Citizen, Alternative Media Converge at Olympic Games in Vancouver

It has become second nature for people to capture experiences, events and news using their phones, cameras and computers. We live in a world were journalism is an action -- and citizens have stepped up to answer that call to action.

As a result, the story of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games is by no means limited to the version being told by official media sponsors. Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and Tumblr are enabling citizens and independent media to provide real-time coverage of the culture, events and community that are part of the Olympic Games. More stories are being told than ever before -- and most of them have nothing to to do with the athletic events.

Kris Krüg is a photographer with Static Photography and a prominent member of the citizen and alternative media community in Vancouver. He is out in the city covering the broad spectrum of events that are occurring during the Olympics.

This is his photographic recap of citizen and alternative journalism at the Olympic Games.

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Citizen journalists John Biehler and Dave Olson hold up the media accreditation badge for the True North Media House. TNMH is a virtual and independent media house operating during the Olympics. It provides media accreditation to citizen journalists of all types and also aggregates their reporting.

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NGOs Must Harness Social Media Beyond Disaster Relief

When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Doctors Without Borders had 1,300 followers on Twitter. Now, it boasts over 13,000. The Red Cross follower count shot up by just over 40,000 people in the weeks following the quake. If technology wasn't already transforming the public role of the non-governmental organization, it has now brought many to a point of no return.

Bigger Followings Mean Bigger Responsibility

As Jason Cone, the communications director for Doctors Without Borders, noted during New York's recent Social Media Week, the earthquake was a "game changer in the way [his organization] thinks about social networks and [their] application."

"Social media might actually be a means for us to mobilize and overcome some of the real serious obstacles we had been facing," he said.

Cone was getting at an idea that thinkers in the field had been suggesting before the quake struck: For civil society to evolve alongside technology, organizations must envision ways to better harness new media at all times -- not just when disaster strikes.

"How long will it be before international development and humanitarian NGOs see their supporter base eroded by digital native organizations such as Kiva and Avaaz?" asked Lokman Tsui at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Non-governmental organizations are taking on new roles as large-scale transmitters of information. This also means that they have a greater responsibility to share news with each other, not only with the population at large. The easier it becomes to disseminate information, the more pressing the call to formally share resources across organizational lines in the name of cooperation.

'Jamming' Online for a Safer World

Using digital tools to foster increased collaboration was an important goal of the recent Security Jam, an online forum that convened think tanks, NGOs, governments and citizens to hash out ideas and solutions for making the world a safer place.

While the jam might at first glance seem like a glorified chat room, it was roughly the 50th such event in a series that is run by IBM, a company with a history of facilitating practical solutions. For example, an internal IBM jam in 2006 brought together more than 150,000 people from 104 countries who posted more than 46,000 ideas, which resulted in 10 new businesses and $100 million in funding.

As Leendert Van Bochoven, a NATO and European Defense Executive at IBM, said: the jams were "to a certain extent born out of frustration where we attended conferences ... without attendance of the NGO's [and] we came to the conclusion [that] if you really want to have a fruitful debate ... then we ought to involve all relevant stakeholders."

Indeed, attending the Security Jam is a lot easier than traveling to a conference -- the online location means that interested civilians and NGO workers currently deployed in the field can easily participate. Jams are a little like the anti-Davos in that the number of people sharing information with each other is much larger than at a physical conference, and the technology allows organizers to efficiently zero in on the most buzzed about ideas. They can then call for "bread and butter" plans that can be implemented in the immediate future.

"A physical conference on this scale would be almost impossible and rather inefficient," said Van Bochoven.

All told, the event elicited 10,000 logins and 4,000 posts from people in 124 countries. It also provided a platform for horizontal communication between leading experts like the State Department's Anne Marie Slaughter, the executive directors of Human Rights Watch and the World Food Program, and interested citizens. The ideas will now be streamlined into a set of practical proposals to be presented for the leadership of the EU and NATO, among others, at an official event in April.

A Step in the Right Direction

While these new ideas may prove worthwhile, the online forum is obviously no panacea. And when it comes to the digital behavior of most NGOs, those that took part in the jam were probably in the minority.

