Category Archives: citizen journalism

Videolyzer Alpha Online

Version 0.0.0.1 of Videolyzer is now online! Videolyzer is a tool designed for journalists and bloggers to be able to collaboratively assess the information quality of a video, including its transcript. Information quality involves things like credibility, validity, and comprehensivness among other things.  Videolyzer was designed to support the analysis, collection, and sharing of criticisms of online videos and is initially geared toward politics. To try it out with some of the recent presidential debate content go to http://www.videolyzer.com

Citizen Journalism and Authenticity

Bloomberg recently ran a story which covered the bogus CNN iReport last week suggesting Steve Jobs had a heart attack. I didn’t see the actual report but this is a great example of people manipulating the supposed authenticity of citizen produced media. In a utopian world where citizens don’t advocate and have no selfish motives, the concept of citizen produced media works splendidly. People gather and present information to help others understand events or experiences. Great! But enter the world of advocacy, corporate manipulation / communication, and, well, stupid people perpetuating information from citizen media that they haven’t themselves verified.

This is an equation for bad information quality and exposes a current weakness of citizen media; citizen media is still largely perceived as authentic (or perhaps innocent) and presupposes a non-manipulative position. This is a gullibility error; the media is not authentic but is perceived as such due to its presentation, and I would say its production quality. But clearly citizens can be manipulators with their media too. Of course, there have been many stories of the blogger paid to blog positivly about product XYZ. Or companies tapping into the authenticity of citizen media to drive their brands. The story about the fake CNN iReport about Steve Jobs could be another example of this. This time it affected the stock price of Apple (-3% by the end of the day on 10/3 but upto -5.4% during trading that day).

What is perhaps strange about this story is that because it’s Apple, there’s tons of buzz when a story like this hits. And it’s the buzz and uncertainty in the verity of the information which fuels a stock sell off. This is why journalists check and re-check information before it actually gets published; in the intervening time during the sorting out process damage can be done. Some more caveats for Citizen Journalism: people need to have their guards up, be aware of gullibility errors, and check the information before they pass it on. Sometimes ex post facto filtering just isn’t a good idea though.

We’re All Journalists Now

I recently finished the book, “We’re All Journalists Now” by Scott Gant. I was largely underimpressed by the book in terms of the references to things going on in the wider world of citizen media which were mostly already familiar to me. Where the book does excel is in explaining some of the legal issues associated with the press clause of the constitution and how the supreme court and lower state courts have interpreted this as far as the rights of “journalists.” Basically the supreme court says that there should be no special privileges given to “members of the press” whereas numerous state laws have ceded some rights to “journalists.” These rights include for instance not having to disclose the source of one’s information if asked by a court. Gant makes the case that having special rights for journalists is difficult because of the difficulty in defining who exactly should BE considered a journalist. In the end, he argues that everyone can be a journalist and that “journalist” should be defined according the process that one follows rather than that someone make their livelyhood or be associated with a traditional news organization. With respect to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1996, a “representative of the news media” was defined as “a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.”

No Pamphlets in DC

Over the past weekend I was in Washington, DC doing some sight-seeing on the mall (where all of the monuments are). I snapped this photo of a cop yelling at some guy on the street handing out pamphlets. The cop was pretty much a real jerk about it; according to him it’s illegal to hand out pamphlets in a federal “park”, though I don’t really see what the big deal was. The guy wasn’t bothering anyone and was exercising his right to free speech by handing out the pamphlet.

The Return of the Omni-Competent Citizen?

In his book, Public Opinion, written in 1922, Walter Lippmann takes as his thesis that the ordinary citizen is incapable of making the decisions necessary in democracy due to his limited ability to perceive and understand the world outside of his immediate environment. He suggests that we need intelligence workers, experts whose interests transcend local affairs and who are able to make rational decisions based on the facts rather than a biased emotional response to information that they have not experienced first hand. In some sense, this function is served by the news press and by career politicians whose job it is to sort through the facts and make sense of them. In information science parlance, the press organizes and analyzes information and the politicians judge and decide.

The assumption of the omni-competent citizen is one at the core of democratic theory going back thousands of years. It may have been more valid in Ancient Athens where the amount of information needed to made informed decisions about that city was comparatively small compared to today. But how does democracy scale? If individuals are incapable of experiencing across all space and time, a valid way of extending our experience and our sphere of perception is by using information technologies to experience (albeit mediated through a communications system) other spaces and times. Is Lippmann wrong? Can IT surmount the cognitive and physical capabilities of the ordinary person, giving them the ability to make better sense of a broader range of experience? Can citizen journalism and the rise of digital sensors breath new life into the core democratic assumption of the omni-competent citizen?