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Global Voices in State of the Media

The Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published its mammoth 2006 State of the News Media report, a 160,000-word tome that provides a thorough overview of directions, trends and developments in American print, broadcast and online journalism. I’ve written about PEJ’s massive undertaking, the News Index, previously – the Index takes on the extraordinary task of reading/watching/listening to 48 media sources on a daily or weekly basis and publishing aggregate data about what stories are most covered in which media. This thirst for data comes through in their massive study of the national media industry.

For the first time in these studies, conducted since 2004, PEJ focused closely on online media, looking closely at 38 news sites and evaluating them on six criteria:

* The level of customizability of content
* The degree to which users could participate in producing content
* The degree to which sites offered content in different media formats
* The degree to which sites exploited the potential for depth on a subject
* The extent to which a site’s own editorial standards, content and control were the brand being promoted
* The nature and level of revenue streams for the site

The sites chosen included the websites of large and small newspapers, radio and tv stations, as well as some “pure” online sites, like Daily Kos, Digg and Google News. Of the 38, four received top marks: the Washington Post, CBS News, the BBC… and Global Voices.

Quoting the report:

Only a few of the sites studied excelled across more than two of the content areas we studied. They might be called High Achievers, sites that scored in the highest possible tier for at least three of the five content areas.

Only four of the sites qualified, and they had little in common beyond the breadth of what they offered. They were a network TV site (CBS), a newspaper (Washington Post), a British television and radio operation (BBC) and an international citizen media site (Global Voices).

And what did these sites emphasize? All of them scored highly for the originality of their content. All of them also scored highly for the extent to which they allowed users to customize the content, to make the sites their own or make the content mobile. None of them, interestingly, scored particularly well at allowing users to participate. Only two, CBS News and the Washington Post, involved a lot of multimedia components.

We got high marks for branding (the uniqueness of our content), customization (the ability of people to subscribe to topics and countries), and depth of coverage (where we were one of only three sites to get top marks.) We did less well in interactivity, and poorly in multimedia (which is certainly true in percentage of content terms, but I think the quality of our video and podcasts are excellent.) And we were in the bottom tier on revenue, which, as the report points out, is “perhaps not surprising since it is a non-profit.”

It’s incredibly gratifying to read the report’s opinion of our work, especially their closing remarks: “Global Voices is not a site to visit to get the latest headlines or find out what the media are talking about. But it shines a bright light on issues the big media often pass by.” That’s such an elegant expression of what we’ve tried to do with the site that we’ve had a dialog much of today about whether we want to incorporate the language into our mission statement.

PEJ makes an excellent point that the four sites they single out are quite different. Frankly, we’re very, very different from the other three. We’re only two years old, have no full-time employees, no newsroom and no presence outside the web. The other three organizations PEJ recognizes have made huge strides in adapting their high-quality journalism to a new medium – the work we do literally wouldn’t be possible in any other medium, as our whole working method centers on finding what people are saying around the web, adding context and translation and amplifying those words to a wider audience.

There’s another critical way in which we differ – Global Voices is a community. Behind the site we put up is an extraordinary network of people who are collectively dedicated to the idea that people who choose to speak deserve to be heard, no matter what language they’re speaking or where they’re speaking from. This commitment means that we don’t just publish news – we also advocate for free speech online and work towards making it possible for more people to communicate online. It also means that a huge set of people deserve congratulations for this recognition – the managing editors, the regional editors, the contributors, the translators, and all the bloggers we link to.

Rebecca has a moving thank you to everyone who works on the project, focusing special thanks on Boris Anthony and Jeremy Clarke, who are responsible for the design and information architecture of the site, and who will blow people’s minds with the redesigned site we’re launching later this month. Everyone who works on GV does so either as a pure volunteer or for a tiny fraction of what their time is actually worth – Boris has turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work to continue putting time into the site, and I’m perpetually grateful for his dedication and sacrifice.

Coming back from TED, I had been feeling a little down about my work. I don’t have a brilliant book coming out, nor do I have millions of venture capital dollars invested in my new startup. But I do have a sense that people are starting to take notice of our work with Global Voices and that we might, in fact, have an effect on international news, making it more open, more global and more representative of the wider world, and that’s a very good feeling. Thanks, PEJ, for the recognition, and a vast pile of thanks to everyone who has made this project possible.

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