To the couch! (listen to Radio Berkman)


couchI had great fun having a conversation with my colleague David Weinberger that resulted in a holiday Radio Berkman podcast on the ghosts of media future. One line that made it into the edited version, but is a bit hard to hear because I kind of swallowed it (I’ve forgotten everything my mentors from Open Radio in Moscow taught me) was that part of what I am doing in my paper was “standing up for couch potatoes.” It reminded me that I had used this image in a presentation at Beyond Broadcast to illustrate the exhortation that was part of the original Media Re:public manifesto “Come back to the public (all of them).” Basically, I think that we need to recognize that couch potatoes are potatoes people too. Passive consumers of news still deserve to know what’s going on. So there. You can listening passively to the podcast, where besides some blather from me, there is also some insightful comments from my wonderful collaborators Pat Aufderheide and Jessica Clark, who are the future of public media (which is not just public broadcasting!).

Image: Potato Head – Couch Potato : )
Uploaded on October 11, 2006
by oddsock

Open your ears, your eyes, your mind and your wallet


Why I’m giving money to two wonderful groups bringing international perspectives to American audiences:

Link TV – Global Pulse! A great series, showcasing TV from around the world. Check out the latest –  Must-Watch 5 minutes on George Bush’s legacy as seen by the rest of the world! Like it? Great. It costs money to make – go support it!

Next, Global Voices. Why? My latest reason is this wonderfully silly story about a Costa Rican collaborative Christmas video, reminding us that not all world news is depressing. The opening line sets the tone: “Costa Rican online collective which translates into ‘I can´t pronounce the R’…”

Plus what other truly worthy nonprofit would dare use a LOLcat to ask for your money? Support Global Voices here!

Full Disclosure – I have friends working at both these great organizations. But that’s why I know about them, not why I donate. I donate because the work is terrific.

Extra! Extra! Media Re:public papers available now!


Media Re:public is out! Everything you need is at

168 pages. Yikes. For those of you who don’t have time – just watch the video. It’s only a minute long. Tells it all. Or almost.

The ADHD version is:

* Participatory media is great, has lots of potential.

* But it’s not doing everything we have counted on  journalism institutions to do and left to its own devices, it never will.

* Those journalism institutions, never perfect, are in serious trouble. Many will save themselves, as businesses, but there is no guarantee they will maintain their commitment to doing the journalism we need.

* People who for whatever reason (time, money, skills, desire) are not taking charge of creating their own online news diet still deserve to have access to comprehensive credible sources of news.

* The U.S. media system was not handed down from the heavens on tablets. It’s time to look at models from other countries – stronger public media, newspapers less dependent on advertising, etc.

* We do a lot of studying of online activity, but we don’t know nearly enough about how real people in the real world take in information from many sources and what that means for how journalism in the public interest needs to evolve.

* We, the people who care about the public getting the information it needs, must take the best from both worlds to build the media we need.

Audiophiles – Your subscription to the Radio Berkman podcast (if you’re not subscribed, do, immediately! Find “Radio Berkman” via iTunes. It’s free.) will soon feature David Weinberger quizzing me on what it’s all about.

Still reading? Stop! Go to the site, download the papers.

And thanks again to everyone who helped, especially the Berkman staff who pulled stuff together in the last few days — Seth Young, Dan Jones, Sebastian Diaz, Lexie Koss, Jillian York, and of course the indefatigable Rob Faris.


The past year has been an amazing learning process and a wonderful collaboration with far too many people to thank properly. The Berkman community of fellows, staff and affiliates is an inspiring place to work. I am especially grateful to John Palfrey, for his patient and insightful guidance, Colin Maclay for his excellent questions and unusual metaphors, and my co-author Rob Faris for his patience and perserverance in getting it right. John Bracken and Elspeth Revere of the MacArthur Foundation were much more than sponsors – their thoughtful perspective and their passion for these issues informed and inspired the work. They were instrumental in helping to gather 100+ remarkable people at USC Annenberg in March 2008 for the Media Re:public forum. A special thank you to everyone involved, whether you presented, moderated, listened, tweeted, blogged, or negotiated with the caterers and booked plane tickets (special thanks to Catherine Bracy, for that and everything else you make look so easy, and to Carey Andersen for her cheerful help with everything).

