Activist-Journalists Bring Citizen, Pro Media Together at COP15

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK -- This past Saturday, on a crisp afternoon in Copenhagen, Jacob Wheeler and Rick Fuentes, two journalists with the non-profit media start-up the UpTake, walked alongside a mostly peacefully stream of demonstrators.* Roughly half of the total police force in Denmark followed in step. Conspicuous among the crowd were the hundreds of ad hoc reporters with serious-looking digital SLRs slung around their necks.

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The demonstration was for COP15, the United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen the past two weeks. For 10 days, more than 3,000 accredited media and countless numbers of unaccredited bloggers and NGO delegates have gathered in Denmark to report on the event.

After pushing through the thousands of people packed into the main square, Wheeler and Fuentes emerged at the head of the march. Holding a tiny Canon high-definition camera and microphone in his ungloved hands, Wheeler was cheerfully ready for anything. Though he's a professional writer, camera work was new for him.

"When I write I have to be specific," he said. "Today I'm not being specific. I just want a panoramic of what's happening." Wheeler, who lived in Denmark at one point, ended up providing an informed perspective about what was going on in the streets.

A couple hours into the march, Wheeler passed a woman with bleached blonde hair, orange snowpants and a bouquet of fake flowers who was cruising along on roller-skates. She turned out to be a kind of citizen journalist herself, producing video footage for her "TV station," which turned out to be a YouTube channel she operated with her boyfriend. Their video camera was secured on a small black bicycle trailer and pulled by a friend.

Wheeler shot several minutes of tape as the woman spoke in English mixed with Spanish and Danish about covering refugee camps. "Those are nice flowers," he told her at one point. The woman smiled and showed a microphone hidden in the bouquet.

"That was great!" Wheeler said after breaking away to find his next interview subject.

The UpTake Takes Off

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The UpTake rose to prominence 16 months ago during the Republican National Convention. Protestors clashed with the police in the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the UpTake's camera-wielding reporters were there to broadcast in real time.

"When things started happening on the streets, which no one fully expected, we were ready to go live with it," said Jason Barnett, the UpTake's founder and executive director. The UpTake was founded because, as Barnett explained, there was an opportunity to provide footage that no one else would have.

It was citizen journalism at its newest and rawest -- a classic example of a nimble group of camera-wielding documentarians infiltrating areas traditional media either couldn't access or didn't have the resources to cover.

Today, the UpTake illustrates how multi-platform groups are redefining relationships between traditional news, citizen journalist groups and a more nebulous, broader and influential group of what you might call activist-journalists. Most are liberal -- and proud of it. As Barnett says of the UpTake, "We've never tried to hide our progressive background."

Unique Alliances

COP15 helped inspire unique alliances between NGOs, citizen journalist groups like the UpTake, and established publications such as the Nation, Grist and Mother Jones. Now these journalists are working with the groups they once reported on. These partnerships are as intertwined and intricate as a circuit board on the UN-issued Sony Ericsson phones so many of the press and delegates were loaned for the 10 days in Denmark. The UpTake, for instance, is part of the U.S.-based the Media Consortium, a coalition that includes Salon, Mother Jones and the Nation.

Conservative groups tend to try to control the message of independents more, some suggest, which makes guerilla-style reporting difficult. Though Barnett points out that, as a non-partisan organization, the UpTake's training is open to anyone.

These alliances are mutually beneficial. News outlets don't have the resources they once did, especially for international and investigative reporting. Then there are independent journalists who find themselves as lone correspondents with no editorial backup or multimedia support. NGOs, meanwhile, have the mass mobilization ability to spread large amounts of information quickly.

The UpTake only received a third of the funding it wanted from non-profit foundations in order to cover the story, so could only send four people to Copenhagen: its executive director, executive producer, a writer-turned-impromptu videographer, and a one-time CBS reporter now working at a public relations firm.

When it came to COP15, "the idea was to go in with a unified voice [in collaboration] with traditional media," said Barnett. If the Nation needs a video to post on its site, the UpTake's got its back. If writer Naomi Klein needs a transcript from an interview, the UpTake will email it. And if the UpTake needs access to big names, they can call on their accredited partners. As the Nation noted in its December 21 issue, the goal was to create wall-to-wall coverage" of the event.

Hear the UpTake's Jason Barnett talk about media biases and his agenda -- or lack thereof:

Press Center for the Unofficial Press

For their part, traditional media -- Reuters, BBC and Agence France-Presse, for starters -- were cloistered in rented white offices at the Bella Center. Groups such as the UpTake, meanwhile, formed their own headquarters. Tcktcktck, an NGO, commandeered The Huset, an expansive bunker-style café, as a home for independent media and bloggers. Dubbed the Fresh Air Center, organizers described it as a "rapid response digital media hub." (This story was partly written from The Huset.)

