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Technology Panel at OhmyNews forum

Craig Newmark, the founder and chief customer support person for Craigslist, is an awfully busy guy for someone who describes himself as “tremendously lazy”. His laziness around citizen’s media comes from the fact that he wants to change the world, but is working by ” help other people help other people change the world,” cheerleading and featuring the best efforts in citizen’s media, not involving Craigslist proper in the citizen’s media movement.

But there are some distinct lessons from Craiglist that are useful for Citizen’s media – Craig sees Craigslist as a victory of “wisdom of the crowds” over “tragedy of the commons”. He’s inspired by Wikipedia, where history is written not by the victors of battles, but by anyone who can access the medium. The tools of citizen’s media allow people to “speak truth to power”, but Craig questions whether this works in the contemporary media universe. He quotes Oscar Wilde: “If you want to tell people the truth, make themn laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.” This suggests that John Stewart and Stephen Colbert may have more traction in today’s media universe than Edward Murrow or Helen Thomas.

Craig is interested in projects like Congresspedia, a project by the Sunlight foundation, which let citizens build and edit articles on their elected representatives. He plugs Dan Gillmor’s citmedia.org, and Jeff Jarvis’s soon to be released Daylife, a “news and trust aggregator”, designed to help you find global news. And he lets us know that BBC’s World Service Trust is now working to train citizen journalists around the world.

JD Lasica, like Dan Gillmor a seasoned journalist who has moved into new media, offers an overview of the shift between “legacy media” and new media. A video of Bill O’Reilly telling people to shut up outlines some of the worst of legacy media: top-down, one-way, centralized
closed, imperious, heavily filtered. This sort of media can feel like media that’s “something done to you”.

As an alternative, JD is interested in the explosion of personal media, especially hyperlocal citizen’s media: Baristanet, iBrattleboro, Coastsider, H@Otown, Benicia News, Muncie Free Press, Free New Mexicans. Quoting Gordon Borrell, “the deer now have guns.”

His site, ourmedia.org, features the best of citizen’s media around the world, though with a heavy US focus. (JD would clearly like to change this, and broaden his moderation team from people from 14 countries to a much larger community.) The site includes the Personal Media Learning Center, which includes content to teach you to build video blogs, podcasts and other types of online media. The site also features an Open Media Directory, which includes music, audio and video which are all legal to share and use online.

JD is especially inspired by the role of open tools and open standards in the world of personal media. He’s especially interested in dotSub.com, a great new tool that lets people add subtitles to video in their own languages, localizing this content for different audiences.

Brian Nunez, technology manager for WITNESS, explains that he feels a bit awkward being on a technology panel, as WITNESS doesn’t think of itself as a technology organization. Instead, WITNESS is about “old school citizen journalism”, helping people produce video that talks about the issues in their communities. This is changing, though, with the WITNESS video hub, a project Brian is a key mover behind

Historically, WITNESS began by giving video cameras to human rights activists in the developing world. Unfortunately, almost all the footage their produced was unusable. Learning from this, WITNESS began a process where they gave cameras, training and strategic guidance for their partners. This requires a 1-3 year commitment to a partner, with periodic assesments – it’s not very scaleable, and only allows WITNESS to work with 10 to 15 groups a year.

To scale up video advocacy, address a wider audience and increase expectations for how video can be used for social justice, WITNESS is expanding into the realm of citizen journalism and participatory media. This is a complement to the existing models, and builds on some of the backend technology they’ve been using for a while – videos linked to online petitions, for example. But now individuals will be able to create and upload video, and WITNESS will point to the best pieces of content, contextualizing and featuring it.

There are major difficulties doing this in the human rights video space. People in the north tend to be spoiled by pervasive broadband – in the south, it’s very important that people be able to upload media from mobile devices. Security and privacy is a major issue – uploading video could be dangerous for activists, and WITNESS needs to think through the implications of letting people transmit this video.

WITNESS will be piloting a video project in cooperation with Global Voices and OneWorldTV. Brian tells us that the experiment will focus on aggregation, pointing to video that’s uploaded to other hosting sites, and allowing networking and discussion around those videos. To make the process as transparent as possible, Brian and his team are blogging the process, inviting people in their community to help them design the tool that works best to unite video activism and citizen journalism. Quoting Mr. Oh’s vision of “every citizen a journalist”, he ends with the hope that soon we’ll see “every citizen a human rights advocate.”

3 thoughts on “Technology Panel at OhmyNews forum”

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