Community: A New Business Model for News by Nieman Reports


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Community: A New Business Model for News by Nieman Reports

  2. 2. ‘to promote and elevate the standards of journalism’ Agnes Wahl Nieman the benefactor of the Nieman FoundationVol. 65 No. 2 Summer 2011Nieman ReportsThe Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard UniversityBob Giles | PublisherMelissa Ludtke | EditorJan Gardner | Assistant EditorJonathan Seitz | Editorial AssistantDiane Novetsky | Design EditorNieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is published Editorialin March, June, September and December Telephone: 617-496-6308by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, E-mail Address:One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098. nreditor@harvard.eduSubscriptions/Business Internet Address:Telephone: 617-496-6299 www.niemanreports.orgE-mail Copyright 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.Subscription $25 a year, $40 for two years; add $10per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $7.50. Periodicals postage paid at Boston,Back copies are available from the Nieman office. Massachusetts and additional entries.Please address all subscription correspondence to POSTMASTER:One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098 Send address changes toand change of address information to Nieman ReportsP.O. Box 4951, Manchester, NH 03108. P.O. Box 4951ISSN Number 0028-9817 Manchester, NH 03108
  3. 3. Nieman Reports THE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 65 NO. 2 SUMMER 2011 4 Links That Bind Us Envisioning Connections 5 Community: A New Business Model for News | By Michael Skoler 7 Start Spreading the News | By Mark Briggs 9 When Community and Journalism Converge | By Katerina Cizek12 Engaging Communities: Content and Conversation | By Joy Mayer14 Curation, Community and the Future of News | By Steven Rosenbaum17 A Community Watches a Story Unfold | By Ron Sylvester19 Finding Information Pathways to Community Inclusion | By Peter M. Shane20 When Machines Decide What We ‘Think’ | By Jan Gardner City as Community22 Journalism of Value = Context for Communities | By James O’Shea24 Revealing the Underbelly of Turbulent Times | By Jan Gardner25 Reporting Pushes Past Language and Ethnic Divides | By Daniela Gerson26 What We Learn Informs What We Do | By Nancy Chen28 Focusing a New Kind of Journalism on a City’s Needs | By Bill Mitchell30 A Promising Collaboration of Place, Time and Niche | By Lynette Clemetson31 A New Partnership to Build a Common Understanding | By Shirley Stancato32 Advertising as Storytelling—So News Stories Can Be Told | By Kirk Cheyfitz Embedded in Community33 Local Reporting Builds a Community’s ‘Social Capital’ | By David Joyner35 Writing About People You Know | By Al Cross37 Everyone’s Welcome at the Newsroom Cafe | By Emily M. Olson Engaging a Community40 Health Draws a Community Together Online | By Jane Stevens43 What Football Pep Talks Taught Hyperlocal Reporters | By Bob CaloCover Design: Diane Novetsky | Nova Design
  4. 4. 46 Words and Visuals Intersect to Create Community | By Peter Rinearson 48 Connecting Kids With News in Their Community | By Renee Hobbs 50 News Literacy: What Not to Do | By Renee Hobbs 51 Media Literacy: Learning Principles | By Renee Hobbs 52 Online Comments: Dialogue or Diatribe? | By Alicia C. Shepard Words & Reflections 54 The Inner Fire of Muckraking Journalists | By Steve Weinberg 56 Deciphering the Life of a Complicated Thinker | By Dan Kennedy 58 A Failing Newsroom—Described With a Novelist’s Touch | By Christina Kim 3 Curator’s Corner: Living the Legacy of the Nieman Foundation | By Bob Giles 60 Nieman Notes | Compiled by Jan Gardner 60 Landing in Al Jazeera’s Vibrant Newsroom | By D. Parvaz 62 Class Notes 77 End Note: In a Time of Need, a Friend Indeed | By Patricia S. Guthrie Find compelling journalism. Click arrows to reveal stories.Dig into Nieman Reports. Keep up with news about fellow Niemans.Connect with on-the-ground reporting.2 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  5. 5. Curator’s CornerLiving the Legacy of the Nieman Foundation‘Helping to free Dorothy [Parvaz] and bring Hollman [Morris] to Harvarddemonstrate the effective use of the Nieman bully pulpit.’BY BOB GILESN ews that Al Jazeera reporter Dorothy Parvaz, NF thy’s release. She spoke of using the foundation’s power and ’09, was in custody, first in Syria and then Iran, prestige as a global bully pulpit to advocate journalism’s introduced an unexpected sense of mission into highest values and explore its promising models. Helping tothe Nieman family’s ritual of springtime goodbyes. Her free Dorothy and bring Hollman to Harvard demonstratecaptivity without contact inspired the Nieman Foundation the effective use of the Nieman bully find ways to apply pressure for her release. Spearheaded We welcome Ann Marie’s aspiration to expand ourby her family and classmates, the intense effort to bring global influence as well as build on initiatives that alreadyDorothy home involved Niemans throughout the world. bring the foundation’s voice into critical conversations Classmate Rosita Boland, a writer with the Irish Times, about journalism. Through Nieman Reports and our otherdescribed the strategy of the Free Dorothy global campaign publications, in conferences and the work the fellows willto the many Niemans who gathered at Lippmann House go on to do, the foundation keeps faith with its foundingfor my farewell on a weekend in mid-May and appealed obligation that elevating the standards of journalism willfor help. Several gave Rosita ideas and contacts and sup- forever be its unfinished business.port. Ellen Tuttle, our communications officer, and I had Each Nieman program and publication delivers its per-already written to the Syrian and Iranian governments spective and content into the flow of conversation aboutcalling for her release. As we did so, we digitally shared how to address the challenges confronting journalism today.those messages with the entire Nieman family, urging them On the morning we met with Ann Marie, the Niemanto do whatever they could to keep attention focused on Journalism Lab launched Encyclo, an online resource withDorothy’s detainment. information about companies and organizations that are During our festive evening at Lippmann House celebrat- shaping journalism’s rapid, sometimes tumultuous my 11 years as curator, I paid tribute to Dorothy and As the end of my work at the Nieman Foundationechoed Rosita’s plea to join the effort to free her. As I nears, I find myself reflecting on how the experiences andspoke, I could see people’s eyes tearing as I described how lessons my classmates and I shared in our year (1965-66)she had put herself in harm’s way to try to report on the at Harvard have remained a vital part of who I am andcrackdown in Syria. what I’ve done in my newspaper career and as curator. So A few days later, on May 18, we awoke to learn the much about how reporters do their work has changed, butIranians had released Dorothy. She was in the Al Jazeera what we learned then shaped and influenced journalism’snewsroom preparing a report on her detainment. Later that progress and is at the core of its practice, two Al Jazeera editors wrote to thank the foundation In looking back on the ways the foundation has expandedfor its “help and care.” We may never know what compelled its global reach and influence during the past decade, mythe Iranians to send her home, but it seems fair to suggest core discovery as a fellow is all the more prescient: educa-that by rallying global attention the Nieman Foundation tion is critical and essential for journalists reporting onand Harvard helped to create mounting pressure toward an increasingly complex and turbulent world. Add to thispersuading the Iranian government to do the right thing. the dynamics of change reshaping journalism, and this Last summer the foundation helped to build a similar reinforces the essential role the Nieman Foundation willcoalition of individuals and organizations that convinced continue to play by providing a stimulating environmentthe U.S. State Department to issue a visa to Hollman Mor- where new generations of journalists will learn. When Iris, NF ’11, an investigative reporter in Colombia. A visa hear about or see fellows exercising their responsibilitieswas denied based on the advice of Colombian intelligence to set a high standard for other journalists to emulate, itofficials who, incorrectly, claimed he was too friendly with is testament to our program’s success.the left-wing guerrillas. These many voices backing Hollman I am deeply indebted to my colleagues at Lippmannled to a full review of the evidence by State Department House who worked creatively and effectively with me toofficials who agreed, finally, that a mistake had been made. hold true to the Nieman legacy, which Ann Marie will Ann Marie Lipinski, who succeeds me as curator this now watch over. My heart is full of appreciation for thesummer, visited with the Nieman staff on the day of Doro- extraordinary privilege of being curator. Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 3