The research and this paper were much improved by the thoughtful critiques and expert advice of many generous and smart people within and without Berkman, including: David Ardia, Pat Aufderheide, Charlie Beckett, Josh Benton, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Jessica Clark, Carol Darr, Bruce Etling, Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Dan Gillmor, Christine Gorman, Jon Greenberg, Eszter Hargittai, Andrew Heyward, Keith Hopper, Ellen Hume, Colleen Kaman, Beth Kolko, Dori Maynard, Ann Olson, Geneva Overholser, Jan Schaffer, Stephen Schultze, Doc Searls, Wendy Seltzer, Jake Shapiro, Ivan Sigal, Tom Stites, Lokman Tsui, David Weinberger, Lisa Williams, Ernest Wilson III, and Ethan Zuckerman. Thanks to all my research assistants, but especially Khadija, Dan and Matt, who worked harder and more cheerfully than could be imagined. I am also indebted to the dozens of media professionals, technologists and researchers for the interviews and conversations both formal and informal that shaped and challenged my thinking.

Persephone Miel
Cambridge, MA December 2008

Research assistants – Khadija Amjad, Dan J. Levy, Matt Hampel, Tihomir Tsenkulovski, Michael Mylrea, D. Yvette Wohn
Designer – Monica Katzenell
Copy editor – Nany Kotary
Additional editing/graphics – Jillian York, Lexie Koss, Tim Hwang, Brendan Ballou

Athens – 12 days of protests, not Christmas


My trip to Athens for a conference (the Global Forum for Media Development – a terrific event, see earlier posts) was long by normal conference trip standards – 5 nights.  And now it feels like I’ve been back for a long time, lots has happened. Yet the riots, which started the night before I left for Athens, are still going on. Twelve days is a long time.

On our last day, some of us finally left the hotel during daylight, walked around the Acropolis (closed, due to a completely unrelated strike) and through downtown. Next to the Acropolis, we passed a TV crew. As soon as we stopped to look at the view they came to ask if we spoke English. So 3 of us agreed to give interviews – they were thrilled we think to hit the jackpot. My friend Manana said “As a Russian, I am deeply envious of the Greeks. That people would go out on the streets, so quickly in such numbers, because of the death of a single boy, not famous, someone they didn’t know, is amazing to me. Of course, I don’t like the violence, but I watched the funeral, which was peaceful. So many people! In Russia, this many people wouldn’t come out even for a famous journalist who was killed.” (don’t believe her? Believe the BBC: Thousands of mourners have attended the funeral in Athens of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, the 15 year old boy whose killing by a policeman, has sparked four days of rioting across Greece.12/9/08 vs. Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral in Moscow of the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya who was killed on Saturday 10/10/06).

Near the Acropolis we bought some RADICALLY reduced souvenirs. Tthey had lots of kitschy stuff with the popular gods and goddesses, but only one depiction of Persephone, a heavy marble statue of her and Hades which I had decided to resist because it was 37 euros, but then they told me it was marked down to 15 so I had to do it.  Then walked through the shopping district to the square where the city’s big xmas tree had been burned to a crisp (we had been invited to join the Mayor at its lighting ceremony Sunday night  – that got cancelled of course).

Saw a few protesters basically hanging out in front of Parliament, at one point a small group (couple dozen) started chanting something and marching toward the driveway. A group of riot police reluctantly scrambled into formation, making a line across the driveway with their big plastic shields and the demonstrators stood and yelled at them. It seemed as if they had become street theater for the tourists. Apparently later in the day there were some skirmishes again and the taxi driver this morning told me there were related protests in other cities in Europe.
Xmas postcard forwarded by a friend, all other images by my pal Marjorie Rouse, more here.