As Michael Best, an associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Information Technologies and International Development, told me, "the Haiti example has shown that not all civil society groups are ready to leverage the full power of today's communication and computing systems."

"in some cases the human network is slow to adapt to the digital network," he said. "NGOs probably need to better prepare to make full use of these systems as an integrated component of their work, especially at the interface between collaborating organizations where coordination most often breaks down."

In the hours following the quake in Haiti, many would-be humanitarians wandered aimlessly, unable to get in touch with either each other, or those in need of help. Slowly, by using tools like Twitter, SMS, Skype and the Ushahidi platform, they began to coordinate -- locating those in need of help, and discovering who was nearby. This process can, and should, occur at a larger scale -- and before, not after, disaster strikes.

Susannah Vila is New York City-based writer, focusing on the intersection of technology and politics. She's a graduate student at Columbia University, where she's currently researching the role of information communication technologies in civil society. Get in touch with her at susannah.vila@gmail.com.

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Social Action Networks Defined – Doing Your Homework

SAN_Homework When we last talked about Social Action Networks,  we identified the specific characteristics that define a SAN and what how they differ from an online community.  Today we are going to share the steps you should take before you even start planning what you SAN will look like and what it will do.

So grab a note pad, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to work:

  • Think up of a name – This may seem an obvious choice, but take some time to consider the options. Do you want your SAN to have the same name as your main website? Do you want it to stand out on it’s own?
  • Grab a few domain names – You might have the best name for your SAN only to find out that domain name has been taken.
  • Write up a mission statement – Probably one of the most important elements to your SAN. This should be quick, concise, and sum up what your mission and SAN is about in one or  two sentences.
  • Start drafting your SAN guidelines – What about the rules? How will you deal with abusive members? What will you allow and not allow on your community?
  • Research – The first step in any social media endeavor is listening, and this holds true with SANs. Take the time to see what people are already talking about. Where are they talking? What are they sharing? What portals are they using? Are they more active on Facebook than anywhere else?
  • Engage with active communities – The social web is vast and it should come as no surprise that people are already going to be talking about the very subjects you plan to include in your SAN.  That’s fine. Become part and build relationships with these communities. Taking the time to do this will help when it comes to inviting people to join your SAN.
  • Start outlining what your Moderator’s responsibilities will be – if you think you can launch a SAN without some sort of moderation, you’re fooling yourself. It will be imperative to write out the Moderator’s responsibilities and their needs. These can always change, but don’t launch your SAN without doing this vital leg work.
  • What promotional plans do you have in the pipeline? – It will be bad to launch you SAN and then start thinking promotion. Do you already have a newsletter? If not start one now, and update readers on the status of your SAN. You might want to consider having just a splash page announcing your SAN with a projected date. Maybe even offer email newsletter sign up to anyone who wants to be invited to a private beta launch.

Come at your Social Action Network from a member’s perspective.

If you were a potential member of your SAN, what would you want to have on it? What content would you like to see? More importantly what would you need to keep you coming back?

It’s great if you SAN has over 500,000 members but if only one third of them are returning, then that isn’t really successful. You need to provide them the opportunity to express their opinions, and be part of the building process. 

Remember, the ultimate goal is to transform your member’s passions into obtainable action.

If you are not in a hurry to launch, then by all means, take your time. If you are up against a deadline , I would suggest do as much homework as you can before launch. It could make all the difference between a SAN that is successful, and one that fails.

In the next post we’ll talk about what solutions are available you can use to actually build your Social Action Network. Stay tuned.

4 Minute Roundup: Google’s Mixed Buzz; Olympic Social Media

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the new Google Buzz, offering ways for people to use their Gmail contact list to send out status updates, videos, photos and more. Google has had to react to an array of concerns over privacy and the way Buzz automatically generates followers (and followees). Plus, the Olympics start on a somber note, but are being covered like never before over social media. And I ask Just One Question to NYU J-school grad and former MediaShift contributor Alana Taylor.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio21210.mp3

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Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Google Buzz re-invents Gmail at O'Reilly Radar

Google Buzz is brilliant, Facebook just lost half its value at Calacanis.com

Wake Up, Google - The World Is Really Pissed Off About Buzz at Silicon Alley Insider