  6. 6. Links That Bind Us With its rhythmic clicks and electronic signal, the telegraph upended the centuries-old practice of people transporting the messages they wanted to send. Now, with a code of dots and dashes, words and ideas spread rapidly to places the sender might never go and to people she’d likely never meet. The code’s inventor, Samuel Morse, ruminating on where this mid-19th-century invention might lead, wrote: … it would not be long ere the whole surface of this country would be channeled for those nerves which are to diffuse with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country. Given the intercontinental connections the telegraph would forge, Morse could well have construed his neighborhood as the world. In time, others would. Writing 150 years later about what he saw as the profound significance of the telegraph, James W. Carey, journalism professor and communications scholar, argued that it “reworked the nature of written language and finally the nature of awareness itself.” For decades the telegraph was the go-to electronic carrier of communication until the telephone and radio, television and the computer, then the Internet and mobile devices came along. As each new technology appeared, what was vertical—top- down, one-way, with the purpose of delivering information— got flattened as peer reached out to peer with an increasing expectation of engagement. Words that traveled through these electronic lines, then wirelessly, grew to feel less like sermons and more like chants. Even before palm-sized, always-on global communica-An 1855 map shows plans for telegraph lines connecting the tion devices surfaced, Carey had observed in the openingentire world. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. chapter of his 1989 book “Communication as Culture” that the dominant view of 20th-century communication as being about transmission didn’t fit so well anymore. In its place, he envisioned a re-emergence of the “ritual view.” In this view, he wrote, “news is not information but drama. … It invites our participation on the basis of our assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it.” Into this “ritual” orientation gets bundled, he explained, “terms such as ‘sharing,’ ‘participation,’ ‘association,’ ‘fellowship,’ and ‘the possession of a common faith.’ ” Today, #, the Twitter hashtag, forms the cornerstone of a community convened by shared interests and sustained by communal action. Geography no longer defines community, nor is it a constraint on one forming. Word of mouth, as Mark Briggs writes in this issue of Nieman Reports, is being displaced by “word of link.” News and information continue to be transmitted—and this is where reporters step in. As technology encourages this shift toward the ritual, journalists will seek out new roles and purpose in places we call community. —Melissa Ludtke4 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  7. 7. LINKS THAT BIND | Envisioning Connections Community: A New Business Model for News ‘… the most powerful emerging business driver in the new economy is community.’ BY MICHAEL SKOLER A few years ago, Public Radio International perform one show and beam it live to hundreds coaxed its most popular host, Ira Glass of of movie theaters around the United States at the “This American Life,” into digital cinema. same time. Efficient, yes, but would it be appeal- Ira had already expanded his famed radio pro- ing, Ira wondered. gram into a traveling stage show that toured a After all, people came to see him and even dozen cities a year. With this new idea he would hoped to meet him. Radio is an intimate medium, and with Ira, so is a live show. What would be appealing about watching him on a screen from thousands of miles away in the company of a hun- dred strangers? This wasn’t a sporting event—the main draw for digital cinema—it was journalism, storytelling journalism. And people could already watch Ira on DVD. So would they come and pay $20 a ticket? They came in droves. More than 30,000 watched the first digital show at hundreds of theaters across the U.S. and Canada in the spring of 2008. The next year, 47,000 turned out. They came to be with other fans, experiencing something they all loved together. The success wasn’t so much the power of Ira, but the power of his community. This isn’t a brilliant new insight. We have long known communities are powerful and that local media thrive when they bring together and serve their community. Somehow though when it comes to the challenge of online media, we forget this. We search for new business models that involve paywalls, more video, the iPad, and wealthy donors, while the most powerful emerging business driver in the new economy is community. Connection as a Strategy We are social beings. Three-quarters of all American adults belong to voluntary or organized groups, according to “The Social Side of the Internet,” a study published this year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In fact, today’s social media culture may be reversing the decline in social behavior that Robert D. Putnam documented in his book “Bowling Alone.” While 56 percent of non-Internet users belong to a group, 80 percent of Internet users participate in groups, according to the study.Scenes from “This American Life” in digital cinema promotions. Clay Shirky, a professor at New York Univer- Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 5
  8. 8. Links That Bindsity who studies the effects of the operating system. Linux is free, cre- Community, Not AudienceInternet on society, writes eloquently ated and constantly updated by aof how technology is unleashing the huge community of volunteer software To harness this model, news organi-greatest wave of social communica- developers. Red Hat sells support zations need to think of themselvestion and collaboration in our history. services to companies that run their first as gathering, supporting andThe companies flourishing in today’s systems on Linux. By serving as the empowering people to be active in adigital, social culture provide more corporate help desk for Linux, Red community with shared values, andthan valued content to people. They Hat has made it possible for Linux not primarily as creators of news thatdeliver valued connections. And they to spread into the corporate world, people will consume. Public radio hasturn this community, the content it which makes the skills of the volunteer created a huge virtual communitycreates, and the trust it engenders Linux software developers more valu- of people who feel they have sharedinto money. able. Red Hat uses some of its profits interests and values, evidenced by the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are and staff to mentor and contribute to millions of dollars donated during pain-the icons of the social economy. Even the community, advance open-source fully long pledge drives. Still, publicGoogle, the organizer of digital infor- code, and organize community events. radio has hardly tapped the revenuemation as opposed to people, upended potential of its audience, for it hasthe search business with its algorithms Groupon has become a collective buying yet to engage them as a communitythat tracked connections—the links powerhouse with more than 50 million and let that community organize itselfpeople share with others. There are registered users by offering people a and find novel ways to create valuehundreds and thousands of lesser deal a day from a local business. This for the group.known, quickly rising businesses that model has spurred many