SAN FRANCISCO, July 8 /PRNewswire/ -- In comments delivered during a recent joint webcast with Allvoices.com, the largest open media site in the world, Internet visionary, teacher and author of Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky cited the importance of civic and citizen journalism, its role in journalism's ecosystem and the evolution of journalism schools in an increasingly fractured and shrinking mainstream media climate. Mr. Shirky's remarks focused on principles necessary for the success of citizen journalism including participation; using the media to transform society; and technology's ability to take local news global for the protection of democratic ideals.
The Allvoices' hosted online symposium titled, "Hyper-local Reporting Transforms Mainstream Global News Coverage," featured Allvoices' founder and CEO, Amra Tareen, Clay Shirky and Scott Stearns, Voice of America correspondent for Western and Central Africa. Their discussion ranged from how digital media has transformed news reporting, to citizen journalists' empowerment of local communities and the shaping of a greater global conversation through platforms designed to spread news as broadly as possible. Real-life examples of citizen and civic participation from around the world were given to illustrate citizen journalism's power to affect sociological changes.
Mr. Shirky opened by citing the example Nisha Susan, a woman from Mangalore Province, India, and the Facebook group she started in response to Sri Ram Sena, a Hindu fundamentalist group waging a campaign of violence against women. Last January, the Sri Ram Sena started assaulting women in bars for not representing their group's vision of Hindu woman chastity. As is now normal, photos and cell phone video of the attacks were uploaded to social sharing sites like Flicker and YouTube.
After the images went public, Sri Ram Sena said in a public proclamation that "[The] next attack would be on Valentine's Day" and if the group caught a woman outside of her house on February 14th with a man other than a blood relative, she would be targeted.
Relying on strength in numbers, Nisha Susan used Facebook to rally thousands against Sri Ram Sena. Her group, The Association of Loose, Forward and Tough-Going Women grew beyond Mangalore Province and even India to include a global membership. Their first action was to mail pink underwear representing the khaki shorts of the Members of Sri Ram Sena's group. The pink underwear campaign received media attention and let the regional and national governments in India know there was an organized group that cared about this issue and would not allow the violence to continue. In the end, the global attention generated by Facebook's platform prevented further attacks on Valentine's Day in 2009 and 2010.
According to Mr. Shirky, Nisha Susan's Facebook group was a "one-off" or isolated use of social technologies for change. The group page was eventually hacked so Facebook removed it. However, the group's lessons were already learned; organized platforms where people can align themselves against abuses of any type are critical to empowering people. These platforms must be easy to use for anyone to write about what they see and link to other relevant stories, and they must turn individual observations into actions we traditionally rely on mainstream media to do: shape democratic societies to the needs of its participants.
Amra Tareen, Allvoices' founder and CEO, described how Allvoices meets the criteria outlined by Mr. Shirky for a citizen journalism platform. The media platform she founded employs a unique combination of technology, automated aggregation, and community content curation to provide a 360 degree view of every contribution. Fully-realized news reports can start with as little as a text message, video or an image. As reports are received and vetted for authenticity, Allvoices Automated News Room surrounds them with related information from other Allvoices contributors, mainstream and user-generated sources such as blogs, video, pictures and Twitter to produce a richly detailed account from multiple, immediate perspectives and then markets that information through search engine optimization and social media for a global audience.
The issue of trust dominated much of the symposium, with its participants tackling the first and most pressing question about citizen journalism: "How do you know citizen journalism can be trusted?"
According to Mr. Shirky "The classic pattern of any new public communication tool on the Internet is:"
- Trust everyone, as there is no motivation to game the system, and no resource of which to take advantage. For example, Twitter initially began as people just offering reports of their daily life.
- Decide who to trust. Again, using Twitter as the example, during the Green Revolution when the Iranian government began spreading misleading information onto Twitter, people started circulating a list of trustworthy Twitter handles.
- Trust the process – meaning the process by which new entrants are vetted into the system. "Have we seen you before, so we know we can trust you?" or "What are the signals that we can trust you?" These are the very early days of developing processes that help us sort the trustworthy from the untrustworthy.
