New age journalism: With a pickaxe and a crap detector

This is going to be a little random, but I am grateful to Adrienne Flynn, my long-time friend, sister journalist, and now University of Maryland journalism professor, for asking me what I think journalism students should be learning these days.

Away from academia, these centipede legs sometimes take me on a run, when what I really need is to pause and think. And reflect.

So I did.

Anyone can be a publisher. Everyone is a publisher. Whether you blog or Twitter or update your Facebook status, or just text or email, we all publish news many times a day. And it’s accurate and fast. When Spain won the World Cup, Twitter beat the New York Times email alert by 15 minutes – an eon in ADD Twitter years.

Each day, people take and publish millions (or is it billions) of pictures from cell phones, not because they are paid to, but because they love to and are passionate about it. (amateur=love) Facebook edged out everyone else to become the biggest photo upload site in the world, and that was how many years ago?

Everyone can be a broadcaster, by uploading video to YouTube, live-streaming video with UStream or going two-way interactive with live video and live, commenting audience on Kyte. That my Nokia cell phone could stream live video to the web was a big deal in 2008. Today? Not so much.

Everyone can find information. First there is Google, where you can find out what people did say, and now, the second-biggest search engine is Twitter, where you can find out what people are saying about any topic at this very moment, everywhere in the world.

When all the world’s a publisher, there is no such thing as meaningful market share. I am typical: I go to 19 different places for my news every day. I am fickle. I follow shiny objects, not big, grey, pulpy lumps.

So what can make news organizations or journalists special when everyone can (and is) doing it?

Journalists have access to people and hidden information. They can put it in context, make it understandable and curate the flotsam and jetsam into a meaningful exhibit that helps people understand and make better decisions.

Journalists have special access to people and policy makers. Journalists can pose questions to policy makers, and they can — via live web casting — share that access with the community.

Think about the folks who hang out in city council chambers for hours, waiting for the “public comment” section in the end. What if you could give that access to people on a periodic basis? Often, normal mortals ask the most penetrating questions. I’ve found that policy makers agree to participate in the online “town halls” when a journalist is involved.

Journalists can find things that are not on Google. Important things. Like the HTML feed for 311 calls or the PDFs of a city council measure explaining how  ADA money will fund new sidewalks in a run-down part of town, or the scanned and PDF’d copies of each council person’s expense account. All those things are online at City Hall or somewhere, but otherwise invisible. (See Deep or Dark Web )

Journalists can find those things, put them online in context, in a visually comprehensible framework, and create people-magnets.

Don’t you want to go to the map and zoom in on your block and see what people are calling 311 about, or how fast the city fixes things, or how that compares with other places?

Don’t you want to scour your council person’s or congress person’s expense account and see where the hell they went and what they claimed they spent and compare it to their peers’ expenses?

Don’t you want to be able go back to the part of the video in the public meeting where the developer told the neighborhood association that his high-rise would have friendly, street-level retail shops, and not a high wall that screams “Keep Away?”

When it comes to data, journalists can decide which bits and bytes to turn into eye candy to help the people formerly known as the audience examine it from all sides. I collect links to examples of  data visualization, and love this video of “Gapminder” data visualization software.

And then the journalists can help people annotate the information with their own stories. And they can put it in context so we know whether it is big or small, red or green, unusual or normal.

So the students need to be in newsrooms and bureaus to brainstorm and to feed off of each other and learn from you.

Teaching them to be mere news and photo and video publishers is too pedestrian. Everyone’s doing it.

They need to be archaeologists and artists, collectors and curators.

Give each of them a shovel and a crap detector (thank you Howard Rheingold!).

Tell them to dig until they find something that you don’t get on a simple Google search.

When they come up with something, tell them to examine it, and then write about it and weave a solid backbone of context around it, then make it visually understandable.

Then you curate it: Is it good enough for this most amazing exhibition?

And when it is good enough, then you put it to the people (journalists’ best co-conspirators) and say, “What do you think? Can you help us fill in the rest of this picture?”

Then you say to the policymakers, “These people raised some interesting questions.” And you give people access to ask their questions of the policy makers. So the community can be informed and people can make better choices.