copycats. To, TED and BlogHer runare, at their core, built on community ensure that the novelty doesn’t wear lucrative conferences and events whereeven when it isn’t obvious. Here are off, Groupon is now working to turn its members and fans meet, learn andjust a few examples: users, whose only tie is a desire to find plan collaborations. LinkedIn offers deals, into a community. It is introduc- paid services that make it easier forAngie’s List has more than 1.5 million ing G-Team campaigns, which range users to connect, share advice, hiremembers in over 150 cities who pay from spurring flash mobs to fostering and be hired. Zynga’s game playersabout $10 to $60 a year to be part of local collective charitable action. “Every pay real money for supplies that givea community in which members rate G-Team campaign connects you with them higher status within a communityand review service providers (plumbers, enough people to achieve something such as Farmville. On Facebook anddoctors, etc.) to help each other. In the awesome that you couldn’t have done other social spaces, people pay to sendface of free alternatives, Angie’s List alone,” the Groupon website explains. digital tokens of affection or admira-has turned its community into annual tion, which only mean somethingmembership fees in the $50 million The new business model for news within the community. The annualrange and an even larger income stream and journalism is beckoning from U.S. market in these virtual goods isby allowing companies that are highly every site that seeks first and foremost estimated by Inside Virtual Goods torated by members to pay Angie’s List to build a community. Games like be $2 billion and growing.for the privilege of offering discounts Farmville and virtual worlds like World Sites with active communities alsoto its members. of Warcraft and Second Life are no succeed better in media’s traditional fun on their own. Their value comes revenue hunting ground. They oftenPatientsLikeMe, a seven-year-old from their communities. Their rapid get higher advertising rates becausecompany, helps 100,000 patients find growth results from network effects, members are more likely to click orothers with the same illness to share where each new user/member/player buy from advertisers when they feelexperiences, treatments, successes and makes the service more valuable for invested in the site. Smart advertis-setbacks. In today’s culture of baring everyone else. ers also have the opportunity toand sharing all, many people still treat Second Life becomes more inter- study, understand and cater to themedical information as highly private. esting as more people build virtual community.At PatientsLikeMe, members are told homes and businesses. Angie’s List If media organizations are goingthat the company makes money by becomes more useful to members as to tap the new community businessaggregating the shared patient experi- the number of reviewers goes up. As model, they will need to avoid mistak-ences, removing identifying informa- membership increases, it also becomes ing their audience for a community.tion, and selling the data to medical a more important resource for busi- Fans become a community whenand pharmaceutical companies that nesses so they are more willing to pay they have the freedom to explorewant insight into patient experiences. to advertise and offer discounts to their interests and connections and members. That attracts more mem- organize themselves. That freedomRed Hat has built a billion-dollar bers and fuels a virtuous circle—the is why Facebook has more than 500business on the Linux open-source hallmark of creating network effects. million members.6 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  9. 9. Envisioning Connections The digital screenings in 2008 and which created WellCommons as a other pioneers in the social economy, it2009 tapped a desire by Ira’s fans to health community and just launched is this: Creating community engendersbe part of a community. Yet fans are a community site around sustainabil- value for people. And providing valuereally only a potential community. ity. [See Jane Stevens’s article about is the heart of any successful businessMedia organizations need to create WellCommons on page 40.] Without model.the tools and foster the mindset to a doubt, some won’t get it right or,understand, activate and serve their like the Washington, D.C. website Michael Skoler, a 1993 Niemancommunities, without trying to con-, will fail to find sustained Fellow, is vice president of interactivetrol them. People relate best to other management support to put com- for Public Radio International. Hepeople, not institutions. munity at the heart of their strategy. researched new business models as Some news organizations are pursu- But if there is a common thread that a 2009-10 Reynolds Fellow at theing the community-building model, weaves through Foursquare, Facebook, Missouri School of Journalism.such as the Lawrence Journal-World, Zynga, Twitter, BlogHer and many Start Spreading the News ‘Word of link’s power is like nothing we’ve experienced before. It’s about how we pass along information, share ideas, and expand business in our digital times.’ BY MARK BRIGGSI OF LIN RD K nformation, news, recommen- stop using short-term benchmarks O dations and yes, gossip, have to gauge their progress. They’re always been spread by word of going to have to allow the per- Wmouth. In the digital age when sonality, heart, and soul of the WO WO NK RDpeople share such things, the people who run all levels ofresult is more immediate, ex- I the business to show.” INK RD OFpansive and powerful—and If he’s right—and I believe L OFhow it happens depends he is—radical transparency Fa lot less on conversation (yes, more radical than RD O F Land more on the links we what’s already happened) lies LINKsend. On Facebook, Twitter, ahead for news companies O IN LYouTube and LinkedIn, the and journalists. It will involve RD WOreigning method is “word of K people covering real news that WOlink,” and this strategy also will be absorbed and sharedthrives in e-mails and on blogs by people with others they Wand websites devoted to publish- O interact with in their various K RDing news and journalism. OF LIN digital communities. Those “share” buttons on stories No more being disconnected—ofand blog posts do get clicked. “us” standing apart from “them.” Distribution—passing along what’sof interest through personal net- Like Nothing Beforeworks—is only the beginning of our ecosystem; it is having a profoundcommunity-building impulse. Col- effect on how business works—and Word of link’s power is like nothinglaborative journalism happens with a this includes journalists. we’ve experienced before. It’s aboutclick as readers, listeners and viewers “At its core, social media requires how we pass along information, shareenlist themselves to be ambassadors for that business leaders start thinking ideas, and expand business in ourthose who report, write and produce like small-town shop owners,” Gary digital times.the news. Vaynerchuk writes in his new book, Consider Groupon, one of the fastest How we function in digital commu- “The Thank You Economy.” “They’re growing companies in the history of thenities isn’t just changing journalism’s going to have to take the long view and Web. Absorb the fact that Groupon— Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 7
