May 15, 2005

Summary of 2005 Citizens Media Summit

Thirty-six people turned out for the citizens media strategy session on May 14, 2005, beginning at the Rob Hill campground in the Presidio before we retreated to the warmth of the Internet Archive offices in San Francisco.

Attending were:

JD Lasica, co-founder, Ourmedia.org, author, “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation,” who convened the summit

Dan Gillmor, Grassroots Media Inc., author, “We the Media”

Mary Hodder, entrepreneur, creator of Napsterization.org, head of Ourmedia open standards tagging effort

Scott Rosenberg, managing editor, Salon.com (on leave, writing a book)

Brewster Kahle, founder, Internet Archive

Howard Rheingold, author of “Smart Mobs”

Robin Sloan, Current.tv (San Francisco-based citizens television network)

Mary Lou Fulton, head of new product development, Bakersfield Californian’s Northwest Voice

Francis Pisani, freelance journalist for Le Monde and El Pais

Holmes Wilson, director, Downhillbattle.org, participatoryculture.org

Wendy Seltzer, attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Chris Tolles, VP of Sales and Marketing, Topix.net and co-founder, Open Directory Project

Denise Atchley, director, Digital Storytelling Festival

Mark Potts, founder, Backfence (new grassroots media network)

Susan DeFife, CEO, Backfence

Edgar Canon, publisher, GetLocalNews.com

Ari Soglin, editor, GetLocalNews.com

Zack Rosen, CivicSpace

Bruce Koon, Executive News Editor, Knight Ridder Digital

Jonathan Weber, Founder and Editor in Chief, New West Networks

Amanda Michel, fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, former Internet coordinator for the Dean and Kerry campaigns

Fabrice Florin, videojournalist, founder, NewsTrust Project (a “news feed of news you can trust”)

Kaliya Hamlin, program director, PlanetWork, Identity Commons

Michael Tippett, founder, NowPublic (Vancouver)

Gary Lerhaupt, Stanford student and founder of Prodigem/torrentocracy

Ron Cooper, E.D. Access Sacramento and Chair of the Alliance for Community Media West

Joan Walsh, editor, Salon.com

Mike Orren, Pegasus News – Journalism 2.0

David Bank, co-founder, Emerging Agenda, a Bottom-up Think Tank for the 21st Century

Peter Leyden, co-founder, Emerging Agenda

Andrew Haeg, Minnesota Public Radio

Alan Mutter, Managing Partner, Tapit Partners, San Francisco

Eleanor Kruszewski, blogger looking to get involved with a distributed content aggregation effort

Lawrence Axil Comras, President & CEO, Green Home, Inc.

Mitra Ardron, Australian blogger

Craig Newmark, founder, Craigslist.org

Discussion at the Archive began around 2:30 pm:

Chris Tolles: If you create something of interest and collect an audience, you’ll make money. The question has been raised: Why would someone participate in a citizens media effort? What’s the motivation? Social good is one answer. Harness that again.

Look to sites that have succeeded: LiveJournal, wikipedia, Daily Kos, open directory. Emulate the principles that got people to participate.

Fabrice Florin: One of our challenges is: how can you produce quality content? How do you make sure you create content that’s valuable and get people to connect to that?

Howard Rheingold: The means of creation and distribution are now widespread. The means of doing it well are not widespread. Suggests efforts to accelerate that.

Mary Hodder warns against hosting a conference at a Journalism School because of lack of innovative thinking. Suggested information science departments, or perhaps law school or business school.

Participants agreed to look at various school as possible hosts for a fall conference. NYU, Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard were among the names mentioned.

Fabrice steered the conversation back to trust. How do we enable people to create meaningful content that adds to the culture?

Holmes Wilson: How does political and cultural value come out of citizens media?

One suggestion: create a set of learning tools.

Susan DeFife: Trust the community. Give people the tools to create and the community will decide whom to trust. We take a very hands-off view. We have a “report misconduct” link on every post. We don’t do editing of any content on site but encourage members to please be accurate and truthful.

Dan Gillmor: The second you try to be responsible, you put yourself at risk.

