by Luca Dello Iacovo
How is it going with Italian digital media? What challenges are they facing in the short and long term? How are they affecting the transformation of journalism? What are the proposals for a possible reform of the National radio-TV system? Those are the issues addressed in the “Mapping digital media in Italy” report, promoted by the non-profit Open Society Foundation and presented in Milan on the 15th of December.
Mostly targeting readers living abroad, this detailed study is part of a broader project covering the global information landscape. Mark Thompson, media program editor for the Open Society Foundation, explained the range of the project and its initial results.
Studies carried out in several EU countries revealed that news websites are still struggling to reach stable economic sustainability, especially for investigative journalism projects. The Italian scene in particular shows scant public involvement on digital policies and activities. For the most part, social networks have no professional news editing procedures in place. In other words, nobody seems interested in verifying their sources, even if major traditional outlets are active on these social networks.
As a result, this great digital transformation becomes open to such “threats” as “cut-and-paste” journalism and lack of broader contextualization. On the other hand, the Internet offers unique opportunities like faster news dissemination and improved source look-up. Moreover, all these countries now provide more room for public discussions regarding “sensitive issues,” even if not always with a corresponding media coverage.
What is the importance of this Italian media model within the global landscape analysis? “It could affect other neighbouring nations, including the new democracies emerging in the former Eastern Europe block,” explained Francesca Fanucci, Italian coordinator for the Open Society Foundation. And if it is true that TV still holds the center stage, its presence is steadily declining. Gianpietro Mazzoleni, professor of Political Communication at Milan University, pointed out a recent survey carried out by Ilvo Diamanti: TV is the major source of daily news for 84% of Italian families. But while in 2006 it was the only news source for 46,6% of the population, in 2009 this figure plunged to 26,4%.
Overall the Open Society report details a transformation still under way. As illustrated by interviews with local journalists, some key points remain the predominance of speed versus space and the need (and the difficulty) to cover several digital channels at once.
What are the conclusions suggested by this report? “The step toward a new paradigm for news-reporting production is filled with hesitation and reluctance to let go of a way of thinking centered on the press and analogic media (such as traditional radio and TV). In turn, this approach could only sustain the failure of a viable business model for online news oulets, at least as a compensation for the decline of revenues from press sales.”
The 194 countries attending the recent U.N. climate talks in Durban agreed on a new process that could result in legally binding measures to control global warming. The agreement, which came 36 hours after the conference was scheduled to end, extended the Kyoto Protocol limitations and mechanisms regarding greenhouse gas emissions. By 2015 a new roadmap will define more specific commitment for signatories nations. The event was characterized by several “indaba”, a typical Zulu elders meeting.
The account of these meetings and the final outcome was spread in a fragmented way through thousands of messages clogging the online social networks. But various people and entities decided to collect and publish them as a more organic and unified story. For example, the WWF Storify page selected the best content circulating on social media during the Conference talks. And among the many volunteers, Ron Mader helped to synthesise the material produced by users worldwide.
This outcome confirmed the trend, born right after their inception, that regards social networks as crucial conversation tools during public events. For local attendees (and bloggers at home as well) they quickly became a “backchannel” adding comments and links to the topics discussed at barcamps and meetings. These days social media are official communication channels for non-profit organizations, companies and even public institutions.
In recent months Storify emerged as a useful tool to gather stories and accounts about live events and to assemble them as a unified compilation. In the Occupy Wall Street case, for example, people on the street were able to use a variety of social media to broadcast their protest, including live web-tv channels. Sree Srenivasan, journalism professor at Columbia University and pioneer in the use of social media for news-reporting, described on Mediabistro how to use Storify to tell powerful stories. Welcome to the “content curation” universe, an updated version of a traditional newsroom “cooking up” articles to be published -- with the added value of sharing and crowdsourcing practices encouraged by the internet.
But how and where to find relevant information in the first place? Now common search engines can be coupled with a “social discovery” strategy: news and links are loosely disseminated through social networks, while people anonymously share certain stories over and over on the Net. It’s a sort of value chain where social networks open a window on live events and netizens are quick to describe and comment on them, or asking and looking up for more news. This “social discovery” scene helps to create a meaningful path within the fragmented fabric of social media, while the “content curation” tools help to refine search results and to build a linear storytelling.