These questions are addressed by Allvoices' technology. It is the first platform with the ability to verify report credibility— a necessity in citizen journalism. The algorithm behind Allvoices' Report Credibility meter is a proprietary, multi-faceted and adaptable approach to evaluating the trust worthiness of a report. At the core of the Allvoices' system are the everyday citizens and contributing journalists that create news reports. The Report Credibility meter is an evaluation of the actual report content, as well as the reputation of the author of the report. As stories move through the different pages on Allvoices, the meter registers new levels of credibility, for both the story content and contributor. Allvoices uses signals to determine the validity of citizen reports or credibility based on number of criteria including:
- Is this a new user or has he or she contributed before and built a reputation on Allvoices as an Anchor, Reporter or Stringer?
- Is his or her content validated by similar content on the Internet, blogs, Twitter, mainstream sources and other user-generated sites?
- How much does the community like or dislike content from the author?
- How much does the community like or dislike the actual report?
- How many other Allvoices contributors are reporting about the same thing?
Shirky continued, "The huge difference between now and 20th century journalism models are that processes for sorting the trustworthy from the untrustworthy no longer have to be housed within a managerial or editorial institution. Allvoices does not have to have all the contributors as employees to be able to have a process that sorts people on a spectrum of trustworthiness."
"Despite first-person accounts being critical for a detailed and accurate accounting of news, the mainstream media still generally fails to recognize the importance of citizen journalists," according to Mr. Shirky. As example, he cited CNN's anchors watching a Twitter feed during the Green Revolution and saying essentially "[this is the best source] of information we can get right now out of Tehran about the Green insurrection."
According to Mr. Shirky, "Citizen Journalism is always seen as grainy photographs and grainy videos; there is still a kind of 'Oh we'll do it if we have to' sensibility on the part of media. Citizen media provides an alternative that needs to be part of the general ecosystem. And from what I've seen, leading by example and showing is necessary; showing journalistic outfits that getting this kind of on-the-ground reporting changes your ability to understand the facts and fundamentally shapes the conversation."
"For as much as the tools of journalism have changed, so too has the role of the journalist, whether she's a professional or a citizen. Training these people has to change, too." Mr. Shirky went into detail about the current state of journalism education.
"Right now, at least in the U.S., the typical role of journalism departments, particularly graduate journalism, has been to train people to walk directly into the industrial mechanics of a large metro daily, or a local TV station so they can move to a national TV station and so forth. The universities are still in a 'learn here and then go make a difference' mindset. But what they fail to do is instill a 'you can make a difference while still at university' ethic, which would better prepare the next generation of reporters on the tools and platforms immediately available to them, and raise the overall quality of citizen reporting."
"Two years ago NYU changed its undergraduate major in journalism. You can no longer major in Journalism. You must double major in journalism and something; journalism and engineering, or journalism and dance. You have to be able to relate journalism to some other field. The model for classic graduate academic education is subject to raise the disciplinary wall higher and higher with each passing decade, so it is imperative on the part of journalism schools to reverse that process within the context of the university and other departments to reflect how journalism and science would look like, or journalism and global affairs. Yes, universities must reach out to individuals and give them the raw materials to be working journalists. But they must also reach out to people as participants in the mutual enterprise of storytelling and global civil society. Universities are well suited structurally but badly suited culturally. If we can change that then we have the opportunity to change the overall culture of journalism."
About Allvoices, Inc.
Allvoices.com is the largest global community offering local to global news and perspectives in one place. With its proprietary technology, Allvoices provides a 360 degree view of news by enabling citizen reporting from its community and international news bureaus that is automatically surrounded by additional sources of content including mainstream news feeds and blogs, social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), images and videos which provides context, insight and diversity of opinions around a broad range of topics and issues on the global, national and local levels. Allvoices utilizes professional online news stories and media to determine relevancy and credibility with each contribution made to the site. Its highly automated system blends the latest advances in natural language processing and machine learning with a vibrant, diverse and engaged community so anyone can easily publish relevant, trustworthy news for a global audience. The resulting connection and dialogue between contributors and readers makes Allvoices the destination for breaking news, hyperlocal topics and popular global interest stories (www.allvoices.com).