As Journalism Weakens, the Fifth Estate Strengthens

Pre-order Geoff Livingston’s Welcome to the Fifth Estate today!

MediaConsumption

The weak economy and the evolution of Internet media have done more to shake up traditional journalism than any other events in the past 60 years. Online news is now surpassing almost every media form in the United States with the exception of local TV, according to Pew. And in 2010, forty seven percent of Americans read news on their phones! As the traditional print, cable and broadcast media weaken, online content creators, the Fifth Estate as dubbed by Stephen Cooper in 2006 strengthens.

This has not been a pretty evolution to watch. The journalism field has yet to successfully adjust to the new economic realities of shrinking print ad budgets and online media consumption. Perhaps the greatest test of the new economic realities will be the NY Times paywall for their most loyal readers. In the interim, individual voices alone or in aggregate are stepping up to fill the void left by a shrinking Fourth Estate (a centuries old term for the press).

What does this mean for information consumption? So far, it has created a degradation of content with a smaller and increasingly inexperienced journalism corps that attempts to do much more with less resources. Yet several trends indicate the tide may be turning with a focus on creating stronger hybrid journalists and Fifth Estate voices.

Media companies are now investing in new tablet based start-ups and purchasing higher quality social channels like the Huffington Post. Further, next generation trade journals are moving online with the likes of POLITICO now rivaling the Washington Post. While some of these properties are social in nature and feature bloggers, they function more like hybridized journals. Only the best content is featured on the top layers, creating an expectation of quality.

More interesting are the pools of Fifth Estate bloggers and citizen journalists that use a variety of social media tools, including mobile phones, to report from the field. They are filling the void left by reduced journalist staffs. There is no better example than the job that citizen journalists have done in the Middle East, most recently in Benghazi, Libya.

Of course, citizen journalism of this sort creates questions about credibility and information quality. In many ways, the “Twitter (or Facebook) breaking the news first meme” has jumped the shark several times due to inaccuracies. This has in turn validated the need for fact verification and has contributed to a growing decline in peer trust. It seems as the Fifth Estate grows its weak underbelly of opinion and shoddy reporting has been exposed.

Creating a Stronger Fifth Estate

Ben the War Journalist

Ben, the War Journalist by Andrew Mason

Andy Carvin’s well discussed effort highlighting the many brave people protesting and fighting for freedom in the Middle East blends the best of the new and the old. An employee of NPR, Carvin retweets and highlights news bits that trickle out on Twitter via his various sources and hashtag searches. But rather than blindly retweeting information, Carvin sources and triangulates data via his networks to ensure information quality.

In many ways, Carvin shares stories in a timely way while incorporating journalistic questioning. This method is creating a new paradigm for speed and validation. Yet not all people have these kinds of journalism skills.

Creating a wider field of hybrid journalists, or at least spreading the principles of journalism throughout our society via education and training remains the great challenge and key to an increased level of quality information from the Fifth Estate. Here are several organizations that actively develop citizen journalists:

  • Small World News is teaching citizens in the Middle East how to use mobile and social to report
  • Internews funds training and infrastructure projects across the globe for better media. Increasingly, their efforts focus on citizen journalists
  • AllVoices and Global Voices provide portals where citizen journalists can socialize their content
  • The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity provides investigative reporters and non-profit organizations training and support to pursue journalistic endeavors

Additional movements within corporate and nonprofit organizations have internal content producers increasingly called corporate journalists. While objectivity may be compromised from the onset, this career paid Fifth Estate member sheds a new more fact-based light on the term content marketing. And as former journalist and now corporate social media pro Ike Pigott likes to say, the trend provides a welcome return to a deserved salary for information producing skills.

What is clear is that the Fifth Estate is evolving with increased attention focused on quality information. How the media and these new voices evolve together remains to be seen. In the current online world the old and needed journalist mastheads and new roving citizen reporters are intrinsically tied. Watching them continue to influence and blend into each other will be an unfolding and captivating story.