(by Luca Dello Iacovo)
The "Oxfam hungry for climate action at Durban Climate Conference" image is by Ainhoa Goma (Oxfam).
Facebook launched as a collection of university student pictures: its first version was no more than an album where students added their own images and shared it in other universities. Initially Twitter was just some sort of a chat room.
Both tools have grown at a very fast pace and even unexpectedly, to become the largest social networks of our time. Today all of us use them to share first-hand content, such as images or videos shot with our cell phone or simple thoughts and ideas through a quick 'status update'.
Taken all together, however, these instant updates create a huge puzzle with specific narrative paths. One recent example comes from the London riots: reporters working at The Guardian started following those social networks to monitor the developing situation and managed to be on the scene at the right moment. Also, the radical transformations pushed by the ‘Arab Spring’ have been tweeted in real time by activists on the field, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya -- often bypassing the media censorship imposed by their own governments.
This outcome underlines the need to verify the quality and reliability of information shared by online citizens, particularly when there is lack of media correspondents or trusted sources on the filed. In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, for instance, one of the many messages shared on the social networks said that free flights were available for doctors and nurses interested in travelling to the island to help. It was a false information: it spread out quickly, but eventually the truth emerged.
How can we make sure certain stories are trustworthy? What is the best approach toward news items that affect our immediate decision? A handbook drafted by the news agency Bloomberg suggests: “Be skeptical of any information forwarded on a social network. … We must apply the same standards of verification as we would to any other source.” The financial news agency Reuters reminds us to always verify and complement any information received or shared via Twitter.
Anybody involved in online news-reporting should also be careful of impromptu actions, such as the widely used function of 'retweeting' (RT) an original tweet to his own contacts and to the world. According to the BBC: “Retweeting does not imply the endorsement of a specific viewpoint or fact. … We should rather add our own comment, explaining why we are forwarding it and with a clear distinction between the original quote and our comment.”
(by Luca Dello Iacovo)
Dennis Wall is a researcher at the Children's Hospital in Boston and chair of the Computational biology initiative at Harvard Medical School. In his research studies to better understand the genetic basis of autism, Dr. Wall often employs computer technologies and, more recently, online social networks.
Dennis Wall is a researcher at the Children's Hospital in Boston and chair of the Computational biology initiative at Harvard Medical School. In his research studies to better understand the genetic basis of autism, Dr. Wall often employs computer technologies and, more recently, online social networks. It is estimated that an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but it is not yet possible to have an early diagnosis in his/her first years of life. Dr. Wall and his team have created an online database including all of the genes associated with ASD: about seven hundred have been discovered so far. The database is freely accessible via the Internet and receives thousands of visits each month from researchers across the world who want to be always up-to-date. But the Autworks platform, recently developed by Dr. Wall's team, goes even a step further by making it easy to compare and analyse the various genetic sequences. Autworks is a sort of benchmark where users can closely evaluate the structure of complex networks, by activating the development of new tecnological tools (for example, DNA chips) and by simplifying data comparison techniques.
Bioinformatics is also experimenting with an early integration with online social networks, particularly about public surveys to establish if a child's behavior falls within the ASD. The Children's Hospital team is working to make such surveys simpler by reducing the questions to be answered from 150 to just seven. As an experimental initiative, this “short survey” has been advertised on Facebook to reach interested families using this social network, along with more traditional dissemination methods. Within three weeks, about two thousand Facebook users volunteered to took part in that survey. There are now also plans to resort to shared online videos, particularly for remote diagnostic practices in developing countries where few doctors are available.
* Luca Dello Iacono is Research Fellow at the <ahref Foundation and is a grant recipient of the Armenise-Harvard Foundation.
On the occasion of Osama Bin Laden’s demise Twitter received the news once again before the traditional media. However, the issue isn’t who gets there first, but which mechanisms lets us spread quality information.
