Thursday, January 31, 2008

Calling For All Storm Stories

The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA found an interesting way to use Google Maps and reader participation with its Storm Stories page on its Web site.

Readers are encouraged to submit their photos, videos and comments about the recent 12 inches of snow they received.

Colin Mulvany, the Review's new multimedia editor, wrote about it in the paper's blog, Mastering Multimedia.

This is a fun way to involve the readers and drive traffic to newspapers' Web sites. It also helps to build that sense of community for the readers as many of the comments submitted gave thanks to helpful neighbors. This is an important asset to newspapers since a sense of community is part of what draws readers to pick up a newspaper. But in this case, it will draw them to the Web site.

Combining multimedia and reader participation is definitely a wise way to go. As Mulvaney points out, there may not be hoards of comments (only 60 at the time of this posting) but it could gain popularity as the word spreads and has the potential for different uses in the future.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Well, if it's only ethnic cleansing...

On a completely different note from my usual observations about social media and the world of journalism, I feel the compelling need to comment on the recent violence in Kenya resulting from a disputed election between the current president, Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

Earlier reports today noted that the surge in violence has left 800 dead and the Kikuyu--the tribe of Kibaki--are the major victims.

Jendayi Frazer, a U.S. envoy to Africa is calling the violence ethnic cleansing and not genocide but circumstances remind me of the grim genocides of the past (and that are currently happening) that start out as small incidents.

The genocide in Darfur has gone on since 2003 and has not gained the attention it deserves. Other genocides include Rwanda in 1994 and the Cambodian Killing Fields in 1975. Not to mention the death of 11 million people, 6 million of them Jews, in the Holocaust during WWII.

Perhaps lesser known is the first genocide of the 20th century. No, it wasn't the Jews in WWII, it was the Armenians in 1915 during WWI. It is estimated that one and a half million people died between 1915 and 1923. There is still controversy surrounding the mass murder of these people as the Turkish government has continually denied it ever happened.

In Kenya, the recent election controversy was the straw that broke the camel's back after decades of tension from grudges over land. Using a term like "ethnic cleansing" is an easy way to avoid providing aid.

The Associated Press Reports:

In Washington, the State Department appeared to back away from Frazer's characterization of the violence as ethnic cleansing.

''Very clearly, there is a very serious situation, if not crisis, with respect to people being displaced in Kenya,'' spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. He said experts from the State Department's Office of War Crimes Issues were compiling information about the violence but had not yet made any findings.

But he noted ''ethnic cleansing,'' unlike ''genocide,'' is not a legal term with a set definition.

''If they do document any instances of atrocities, we'll have to look at what next steps to take, but at this point we're not there yet,'' McCormack said.

Until the situation is deemed "genocide" no legal action needs to be taken, which is disturbing. Ethnic cleansing is not any less minor of a situation than a declared genocide and efforts should be made to combat it.

Here is a video from Reuters about some of the violence:

The atrocities of WWII left everyone with the motto, "Never Again" engrained in our heads but somehow we've managed to let millions more slip through the cracks. This is by no means just the United States' responsibility. It is everyone's responsibility.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Text At A Time

Apparently, cell phones are even more innovative than I knew when it comes to social change.

In response to my earlier post regarding how social media has affected nonprofits, Katrin Verclas from shared a bit more about the capabilities of cellphones. is an organization focused on social change through the use of mobile phones.

Now, maybe this is old news to some people, but it's news to me. I am the person who didn't even want a camera phone but, alas, had to give in because apparently cell phones aren't made without them anymore.

I am, however, aware of some of the interesting, creative art projects that use cellphones as I wrote about them a few years ago at the Boston Globe. So, I'm not completely in the dark but I'm not completely in the light either.

Here are a few services that different organizations offer through SMS (better known as text messaging):

The Human Rights Campaign:

  • America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.
  • Its Corporate Equality Index, which rates American businesses on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors, was made available via mobile phones. By texting "SHOP" and the name of a business to short code 30644, the businesses' corporate equality rating will be sent to your phone.

Climate Counts:

  • A nonprofit organization funded by Stonyfield Farm, Inc. working to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change.
  • By texting "cc" and then a company name to 30644, Climate Counts will deliver that company's carbon footprint score to your phone. Click here for more information.

Blue Ocean Institute:

  • A conservation organization working to conserve sea life.
  • It's mobile service, "enables restaurant patrons, supermarket shoppers and chefs to make healthy, informed and sustainable choices when deciding which fish is right for them—and the environment...consumers can text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question, and within seconds FishPhone will text back with Blue Ocean’s environmental assessment."

These are some interesting ways to use a cell phone that could (and is) developing further.

I conducted a few different Google searches and was not able to find any other SMS-based advocacy campaigns but I'm sure they're out there.

