On Trolls and The End of the Road

by James Wasserman

There we have it, kids.   First semester is just about in the books. But since we’ll be wrapping up what we’ve learned in our presentations, lets talk a bit about trolls. If you have time, read this article from Vice where the author interviews a troll from the Web 1.0 days.

It may come off a little “Back in my day…,” but I think we need to understand that the internet and its language have both evolved. So, a troll in 2015 isn’t exactly the same as a troll was in 2005; tactics, technology, and mindset have all advanced in some way. Access to the internet has increased as well, so the “bad apple” principle is really starting to take hold.

Jamie Bartlett’s interview with a self-proclaimed troll reveals the old-school definition of the term. Not only is his cause something I think most of us call noble (“Zack is a member of several trolling groups, all of which he describes as being a kind of cyber neighborhood watch—they seek out extremist, misogynistic, or generally unpleasant communities, and bother the hell out of them”), but his tactics are much more refined than name calling.

“His favorite technique, he explained, is to intentionally make basic grammatical or spelling mistakes, wait for someone to insult his writing, and then lock them into an argument about politics.”

As I divulged to you all, I had a certain set of trolling skills, skills that I acquired over a very long career. And I used them for good – trolling the KKK. But this brings up a good (but probably not THAT relevant) point about the ethics of trolling. Is every form of trolling bad?

Just as we discussed the definition of asshole, and how its different from being a jerk, Bartlett says that “the word has become a blanket term for any hateful dickhead with a hard drive.” I wonder if the role of the troll will change in the coming years, as the internet opens up to more and more people, but becomes easier for certain entities to police.

Are there any other terms that were created by and then changed by the internet? What group or business would you troll? What person? I already told you guys about my KKK trolling, so here’s an article about my pick for person to troll.

We have 10 days before we’re back in class. Obviously, nobody has to do anything related to our classes, but if you were to, what would you do either to tie up loose ends from last semester or get a jump on the second? Do you think you’ll stop keeping up with news for Kate’s news quizzes? (Guys, don’t, news is so much fun! But honestly I probably will unless we form some sort of forum to keep up)

Keep in touch guys and HAGS!!!!


Going deep in Brooklyn — and in community-based journalism

New and old stores at Nostrand Ave. Photo: Pedro Burgos.

“If news organizations are to serve communities, they often need to act as community organizers to marshal the forces of communities in very practical ways: listening to their needs, drawing their attention to an issue, convening them to gather together and discuss the issue, urging them to action, and helping them reach their goals.”

That passage from Jeff Jarvis’ Geeks Bearing Gifts was one of our very first readings for this course, and one that stuck with me. As we worked with our communities throughout the semester, we tried to put that interesting new proposition for the role of journalists into practice. It wasn’t easy, because this was new, and we didn’t have a perfect example of that idea of journalist-advocates working in real life.

Until last Tuesday, when we met in a admittedly hot newsroom in Nostrand Ave, in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant (or Crown Heights, depending to whom you ask). We went there to learn from — and to help — the work of Brooklyn Deep, which describes itself as “ProPublica meets a neighborhood Patch.”

The idea of Brooklyn Deep, as Veralyn Williams, one of the three staffers, told us, is to shed light on the issues that affect the community that lives in Central Brooklyn (mostly Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights), through, as the name implies, deep reporting. She mentioned police accountability, the role of activism and gentrification, among others as issues of interest to them.

Veralyn explained to us that they are associated with Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), a community organizing group. The partnership is important because BMC provides office space and pays some of the staff, as well as valuable connections to stakeholders in Central Brooklyn. Through long stories and podcasts, Brooklyn Deep reveals the concerns of that community, and gives voice to people that live there.

It seemed that this was pretty close to the “journalist-meets-community-organizer” (literally) that professor Jarvis advocated.

Not so fast. (We’ll get there)

After Veralyn made the introductions, Mark Winston Griffith, executive editor of Brooklyn Deep, stepped in to explain more about the philosophy behind the journalistic enterprise. A third-generation resident of Crown Heights, Griffith is completely embedded within the community he reports on and for. He knows what the issues are, what his neighbors are angry about, and what the traditional media, which usually just parachutes in when something major occurs, misreport. As a former professor of urban reporting at CUNY, he also is a specialist in the techniques required to effectively listen to the community.

But he sees himself as first and foremost a traditional journalist, rejecting the term “advocate”. He repeatedly made clear the distinction between BMC and Brooklyn Deep, in a way not unlike what we in newsrooms used to call the separation between “church and state” (advertising and editorial). He thinks his work stops before the community “takes action,” which is a little bit different from what we are supposed to practice in this new concept of social journalist.