Google tweaks Buzz privacy settings at News.com

Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw at Silicon Alley Insider

Outraged Blogger Is Automatically Being Followed By Her Abusive Ex-Husband On Google Buzz at Silicon Alley Insider

Millions of Buzz Users, and Improvements Based on Your Feedback at Gmail blog

Google - We May Remove Buzz From Gmail at Search Engine Land

Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games at PBS MediaShift

Facebook and Twitter Compete for Olympic Glory at NY Times Bits blog

Bloggers and tweeters take the 2010 Games global at Vancouver Sun

Social media a mystery to U.S. women's hockey coach Mark Johnson at LA Times Olympics blog

Olympic sponsors reach out through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter at USA Today

Here's a graphical view of the most recent MediaShift survey results. The question was: "What's your primary source for news discovery online?"

news source grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think about Google Buzz:

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games

In 2006, Graeme Menzies and a few colleagues travelled to Turino, Italy to watch the 20th Winter Olympics. The group constituted part of what would become the communications team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, which kick off with opening ceremonies on Friday.

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Menzies is the director of online communications, publications and editorial services for the Vancouver Organizing Committee, also known as VANOC. Prior to joining VANOC, he worked in communications for Microsoft. During his time in Italy four years ago, he took careful note of the fact that many people were talking about -- as well as visiting -- YouTube.

"I noticed that the Turino Games had nothing on YouTube," he said in an interview. "It was very hot around four years ago -- it was what Twitter is today. A lot of people were talking about it, not as many were using it, and those that were using it were not doing so very strategically."

Back in 2006, Twitter didn't exist and Facebook was available only to university or high school students. The point being that if the VANOC communications team had planned their strategy based on what they saw and knew back in 2006, they would have been caught flat-footed by two of the most important social networks.

Back in 2006, Menzies said, he realized YouTube was symbolic of what was to come.

"When I was thinking about YouTube, I had the realization that you can't really plan four years out in online communications," he said. "The smartest planning for online communications has to include knowing that something else is going to happen four or two or three years from now that you don't know about yet."

As a result, the team created an online communications strategy that put the Games' website at the heart of its activities. From there, it branched out to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as well as other offerings such as podcasts and photo galleries.

"When we looked at the social media channels out there, we examined what they are good at, and how they fit in with our mix," he said. "TV is TV and radio is radio, but this is something else altogether. In the online world you have Facebook, websites, YouTube, Twitter -- so how do they go together? Who do you reach with each of them? And how do you create a package that engages people?"

With that in mind, here's an overview of VANOC's online and social media communications strategy.

The Mother Ship + Aggregation

"The website is the mother ship," Menzies said. "Our research tells us that it will receive somewhere in the region of 60 million visitors over the period of the Games, along with between 1.5 billion and 1.6 billion page views."

The site is home to the expected information about events and results, along with a ton of other Olympics-related information. It also features a detailed Spectator Guide to help people find their way around and get where they need to go, as well as a plethora of photo galleries, podcasts, and videos.

One nod to a current trend in the world of news is the Best of the Web page. As the Games begin, Menzies said his team will look for interesting and notable reporting and features published by outside individuals, groups and organizations. Yes, the Games will be engaging in a bit of news aggregation and curation. Each item featured on the page also includes a Digg button to enable visitors to promote ithe link.

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"We'll be able to say 'Here's something interesting to read, or a Flickr gallery,'" Menzies said. "It's not really realistic to expect us to produce all of the content. But we will produce what we can as well as we can, and look at other people producing content and if it fits our values, we can recommend that."

Or as Jeff Jarvis would say, "Do what you do best and link to the rest."

Twitter

When Menzies thinks about Twitter, his mind wanders to Marshall McLuhan and the telegraph.

"[McLuhan] had a theory that what new media often does is it makes something redundant, and retrieves something that was previously redundant," he said. "Twitter has retrieved the telegram. It's a good telegram: Short little sentences and things that are important for the next five minutes, but not so important after that."

This view of the service greatly influences how Menzies personally operates VANOC's official Twitter account, @2010tweets. So far, the accounts are focused on pushing out links and information, rather than engaging in discussions with other Twitter users. He said he's found Twitter to be useful for distributing ticketing information and sharing local-focused items.