Happy birthday, human rights declaration


Sixty years ago today, on 10 December 1948, the adoption by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights launched a new era. Lebanese scholar Charles Habib Malik described it to the assembled delegates as follows:

Every member of the United Nations has solemnly pledged itself to achieve respect for and observance of human rights. But, precisely what these rights are we were never told before, either in the Charter or in any other national instrument. This is the first time the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are spelled out authoritatively and in precise detail. I now know what my government pledged itself to promote, achieve, and observe. … I can agitate against my government, and if she does not fulfill her pledge, I shall have and feel the moral support of the entire world.

Lend your moral support to someone who needs it today.


Persephone in Athens

Image: Dengcoy Miel, see more drawings at the SKETCHING HUMAN RIGHTS CARTOON EXHIBIT. I swear I didn’t notice till after I downloaded it that I share a last name with its artist, who is from Singapore. Greetings, Dengcoy!

UDHR 60 Logos in many languages here.

A weirdly beautiful day… for a strike (GFMD08, Day 3)


There is a general strike scheduled in Athens today, and the weather this morning was stunningly beautiful – cool and sunny. I admit I only stuck my head out the door, don’t have the stamina of my younger colleagues who’ve been going for long runs at 6 every morning. If I make it to breakfast and the 9 AM session I’m proud of myself.

(I’m in Athens, at the Global Forum for Media Development, nearly 400 people from around the world who work to support media in their own country or others, you can watch webcast here: or follow #GFMD08. Warning – liveblogging ahead, inaccuracies and typos guaranteed.)

Right now, I’m in a 9th floor hotel conference room that might as well be in Indianapolis, listening to Wally Dean explain the Committee for Concerned Journalists project to train people based on the Elements of Journalism. But imagining how many Athenian college students are waking up this sunny morning and planning to go throw more rocks, or as I saw on TV last night, rotten eggs. And worrying about the mood of the police, who since the shooting of the teenager that sparked this, have been on a tight rein. One TV analyst (I’ve been flipping between France24 and CNN for my English-language news, so can’t remember which it was) pointed out that the slim chance the current government has of staying in power will evaporate if there’s any serious police violence against the protestors.

The training Wally does is fascinating, forcing US local TV newsroom to ask themselves questions like: “We lead every night with crime stories, is that a reflection of the community you all live in?” “Where does this story really take place and are you there? Have you ever been there?” (Wally gives the example from his own career, says he’s reported dozens of stories about legislation about prison issues, never setting foot in a prison). The amazing thing about the work Wally’s doing is that it’s based on research correlating ratings and content analysis from over 2000 local newscasts. It’s deeply surprising stuff, impossible to do justice to in a blog post. The book is called “We Interrupt this Newscast” suggests that even in a profit-driven environment good journalism thrive, that audiences in fact crave substantially reported, non-sensational TV news. If there were a way to force every local commercial station manager in the country to read the book and act on it, it would be invaluable.

Meanwhile, a couple of my colleagues have taken time away from being media support organizations to be journalists. Sameer Padania, who runs the Hub, went out on Monday night. The raw footage he took of demonstrations is on YouTube. Oleg Panfilov, who directs the Center for Journalists in Extreme Situations, took some still photos which he will upload soon to his blog. She’s not here in Greece with us (Solana, we miss you!) but Global Voices’ Solana Larsen has gathered some nice citizen media coverage of the riots here.

Finally, a couple of super-cynical journalists (who shall remain nameless) over drinks last night agreed that with such a small body count, the story wouldn’t get “much ink” (always waiting for the digital media replacements for these phrases) in the US news media.

Public Anger
Uploaded on December 7, 2008
by murplej@ne – under deconstruction

Threats to journalists (GFMD08, cont.)


The International News Safety Institute is leading an excellent session on how media development organizations should include education and other efforts to help keep journalists safe, but the Internet access is too spotty and my battery is dying, so that’s all I’ll tell you now.

(I’m in Athens, at the Global Forum for Media Development, nearly 400 people from around the world who work to support media in their own country or others, you can watch webcast here: or follow #GFMD08. Warning – liveblogging ahead, inaccuracies and typos guaranteed.)

Access and Voice in New Technology – GFMD08


Access and Voice in New Technology – Athens, Greece December 8, 2008

James Deane, Head of Policy Development, BBC World Service Trust is trying to get a group of folks who mostly work with legacy media to talk about online media. Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, talks about the challenge of working for an audience that is dispersed and fragmented.