I explored that distinction further in a lengthy interview (more on that below). But before that, we did a hands-on exercise.

Inside an old barber shop at Nostrand Ave. Photo: Pedro Burgos.

“The whole role of Brooklyn Deep is to deconstruct the term gentrification,” said Griffith.

So we were tasked to interview the “gentrifiers” and the “gentrifiees” – new owners of coffee shops that looked as if they had been transplanted from Williamsburg and Dominican barbers that work in decades-old, vintage places.

We had a list of questions, both quantitative and qualitative, revolving around the gentrification theme. I ended up visiting two “hipster” coffee shops, Lula Bagel and Colina Cuervo ,and talked with the people there. The funny thing for me was that the “gentrifiers” were much more receptive to questions. One of my interviewees, who recently moved from Manhattan to Bed-Stuy to work as a barista, said that there are “many positive aspects of gentrification,” such as the increase in options for shopping and cleaner streets. All of that while keeping the “diversity” (another way to call the original residents) in the community.

After an hour of walking around the shops we gathered at another upscale coffee place to debrief. A common thread of everyone’s reporting was the “conundrum of gentrification,” as Griffith explained. “Everyone wants the places to be better. But when everything is better, everyone wants a piece of it. And it gets more expensive.”

A recent live recording of Third Rail, Brooklyn Deep’s podcast. You can see in the audience a paradox that Griffith noted: “The most progressive minded people around gentrification are gentrifiers.” Photo: Brooklyn Deep.

We talked a lot about the gentrification process itself, which helped to paint a more nuanced view of the issue (at least for me). We then talked about techniques for community reporting. “It is important to develop not only a beat, but a relationship,” said Griffith.

He advised us to become part of the conversations that happen in our neighborhood. By doing that, we will know exactly what is happening and what people living there think when we need to report on that community. He said that this relationship should be built thought the years — or even generations, in his case.

Griffith was kind enough to spend an additional 30 minutes with me talking about a lot of things that (already excusing for the length of this post) could help us think smarter about our job. If you’re feeling bored, you can jump to the questions. 😉

* * *

[The following Q&A was edited for brevity and clarity, and because I was typing everything on the laptop on the fly.]

Q: You said that you prefer to describe Brooklyn Deep’s work as inquiry, instead of advocacy. We are tasked to think about the role of the journalist in different terms, sometimes borrowing definitions from advocates. How do you describe your work?

There is a difference between advocacy and inquiry. The two overlap at some level, but they are different. The purpose of organizing is to build power and make social change. The methods are not prescriptive. It is more about having a better understanding of the issues. And to know how to ask the right questions and being more comfortable with views and perspectives that don’t look like yours.

When you do advocacy you become dogmatic on your view of the truth. Inquiry, on the other hand, is very freeing. We seek the truth, and truth is more transformative than propaganda.

Q: But it is still different from a traditional journalist. In a way, is this closer to what a community organizer does?

Maybe, yes. But there is a difference between organizing and the advocacy. We are bringing people together and starting a conversation. In advocacy I “know” what is right or wrong, and start from there. With organizing you don’t come with all the answers.

Q: The Brooklyn Movement Center can be seen as a “community organizer,” right? Why do you think is important to keep Brooklyn Deep’s work so separate then?

It is important to separate the two. Suppose that an elected official does something wrong and BMC confronts it, as an organized body, by organizing a march. On the next day, if a Brooklyn Deep reporter tries to interview him, he could say something like “You beat me up before, why would I talk to you?”.

In the same vein, if BMC has an alliance with an elected official, we will not have a way to confront him. We need some journalistic independence.

Q: But if BMC provides the better part of the funding, how do you negotiate that relationship?

We have a funding problem; that is why we are incubated in BMC. We don’t have the money to be on our own. The way I get paid is through them, but Veralyn gets paid through Brooklyn Deep alone. If we didn’t have the BMC, we wouldn’t have the office space, staff, etc. And we would need to build these relationships [with the community] that they already have for us.

Q: Through your reporting, do you think you are able to push for certain actions, like policy making?

That’s where journalism ends. We are not designed to give you [the community] an answer. We help to understand the problem better. Instead of seeing a problem, such as gentrification, as a monolithic thing, we pull it apart and see different pieces. And you are able to come up with problem solving on your own.

This understanding can lead to a solution. But we are not giving the solution. You will never be able to solve the problem if you don’t understand the problem. There is why a lot of policy doesn’t work. People create legislation without understanding the problem. There is much valor to be gained from the reporting alone, of getting all this data.

Q: Besides reporting, what other disciplines do you see being used in your work here?

