Session Transcripts

A live transcription team captured the SRCCON sessions that were most conducive to a written record—about half the sessions, in all.

Building Strong Journo-Tech Networks—Internationally

Session Facilitator(s): Anika Gupta, Gabriela Rodriguez

Day & Time: Thursday, 2-2:45pm

Room: Minnesota


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I wanted to see what you guys want for lunch. You already grabbed it?

Let me rewrite something, so you can see.

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The session is starting now!

Hey, guys! Thank you so much for joining our session/discussion on building journalism tech networks internationally. Especially over lunch. And actually, Gabriela and I were going to say—it would be great if people could maybe move forward and fill two tables, because there aren’t that many of us. It will help get good discussions going later on. Welcome! So we’re making two groups at these two tables. Great.


Are we roughly even? Should we move one person here? All right. So I am Anika.

I am Gabriela.

We’re going to be co-facilitating. Since it’s a small group, I think we should all feel free to ask questions and talk to everybody. And we were thinking that the way we’re going to break it down is—we’ll ask everyone to introduce themselves. Then Gabriela will talk a little bit about her experience with building an international journalism and technology network very briefly, and then I will talk a little bit about what I have done, and some of the challenges I’ve faced, and then we were hoping to have you guys in your two individual groups address a couple of questions, and then we’re going to all come back and talk together. So that was the idea. And I guess we can just start with the introductions. If you want to start? And just mention your name and what you’re hoping to get out of the session or why you were interested in this.

Okay. I’m Matt Perry. I hope to… I think I just hope to learn a lot from this. I work with developers at news organizations around the world as part of my job. So I sort of feel like I see people doing good work all over the place. And I would just love to know more about how… What networks exist and how I can help with those.

Hi. I’m Evie Gu. For my job, we don’t really do international cooperation and stuff. But me, myself, I have an international background. And I don’t know much—like, how the journalism thing is going on in my country. So I would love to know more how people can operate and what we can actually really bring back or work with people in my home country.

Great. My name is Seth Lewis. I’m a professor here in the school of journalism/mass communication here at the University of Minnesota. So I teach and research about journalism and technology. And from about 2011 to 2013, 2014 or so, I did some research on hacks and hackers. Grassroots sort of international network of journalists and coders. So I talked to a lot of people involved in the group, but I haven’t kind of stayed up with it as much in the past couple of years, but I’m also interested in other networks that have emerged. So I’m just sort of curious about what people are doing and thinking about with regard to these types of networks.

My name is (inaudible). I work at an international center for journalists, we’re a non-profit organization based in DC. We work with a lot of journalists and developers from all over the world. We actually try to build international networks. And I’m also the co-organizer of hacks hackers DC, that local chapter, so I’m very much interested in learning useful tools and tips for how to make a stronger network.

Hi. I’m Yo-Yo. I work at the AP in New York. I’m interested in this session because I’m from China, and I know the Chinese data journalism community is growing rapidly, and there’s lots of interest in collaborating internationally. And also how to do, like, open data in China. So there are networks developing in China, and I really want to help and I don’t know whether the existing ones also… The channels online… And I have many friends working in data journalism… In China and also in the US.

Hi, everyone. I’m Jue. I’m the technologist at CUNY Journalism School in New York. I’m interested, because I’ve had good encounters with people from different hacks/hackers chapters. So somebody from Germany, I believe, someone from Madrid—so I just feel there’s a huge amount of resources out there, and I want to see, like, what’s even—what’s a better way to sort of make it even more easy to explore.

Hi. I’m Emily Goligoski from the New York Times. And I’m interested in how we can best share what we’re learning about readers all over the world with people in our different bureaus, as well as independent correspondents.

I’m Carlos. I’m from Brazil. I work for a sports site. And I came here because I want to know how I can share the knowledge beyond my borders, I guess.

I’m Russ. From Boston. At NPR. And I kind of—a designer and illustrator. And I don’t know too much about the journalism just in general. So I’m really trying to just dive in a little bit and get a deeper understanding of how this works. The language that we’re using around it.