Jonathan Weber: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t filter out egregious violations. At New West, we edit after the fact. We’ll take down copyright violations and libelous and slanderous statements. We should not be so worried about those issues.

Wendy Seltzer educated the group about publisher responsibilities. Online editors have it better than print publications: Internet service providers and any site posting or reposting user content is not liable for the content of a posting. Under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of1996, section 230, you can edit content and posts and you still don’t assume liability as a publisher.

Dan Gillmor: He was named a nonresident fellow at Stanford Law School and just a got grant to pull together a conference in early 2006 to propose model legislation on he subject. Who should be on that group how does the First amendment work for average folks?

Dan also mentioned Bayosphere, a new project that will be a space for people to do things together. We’re going to ask people to behave under, not a code or set of rules, but my role will be to serve as host. It will be based on geography and a community of interest. It’s on the Drupal platform.

Someone raised the issue of training. Most people have no idea of what goes into a citizens media effort. How to help them learn?

Howard: Would be optimal to get a snowball model where you teach certain practices to people and they teach others and it begins to grow that way.

Ron Cooper: Dance and art are storytelling too. He tells students from inner-city high schools that they have the chance to tell their stories in a variety of ways. History has been written by old white men, you have opportunity to write history from your own perspective.

Amanda Michel: She organized 25,000 volunteers for Dean and 50,000 people for the Kerry campaign. Created tools to show them: What is an effective letter to the editor? How to make contact and set up a meetup, how to profile examples of what others have done to make their work more accessible. Better ways to do it than putting up a training manual.

What community are you trying to build? Who’s your audience? What’s their level of involvement and commitment? When you grow a community, it’s important not to lose momentum, it takes tremendous commitment.

Robin Sloan: Look to the National Writers Workshop, where you get bullet points of what you can do differently. It’s like revival camp – participants get fired up by hearing all this practical stuff. It’s been pretty powerful

Chris Tolles tried to summarize the consensus so far. We’d like to see a toolkit of examples of how to build a citizens community; we’d like to hold a conference to educate regular people and students about citizens media and to bring the movement into the public consciousness. One idea is to give speakers at the conference ownership over what they’re putting together, so they are responsible for creating materials and building a product around a topic. You have a problem, a statement and the beginning of an answer, here are some tools and resources to solve this.

One big accomplishment would be to hold a conference that leads to a lasting online toolkit and learning center.

Someone suggested that an important part of the center would be to display examples of best practices – great examples of citizen journalism – as well as a list of available tools and resources.

Denise Atchley: As a point of reference, participants might want to look t the early efforts of the storytelling workshops, where people created sets of tools, resources and information. The Digital Storytelling Association is willing to share its knowledge, learnings and resources. People have been relying on it to take it back to their own places to expand on it; educators take it back to their schools to engage their schools and students.

Brewster Kahle: We haven’t cracked through the consciousness of much of the creative community yet. Ourmedia is really bottom up, but we’re still missing the activists, the documentary folks, they’re not putting their stuff online, why? It’s a puzzle. We’re seeing a lot of Lego moves, but not yet the Robin Williams and Spielbergs and art video crowd.

Mike Orren: Some of us create content. But most of us are about taking content and storing it and bringing it to the audience. It’s less about training people and really more about getting it to the audience that’s the challenge.

Scott Rosenberg: It’s hard to contribute if you’ve got a blank slate. At Flickr, either spontaneously or via ringleaders, these tags emerged, so you’re not giving them a blank page. He warned that teaching is too top-down and users often resist that kind of control.

Mary Hodder wanted to highlight examples of user generated citizen media, examples akin to the Kryptonite lock story or the CBS Memogate blogger story.

Ron Cooper: Internet delivery doesn’t address how you create content. There is a process for delivering exciting tools that encourage creativity. There needs to be a foldback to encourage that.

Fabrice: We should create a site that lets people contribute examples of good citizen journalism. The conference can discuss how it works, why it’s good, start a database, give examples of why it adds value to the culture.

Dan G. will be speaking at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference to talk about these issues. That would be a good outcome, if a site showcased the best stuff of what we see with an invitation to others and a mechanism to say how they did it.