What do you think of citizen journalism/media and its evolution?

Welcome to the Fifth Estate Available for Pre-Order

Geoff Livingston & The Fifth Estate

Welcome to the Fifth Estate is now available for pre-order with a release date of May 11! Special thanks to Mashable Editor In Chief Adam Ostrow for writing the forward to Welcome to the Fifth Estate. This introduction offers the experienced journalist’s view of an ever changing media landscape that has moved from blogs to group texting on mobile phones.

You must be thinking, yet another social media book… And from a guy who wrote one of the first social media books, Now Is Gone? Really? Well, after reading Now Is Gone again as well as the plethora of social media books that have been released since, a correction was needed with a stronger foundation in media theory and marketing fundamentals.

This book won’t pretend to be something it is not. Simply put, Welcome to the Fifth Estate guides executives and communicators towards generating a winning and sustainable social media strategy. In that sense, it is a social media book.

What distinguishes Welcome to the Fifth Estate?

  • Strategy: There will be no themed memes about engaging, conversations, instant response or personal branding. Instead, this book aims to advise you on how to get ready for, build and sustain a great online communications strategy. There is a whole chapter on specific social media strategies and a second on tactical implementation.
  • Experience: Seven awards later and dozens of social media initiatives for the likes of the American Red Cross, General Dynamics, Google, the National 4-H Council, Network Solutions, and the United Way provides this book a depth of pragmatic experience-based conclusions that no other social media book offers.
  • Measurement: Part of building a great strategy includes knowing how to measure it. Kami Watson Huyse provides a guest chapter on how to build a measurement program.
  • Pitfalls and Sustainability: Two chapters deal with topics you normally don’t see in social media books. Chapter Two deals with the weaknesses and dangers social media presents for your organization. Chapter Seven provides concrete ways to stay relevant once your effort becomes a success.
  • Commercial and Nonprofit Case Studies: Each of the seven chapters features two in-depth case studies, one commercial, one nonprofit. Every case study has a tangible outcome associated with it a la the prior point on measurement.

If your job involves communicating online, then this book will help you. It is designed specifically to become an off-the-shelf tool that supports your real efforts with guidance that has worked for many other organizations. In that sense, Welcome to the Fifth Estate should become more useful than your average business book. That is a guarantee.

Please pre-order your copy of Welcome to the Fifth Estate today!

Revolutions: Internet Freedom Steps Into the Limelight

Anti-Massacre Protest in Tokyo, In front of Libya Embassy (2011.02.23) カダフィによる虐殺抗議デモ(リビア人民局前, 東京都渋谷区代官山町)
Tokyo’s Libya Protest by jetalone

Secretary of State Clinton made a speech last week committing to the ideal of an uncensored Internet as a primary tool for freedom. Her remarks — while in contrast to U.S. reactions about Wikileaks and the Obama Administration’s questionable policies on net neutrality — were made in the wake of the incredible events that have occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arabic countries. As a result, liberty via the Internet has become a top policy objective.

Throughout the Middle East’s unrest, individuals have used the Internet to communicate, speak out, and organize against totalitarian regimes in their countries. Further, citizens in Arabic countries can inform the rest of the world via social publishing tools, providing networked awareness of protests and actions. Just watch NPR’s Andy Carvin share updates he’s found from the Middle East, and you will see this form of network weaving in effect.

Lest this post spark yet another, “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators Article” yes, none of those revolutions were directly caused by social networks or other Internet tools. Rather, the Internet served as a communications tool, a catalyst for freedom.

Dissidence can be very dangerous. Speaking out doesn’t always yield a positive result. For example, Syrian blogger Ahmad Abu Khair was arrested this past weekend (Khair was released today). Given how some hardline totalitarian regimes like Syria, Iran and Libya react to protest, Khair’s life could have been in danger. Social networking can also provide a trail of dissidents for authoritarian governments.