I’m Francis. I’m an open news fellow at (inaudible) in the New York Times. I’m just curious, and I’ve also lived abroad for a bit, and have some friends and stuff. Doing this kind of work elsewhere. So I’m just kind of curious about learning how to better work with them.

I’m Kabya, I’m an OpenNews fellow with Vox Media. I grew up in India and have a technology background, but ever since I started working in this, people have started contacting me about how to get started in journalism. Especially from journalism schools in India. So I thought that would be an interesting conversation to have, how you translate ideas like (inaudible) and stuff when you talk about journalism communities internationally.

My name is (inaudible). I’m from the (inaudible), which I guess is similar to ICFJ. We’re a media development organization, and we are always trying to help the journalism around the world in countries where it’s not really journalism. And what I’m actually working right now on is trying to create some kind of a digital initiative, which is about finding and kind of building a bridge between the knowledge that’s being built after experimenting and dealing with the current changes in the West, and with places where there are still—they don’t even have a responsive website or don’t even really… Don’t know where to start. So trying to kind of—but also to involve the local journalists, and the amateur journalists as well.

And if you want to mention just name and what made you interested in the session.

So I’m (inaudible). I’m from Desert Digital Media. I have a software background, almost no journalism background. I’ve been learning more for about three years. And we do have certain websites that are run internationally and we have lots of contributors from different countries and different languages. So I thought this would be a good exchange and conversation—lots of things that I could learn.

Great. So I think we’ll start with Gabriela, and she’s going to introduce herself and tell you a little bit about some of the networks and the work that she’s done.

Okay. I’m Gabriela. I was a fellow with OpenNews last year, at (inaudible). And I want to talk a little about the experience of building a network around journalism. My experience around a network of independent media. That is still on. It’s called IndyMedia, but it had its best success around mid-2000. Indy Media was a network around collaborative network. It started as a network documenting the antiworld trade protests in Seattle. From that website, documenting what the mainstream media was not showing, came up around the mid-2000s almost a hundred collectives around the world that were documenting or showing what was happening outside of the mainstream media. There were protests or social movements. It was related with activists that wanted to show what was happening. Each collective had a website, with open publishing, that was quite a lot of technology innovation. We were all people that were doing Open Source in the 1990s. We wanted to have a way for everybody to publish on the internet. So it was a promise of, like, the open web and the promise of you owning your own infrastructure, your own machines. So we developed our own code. We owned our own servers. So it was a lot of innovation around technology. So you had a website and there were collectives that had, like, video, printing, different ways of doing media that we were already related to. I did a lot of community radio before that. So some collectives were doing more radio, some collectives were doing more photojournalism, but everything was on the web. We shared resources through the network.

And so we had collectives around technology, policy, legal, to manage all the stuff around the network. We were activists. Not journalists. And we had the motto of—be your own media. So one important aspect of this network is that we own it. We felt part of it, and it was not something that came from outside. And the decisions were made in a consensus-based collective, and also through the network. Each collective—we communicate through mailing lists, through IRC, we had a very good documentation system with the wikis, that was the technology that we had at the moment. So it was very clear, how to get into the network. What things needed to be done. And, like, there were representatives of each collective in this global collective, doing technology, development, and all this stuff. It was a lot of experimentation. So that made it like… I’m sorry. That was a way for us to own what we were doing. Because we were doing our own structures, how we wanted to manage the network. There was a lot of technology innovation, and as I said, not dependent on one single person. So there was these collectives taking decisions. So the information was easily to pass from one person to the other. So it was not depending on one person for organizing. We mobilized around different local issues. And it was a decentralized network media. The challenges… It was that most of the media we were doing as activists—it was around protests.

