Category Archives: Contemporary Media Issues

Managing your digital footprint

Developing and maintaining a reputable brand online is important, especially on social networks. It’s easy in today’s digital age to view our activity online as private. So everything we post, we feel like we’re talking to ourselves, right? But we’re not. Everything that we put online is traceable FOREVER. Yes, it’s true that you can do things to cover some of your online indiscretions up, but you can never get rid of them completely. So, why is this important. One of my fellow iMedia grad students spoke about this very subject yesterday at the Social Media Future’s Academy in conjunction with the Future Web conference in Raleigh. The event was organized to bring awareness to local high school students about social media and its power as a tool in their lives. Cathy Freeman served as a guest speaker about the subject I’m talking about here: managing your digital footprint. She spoke to a group of about 40 students about the popular social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter and how to leverage their power for good. She encouraged students to think before they post and remember who might be watching. She told them about how more college admissions officers and potential future employers are looking at these social media sites when looking at candidates. She also talked about how in their parents’ generation, reputation might have been compromised with “writing on the bathroom wall,” or “a note passed in the hall”, but now it’s a lot easier for someone to damage your reputation, or for that matter, for you to damage your own.

I think this conversation is so important, for everyone, both young and old. The Internet is a powerful thing. And the power that we have because of it is amazing. Anyone can contribute to the conversation, that’s something that’s never before been okay. So I believe we must take advantage of it. But that doesn’t mean go crazy. It’s true that everything we put on Facebook has potentially negative consequences later. This means don’t use profanity, don’t bad-mouth other people, etc. These things seem like common sense when you think about the fact that you ARE putting information out there voluntarily for the world to see. But that’s the key, you must remind yourself that it is for the world to see, social media tools are not the same as the journal you keep in your bedside drawer. Remember that.

Ethics in Citizen Journalism: it’s a must!

Citizen Journalism is defined as “the act of citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” By nature, this insinuates being non-professional. But being non-professional doesn’t mean having a code of ethics and standards is not important. If citizen journalism is going to have a long-lasting impact on the world of legacy media, a discussion has to happen to ensure citizen journalists are held to standards that will make them a vital and required part of the journalistic process. A code of ethics and standards should be adopted for citizen journalists around the world so news organizations can employ these citizen journalists and expect the same kind of honest reporting from them that they get from their legacy journalists.

Citizen journalism provides anyone the opportunity to be involved in the gathering and reporting of news. It provides a way for everyone to utilize his or her first amendment right to freedom of expression. As production and publishing tools become more readily available to the general public through cheaper digital cameras or easy access blogs, citizen journalism will become a more widely accepted practice. But with this acceptance comes the need for more responsibility. Just like with traditional journalism, responsibility in reporting and disseminating the facts is very important. Whether someone is a member of the legacy media arena or an individual looking to make his or her mark on the world of journalism.

But the argument is there that citizen journalist can’t and shouldn’t contribute to the news process because standards and ethics are different.

But I truly believe there is a way for legacy media organizations to embrace these citizen journalists and provide training and information to better equip them as storytellers. In the article, Ethics Lessons From the Mainstream, (2008) author Kent Ninomiya says it best, “We can help the new journalists understand and value ethics, the importance of serving the public trust and professionalism. We can’t, and shouldn’t keep them out.”

So, how do we do this? I think we have to train these citizen journalists about professionalism and ethics standards so they can become a part of the news process that traditional news organizations can’t afford to be without.  I think the Code of Ethics by the Society of Professional Journalists is a great starting place for this new and uncertain future of citizen and participatory news. So, let’s examine this code and consider how they might be used to encourage ethical behavior by citizen journalists.

1. Seek Truth and Report it: Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

One of the most important and foremost things a citizen journalist needs to consider is finding the truth and reporting it. One way to distinguish yourself as a reputable source for information is to develop a reputation of reporting the truth.

