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.

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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?