So when everything was more active was when something was happening. Otherwise, it was just like… Very slow pace. Then the verification—it was a challenge too. We had open publishing, but we had teams in each collective that were curating all the information and the articles that people were publishing or the social movements were publishing, and curating that and refining that… It was a little reproducing the filters of the traditional media. The English was another challenge, because it was collectives in Latin America, the US, Europe, Asia. So the people that were able to get all the information and communicate in the global network were the people that were more fluent in English. So there was some issues of power or informal hierarchies, because we tried to be horizontal, but in that context, there was a lot of informal hierarchies. So English was a challenge. It was hard to take decisions. Because we were based on consensus. So sometimes one person blocking or one collective blocking—we had a lot of discussion about financing, because we were not financed by foundations, or we didn’t take big grants. Just by donations and local donations. So it was hard many times to make decisions, and I think that’s one of the things that slowed down the network. That’s…

Awesome. So I think that was—Gabriela—her background is as a coder. So she has some interesting challenges related to issues like language and power. And I think I also encountered a lot of those.

Also, about technology. That’s something that I forgot to say. Because it was so hard to make decisions for us. The people that were making most of the decisions were people that speak in English and people that were, like, managing the technology collectives.


Were making the final decisions and things.

So I think my story is similar but also a little bit different. I’m actually just going to pop that website up here, so we can take a look at it. So essentially, I had… I studied journalism in the United States and grew up here, and then around 2009 I had been really interested in moving and working abroad. And outside of the US, I should say. And part of that was because I had always been interested in international stories, as well as how you develop… I was very interested in being immersed in the daily reality of news in a context outside what I had grown up with. So that was what led me to move to New Delhi in India. I started working there as a science correspondent. And around this time, the conversation around journalism and technology in the United States was already pretty advanced, but it was something that was just starting out in India. So I got hired, and I was the digital person for a very large business magazine. And this is—if anyone—some people are smiling in frustration. Because if you’ve ever done this job, it’s basically like you are a mix of tech support and everyone… People would come to me and handwrite things and say—can you tweet that for me? So that was kind of… And that was after what they learned what Twitter was. So I was doing that. I was looking at podcasts and trying to figure out—okay, can we do this?

One of the highlights of my career was when someone referred to one of these podcasts as “annoying”, so you can see there’s a lot of experimentation. But I was working for a very large Indian media conglomerate, and I was really the only person whose daily job was to look at how to adapt the new tools available online. And so I was in this position where, A, I was unfamiliar with a lot of this material, I was experimenting and learning, and B, when I was looking for people who I can turn to for guidance within my organization, I didn’t really know many people who were interested in those same questions on a daily basis. So that’s when I first thought—and so the question kind of becomes why do you start these networks and what do you hope they will do? So my—I had a couple of different interests. I thought… Okay. I want to access other people who are interested in this intersection of journalism and technology in India. And I want to—if there aren’t people who are currently doing that, I want to create a space where we can start having conversations about these things, and hopefully I can bring that expertise back into my organization. At the time, we were looking at growing teams, so it was also for us potentially—people were interested in using that as a hiring mechanism, which, you know, is not always the case, but that was true there. And I also wanted to connect with people who were doing a lot of thought leadership on these issues outside of India and kind of say—what are you doing, and how can we learn from that and how can we not? And there are pros and cons to that method, and some of the challenges.

So what I decided to do is to start a hacks/hackers chapter in Delhi, and this was in late 2012. So we started, and I would say that initially it was quite difficult. And everyone has faced different challenges who’s tried to do this. So I’ve talked to various different organizers now in other parts of the world, because I’m really curious about what challenges they face. And so for us, for example, we had great face-to-face events and face-to-face interaction. It was not—the organization was not as vibrant online in between. But we did… We had a whole bunch of technologists who were interested, because there’s a ton of—you were talking about that. The engineering students in India, and engineers who are interested in this. It was a little harder to get journalists to get out of bed and come to events like this, when they did not have a story to cover. And that was one of the ongoing challenges that we faced. So I think it became a lot of—for us, how to ask questions that would be interesting to a community we could build in Delhi. And then how to take the work that we were doing and find ways to kind of link that with what was happening internationally around the conversation related to these topics.