2. Minimize Harm: Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Citizen journalists must seek to care for the subjects of their stories. This means, one can’t berate a politician who won’t answer a question, or pester a family to answer questions after a loved one has just died. This might seem like common sense normal human behavior. But in the business of reporting the news, sometimes getting the answer you’re looking for might take over your desire to treat the people you’re talking to, with kindness and respect.

3. Act Independently: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

This point refers to avoiding situations that could be considered conflicts of interest. Citizen journalists shouldn’t have associations or participate in activities that could compromise their integrity or damage credibility. Citizen journalists shouldn’t accept gifts, favors, or special treatment. They should also not be involved in political parties, hold a public office position or serve as a part of a community organization, if that involvement could be considered compromising to their journalistic integrity.

4. Be Accountable: Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Even though citizen journalists might not always be working with a large news organization, doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable. If anything, it’s even more important for citizen journalists to remember the reader/viewer above all else. They might not have managers or fellow reporters checking up on their work or going back over a story that they’ve written, but they have readers following their work who they need to be accountable to.

So, see! It’s really not hard to maintain ethics standards in citizen journalism. There are not that many things you have to think about when it comes to maintaining a reputation of ethical reporting. Remember these few things, and you’re well on your way to creating a name for yourself as someone who people can turn to for the truth. What needs to happen now is conversation. We have to start talking about the role of citizen journalists, and how legacy media organizations can turn to them as reputable sources for contribution.

The Future of the Internet: the role the “netizen” will play

It’s easy to see that our role is really changing with the advance of the Internet. We are no longer okay to just sit on the sidelines as activity on the Web increases. Netizenship is something author Jonathan Zittrain discusses in the book, “The Future of the Internet.” Zittrain discusses the trend of “netizenship” in the context of Wikipedia, and the role we as “users” will have in the future. Zittrain says, “We live under the rule of law when people are treated equally, without regard to their power or station; when the rules that apply to them arise legitimately from the consent of the governed; when those rules are clearly stated and when there is a source of dispassionate, independent application of those rules.” This is the future. We are the future, the “users.” We determine what’s important on the Internet and the role that everything plays, and if it’s not there, we have the power to add it. That’s what Wikipedia shows us. This is what living in a society that appreciates all our differences is about.

According to Zittrain, netizens use the Internet to engage in activities of “extended social groups, such as giving and receiving viewpoints, furnishing information, fostering the Internet as an intellectual and a social resource and making choices for the self-assembled communities.” Zittrain argues that if we leave the future of the Internet in the hands of the world’s “powerful”, the same thing that happened to the TV networks and the newspaper industry will happen to the Internet. It too will become all about money. So, I realize the Internet has to make money. But the goal is to make the world’s population so powerful that they take back control of the future of the Internet. Zittrain argues that the Internet as it is now is “one of lost opportunity” and its salvation lies in the hands of us, the users. It’s evident that the creation of more technologies and social structures like Wikipedia where people can participate and work creativity and collaboratively will be the only way to survive the future. Is this what the future is? Can we get to a point where netizenship is the norm? Where every citizen of the world can have an equal voice and play an equal role in the democratic process of contributing to the Internet?

Privacy: let’s get the conversation started

The ideas surrounding privacy have changed dramatically since the evolution of the Internet. No longer can we rely on our private lives being private, because we choose to put everything out there. With social networking sites, blogs, and email, the definition of privacy is not what it once was. But we are the ones who helped change the definition. Because the Internet is like a free forum for anyone who has anything to say about anything, the environment is one that fosters this kind of open free for all behavior. In the book “The Future of Reputation,” author Daniel Solove cites countless examples of people posting stuff that they wouldn’t say or do in real life on the Internet before thinking twice about it. In most of the cases, something blew up or hurt someone’s reputation because people don’t stop and think before they post. The case of the “dog poop girl” case, a woman on a subway in South Korea, is just one of many examples. The woman’s little dog pooped on the train, and she refused to clean it up when asked by some fellow passengers. Once upon a time, that story might have stayed between the woman and the other subway commuters, but not in today’s digital age. Someone snapped a picture of the woman and her dog with his or her cell camera, and soon that picture was broadcast worldwide on the Internet. Because of the humiliation and embarrassment of being associated with that picture everywhere she went, the woman had to drop out of school.