Finally, when a revolution moves to the streets, it can become lethal. Muammar el Qaddafi’s genocide to keep control of Libya has demonstrated exactly how bloody revolutions can become. Many brave souls fight under the threat of execution for freedom in Libya. God willing, may they have success.

Yet the net gain of Internet tools cannot be dismissed. As Clay Shirky said in response to Malcolm Gladwell, “Even the increased sophistication and force of state reaction, however, underlines the basic point: these tools alter the dynamics of the public sphere. Where the state prevails, it is only by reacting to citizens’ ability to be more publicly vocal and to coordinate more rapidly and on a larger scale than before these tools existed.”

For those of us that have been professionally working online since the World Wide Web’s inception, this triumphant use of Internet tools harkens back to the Information Superhighway. It was under Bill Clinton’s watch that Al Gore worked diligently to promote the National Information Infrastructure, with its vision of placing digital printing presses in every human being’s hands. The Digital Divide was a huge issue then, and in light of recent events, it should be again. We see now that the dream can be realized, that the Internet catalyzes freedom.

Fostering Global Internet Use

Libya map with old flag
Image by FutureAtlas

Empowering speech online as a catalyst for greater freedom means providing these tools to every person across the globe. Statistics show that almost 2 billion people have access to the Internet, roughly 29% of the planet’s population. However, roughly half of all Internet users do not have access to broadband globally, limiting their ability to interact.

In a typical mistaken way, the State Department celebrated its policy declaration by publicly launching Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi. While propaganda is an old hat for the government, it doesn’t empower people to think or choose their own ideas of freedom. What is needed is a much stronger policy towards providing infrastructure rather than political ideas.

There are three main priorities for increasing access to the Internet and the incredibly diverse universe of ideas and conversations globally:

Wireless Infrastucture: Wireless has allowed many countries to leapfrog the landline telecommunications nightmare, an insurmountable investment in fiber optics. Encouraging widespread diffusion of 4G, WiFi and other broadband wireless technologies is the critical first step.

Mobile and Portable Computing: Smartphones and portable computing devices like tablets and netbooks are the tools of freedom. Lower costs break the Digital Divide, empowering people across the world to access the Internet via broadband tools and easily publish information online. By seeking to provide as many wireless enabled smart computing devices to global citizens, countries can foster a higher level of communication and interaction.

Accompanying deployment of mobile devices, is the development of software and Internet tools that work well on these devices. Desktop applications need not apply. In that sense, HTML 5 is a great equalizer, as have been the many mobile applications built over the past few years. There is more room to grow for the mobile/portable web.

Skills Development: Education initiatives across the globe should focus on how to teach people to digest information intelligently. We need an empowered, functional Fifth Estate, and a critical aspect of that is digital literacy. The overall quality of content has decreased with the rise of social media, infusing much more opinion than fact.

Teaching citizens from the U.S. to the Middle East and beyond how to use digital communications and publish better information will help dialogue. Nonprofits and companies like Internews Network and AllVoices are working towards this laudable goal. We need to go further, and make digital literacy and publishing a core tenant of any child’s education.

All governments should seeks these three objectives as a means to promote liberty online. What do you think of the Internet as a tool for freedom?

Related Posts:

Revolutions: Don’t Shoot the Social Media Messenger

Journalism Skills for Everyone

Julien Assange: Criminal, Journalist or Both?

There are many questions that have arisen about Julien Assange, primarily debates about whether or not Assange is a full-on criminal, a Fifth Estate journalist exposing a corrupt power’s broken methods of imperial influence, or both. With Asange’s arrest has come the vigilante cyberwar waged by international hackers against U.S. commercial web sites.