Bruce Koon: Citizens now have the ability to help tell the truth, in addition to what traditional media offer. Let’s see if there’s an opportunity to begin to highlight and provide the tools to help organize that conversation. Citizens are going out and doing storytelling and bringing information out that before they had no audience for. If there’s a common theme, it’s about the impact of this phenomenon on our culture — at the end of the day there’s more truth out there coming from citizens. It’s not about big media vs. small media, it’s about giving people an opportunity to be part of the conversation, no matter the medium.

Ari: How do we motivate people to contribute content and use the tools? I don’t have the answer. A lot of people will not want to go to journalism training programs. Motivation is a key piece of it. How do we motivate people?

Alan Mutter suggested supporting a network of citizen editors.

Amanda: We need to do more than just create a bank of examples. Need to foster training skills. The shared vision should be part of the motivating factor. When she met Jimmy Wales and asked why people participated, he said, people know we’re trying to build the world’s largest encyclopedia and it’s that simple.

Mary Lou Fulton: We’re dealing with something new, people are beginning to understand that their stuff will be up online forever. Need a structure behind the efforts. What’s the context? Is it geography? Political mission? Get into the specifics. Then address the inspiration. What will inspire people to participate? Ours is oriented around geographic community, they want to share positive experiences from their community.

Bruce: mary lou was describing a citizen lawyer in a way newspapers don’t. this is already happening, and getting training session going is worthwhile, but as a loose group , what’s interesting is it’s already happening i. It makes sense to me in some ways …

Andrew Haeg: Some of his journalist colleagues interpret “my audience knows more than I do” as threat, but eventually they see that it helps journalists connect the dots for readers, and that this approach empowers you to do more.

Holmes: One of our goals should be as facilitiatros of community journalism.

Scott Rosenberg: To the extent that editors are perceived as gatekeepers, there will be resistance to the editing function.

Pete Leyden: The kind of communal editing that goes on with wikis is powerful. There is training and filtering through osmosis.

Michael Tippet: We might be missing the boat by engineering a process that doesn’t map to what’s happening in the real world. The process is more about quirky, entertaining stuff that is sent out virally, not by a tightly controlled or filtered process.

Mary: We want tools that support all kinds of editing or non editing. We taught law students blogging and they weren’t comfortable without me editing their work. We’re looking for tools ranging from anonymous users to people interested in other part of process. We can brainstorm out those tools.

Fabrice: Editor function should be less about excercizing control than about serving as a filter to find the quality stuff in the rising sea of content.

JD Lasica: Best to stay away from editors, though moderators and guides that point to the good stuff are valuable. Ourmedia offers content through an editor of the week, with user-generated tags and user-generated ratings coming soon, and those will probably be more valuable than what an editor points to.

What users like are choices – a number of different options. We should be focusing on tools that empower users to create their own media but also to annotate and remix and serve up new versions of existing media.

Scott R.: The Internet is an alternative to big media. We shouldn’t step in to find the 22 minute version of the net. We all have our distributed network of people for recommendations. I don’t see that as problem.

Chris Tolles: What’s the problem, then?

Scott R: It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity to say there is a moment in history when this old structure is collapsing. There are some things we want to carry over from the old world, such as integrity and teaching people how to go out and do the hard work and some of the traditional practices and personal relationships.

JD: Our bottom-line goal should be to enable citizens to create their own media, whether through tools or infrastructure or learnings and best practices. He sees it chiefly as a way to enhance personal creative expression. David Banks asked of citizens media: to what end? My answer is: to advance participatory culture and personal creativity.

Pete Leyden: Huge opportunity lies before us with the next wave — video and podcasting – as moving images, television, film, video, audio all migrate from traditional media to the online medium.

Dan G: However much we enjoy the free for all, what comes out of it besides the noise? I’m a big fan of the noise, but there’s a lot of signal buried in it. How do we find it? Video and audio are very linear mediums as opposed to the scan and browse of text. How do we develop something where people have some trust?

