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Video Activist Handbook - Chapter 17

The vision thing #

Where next for citizen journalism? #

Is there more we can do to harness the power of the internet to get our media seen? How can we make ourselves more than the sum of our parts? How could we build a new and strong contemporary media?

As you can see, this chapter has more questions than answers.

Don't Stand Alone

One of the central themes of this book has been to say that citizen journalists need to share their work and group together, to build hyper-local news into trans-national networks. The main argument behind it is that cooperation is better than competition.

Let's take the example of cross-linking: if I link to you on my blog, and you link to me, we both gain ("google juice", how easy you are to find in search engines, is measured by valid links to you). So partnerships between, say, a print magazine and a video channel are really positive for both.

And at the time of writing, this working together is beginning to happen all over the web.

There are two great things about the internet compared with traditional media publishing and especially TV broadcasting. One is that there are no "gatekeepers", no barriers to your media being pubished. The other is that everything you upload can have a permanent home, not "here today, gone tomorrow." But it's important not to treat your media as just a single self-standing object. We should try to make sure it goes into a flow.

The ugly word for this is AGGREGATION, the mashing-up of your media with other peoples' to make a really tasty soup that viewers and readers trust and want to consume.

The biggest aggregators on the web are currently twitter, facebook and youtube. Earlier chapters have given lots of tips on how to use these priceless resources. But is there also a sense in which they are.....

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False friends?

There are always stories of facebook, twitter and youtube accounts being censored. For instance, in the UK, before the Queen's Jubilee, 50 accounts on facebook which opposed the celebrations were removed. If your content is controversial, you can always expect it to be attacked by opposing groups on the big aggregators, and sometimes the mysterious authorities or machine algorithms of those social media companies take you down.

In addition, facebook and youtube have "algorithms" which target content at you, and decide where your own content comes in a search. That isn't necessarily the content you or the searchers want to see. It can be that other companies have paid for rankings, in the same way they pay for advertising. This can make your media disappear, however much other people may want to see it.

But there's a bigger argument behind our case. When the internet started it was a horizontal, peer-to-peer network. Ever since then some big companies have been trying to turn it back to the traditional world: they serve us content, we consume (the client-server model).  Currently we face a threat from many directions (governments, traditional entertainments companies, plus modern internet-born ones). The menace is that the free spaces of the net could be enclosed in huge corporate silos, making it much harder for us to share our content and build our own independent networks. In the world of media, google has the ambition for youtube to be a monopoly of video content, and facebook would like to be no less than the whole of the internet. For some people, it already is!

So to keep the internet free and alive, let's seek out independent aggregators, as well the big three.

Smart aggregation

The Miro community project by the Participatory Culture Foundation is a nice example of independent "smart aggregation". Films come in from selected channels and can be filtered for quality by the moderators. visionOntv has 5 channels of high-grade content covering subjects as varied as tech, culture and politics. Owners of sites or blogs can easily embed a channel, and then fresh video arrives automatically every day. In the UK there are already local TV channels in Swansea (south Wales), Merseyside in the north-west, and Hackney in East London.

So join a local citizen reporters' network, where one exists, or if it doesn't, start one.

We hope this book has helped you to share our vision of a world of citizen reporters who would revolutionise how news is reported and distributed.

To mangle the old slogan: Act hyper-local, think (and link) global.

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