  10. 10. Links That Bindthe community gathering let’s-make-a- the power of who is sharing the link personal relationships with thosedeal approach to digital commerce—is and that person’s relationship to the whom New York University (NYU)on pace to pull in $1 billion in sales in person or company behind the link. journalism professor Jay Rosen callsrecord time. This company didn’t start It’s much like the product endorse- “the people formerly known as theadvertising outside of search engines ment that comes from a trusted friend audience.” And Scoble is one of theuntil it had millions of users and had compared to one from a celebrity most well-connected and transparentlaunched in dozens of cities. (Judging spokesperson on TV. reporters and bloggers of our the negative reaction to its Super Research highlights a pattern that The average Facebook user hasBowl ad this year that was probably at first glance seems counterintuitive. 130 friends and the average Twittera good idea.) Instead, Groupon grew Those who arrive at a news website account has 300 followers. Accordingfrom an e-mail listserv in Chicago to because of a link posted on Facebook to Vaynerchuk’s math, that means onelaunches in Boston, New York, and or Twitter are likely to stay longer and average user with accounts on bothWashington, D.C. largely through word return more often than visitors who get platforms has the potential to reachof link. Motivated to share the daily sent there from a link found through 7,740 people with a single with friends, the customer base a search engine. What is surprising That message could be a thumbs-up,grew exponentially. Groupon estimates about this finding is that readers who one-word comment, like “interesting,”that more than half of its Web visitors click on links from search engines and the link then piggybacks on that. Orcome because of referrals from friends. are actively pursuing information, the message could be critical or snarky, In the news business, few would while those who get there via a social questioning the value or approach onhave believed that a start- coverage.up would surpass The Wall Authentic, personalStreet Journal and The interactions with journal-Washington Post in unique ists and news organizationsWeb users in less than five What sets word of link apart is its transform passive membersyears. Yet that’s what The accelerated speed, broader range, and of an audience into activeHuffington Post did. With endorsers and distribu-17 million monthly unique potential for stronger influence. tors—even partners. NYUvisitors in March, this professor Clay Shirky talkscelebrity driven website about three elements thathad more traffic than the make social media power-Journal and Post combined ful: the promise, the tools,and at a price of $315 mil- and the bargain. Almostlion it became the property universally, news compa-of AOL earlier this year. nies have made the promise Absent word of link, it’s of interactivity via socialunlikely that Groupon or The Huff- network are passive news consumers media by launching Facebook pagesington Post—or Zappos or Pandora or who are suddenly transformed into and Twitter accounts. Now the follow-many other digital start-ups—would active ones. through must be their use of thesehave found such success so quickly. The Q. and A. website Quora has tools to stay true to the bargain—of been around since 2009. But last maintaining genuine communicationThe Referral Economy year, on the day after Christmas, the and connection. influential tech personality Robert They talk to you through theirCity University of New York journalism Scoble wrote a post entitled, “Is Quora storytelling; the expectation is thatprofessor Jeff Jarvis talks and writes the biggest blogging innovation in you will talk back to them. And justabout the “link economy,” describing 10 years?” During the preceding 10 as word of mouth worked better whenit as “the new currency of media.” He months, averaged 113,000 deeper connections existed betweenrefers to it as a “gift economy” in which unique users per month, according those giving and receiving information,“links are presents that can be given to Compete. In the two months after the same dynamic applies to word ofor earned but not bought.” Scoble’s widely distributed post, which link. What sets word of link apart is Word of link is similar to this link raced around the Web on Twitter, its accelerated speed, broader range,economy, but it is grounded in social Facebook and blogs, aver- and potential for stronger influence.conventions that predate the Internet aged 313,479 unique users.and the digital device known as links. Who shared a link makes the dif- The News Finds MeWhile the link economy speaks more ference. Powerful referrals come withto the power of search algorithms and greater ease and frequency for news When I’m visiting college students, IGoogle ads, word of link is more about companies and journalists who have always ask where they get their news.8 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  11. 11. Envisioning ConnectionsMost shrug. I might as well have say many of us hope they are and will ing. By embracing this approach butasked them where they get their food. see through attempts to pander with with a new twist, those who gather and“Everywhere,” most respond. Another sensational angles. Occasionally, of disseminate news will leverage wordanswer I get frequently—and it’s worth course, pandering will work, but over of link in ways that will expand theirremembering—is the notion that “if the long haul taking this route will audience, improve their journalism,the news is important enough, it will damage the credibility of journalists and grow their business.find me.” and news organizations. Translated—if my friends think I Weaving a community together is Mark Briggs is author of “Jour-should know, they’ll tell me. more than amassing huge numbers of nalism Next: A Practical Guide to According to Facebook, the average Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Digital Reporting and Publishing”user creates 90 pieces of content each It’s a challenge of quality, not quantity. and “Entrepreneurial Journalism:month on the site. More than 30 bil- I’ll take 100 people who feel they are How to Build What’s Next forlion pieces of content are shared each partners rather than 1,000 followers News,” to be published by CQ Pressmonth, and much of that is what we call who consider us a glorified headline in October. He is also the directorjournalism. Certainly reporters want service. We’ll get better news tips, of digital media for KING-TV intheir work shared, but if they focus better feedback, and more evangelism Seattle, Washington and a Fordtoo much on what moves the quickest from those 100 people—plus all those Fellow in Entrepreneurial Jour-on social networks this could lead to in their respective networks. nalism at The Poynter Institute. Hea form of “link-bait” journalism. The Small-town business owners rely blogs at is too smart for that; or, let’s heavily on word of mouth for market- When Community and Journalism Converge ‘… I am bypassing the predictable, often sensational headlines to explore the profound ways that digital storytelling can be a force for political mediation.’ BY KATERINA CIZEKI encountered journalism on the day clear that I would remain at the standoff As I watched TV with the Warriors, I came to understand the word through the night. A few members I came to realize how divergent the “community.” of the Mohawk Warrior Society had mainstream representation of this It was my first assignment as a pulled up plastic lawn chairs around a armed conflict was from what I wasstudent photojournalist and I was rabbit-eared television directly behind witnessing. That evening I heardbehind the barricades in Quebec the barricade of overturned police about unresolved land claims and theat what became known as the Oka vehicles and large branches. They abuse of power through the centuriesCrisis. It was the summer of 1990, were watching the evening news. They as non-Natives encroached on Firstand the news media were watching invited me to join them, and when I Nations lands. There were amongthe military showdown between the did I saw that Alanis Obomsawin, a the mainstream media some well-Canadian armed forces and a Mohawk First Nations Abenaki documentary established members who expressedcommunity. filmmaker, was there to document views about this mistreatment—a view The confrontation involved plans to this crisis through her own eyes for I shared. Later, they were accused ofexpand a municipal golf course onto the National Film Board of Canada. Stockholm ancient Mohawk burial ground. One hundred meters down the road That evening I became committedThis standoff, which some consider and behind the barricades, military to and certain of the value of theCanada’s Wounded Knee, lasted two guns were aimed in the community’s independent and community-centeredand a half months. When it was over, direction and ready to be fired. Army making of media. During the interven-so much had changed, including the helicopters buzzed above. Like the ing decades a tsunami of this kindpolitical balance between First Nations military, the Warriors had weapons. of storytelling became central to theand the federal government. But there were unarmed women and digital democratization of media. But As the day turned to dusk, it was children present as well. for me that night crystallized the Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 9