(I’m at the Global Forum for Media Development, nearly 400 people from around the world who work to support media in their own country or others, you can watch webcast here: or follow #GFMD08. Warning – liveblogging ahead, inaccuracies and typos guaranteed.)

Ivan Sigal is explaining Global Voices and the challenges of serving an audience online. James asks how they’re going to sustain the work. Ivan says it’s very tough, they’re working on building on their community-driven project to make a new strategy.

Eduardo Avila explains Voces Bolivianas, a project to get marginalized people in Bolivia blogging. James askes about whether this work is staying in the blogosphere or is it being picked up in mainstream media? Eduardo says it’s getting out more in the developed world, because he is Global Voices editor and features the work of Voces Bolivianas there so more people know Christina (Bolivian blogger) outside Bolivia than in.

Ivan argues for the “network effect” thinking of information as a process. The reason Global Voices wanted to here at GFMD was to try to figure out how to build links between blogs and community media.

Someone brings up the issue of how individuals get privileged to be speakers.

Jane Ransom of International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) says there has been too little attention to the role of gender not enough info. She is glad to see projects like Eduardo’s bringing women’s and other marginalized voices online. What happens when the 1000 blooming flowers of the blogosphere begin to be aggregated? Will we be careful enough to preserve women’s leadership?

Whether Blogher is a women’s movement or a bloggers’ movement. James Deane says but why didn’t the women’s movement take root on the ‘net? Jane Ransom – I don’t think there’s a global women’s equality movement on the Internet – someone contradict me if I’m wrong. But I don’t think that means there’s something wrong.

Ivan brings us back to the role of institutions or movements in the citizen media environment.

Ying Chan from Hong Kong University is showing some wonderful information on the media and Internet in China. A hysterical story about a picture of a supposedly extinct tiger that turned out to be stolen from a calendar. See the story here. And much more serious stories about citizen reporters reporting on injustice of many kinds. Workers in brick kilns held in slavery were rescured thanks to a letter by a parent on the Internet saying I’m looking for my child that helped break the case. It’s so moving to hear about these stories from other countries – the former Soviet region I’ve spent so much time with feels so tired and cynical.

She says the government and Internet users are in a game of “spy vs. spy.” They change their blocking and filtering techniques, we go around them, they learn new ones.Troy from USAID asks about journalistic standards and market forces. Chan: you can’t expect market forces alone to give us good journalism in any medium. She mentions the work of Global Network Initiative (which both Internews and Berkman both are part of, along with many other fine organizations) to get corporations to agree to ethical principles about user privacy, freedom of expression, etc.

Chan: we don’t have enough civil society institutions paying attention to what’s happening on the Internet, what’s happening on the ‘net is very raw, it has the best and the worst of everything. But there need to be more intervention there.

Laura Stein from Internews DC asks what should local legacy media do in relationship to citizen journalism/blogs? Should media development be looking at the Global Voices model, getting local media to work with more with online media, as aggregators?

Ivan Sigal – yes! In fact, why talk about new and old media any more (GO IVAN!) we need to look at values and audiences everything is converging. Some citizen media will take on the values and functions of traditional journalism and vice versa.

Masha Rasner says what about former Soviet Union, no one ever talks about them and citizen media, are they behind the curve? (Masha: for Russia, the answer is no, they’re totally active, they just don’t bother promoting themselves in the West, because they don’t need the West. Other countries like Georgia ARE, by all accounts, behind.) Woman from Panos says yes, let’s have a lunch discussion tomorrow about this.

James wrapping up asks Chan to wrap up and talk about the next 5 years in China. Chan: Ivan’s right it’s not new and old it’s digital media. I’m an optimist. There are many examples of the best invtigative reporting in China being digital media, they are a driving force for traditional media, in spite of stepped up government control. The technology is so powerful and people’s desire for information is irrestible.

Someone from Nepal – we can’t look that far ahead, the euphoria of freedom is fading, we’ll soon be in a situation where we need the digital media as in Burma, China and so on to be free. The form of blogging and digital media, its immediacy and localization is really better than standard news style. It’s keeping traditional media on its toes. It’s not either/or, both sides must learn from each other.

