Tag Archives: GWU

Why Ushahidi Should Embrace Open Data

“This is the report that Ushahidi did not want you to see.” Or so the rumors in certain circles would have it. Some go as far as suggesting that Ushahidi tried to burry or delay the publication. On the other hand, some rumors claim that the report was a conspiracy to malign and discredit Ushahidi. Either way, what is clear is this: Ushahidi is an NGO that prides itself in promoting transparency & accountability; an organization prepared to take risks—and yes fail—in the pursuit of this  mission.

The report in question is CrowdGlobe: Mapping the Maps. A Meta-level Analysis of Ushahidi & Crowdmap. Astute observers will discover that I am indeed one of the co-authors. Published by Internews in collaboration with George Washington University, the report (PDF) reveals that 93% of 12,000+ Crowdmaps analyzed had fewer than 10 reports while a full 61% of Crowdmaps had no reports at all. The rest of the findings are depicted in the infographic below (click to enlarge) and eloquently summarized in the above 5-minute presentation delivered at the 2012 Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012).

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Back in 2011, when my colleague Rob Baker (now with Ushahidi) generated the preliminary results of the quantitative analysis that underpins much of the report, we were thrilled to finally have a baseline against which to measure and guide the future progress of Ushahidi & Crowdmap. But when these findings were first publicly shared (August 2012), they were dismissed by critics who argued that the underlying data was obsolete. Indeed, much of the data we used in the analysis dates back to 2010 and 2011. Far from being obsolete, however, this data provides a baseline from which the use of the platform can be measured over time. We are now in 2013 and there are apparently 36,000+ Crowdmaps today rather than just 12,000+.

To this end, and as a member of Ushahidi’s Advisory Board, I have recommended that my Ushahidi colleagues run the same analysis on the most recent Crowdmap data in order to demonstrate the progress made vis-a-vis the now-outdated public baseline. (This analysis takes no more than an hour a few days to carry out). I also strongly recommend that all this anonymized meta-data be made public on a live dashboard in the spirit of open data and transparency. Ushahidi, after all, is a public NGO funded by some of the biggest proponents of open data and transparency in the world.

Embracing open data is one of the best ways for Ushahidi to dispel the harmful rumors and conspiracy theories that continue to swirl as a result of the Crowd-Globe report. So I hope that my friends at Ushahidi will share their updated analysis and live dashboard in the coming weeks. If they do, then their bold support of this report and commitment to open data will serve as a model for other organizations to emulate. If they’ve just recently resolved to make this a priority, then even better.

In the meantime, I look forward to collaborating with the entire Ushahidi team on making the upcoming Kenyan elections the most transparent to date. As referenced in this blog post, the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) is partnering with the good people at PyBossa to customize an awesome micro-tasking platform that will significantly facilitate and accelerate the categorization and geo-location of reports submitted to the Ushahidi platform. So I’m working hard with both of these outstanding teams to make this the most successful, large-scale microtasking effort for election monitoring yet. Now lets hope for everyone’s sake that the elections remain peaceful. Onwards!

International News Coverage in a New Media World

I just had the pleasure of participating in a fascinating panel discussion on the decline of the foreign correspondent and the rise of citizen journalist. The event was hosted by the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications at George Washington University (GWU) and supported by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Jeffrey Hirschberg from BBG gave the opening remarks and GWU Professor Steve Roberts moderated the panel, which included Loren Jenkins, Senior Foreign Editor at NPR, Professor Sherry Ricchiardi, Senior Writer at the American Journalism Review (AJR) and Professor at Indian University’s School of Journalism, Bob Dietz with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and myself.

Where to begin? I was definitely the only one on the panel without a formal background in journalism, possibly the only blogger, probably the only one with a YouTube account and most likely the only panelist on Twitter. Inevitably, then, I brought a slightly different perspective, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to learn a lot from my fellow panelists and to understand their perspective on the decline of foreign reporting. It was a truly rich conversation.

Professional journalists engaged in international news are increasingly concerned about the possibility of misinformation and manipulation that may originate from citizen journalists, e.g., through blogs, Twitter, etc. In my opinion, one of the defining roles of the mainstream media is to distinguish between fact and fiction, which means that they play an even more important role in the digital age. The question of journalist standards was also raised, or the lack thereof. within citizen journalism In my opinion, as international news reporting declines and citizen journalists continue to fill the void, the public will expect and come to demand that the latter meet some of the same standards practiced by mainstream media.