Andrew Haeg called attention to the different points of emphasis between those who are out primarily for truth telling – a process that generally needs a curator of editor – vs. those who are primarily interested in enabling creative expression.

Fabrice: Quality of the content matters because if the content is polluted, democracy suffers. It’s my view thatthere needs to be more rigor applied to publishing citizens media, the journalists have a role to make sure that the information is clean and accurate.

Also pointed out the echo chamber problem. We’re immersed in friends who feed us back what we want to hear. An important role of journalists is to expose viewpoints you don’t necessarily agree on or want to hear.

Amanda Michel: There is room for both the truth-telling and personal expression models.

Howard R.: Reputational systems don’t always serve the function of quality control. Slashdot is very involved with redesigning system due to very deep understanding of how you can get the bad stuff out of your face, but that doesn’t amount to raising the quality of the discussion. Kuroshin lately has had a lot of discussion around: how do we get out of this bad loop? There is value in promoting excellence. There’s a need for it online.

Susan DeFife: I’m struck by the amount of emphasis being placed on trust and editing. Jayson Blair and other scandals occurred on the watch of traditional media where they had these systems in place. This is what got a lot of people into citizens media. It’s a mistake to bring those systems into this new space.

Joanathan Weber: An individual can create a following and a brand through reputation, but that’s rare. There’s a huge distinction between how the Internet filters up a story like the Dan Rather story vs. how a citizens media site can operate. You need to establish trust and credibility in what floats to the top and what to present to the readers. My view is that brand will be quite important.

Mike Orren: While we want to enable quality content, we should just be happy that the content is there and available for filtering.

Scott R. raised the prospect of a site like Flickr being used to ask members in 100 communities to look at corruption in the local real estate industry. Instead of just islands of local coverage, you might find hat there are problems in 95 out of 100 communities, and then you get a profound network effect.

Jonathan Weber: The bar for that kind of difficult reporting is still high. We talk with the assumption that people will cover city council meeting but their ability and willingness to do that in a broad scale are doubtful. Covering a local council meeting is work.

Chris Tolles: The people who will cover those meetings and comment are those with an axe to grind. … You have to harvest people’s real motivations. One motivation is: If you put stuff up you’ll get famous …

Susan: Even if it’s users wanting to talk about their kid’s soccer game, that’s OK, it’s a way for them to participate when they had no such outlet before.

Michael T: Flickr is fun stuff but for real journalistic legwork it will probably be sponsored by interest groups and people who have power now.

Edgar Canon: At Getlocalnews, the people who already have power ignored us. … In peer review situation, when people jump in then collaborative journalism emerges.
In hyperlocal communities, enough people know what the truth is so that it is eventually teased out.

Brewster Kahle: We’ve got 13,000 videos on the Archive and getting 50 a day. We’re seeing music videos that crash through the line of entertainment and news — commentary that’s not as rigorous as journalism. Supports giving people the tools to help them remix and edit works while crediting the original sources.

Edgar Canon: We haven’t talked about drm. Branding will be next big key on the Net. You have an idea about the range and level of trust you have. But payment systems and rights management and syndication all require standards [or common platforms], otherwise it all has to be built on ad hoc basis.

Brewster: We’re seeing a thundering herd of independent minds who want to be involved in video content distribution systems. Companies coming to us saying, I’m in biz dev and I need content.

Chris T: Reuters is about to put its content out there.

Fabrice: Annotation of existing video content is an exciting prospect.

Dan G. cited the experiment by the BBC to put its archives online.

JD mentioned the effort by Ourmedia, Jon Udell and Doug Kaye to create a multimedia clipping service so that users could jump to 15 minutes, 48 seconds into a video or a podcast if that the only section of interest to them. That will be a powerful feature. We still need to build it.

Dan . suggested that the permission of the video creator is required before a video could be annotated.

JD doubted that. No one asks the author of a text document to grant permission before a user can jump to page 164.

Holmes: The best experience for the user is always downloading rather than streaming. That enables deep linking. Download the video, then the rights management gets weird if you have it on your hard drive.