  12. 12. Links That Bind from or seen with our unlikely forms of storytelling and media making. It is in these new forms of storytelling that I believe we are creating frames for engaging with some of the most important topics of the 21st century. For my first four years at the NFB, as I worked with veteran producer Gerry Flahive, I was a filmmaker in residence at an inner-city hospital. Like my approach to covering the Oka Crisis, the perspective I took with this project was unconven- tional. I examined, in part, how the media and members of the medical community might workAs filmmaker in residence at an inner-city hospital, Katerina Cizek worked as a storytelling together to create new forms ofpartner with health workers and patients. intervention. Could telling a story improve someone’s health? I worked in partnership withconnections among media making ing: Handicams, Human Rights and health workers, patients and research-and democracy, journalism and docu- the News,” it challenged the authorial ers; the key ingredient was respectmentary, citizenship and community. voice of mainstream media in the face for our editorial independence and of rising community-based media and differing expertise. Usually, a filmDigital Media and the digital revolution. The film was made inside a hospital would beCommunity broadcast throughout the world and is about what happens to workers and used today in classrooms and human patients. I approached making filmsTaking place, as my epiphany did, at rights advocacy training. with them, not about them, with thethe dawn of digital media, I became Fast-forward to now, and I am at the goal of effecting tangible change in theaware early on of its revolutionary National Film Board (NFB) of Canada. social and political realms. The sevenpotential. (Obomsawin, still making films and projects we did there, including “NFB: A few months later, in March approaching 80, is my colleague.) I Filmmaker in Residence,” an interac-1991, TV viewers in Los Angeles had am working to refine and redefine the tive documentary that won a Webby,witnessed one of the first modern acts documentary filmmaking process and dealt with the transformative potentialof citizen journalism. When George think about notions of representation that exists at the intersection of digitalHolliday heard police sirens and and emerging technology—all with media, health care, and community.a commotion outside his bedroom community and the potential of digital Now I’m in another kind of buildingwindow, he went to the balcony of citizenship uppermost in mind. What I in the second year of Highrise, anotherhis high-rise building with his new do happens at the confluence of these NFB media project. Our notions ofhand-held video camera and filmed issues; my goal is not only to docu- what I call “interventionist media” arethe confrontation going on 90 feet ment what I find, but also to locate now transposed from a hospital intobelow. He recorded for almost eight our place as documentarians in all of a different community ecosystem—theminutes as four white Los Angeles this, a subject that has preoccupied high-rise, which is the most commonlypolice officers brutally beat Rodney me for 20 years. built form during the last century.King, a black man. Such buildings and their inhabitants, The one minute of Holliday’s footage Storytelling—Inside Out especially residential ones, have been,broadcast on local TV and then on news at best, ignored, and, at worst, vilifiedshows throughout the world sparked At the NFB, I’ve been as likely to be as being the cause of civil unrest that isa “handicam revolution.” More than a found in the hallways of an inner-city often characterized as racial or ethnic.decade later, a documentary that I co- hospital as in an elevator at a residen- As I did at the Oka barricade anddirected with Peter Wintonick featured tial high-rise building—places, if I’m in the hospital, I am bypassing thethe use of that footage, its impact and honest, I would rather not be. But predictable, often sensational headlineslegacy, and the political impetus to these are the physical spaces where I to explore the profound ways thatuse digital video to document human have had to be to connect communi- digital storytelling can be a force forrights abuses. Called “Seeing is Believ- ties of people who are rarely heard political mediation. For me as a film-10 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  13. 13. Envisioning Connectionsmaker, the high-rise building becomes inside, the user enters the life of a My Window” gave the Highrise projecta metaphor for density, and it offers a high-rise resident through first-person the initial push we wanted with itsframe through which to think about storytelling and thousands of images. ability to engage in dialogue peoplesweeping issues of migration and Using Skype, e-mail and Facebook, who are too often separated into silosglobalization, urbanity and community. I got in touch with photographers, of interest, whether in architecture or In this century, more than any activists and journalists in mid-sized city planning, journalism or humanother, to be human is to be urban. Yet cities—such as Prague, Beirut and rights, education or housing activism.politicians, journalists and academics Toronto—which are representative of And it has spurred conversation amonghave only a meager understanding of the places where most urban dwellers the residents themselves.what people’s lives are like in such live. From 13 cities and in 13 languages,places. News can’t simply be about 100 contributors shared more than Questions We Askwhat happens in the financial district 90 minutes of stories about living inof a city’s downtown core when some these urban environments. What lies ahead—at both a globalof the most significant stories are “Out My Window” is about high-rise and local level—is the desire to pushunfolding in our urban peripheries. residents harnessing the power of com- the boundaries of what’s possibleThere, the neglected and pressing munity, music and art in their search at the places where community andneeds of vulnerable communities are for meaning in the space they inhabit, documentary intersect. In anotherfound along with stark evidence of prefabricated as it might be. People iteration of the Highrise project, we’veeconomic injustice. Amid the concrete, renew what was old and crumbling as been working for quite some time withI find inspiration for change. they repurpose waste into things useful residents of a high-rise building to and even beautiful. They create—and arrive at a sense of the values shared‘Out My Window’ recreate—community in spite of the among those who live in the isolating built forms surrounding them. spaces of a tall residential building.I constructed my first global interactive This Web documentary has gar- Here are a few questions animatingonline Highrise documentary, “Out My nered global attention, including a our efforts:Window,” as a virtual high-rise. Each 2011 digital Emmy in the nonfictionapartment window in the building is a category. It is spawning conversations • What aspects of these people’s livesdigital portal to a different city. Once on blogs and on Twitter. In short, “Out would conventional journalism andThe online documentary “Out My Window” is a virtual high-rise, with each window on the screen leading into a story about the life of aresident in a different city. Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 11