Having had the opportunity to interact with numerous bloggers with Global Voices and beyond, I emphasized the fact that reputation for many bloggers is everything. Her or his readership is a function of the person’s reputation and hence credibility and accountability. Over time, as Lauren mentioned, we come to “get to know” and trust a blogger even if we never meet in person. Journalists investigate stories by interviewing sources, there is no reason to discount citizen journalists as valuable sources.

The challenge of validating sources and information is not a new one. There is a trade off between volume of information and the ability to verify that information. This trade off, or continuum, becomes even more acute in rapidly changing situations like the recent carnage in Mumbai.

What we need to keep in mind, however, is that we each have different demands or needs for validity. If you found yourself in downtown Mumbai during the terrorist attacks, you would rather know about rumors spread via Twitter than not. Why? Because at least you’d be able to take precautionary measures should the rumor prove to be true.

Watching the unfolding tragedy from thousands of miles away in the comfort of our own homes, we have less need for expediency, we just want to know what really happened, the facts. However, our demand for facts and rigorous validation should not overshadow the fact that rumors and unverified reports from unknown sources can save lives.

Steve asked Bob whether his work on the protection of journalists should be expanded to citizen journalists. In his response, Bob preempted an important point I had planned to make; namely that the line between citizen journalism and digital activism is becoming increasingly blurred. In the past, documenting human rights abuses and broadcasting this documentation was rarely done by one individual. Today, thanks to YouTube, documenting events is the same as broadcasting events, which is alot about what advocacy is.

This is why it is increasingly important for citizen journalists in repressive environments to interact with digital activists and individuals engaged in strategic nonviolence. As a a fellow blogger of mine recently remarked about her experience covering the post-election violence in Kenya, there is a distinction between being able to speak out and being heard. In most contexts, the former is far easier than the latter. However, if you start being heard, and a government or regime starts to pay attention to what you are blogging, you become a target. It’s a catch 22. Bloggers need to learn from digital activists and strategic nonviolence movements about how to stay safe and how to make maximum use technology to get their message out.

I drew on several examples to highlight the important contribution that citizen journalists are making around the world, from Global Voices to Witness.org. I also highlighted HHI‘s recent work on crisis mapping Kenya to compare mainstream media reports with citizen journalism reports and crowdsourcing reports (via Ushahidi). In the context of Mumbai, I pointed to the incredible speed with which a Wikipedia page was created and maintained fully up to date, with some 900 edits taking place within the first 21 hours of the event. No mainstream media outfit could possibly mimic this crowdsourcing approach without reaching out to citizen journalists.

On Global Voices, I highlighted the important role they are playing in translating (and analyzing) a lot of local news (and other blogs) into English. With the decline in foreign reporting, mainstream media’s role in translating news will also decline. The amount of volume produced by Global Voices during the Mumbai attacks was trully stunning.

I brought up Witness.org because much of the conversation between panelists focused on print media, and how easy it was to mislead readers. Doctoring pictures, let alone footage, is not as easy. The case of Reuters and the doctored photograph of Israeli rockets firing on Lebanon is an exception and far from the rule. It is a very isolated incident when one considers the massive number of pictures printed every day in the mainstream press. Furthermore, I argued thanks to built-in cameras in mobile phones, dozens of different individuals can each take pictures of an event, which serves as a verification mechanism. We don’t need fewer citizen witnesses armed with cameras, we need more.

Two final points, or rather open ended questions for further discussion. First, if we are moving towards a more hyper-local approach to media reports, and if this happens across the globe, then why the concern? Isn’t someone’s local media another’s foreign media? Second, having counted Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media as one of my all time favorite books, how is the media changing now that the political economy is completely changing?

Patrick Philippe Meier

Event: International News Coverage in a New Media World

I’ve been invited by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and George Washington University’s (GWU) Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications to give a panel presentation on “International News Coverage in a New Media World: The Decline of the Foreign Correspondent and the Rise of the Citizen Journalist.”

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The event will take place on December 10th to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Experts will examine the dramatic shift of traditional media away from foreign reporting, the growth of web-based citizen journalists, and their effects on coverage of international news and human rights issues.

I was originally planning to focus the bulk of my presentation on the role of new media in covering Kenya’s post-election violence but given the (still) current carnage in Mumbai and the unprecedented response of citizen journalists in covering the attacks, I’d like to present a comparative analysis of both events. To this end, I welcome any links/tips/suggestions you might have on what you consider to be the most striking (less obvious) issues worth highlighting.

Patrick Philippe Meier