So the example I have… Actually… On the site… Is an event that I think was successful in some ways and not in others. And this was Hack for Change. So I’m sure everybody remembers—there was this horrible attack of a young woman on a bus in Delhi. It made headlines around the world. She died. That started a conversation not just in India but internationally about the rights of women in India. So we became interested as a potential hacks/hackers event, why don’t we take this as a starting point, this issue that’s globally relevant but at the same time locally incredibly urgent, and find new ways to access this story? And we were very interested in addressing a couple of things. One is that we wanted to bring in somehow—bring in voices of people who weren’t English speaking and also who weren’t regularly on the internet. Internet penetration was very low in India.

So we ended up partnering with an organization that was doing audio journalism, and we said—you’ve done this campaign around child marriage in rural parts of India. You have all of these clips where women and men have dialed in and talked about it. Can we work with that at our hackathon? Can we have a team that works with this information? And they said yeah, we’re interested in doing that. We had another organization that had done a lot of work with—they had used the Ushaidi platform for crowd sourcing, so they had asked women all over Delhi to talk about—they had put out this campaign and said—have you been harassed on the streets of Delhi? If you have, write in, and tell us what happened and where you were. So they had this map and they had this information. And some of you may have worked with similar datasets before. And again, the idea was to say—we want to get out of the space of just speaking English. We want to get out of the space of just being online. And so we had that dataset.

And then we formed different groups, and we started putting those groups together, and at this hackathon, we had—if you want to show the picture again… Yeah. It’s… So I think a couple of things worked really well. One is that we had—we brought together—because it was a question that was—like I said, globally relevant and locally urgent, we got journalists, we got technologists, we also got a lot of entrepreneurs. Because, again, we have a lot of entrepreneurs in our local community who are very interested in this. And we got a lot of researchers. And activists. So it was really—in that sense, it was an unusual community. And people came together, and they created various projects. And one of the things that worked really well is that we had—so the team that was looking at the audio data actually said—okay, we’ve got this great audio data. How can we make this into a product or a story that can be consumed across multiple platforms? So they actually had a multi-lingual team, people from the United States, from India, working together, to go through these local language audio files, to translate them, and then to create a digital magazine around them.

And then we had another team that they are come from a company that worked on—that worked with Twitter analytics. So several of them worked on a project where they actually tracked online abuse on Twitter. And derogatory terms for women. And they said—okay. So they created a website where that was displayed in realtime. This is the number of tweets that are mentioning these kinds of terms. And then they actually created a little autoresponder that would go back and respond to some of these tweets and say—hey, by the way, please don’t use this term. It’s offensive. And they demoed that. So I think what it was really good at was talking to people they wouldn’t have talked to, getting people to exchange skills and knowledge with a vibrant group and starting this conversation about how these groups can work together in a locally relevant way around questions that are really important in India and represent voices that are often not heard, even within the world of Indian media, because the English language publications were focused… Yes. So… Okay. So that works.

I think the challenge that I continue to face and that people can talk about as we move on is that we struggled to figure out how to get this work—how to link this with what was happening internationally. So the OpenNews guys were great. I remember we had several conversations. I would dial into their calls. But it was never an ongoing conversation. And I think that was one of the things that I struggled with and couldn’t find a regular solution for. So… With that said… Those are kind of some examples of… And we wanted to share these stories, because we thought—these are some entry points. But we have… So at the various tables—and I notice we’ve had more people come in. So we can have four tables. We have paper in the middle, but we thought it would be interesting if people can talk about, in the group, share examples of—we have prompt questions up top. And you can talk about those questions. So, for example, this one is—what links your network together? Or what would also work really well is if we had people share an example of a successful communication they had within an international network, as well as a failed communication. And people can kind of talk about what worked and what didn’t. In those examples. And…

Yes. You have on the table—like, a question for each table. To discuss about… The most successful international network you have been working on. Or you think about. And what makes that network successful. What it means. This one is what links your network together. The other is what it means to be a local community. Here. Yes, what it means… What we are meaning, when we say we want to involve more local community. What that means. This one is like… Challenges of tech networks. That you may think about. So we want to have 20 minutes of discussion around these topics. And then come back and think about… Share what we discussed.