I was going to add, “and Democracy will be safe,” but I don’t want to go out on a limb.

I have no idea if this is comprehensible or if it helps. But it is where I am going.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Students, Denver and the Fifth Estate

I’m in Denver today with a group of University of Nevada, Las Vegas students who are kind enough to call me their teacher. Fellow-learner is more like it.

Once again, we’re experimenting with the future of journalism — using the latest tools in different ways to help people get news and better connect with information, events and newsmakers.

The students are using Nokia N95 cellphones to stream video live from Denver and the Democratic National Convention straight to the Web. But that’s not all. The video is being broadcast on our Web channel at Kyte.tv that lets anyone with a computer or smart phone chat via text with the students and their video subjects live, in real time.

So if you have a question, you can type it in, and the student journalist can see the question on the phone, and pass it along to the delegate, protester, elected official or whomever. You can even ask them to change the camera angle. It’s transparent, so anyone watching can also see the question and comment on it or type in a follow up.

You can also subscribe to our Twitter feed here, where you’ll get notified every time the video stream goes live>

Historically, the Fourth Estate — the press — has been in charge of deciding what questions to ask. But this week on our channel, the Fifth Estate — the people — will have a voice and access to power.

That means the people in the East Paradise neighborhood next to UNLV — a remarkably diverse and historically underserved area — will have just as much access to their elected officials and delegates as reporters do.

I was 28 when I first got to cover a convention, and it was the utterly scripted 1984 re-coronation of Ronald Reagan in Dallas. I covered the feds — the FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, Secret Service — and I remember trying to worm some information out of one of the agents about people being arrested. “Robert Ludlum will have it in print before you do,” he glowered.

Having been double-dog-dared, I worked as hard and as fast as I could, and just two days later, Jerry Needham and I had a double-byline story stripped across page one of the Dallas Times Herald about the supposed plot to attack the convention center via hang gliders.

For today’s reporters, news is just a nanosecond away from worldwide broadcast on the Web. And instead of talking to people, we can have a conversation about the news even as it is happening. That’s a great advantage, because as we know, the Fourth Estate commonly asks pretty clueless questions and could use all the help they can get from the Fifth Estate.

I cannot imagine a more fabulous time to be a journalist!

The students and I have many people to thank for this extraordinary opportunity, most importantly, Ardyth Sohn, Director of the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, who lured me to Vegas, sight unseen, to teach convergence, new media, digital journalism, multiplatform reporting and Web publishing and design, even though I could barely pronounce the word syllabus and had never written one in my life.

And we couldn’t have done this without a generous grant to support civic journalism from LasVegasNow.com, KLAS-TV Channel 8. That provided students with reporters’ backpacks, MacBooks and cameras to explore and document the neighborhood. The money also supported the student-developed Website, East Paradise, and it paid the four students’ way to Denver.

I am tremendously grateful to Nokia, where some good-hearted folks had the technical chops and the vision to imagine what kinds of remarkable things can be done with the powerful N95 cellphones that only recently became available in the U.S. They loaned the students (and their lucky teacher) phones to experiment with this summer for this project.

Over at the San Francisco startup, Kyte, people went way, way far out of their way to help us load beta software and launch a classy-looking channel for the video and chats. You can make my day by embedding our Kyte.tv channel in your Website or blog and spreading the word.

And thank you to my fellow learners, Reid Geary, Ariel Gove, Sandra Herandez and Denitsa Yotova. You truly are the ATeam!

I hope you will watch, participate and tell us what you think.

Visualizing Twitter

New Twitter applications just keep getting more and more fun, but they are tough to keep track of.

Here’s a delightful and encompassing post from Flowing Data on 17 Ways to Visualize the Twitter Universe.

(Call me crazy, but it reminds me of “Visualize Whirled Peas.” )

The blog’s author, Nathan Yau, says he is a UCLA PhD candidate, “statistics graduate student/computer science graduate obsessed with data and visualization.”

