Where have all the authentic voices gone?

There’s a new project, Hum News I learned about that has me so excited. It is about bringing authentic news voices to regions of the world where the major news organizations do not go. In fact, the large 4 news services do not cover about 70% of the world’s population.  The facts are sobering:

  • The GEOGRAPHIC GAP – There are 237 countries/territories in the world. Yet, the 4 largest newsgathering and distribution organizations entrusted to supply content to 90% leave 116 countries ignored. (HUM Research- Associated Press, Thomson-Reuters, Bloomberg News & Dow Jones). This means that  two-thirds of the world’s population are without any authentic voice in the world’s media.
  • CHANGING POPULATION – Nearly half of the world’s population (3+ billion people) is under the age of 25 and over 85% of this group live in developing countries (World Population Foundation, 2008) which goes uncovered.
  • REDUCTION IN NEWS MEDIA ENTITIES RESOURCES/BUDGETS – News and journalism resources are decreasing, but demand for global coverage is exponentially increasing. (The State of the News Media.org, 2008)
  • WEB & MOBILE ACCESS – In 2009, over 1.5 billion people have access to the Internet up from 360 million in 2000. (Internet World Usage Statistics). By 2013, there will be 4.5 billion mobile users worldwide. (Parks Associates). Within these countries, 70% of the population is under the age of 25 and mobile devices and internet usage outpaces traditional content consumption by Western counterparts. The result of this growth in access is that the infrastructure barriers that held these countries back, are beginning to give these regions a huge voice to influence world opinion and consequently world events.
  • EMERGING MARKETS – Nations such as Algeria, Libya and Turkmenistan symbolize the globe’s new growth areas in terms of population; and countries such as Angola, Congo (Brazzaville) and Malawi represent the fastest growing economies in the world (UN.org). But here’s the clincher — 86% of the world’s population will be living in these emerging markets by 2050. (Population Media Foundation)

Today, news from these remote local regions is often inaccurate, biased and lacking in authentic voices. The ramification of the “information gap” is life altering. Let’s just cite a few recent examples to make my point dramatically.

1) Jonathan Gosier is the Director and System Architect of SwiftRiverat Ushahidi, who are  working on an open-source software platform that helps journalists and emergency response organizations sift through real-time information quickly, without sacrificing accuracy.

He wrote an article recently entitled: “Curators of the real-time web” describing the challenges a lack “on the ground” credentialed news coverage can bring:

“This past year in Kampala, Uganda, there were a series of deadly riots that occurred under the radar of international mainstream news for days. Yet it was a situation that affected millions of lives here. My peers and I relied upon Twitter and SMS for information. Later, when the mainstream news picked up on what was going on, they were often wrong or misleading in what they reported.

In such a scenario, the news outlets were either clueless, or useless to people like myself. Conversely, friends of mine who were chased down by military police as they tweeted absolutely earned my trust. In that situation, I followed the information sources that it made sense to monitor for that situation. Every scenario will be different, which is why a good distributed reputation system should be equally nuanced.”

The lack of trusted on the ground sources delayed aid and extended the misery of millions of people in this region.

2) “Outsiders” tend to portray the situation in Gaza often as desperate, as the recent news coverage of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade suggested. The blockade news story was pretty single minded from almost all news services; Gaza citizens lack in basic needs and these noble, heroic, brave humanitarians were running the blockade and carrying nothing more dangerous than chocolate. The storyline continued, these humanitarians were then brutally attacked by Israel resulting in 9 casualties.

This is the only story that got told around the world and the results were sadly predictable. There were riots across the world, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel and Israel is branded (again) as the aggressor.

Now I am making no comment on what the truth really is, but surely no thinking person can believe it is so one-sided? Nor can any thinking person not concede that the lack of authentic voices from within the region deeply distorts the truth making all of us vulnerable to media manipulation.

Think I am exaggerating? I wish I were. Just take a listen to a recent interview Helen Thomas, chief White House Correspondent for Hearst did at, no less Jewish Heritage Day at the White House. She very literally told Jews “to get the hell out of Palestine” because it is not their land and Jews should go back “home” – to Germany and Poland! This was so unbelievable that this Youtube video was played nearly a million times in just 3 days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnALLK5g–I&feature=rec-LGOUT-exp_fresh+div-1r-1-HM

Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for Thomas’ head, but the shock here was that a White Correspondent should have such a one sided view of the facts. How can Jews go back to Poland for heaven’s sake? Worse, how can she assert that “Palestine” belongs to Palestinians – Jews were there way before Palestinians? This episode most dramatically demonstrates how a lack of balance, credible news from within a region can lead to respected reporter to be blinded into a clearly biased view of facts on the ground. The consequences for everyone are dire.

So next time someone says to you; ”Ah the world really does not care about news in some remote place in the world.” The answer is; “Lack of trust in news and information is not a regional issue – but a global one.” The ramifications for all of us are very very personal – much more urgently than you think.

Judy Shapiro

A stranger in a strange land.

I am humbly borrowing that title from Robert A. Heinlein, one of my fav scifi authors of all time, but it captured my state of mind one afternoon as I was “working Facebook”.

You see, FB is not my social network of choice. I’m a hard core LinkedIn girl. LI is clear – business networking for business folks. Got it.

FB on the other hand is a weird mix of personal and business and trolls. Next to my niece’s picture of her (adorable) 3 year old is an important business announcement for a business luncheon that I wanted to attend. I click on what I think is a link for the luncheon information and I land on the home page of “someone” – not sure who and their niece’s pictures. At this point, I have no idea where I am.

I am a stranger in a strange land.

The strange land I speak of is where, unlike my real world, our social networks are morphing into a communications hub that has jumbled my life into a digital tangle of personal, business and many combinations in between.

I am a stranger in a stranger land.

In the real world, our social networks are well organized across “functional lines” – the parents in my kids school is one network, my business contacts is another or my relatives yet another etc etc. We keep these networks distinct unless during a crisis or some trigger event, e.g. your child is trying to get into a particular school, you create a temporary real time network of people from all your networks who can help you with this task. But once the need is gone, this “impromptu network” dissipates.

But in this strange new world, the networks intermix in a way that I find unproductive. In  this strange new world “on the fly” associations I create for a specific task become hardened in stone well beyond their usefulness.  

In the real world, my social networks are under my control – in this brave, new world – it seems – not so much.

I guess I find it strange. So does “Judy Consumer”.

Judy Shapiro

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