One omnipresent figure there was Richard Graves, a 20-something television producer who founded Fired Up Media and Project Survival Media, a citizen journalist program that trains environmental campaigners to tell local stories about climate change. He was hired by Tcktcktck to lead its media offerings. (His official title is blogger and online campaigner.)

Hear Tcktcktck's online campaigner Richard Graves talk about how many journalists became activists:

Working 18-hour days and already looking exhausted by Day 3 of the convention, Graves performed his activist duties (a term he dislikes) to cross-post Tcktcktck pieces on Huffington Post. Then, switching into his journalist role, he wrote a feature for Grist.

"It was created for people who wanted to get involved, who care about the issue, but are sometimes locked out of process," Graves said of the Fresh Air Center. "You need professional accreditation from an NGO even to get in the door [at COP15]. We wanted to give a way for independent journalists [to participate] who might not be recognized by UN, which has incredibly stringent rules for online journalists."

Hear Graves on how activists are filling the investigative shoes that some traditional media have stepped out of:

Back on the streets of Copenhagen during Saturday's demonstration, the UpTake's Wheeler pushed on into the night after Fuentes headed back to a rented apartment to upload footage from the first few hours.

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At one point, Wheeler chased down a rumor that Danish fashion model Helena Christensen was participating in the demonstration. When he finally packed it in, Wheeler had hours of footage of an event that was dominating world media. He headed back to his own apartment to upload the footage for all of the UpTake's media partners -- Mother Jones, the Nation, Tcktcktck -- so they could distribute it out via the networks buzzing throughout the city and beyond.

Photos of the protests are by niOS via Flickr.

* Correction December 29, 2009: This sentence originally referred to Jacob Wheeler and Rick Fuentes as "amateur journalists." In fact, both have experience as professional journalists.

Craille Maguire Gillies is an award-winning writer. A former editor at the travel magazine enRoute and the online magazine Unlimited, her work has appeared in the Globe And Mail and Canadian Geographic. Follow her on Twitter at @Craille.

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Queen Rania, Jordan’s virtual queen

Queen Rania of Jordan is using social media to promote her charitable work, meet her subjects and chat to her children. All she wants to do now is get her fridge on Twitter, she tells Emma Barnett.

The Year in Digital Music and Predictions for 2010

As 2009 comes to a close, and the music industry shifts focus to 2010, it's worth looking back at some of the noteworthy events of the past 12 months. This is also the right time to look ahead and predict what will happen next year.

For some in the business, this year brought trouble after trouble; for others, 2009 was a time for growing revenue, relevance and positioning. Whichever end of the spectrum you are on, there have been few dull moments for digital music this year. And next year promises even more change and growth.

Innovation and Acquisitions Abound

A number of high-profile acquisitions in recent months have shifted the digital music landscape.

Apple's recent purchase of streaming/download service Lala has sparked much speculation. Articles from the New York Times, PC World, and Apple Insider have discussed possible reasons for the purchase, and most tend to focus on the creation of an Apple-powered music streaming platform.
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Unlike iTunes, Lala allows users to stream music they own from the web, effectively creating an anything/anywhere platform. It would give users the ability to listen to music via the web and mobile phones without having to download the content to different devices. There's still a scramble for a sustainable streaming model, and Apple wants in.

This is interesting on its own, as it adds a dimension to music consumption that is basically the opposite of how iTunes was built from day one. But this is only one part of why industry players are talking; everyone loves drama, and this story has plenty.

Just one month prior to Apple's acquisition, Lala made headlines as one of the key partners in the new Google Music service. Lala, along with a number of other partners, now powers streaming music search results through Google. When a user searches for music on the search engine, the option to stream the song (as well as purchase, get lyrics, and find tour dates) appears at the top of the results. With Apple's buyout of the company, people are left to wonder what may come of this service.

MySpace was also busy on the acquisition front, recently absorbing two music streaming services, iLike and imeem. Each of these companies had built a solid user base, but had not found the profitability investors expected. A buyout wasn't a surprise. Speculation abounds here as well: Both of these companies offer enhancements to what MySpace currently provides, but they do not bring anything particularly new or unique to the table.

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That said, these deals are not without their own drama. iLike has powered Facebook's most popular music service for years, so this acquisition creates an interesting relationship between MySpace and Facebook. There are many other music applications on Facebook, so this development probably won't be significantly disruptive.