The message published on the social network Twitter by a Pakistani software developer Sohaib Athar:, was read around the world: “Helicopters flying above Abbottabad at one in the morning (a rare event)”. In a few words he described, without knowing it, the operation to capture Osama Bin Laden, the Al Quaida leader. It was a direct testimonial. A few hours later, in Washington, Keith Urbahn wrote: “ I have been told by a reputable person that they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn”. It was information from an extremely credible source, a few minutes before the speech given by Barack Obama, President of the United States: Urbahn is the head of staff of Donald Rumsfeld, ex-minister of Defence of the Bush administration. These are two episodes that show how the perimeter of sources is more extensive and accessible: social network, blogs and other platforms make the production of news, testimonials and contributions for citizens possible.
The debate about who got there first makes little sense. “Twitter doesn’t take the place of other media, but it amplifies it”, Erick Shonfeld writes in an article in Techcrunch. But it is necessary to look into the process that leads to quality information coming to the fore. A visualization by Socialflow shows the type of journey and reach of a message between people and organizations connected through the social network which amplifies the diffusion of news: Keith Urbahn’s brief speculation reached other influential connected links on the web that, in turn, spread the news. It’s a frontier in continual evolution. Other experiments such as Storify help collect fragmented news on the online social network in order to piece together a story: it is about a platform that involves journalists and citizens in making sense of the wave of information that is played out on the internet.
(Luca Dello Iacovo)
By Luca Dello Iacovo
Within a few minutes of the earthquake that took place at 3:32 in Abruzzo, reports arrived on Twitter, a social Netwok where people write short messages just like a text message that, within hours, collecting the news, fears and messages that were pouring on to the Internet. They were the first bits of information that appeared on line about the earthquake that devastated the city of L'Aquila. It was a piece of citizen journalism, that contributed to the production and dissemination of news: for example, by adding commentary, photos and videos – and via the participation in larger projects such as surveys and reports. In Italy these are still the first steps in the exploration of an area that has international horizons, where the learning process takes place day after day.
Wavu, for example, is a tool of the Ahref Foudation to guide the daily debate on the evolution of social media such as blogs and social networks. In a single space on the Internet it brings together analysis and views on citizen journalism through the articles of the "Post" and "Reporter": articles in Italian are supported by posts in English. It reports on the major events in the emerging narrative formats in “Crossmedia”. It also explores the consequences of the use of social media in developing countries: recently, for example, in North Africa and the Middle East online social networks like Facebook contributed to the democratic participation of citizens in ways related to specific cultural contexts. In Japan, digital maps have shown the effects of the earthquake and the tsunami.
Wavu has become a forum for reflection for a more detailed analysis of the news items published and shared via social media.
By Luca Dello Iacovo
Jay Rosen is a professor of journalism at Columbia University, an institution, for many reporters between the two sides of the Atlantic.
A few nights ago he read a message on the social network Twitter and he forwarded ("retweeted") the micropost to his circle of contacts, but it was inaccurate. It damaged the reputation of another person who noticed what had happened. He did not hide the error. As he said in his blog "pressthink", he contacted all of the people affected by his error. He then wrote a long post to explain step by step the chain of events, with remarkable clarity. In a few days it reached 25 thousand readers. He commented on Twitter: "Transparency pays. The dissemination of false or inaccurate information within social networks takes place in a short time and it can become an avalanche, as happened during the earthquake in Haiti when some people spread on Twitter a message that promised free flights for medical staff who wanted to reach the island. Completely false. But many had forwarded the text. Two lessons: The number of citations of a message is only one of the indicators to understand its value. Those who discover an error should point it out.
by Luca Dello Iacovo
In Japan, after the earthquake that registered 8.9 on the Richter scale, the local inhabitants still had access to Internet, also via WiFi, and they looked for information via social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Mixi. They found short messages with news on the train timetables, and the programmed blackouts and links so that they could follow “live” the operations at the nuclear plants. They participated in the creation of collaborative projects via the web to help those that found themselves in difficulty. For example there were maps locating the refuges, and advice on where to go in the event of another tremor, organised with the help of Google. For some years now CNN has been experimenting with the iReport application which allows anyone with a Smartphone to contribute videos, images, and news to recount their own eyewitness news.