Disclosure: Stonyfield Farm Inc., which funds Climate Counts, is a client of the public relations agency at which I am currently working.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

One Click At A Time

Shortly after I posted about Free Rice and how social media has helped social activism, I received an interesting invite from Facebook to join the group, "Feed A Child With Just One Click."

A variety of websites like The Hunger Site, Hungry Children, Ripple and Poverty Fighters have set up a method where users simply have to click on a link set up on each site to help fight hunger.

For example, on Ripple's website sponsors pay a small amount to have their advertisement shown on the site. When "ripplers" click on a cause, they will see the sponsor's advertisement and Ripple then donates all proceeds from the advertisement to the charities that fight poverty.

It's a bit of a win-win situation for both advertisers and social activists and an innovative, easy way to involve everyone.

In addition, I forgot to mention YouTube's effort to help nonprofits through its Broadcast Your Cause program in my earlier post. It provides nonprofit organizations with their own channel to spread their message, increased uploading capabilities and the option to drive fundraising. It's yet another way that social media is being used to spread social change.

One Grain of Rice At A Time

It's evident how social media has changed the way we communicate but it's also interesting to see how it has affected social activism. Blogs, viral videos and social networking sites have created endless possibilities to spread the message about different social causes.

Most recently, I came across in this USA Today article that ran on January 23. It's an interesting and fun concept. Basically, it's a dictionary word game where you guess the definition to a word, but here's the catch--for each word you get correct, the cash equivalent of 20 grains of rice is donated by site advertisers to the U.N.'s World Food Program.

It was created by John Breen, a computer programmer and anti-poverty activist, as a way to help his son with the SAT's. The site launched as a sister site to Breen's hunger-awareness site, and has raised $258,000 in donations so far.

The word about the game has spread through sites like Facebook and blog coverage, demonstrating how helpful social media can be in helping social activism.

There are a variety of sites and blogs dedicated to helping non-profit organizations utilize new media tools in order to further their causes and others dedicated to social change. Global Voices,,, The Hub (presented by Witness) and Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media are some of the few that are dedicated to social change through using new media.

While mainstream media has been accused of ignoring important stories such as the genocide in Darfur, blogs and other sites have, in a sense, picked up the slack, bringing more awareness to social issues. It has also forced the mainstream media to pay more attention as blogs influence coverage more and more.

What's interesting about Free Rice is that it really is an easy way for anyone to help out. For all of those moments spent poking around on Facebook because I want to procrastinate doing a little school work, perhaps I can be a little more productive.

On a slightly different note, even cell phones have been an effective tool in social activism. is "a global network of people (and their tools, projects, and resources) focused on the use of mobile phones in civil society." Providing guides for nonprofits to use mobile phones in order to expand their cause, the site has been a common ground for information on launching peaceful demonstrations across the world through text messages and political ringtones.

While I might not be launching any political demonstrations with my cell phone anytime soon, I might take some smaller steps with Free Rice. Bad for procrastination but good for helping to solve world hunger, one grain of rice at a time.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Newspapers Take a Lesson from Hollywood and MTV

During my time as a co-op in a high-tech PR agency last January, there was a lot of talk about new media and how PR professionals could use it to their advantage when pitching to the media.

Advice given by a well-known reporter from a well-known newspaper (both name and publication escape me--hey, it was about a year ago!) during a professional development session, included using videos as a new and innovative way to reach out to the media. Simply put, a video pitch. This reporter said he had yet to receive a video pitch from a PR professional but if he did, he would certainly notice.

Fast forward to January 2008 when I came across this article yesterday from the Online Journalism Review about newspapers taking their own advice of finding alternate ways to pitch to their customers.

Both the Dallas Morning News and the St. Petersburg Times have individually embraced viral videos as a way to pitch their stories in an attempt to gain new readers. Two to three minute videos act as movie trailers (or a music video in the case of the St. Petersburg Times) providing an effective way to lead people to read the newspaper.

Hollywood Meets the Press

DMN's videos are basically like movie trailers but for newspapers, advertising their investigative stories that will run in its print edition. They are dramatic and they are effective, using emotional testimonies from sources, intense music and powerful tag lines. If there was any way to sex-up investigative journalism with new media, this is a good way to go because it grabs the viewer's attention (a hard thing to do with our dwindling attention spans in this instant-gratification type of society) while also presenting the story in a serious, professional manner.

Currently the publication has only two videos but plans to use this type of marketing in the future.

"Unequal Justice"

"Texas Youth Commission"

While "Unequal Justice" investigates how 56 convicted murderers in Texas were sentenced to probation rather than jail, "Texas Youth Commission" examines the abuse scandal by the state's agency created to rehabilitate young offenders.

Anthony Moor, Dallas Morning News' Deputy Managing Editor/Interactive noted:
I’m not going to say that this is a breakout way to reach the audience, but we have to do things like this. It’s not like we don’t understand what YouTube is about. And because of the way that news and info is being distributed on the Web, we have to gain new job skills within our current titles. For example, a traffic acquisition manager – not the types of things that newspaper or website editors do. We thought this is a good way to experiment with that.