  14. 14. Links That Bind documentary filmmaking usually trying to learn more about how notions this political linkage is seen now in the miss? of community take on wholly new role social media are playing in the• What more can we learn by col- meanings in digital space. As this hap- uprisings across the Arab world. From laborating with members of the pens, what is the role of the journalist the quieter gestures of photo-bloggers community as they help us, as as documentarian? A key ingredient is in a meeting room behind the eleva- media makers, get closer to what’s what happens with technology—with tor in a suburban Toronto high-rise, happening? what it enables all of us, as makers of digital citizenship is continuing to• What about the stories and images media, to do. Then there is also the shape the ways in which community that residents create themselves? evolving idea of “digital citizenship.” and journalism come together to tell• How can we support the self- This addresses our level of access to important stories of our time. representation of those who live technology and our ability to use and in the high-rise as we want to hear harness the power of technology to Katerina Cizek is a documentary from people in their voices and see engage and transform the world we director with the National Film them through their images? live in. Board of Canada. Her recent project• How can the act of media making What is undeniable is the tightening “Highrise: Out My Window” won a support community building? relationship between communications 2011 digital Emmy. technologies and political activism. One overarching question involves Exploding with the Rodney King video, Engaging Communities: Content and Conversation ‘Editors ought to require that story pitches and budget lines include an engagement component, reflecting community conversation, collaboration and outreach.’ BY JOY MAYERO f the many challenges news any roots, history or context in the that they’re working on behalf of their organizations confront, there is communities they covered. communities. To a person, they say one that inspires my research, Journalists still foster and celebrate “yes.” (The opening line of the Chicagoinforms my teaching, and ignites my otherness more than they do connec- Tribune’s editorial vision is “We standimagination. It involves the disinte- tion. Ever mindful of conflicts of inter- up for the community.”)grating connection between journalists est—actual or perceived—they hold In general, I’ve found that mostand their audiences—the separation themselves apart from influence and journalists would agree with theseof journalists from their communities are wary of being swayed by sources notions:that has taken place through the years. or vocal readers.With the notion of objectivity having The public journalism movement • They are using information tobecome such a dominant strategy, that emerged in the 1990’s was in improve their communities.sometimes this distancing has been part about using news organizations • They want community membersintentional. as vehicles for finding solutions for to feel invested in and connected The motivating idea behind the community issues and problems. It to the news product.disconnection was simple: To enhance was criticized for encouraging journal- • They want as much informationtheir ability to fairly report the news, ists to partner and align themselves as they can get about what theirjournalists needed to stand apart with sources and for a perception of readers want and need to know.from their community rather than pandering to audience whims. Criticsbe participants. Other factors, such also threw around a word that makes What Engagement Meansas journalists’ transient lives as they journalists uncomfortable—advocacy.moved from place to place for career Yet if we explore this idea now, As I’ve spent several months talkingchallenges and advancement, added to helping to find solutions seems an with journalists about what com-the disconnection. The result is that accepted part of the job. I’ve asked a munity engagement means to them,journalists often ended up without lot of journalists this year if they feel I’ve asked them: Why do they think12 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  15. 15. Envisioning Connectionsit’s important? How are they seeking a way—find the customer, meet the an impact on the quality of life” of itsto achieve it? need, bring eyeballs to the product, online community. Ashley Alvarado, its Some described what it’s like to be and build brand loyalty. It’s customer public engagement manager, considersin conversation with people in their service, too—anticipating needs, invit- it part of her job to make sure thecommunities and how they use social ing feedback, being responsive to website’s stories are easily understand-media to be in the mix of able, get translated intowhat people are talking all appropriate languages,about. Others work to and are easy to act on.pursue collaborative rela- In one riveting example,tionships; people help them she and her colleagues atlocate sources and shape California Watch held freestories and, in doing so, lead screenings as part of abecome involved in setting project on unsafe lead levelsthe news agenda. Sometimes in jewelry; they spent theirthey then help gather and time and money to make itshare information. Still easy for people to see if theirother journalists talk about jewelry was safe—and theycommunity engagement viewed this as a natural andmostly as outreach as they needed extension of theirlook for partners, build journalism.bridges, and identify and This spring after Cali-meet informational needs. fornia Watch investigated The book “The Elements the seismic safety of publicof Journalism” does a great schools and found reasonjob laying out the obliga- for concern, it went onetions journalists have to step further and publishedtheir audiences, including an educational coloringprinciples such as an obliga- book about earthquake pre-tion to the truth, loyalty to paredness. Visuals pairedcitizens, monitoring people with words that kids canin power, and serving as a understand explain complexforum for public discus- California Watch’s coloring book on earthquake preparedness. issues and provide infor-sion. I would argue that mation they’d need in antoday’s media landscape emergency; the books werenow requires an additional element—a input, and acting like a human being. translated into Spanish, Chinese andnew principle to keep us in tune with It is also the right thing to do for our Vietnamese. The staff had a particularour digital times: Journalists have an communities. Identify an informational readership in mind—in this case, chil-obligation to identify and attempt to need; make sure we fill it in a way dren—and it went to extreme measuresconnect with the people who most readers can find and use. to get important information to thewant and need their content. right people. In some cases, this obligation might Engagement: A Spectrum of Another California-based engage-apply to an entire publication, but Ideas ment editor, Grant Barrett of Voicein most cases this reaching out will of San Diego (VOSD), considers it hishappen in more granular ways—by Some of the more interesting experi- job to aggressively seek and connectthe beat, the topic, the project, and ments I’ve found this year come from with niche audiences, especially formaybe even the story. If journalists start-up news organizations, not legacy important stories. A fantastic examplebelieve what they are doing is trying media. I like to call them “scrappy is a six-month project on the life of ato improve their communities by media,” mission driven and goal refugee who was deaf and unable toproviding information, isn’t it true oriented. They know their audience speak. To make sure that people whothat the information needs to reach just as they understand the need their would be most interested and affectedthe right people to be utilized most product is filling for them. Oakland found the piece, VOSD reached out toeffectively? If a journalism tree falls Local and The Texas Tribune provide refugee and refugee rights groups, thein a forest and no one hears it, does examples of mission statements that deaf community, and the public servicesit do any good? pair providing information with service community. Barrett describes his job Adhering to this obligation is to community. California Watch is not as figuring out how to get stories intogood for journalism’s challenging shy about its emphasis on “solution- communities that want and need them.bottom line. It mimics marketing, in oriented reporting intended to have He’s careful to say that he doesn’t Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 13
