Covering police accountability at Oakland Local

Over at Oakland Local (a community news and views site I cofounded), I’m working with reporter Eric K. Arnold to cover police accountability — an important and touch topic in this town.

We’re approaching this from the perspective of empowering Oaklanders to be able to wield influence on how police operate in their neighborhoods. There’s been a lot of friction and violence, and community members have often felt powerless on this front.

So here’s what I’ve written so far on this topic:

Also, today Eric Arnold published an excellent overview of what Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board is and how it works:

Much more to come on this front. Stay tuned!

Public Media Collaborative, Mar. 11 meeting, Berkeley

Scott Rosenberg, Susan Mernit, and lots of other smart people chatting at the Mar. 11 Public Media Collaborative meeting, Berkeley.

Scott Rosenberg, Susan Mernit, and lots of other smart people chatting at the Mar. 11 Public Media Collaborative meeting, Berkeley.

Last night I attended a meeting of the Bay Area Public Media Collaborative. I’m impressed by how this group is pulling together significant and diverse energy and talent.

The point? To “bring together bloggers, journalists, technologists, media and environmental justice folks, community organizers and activists from around the Bay area to explore and discuss social justice and emerging technology issues in a way that links theory and practice.”

One nonprofit group represented there last night, Independent Arts and Media, is planning a Journalism Innovations Expo II. Collaborative members discussed tacking a social/online media train-the-trainers Barcamp-style event onto the beginning or end of the expo.

I live-tweeted last night’s meeting. Here’s what I posted… Continue reading

Zombie signs & how public officials can act human

Run for your lives!  Zombies want to eat your brain!

…Gotta admit, I was tickled to hear on MSNBC and elsewhere about this bit of creative hackery:

TX DOT was not amused... But I was...

TX DOT was not amused... But I was... (Photo courtesy Lucas Cobb)

In Austin, KXAN reported:

“[Austin Public Works spokesperson] Sara Hartley said though it was a locked sign, the padlock for it was cut. Signs such as these have a computer inside that is password-protected. ‘And so they had to break in and hack into the computer to do it, so they were pretty determined.'”

OK, yeah, I know there’s a serious potential public safety issue here. Apparently the Austin police are trying to catch the sign hackers, who may face a class C misdemeanor charge.

But I think Queer Cincinnati nailed the opportunity here for public officials to turn this to their advantage by responding with a sense of humor:

“Does anyone else think, perhaps, the PD should have just taken it as the joke it was, and posted ‘Zombie Threat Eliminated, Road Construction Ahead’? I think that would have shown a great, human side to the government. And we wouldn’t have these silly threats to go after college pranksters.”

Amen! After all, as Queer Cincinnati also noted, instructions on how to hack road signs have been posted on Neatorama and elsewhere. This is definitely going to keep happening. Probably responding with humor — while improving security of road signs — would generate the most public goodwill.

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How the federal government could “go social”

I just has one of those meta-media moments. Today, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media was the guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio show. The topic was 2008 In Social Media.

One listener who called in was Jeffrey Levy, web manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He asked O’Reilly how the federal government might be able to use social media to enhance governance and civic engagement.

…To be honest, I didn’t actually catch O’Reilly’s answer because my own mental gears immediately went into overdrive. I’ve been involved with covering environmental issues for nearly 20 years — and thus I’m a frequent user of the EPA Web site. And it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the EPA site currently is one hellacious frustrating sprawling mess, offputting to professionals as well as citizens. (I assume Levy is working to improve that situation…)

But there is another side to how federal agencies interact with the public that goes beyond their own sites: the regulatory process. Every proposed federal regulation must be published in the Federal Register. (Trust me, it’s really ugly. You definitely don’t want to read this stuff unless you have to — yet another strategy to keep citizens at arms length from government.)

Every proposed regulation must allow for a public comment period. That’s where social media might fit in…

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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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Spot.us and Fear of Change

As the traditional news business model continues to stumble, what people fear losing most is investigative and enterprise reporting — especially on the local level. This type of journalism is notoriously difficult, time-consuming, risky, and costly. It’s not something that amateurs or concerned citizens can readily handle. If we want it to continue, we need new ways to support it.

