In our findings the business models of the cases fall into two main categories: those which have storytelling-orientated business models and those which rely on a more service-orientated model.
The sites whose business model is based around storytelling are still prevalent in our findings. These sites focus on making money from producing original content, news and stories, for audiences. The difference to the mass media model is that in the online world the target audience is smaller. Online journalism relies heavily on niche audiences built around targeted themes such as hobbies, neighborhoods or psychographic tendencies. In this niche journalism there is a tight triangulation between journalistic content and advertised products.
The other group, service-oriented business models, seems to be growing. This group consists of sites that don’t try to monetize the journalistic content as such. For example citizen journalism sites are more like platforms that curate and moderate citizen-oriented content, or news aggregators compile stories form other outlets. Some startups have specialized in selling technology, information, training or diversifying to redefine what it means to do news.
Hibiscus is a Global Voices project designed to amplify Sino-Africa conversations taking place online and create dialogue about the relationship between China and Africa, specifically encouraging conversations between bloggers in both regions and those outside the region who write about the China-Africa relationship.
[Update on 22 March, 2011: Professor George Brock of City University is advocating the systematic use of footnotes by journalists to acknowledge primary source material.]
[Update on 24 Feb, 2011: in a far more elegant and effective way than I outline below, the Media Standards Trust has released a tool that exposes Churnalism, journalism recycled, or indeed copy-pasted wholesale, from press releases... More from the Guardian.]
A few minutes down the road from me, The Guardian has this weekend been hosting a hack SxSW event – which helped precipitate (in the chemistry sense) an idea for me that has been swirling for a long time, but which has been particularly swirly since long discussions at Newsfoo in December. I’m sure others are already thinking about or working on similar ideas – although my impression at Newsfoo was that perhaps not. Either way, I offer it up here, warts and all, in case it’s got some merit, and might be of some help.
A caveat: I’m not a coder or a technologist, so please forgive any tech barbarisms [update: e.g. "Metadata? Are you crazy? We can do this with basic tagging..." or "This is classic sledgehammer/nut, hammer/nail territory..." or "Uh-oh - here comes the rabbit-hole...".] I work in sectors (journalism, media, development, human rights), however, that are profoundly affected by the work that many technologists are doing, and that are facing challenges in how to make manifest the provenance, authenticity, accuracy, diversity and representativeness of the information they provide.
Five things in particular have prompted me to thrash this post out now, starting at half-six on a Sunday morning, with regular interruptions from the kids…:
- discussions at Newsfoo about how to make manifest a layer of trust and transparency in news content – distinct from a reader’s habituated trust in a certain journalist or publication
- re-reading my friend Ethan Zuckerman’s thinking on media attention, xenophilia, homophily and other obstacles to diversity of news coverage – and wondering if the problem is less that the international media’s resources and attention are unevenly apportioned, and more that local media, closer to the story, are less able to compete, to project themselves or their analysis internationally
- by extension, a bit of media development dogfooding – what’s good enough to suggest to journalists and media outlets in the developing world should be good enough for any media anywhere
- watching immense surges of communication about the #egypt #jan25 #sidibouzid #wikileaks and other unfolding crises through the Twitterverse and beyond (including the Guardian’s Ian Prior incident described here)
- Mozilla’s Privacy Icons project – an attempt to represent at a glance how a web user’s data will be held and used by a service or website (more here and here)
There are some admirable efforts to crack the nut of information overload, especially with the huge increase in individual media production (tweets, facebook updates, and so on). Projects like SwiftRiver take a technological approach to crunching information, including news sources, and rendering it (ideally) both more contextualised, and more filterable, and therefore more useful and less overwhelming. Google News has started asking news orgs to tag their stories to distinguish between original and syndicated content. Some, like Neography, are basically hieroglyphics for the news. It’s a start, but still a fairly modest one.
None of this offers readers enough fine-grained control, nor does it present a new, different prism through which to understand news events, and it’s not designed in a way that communicates the intention of journalism. Google for one is trying to get there, but its solutions are still reliant to some degree on search (and search itself is an increasingly personalised rather than shared experience). This doesn’t yet truly level the playing field for, say, local media in the developing world, or journalists writing in their native language rather than in a global language. [A propos of which, there is still no Global Voices Online equivalent that, instead of tracking and curating blogs about or from every country in the world, systematically tracks and surfaces stories from local and national media around the world.] High-quality curation in more established international media as well as on many blogs, is helping diversify access to a wider range of original sources somewhat, but again it is constrained by individual capacity, networks, inclination.
I believe we need something extra, a reasonably independent searchable layer, that helps extract and highlight some of the things that we both value and seek to avoid in reading journalism – both ends of which may help spark deeper changes in the practice or perspective of journalism as it continues to evolve.
So, rather than having users rely on a combination of searches, aggregators, curators, recommendations, affinities, semantic crunchers and luck to find what they need, what if a broad swath(e) of news organisations, and other organisations involved in the business of journalism, developed a simple (perhaps even visual) system that, before they read an article:
- addresses both the problems of information overload and consumer choice
- surfaces some of the markers that might distinguish high-quality journalism
- provides readers with clear provenance of information
- and in doing so meets head-on the issues of transparency and trust that we discussed at Newsfoo?
Late last year I curated a week of posts for In Media Res, a superb project that brings anthropologists together to talk about online video. Writing fascinatingly alongside me were Sarah Van Deusen Phillips, Melissa Gira-Grant and Leshu Torchin. Here’s my post, originally published here:
Shaky, grainy, traumatic footage filmed on mobile phones wielded by brave citizens – from Burma to Tibet to Iran – has fast become both part of and fuel for contemporary narratives of uprising, struggle and repression – and it increasingly represents one of the key acts of resistance that individual citizens in repressive societies can make. While this now makes it seem almost commonplace in the rituals of human rights media, it wasn’t always thus.
I’ve been tracking, analysing and curating human rights video online for the human rights organisation WITNESS since the middle of 2006, initially via a blog aiming to unearth examples of activists using new technologies to document, expose and bring an end to human rights violations. A large number of stories were about mobile phone video – from police cells in Egypt to the execution of Saddam Hussein – and strikingly the most compelling, unvarnished and actionable footage often came from the cameras of the human rights abusers themselves.
Most of these cases showed networked technologies could reinforce repression – specifically taking mobile footage of humiliation, beatings, abuse, torture, happening in secret places, to show it directly to those you want to intimidate, and to circulate it more widely via Bluetooth “pour encourager les autres”. But in a certain number of instances case the videos found their way into the hands of outraged activists who spread and publicised the abuses online, to often global attention, with the long-term effect of focusing attention, activism, and advocacy to the governments tolerating or sponsoring these abuses, or at the very least, to undermine officially sanctioned or imposed narratives of law, order, justice.
Some videos, however, don’t make the same dent. Read More
This means that I am the Gujarati filling in a Indian sandwich. What other patterns shall we discern by year’s end? Will Len and Daniel be revealed as God-like artist-watchmakers with an impossibly vast yet detailed vision like Aaron Koblin?