I see anthropology, data, storytelling, all sorts of digital creativity skills. I see a lot of historical information being used to bring together the pieces… Data mining. Not only to see the numbers, but to ask questions like ,where did you get the data? How do you access the public information that is already there and put in a form that people can readily use an consume? It’s a much more ambitious undertaking than regular journalism. It’s not only going out and talking to people.

Q: If you don’t advocate, what differentiates Brooklyn Deep from other hyperlocal sites?

Hyperlocal news sites a lot of times work without a deep political and historical understanding of the place they are reporting on. Reporters parachute in and don’t have the time to have the relationships. To report well on a community it also means living there, being a part of the social fabric. Shopping, belonging to a social organization, having children, studying there. That’s what I encourage people to do. If you are covering a neighborhood, live in a neighborhood. Partake in a neighborhood. And you will find yourself asking all sort of different questions.

* * *

Questions (pick any, some, or all):

1) Are you trying to “live and breathe” your community? What efforts are you making to participate more in your community’s life? If you are not, what prevents you from doing that?

2) Did your reporting change the way you see the issues in your community? As in: you expected that your community was facing “X” problem and you found out that the real deal was “Y.” Could you share one example?

3) Besides reporting, we discussed ethnography and data skills this first semester. What other disciplines do you see as being valuable to learn as our work continues?

4) After these first few months, do you see yourself as more of an advocate/community organizer? Did your perception of the journalist’s role in society change? How?

Building a Social Profile

By Sihem Fekih

On Monday, April 28, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism hosted a panel: “ Your Journalism, Your Brand How to Build an Effective Social Profile.” Participants included: Buzzfeed Social Media Editor Michael Rusch, ProPublica Senior Reporter Charles Ornstein, Mashable Real-Time News Editor Brian Ries, and Reportedly Social Media Reporter Kim Bui.

Introducing the panel, Social Journalism program director Carrie Brown said: “Even if social media is not new any more, I still get a lot of questions from journalists saying ‘I still feel like I’m not taking advantage of [social media] enough. How should I prioritize my work there? How can I better use it to build trust and engage with my audience? How can use it to enhance my career and develop new sources?”

Speakers started by detailing their roles and responsibilities. Opening the panel, Charles Ornstein talked about the importance of integrating social media into his beat. He curates the best health care stories he finds for his readers and shares them on social media, establishing his authority and expertise in his beat.

Ries primarily uses social to establish himself and Mashable as key sources for breaking news responses. Kim Bui said she devoted a majority of her time to digging up and verifying news on social media. For example, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Bui and her colleagues used social media to research the suspects police had identified.  She also explained how she verified that the third suspect – a high school student – wasn’t involved by tracking tweets from other students at his high school who confirmed his presence in class during the attack.

“I spend the whole day reporting and writing on Facebook and Twitter. And I do occasionally write on Medium for longer stories,” she said.

The speakers were all animated by the necessity to develop an identity on social media and build a true relationship with their audiences.

Rusch built his reputation as a journalist using social media. For two months, he found himself on an investigative journey in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, shooting video and collecting footage of the natural disaster with the help of the Coast Guard. After three years of social media experimenting and building his own brand, he developed a relationship with BuzzFeed Editorial Executive Ben Smith and eventually got his job there.

Engaging with your audience is also another way to enhance social media credibility, and sometimes it can be the more reliable way to contact a source. Charles Ornstein from ProPublica said: “I engage with people. I do engage with the dean of Harvard on Twitter if I can’t get him to pick up the phone.”

For Kim Bui, the engagement leads her to develop a long-lasting relationship with readers: “I feel like if I’m informative and I’m telling a really good story, and if I’m giving citizens on the ground the credit they deserve, people will start to follow me and engage with me,” she said, before mentioning that she uses hashtags, buzzwords, and exclamations like “wow” cautiously.

Panelists called DataminR the most powerful and efficient analytics tool on the market. Bui said DataminR is too expensive for smaller outlets like hers, and they use coeverywhere instead.

The panel’s discussion taught us to consider social media as a tool we can use to get more confident in our beat and to track stories.

How do you plan on building your personal brand/reputation through social media?

 Could you imagine yourself building a methodology of sourcing specific information from your community on social media? What would it be like?

Debating Social Media, Mobile Journalism and How We Engage with It

BY DERON DALTON (@DeronDalton)

This week we had another engaging guest speaker, Maria Cruz Lee, the director of engagement at Define American, who prior to that launched the NYC Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs’ social strategy, during the Bloomberg Administration.

Define American is nonprofit organization that creates, curates and supports the shifting culture around immigrants in a changing America. It’s an interesting campaign because it reaches out to conservatives who don’t understand or agree with the organization’s goals.