So, this is the present. But what about the future? Can this kind of environment be long-lasting, and a better question is: should we allow it?

I don’t think so. I think the future of privacy on the Internet needs to be shaped by what we do now to ensure better protection for the world’s population. I think it has to start with education. We need to be teaching the younger generations what responsibility on the Internet means. It’s true that each day brings younger and younger people to activity on the Internet. 7 year olds are blogging, and people even have fan pages for their babies on Facebook. I’m fine with that. I just think we need to be talking about. We need to tell kids, and pre-teens who are active on MySpace and Facebook what privacy settings are and encourage them that there are things in place to protect them, and they should use them.

I also think the idea of anonymity needs to disappear, it’s when people don’t think they have a name associated with something they’ve said or done that they feel they can just say or do anything with any repercussions. If this changed, if people were held responsible for their actions on the Internet, we wouldn’t have as many cases of people slandering someone else, people would learn from the standards that were put in place.

The bottom line is that we can’t keep operating in the way we’re operating in now in regards to privacy. We’ve got to start talking about how to safe guard in the future as the Internet becomes an even more integral part of our daily lives.

Top 20 Tips for Citizen News Participation

1. Recruit people with a mission: look for the types of people to work with who know what they want and are willing to go after it.

2. Use information that is uniquely valuable: look for the information that you as a citizen participator can contribute that has the “unique” factor which makes it more valuable.

3. Remember who your audience is: remember the people who you’re targeting with this story and make it pertain to their interests.

4. Be aware of the tools available to you: think about all the ways you can get your story out there whether it be blogs, social media tools, etc.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions: just because you’re not a traditional journalist doesn’t mean you can’t provide important information, which sometimes requires digging deep to get the answers you’re looking for.

6. Remember the truth above all else: always be a promoter of the truth, first and foremost!

7. Conduct yourself in a professional manner: always be upfront about being a “reporter,” and be courteous.

8. Be thorough!: reporting starts with fact checking, double-check everything! Gather all the information that you can about a story and get both sides.

9. Be objective and fair: writing a story is not about your own opinions, be sure to present both sides, especially if the story is issue-based or controversial. Remember it’s about what the people in your story have to say.

10. Avoid libel: brush yourself up on what you need to know about libel law, so you don’t find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit.

11. Avoid plagiarism: with easy access to the world’s information, you must be careful to stay away from copying other people’s work  that you find on the internet.

12. Think about using multimedia to package your story so as to appeal to more people: think about what visual medium will be the best to tell your story.

13. Write conversationally: remember to write your stories like you would tell them to a friend. This is important in engaging the audience to read/listen to what you have to say.

14. Always look for that one thing that makes you stand out above the rest as an effective storyteller: find that unique thing that makes you a good storyteller and stick with it. It might be the use of still images or video in combination with the text you write, or both.

15. Look for the stories that no one is talking about, and tell them: find the stories that no one is reporting or talking about, and be the person who brings those issues/discussions to the table.

16. Use social media to “spread the gospel” about your story: you don’t have to rely on traditional marketing tools. Promote your story on Facebook, and Twitter, just get the word out, and your audience will follow.

17. Use visual elements to enhance the promotion of your story: when using social media tools to promote a story, include a picture or small video tease to go along with the text and link that you provide. This helps engage the audience.

18. Find a community of storytellers to share ideas and suggestions with: get plugged in, whether it’s through a group of Facebook, or some other social networking site, and encourage each other, and promote each other’s work.

19. Get Feedback: don’t be afraid to ask for help or get feedback from people around you. Sometimes it takes another person’s eye to spot something you might have missed.

20. Find people to work with who share your same passions: similar to finding stories that you can be passionate about, when you’re looking for people to work with, it’s important to share the same vision on a given project.

