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Smartphones and war reporting – a crowdsourced list of research

Last week I was contacted by Emanuele Ballacci a Multimedia Journalism Degree student in Rome. He’d come to a talk I’d given earlier in the year in Perugia discussing the use of mobile phones and social media in reporting. As part of his graduation thesis about war journalism and new technologies he wanted to discuss ‘the usefulness of smartphones and new generation mobile phones on reporting from war contexts’, and wondered if I could suggest any books or reading on the subject. To date, he’d only found books that discuss the subjects separately.

This didn’t surprise me in some ways as using smart mobile devices in journalism is still fairly new and war zones aren’t often known for their 3G signals. You also know you’re onto something possibly interesting when a Google search comes back with results for smartphone wars (think iPhones v Androids). No immediate books came to mind. So I replied that I’d see what I could find out, as I was also interested in the answer.

Thankfully I do know people who at least may know the answer to such things. So I put a shout-out on Twitter and cc’d in the likes of Paul Bradshaw, Kevin Anderson and Ilicco Elia, who then asked those they thought might know and so on. The net widened and others such as Daniel Bennett chipped in. In combination we came up with the following:

Everyone who responded wanted to know more.

I suggested to Emanuele that he could end up being the expert in this area, judging by our findings, and said I’d be writing up what little we’d found, and happy to include anything further that he’s aware of. He got back to me with the following wider reading list as follows:

Other food for thought that I found during my research:
Online newsgathering, Quinn & Lamble
Always On, Chen
Multimedia Journalism: A practical guide, Bull
In the Hot Zone, Sites
– An ironic but interesting suggestion: http://goo.gl/ZdFf9

If anyone knows of any other research, blog posts or books in this area please do suggest them in the comments below.

Introducing SwiftRiver: adding context to content (and data)

I’ve mentioned the work of Ushahidi in the past, specifically the work it did in raising and using local voices in Haiti to map incidents and data after the earthquake the country experienced in 2010.

The Ushahidi platform is a tool to easily crowdsource information using multiple channels, including SMS, email, Twitter and the web. It was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008 and has been used since for many humanitarian and political crises, including Haiti. Watch this video for a little more background on Ushahidi’s origins:
Continue reading → Introducing SwiftRiver: adding context to content (and data)

Behind the headlines: raising local voices in Haiti

At 16.53 local time on Tuesday 12 January, 2010 an earthquake with a Moment magnitude of 7.0 struck Haiti, with an epicentre approximately 16 miles from the country’s capital Port au Prince.

Almost immediately the country hit the headlines and was rarely out of the news for a few weeks. NGOs and the media came flying in to help and report. Yet, often the voices heard in the media were not those of the locals, but of crisis professionals, analysts and politicians.

This didn’t mean that locals weren’t involved in picking up the pieces, simply that we rarely heard from them. Some of this could be put down to a matter of language translation – a fairly predictable scenario when going into a foreign country, and whilst the first language of Haiti is the less spoken Creole the second language of the country is French. But there are many other possible reasons.

Two projects have attempted to rectify this situation:

The Kenyan Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for crowdsourced information collection, visualization and interactive mapping, was founded to re-balance these very situations, as this video explains:

When the earthquake in Haiti struck, Ushahidi and mapping volunteers quickly got into action. Both enabling the reporting of incidents and information on the ground (via mobile SMS, emails and online) and mapping the dramatically changed landscape, infrastructure and cities from satellite pictures above. The result was a constantly updated interactive map.

The following presentation given by Juliana Roitch at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia shows what was involved and just some of the challenges and processes that they had to learn on the job. Processes and reports that are still ongoing.

The web and film documentary Goudou Goudou, the ignored voices of reconstruction is another project that aims to re-address the balance of voices telling the story of Haiti.

Filmed and produced by Benoit Cassegrain and Giodarno Cossu – who together run Solidar’IT – it tells the stories of several characters and their lives since the earthquake. The film was recorded in Creole and French during 2010, and has yet to be fully translated into English (I’m sure the film makers would be up for discussions if you are interested in changing that), but the following trailer is available, and gives a glimpse into the day to day lives of those that the earthquake effected.

Both projects highlight in their different ways that we need to change how report crisis’. That we consider who can report as well as what and how language should be considered right from the start.

Notes for the Kingston School of Writing launch event

Tuesday (3 May, 2011) saw the launch of the Kingston School of Writing, at the RSA in London. I was kindly invited, via former New Statesman colleague (now professor of journalism at Kingston University) Brian Cathcart, to join a short panel discussion on the future of writing and what students ought to be taught. I was asked to consider the digital aspects of this question. Due to time the discussion focused quite heavily on creative writing, so I thought it might be useful to post here the notes I made before the event:

A few things that interest me in this area from a digital perspective across all types of writing and storytelling. They can probably be split into what is still important, what is now possible/new and what students should be aware of. A few examples:

What’s still important

  • Narrative and the ability to construct stories well – both linear and non-linear. As stories such as the Wikileaks US Afghanistan / Iraq papers show, data alone does not a story make
  • Understanding narrative arcs and meta narratives and the role they still play – as the wedding showed clearly at the weekend
  • Headline writing, and summarising concisely and accurately – Twitter and search engines make this an absolutely vital skill
  • Sources and verification – in a world where anyone can quickly check information, showing and having clear (verified where possible) sources is going to become more and more important to maintain trust.

What’s new(ish)

  • The ability to connect media, create cross media experiences and take the reader on a journey, if they wish to follow – from the Archers on Twitter onwards
  • The numbers of possible outlets and possibilities
  • That the reader is now a participant and contributor to the story – even for printed books, where fan fiction keeps rising

What do students need to be aware of or have

  • The ability and willingness to experiment and not worry if they fail
  • User experiences and how to construct stories across media
  • If journalists – data
  • Business, networking and marketing skills
  • The breadth of possible work beyond the traditional jobs – writing for games, copywriting, PR, possibilities with mobile devices

For those interested this article by Jay Rosen ‘What I think I know about journalism‘ is well worth a read. And the following are related older posts of mine:
A modern journalists job description
So you want a job in journalism?