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Archive for the ‘PBS MediaShift’ Category

This was the first live chat I’ve helped plan and participated in. Although I got bumped from my afternoon slot to the end of the night by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, I did succeed in getting him to comment on my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Here was the chat line up:

10 am to 10:30 am: Kamau Bell, comedian
10:30 am to 11 am: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones
11 am to 11:30 am: Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics
11:30 am to 12 noon: Craig Newmark, Craigslist
12 noon to 12:30 pm: Staci Kramer, PaidContent
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation

BREAK

5 pm to 5:30 pm: Anthony Calabrese, MediaShift data viz
5:30 pm to 6 pm: JD Lasica, SocialMedia.biz
6 pm to 6:30 pm: Steven Davy, MediaShift
6:30 pm to 7 pm: Corbin Hiar, MediaShift
7 pm to 7:30 pm: Heather Gold, Subvert.com

Click here to see what we had to say.

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This piece, which I wanted to call “The Digitally Driven Rise of the Tea Party,” was originally about how the right was using new media to oppose climate protection regulations. The idea for the piece grew out of earlier conversations I’d had with climate activists about what made their organizations different from right wing groups. But when I handed it in, my editor asked me to chop it down by taking out the climate angle.

I’m happy with the end result. My boss was invited onto New Hampshire Public Radio to talk about my reporting and the rest of PoliticalShift 2010, the series of stories about politics and social media we published in the run up to the midterm elections.

The biggest story of the U.S. midterm election has been the growing influence of the Tea Party movement. Since their first rallies in early 2009, these vocal, visible conservatives have succeeded in shifting the center of American political discourse to the right. This election cycle, Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against moderate Republicans like Delaware’s Mike Castle. So how has this confederation of online, conservative activists used new media to build their growing political base?

Think locally, organize nationally

First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting local groups to the national conversation.

“I didn’t really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement,” said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania’s Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).

Puig said much of KTP’s online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.

Using what she learned from these national organizations, Puig and co-founder Anastasia Przybylski set up the KTP’s rudimentary website, which has proved effective in establishing the group’s digital presence and in attracting new members. Puig said KTP has an email list of a couple thousand people and has attracted over 400 fans to its Facebook page since she created it a month ago.

These personalized digital resources have enabled KTP to stage dozens of rallies since it was founded in February 2009. They’ve also organized an online boycott of Dawn after it advertised during a MSNBC Tea Party documentary and are currently running get-out-the-vote operations for conservative candidates across the state.

Digital tools

Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks’ director for federal and state campaigns, hinted at another way the Tea Party has grown its online political clout: By sharing digital tools.

“We see our new model at FreedomWorks as a service center for the grassroots,” he explains.

This approach is based in part on the success Steinhauser had using Yahoo Groups and viral videos to revive the University of Texas chapter of the state’s Young Conservatives organization in the years before YouTube was launched or Facebook became an open network. After his graduation in 2005, Steinhauser used the same tools to help found the Young Conservatives of California. He also published a book about his campus organizing experiences, The Conservative Revolution, and launched a blog with the same name.

Steinhauser was one of a handful of FreedomWorks staffers who have shown Puig, and many others like her, the digital ropes.

“A lot of it is training,” Steinhauser explained. “Most of these people are new to politics.”

In addition to seminars on the background and basics of political campaigning — from the tactics of the American civil rights movement to tips on how to stage an interesting meeting — FreedomWorks has sessions on social media.

“It’s very basic stuff, but it goes a long way toward making an impact” with the older members of the Tea Party movement, he said.

FreedomWorks also offers more sophisticated digital resources to its network of 650,000 online conservative activists. Puig initially contacted the organization to have one of the KTP’s rallies listed on a national Google Map that FreedomWorks created to share information about local Tea Party events. Steinhauser’s group also helped fire-charge the Congressional town halls in summer of 2009 by featuring on their website an “August Recess Action Kit” to aid supporters in exposing “the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the of the Cap and Tax and health care reform legislation on the table,” as Mother Jones reported at the time.