One thing has become clear in the past week about the entire Wikileaks situation, the United States reaction to the leaked State Department cables was swift and severe. Rape charges that were once dismissed by Swedish authorities suddenly became the cause for an Interpol arrest of Assange. As to the U.S.’s severe reaction — particularly statements from right wingers like Sarah Palin that he should be hung — have exposed the U.S. as a reactionary power. Shakespeare said it best in Hamlet, Act III, scene II, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Support for WikiLeaks has also been voiced by several world leaders, including Brazil’s outgoing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. “I show my solidarity with WikiLeaks,” Lula said during a press conference Friday. “The fault is not with …the one who divulged the information but with the ones who wrote such stupidity,” he said. Russia went so far as to say Assange should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Regardless of whether history writes Assange as a fighter of imperial ills or a terrorist (surely a question of which country tells the story), numerous questions still remain abut the role of media at the crossroads traditional and new citizen driven self-appointed journalists. The impact will be far reaching, forever changing the role of media in the new world.

Criminal Intent or Journalist?

Parsing criminal versus journalist is a troubling question. Certainly, getting secure documents and leaking them is a criminal offense. Whether it was the right thing to do, an act of exposing corruption versus terrorism clearly depends on a political views.

Many journalists go to jail in the name of exposing corruption and wrong doing. Most recently in the U.S., a national case that caused jail time was the Barry Bonds steroids scandal, which caused Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada an 18 month sentence (waived).

Critics have said that Assange has a political agenda with the United States. So does Wall Street Journal Owner Rupert Murdoch, in case you haven’t noticed the political leanings of Fox News and his contributions to the Tea Party.

Assange and Wikileaks is the ultimate expression of the Fifth Estate. Full of shocking power, Assange has arisen to hold the U.S. Government and its partners accountable (right or wrong) because they will not act responsibly. Further, the media has failed to hold the government responsible creating the need for Wikileaks. When one sees the abuses exposed in Nigeria for example, it’s hard to turn a blind eye and say that Assange is completely off his rocker about U.S. corruption. Further, Wikileaks has demonstrated that the war in Afghanistan is not going well contrary to continuing White House protests that the conflict is winnable… 10 years after it began.

Consider Jay Rosen’s words at the PDF Forum this weekend on Wikileaks: “In my mind, Wikileaks is the world’s first stateless news organization,” said Jay Rosen, media critic and professor at the New York University School of Journalism. “You’ve heard of voting with you feet? The sources are voting with their leaks. If they trusted the newspapers more, they would be going to the newspapers.”

The only thing that could disqualify Assange’s status as a new 21st century journalist would be funding. If Wikileaks is backed by a foreign power (for example, Iran or China) or a terrorist organization (Al Qaeda) then one would have to write Assange off as a political puppet that needs to be treated like a spy or terrorist. Otherwise, America got caught with its pants down by a new jack that showed just how powerful digital media really can be in the modern age.

As to the vigilantes defending Assange, anonymous criminal activity is just that. People die in real wars. Cyberwar has its price, too, and while many of these young digital fighters will never see a courtroom, the romantic aura of their actions shouldn’t fool anyone. If one plays adult games, they should be ready to pay adult prices.

Ted Koppel & the Death of Real News

Erin Burnett
Image by S_Mercurier

Today’s oped in the Washington Post by former Nightline Chief Ted Koppel declares the Death of Real News. Prompted by FOX and MSNBC’s clear political views, this piece declares something many have come to know: Our society has lost any resemblance of integrity in its news with very few exceptions. But given who said it — a hard newsman, an elder statesmen of the Golden Era of journalism — it is my feeling that the article will be remembered as a piece that marked a point in time that saw the end of uniform factual journalism across traditional media.

While there are holdouts — PBS, NPR, arguably the New York Times, to some extent the Wall Street Journal, and maybe CNN (at times) — news outlets have lost their soul, their revenue, and real hard journalists. Produced/printed with smaller budgets, younger and less experienced staff, and a hard target towards carving out niche clientele, news outlets opine more than produce facts these days.

“Truth” is not grounded as we have found out over an over again. The noble Fourth Estate has fallen far. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,’ seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts,” said Ted Koppel in his piece.