He has an extremely valid point. This willingness to be adaptive and flexible is going to be the only way that newspapers can plan on moving forward in a world engulfed by new media. This isn't to say that I see newspapers disappearing but I do see a need to accommodate innovative ways to keep up with technology.

MTV Meets Newspapers

The St. Petersburg Times took a different approach by creating a music video to promote Politifact, its collaborative effort with the Congressional Quarterly to fact-check statements made by the presidential candidates.

This may not have the dramatic effect that the DMN's videos have but that's because it's an entirely different ball game. Clearly trying to reach out to a younger audience, the SPT's video uses its staff in the video and is humorous and clever. As a young voter, I found myself interested in Politifact. As a journalism student, I wanted to be on their staff since they seemed like a fun bunch to work with.

Is This the Future?

A search through Google and YouTube didn't turn up any other publications that have tried this but perhaps it is an alternative route that newspapers will be willing to take. While online readers grew six percent in 2007 for newspapers, something like this has the potential to not only increase web traffic for newspapers but to also lead people to actually pick up a newspaper and follow through with reading the printed story that is being advertised in the trailer.

It's an interesting collaboration between journalism and new media that is encouraging to see.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I had the pleasure of receiving a comment from Paul Conley whom I referred to in my first post about employers not offering training in online journalism to their staff.

Conley wanted to emphasize that in regards to students, he's all for training in online journalism and feels that it's an important part to a journalism student's education. He stated:
You're right--I don't believe that publishers should be paying to train journalists for the Web. Understanding how journalism works online is a required skill for today's reporters and editors. And I have no tolerance left in 2008 for professionals who haven't taken the time to learn these skills. But I feel very differently about journalism students. And I've worked very hard these past few years to ensure that journalism students are trained for the Web.

While I examined his original blog post from a student's perspective, I did make sure to call out that he was referring to B2B publishing. My main point behind my post was to emphasize that it never hurts to expose journalists to the new media that is becoming more and more a part of journalism--even those stuck in their ways and even those (like me) who aren't the most tech- and internet-savvy.

Thanks to Paul for his comments.

Down, Down, Down

"Stocks worldwide have taken a plunge."

That was the gist of what I heard when my radio alarm-clock jolted me out of my sleep at 7 a.m. What a way to start the day.

I was hoping that my ears had heard wrong after a nice three-day weekend of sleeping in late. Clearly I was just suffering from waking up so early.

Nope. The stocks did plunge worldwide. I made sure to confirm it this morning when I got to work and saw this Boston Globe article.

All eyes are on the U.S. as the world is waiting for us to slip into recession with them following right behind. Definitely not the most encouraging of news, especially after reading this article in yesterday's Washington Post discussing the influx of people in the U.S. who are skilled but jobless.

I can't help but be concerned as graduation is creeping closer and closer. With the unemployment rate jumping up to five percent last month--the highest it's been in two years--finding a job seems like it will be an uphill battle.

The Washington Post reports:
In November, nearly 1.4 million people -- almost one in five of those unemployed -- had been jobless for at least 27 weeks, the juncture when unemployment insurance benefits end for most recipients. That is about twice the level of long-term unemployment before the 2001 recession.

As my job search begins within the next couple of months, I know not only will I be competing with all of the other recent college grads, but also with those who are highly skilled and more experienced than me. I've watched my roommates (who are also in the journalism field) struggle after they've graduated so I'm preparing to grin and bear through it.

I guess the only thing I, like everyone else can do, is cross my fingers and hope for the best. What will be will be.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Aussie Reporter Demands Apology

Sixteen-year-old Corey Worthington recently threw a party involving alcohol for hundreds of kids at his Aussie home while his parents were on vacation, resulting in a $200,000 fine. While his antics were careless, his January 14th appearance on Australia's news program, A Current Affair, had me more appalled at the journalism than anything else. Here's a clip of his interview:

The reporter who interviewed Worthington was smug as she chastised the boy for his irresponsibility but she took it one step further when she demanded he take off his sunglasses and apologize to his parents, neighbors and Australia for what he had done. Worthington had no problem apologizing, even if it was nonchalantly, but refused to take his glasses off because they were "famous" and people liked them. The reporter was not the least amused. But what more could she have expected from a 16-year-old who was getting his 15 minutes of fame?

Perhaps she should be chastised for her awful reporting skills. While A Current Affair is known for being a tabloid news program in Australia, it is still concerning to see a journalist make such a bold move. There is a professional standard that needs to be upheld when interviewing someone, regardless of what the person has done. She even went so far as to tell him to take a good look at himself and think about what he has done. Apparently she has taken the role of the moral police.

