Idea: Nurturing App for Social Media

Friendster or Foe
Image by l0ckergn0me via Flickr

Without going into details, I’ve been handling a lot of major personal stuff lately — and I’ve been fortunate to have a strong and growing circle of close friends who have stepped up to offer me a steady supply of energy, support, perspective, honesty, sympathy, empathy, nurturing, and fun.

And I do this for them, too. That’s the core of deep friendship and other loving connections: You give of your own energy to help sustain others who are running low or in transition. At certain points we all need more nurturing; and at other times we have an abundance of energy and emotion to offer. Life comes in waves.

Personally, I’ve always found it very hard to ask for the help or nurturing I need. I don’t trust people easily, especially where my feelings of vulnerability are concerned. I assume that any emotional need I have, however small, will be perceived as too great an imposition. I don’t expect other people to be available to me. (Yes, I’m working on changing this mindset, quite deliberately. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve outgrown.)

As I’m reaching out more to my close friends, I’m wishing I had a tool that would help me to gauge their situation before I make a request, so I can be more sensitive to when I might actually be imposing.

Here’s what it might look like…

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Continental 1404, Pan Am 103, and thoughts on dodging bullets

This morning, before I’d even had my tea, I learned via e-mail that at my local airport last night a Continental flight 1404 veered off the runway and crashed, injuring 58. AP reported that local resident Mike Wilson tweeted his experience immediately after he escaped the burning plane.

Two tweets from Wilson especially caught my attention:

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

And then, a couple of hours later…

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

…Next I was making breakfast, listening to Colorado Public Radio, which was (of course) reporting on the Denver airport accident. They followed that with a story that stopped me cold for a bit: Witnesses, Families Remember Lockerbie Bombing. Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 — a terrorist attack that killed 259 on the plane and 11 on the ground.

On the evening of Dec. 21, 1988, I was a 22-year-old journalism student packed up and ready to head back home to NJ after spending a semester in London. I’d been at the office Christmas party for the business magazine where I’d been interning. When I entered the house I’d been sharing since August with five other students, my housemates who hadn’t yet departed for home were sitting in the living room, crying. Mindy said, “Diane’s plane crashed”…

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Fun interactive visual tools: Why should journalists care?

Last week I wrote a lot about various interactive visual tools that can help people connect differently or more deeply with news and information. This was for a session I led at a Knight Digital Media Center seminar for the leaders of the News21 project.

Yeah, so what? Why should journalists and news organizations care about these tools? How can this help their communities, journalism, and (most critical right now) business opportunities? What’s in it for journos and news brands?

That’s what Meabh Ritchie, a reporter for the U.K. Press Gazette asked me to clarify. She’s writing a story on this, and I’ll link to it when it’s up in February 2009. The short answer is: This stuff is effective and (more importantly) FUN! — for journalists and news audiences.

But here’s the full version of my answer…

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Press releases: If you use them, say so and LINK BACK!

Transparency is becoming at least as important as — or perhaps more important than — objectivity in news today. This means: If it’s possible to link to your source or provide source materials, people expect you to do so. Failing to offer source links is starting to look about as shifty or lazy as failing to name your source.

Yesterday I wrote about how the New York Times missed an obvious opportunity for transparency by failing to link to (or publish) source documents released during a court case.

But also, a recent flap in Columbia Journalism Review has got me thinking about transparency. This flap concerns the role of press releases in science journalism. Freelance journalist Christine Russell kicked it off with her Nov. 14 CJR article, Science Reporting by Press Release. There, she wrote:

“A dirty little secret of journalism has always been the degree to which some reporters rely on press releases and public relations offices as sources for stories. But recent newsroom cutbacks and increased pressure to churn out online news have given publicity operations even greater prominence in science coverage.

“‘What is distressing to me is that the number of science reporters and the variety of reporting is going down. What does come out is more and more the direct product of PR shops,’ said Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter and media critic, in an interview. Petit has been running MIT’s online Knight Science Journalism Tracker since 2006. …In some cases the line between news story and press release has become so blurred that reporters are using direct quotes from press releases in their stories without acknowledging the source.

“This week, Petit criticized a Salt Lake Tribune article for doing just that. In an article about skepticism surrounding the discovery of alleged dinosaur tracks in Arizona, the reporter had lifted one scientist’s quote verbatim from a University of Utah press release as if it had come from an interview. ‘This quote is not ID’d as, but is, provided by the press release,’ Petit wrote in his critique. ‘If a reporter doesn’t hear it with his or her own ears, or is merely confirming what somebody else reported first, a better practice is to say so.'” (Note: I added the direct links to the article and release here.)

In other words, Petit is arguing for transparency. He recommends using extra words as the vehicle for transparency (i.e., adding something like “according to a university press release”). That is indeed a useful tactic. But we have more tools than words — we have links…
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RonRosenbaum.com? NOT! (Or: Stupid domain tricks)

On Friday, Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits published a piece by Ken Sands (Congressional Quarterly’s executive editor for innovation) on a current spat in the journo-sphere: Jarvis on the Death of Print: Gloating, or Practical?

I edit the Tidbits blog. As I was producing that post, I was searching for a good, direct link for Ron Rosenbaum — a journalist and author who recently wrote in Slate that media maven Jeff Jarvis has been gloating over the death of print. I discovered that Rosenbaum blogs for Pajamas Media — and I prefer to link to people’s blogs, so they can speak for themselves.

I noticed something about Rosenbaum’s blog that, in the context of the current rancorous debate he sparked over the fate of traditional journalists, strikes me as somewhat sad.

This screen grab says it all:

RonRosenbaum.com: It's just a title. It doesn't really work right now.

RonRosenbaum.com: It's just a blog title, not a domain. Really.

The name of Rosenbaum’s blog appears to be a domain: RonRosenbaum.com. But it isn’t — that’s just the name of his blog. Even worse: The domain RonRosenbaum.com currently doesn’t resolve to any site.

This reflects a discouraging level of online-media cluenessness that is so common in the mainstream media mindset…

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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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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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Growing a Quality Twitter Posse: My Do’s & Don’ts

My Twitter posse is always there for me. Today they offered fast, good ideas for E-Media Tidbits.

Like a lot of people, I’m an avid user of Twitter. But I don’t do so aimlessly. Twitter is worth my time because every day it offers me clear rewards:

  • Posse power. The 700+ Twitter followers I’ve accumulated have proved to be a collectively generous helpful group that offers, by-and-large, on-target and useful information whenever I ask for help, feedback, or insight.
  • Radar & serendipity. The 150+ people I currently follow on Twitter generally provide, at any time of day or night, a steady stream of interesing, useful, timely, or entertaining content.
  • Relationship-building. This may sound strange for a text-only, short-post medium, but I’ve found Twitter to be a more natural, human tool for keeping up with friends and colleagues on a daily basis. It also relieves the sense of isolation from working at home alone every day.
  • Convenience and lack of pressure. I leave Twitter on when I have time or can offer divided attention, and turn it off when I need to focus. I feel no need to “catch up” on posts that happen when I’m not online. (Replies or direct messages to me do get saved so I can see them later, however.)

Of all those rewards, “posse power” is by far the most important and valuable. I’ve come to the conclusion that Twitter has become so very useful to me because I’ve actively cultivated a high-quality posse.

Here’s how I did it…
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