The same can't be said for imeem. It built its massive user base by allowing fans to create streaming playlists and embed them across the web. Bloggers and others relied on these players, as did web technologies such as twt.fm, which allowed users to easily tweet a link to an imeem-powered streaming track.

These services immediately broke last week when, without warning, MySpace completely pulled the plug on the imeem service. All traffic to the imeem.com domain now points to MySpace Music, and all backend access to the site (via its APIs) is turned off. This has created unhappy fans, bloggers, and developers.

Is innovation flourishing, or is the herd thinning out? These were only some of the more high-profile acquisitions this year. Expect to see more in 2010.

Direct-To-Consumer Continues Ascent

Another important trend this year was the continued emergence of a hyper-charged direct-to-consumer business model. Companies such as Topspin, Audiolife, Nimbit, and Reverb Nation are enabling artists to interact with -- and sell to -- their audiences in many new ways. I wrote about this topic in a MediaShift article earlier in the year.

The idea of direct-to-fan goes back decades. Massive value can be created when an artist engages their audience directly. This has been demonstrated for years at concert merchandise booths, and online in the form of things such as newsletters and e-commerce using PayPal.

Nimbit The difference, and the reason this topic is on people's minds, is that technology has quickly propelled the D2C marketplace both downward and forward. Direct-to-fan has always worked well for large bands, or for artists with momentum. Now, small artists -- if, and only if, they are creative and good -- have the tools to recreate this revenue stream at their level. It doesn't mean every garage band can quit their day jobs, but it does mean more artists have new opportunities to make a living.

Forecasting, marketing, commerce, distribution, customer service, analytics, and deep fan engagement are all now available to artists at any stage of their career. This year saw some highly innovative and often successful campaigns run by emerging artists. In 2010, more artists will embrace this model, which means a lot of noise and competition. It will be more of a challenge for the brilliant acts to shine through.

What Else is Next

A few more thoughts about the year ahead:

  • 2010 will be the year of analytics. Digital marketing and sales departments have been cobbling together metrics for years. Many things are trackable, but it's often impossible to access the data or find the means to implement structured analysis. Platforms such as Next Big Sound, RockDex and BandMetrics are looking to fill this need. As APIs and data sources continue to open up, these services will get better and better.
  • The conversation about an ISP tax for unlimited downloads will continue. The big players working to combat piracy will continue to focus on this.
  • Spotify is still gearing up for a U.S. launch, but in light of imeem's troubles, the ad-supported streaming model is under further scrutiny. There are fundamental differences in their ad structures, but ad-supported is ad-supported.
  • I am curious to see where advertising goes on Twitter. The Huffington Post has one idea, trying to sell ads into feeds.

There are many more things on the horizon. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the state of the digital music industry, and what's next.

Jason Feinberg is the president and founder of On Target Media Group, a music industry online marketing and promotion company. He is responsible for business development, formulation and management of online marketing campaigns, and media relations with over 1,000 websites and media outlets. The company has served clients including Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music Enterprises, EMI, Concord Music Group, Roadrunner Records, and others with an artist roster that includes Har Mar Superstar, Flipper, George Thorogood, Steve Vai, Robben Ford, Chick Corea, and many more. You can follow Jason on Twitter @otmg

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Lessons Learned from Tweeting a Biker Gang Trial

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We fell into Twitter somewhat accidentally in our newsroom at the London Free Press in Ontario, Canada.

The Bandidos biker gang trial was going to be a big one for the Free Press. We'd extensively covered the crime when it first happened: eight bikers from Toronto found dead on a rural road near London, and six men charged with eight counts of first-degree murder. None of us was likely to see a trial of this caliber again anytime soon, and it turned out we also got to be groundbreaking in the live-tweeting arena as well.

When I first signed up for Twitter, about a month before the Bandidos trial started, I was riveted by the Winnipeg Free Press' in-courtroom tweeting of the trial of Vince Weiguang Li, the accused in the case of the Greyhound bus beheading. Call me morbid, but I thought the Bandidos trial would be just as perfect to tweet. It had a compelling cast of characters, a judge who was willing to let media use the Internet in one of the courtrooms, plenty of visual evidence, and all kinds of drama built right in -- the biker gang lifestyle is a big draw.