And we’re going to go around. So if you have questions about the questions in the middle, or anything like that, we can definitely address those too.

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Okay. So… So we need to… We didn’t have much time for this session. I’m sorry. Now we are going to go back to, like, sharing what—we are not going to go table by table. But I want people to bring and share with everybody what—if there’s something interesting or something you think you can show or share or what you discussed—and if there’s anything you think now that you didn’t discuss, and you think it’s relevant to this discussion, please bring it too. We had questions about successful networks and what makes the network successful or failed.

So we sort of discussed on different characteristics that a successful network might look like… And might have. And there are different networks on different levels. Even though the question was—what’s the most successful. Because national networks—we also talked about locality. So we all agreed that experience is local and tech can be global. So a lot of networks that’s leveraging technology… Like, say, there was an example of having this translation bot, where your content can be localized. That can… That is, like, a successful—or that sort of… Can somebody help me out?

Making it more personal, almost.

And get the language out of the way. And some other important characteristics are good connect person—so this person serves as somebody who was very good at networking, and has really strong organizing skills on the ground. And for a local network to succeed, there needs to be shared interest, and some unsuccessful examples would be networks where there’s just distance from… There’s mismarketing and just not… For the participants to not know their goals. Anything to add?

I think you got most of it.

Okay. Anybody else wants to… Something about… No? Okay. Then we had—what does it mean to be a local community?

Okay. I… Silent. Silently tried to find consensus. So… We kind of all talked about various places where we’ve done this. So shoutouts to Seattle, hacks/hackers Costa Rica, and (inaudible) a couple highlights were being flexible about participation, and open to the frustration of people leaving, being open when people are sort of ready to return, a really interesting point was maybe the name. Code for Seattle put people off. And so now it’s become an Open Seattle, because they need more skills than just code. They need design and User Experience, and just kind of defining that project more broadly. And we talked a lot about kind of the difficulties of sustaining this kind of a project, especially when you have kind of a—not a huge amount of critical mass behind it. And so it’s not always easy. Sometimes projects fail, and it’s okay.

So… Then we have, like, challenges for journo-tech networks.

Yes. So… Some of the challenges that we talked about were… That sometimes there are separations within the news organizations themselves, within the technical teams, based on anything from language, both technical language and spoken language. But also topics, or those sorts of things. So bridging gaps where those kinds of divisions might pop up were a challenge. Challenges of time zones and maintaining regular contact. So if you’ve got a team that’s really widely distributed, you’ve got somebody in San Francisco and you’ve got somebody in Eastern Europe, for example, you’re working on very different sides of the globe. So how do you get—times for meetups, when no one has to stay up in the middle of the night? Cultural differences, especially where the focus is diffuse. And this also, again, goes—you know, not just to culture, as in the person’s personal culture, but also news culture. And so how different organizations gather stories. You know, different types of work flows. So… And also actually… Personal experience. Differences in life experience. Which is obviously… Can be a challenge if somebody is used to working in a particular way, but obviously is also a real benefit. Because everyone can learn from each other and hopefully grow as people and as a team.

Thank you. Then we have what links your network together.

Well, we talked about… I think we kind of deviated from the question a little bit, I think. But generally we started off by discussing how… Having broad goals around sort of publicly oriented or civically minded kinds of problems or issues are ones that can be attractive both to journalists as well as technologists. And that… So that certainly can link them together. We actually talked a lot about—so having kind of common interests, similar types of needs, one… We also talked about how the logistical types of issues need to be considered. So from our own experience and from the research that I’ve done, we talked about how just the space, funding, other types of logistical support is really critical, and often gets kind of lost or at least… That’s when things start to break down, is when those parts are missing. So thinking about what connects the networks, I think, keeping in mind those… That type of infrastructure… Is as important as anything else.

Does anybody else have to add any thoughts about… No? Okay. Well… Thank you. I’m sorry that we didn’t have the time. Thank you.