Along with the main feed, VANOC created other Twitter accounts that act as alert services for people looking for information about tickets, scheduling and transportation. Menzies said that VANOC will not try to influence people to follow official hashtags for events or other aspects of the Games.

"Hashtags are something we're looking at, but they're not something we can totally control," he said. "Other people out there have already created hashtags...It's not realistic to pretend we can control everything out there."

Facebook

The official Olympics Facebook page has well over 350,000 fans. Menzies said his team views the page the same way they view the Olympic venues in Vancouver.

"We build the venues but we don't run the sports," he said. "We built the Facebook page but we don't own it. We are the initiator [of content and information on the page], but after that it's up to the community. They respond in English, French, Chinese and other languages from near and far, and generally moderate themselves."

He said the page is a place where people who love the Olympics can congregate. "They feel the same way about the Games," he said. "Those that don't like the Games have their own pages."

Again, however, Menzies emphasizes that the traffic on the Facebook page is tiny compared to the main website.

"Everything we do in our approach to social media is in the context and with the knowledge that the website is the motherlode and the mother ship," he said.

That perspective explains why the VANOC approach to Twitter and Facebook is to use them to rebroadcast information from the website, and direct people back to the site. Menzies and his team are not jumping in on discussion threads or adding comments to hashtag discussions.

YouTube

The official Games YouTube channel has been pumping out videos for months. The torch relay is a major source of video content, and the channel has also featured videos about specific sports and Vancouver itself.
Menzies said they realize the broadcast partners and a range of media will also be producing video. As a result, VANOC's videos focus on presenting things from their perspective as the host.

"We asked ourselves, 'What can people receive from us and not from other channels?' It was a good exercise and it reminded us that we're the hosts, we have a responsibility to the country and to the world," he said.

youtube.jpg YouTube is a necessary platform because "if you've got videos you should put them up where people go to watch videos," according to Menzies.

Being in the Moment

Apart from the major social media services, VANOC released a free mobile app, which contains much of the content available in the online Spectators Guide, as well as the schedule of the Cultural Olympiad, and the latest news, images and video from the website.

Once the Games start, Menzies said it's a matter of the team putting the strategy and all of their tools and services into action.

"Our job is to organize and host the Games in February and the Paralympics in March," he said. "We're done at end of March, so our goal is to be in the moment...being ahead of the pack is just as bad as being behind. We don't want to be on the bleeding edge or behind the times. We want to be in the moment."

On that point, he said he feels satisfied. "We've got a nice package of communications channels put together to deliver a great experience," he said. "Of course, it will all change by the time London 2012 comes around."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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Can Milbloggers Give Unbiased View on ’30 Days Through Afghanistan’?

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The U.S. military has had an uneasy relationship with soldiers using blogs, video and photos to offer an unvarnished, uncensored view of war. The military brass has responded in the past by restricting blogging by enlisted soldiers, and having commanders review blog posts before posting. But that may be softening with the launch of a new project by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) public affairs division. It's called 30 Days Through Afghanistan and is written by two Air Force sergeants.

Sgt. Nathan L. Gallahan has a background as a print and photojournalist, while Sgt. Kenneth J. Raimondi is a broadcaster. Gallahan is taking on the role of blogger/journalist, while Raimoni will be doing daily video blogs. The two will spend 30 days criss-crossing Afghanistan, visiting the five major command centers and telling the good, bad and in-between stories of the international forces, as well talking with Afghan citizens. Most surprisingly, their commanders will not be approving posts before they are published.

"This is revolutionary, I don't think anything like it has been tried in the military before," Gallahan told me. "I have a responsibility to the taxpayers to provide them a completely unbiased look at what's happening. There's good things happening here, there's bad things happening here. You talk about both of them, and let the readers be the judge."

They are now on Day 3 of the project, which they consider to be a pipe dream come true, and have spread the word about it via a Twitter feed, Facebook, and various other social media outlets. But there have been hiccups along the way. The video on the site tends to load and reload and buffer, though it works better on a YouTube channel. The site comments also run from newest to oldest, against the usual convention, and they designed the site with white text on a black background -- not always pleasant for readers.