Arrogance or Passion: a lesson from Google

We are all familiar with Google, right? I’m kidding. You’d have to be living under a rock for the past 10 years to not know about this company that’s emerged as a media powerhouse. In the book “Googled: The End of the World as we Know It,” author Ken Auletta details the rise and fall (mostly rise) of Google’s emergence into our society. It is a fascinating story really. Its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have that “unique” factor when it comes to company founders. They had the passion and drive for their product to make a mark on the world. It’s that same passion that made Walt Disney the author of one of America’s greatest success stories, or the same passion that made Henry Ford push forward when everyone around him thought he was crazy! This is what I love best about the Google Story. But to some people, this passion comes across as arrogance. Yes, it’s true that Google through the years has gone after what it wanted, no questions asked. But can’t it be said that it’s because they knew they were onto something? I think so. There has to be a bit of “craziness” to push an idea or belief that other people would write off at first glance. I love this about the two friends behind Google. Page and Brin were so passionate about creating a service for the greater good in the idea of “search” that they were willing to sacrifice so much to see that dream realized.

So, can this kind of attitude really be categorized as arrogance? Arrogance is defined as having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities. By this definition, maybe they were arrogant. But I would argue, doesn’t there have to be a bit of arrogance when you believe in something so much that you work so hard to see it to fruition. Yes!! But this does not mean that Google’s founders intended to start this business to take over the world. Nor did I think they really stop to think about ramifications of things as they make decisions, other than the main focus being on how the public is served. True, this has gotten them into a bit of hot water through the years with questions of fair use when wanting to digitize the world’s population of books and other incidents. Maybe it’s my own innocence, but I really believe they haven’t intended to take over all the different areas they’ve delved into in order to create a monopoly in each industry. They’re simple interested innovation, and with that comes competition. Why do we automatically assume that just because they’ve been initiators and innovators in so many areas that they’re some kind of cold-hearted ,calculating dictators trying to take over the world. I think this is silly. They’re simply creative inventors who got lucky and remain lucky and on top of their game because they’re about creating. The bottom line is NOT number one to them. If only more companies could view “creating” as the most important part of what they do, maybe Google wouldn’t be the only company we’re talking about. I think people are taking notice of the “Google” name because they’re doing something right. Just a thought.

The battle between legacy and new media

So, it’s clear that new media has come onto the scene in a big way, and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. But this does not mean that legacy media has to take a back seat either. The Internet has evolved into a strong force, and while it’s becoming a big part of what the media is today, it is not (and will not be for a long time) everything. It’s all about finding the balance between the traditional forms of media that we’re used to. In Robert McChesney’s book “Political Economy of the Media,” this debate rises to the surface. What kind of role can the Internet play? Will it really push legacy media completely out of the picture? Is the Internet to be feared? How do we embrace it? No one has the answers to all these questions. But it’s definitely an interesting thing to think about.

No one can deny that the Internet has a lot going for it, even McChesney entertains that belief. But some proponents of legacy media fall short of admitting the Internet has a place in the media world and could do a lot of good for traditional media outlets. The reality is that the Internet IS changing things, it’s a powerful tool that’s revolutionizing global communication. But this does not mean that the Internet will override the media marketplace, as I don’t believe that’s its role. What we need to do is find that perfect balance between legacy and new media that makes an even stronger media marketplace than ever before. The question is how to do this? Many media outlets have turned their attention away from the rules of traditional journalism and are focused more on the bottom line. But I believe the Internet can serve to strengthen traditional media. It’s too much pressure for the Internet to completely replace the traditional media model. But it can create a place for so many more people to be involved in the democratic process that is journalism, which will (I hope!) bring journalism back to the objective role it was created to fulfill.

The Internet is a powerful tool, but we must remember, it’s only reaching 25 % of the world’s population. It’s not powerful enough to replace every model of traditional journalism that is in place today. So, I don’t think we can dismiss the role that TV, radio and newspapers have played in the history of our country and the world, and the truth that history tells us about their lasting place in our society today. I believe we can embrace the new technologies and use them to enhance the methods/practices that we already have for telling stories and reporting the news.