There’s a lot for journalism students (and journalists!) to learn from in his blog. We used to call those pretty, colorful things that went alongside the type “graphics,” but these days, data visualization can be a much better way to tell stories than with words.

I spent an enormous amount of time researching Twitter and then trying to be clear in my description, so I have a great deal of admiration for the folks at Common Craft for raising simplicity to an art form in the following wonderful video.

Twitter in plain English:

Twitter 101

What is Twitter?

It is like a microblog, a place to say your piece, or Tweet, in 140 characters or less.

And it is a place to listen.

Unlike my soapbox of a blog, my Twitter home page is actually a waterfall of other people’s words, blended in a real time river from streams around the world. They are people I have stumbled upon and collected simply by clicking on the button to “follow” them.

Those of my colleagues who already think I’m some kind of weirdo for being on Facebook will probably not be encouraged by the fact that one of my favorite followers on Twitter is a dead guy named Buckminster Fuller. (I’m just saying.)

By Twitter standards, I am a mere amateur, following 150 or so people, a museum and a few news services. (I have not yet made the leap to follow a plant, although it is mighty tempting.) By last night, about 90 or so people including my husband 😉 were following me.

What is Twitter? I think it is giant leap forward in communication and connectivity — and I’m incorporating it in my advanced reporting class at UNLV to help students learn to be better writers, communicators and global netizens.

How, why and when? Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and for that matter, here’s a Wiki started and maintained by Twitter Fans. Laughing Squid posted a nifty little clip and save cheat sheet of commands, and there are more applications born each day.

Thanks to the folks at Strategic Public Relations, here is one of the best tutorials and Twitter hack sheets I’ve seen.

How big is it? Here’s the Swiss Army Knife of stat boxes, Twitstat, real time Twitter analytics. Not to be confused with Twitterholic: Who are these people?

As for where, you can Tweet on your computer or Tweet on your cell phone. But unlike simple phone calls, emails or text messages, Twittering is not ordinarily a one-on-one experience.

A Twitter is a broadcast, tossed out there for everyone to hear.

But that’s just the technical answer.

Twittering, someone else said, is like being in a crowded bar surrounded by people talking on their cellphones. (If someone sends me that link, I would love to give credit.)

Twitter is for parents. “If you can’t let go, just Twitter,” wrote one mom in a delightful New York Times piece.

Twitter can be a lifesaver.

Twitter first got my attention when Chuckumentary got the Twitterverse scoop on the Minneapolis bridge collapse, as is chronicled here in a wonderfully encompassing post in David Erickson’s Internet Marketing Blog.

Last fall, KPBS news in San Diego put up a Twitter headline feed of news on the devastating Southern California Wildfires and massive evacuations. When people are evacuating their homes, putting news on a Web page can be useless if the computer is at home or on the back seat of the car. Sending an email is tantamount to delivering a newspaper to the lawn and hoping they get it. But rushing out a Tweet stream to their cell phone with emergency info is better than gold. As Mark Glaser wrote in his MediaShift column at the time, people quickly learned of the emergency alerts and flocked to the Twitter feeds.

Twitter is news.

I first learned of the death of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto from BreakingNewsOn’s Twitters, and I now subscribe to BBC, TechMeme , the Associated Press, and TheNewYorkTimes, among others, so I don’t miss anything.

Journalist Jim Long, aka, Newmediajim, is using Twitter to give a very real glimpse behind the scenes as he, an NBC cameraman, takes off with the White House press corps on Air Force One to exotic places such as Crawford, Texas or Africa, and then back again, to a perch in the Senate press gallery, or even at home with his girl. (The past few days he seems to be in a super-secret and dangerous location whose initials are Baghdad.)

Other journalists do it differently. Take former Wonkette, AnaMarie Cox, who has fine-tuned her snark to a priceless 140-character Tweet from the campaign trail. She’s worth watching, even though there is sometimes a gap of days between posts.

Twitter is community.

It can be like sitting with your friends on a coast-to-coast couch, eavesdropping on a national conversation.

Take the mashup from the Super Tuesday primary night, that let us all see primary-related Tweets live.

Twitter is a village, says Laura Fitton, known as Pistachio to the Twitterverse.