Before she arrived we discussed the ISOJ 2015 conference Dr. Carrie Brown attended in Austin and how journalism is creating strategies for mobile and social media platforms.

Trei Brundrett, chief product officer at Vox Media, spoke at the conference about the importance of page load speed on mobile. Brundett has a whole team working on performance and speed. Google would agree; it found that page load times over one second interrupt user flow of thought. Unfortunately, the average site load on mobile is seven seconds.

And that’s where Facebook comes into play. Facebook’s relatively fast load times offers one argument for why news organizations might want to host their content there, although there are plenty of arguments against it as well.

Fortune reported Facebook would host content from the New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic within its site in the coming months. We discussed how entities are skeptical about turning over their content to FB, or should be. But do they have a choice?  News organizations are struggling with figuring out how to optimize news on their sites and create digital strategies without platforms like Facebook.

Cruz Lee shared some of her digital and social strategy with us. The Define American campaign started in 2011 and was founded by Jose Antonio Vargas. it made the cover of Time in 2012, and the campaign started hiring in 2013. In 2014, it produced a documentary called “Documented.”

 “In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in the ‘New York Times Magazine.’ ‘Documented chronicles his journey to America from the Philippines as a child; his journey through America as an immigration reform activist; and his journey inward as he re-connects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in person in over 20 years.”

Cruz Lee’s strategy for promoting the campaign is built not only upon changing the narratives around undocumented Americans, but also educating these conservative Americans.

During this conversation, an idea popped into my head to live stream the discussion on Periscope. Therefore, others could tune in; I could save the video; and I could include the video in this blog. However, the video didn’t save.

I was a little worried after starting the stream our speaker would be a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t hold back in discussing her strategy with us. I had an exchange with Cruz Lee on Twitter about Periscope, which started an engaging conversation.

I posted about the conversation in our CUNY social journalism group, “I know it was an unexpected #Periscope, but we’re social people. It’s what we do, even when it’s unexpected. I live streamed our guess speaker today. I planned to save the video for the “Community Engagement” blog post, but unfortunately, it didn’t save to my camera roll even though I made sure to charge my phone, haha. Anyways, it led to this interaction on Twitter! YAY! I’m going to keep focusing on utilizing social media for our program as much as possible, regardless of trolls.”

After the live stream and class ended, a couple of classmates told me they were uncomfortable with the live stream or felt their privacy was being violated without prior permission to “scope.”

“I think it’s cool people tuned in, but like others have mentioned, it did feel like my privacy and my ability to ask honest questions was a little invaded (during the Q&A. Scoping her presentation makes sense, if she was OK with it.),” a classmate replied on Facebook. “It’s not enough to just excuse those of us with privacy concerns by saying ‘we’re social people.’ I would prefer you at least let us know you’re live streaming our discussions before you begin so we can air any concerns we have.”

Another classmate said the discussion shows how new and important live streaming is. According to him, privacy concerns are legitimate, but his opinion is that we are in a “social” program and should experiment as much as possible.

“A lot of people just don’t “act naturally”, and that is 100 percent understandable,” Pedro Burgos said.  “It has nothing to do with being “social”, versus “oversensitive” or things like that. The problem is that the people that are watching through Periscope don’t have the same context, didn’t get the full talk, and so the person speaking has to be overly cautious.”

“Definitely a good discussion to have. We can talk more about it. Personally I always assume that any event at a journalism school is always on-the-record unless it’s explicitly described as off-the-record,” Brown said.

“And I really like to see people talking about things that they are learning in class on social, because I believe in sharing what we are learning as widely as possible and also allowing as many people as possible into the conversation. But, maybe live streaming is a special case,” she added.

It seems as though the live streaming discussion is only beginning. But what do you all think should be our limits as journalists in engaging with social media tools for journalism, news and with our communities?

On the flip side — like Maria Cruz Lee — what are some ways we can implement social strategies for our communities and use it to address or solve our communities’ problems?

“What is Social Media?… It’s just the people.”

by Adriele Parker (@AdrieleParker)

Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup, sat down with us for a candid chat about how he started his company, serving communities, and being open to change.

Before Scott’s arrival, we talked to Professor Jarvis and Dr. Brown about an assignment that we completed over spring break using live video streaming apps Meerkat and Periscope. Most of us agreed that because both apps are fairly new there are plenty of glitches. For example, my partner Jay Wasserman and I live streamed a walk through Times Square using Periscope. After completing our video, we realized that Jay’s phone didn’t have enough storage and only a few seconds of the video were saved — there was no notification of this.  Bummer.