Here's their report on Day 2:

I was able to speak to the pair on their second day in Kabul, Afghanistan (at 1 a.m. their time), and the following is an edited transcript of our discussion, along with some audio clips.

Q&A

Whose idea was it to do this project?

Sgt. Ken Raimondi: It was kind of a dream of ours to do something like this. To be honest with you, we weren't sure how our command would react to this. It's something that's not normally done in the military public affairs field. We brainstormed and drew up a presentation and pitched it to our command, and they actually enthusiastically accepted it. We were obviously pretty excited about that.

Nathan did all the web design on his own. That's his expertise. He built the whole thing from scratch, and it sort of went from there.

Sgt. Nathan Gallahan: Ken's being rather modest in this whole thing. I built the site, but he's been managing most of the heavier aspects of it. He's been looking into the travel arrangements and making plans, and I've been concentrating on the structure of the website and the inner workings of the project. So it's been a real team effort that was developed by both of us. There's a lot more hands in it, too, there's Capt. [Nicholas] Sabula, who's sitting here with us and is helping run the management of the project.

And what was your end goal, what was your aim?

Gallahan: Our goal was to create a 30-day online conversation. We want to create something that everyday people from across the world can participate in, so that they can ask the questions that matter most to them, and Ken and I can go out and find answers for them. We also have the goal of humanizing the people in the conflict here in Afghanistan. Because there are so many headlines that people see flow across their television sets every night, and it's usually bad. In this country it's not all bad, there's a lot of good. We want to tell the entire story, and we have 30 days to do it.

How do you think you'll get that global participation? Are you reaching out to people in other countries?

kings palace.jpg

Raimondi: We're marketing through the DIVDS process, the Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System [the military uses to deliver content to the media] -- you know we love acronyms. They've helped with our international push. But another way we're doing it is through Web 2.0 initiatives, through Facebook, through Twitter, through YouTube.

Just to give you an example, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has its own Facebook page, and they have 42,000 fans on there, and it's a worldwide audience. We're trying to tap into that audience as well. We also have an interactive forum on our site [that requires registration] that we're trying to push an audience to. Granted, it is in English, but we hope to have translations at some point.

Hear Sgt. Gallahan explain how the team has had success getting the attention of a German blogger and some folks in the U.K.:

Do you see this as more of a NATO project? On your Day 1 report, you talked with someone from Australia. So it's not as much of an American project then?

Gallahan: This isn't an American project at all. This is strictly an ISAF project. Me and Ken are assigned here for the ISAF joint command, and our job here is to shed light on Afghanistan in its entirety. It's not an American focus, it's an international focus. One of our primary goals is to highlight all the hard work and sacrifices all the international folks stationed here are doing to help with the greater good of Afghanistan.

Raimondi: We know this is going to be a challenge because there are 44 participating nations in this group, and we only have 30 days to get through Afghanistan. We know we're not going to be able to showcase every nation that has a large part [of the operations] here, but it's definitely our goal. One of the reasons we wanted to showcase someone from Australia on our first day was to show that.

You have all your forces there as well as residents of Afghanistan. How will you mix your coverage of those?

Gallahan: The beauty of this is that we have an overarching plan, but as we start going through these areas, we'll figure it out. As we go to each area, we'll see who's there. Me and Ken have previous experience in the east and west parts of Afghanistan. And what we've noticed is that there are international forces in all those locations. It's not just Americans in one spot and Lithuanians in another spot. As you go across this country, the international effort is throughout the entire country.

Raimondi: For the Afghan perspective, for every regional command we visit, we're going to speak with the local Afghan population and get their opinions and hear their stories. We also want to put a human face on the Afghans and reveal some of their culture, because they have such a rich culture, so we hope to display some of that.

So how does your editorial process work? Do you have to get someone to approve things before they post?

Gallahan: Well, Ken reads my blogs, but he's a broadcaster. So after he puts his broadcaster edits into my blog posts, I put them on the website. That's it.

So there's no one in the command looking at things before they're posted?

Gallahan: No.

Are there any ground rules you need to follow as far as what you can cover -- outside of the usual guidelines around protecting operational security and not giving away troop locations?