Planning Coverage

We decided our regular court reporter, Jane Sims, would cover the trial from the main, high-security courtroom. Members of the media had already asked and been approved to use electronics in the overflow courtroom. This room wasn't quite as secure, and the proceedings were available for viewing on two television screens. One showed the jury and witness box, and the second showed the six accused bikers and the lawyers. A third screen was hooked up to the computers that were used to display evidence, such as photos and videos.

The only time journalists weren't allowed to tweet from the overflow courtroom itself was during the testimony of M.H., the [prosecution] witness who is in the witness protection program. Electronics weren't allowed at all during his testimony. During his week on the stand, I'd listen to the evidence and then run out of the courtroom with my BlackBerry to type a tweet. It was exhausting, and my coverage wasn't as in-depth as it could have been.

At first, I tweeted the opening arguments on my BlackBerry. The tiny keyboard made for lots of typos and mistakes, though, so the newsroom invested in a Rogers Rocket Stick, which enabled me to use a laptop for the rest of the trial. As the trial progressed, more people started paying attention, and more and more followers started interacting with me and John Miner, another Free Press reporter, who tweeted in my absence. Sims, our court reporter, also occasionally tweeted, but she was usually in the main courtroom, and working on the daily stories.

Response to Tweets

bandidoslogo.jpgTwitter users responded to the tweets, especially those that put them right inside the courtroom. I couldn't tweet actual pictures of evidence, but I could get people as close as possible. If the [prosecution] was talking about a particular caliber of gun, for example, I'd Google the gun, find an image, and tweet a link to it. Being limited to 140 characters, tweeting links was often a good way to let people know what was going on in the courtroom. We also used links to direct people to the Free Press' website, where we had videos and picture galleries that showed things we couldn't put in the print product.

Eventually, I started corresponding with bikers from New Zealand, British Columbia, Australia and Texas. (The latter is the Bandidos' North American headquarters, and a lot of the evidence related to Texas.) A lot these followers knew the accused and the dead, and others were just curious observers.

Sims has since done interviews with some of the bikers who were mentioned during the trial but were never arrested. It was really interesting to be speaking to guys who knew the ins and outs of the organization that was being exposed on the stand.

Consistency a Challenge, Lessons Learned

The biggest problem we encountered was consistency. I went from a couple dozen followers at the beginning of the trial to more than 1,000 by the end. (Of course, I'm not sure how many people were following the day-to-day of the trial.) Sometimes, I just couldn't be in court. I had other assignments or I had days off. It was a lot for the Free Press newsroom to lose two reporters from the daily rotation. But if the editors and reporters decided we wouldn't tweet a certain part of the trial, the followers would get very angry that we weren't there.

I felt bad that we couldn't always be there to cover the proceedings. Telling them to "go follow John for the day" didn't really work and, in retrospect, next time we'll create a trial-dedicated Twitter account, even though the personal aspect of interacting with a reporter with a name would be lost.

Having one reporter covering a trial and another sending the tweets is essential, though. I thought of myself as the play-by-play announcer and Sims as the analyst after the game. Thinking of how to write something quickly, coherently and engagingly in 140 characters is enough of a challenge without having to analyze the overall picture for the next day's paper, too.

At first I took notes, then typed them into the BlackBerry. But as I got a feeling for what 140 characters looked like, and learned which words I could cut out and what I could abbreviate, I just typed the tweets directly into Twitter. (I used TweetDeck on the laptop.)

Eventually, I knew what would make a good tweet -- a lot of information, written succinctly. Followers would often ask for specific information: what the accused were wearing, their facial expressions, etc. I couldn't really see their faces, so I got Sims to fill me in on breaks, and then I'd tweet the info.

Having someone tweet an entire trial is certainly an investment -- you have a body that is producing for the web, but not for the next day's paper. It challenges the traditional way of thinking about court reporting.

Huge Potential

In my view, the potential for Twitter is huge. By using it, we were first to report the verdicts, for example. It offers a way to get people into the courtroom (or City Council chambers) in a way that you can't with print. We interacted with people we never would have tracked down if it hadn't been for tweeting the trial, and we interviewed them for more in-depth stories after the court case.

A final note: anyone from London could have come into the courtroom and tweeted their hearts out. Not a soul did. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes knowledge of the law (knowing not to tweet developments that occur when the jury isn't there, for example).

In my opinion, it's another way that journalists and media outlets can differentiate themselves from the pack.

Kate Dubinski is a reporter and occasional columnist for the London Free Press in Ontario, Canada. She is @KateatLFPress on Twitter.

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This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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Can Posterous and Tumblr Boost Government Transparency?