Twitter is connecting people to raise money for breast cancer, as this piece in Loudoun extra.com showed.

Twitter is crowdsourcing. There was Rex Hammock’s low-tech request for help on using a new table saw. There is a Wiki effort to create “Twitter Packs” of people to follow in various industries. And with a lot of help from his Twitter friends,  Guy Kawasaki has created Alltop.com, which includes a section of so-called Twitterati. (If you have to ask …)

Twitter is about groups that are created, morphed and created anew, as people collect around events and ideas. For the TED conference last week, there was a not-so-secret handshake. Put #TED into your Twitter post, and we can all follow along, thanks to the wonders of a search in Terraminds (the Google of Twitter) and an RSS feed. (Here’s the result.) There are slices of RSS feeds for this week’s SXSW festival in Austin, and there will be more that just grow organically.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson (a big investor in TheStreet.com, where I once worked) calls the “#” slice of Twitter an “event firehose.”

On Twitter things are open and the field is level. You can follow Fred and hear his latest musings, or you can follow Dave Winer, the guy who helped make all of this possible by pioneering and developing RSS, blogs and podcasting too. Or you can follow Howard Rheingold, who foresaw some of these possibilities in his fabulous book, Smart Mobs.

What is Twitter?

It is, says Silicon Alley Insider, a new form of literature, as evidenced by this minute-by-minute account as Ryan K was being laid off from Yahoo!

Written well, a Twitter can broadcast magical poetry of our day-to-day lives, as in this one from Laura Fitton that I quickly “favorited” to share with my students.

Trying to describe Twitter is pointless, Rex Hammock says:

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. ‘Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.’ ‘Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.’ ‘Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.’

Twitter, as Doc Searls says, is a prototype.

Twitter is me and you and everybody else talking, connecting and listening.

It is a live window on the world, in at least three dimensions.

 …

Update: Check out this lovely and inclusive compendium of Twitter Resources from Kathy E. Gill’s WiredPen blog. And bookmark this comprehensive Twitter-pedia from Mahalo.

Update 2: The Twiends, a social media company that helps people connect through Twitter, has a nice guide for how to build your follower list at this link:  http://twiends.com/get-twitter-followers And for the more visual among us, Twiends also has a fun ‘How to Twitter’ infographic with beginner Twitter tips at this link: http://twiends.com/how-to-twitter

Note: As originally published, this piece incorrectly said Guy Kawasaki was with Forrester Research. Kawasaki  is managing director of a venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures, and he writes for Entrepreneur Magazine. 

Saul Alinsky would be proud

The students and I talked current events today in my Web Publishing and Design class, and the chit chat wasn’t about the Super Bowl or Super Duper Tuesday. It was about Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo and what that could mean for all of us.

One among them knew that Google’s CEO reportedly called Yahoo’s CEO to offer help in the battle, as Reuters reported here.

For some context and food for thought, I screened the short Flash movie Epic 2015 for the class, and we talked more about mergers and the media and the future of journalism. (Note to the creators — it needs updating again!)

I was surprised again at how many elements of that movie have become routine parts of our everyday lives, and tickled that it seemed to anticipate something Twitter-like, even though it saw Friendster and not Facebook.

Some of the students said the movie left them depressed, just as it had been a downer for my print journalist friends when I first showed them Epic 2014 back in 2004, and the remake in 2005.

But I think perhaps the movie doesn’t give adequate credit to the indomitable spirit that lives in all of us who can self-publish (for free!) to places like our blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and wherever.

So here is why I am smiling, and thank you Laughing Squid, for pulling it together:

In response to Microsoft’s hostile acquisition bid for Yahoo, many Flickr users are expressing concern for what might happen if Microsoft is successful. They have even created a Flickr Group to address this issue, Microsoft: Keep Your Evil Grubby Hands Off Of Our Flickr, complete with photo pool of MS/Flickr takeover images, including some that envision what a Flickr website re-design might look like with Microsoft at the controls.

 

They are using the system to fight the system — as it should be.

I’d like to think that somewhere, Saul Alinksy is smiling upon them.