Raising money for media assistance – GFMD08


Athens, Greece December 8, 2008

My long-time colleague and friend Manana Aslamazyan is leading a session on strategies for funding media assistance projects in the Former Soviet Union. She’s using the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) as an example.

I’m at the Global Forum for Media Development, nearly 400 people from around the world who work to support media in their own country or others, you can watch webcast here: or follow #GFMD08. Warning – liveblogging ahead, inaccuracies and typos guaranteed.

Oleg Panfilov, from the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations talks about Georgia (he is based in Moscow, but spends a lot of time in Moscow). He says there are many different layers in Georgian society: young, Western educated folks in power now and the layer of people who used to be in power who survive while the young guys were in college and between them are the journalists, who are closer to being in the older group, and how have an essentially post-Soviet attitude. He says journalism education is the key. Manana says “who will pay for it? Soros again?” Oleg is sitting next to Gordana Jankovic, head of Open Society Insitute’s (Soros) Network Media Program.

Manana – Donors funded education of journalism in our regions 15 years ago, why should they believe when we say we need it now?

Viktoria Syumar from Kyiv, says she agrees that we need new ideas. She’s says in Ukraine, having ended government censorship they now fight against “the censorship of money” that is news stories that are paid for, as PR. (Long one of my favorite themes in the development of the Western media, go Viktoria!) So she and Natalya Ligacheva (from Telekritika website) and others joined together and started monitoring the press.

Mamukha from Georgia says no amount of training can fix Georgian media because the big 3 channels are controlled by the government, and there is no transparency of media ownership

Manana-  says what about fundraising?

Viktoria – we started with no money, but soon enough people from a Western PR agency came to us and said they were interested in our project.

Manana – so if you have a good idea, and can get people to work together, just do it, and the money will come?

Ilim Karypbekov, from the Media Commissioner Institute from Kyrgyz Republic, asks is there any way for this group, this GFMD, to create with donors some kind of outside force that can influence the media magnates, oligarchs, who are ruining our media landscapes? General agreement that ex-Soviet millionaires are generally immune – though Natasha says Ukrainian oligarchs are in the metals trade, and could be influence from the outside.

Oleg Khomenok from Ukraine says the legal basis is important, not only for media but also for NGOs because too many countries’ tax legislation make it impossible for NGOs to do things that make money, which impedes them from becoming self-sustainable.

Mamukha from Georgia says transparency of media ownership is a problem, because Georgian TV controlled by government and there’s no way to know who the real owners are, so as to challenge them. Everyone agrees that it’s bad not to be able to have transparency, but it’s not a real barrier to working to support media we want to support.

Discussion about whether it’s ok to take money from the government for projects. Agreement that it’s very dangerous, too much corruption.

Oleg Khomenok (Ukraine) talks about the need for media literacy. Media work with people and advertisers both. We need to teach the audience how to know when they’re being lied to (meaning paid news) so that the market for such stuff goes away.

Manana – media literacy is important I agree but I worry that it’s a fad, we’re all going to submit projects on media literacy. Also, I think we have to talk about strategies including understanding what other NGO’s already do things better than you and collaborate with them.

I make my plea for people to pay attention to what the audience actually needs, not what journalists need or what media NGOs need.

Manana agrees that we need to think first about our real mission not about how to keep our organizations alive, ask Gordana Jankovic to speak.

Manana sums up says sadly I don’t think most of us will go to a website listing good projects (an idea that was raised, as it inevitably is in such forums). That’s why the GFMD is so vital – face to face discussion is really important.

Gordana, who’s one of the smartest media donors around, says she’s a little sad that there is so much attention here to fundraising, though of course she understands that it’s a huge problem for everyone. She’d like to see a group that is this diverse, with so many international and local organizations working on the same things and all competiing with each other, often the big ones swallowing the little ones. I’d like to see the media assistance sector work out some ethical standards, to structure itself as a sector and unfortunately I don’t see that in the program of this forum. But I know this session is on fundraising.

