Kay is talking about the survival of print, I am a bit surprised about his third point. I think hyperlocal is one of the areas where the web can bring so much more than a print product, as it’s all about communication and round the clock updates.
But then, hyperlocal sites are struggling. When Gitta and I talked to Joi Ito a few days ago, he said hyperlocal is failing because local businesses aren’t mature enough online. I think that’s a valid point, and I believe that once they mature and more and more people expect to find hyperlocal news online, this is a very interesting area.

My own take is that journalism will survive and come out stronger and better through this media shift, though it will take a few years of struggle. And it may not look exactly like it does today at the end of it. Which is probably a good thing.

Update: There’s a Swedish version of this text availble at Mindpark where we were invited to guest blog.


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