During the Feb. 16 Liberation Technology Seminar, five teams from Stanford University’s John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship program shared their ideas on using technology to push the boundaries of journalism. The first speaker,Girma Fantaye, is an Ethiopian journalist in exile. Ethiopia leads the world in the number of refugee reporters (79 fled the country between 2001 and 2011). Under the context where print journalism is unable to function independently, Fantaye is attempting to create an online journal that will provide critical coverage of the nation’s politics. He discussed the various challenges involved in such a project and why it has promise in repressive environments.
Deepa Fernandes and Michelle Holmes presented Illumin.us, a project that aims to empower non-professional journalists to create compelling news stories for the media. Mobile technologies have enabled average citizens to gather powerful stories and democratize the process of choosing which stories get told. Today, anyone can create breaking news. While the tools for production are widely available, a lot of coverage is of poor quality due to the lack of journalistic training. To combat this, the Illumin.us team is creating a mobile “pocket coach” to help anyone who wants to tell a story. The app will contain the basic tools and tips for capturing news and will be available to the curators of news. It will encourage people to use their own mobile devices to report anything from breaking news to simple stories worth sharing.
Martyn Williams then discussed his project to protect sources in an online environment. A few decades ago, newspapers went to great lengths to keep the identities of their journalists secret. Today, TV stations rely heavily on user submitted content online that is vulnerable to government surveillance. Williams’ goal is to use cheap and open source technologies to ensure that those submitting to news organizations are safe and accredited.
Djordje Padejski and T. Christian Miller are working on a freedom of information platform that will enable investigative journalists to access government information legally from any country with The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) type law. They argued that much of the information provided by Wiki leaks could be legally obtained through FOIA and other “Right to Know” laws, but there is no easy mechanism through which journalists can access public records internationally. Padejski and Miller’s project—the FOIA machine—would facilitate the usage of these under-utilized access laws. By automating the process, they hope to decrease bureaucracy, time and legal constraints. The FOIA machine will even target transnational issues by appealing to multiple governments’ records, revealing dissonance and promoting accuracy.
Emad Mekay from Egypt, discussed using technology to share government information from the U.S. with newspapers in the Middle East and North Africa. After covering the Arab Spring, he came to Stanford to work on projects to help the Arab media. Impressed by the openness of information in the U.S., Mekay came up with a plan to create an online news agency, using U.S. information technology and Freedom of Information laws to make Arab regimes more accountable and U.S. policy in the Middle East more transparent. The agency will act as a foreign correspondent for media outlets in the Middle East with a focus on getting news about the Middle East and North Africa region available in official sources in the U.S.