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!!!!


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.

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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?

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?

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?

Connecting with your community and knowing where “the line” is before you cross it

by Julia Haslanger @JuliaJRH

This week in class we heard from two guest speakers, looked at some thought-provoking charts and discussed how we think of advocacy and bias within the new realm of social journalism, and specifically as we work with our communities throughout the year.

Sandeep Junnarkar and Allegra Abramo stopped by our class to talk with us about their “Stop the Mold” series. It was enlightening to hear about their process of going into the community, identifying leaders and building connections with the people whose lives were affected by mold.

Sandeep Junnarkar, Director of Interactive Media at CUNY. Photo by Carrie Brown
Sandeep Junnarkar, Director of Interactive Media at CUNY. Photo by Carrie Brown

Experiences from “Stop the Mold” worth learning from:

  • Having the stamp of approval from trusted community organizations or individuals (such as relevant beat reporters) helps a lot.
  • Allegra says the key to building valuable relationships with the community is simple: “It’s showing up.” Normal human interactions. Show people you care, that you’re sticking around — you’re committed. People feel that. “It’s not rocket science.”
  • Sandeep says each time they met with an organization they had to build trust. They would go to the organization, sit down with people and show clips of the kind of work they’ve done and answer their questions. Having your elevator pitch ready helps build trust.
  • If people are mistrustful, try to learn why. What are their concerns?
  • Learn how to avoid the minefields (rivalries between people and groups, etc.) and focus on what you’re covering.
  • It can be slow going. “For the longest time in this class, we had nothing to show,” Sandeep said.
  • The next step for the “Stop the Mold” project is to try to provide information and instructions to the people who have mold, and teach them how to document their situation. Jeff Jarvis says that’s great community journalism: “The way to really do it is having a community really depending on you for information.

A few takeaways from their other experiences:

  • Sandeep underwent a period of transition from being what he called as a “taking” journalist to a community-focused, “sharing” journalist. Also within the last 10 years, he says he went from being very “balance” focused to acknowledging that he has an opinion and wants it heard.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply for grants that aren’t a perfect fit. It’s OK to “hack” the grant, especially for projects you’re passionate enough about that you want to do them regardless of whether you get the grant or not.

For the second part of the class, we turned our attention first to three charts about engagement, then to a discussion of challenges and principles of social journalism.

First we looked at a chart by Peggy Holman about different levels of engagement.

Chart One

Carrie Brown suggested many newsrooms only make it halfway across the continuum, to the “involve” level, allowing readers to comment, but not to “collaborate” or “empower” levels.

Then we looked at a chart Joy Mayer made from a concept Meg Pickard was using at The Guardian in 2010:

Chart Two

This chart is so simple and so valuable to explaining engagement concepts to more old-school journalists. I remember when I first saw that drawing from Joy, five or more years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

The third chart we looked at was another Peggy Holman creation:

Chart Three

It looks at opportunities for a journalist to become interdependent with the community he/she is serving.

With those charts and the lessons we heard from Sandeep and Allegra in mind, we began a conversation about advocacy journalism, and what the challenges we’ve encountered so far or expect to encounter.

One challenge mentioned was juggling when to use the language of your community, even if those outside it don’t get the jargon. When is it OK or good to use abbreviations, acronyms and other shorthand, and when do we need to explain terms to a general audience?

Jarvis pointed out that by using the language of your community, you’re demonstrating that you’re an insider. You’re writing for “a public” rather than “the public,” as Jarvis put it. Figuring out which you’re working with and for can be troublesome as times.

“Facebook confused being public with your public to being public with the public,” Jarvis said.

Once you figure out how to talk to people, and once you start becoming immersed in your community, how do you recognize where “the line” is?

Jarvis asked us to define “intellectual honesty.” His definition:

“Reporting the facts that may disagree with your worldview. If you give that up, you’ve lost your core asset for your community. We do have to explore honestly the limits of advocacy.”

Jarvis also prodded us to identify what would be the moment you know you’ve lost your independent perspective. We brought up lying, falsifying or hiding facts. Cristina put it nicely: You have to cover everything, not just what you want to cover.

Carrie then asked us to consider biases, and then wanted us to think about what biases are generally accepted in journalism, such as, “lynching is bad,” or “crime is bad.” But Carrie said the biases you don’t know you have are the most dangerous. An exercise that I did in undergrad that was really helpful in identifying my own biases and perspective is called “Fault Lines,” I highly recommend checking it out.

Carrie also referenced the work of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in “Elements of Journalism.” Bill, Carrie said, made the point that watchdog journalism clearly has a form of bias — it’s pointing out something that’s wrong. You wouldn’t be writing the story if everything was fine and nothing needed to be changed.