  16. 16. Links That Bindtake this approach for every story; the interests make them natural audiences, community conversation, collabora-strategy seems to fit best with projects and then find ways for their stories to tion and outreach. In many cases,that are especially significant or that enrich the conversation. conversations about stories need toprovide much-wanted attention. “We This does mean that sometimes include these questions: Who is goingare carefully finding individuals and the traffic and conversations happen to benefit most from this information?groups who, if they did not hear about elsewhere than on their website. This And how will reporters, editors andthese stories, would be worse off for won’t improve their own metrics; eye- producers be sure those people find it?it,” Barrett wrote in an e-mail to me. balls on another site don’t yet count After all, this is our obligation.“We are hunting for change toward for much. But what defines successgoodness, quality and enlightenment.” in digital space will need to evolve Joy Mayer was a 2010-2011 Reyn- My conversations with Alvarado, over time to include conversations olds Fellow at the Missouri SchoolBarrett and others have led me to that happen on Facebook, mentions of Journalism where she studiedembrace a “take the party to the in online communities, and pingbacks community engagement in jour-people” philosophy. Journalists want from other sites. nalism in a project she called “Ditchwhat they do to reach those who want Let’s also not ignore the value that the Lecture. Join the Conversation:it. But most are accustomed to putting still comes from those person-to-person Reconceiving the role of journalistsstories online and then hoping people interactions that inform coverage, in a participatory culture.” She is anfind them. With so much content out encourage content sharing, and foster associate professor at the Missourithere, hoping isn’t a sound strategy—it’s brand loyalty. School of Journalism and an editoran excuse. Journalists need to become Editors ought to require that story at the Columbia Missourian, wheresocial by sparking conversation with pitches and budget lines include an she and her students are launching apeople whose hobbies, work, ideas or engagement component, reflecting new community outreach team. Curation, Community and the Future of News ‘People are clearly overwhelmed by the growing volume and weight of digital content and messaging that they feel compelled to process.’ BY STEVEN ROSENBAUMT hinking back, I’ve always consid- half-hour solidly reported news show be good and the lead was solid, we ered news as a dialogue rather that was syndicated across New York assigned a producer to do the story. than a monologue. I’ve preferred State. Most of the networks were Then we used the person’s voice fromconversations to speeches. That said, I experiencing an explosion of their own the call to introduce the segment on air.don’t often hang out on street corners newsmagazine shows. One day as we It was an immediate hit—so popularor in neighborhood bars partaking were trying to come up with original that callers often found a busy random conversations about the stories and new topics, I exploded in But they dialed again and again untilweather or the Mets. I like my con- frustration in front of my producers: they got through and could leave theirversations curated. “We’re doing the same damn stories story idea on our cassette recorder. While it’s easy—and tempting—to as everyone else. We’re out of original Often, after that week’s program hadthink of what’s happening to news as ideas.” aired, I would sit alone in the officethe result of technology, my earliest and listen to the phone machine beepmemories of what we now think of Viewers News as the callers pitched their ideas. Backas interactive news and social media in those early days, the sound wasreside in a single phone line and a That was the day that we purchased mesmerizing.RadioShack answering machine. what was then a pricey 800 number After this segment had been on the This memorable moment took place and went on the air with a new seg- air for a few months, an Associatedin 1992 when I was the executive ment. We asked the audience to call Press (AP) reporter called to do aproducer of a newsmagazine called in and suggest stories that needed to story about our new “technology.” I“Broadcast: New York,” a weekly be covered. If the idea turned out to was happy to be quoted by the AP,14 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  17. 17. Envisioning Connectionsbut I told this her privacy. But she had first annual Digital Lifestyle Surveyreporter that our taken us there. She had that we conducted at Magnify.nettechnology was opened the door and illuminate the overwhelming amountno different from invited us in to see what of data—photographs, texts, messages,any other station had happened to her. chats, videos—that come at consum-in New York or After some discus- ers. To do the survey, we sent out aanywhere in the sion with her and our Web-based mailing to 10,000 partners,United States for stations, we broadcast customers and friends in our companythat matter. All of her video that Satur- database and received 200 responses,us had phones; it’s day night at 6:30 on mostly from technologists, journal-just that we were NBC stations. ists, entrepreneurs, executives, andchoosing to answer professionals.them when viewers Journalist I found the results stunning. Incalled. Turned Curator just 12 months, 65 percent of the Six months later, respondents said that the data streamtechnology caught No longer was I a coming at them had increased byup with us when journalist in the old at least 50 percent. When asked toSharp Electronics sense of the word. categorize that data, a majority (72.7released a camcorder I’d become a curator—a percent) described their data streamthat made it easy for amateurs to filter—helping the audience share as either a “roaring river,” a “flood,” orrecord themselves. Sharp loaned us stories. My role was to decide which a “massive tidal wave.”five of them, and we went on the air stories to put on the air and figure out As they take in this surge in infor-the next week offering viewers the how to contextualize them. “Viewers mation, nearly half (48.5 percent) ofopportunity to pitch a story, and if News” led to another program that the respondents said that they areselected, we would FedEx them a was known as “MTV Unfiltered.” connected to the Internet “from thecamcorder for their use. It felt good to play a role in help- moment I wake up until the moment I “Viewers News”—with cameras ing viewers emerge from their passive go to bed.” During their waking hours,shipped to viewers—was an over- role as TV couch potatoes into an they struggle under this load of unfil-night sensation. A few months later active role as vibrant and prolific tered input as increasing bandwidtha producer summoned me to an edit creators of content. And today the and data abundance has averageroom. We’d been pitched a story from idea of journalist as curator is front consumers unable to keep their heada woman in Syracuse, New York who and center, as the tools to make and above water. More than half (50.3had silicone breast implants that had tell stories are now in the hands of percent) of those surveyed admittedruptured. She’d had blood poisoning anyone with a cell phone, laptop or that “when I’m offline, I am anxiousand was now deeply debilitated. The desktop computer. The old barriers to that I’ve missed something.” To addressproducer was screening her raw tape—a entry—the cost of a printing press or their anxiety, 79.5 percent check e-mailtour of her home, a trip to the super- a broadcast tower—have evaporated. all the time, 57.4 percent never turnmarket, an awkward interview with Of course, this change doesn’t off their phone, and what I found mosther husband, and then, the moment come without a price. Results of the disturbing was the revelation that oneI’ll never forget. The last day she hadthe camera, she woke up and took thecamera with her into the bathroom. Sheset it on the sink, pressed “record,” andthen unbuttoned her dressing gown. As we watched, the room fell silent.She had two terrible scars. There wasnothing at all sexual about what wewere watching. Just terrible scars. In that instant I knew our world—and our place in it as journalists—wouldnever be the same. With her camera,she had taken us to a place where nojournalist was allowed to go. A placeso private and personal that if anyTV crew had shot those images they Almost half of the respondents to’s Digital Lifestyle Survey reported beingwould have been guilty of invading connected to the Internet from the time they wake up until they go to bed. Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 15