Professor Jarvis  asked us how we thought these apps would or could affect gun violence – what would happen if somebody happened to be live streaming when a shooting occurred, for example? How would people respond? No one really had an answer, but we agreed that live streaming such occurrences would significantly increase chances of news going viral.

We then pondered the idea of the internet connecting you to less or more people. Are we too immersed in our screens to pay attention to others, or are we engaging more often with more people? Classmate Erica Soto said, “We’re connecting, but we’re not necessarily communicating anymore.” This led us to a brief discussion about online education and the need for hands on experience.

Scott arrived with a friend, Ankit Shah, who has recently been creating buzz with a new concept called Tea with Strangers, which, as the name implies, allows groups of strangers to meet over tea. Scott had us go around the room and introduce ourselves, our communities, and say something we’ve already learned or would like to learn during our time in the #socialj program. He wanted us to aim for 10 words or less, but for most of us it took a bit more than 10 words.

Scott was genuinely intrigued by all of our backgrounds, our communities, and the notion of community-driven journalism. He asked, “What is social media?” Several of us shouted out a few lengthy answers. Chuckling, Scott responded to his own question with, “it’s just the people.” He went on to tell us how Meetup came about. After 9/11, he found himself talking to neighbors more than before. Being an internet guy, Scott said that he didn’t think distance mattered, but he “found something powerful in local.”

Scott used to attend concerts where he’d see some of the same people, but no one had the guts to talk to other concert-goers. He thought Meetup would be a tool used mainly by fans as a means with connecting with one another. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Scott reminded us several times to not to get too locked into what we think we want to do, as it can always change.

In the early stages, Meetup’s staff would choose a common interest that they thought people would want to meet about, and they allowed people to vote on one of three randomly selected locations to meet, and then they’d post the event with its selected location and people would attend. This method didn’t work for long. The things they assumed people were interested in, they weren’t and vice versa.

Meetup now consists of over 21 million members of nearly 200,000 community-led and organized groups. The groups vary drastically by interest — there are board game groups, tech groups, and fitness groups, just to name a few.

Scott told us the story of Dale, a soccer Meetup organizer. In general, to play soccer in New York City as a team or league, a permit is needed. Also, players typically pay hundreds of dollars in league fees. Dale snagged a permit, didn’t need to create a business plan, and started charging $10 per person for his Meetup. Dale now makes $15,000 per month through Meetup.

“A sense of belonging amongst and between people,” is what Meetup creates, said Scott. Referencing great leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., and great movements, such as the women’s right’s movement, Scott explained how we live in a world where we want a boss or leader, but must realize that without the people, a movement wouldn’t be possible.

Instead of preparing a speech for a conference that he once had to present at, Scott told members of the audience to talk to each other for 15 minutes. They loved it. According to Scott, people often just need permission to talk and it’s important to remember that “the person sitting next to you is smarter than you about something.” Agreed, 100 percent.

Towards the end we went through a series of Q&A’s and spent a good portion of our time talking money and subscriptions. Scott explained that 98 percent of Meetup’s revenue isn’t coming from groups, but instead from the organizers’ fees. Not all organizers charge membership dues, but from the ones that do, Meetup receives 5 percent. Meetup does not have ads.

“We want to make a company for the ages,” said Scott. Meetup’s staff actually goes through each proposed group for approval, and around 30 percent of the groups are refunded after review.

Scott wrapped up our session by inviting us to get a feel for what types of Meetups exist by going on a Meetup crawl to experience different types of groups.

We talked a bit more after Scott’s departure about ways to stay open to change and not being possessive over our communities. With our program in particular it’s virtually impossible to not pick a beat and run with it.

So how do we remain open to change? How do you ensure that our beat remains malleable and we don’t sell ourselves short? How do you find the balance between being possessive over your community vs. not? Is there a balance?

Insights from the world of ethnic media

by Betsy Laikin (@betsybagel)

Last class we heard from two journalists, Rong Xiaoqing, a reporter for over 10 years at the Sing Tao Daily, and Tomasz Deptula, managing editor of  Nowy Dziennikthe, the Polish Daily News. Both journalists were awarded the first ever Ethnic Press Fellowships from the Independent Press Association in 2003, and have dedicated their careers to the communities they serve. Their informative and insightful presentations revealed a fascinating glimpse into the world of ethnic media in New York.

 Community histories and population projections

Founded in 1971 by former soldiers who emigrated from Poland to America after WW II, the Polish Daily News is now based in New York. Deptula said Polish immigration to America started in the 18th century, and peaked in the late ’70s to the early ’80s, while Poland was under Communist rule. In 2004, their admission into the EU halted almost all immigration to the United States as Poles began working legally in European countries closer to home.

