Empowering communities to represent themselves but who’s watching?

Video Volunteers started off as a small experiment in community reporting, encouraging members from marginalized communities in India to tell their own stories and report on issues under-covered by mainstream press. IndiaUnheard, is the program that resulted out of the project that provided journalistic training and basic video skills and necessary tools, low-cost HD camcorders in this case, to chosen community correspondents.

There is something raw and moving about hearing stories directly from the people on issues that affect them, on stories they feel needs urgent attention. Be it farmers in Kashmir talking of how climate change is affecting their crops and farming practises with people using more dangerous pesticides and fertilizers or the subject of the widows of victims killed in fake encounters in Manipur, IndiaUnheard has succeeded in bringing out stories that need telling.

But where do these stories fit in mainstream media and reaching an actual audience that can make a difference? In the case of video volunteers, media partnerships with established names including CNN-IBN, Al Gore’s Current TV and MSN India, has helped spread the word. But what, without these strategic and necessary partnerships? Citizen journalism can empower communities to tell their stories, but at the end of the day, sympathetic mainstream mediums will still play a role in taking these stories further.


Al Jazeera: A step ahead in a convergent world

In April 2011, Al Jazeera launched a new social media powered program where all content was sourced from social sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube and online audiences invited to interact and contribute in real time. What more, all content was gathered and curated using a social media aggregation tool called Storify, then just launched.

The show, called The Stream, was just the latest in social media innovations Al Jazeera had incorporated into their programming and accolades poured in swift from peers and competitors across the globe. The New York Times called it “an indication of where mainstream TV news is heading” while Havard University’s Neiman Journalism Lab hailed its success in  “not only in fully integrating social media into a news operation, but also in embracing the medium as an inherent feature of the new news programming.”

Al Jazeera was one of the first broadcast channel, and still one of the few, to fully embrace the internet to make its programming and unique coverage available to a global online audience. The web enabled the channel to circumvent harassment, censorship and sanctions to aid a revolution, report ground-breaking news and win a global audience. The website’s opinion page has long hosted the lettered arguments of some of the world’s most prolific and well known thinkers and writers and in September 2012, Al Jazeera became a competitor in the digital publishing world with the launch of its monthly magazine. A class example of an integrated newsroom paving the way? Certainly.


Bait ’em, hook ’em…bill ’em: Getting readers to pay

Despite rent to pay and money to save for long contemplated travel plans on a salary that barely covered the tabs, the internet bill is one always first accounted for. And why? I decided to forfeit subscription fees of well loved magazines I had grown up with for a virtual word of free and limitless information. So, when former journalist and author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson wrote in an article – “For the Google Generation, the Internet is the land of the free” – I wasn’t about to disagree.

Former Tribune Company President Jack Fuller once said the most stupid thing newspapers and magazines ever did was to give the content away for free online. As a reader, I wasn’t complaining but as a journalist, should I be expected to produce news for free? Oh, the impertinence!

With advertising revenues drying up with the ink of fresh print, the good audience will realize they can’t be subsidized forever. So, while I still love my freebies and will continue to trawl the web for free good stuff, once you do hook me, I’ll tire of these pop-ups (see below) and yes! direct me to subscription page please. Bait them, hook them and get them to pay. A business model born of necessity.

Capture NYT 3

With newspapers tightening their belts readers can only be thankful for the 10 free reads

Screen Capture globe and mail

Missing the postman – convergence is driving audiences online

In Ulaanbaatar, door-step delivery of newspapers is non-existent and the poor quality of local reporting and paucity of English news sources drives most urban news readers and resident foreigners to the internet.

Personally, my web-dependency for news has evolved my browsing habits. I no longer visit  specific websites but  have tailored my social media feeds to provide me the news I like to follow. Twitter, Google News and Facebook provide my daily news stream.

And recent findings have shown I’m not alone. This March, the Guardian discovered Facebook referrals drove 30 percent of its 70 million unique monthly browsers to their website, a case point for news organizations turning to social media to boost traffic. Online sharing is also shaping and indentifying niche audiences, as an interesting study by social researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute have shown  by mapping news-sharing communities on Twitter to identify social structures and shared networks. The study focused only on New York Times readers but identified several common interest clusters within this seemingly uniform demographic.

In short, with growing web-dependency for news, convergence allows for tighter niche following and for the frequent traveler with no-fixed address, the web is the complete media aggregator.

Future-proofed but content loose: Mongolia’s media convergence blues

ImageCommuters preview the day’s headlines at a bus-stop news stand in Ulaanbaatar, where the wide media range is  often overshadowed by unprofessional standards and non-transparent ownership. 

Numerically, post-communist Mongolia’s media is flourishing. In 2011, the Press Institute’s survey counted 430 media outlets – 130 newspapers, 102 magazines, 95 TV stations, 72 radio stations and 31 “active” websites for a population of under three million. But local watchdog, Globe International, reports that non-transparent ownership, persecution of journalists and forced censorship continue to restrict freedom and quality of journalism with many news outlets functioning as propaganda vehicles for their sponsors.

Parallelly, growth in mobile phone and internet subscriptions is driving more users to the internet for news, in turn encouraging independent online news providers. Internet users grew from 30,000 in 2000 to 350,000 within a decade according to the website  internetworldstats.com.  Mobile phone subscriptions stand at 2,750,000 –  over two thirds of the entire population while the country’s largest mobile service provider MobiCom, claims one million of their subscribers own internet enabled devices in a recent article.

The time seems ripe for media convergence in Mongolia but content wise, convergence is still static. Multimedia barely registers on news sites.  Tactical cross-promotional convergence is growing between online news providers. News.mn, which has over 34,556 likes on their Facebook page, shares links to Baabar.mn, another news site and Toimsetguul.mn, a news magazine with active online presence and hosts video snippets from Eagle TV, a news channel. Infomongolia.com, another news site hosts a streaming English news program sponsored by Toim, the news magazine and produced by NTV, a local TV station. Online content is still rudimentary but collaborations like these are paving the way for future digital convergence in Mongolia.