He described participatoryculture.org’s open set-top platform, which lets you download video off the Net. It’s a Tivo in your computer that gets stuff from the Interent. Companies that offer content [like Akimbo] are afraid of getting sued if they allow people to use content retrieved from the Internet in ways they want.

Wendy S,: It’s not the law so much as the competitive situation – in many cases they’re owned by big media conglomerates that already owns the content.

Holmes: We’ve making a desktop software app hat lets you watch TV on the Web. It’s all open source and allows people to download videos thru RSS feeds. It will play almost every video format.

Someone publishing video on the Net has a way to create relationships with people. It doesn’t matter how much money you have — you can publish video to hundreds of thousands of people without any cost.

JD: That’s huge. And it’s not proprietary, so anyone around this table can use their code.

Gary L: Isn’t the end goal to get your video on TV? How do we create open source journalism? The average person needs to see citizens journalism on TV.

Wendy S.: this is why we fought so hard about the broadcast flag, We want to enable boxes that let you do this. No one will buy a box if it shows only Internet content without broadcast content.

She predicted, This fight will go on to Congress.

Brewster Kahle: Mentioned the moribund Storymixer project by Ronna Tannenbaum. 15 years ago it was big deal that with a single click you could go to a website located on another part of the world. Now perhaps we’re ready for video to take that next step.

You piece it together on the fly so you have a video browser with a number of different video feeds. Then, if you click on one of them, you see that movie as your whole context. You see a news clip but what if you want to click back to see the prior video for the full context? You can pull all the train clips you’d ever want to see, all the Casey Jones covers by the Grateful Dead, you can make something on top of the Net….

The second idea I’ll throw out is this:

Libraries have a legal exemption that lets you record off the air any audiovisual news. We can loan a limited number for noncommercial purposes. What does loaning mean? Some experts at Berkeley suggest it means streaming, We hate streaming too. But we’re allowed to loan television news. We’ve been recording DVD-quality 20 channels from around the world 24 hours a day for the past 4 years. So we can go and put that up with a streaming interface that can be deep linked into. We have a technology gap. We’re trying to bring television news to life. You can get away with anything on TV news because it’s here and gone you can’t link back to it. That’s a problem, and perhaps that should change.

Video browser, we’d love it if someone took up our idea for a video browser and ran with it. Television news rebroadcasts – as long s it was one in a noncommercial, academic way.We’re allowed to loan a unlimited number of audio visual news.

Chris T: Let us do that and we’ll put it out to our 3 million users tomorrow. Is it online now?

Brewster: No, it’s mostly in mpeg2 and stored on offline hard drives. It has to be done well or it’ll cause people to blow gaskets.

Dan G: Would like to endorse that. But how important is it if it doesn’t persist? Persistence makes users refer back to it.

JD: The streams can persist, so users can reference that.

Fabrice: The Fox newscasts should be first, and then we can start forming a record of commentators and reporters.

Dan G: So when the announcer comes on, you can have a red X across his face, or a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Holmes: The fact that it hasn’t been tested shows it needs to be done.

Brewster: We did it for 10 days or so after Sept. 11. Perhaps we should do it around the mid-term elections.

Chris T: As long as you do it in conjunction with driving people to the news site, they’d be more reluctant to send in the lawyers.

Dan G.: What if you got 100,000 people to assert fair use?

JD cited fair use as a gray zone on Ourmedia and in cyberspace. Ourmedia constantly takes down infringing material because most people have no idea what the copyright laws say. On the other hand, we allow certain kinds of transformative, creative uses as long as it’s done for educational or creative purposes with no financial gain. We have a law firm in San Francisco devising a set of fair use guidelines for us right now.

Edgar Canon: Any movement to whittle down the protections online publishers enjoy under the CDA?

Wendy: None that I see. You can edit user-contributed materials and filter and still not bear liability for your content. In addition, you have the DMCA safe harbors, so you can wait for a copyright holder to come to you and ask you to take it down.

Ari: When will we see the citizen journalist get sued for infringement or libel?

JD: Might want to check out Media Bloggers Association at mediabloggers.org, which is currently trying to find a blanket protection policy for bloggers.

