EconomyStory.org, one of several new projects that fits neatly into public media's latest forays online.This past weekend, public media enthusiasts, developers, and staffers from around the country met in Washington, D.C. for the first Public Media Camp. I was there on behalf of the Public Radio Exchange (PRX.org), where I produce
While I'm willing to admit here that I went to yearbook camp and computer camp as a kid, this one might take the cake as far as camps that don't include S'mores and Kumbaya go.
"Both NPR and PBS have very loyal and talented fans who are interested in new ways to be involved in our work," Andy Carvin, senior strategist at NPR's social media desk told us, "and the Internet is making it easier than ever for new types of collaboration to take place, from citizen journalism initiatives to volunteers developing iPhone apps for stations."
The organizers hope this was the start of a series of "unconferences" for public media outlets around the country, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Public Media Camp is the latest in a slew of events and projects pushing the public media agenda forward on the Web.
Recently, NPR gathered its executives, including CEO Vivian Schiller, in San Francisco to meet with Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs and funders. The Columbia Journalism Review reported on the conference, called NPR Digital Think In. And the ongoing Engage project at PBS, funded by the Knight Foundation, is creating social media tools for PBS stations and producers, such as a chat series with PBS personalities and a map showcasing projects at stations around the country.
"In many communities, public broadcasters are among the few news outlets that are weathering the financial crisis intact. As more news outlets close due to economic pressures, our public service mission is going to be more important than ever, creating a powerful opportunity to provide accountability journalism at both the local and national level," Carvin says.
Having been a part of many of these projects, I'm excited to see the changes that have happened in the public media sphere online, from the This American Life/Planet Money collaboration taking on a life of its own, to CPB 2008's collection of election projects like Video Your Vote and Twitter VoteReport.
Some of the most exciting projects happening in public media include:
Local Aggregation Sites
The Economy Project at the University of Missouri and Public Media Texas are two new local public media sites that are aggregating stories using blogging software and encouraging public participation in the news conversation at the local level. WBUR's Commonhealth blog covers health care issues in Massachusetts by tapping doctors, lawmakers and citizens to help report. And WNYC's Brian Lehrer show is crowdsourcing "Uncommon Economic Indicators" - from the price of pizza to for-rent signs.
Covering the economy is a major focus of public media this year. Station and producer projects are drawing a line between local and national coverage in new ways. EconomyStory.org aims to collect these stories and feature exciting new projects from around the country, and EconomyBeat.org features user-generated content about the economy.
PBS NewsHour's Patchwork Nation map incorporates statistics and stories from 12 types of communities around the country and compares how they are coping with various economic issues.
Facing the Mortgage Crisis asks users to share their experiences in dealing with foreclosure and other recent real-estate woes, as well as provides community resources to help cope. A variety of public stations nationwide are involved in this project at a local level.
NPR's Social Media Guidelines for Reporters
This list, released last week, includes concerns about expressing political views online and how reporters should present themselves on Twitter and Facebook. It's a great starting point for other organizations concerned about similar issues. Carvin says that while NPR reporters are using online tools more and more, it still can be a challenge.
"The one thing I never do is show up and insist that they use a particular tool simply because lots of other people are using it," he says. "People are often resistant to learning new tools simply because they don't seem relevant to them, so you need to figure out with them what may or may not be relevant."
Guest author: Laura Hertzfeld is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She has worked in public media in several capacities, including her current role as managing editor of EconomyStory.org, a Public Radio Exchange (PRX.org) project aggregating public media coverage of the economy. She previously produced PBS.org's coverage of the 2008 presidential election.