My Dad was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News when I grew up. I ran the halls of that newsroom as a tween. He is still a journalist today (not with PNI anymore), and I have watched him fight for his livelihood as the ad margins shrank, staff was dropped like confetti at a championship game, and the papers sold their souls.

In many ways this downfall has created the opportunity for micromedia to fill its place, bloggers if you would. The Fifth Estate keeps media accountable to some extent, and in other cases it has replaced journalistic ventures with outlets like the Huffington Post and Mashable. But in general, the new media is much more subjective, and less reliable. Worse, we are seeing less blogging as compared to the past, and in some cases, a disintegration of hard hitting conversations.

We are back to the 19th century when many town citizens had a printing press. Learning how to discern quality information is the most important skill set of 21st century. Otherwise, we will be caught in our various echo chambers, chasing the popular myths espoused by our social networks (on and offline).

The battle is not over. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are planning new electronic pay for content models. It may be time for the tide to turn, or at least become stemmed.

What is clear is the downward spiral of factual journalism has descended to the point of no return. The losses will not be recovered, and new media has reached an unprecedented point of power. We could see another era of factual value, but it won’t feature the powerhouse journalist in its traditional iconic image. Fractured media environments are not likely to consolidate. The real journalists that remain will survive on factual differentiation — an unusual offering in the 21st century media environment.

What do you think about Ted Koppel’s proclamation about the death of real news?

Case Study: Twestival

Twestival EuroRush | #n86tour

Image by Phil Campbell.

An example of the Fifth Estate and the Long Tail theories at work is Twestival, an online fundraising event run by the enterprising Amanda Rose. The organized group of meet-ups uses a wide variety of social media tools to organize and promote simultaneous events in hundreds of cities across the globe, all to fundraise for charity. People throughout the world were empowered to set up their own event, show up and act on behalf of causes.

With three Twestivals in 2009 and 2010, Twestival has seen tens of thousands of people partake in charitable fundraising. Two of the fundraisers were for specific charities, charity: water and Concern, with the middle Twestival benefited local charity in each host city. At the time of writing a fourth Twestival for 2011 was being planned, again to benefit local charity.

Engagement

Twestival provides people a means to benefit a cause and the opportunity to volunteer and be apart of something bigger. They can participate in event organization, or simply show up and network. Organizer Amando Rose enforces brand and basic event guidelines, and lets cities get creative with their events.

Twitter plays a primary role in outreach for the fundraising series of events. “Twitter allows a platform for organizers to shout out requests that normally might have taken weeks or months to arrange,” said Amanda Rose. “Thanks to a sea of people who pass it along, a tweet might appear a few minutes later that reads ‘I can help with that.’ It is extremely motivating for a local volunteer team to see the way their community pulls together to make this event a success.”

Additional tools have included WhatGives!? widgets powered by PayPal linked to cities and real-time leaderboards. WordPress, Tumblr and Posterous blogs are used for local city events. GoToMeeting is used for global organizers for meetings and presentations without being in the same room, and Huddle was used great for online collaboration and sharing of documents.

The tools are used to foster relationships on a local level. Rose and organizers do connect on the national level, too. Finally, the two global charities found that they developed grassroots networks on a local level as a result of Twestival.

Outcomes

The three Twestivals have raised more than $1.2 million via micro donations in the form of a small $25 cover charge, individual sponsorships and small corporate sponsorships. In addition to the $1.2 million, tens of thousands of people across the globe have attended a Twestival.

“Twestival is able to attract a large number of people because we make it a special event and different from your average meetup,” said Amanda Rose. “For those attending events I think it is really satisfying to know that every single dollar of your event is going directly to support projects – it is something people can feel good about.

“What we are asking of people with Twestival isn’t just donations; it is their time, talent and resources if they want to give it. The way in which we self-organize on Twitter and other social media platforms gives us an opportunity to engage people, before and after the event, in a way that is diverse and layered. People aren’t just participating in an event, they are having an impact.”

Case study based on interview published on 4/19.

The above is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.