Dan G: Except that it’ll cost $1 million.

Francis Pisani: Let’s not overlook the aspects that show people how the outside world sees us. It would be a failure if we are only concentrating on our own communities without any knowledge about Iraqis telling what’s happening in their country or the South Asian tsunami. We need a space for that.

Michael T: Hyperlocal content s about granular subject matter, not about restricting your site to geographically local content.

Craig Newmark mentioned that he, and possibly craigslist at some point, is interested in observing the citizens media space and possibly getting involved, but it was too early to say exactly what form such an effort would take.

JD invited members of the open source community to become more involved in producing open source media. Hug a coder today – and send him or her our way.

The session closed with JD highlighting several key points and inviting members to coalesce around several of the efforts raised during the day:

- educational conference: JD, Mary Hodder, others

- training, clearinghouse and learning center for best practices: Amanda Michel, Michael Tippett, others

- online showcase for examples of excellent work: Fabrice Florin

- Legal concerns: Wendy Seltzer, others.

Also, collaborate with the folks attending the media reform gathering in St. Louis this weekend.

Adjourn at 6 pm.

- notes by JD Lasica


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November 7, 1998

Digital footsteps

If you’ve ventured onto the Net, your past may follow you in ways you’d never imagine

This piece appeared on the cover of the Washington Post’s Outlook section and in Salon magazine in November 1998.

By J.D. Lasica

Illustration by SalonOur past now follows us as never before. For centuries, refugees sailed the Atlantic to start new lives. Easterners pulled up stakes and moved west to California. Today, reinvention and second chances come less easily. You may leave town, but your electronic shadow stays behind, as anyone who has ventured onto the Internet well knows.

We often view the Internet as a communication medium or an information-retrieval tool, but it’s also a powerful archiving medium that takes snapshots of our digital lives — and can store those fleeting images forever.

Not only are official documents and consumer profiles being collected on each of us, but the very essence of our daily online existence: Our political opinions, prejudices, religious beliefs, sexual tastes and personal quirks are all becoming part of an immense, organic media soup that is congealing into a permanent public record. What is different about the digital archiving phenomenon is that our beliefs, habits and indiscretions are being preserved for anyone to see — friends, relatives, rivals, lovers, neighbors, bosses, landlords, even obsessed stalkers.

Take all those homespun Web pages out there. People assume that their home pages disappear once they pull the plug. Not necessarily. While your browser may report a “404: File Not Found” when you call up an offline Web page, those pages live on in other electronic nooks and crannies. Since 1996, the Internet Archive, a kind of digital warehouse, has been trolling the Web and hoarding everything it comes across — text, images, sound clips. Every two months, it scoops up the entire Web and stores the results on its virtual shelves. It has preserved my expired site, and it may well have yours.

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June 7, 1998

The Net has forgotten how to forget

The digital attic has begun collecting and storing scraps of our lives — forever

This column appeared in the June 1998 issue of The American Journalism Review. For a more thorough look at this issue, see my article in Salon (with errant formatting given that they’ve switched publishing systems).

By J.D. Lasica

Gigabytes have been written about the digital revolution, but little attention has been paid to one of its most potentially profound social changes: The Internet doesn’t forget. Memories fade, but electronic archives are turning fleeting snapshots of our past lives into permanent records that may follow us forever.

And that has enormous consequences for us as communicators, journalists and citizens.

The common perception is that the Web is a fragile creature filled with dead links, “404 Not Found” error messages, hasty e-mails and other transient digital debris. Indeed, leading figures on the Net have bemoaned the wholesale loss of the Web’s early years, such as many of the political sites devoted to the ’96 election.

But efforts are under way to change all that. Brewster Kahle of San Francisco, inventor of several Internet search engines, is trying to collect, store and catalog the entire World Wide Web and all 33,000 Usenet newsgroups. Kahle’s nonprofit Internet Archive and more recent Alexa project are out to become the modern equivalent of the Library of Alexandria: the repository of all the world’s public digital information. To date he’s copied and stored some 8 trillion bytes of words, images and sounds (compared to 20 trillion in the Library of Congress).

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