FullSizeRender (1)

Deptula expressed his concern about the survival of his independent paper, and of the two other local Polish language papers in the city, as his readership is aging and shrinking. His tight budget allows for only eight staff members,  which makes it difficult to do in-depth reporting, but the Polish Daily News does cover important topics like employment, housing, homelessness and other needs of the community.

(Photo of  Nowy Dziennikthe by Rachel Glickhouse) 

When asked how he measures success, Deptula poignantly said: “Our success is when we are not needed any more,” referring to the future when descendants of Polish immigrants will be self-sufficient and more integrated into the community.

Rong Xiaoqing began by talking about the history of Chinese immigration to New York, when the offspring of railroad workers started arriving to New York’s Chinatown in the 1880s. Meanwhile, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was restricted, first by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and then by strict quotas that remained until 1965. This resulted in rampant human smuggling and ID forgery; many Chinese immigrants entered the U.S. by feigning familial relations with phony papers, and were known as “paper sons”

The poorer populations that settled along Broadway became known as the “silent” generation, not wanting to provoke any attention. In the 1980s, Chinese immigrants arrived from the Fujam province, creating a language divide, as they spoke Mandarin instead of Cantonese, the language of earlier Chinese immigrants.

This population is increasing well beyond Chinatown; nine neighborhoods are now at least 25 percent Chinese. From the 90s and continuing to this day, educated, wealthy and tech-savvy immigrants with no memories of the “poor” China known to earlier generations, are now arriving in droves. Chinese nationals account for more than 80 percent of EB-5 visas, which are obtained through investing $500,000 into the U.S. economy. It is important to determine future population shifts within your community in order to plan for the future.

 Conflicts inside and outside the community

The Chinese community is finally finding its voice in the public sphere. In 2013, after the “killing everyone in China” skit aired on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Chinese Americans spearheaded protests, which resulted in a public apology by Kimmel and ABC.

Chinese visibility was noted most recently when thousands voiced their support for NYPD officer Peter Liang after his indictment. Xiaoqing said she “had never seen so many Chinese Americans protesting before.

However, diversity, such as geographical, political, language or class, can produce conflicts of interest within the community. Xiaoqing said that New York City Council member Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, supported the indictment of Peter Liang. A prominent Chinese American soon up for reelection, Chin was criticized by some of her Chinese constituents. When a prominent member takes a different stance than their community, compromises will need to be forged.

Survival of the fittest

As one of five daily Chinese papers in New York, Xiaoqing acknowledged that her paper faced stiff competition. When asked about the possible transition into an online publication, she said fewer people would buy the print edition if it was free online. However, she is aware that competing papers are starting to build an online presence.

Deptula expressed his concern about the survival of his independent paper, and of the two other local Polish language papers in the city, as his readership is aging and shrinking. It will be up to millennials from these communities to determine how ethnic media will evolve.

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(From L to R, Professor Jeff Jarvis, Tomazs Deptula, and Rong Xiaoqing)

Community sensitivities and taboos

The front pages of both The Polish Daily and the Sing Tao Daily feature news from abroad, signifying the ties their communities have to their home countries. When asked about sensitive issues that arise, Rong Xiaoqing said for her community, it is losing “face” by bringing shame to yourself and your family. For her award-winning investigative report on the mental health of Asian students at Stuyvesant High School, she remarked on the difficulty of finding anyone who would speak about this taboo topic.

Deptula explained that Poles, often very passionate about history, are sensitive about the misconception that “Polish death camps” existed during WW II, as the camps were established and run by German Nazis. In 2012, while in Poland, President Obama upset Poles and Polish-Americans when he used this phrase during a WW II medal ceremony. Xiaoqing then reminded us of a recent incident regarding a pocket watch in Taipei. To avoid a similar fiasco, one must know what makes a community tick.

Spilling the “beats”

Regarding our continuing debate of the relationship of social journalism to advocacy, and how it muddles the traditional definition of journalism, Xiaoqing said she was a staunch follower of journalistic principles, and remained objective throughout her reporting career. But occasionally an issue comes along that makes it more difficult to stay neutral. For example, in 2013, The New York Times first reported that John Liu, the only Chinese candidate to be a serious contender in the mayoral election, was connected to a campaign finance scandal, leading to the ruination of his campaign. Although the Sing Tao Daily News covered this story extensively after it broke, she did find it hard to imagine being the first to report on Liu.