Click here to read more about FreedomWorks’ digital arsenal and the “guerrilla tactics” of American Majority’s online activist training sessions or to comment on the PBS MediaShift story.

Photo credit: (Astro)Turf Wars

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350.org is an influential newcomer to the environmental movement. I was curious to hear how they got their start so I used this social media piece as an excuse to talk with some interesting people.

An abridged version of this story focused exclusively on 350.org ran on the front page of the Huffington Post’s Green section the weekend after the 10/10/10 Global Work Party mentioned below. It was featured just below a post from 350.org co-founder and aclaimed author Bill McKibben.

My bike helmet is hoisted in the air on the left side of this photo.

American environmentalists recently suffered a pair of devastating defeats in their decades-long effort to halt global warming. Progress stalled on domestic legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions prior to a key UN summit in Copenhagen. Lack of leadership from America, the world’s second largest climate polluter, made it impossible to produce and binding international agreement at the conference. Then, a few months later, the U.S. climate bill died in the Senate.

Their diplomatic and legislative maneuvers having fallen short, U.S. climate campaigners are hoping a renewed focus on activism and grassroots organizing can provide the push needed to produce carbon emission controls. As a result, the Internet and digital media are playing a growing role in efforts of progressive organizations ranging from new climate activists like 350.org to longtime environmental agitators such as Greenpeace.

Birth of 350.org

By using the same name and web address, 350.org announced to the world in 2008 that it was a new kind of environmental advocacy organization. In choosing the odd name, the founders of 350.org wanted to communicate that their group was a science-based, single issue organization. The number comes from research, which shows that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most the atmosphere can safely absorb without triggering catastrophic climate change.

The group emerged after author Bill McKibben and a group of recent Middlebury College graduates organized the 2007 Step It Up campaign. They collaborated with existing environmental organizations like Greenpeace, as well as other groups and governments interested in climate protection. The upstart activists described it as the “first open source, web-based day of action dedicated to stopping climate change.”

It was a surprising success.

Click here to keep reading about 350.org and Greenpeace or to make a comment.

Photo credit: 350.org (via Flickr)

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This is my second piece for PBS MediaShift, which is again looking at new opportunities for journalists. Although the quotes I got were much less explosive than in the previous piece, I still managed to work in a great anecdote about dropping inappropriate Sarah Palin references into blog posts to drive traffic.

In my first article for our special Beyond Content Farms series, I examined the opportunities available to writers at some of the biggest content farms. Today, I look at jobs covering hyper-local news.

What hyper-local news organizations are aiming for is nothing short of revolutionary: AOL’s two-year-old Patch network and established players like Examiner.com are attempting to recreate a profitable business model for professionally produced local journalism in the digital age. Unlike companies like Demand Media that pump out largely face-less content, the hyper-local sites allow writers to build a name for themselves on one geographic or subject area.

These companies are hiring a lot of journalists in communities all over the U.S., which means more and more people will find jobs in hyper-local news. So what’s it like to work in the new hyper-local journalism space? I spoke with a few writers and editors to learn more.

Going Through a Rough Patch

Jennifer Connic works as editor of the Millburn-Short Hills, N.J. site that’s part of Patch’s expanding hyper-local network. But she bristled at the hyper-local tag. “I think it belittles in some ways the journalism people like me are doing,” she said.

No matter what you call it, the job she is doing is not an easy one, as Connic readily admits. Patch editors are all basically one-woman news organizations. “You’re really the only person who’s running the site,” Connic said. When people have a news tip or there’s breaking news, she said, “I’m the one who gets contacted, I’m the one who has to be on top of that.”

Nearly two years into the job, Connic is still putting in long hours. She had a very difficult spring where, Connic said, “I had a lot of days where I’d get up in the morning and start working and I wouldn’t be done until after midnight.”