Jarvis said one thing that he would like to see our inaugural Social Journalism class produce before we graduate would be “The Principles of Social Journalism.” So, the question for this week:

If you could propose one item for an early draft of “Principles of Social Journalism,” what would you propose and why? Try to suggest something different than the commenters before you.



Presenting results of design thinking exercise to NJ.com

By Aaron Simon @AaronMSimon

Guided by the principles of Design Thinking, our community engagement class project led us to listen to the experiences of the NJ Transit commuters waiting for their trains at Penn Station. The goal was to prototype tools that NJ.com can use to serve this community.

Professor Jeff Jarvis’s social journalism book, “Geeks Bearing Gifts,” challenges us new-age journalists to measure success by outcomes and to forgo chasing clicks.. To immerse ourselves in communities, not just to report on a catchy breaking story, but to build meaningful relationships and build tools for connectedness.   This exercise was one example of how this can work.

It’s these approaches that put a journalist and the community they serve on the same level. As service-based journalists, Doreen Marchionni explains, it’s key for our communities to gain a sense of our “humanness.” We no longer report from above, but from on the ground, at eye-level. And we report not just to create content, but also to affect change and deliver outcomes.

I think of Brandon Stranton’s Humans of New York blog as an example. Stanton connected a community of millions of people worldwide who are interested in the everyday experiences of regular people. The interest in the compelling stories of the ‘humans’ often generates crowd-funding campaigns to alleviate the struggles of the interviewee. For example, a cash-strapped middle school in East New York, Brooklyn raised over one million dollars to start a yearly program that sends students  from low-income families to visit Harvard’s campus. How can we serve NJ Transit commuters? First, we must find what their troubles are.

The current commuter experience is one riddled with last-minute track notifications and delays, extending already long travel times. To interact with commuters, we visited them where they wait, and we drank the morning-equivalent of margaritas, coffee. The mood may not have been festive at Penn Station during the morning rush, but we had valuable conversations with commuters.

After talking with the commuters, our class exchanged experiences and reflected separately this week on how to further develop relationships with our own communities. My community I originally sought to engage for the social journalism program was defined by the geography of Greenpoint, a neighborhood that’s home to the polluted Newtown Creek and a host of environmental health problems. As I continued to develop relationships and dig deeper, I found a more-focused community of entrepreneurs, scientists, and students working on technologies to report on air quality using sensors in San Diego and Brooklyn. I’ve found that refocusing one a smaller subset of a greater community makes engagement more feasible.

Professor Jarvis said to find forums where people are communicating, and  most importantly, “listen first.” Listening is often easier said than done; to approach a community with a preconceived notion can be detrimental.

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Lamar Graham of NJ.com came to class to hear student ideas


An approach to to creating products and services the community needs  is “to continually source feedback and then reevaluate,” Professor Carrie Brown said. Immersion, listening, and re-evaluation are central tenants of service journalism and design experience alike.

Lamar Graham is the vice president of audience development for NJ.com. He visited class this week to receive our  insights on the commuter experience and give feedback on the tools we developed.

To develop effective tools, as Professor Jarvis said, is to “serve the community and the individual.”

Students presenting their ideas on improving the commute
Students presenting their ideas on improving the commute

We explained to Graham that after fielding many opinions, we learned that commuters want WiFi, power outlets, cleaner and more-spacious seats, and better train notifications, with alternative routes. Some of these structural accouterments are clearly out of reach for NJ.com to provide on trains, so our proposed solutions instead hinged upon social tools and mobile phones.

The prototyped tool each group came up with centered on the use of a hypothetical smartphone app. The idealized NJ.Com app would provide train notifications and news updates for trains, generated in significant part by users. The notion of a community reporting on itself fits within the social journalism approach, and frees us journalists to curate the content and make the exchange of community knowledge efficient. There was a consensus that the app should have a certain social aspect that connects riders, if not in-person, then on message boards and comment sections within the app.

According to Graham and Jarvis, who are both NJ Transit commuters, interaction with other riders is rare, much like on the NYC Subway. Many times it seems improper and uncomfortable for two strangers to start talking on public transit, and there has to be a prior commonality to ease social apprehension. Where better place to start than from a place of shared disdain for the daily commute? Commuters are in close proximity on the NJ Transit and remain disconnected from one another, at least for now.

Looking forward, I want to ask: how are we developing relationships with our respective communities? What are our challenges and successes so far? How can we use the insights from the NJ Transit research in building our own communities? Did you buy a margarita-maker yet, or practice making them?