That’s what David Cohn is trying to do with Spot.us, which launched yesterday. This project, funded by the Knight News Challenge, is attempting to support local investigative journalism through crowdfunding. Poynter’s Ellyn Angellotti described this project her recent centerpiece feature. Here’s Cohn’s short explanation of how Spot.us will work:

Yes, crowdfunding is a very different approach to journalism. And the unfamiliar always seems potentially dangerous. That’s why most mainstream media articles so far about Spot.us, like this one from the New York Times, include some variation of this caution: “Critics say the idea of using crowdfunding to finance journalism raises some troubling questions. For example, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking?”

That’s a valid concern, but I think it must be considered in context…

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12 Naked Pumpkin Runners Named, Camera Catches Up

UPDATE NOV. 5: The Boulder police had other options. They could have cited streakers for disorderly conduct instead of indecent exposure. Also, the Daily Camera interviewed me on this controversy…

Yesterday, after much prodding from local bloggers (including me) and commenters on its site, the Boulder Daily Camera finally reported that the streakers who got busted by Boulder police at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run will, if convicted, have to register as sex offenders. Today, the paper also published the names and ages of the 12 streakers who were cited for indecent exposure. All of these people are over 18, and thus under current CO law must register as sex offenders if convicted.

No acknowledgement of the community/independent media role in pressing this issue was offered by the Camera.

I just called the Boulder Municipal Court (303-441-1842), which informed me that Boulder County Courts (303-441-3750) are handling these cases. The county court rep I spoke was surprised, since normally misdemeanor citations handed out within Boulder City Limits get processed through the municipal court system. However, he did say that if indeed the county will be handling those cases, they should have more information on Friday. So I’ll call back then and will post an update. I’ll also check back with the municipal court, just in case they gave me incorrect information.

I’m contacting the local courts because I want to learn the dates and locations of arraignment hearings for the busted streakers. As far as I know, the public (including media) can observe these hearings. It’d be here that we’d learn whether these cases are being plea bargained down, whether there are motions for dismissal, and in general the attitudes of the judges, cops, attorneys, and defendants.

Stay tuned…

Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

Scene of Boulder’s 2008 Naked Pumpkin Run busts, plus two nearby real (violent) crimes earlier that same day.

UPDATE NOV 4. The names of the 12 busted streakers have been published, so I’m following up on this case via local courts

On Halloween, as I wrote earlier, I went down to Boulder, CO’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall to check out the costumes — which are always spectacular — and to see the annual Naked Pumpkin Run. (Note: that link above goes to my blog post which includes a video containing nudity.) This loosely organized event has a lot of local fans.

The Naked Pumpkin Run is nothing more than that — sometime around 9-10 pm on Halloween, a bunch of people get naked, put jack-o-lanterns on their heads, and run en masse down the Pearl St. Mall. It’s not sexual, violent, dangerous, or threatening. It’s just silly. It’s unique. It’s fun. It’s exuberant. It’s positive and life-affirming.

And: It’s illegal.

Unlike in previous years, the Boulder police were out in force for this event, where they ticketed several runners for indecent exposure. Consequently, several fun-loving local folks may end up suffering life-altering public stigma as registered sex offenders.

No kidding.

The Colorado Daily posted this video of the event, including some footage of the busts:

Need some irony? All this happened less than 24 hours after two remarkably violent assaults, which occurred just a half-mile from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts.

Here are the details, as best as I’ve been able to gather them so far… Continue reading

Working with Journalists: What’s in It for Geeks?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, and there are some comments over there. I’m reposting this here because, frankly, this site poses fewer hurdles to commenters, and I’d like to get some diverse discussion happening.

Earlier this week I wrote about the internal and external obstacles journalism schools face when trying to achieve collaboration with other academic departments (such as computer science). That spurred a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

This discussion got me thinking: Right now, it’s becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.

However, my impression is that, so far, it’s not nearly so obvious to most “geeks” (and I use that term with the utmost affection and respect, as do many geeks themselves) how they might benefit from collaborating with journalists, j-schools, and news organizations.

So if journalists need geeks, but right now they don’t need (or even necessarily want) us as much, the question becomes: What’s in this for the geeks? Why might they want to work with us? Where’s their incentive?… Continue reading