Gallahan: We're not going to be inaccurate. That's the primary thing. You already mentioned OpSec (operational security). There isn't a chance in Hades that Ken or I would put something out there that will ever compromise any kind of mission or safety of anyone in this country. That's of huge overarching importance to us. We just want to show what's going on in this country and do it as accurately and open as possible.

How have the established milbloggers reacted to your project?

Gallahan: I have to admit I'm new to the blogging world. The first blog I ever wrote went on the White House blog, but Capt. Sabula has been a great mentor to me helping me understand the way blogging works. I've been mostly reactive to the milbloggers that are out there. I'll see who has mentioned our blog and I'll comment on their blog posts. But I'll be honest, I'm still a little shy about it now, I'm just getting my feet wet and learning -- but that's part of the adventure.

The comments that I've seen so far from [milbloggers] is 'we'll wait and see how it goes.' I'll just say that this is revolutionary, I don't think anything like it has been tried in the military before. I think everybody has the rights to their opinions, and in time I hope we'll earn the credibility and [trust] from the bigger milbloggers out there.

Hear Sgt. Raimondi discuss the ground support they are getting for their project:

There's been a lot of battles between milbloggers and people up the chain of command who wanted to restrict blogging among the military. Do you feel like that's starting to change, and that there's more acceptance of blogging in the military?

Raimondi: This was a pipe dream for us, it was something we were hoping to do but didn't have big expectations that we'd get to do it. On the U.S. side, the Dept. of Defense is opening to Web 2.0, including blogging, Twitter and more. But it's a slow process, and they're still figuring out how to use it. That's why Nate and I are so excited, because we hope the military community will see this project as a success and use it as a model to make things like this better.

What made you decide to do it for 30 days, and would you extend it if possible?

Gallahan: We're both history buffs, and I look at Ernie Pyle from World War II who got out there, and his stuff was different than modern day journalism. He was out there in the war for long periods of time, and Ken and I discussed that this was something we both really wanted to do. How could we present a project that was not only doable but feasible? So 30 days, really that's the time we have. We are returning home shortly thereafter, and it took us 6 weeks to get the project together. Would I like to come back again to tell more stories? You bet, I'm kind of living my dream here. This is something I would do for a long period of time.

Raimondi: So would I.

Gallahan: It's an absolute dream for me.

How do you see this as a different format than what you typically do in journalism and in broadcast?

Raimondi: This is really exciting for me, because often I'm stuck in a minute and a half to tell an entire story [in a broadcast setting] and that's not a lot of time. The great thing about this is that it lets me be more creative in the shots I take and the people I talk to. And it gives me more time to tell their story, and we can cover things that aren't just mission-related. A lot of times when we go out to cover broadcast stories, we're covering something that's happening. In Afghanistan there's always something happening. So if we go out there to talk to people about what they're doing, it might not be the biggest mission of the day, but it's important to them.

Gallahan: This is such a personal thing for me. As a journalist, I'm never the subject matter expert. I'm paid to be a conduit for information for the people who are subject matter experts ... With blogging, there's so much personality that goes into it. You're laying yourself out there for the international community to judge. The words that I'm writing now, each one has special meaning and purpose. I'm really, really enjoying it.

You are doing this project in a pretty independent way, if you don't have people editing or vetting material before posting. How do you fight the tag of just being propoganda for the military?

Gallahan: That's a great question. The way you fight it is by being honest. You have to tell the story how it is. What I'm not going to do is run out there and take this freedom to start bashing things, because it's not the right thing to do.

Sgt. Raimondi talks about how they don't want to showcase disgruntled soldiers but will tell stories about real concerns:

Do you get feedback from the audience as to what you should cover?

Gallahan: We're getting constant feedback. We think it's wonderful. Our forums have brought us some great topics of discussion. So we can take those questions right to the people. One example today was whether Afghan people, when they hear aircraft flying overhead, whether that made them feel good or whether it scared them. We were able to go find some answers for them. It was a great feeling to hear their concerns and help them out.

*****

What do you think about the 30 Days project? Do you think they can give an honest portrayal of Afghanistan? What more do you think the military could be doing with social media? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

King's Palace photo by Gallahan via the 30 Days site.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Bloggers Face Death Sentence in Iran; Some Escape to France

Iranian authorities are once agan cracking down on the Internet.