If a present-day version of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was looking for a way to easily release important confidential information, he might find himself drawn to Posterous or its micro-blogging/lifestreaming competitor, Tumblr. These services have the potential to offer a new level of simplicity for releasing government information, and help open up the closed doors of Congress.

Beyond becoming tools for leaking information, experts also say these new platforms, which are easy to use and encourage brevity, could help change the way government communicates with citizens.

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Mark Drapeau, co-chair of the Gov 2.0 Expo and adjunct professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, suggested recently that government agencies could use Posterous to open up government in significant ways.

"Good information can be hard to find...New media technologies like Posterous blogs don't directly change that, but if they become a 'gateway page' for getting people interested in a topic and then driving them to the 'hardcore stuff' on a .gov website, then that's a huge indirect value," Drapeau wrote in an email.

As an example, Drapeau suggested that when a lengthy jobs report is released on a .gov website, someone from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should blog about it in a short, casual post of roughly 500 words. That could inspire curiosity, which would cause people to follow a link to the more detailed report.

"It's a marketing tool and it's a community relations tool as well," Drapeau said.

The Promise of Posterous

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The simple email-to-blog-post functionality of Posterous is making it an increasingly popular tool for people. (While Tumblr also offers email posting functionality and limited auto-posting features, the ability to sync Posterous directly to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and other accounts gives it a clear edge, according to Jennifer Van Grove.*)

"You can do more than a tweet and get out more information, and there is no delay in that happening," said Jennifer Van Grove, associate editor of the widely read social media blog Mashable.

Van Grove recently wrote a thorough comparison of Tumblr and Posterous. She suggested that while Tumblr's web interface is "killer," it is the ease of sending an email to publish on Posterous that makes the service truly innovative.

"I'll take a picture and just email it to my Posterous account, which takes literally 10 seconds and it is already up," Van Grove said in a phone interview. "And, it will auto-post out to Twitter and Facebook ... [there is] a potential for an instant mass communication."

Government IT teams have their hands full, thanks to the rapid pace of new media innovation. They can't make all of the latest, greatest tools and services available internally, which can hamper transparency efforts. But the availability of these outside services can help continue the march toward government openness and transparency, whether IT teams and policymakers like it or not.

Government Could be Educational

Clay Johnson is director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on government transparency. He said that government IT teams aren't able to control what employees can and can't use.

"New stuff gets invented everyday," Johnson said. "It seems like things [such as the blocking of certain websites] are fairly easy to circumvent."

Johnson suggested that government agencies should take a more proactive approach if they don't want sensitive information published on blogs.

"The government would be in a better spot if it were being educational rather than being restrictive," Johnson said. "If you educate rather than restrict, I think they'll have better results."

Johnson praised Posterous and Tumblr as "cheap and easy" in comparison to websites like recovery.gov, which was designed to communicate how stimulus funds are being spent. That site cost about $9.5 million to create. Johnson said simple blogging platforms are best used to inspire participation and collaboration with government.

A Different View

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David Moore, executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation said in a phone interview that commercial services like Tumblr offer the illusion of transparency and engagement with government, but they are not a good solution for the long term.

The Participatory Politics Foundation, with help from the Sunlight Foundation, created OpenCongress, an open-source website that aggregates government data and provides news coverage, blog posts and commenting functionality. Moore suggested that it's a good thing for government agencies to dabble in new media technologies, but it's dangerous for them to get entrenched in them because these services are not truly open.

"They look really great at first and you say, 'Okay now the government is getting involved, they are out where people are,'" Moore said. "What's necessary is that government always publishes their source data first in ways that are fully compliant with fully open principles. Then after that, they can delve into social networking tools and blogging platforms like Tumblr."

Moore views Posterous and Tumblr as "walled gardens," and is skeptical of any footprint government agencies establish in closed proprietary services.

"As a society, we don't want to have to rely on the Pentagon Papers model of keeping the government accountable," Moore said. "If you were designing a system, no one would say that having someone leak something is ideal. Rather, if you step back and redesign how government can and should work in the 21st century, people would say that all public data be released publicly and from a primary source...so that they can give their feedback throughout the process."

*Editor's Note: The sentence comparing the email-to-blog-post functionality of Posterous and Tumblr was added on December 15 in order to provide additional context, and to respond to this comment.

Steven Davy is a freelance journalist, and freelance radio reporter/producer. He regularly covers the defense industry and security related issues for UPI. Additionally he hosts a current affairs news magazine radio show called the Nonchalant Café Hour which broadcasts live in Kalamazoo, Mich. Steven is a second year graduate student at Michigan State University in the School of Journalism.

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