While Worthington is soaking up the limelight (including web sites dedicated to the proclaimed "party hero," other sites offering to slap some sense into the kid and Facebook groups dedicated to either loving or hating him) I commend his refusal to take off his sunglasses, as gaudy as they were. Why should he have to take them off and submit to the demands of this television reporter when the only responsibility she has is to get the story--not pass judgment? Viewers can form their own opinions about the shirtless, nipple-pierced teenager with the tacky sunglasses. He clearly didn't make a good representation of himself but I guess that's his prerogative and it's clear to viewers who don't need the reporter's commentary.

I find it discouraging to see this type of journalism being practiced. Maybe some see this as me making a mountain out of a molehill but it's the bigger picture I'm looking at. Worthington's interview may be a drop in the bucket to all the stories out there, but I see the interjection of opinion to be a bad habit that broadcast journalism has gotten itself into.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cutting Corners with Social Networking

In my last class with Professor Kennedy, we discussed why people are drawn to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the list goes on. But then we transitioned to the advantages it can have for journalists whether it be as simple as finding contact information for sources or using these sites as a way to immerse themselves into the web culture. Social networking has put people at journalists' fingertips with a virtual directory of phone numbers, addresses, email and instant message user names.

But as Jennifer Woodard Maderazo from PBS's MediaShift points out, journalists' dependence on such sites can lead to some sloppy reporting. Accuracy and fact-checking are the basic and fundamental principals in which journalism is based on so how much trust can one put in social networking sites when there is so much room for error?

Woodward Maderazo focused on fake profiles and how easy it is to be fooled, using the multiple MySpace profiles of Bobby Banhart, the finalist from the trashy MTV-reality TV show, A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila as an example.

Despite the low-importance factor of Bobby Banhart, the example raises a critical issue when journalists cut corners by going straight to a person's profile instead of using it as a catapult to talk directly with the source. Woodward Maderazo pointed to the danger of fake profiles in the case of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Journalists lifted quotes from a Facebook page that was supposed to be his but turned out to be a fake.

Social networking sites are a great tool for journalists but there is a line that needs to be drawn. Use them to find information about sources and contact sources but never skip the important step of following through with the source. It seems like common sense but if journalists from mainstream media outlets like London's Evening Standard, Canada's Globe and Mail and Agence France Presse are making such a drastic error, perhaps it needs to be reiterated.

I myself have only dabbled briefly in using new media to find sources--mainly for a story I wrote in the fall of 2006 for a magazine writing course. Despite the sensitive topic (the barriers to healthcare that transgender people face), sites like Craig's List and LiveJournal were extremely resourceful when I was having such a hard time finding sources. While some were hesitant to talk, they were more than willing to point me in the right direction of people that were willing or to medical sources I could reach out to. I built this story from the ground up starting with just an idea and reaching out online resulted in finding great sources which I spoke with in person or on the phone. I know that without the use of social networking sites, I never would have been able to produce it.

So these sites are great tools but like every tool, they come with precautions. It's easy to cut those corners in such a fast-paced society that wants information at the speed of light but getting the information right is the first priority.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A couple of days ago I came across a blog posting by Paul Conley, a journalism mentor and media strategist for publishers and nonprofits, stating that employers should stop offering training in online journalism to their staff. Interesting...

He argues that the web is a culture and you cannot train someone to be part of a culture and although this is in regards to B2B publishers, I wanted to apply it to a much broader demographic: students--like me.

I agree with Conley that the web is a culture but not that "it's a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn't already become part of the Web." Or that "there's no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology."

Take me for instance. I'm as technologically impaired as they come and I've managed to avoid anything more than checking my email, using Google and of course, checking the social networking site, Facebook despite growing up with the Internet. But as I get ready to launch my journalism career, whether it be in print (a loosely used term now that everything is online and print circulations are on the decline) or public relations (which I've been dabbling in over the past year) I'd like to think that I'm not a lost cause just because I haven't become completely immersed in the big black hole known as the World Wide Web.

No matter what career path I choose, new media has become and will continue to be an essential part of what I do. That is why I signed up for Professor Dan Kennedy's course, "Reinventing the News: Journalism of the Web."

Frankly, my blood pressure rose as I found out I would need to keep a blog (the very one you're reading now) and it's still a little high even after I've started my first post.

But, I wouldn't say it's too late to teach me the web-savvy skills I've somehow steered clear of for so long. Dan Gillmor from the Center for Citizen Media feels the same, emphasizing the importance of journalists learning new tactics.

While I may not be employed full-time (yet) I think it can only be helpful for journalists to be trained in online journalism or at least exposed to the issues that new media is bringing forth. That's what this class is for me. Nobody can teach me to be part of a culture but I am involved in it (even if it is minimally) and I guess it's time that I jump in a little further.

I'm up for the challenge.

Welcome to my blog.