Most of that time was spent providing invaluable coverage of how the New Jersey state budget crisis was impacting the Millburn public school system. Well-known media industry reporter Joe Strupp highlighted some other great Patch reporting from Cecelia Smith, the former editor for Darien, CT. She broke a story revealing the criminal history of a candidate running for the town’s First Selectman (similar to the mayor). Smith discovered the candidate had an attempted murder conviction, and he eventually lost the race.

Like most Patch editors, Connic has a degree in journalism and her pay is likely relatively modest (although she declined to give any hard figures for her salary). As Andria Krewson reported on MediaShift, Patch competitor MainStreetConnect pays editors a salary of roughly $40,000 a year. “It is what it is,” sighed the New Jersey transplant, doing her best to adopt the local patois.

Connic was more forthcoming about the pay rates offered her freelancers…

Click here to comment and read about freelancing for Patch, becoming a D.C. English Springer Spaniel Examiner for Examiner.com and, yes, Jello wrestling with Sarah Palin.

Photo credit: brianbutko (via Flickr)

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This is my first piece for my new employer, PBS MediaShift. It is my first of two contributions to our week-long series, Beyond Content Farms.  The site is examining the rise of farmed and hyper-local content, with my pieces focused on what it’s like to work in these areas. (For an introduction to content farms and hyper-local journalism, click here.)

UPDATE: Shortly after it was published, my piece became the top story on the PBS.org homepage and was  highlighted by the influential media industry blogs paidContent and Romenesko–the latter of which is featured on the website of the Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalists. The Providence Journal, The Atlantic WireMediaBistro’s WebNewser, a UC-Santa Clara journalism professor, Reporting on Health, and eMedia Vitals all blogged about my article.

UPDATE 2: The attention my reporting attracted prompted Demand Media–the content farm that comes off the worst in both the article and subsequent comments–to post an amusingly tangential response to the story on their corporate blog. (Note the way the company attempts to discredit the PBS MediaShift series in the first graf by putting the word examination in quotes: “It’s been a busy few weeks and our model has been under fire from various blogs, publications like ‘The Wrap’ and, of course, the latest weeklong ‘examination’ of new media models by PBS’s ‘MediaShift.'”)

“We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year,” AOL’s media and studios division president David Eun said last month in an interview with Michael Learmonth of Ad Age. Eun suggested that AOL could double its existing stable of 500 full-time editorial staffers in addition to expanding its network of 40,000 freelance contributors. Many of the jobs will be added to its hyper-local venture, Patch, while the majority of AOL’s freelancers will work for the company’s content farms — Seed and the recently acquired video production operation, StudioNow.

These two areas into which AOL is ambitiously expanding are the fastest growing sectors of the journalism market. Hyper-local networks like Outside.in and content farms such as Demand Media are flourishing. As Eun’s bold prediction indicates, more and more journalists will end up working for new online content producers. What will these new gigs be like? To better understand, I reached out to people who have already worked with some of the big players.

Life of a ‘Content Creator’

“A lot of my friends did it and we had a lot of fun with it,” said one graduate of a top journalism graduate program when asked about her work for Demand Media. “We just made fun of whatever we wrote.”

The former “content creator” — that’s what Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt calls his freelance contributors — asked to be identified only as a working journalist for fear of “embarrassing” her current employer with her content farm-hand past. She began working for Demand in 2008, a year after graduating with honors from a prestigious journalism program. It was simply a way for her to make some easy money. In addition to working as a barista and freelance journalist, she wrote two or three posts a week for Demand on “anything that I could remotely punch out quickly.”

The articles she wrote — all of which were selected from an algorithmically generated list — included How to Wear a Sweater Vest” and How to Massage a Dog That Is Emotionally Stressed,” even though she would never willingly don a sweater vest and has never owned a dog.

“I was completely aware that I was writing crap,” she said. “I was like, ‘I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’

“Never trust anything you read on eHow.com,” she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.

Although chief revenue officer Joanne Bradford has touted Demand’s ability to give freelancers a byline and get their pieces published to “a great place on the web,” the successful writers I interviewed made great efforts to conceal their identities while working for the content farm.

Click here to read the rest of the PBS MediaShift article or to make a comment.

Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf (via Flickr)

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