Working for an organization that is funded by one private person for 16 years, of course I have to take into account the interests of our founder (George Soros). Having participated in many many donors’ forums over the years, I think that projects that have real long-term trategies that take into account the political realities eventually get funded, but there’s still a problem for us as funders that we can’t fund the same organizations forever. Our organization wants to go global, we’re under pressure to work in new countries, so I’m often frustrated and even embarrassed in front of many of you in this room when I know you are doing important work and we can’t keep funding you.

But there are things you can do to help us – work together, come to us with coordinated proposals.

Manana tries to wrap up a fairly frustrating discussion. Meanwhile, Shorena Shaverdashvili, publisher of the Georgian magazine Hot Chocolate, pops up on Skype with the following:

Shorena Shaverdashvili – 5 of us in the “georgian media” are thinking of emigrating
Persephone Miel-where to?

Shorena Shaverdashvili – we are soo fustrasted! anywhere! out of here! it’s hopeless. the public broadcaster just started a new season and it’s unbelievable.  What causes desparation is that the quality of broadcasting is getting worse and worse. You should see the new programming on the 1st channel. It’s beyond commentary and they are dragging the whole media behind. There are only 2 options – you either completely disregard the tv media and try to work on your own audience and niche.

Meanwhile, a Western funder who kept her mouth shut is very frustrated. She says “isn’t it a no-brainer for these NGOs in each country to work together?” I say, yes, but the same could be said about American nonprofits in any field, no? Never mind academia! Sigh.

Yay Broadband!


The New America Foundation and many other folks today put out what they’re calling “A National Broadband Strategy Call to Action.” I bring it to your attention because I think that they are right that making affordable high-speed broadband Internet available to everyone in the United States (not just Americans, btw) should be a top priority for the Obama administration. I even agree with many of their arguments:

“Too many Americans still do not have access to affordable broadband or lack the equipment or knowledge to use it effectively…Throughout our history, the United States has adopted policies to maximize the benefits of major technological advances.  In the 19th century, we promoted the development of canals, railroads, and electric power.  In the 20th century, we instituted policies to expand electric power and
national telephone and highway systems, and we transported people to the moon and back.  Now,
in the 21st century, it is time to adopt a National Broadband Strategy that builds on this tradition…  The federal government, in collaboration with state and local governments and the private sector, should play an
active role in stimulating broadband deployment, particularly in unserved areas.”

But, as those who know much more than I do have pointed out, the full Call to Action doesn’t  go nearly far enough. Several colleagues from the Berkman Center commented:

“It’s pretty good, all things considered, but I’d be a lot happier if it made some attempt (even with caveats like the “to the maximum feasible extent” language) to explicitly address net neutrality, non-discrimination, privacy, etc.”

“My only problem with the statement is that it punts on the hard issues, and thus says just about nothing except ‘Yay broadband!’
– The network management clause seems designed to allow for non-neutrality.
– It does not say a word about whether our current infrastructure is the right one for achieving the goals. Status quo? Throw the rascals out? Invest in new approaches? Go fiber? Go open spectrum? Private-public partnerships? Structural separation? (It does call for the “efficient use of spectrum,” but that could be taken as an argument for OR against white spaces, for example.) This is the opposite of a Bold Call to Action. Frankly, I’m hoping for more from the Obama administration. “

“Keep in mind that this is coming from a very diverse group, including AT&T and NCTA (Cable’s trade association).  About the best you could hope for out of that crowd is “Yay, broadband.”  So, yes, it’s pretty watered down and non-specific.

That being said, simply stating that broadband is important and is a priority is a good thing.  It is a call to action without specifying what exactly the action should be. I would certainly hope that the new Administration would be able to say something more concrete about their policy goals.”

So, New America Foundation and company – keep up the good work. There are lots of folks who need to hear this.

Obama tech team – we expect you to be BOLDER than a coalition of communications providers, high technology companies, manufacturers, consumers, labor unions, public interest groups, educators, state and local governments, utilities, content creators, foundations, and other stakeholders in America’s broadband future.

Image: Inside a broadband router (blueish general view)
Uploaded on March 30, 2007

by jepoirrier