  18. 18. Links That Bindthird of them said that I am.” Skillful sharingthey check e-mail in the of information throughmiddle of the night. channels of community Despite devoting filtering and personalthis kind of time and recommendations willenergy to trying to fulfill people’s sense ofkeep up with the data digital identity as con-flow, close to half (46.9 tent curators. And thispercent) agreed with leads to a different kindthe statement “I am of content consumer, oneunable to answer all who will do less surfingmy e-mail,” and 62.5 of the Web and insteadpercent agreed with turn to curated contentthe sentiment “I wish I delivered by trustedcould filter out the flood sources.of data.” Journalism isn’t going These results paint a to be any less impor-stark picture of where tant. In fact, as infor-we are and where we’re mation gets messierheaded. People are and noisier, those whoclearly overwhelmed possess the skills toby the growing volume recognize importantand weight of digital stories, find themes,content and messaging provide context, andthat they feel compelled explain the significanceto process. As more digi- of pieces of informa-tal devices and software tion will be criticallyservices proliferate, the important. Instead ofamount of data and reminiscing about thethe speed at which it good old days—as wecomes at us will grow In the Digital Lifestyle Survey conducted by, almost 80 per- long for the relative quietexponentially. cent of respondents said they check e-mail “all of the time” to cope with the and lack of disruption overload of information. we had then—let’s takeHuman Curated what we know how toWeb do as journalists and of friends will certainly improve things. find the best way to use these skillsSoon this flood will be like an ava- But the number of connected devices to tell stories and provide essentiallanche, burying us if we don’t outrun and new social software offerings will Google’s Eric Schmidt has said create undifferentiated data faster than There are communities—geographicthat the entire world is creating five computers alone can manage. and otherwise—that are filled withexabytes (or five billion gigabytes) of The solution is not to be found people eager for somebody to playdata every two days. That’s equal to in faster computers or smarter algo- this much-needed role. With curationall of the information created from the rithms. The best place to look for a as the new journalism, it’s time forbeginning of civilization through 2003. remedy is in the power of the human us to act. This simply isn’t sustainable. Try as mind and tapping its capacity to find,people might, multitasking or going sort and contextualize information and Steven Rosenbaum is an entre-without sleep is a recipe for disaster. ideas. As this happens (and it already preneur, filmmaker and authorPeople have reached—and many have is starting) we will think of this time as of “Curation Nation: How to Winsurpassed—the limits of their ability being the dawn of the human filtered in a World Where Consumers areto manage data, and this sense of Web—the curated Web. Creators,” published by McGraw-Hillinescapable overload is having an As a clue to why I am convinced in 2011. He is the CEO of Magnify.impact on how they relate to family this approach will accelerate as a Web net, a real-time video curation engineand friends and on their productivity practice, I turn again to the Digital for publishers, brands and websites.and even their sleep. Lifestyle Survey in which a healthy Algorithmic solutions like better majority (61.3 percent) of the respon-spam filters, smarter search, and social dents agreed with this concept: “Itools that surface the likes and dislikes consider the content I share part of who16 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011
  19. 19. Envisioning Connections A Community Watches a Story Unfold ‘It was risky to reveal parts of the story as it unfolded because in 30 years in this business I have seen projects hit dead ends.’ BY RON SYLVESTERT wo days after my story detailing Facebook postings appreciate having the selling of teenage girls for a virtual seat at the courthouse and sex in our city was published insights about the inner workings ofin The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, this the justice system. A follower said shetweet arrived: learned “it’s not like ‘CSI.’ ” @JenWPortraits: Finally read Risks and Rewards @rsylvester’s child traffic [sic] story. Sickening. Heartbreaking. This year I’m engaging with social How do we fix this? media as I work on larger investigative projects. Trials have their own narra- Jennifer White, a suburban mom daily newspaper account ever could: tive, conducive to strings of tweets.and photographer, sent it and in doing Investigative stories unfold over timeso kicked off a community project that @rsylvester: One juror forgot with gigabytes of information that mayraised truckloads of food and clothing to turn off his cell phone. Ring not have context for weeks or months.and dozens of new volunteers to aid tone: “Carry on My Wayward A recent story I did followed Ronnievulnerable teens living on our streets. Son,” by Kansas (1976). Rhodes, who had spent 30 years inAt each donation drive or volunteer prison after being convicted of murder.meeting, someone mentioned being At the end of the first day, I began But a class of students at Washburnmoved to act by White’s public shar- receiving e-mails and tweets from University’s School of Law in Topeka,ing of her reaction to my story. Weeks people who liked being able to follow Kansas suspected he was innocent. Asafter subscribers had recycled the the trial and a story that had horrified reporting about his case got undernewspaper, White was still crediting our city. They learned how detectives way, we decided to use my blog, “Whatthis story as an inspiration. unraveled the crime while I discovered the Judge Ate for Breakfast.” It was When I started using Twitter to cover the power and connectedness of instant risky to reveal parts of the story as ittrials three years ago, I had no idea feedback. Often I refer to Twitter and unfolded because in 30 years in thisof the power that social networking Facebook as the digital public square business I have seen projects hit deadwould have on my reporting. or the community water cooler—the ends. To publish incrementally might “I just want to see how this works,” place where people gather to discuss mean that the story would fizzle inI told Judge Ben Burgess, who gave the latest news and gossip. These public. Knowing this added tensionme permission to tweet from his court- social media tools have also become for me, even if those in the socialroom. My live trial coverage began, the circulation department of the media community might not haveone 140-character message at a time, modern newsroom. appreciated this aspect of reportingwith the case of Ted Burnett in the U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas the story in this way.murder-for-hire of Chelsea Brooks, a Marten got it. The following spring the It was a colleague who convincedpregnant 14-year-old. Her 19-year-old tech-savvy jurist allowed me to tweet a me that the reporting process wouldboyfriend, Elgin Ray Robinson, Jr., trial about Wichita street gang activity turn out to be as interesting as theapparently thought giving Burnett from a courthouse that had previously underlying story. “There’s a reasonmoney and drugs to strangle Brooks forbidden reporters to carry cell phones Superman was a newspaper reporter.would prevent her parents from pursu- or computers. Followers stayed with Because it’s a cool job, and people areing a case of statutory rape. Instead, me for six weeks, tweeting questions interested, even if you’re not Super-both men are serving sentences of life and comments. One of their favorites: man,” said Katie Lohrenz, The Wichitaimprisonment without parole. an annual gang barbecue, held by the Eagle’s newsroom programmer and my My tweets from the courtroom Crips and referenced by its nickname 27-year-old online journalism mentor.included more detail and dimensions from the witness stand. “Cripnic! OMG At a time when many news organiza-of coverage—a sort of running color Cripnic!” came one response. tions jealously guard their information,commentary from the trial—than a Those who follow my tweets and online editors John Boogert and Tom Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 17