Internet connection speeds were degraded in several cities in advance of the Islamic Revolution's 31st anniversary on February 2. This same tactic was previously used by the regime in advance of events likely to be used by the opposition to stage demonstrations. Several websites were also targeted by hackers, including the Radio Zamaneh, which was attacked by the "cyber-army," a group linked to the Revolutionary Guard.

Most alarmingly, the Iranian authorities are pursuing a deadly escalation of their strategy to silence bloggers. As I previously reorted on MediaShift, they were regularly arresting and convicting bloggers in order to put pressure on human rights activists and those who contest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Now, two Iranian netizens and human rights activists, Mehrdad Rahimi and Kouhyar Goudarzi, have been accused of trying to wage "a war against God." The significance of this charge is that the Iranian government executed two men on January 28 in Tehran for similar reasons. Rahimi and Goudarzi are now facing the death penalty.

The authorities have made it clear that they intend to execute "mohareb" (enemies of God). Rahimi, who edits the Shahidayeshahr blog, and Goudarzi, who writes his own blog, are both members of the "Committee of Human Rights Reporters," which was created by students and bloggers to relay information about the crackdown that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election.

But Rahimi and Goudarzi are far from the only bloggers facing a dangerous fate in Iran.

Putting Bloggers and Journalists on Trial

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In the latest trial, which began on January 30, 16 defendants are accused of being "mohareb" (enemies of God) and of engaging in activities hostile to national security. They include Omid Montazeri, a young reporter for various newspapers, who was arrested on December 28. Montazeri gave interviews to foreign media and wrote for Shargh and Kargozaran, two newspapers that were shut down by the government. He was arrested after responding to a summons to report to the revolutionary court. The previous day, agents from the intelligence ministry searched his home and arrested his mother, Mahin Fahimi. Both were eventually transferred to an unknown place of detention.

As in the previous Stalinist-style show trials held in August, the defendants are not allowed to talk to their lawyers -- and their chosen lawyers are not given the specifics of what their clients are alleged to have done. Instead, the Tehran state prosecutor appointed different defense lawyers with links to the intelligence services.

Various reports state Montazeri is being pressured to confess links to foreign groups that are opposed to the regime. His lawyer has not been able to visit him or see the prosecution case file, nor has his counsel been told when Montazeri will appear in court. The lawyer is also not allowed to go to the court. It seems the regime intends to have him suffer the same fate as his father, a political prisoner who was murdered in 1988.

A Judicial Farce

This new round of political trials violates Iran's own laws. Reporters Without Borders has warned the international community that the regime was now capable of taking this macabre scenario to the bitter end by executing journalists and bloggers. The regime's leaders seem to think that executing prisoners will help restore calm in Iran. To them, fear is the same thing as peace.

According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, several of the journalists arrested in Tehran after the December 27 demonstrations are being held by the Revolutionary Guard in section 240 of the notorious Evin prison. They are being pressured to make confessions. Contrary to Iranian legal provisions, their names do not appear in official prison registers, or on the justice ministry website.

The authorities have said that "a change in judicial procedure not originally envisaged in the law" helps explain why lawyers are prevented from seeing their clients. They have also added a new process to investigations whereby cases are assigned to a "specialist" before being sent to the prosecutor's office. During this special period, no information is given to the detainee's relatives or lawyers.

Threats to the Media

Mohammad Ali Ramin, a Holocaust denier and a loyal adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has issued several warnings and threats to the media, especially the print press. He has said that the purpose of suspending newspapers is to make them more compliant. Three papers have been shut down since January 14.

There is some good news to report. Thanks to the support of the French authorities, 11 persecuted Iranian journalists and bloggers recently arrived in France and are seeking asylum. Some of them were joined by their families. On January 5, three reporters who were persecuted in Iran -- Benyamin Sadr, Sepideh Pooraghaiee and Ghasam Shirzadian -- found housing in Dijon, France.

Reporters Without Borders is expected to receive financial support from the regional and departmental authorities to help cover their immediate basic needs, and also to help fund their integration into French society. This includes providing language courses and housing assistance.

They are the lucky ones.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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