Song of the week: “Chinatown, My Chinatown”

Select from the questions below that best relate to your community:

  • If you discover information that could have damaging repercussions for those you serve, and might decrease this community’s trust in you, would you report it? If so, how would you handle it?            
  • Have you identified any powerful events or movements that occurred in your community, that brought forth increased visibility, justice or social change?
  • Have you identified the most sensitive issues in your community? How will this influence your work?
  • Rong Xiaoqing spoke of how affirmative action has lowered the acceptance rate of Chinese students to top universities. However, it has helped Asians from countries like Burma and Laos. She posed questions that arise in her community, such as “do you take care of the entire community, or just the majority? Does everyone advance together, or should some benefit before others?” Are there any examples of inequalities within your communities? How are they handled?
  • Is the population of your community expanding, shrinking or stagnant? How will this impact your future work, and how will you innovate to accommodate for this?

Lessons for Social Journalists from Ferguson

Our own Julia Haslanger (@JuliaJRH) has written two great pieces on Medium that offer some useful insights into how journalists can cover important, emotional events in ways that engage community voices.

The first looks at how three St. Louis newsrooms made the Ferguson story easy to follow and invited community members to share their stories.

The second looks at how jouranlists can avoid burnout when covering stories like this.

Be sure to check them out.

Combining journalism and advocacy to effect change

by Rachel Glickhouse (@riogringa)

Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms spoke to our class this week about his experience with journalism, advocacy, and film-making.

He explained that he became involved with the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in the 1990s, and began videotaping bike rides he took with friends. Later, he ran a cable access show about biking in New York, and then created a video about a car-free Central Park in 2004. After screening the film before a crowd of nearly 700, results came just weeks later, with seven park entrances closed and speed limits reduced in the park.

In 2005, Eckerson founded Streetfilms, and for the past decade he’s been making videos about bike and pedestrian advocacy, Vision Zero, and other transportation issues in New York and around the world. Eckerson noted that by putting his work on Youtube, it lets people use the videos as they see fit, sharing it with elected officials and with different advocacy groups.

Eckerson considers himself a filmmaker, an advocate, and a journalist all in one. “As long as we tell the truth and try to correct what the media gets wrong all the time, there’s nothing wrong with being an advocate,” he said. “There’s a big responsibility to make sure you get it right.”

However, funding is a challenge, Eckerson acknowledged. He depends on a primary funder as well as donations, but due to cut-backs, he lost his two co-workers. He also gets grants to do international projects.

Eckerson noted that a key to his success is creating evergreen films, which have value for years on end. He explained that transportation-related videos can often be technical and full of jargon, so his goal is always to make videos that put concepts in simple terms that are accessible to all. Ultimately, the goal is to figure out ways to make people’s lives better or to give them tools to make their lives better, he said. He also stressed the importance of keeping videos short and sweet–under 4 minutes.

While Eckerson considers himself a journalist, his first measure of success comes from changes in the community. He cited a pedestrianized Times Square and pedestrian plazas in Queens as positive results of his work. “Success is seeing your message get out there easier,” he said. Pageviews and comments are important, but are secondary to actual change in the community.

When it comes to distribution, Streetfilms uses a Creative Commons license that prohibits derivatives or selling the videos, but it allows people to make copies and distribute the content to reuse and repurpose it. “I just want to get the word out,” he said. He also prefers for media outlets to ask for permission to use his footage, since one time it was used without any credit or attribution.

“In my heart, I’m always going to be an advocate,” concluded Eckerson. “I can only do my best to throw stuff out there and hope people use it.” But at the same time, he holds himself to a strict journalistic standard. “I can’t put something out there that’s not true.”

During the rest of class, we discussed everything we’ve explored so far this semester, from design thinking to business models to qualitative research. We talked about externally focused vs. internally focused journalism, and whether we will use one or both to work with our communities. In other words, are we telling the world about our community, or are we focusing on communicating only within the community itself?

We also touched on dealing with telling people what they don’t want to hear. We talked about how in traditional journalism, objectivity protects and distances you from a community, while collaboration–critical to social journalism–is key to building a relationship with your public, though it also makes you vulnerable.

Here’s my question for the week: Do you think externally focused or internally focused journalism will work best for your community? Or is it both? In your work, will you need to tell your community things it doesn’t want to hear? If so, how will you handle that challenge?

Jeff Jarvis on the Birth of a Magazine and How to Build a Business

By Erica Soto 

“The Entertainer, The Ultimate Entertainment Guide, Home Entertainment Choices…”

In class this week we took a stroll down memory lane with professor Jeff Jarvis as he walked us through his time at Time Inc., from his work at People to building a brand new magazine, which would eventually become Entertainment Weekly.

Entertainment Weekly was born out of a need that existed in the mid ‘80s. For the first time, audiences had an abundance of choices when it came to entertainment, and they began fragmenting. Editors were once the gateway to the public for celebrities, but that changed. PR suddenly had the power because they had access to the celebrities. This became a problem for some publishers.

However, there was a solution. Or rather, an opportunity that Jarvis discovered. The opportunity was to concentrate on the product rather than the celebrity; concentrate on the program rather than the people. A new editorial product like Entertainment Weekly would consist of reviews, some features, some news and gossip, information about new equipment, and lists.

(Jeff Jarvis alongside the very first issue of Entertainment Weekly)

Although the initial pitch for the magazine was rejected, four years later, the beginnings of Entertainment Weekly began to take shape. In class we discussed what it took to get the magazine off the ground. We discussed everything from market analysis, competition, various plans (product, revenue, marketing, ops, launch) and finally capital needs. In essence, a business plan.

We also discussed circulation, advertising and revenue.

Here’s a look at the top 12 U.S. Consumer Magazine Publishers: Circulation & Advertising Revenue.

We learned that in the end it took $200 million before Entertainment Weekly broke even.

Despite subscriber acquisition costs (the amount of marketing you need to spend in order to get a subscriber) and general business expenses,  the mass media model based on advertsing worked for magazines. However, things operate differently today.

According to Steven Gray, former managing publisher of The Christian Science Monitor, “For audience, the news model is breaking down. In the mass media era, when it cost a fortune to send information to the masses, news mattered to everybody and, therefore, was important enough to send through the tiny, costly pipe of print and broadcast. By definition, news was one-size-fits-all… But now that the information pipe has gone infinite, anybody can send anything through it. And, given these infinite information choices, a human will choose the information that matters most to her — what she likes best, is most interested in, is most directly relevant to her current needs and wants.”

In his book Geeks Bearing GiftsJarvis says, “I created the magazine Entertainment Weekly but if I had the same idea today — helping people decide how to spend their scarce time and money on entertainment — I wouldn’t start a magazine and hire critics and make content to fill pages in print or even on the web. I’d build a platform for shared opinions among like-minded souls — thriller fans over here, romantics over there — perhaps adding a critic or two as convener and curator of the best discussions.”

Jarvis also talks about the value of readers and offering rewards in the future. He suggests a “pay down” system, in which readers can pay a deposit to access content the first month, then each month after that they can earn back the fee by doing things such as coming back often to see ads, sharing demographic information, and buying products from the publisher, to name a few.

The way we consume content has changed drastically and continues to change. We were asked what a great news world would look like to us now. Some of our responses were: having less click bait (content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page) and having more control over the news we receive (being more relevant to our individual needs).

There are many ideas we can come up to improve our future news experience, but I want to go back to one of the discussions we started in class.

How can each of us either turn our community project into a business and/or profit from it? Think about your elevator pitch. What’s the problem you’re solving, and what is the value? Offer ideas to other classmates if you have suggestions.

I’m officially concluding this post by saying Entertainment Weekly was the first magazine I ever subscribed to. I was in high school and purchased the magazine from a door-to-door salesman. Here is the first issue I remember receiving.

I actually still subscribe to the magazine today. I even have proof. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this particular class discussion.

Communities in the Age of New Media

By Sean Devlin (@sdevlin7)

In this past week’s class, we received a great lecture from Dr. Lisbeth Berbary.  Her research and work has some valuable lessons we can apply to our communities.

I found her methodology and subject matter really interesting; by studying students in Greek life at a large southern university, she explored a community that isn’t often looked at with an academic gaze.

Despite the fact that Dr. Berbary approaches her work with the lens of an academic (which I also hope to do upon graduation from CUNY), there’s quite a bit to be gleaned as journalists from the way she looks at her studies.  Sometimes the best way to get to know the community you’re working with is to just be there.  By this, I mean being present at community events and functions, and generally serving as an advocate for these groups.  But in this week’s readings and last week’s discussions, I came across a really interesting point.  What if these communities aren’t physically there?  What if they’re online?

With the rise of the internet, these “virtual communities” are all over.  My favorite example of this is Reddit.  If you’re not familiar with Reddit, go give it a spin.  There’s a sub-reddit thread for quite honestly everything you can think of.  It enables groups of people who share common goals and interests to connect with one another and have discussions about the subjects they’re passionate about.

In Henry Jenkins’ “Convergence Culture,” we get a really great in depth look at how these new technologies are changing the way we associate with one another.  He had a great quote that really resonated with me, on how despite the fact that “media technologies have expanded the range of available delivery channels, enabled consumers to recirculate content in powerful new ways…there has been an alarming concentration of ownership of commercial mainstream media.”

Every one of us has the capability to reach an audience or become a part of a community with the devices in our pockets; it’s the tactics we use that set us apart as journalists.


  • Does your community have an online meeting place?  How have they used new media to communicate?