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<nettime> What Will Be the Model for a More Participatory News?
Ronda Hauben on Sun, 5 Feb 2006 19:38:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> What Will Be the Model for a More Participatory News?

Here's an article I did about some of the efforts to create a more
participatory form of news.


With the increasing failure of especially the US mainstream media
to provide the news needed to deal with the corruption our society
is plagued with, it would be good to see serious discussion of what
is needed and efforts to work together to create what is needed.
The following article I wrote that is in OhmyNews is a contribution
to beginning this process. Ronda

             What Will Be the Model for a More Participatory News?
                                     By Ronda Hauben

Recognizing that there is deep dissatisfaction with the mainstream
news media, especially in the US, a number of news reading companies have
opened web sites. Some are dot.com startups. A few are reported to have
substantial venture capitalist funding. (1) The goal of these startups is to
provide a new way for users to read the news. One such startup is Newsvine,
Inc. (2) Newsvine is currently in a beta version which is being tested by
invited users. One has to sign up at its web site in order to get an invitation
to join or get an invitation from someone who already has access. It will open
to the general public once the testing phase is finished.

Newsvine offers a number of features.  The site carries Associated
Press (AP) articles. It also includes ESPN.com articles for sports news that
it carries on its Top News page and Sports page. Users can comment on the
articles. Other functions are available. One of these is a "write a post"
function which enables users to write an article (called a column) to be
posted on Newsvine. It is  possible to link an article from some other web
site, and write a short introduction (called seeding). There is also a chat

A user who spends time and effort writing an article, however, finds
that the article has to compete for space and placement on Newsvine with the
many articles from AP. Hence many of the the user generated articles or
seeds are likely to be relegated to a difficult-to-find area on the web
site.  There are a few exceptions which make it possible for the article to
be placed in one of the few prominent spots available for user generated
articles. One way is to be selected as a Featured Writer by one of the
Newsvine staff. A second, is if the article has received a lot of comments
from other readers, or cliques on an icon put on the article for
that purpose, the article may be posted more prominently on the Newsvine

In describing his goal for Newsvine, CEO Mike Davidson explains that he
wants to provide an inviting environment for users to read news and to be
able to form a community. In response to a question about what problem
Newsvine is trying to solve, Davidson responded that, "the current crop of
major news sites simply lacks the feature set and social interaction
capabilities that users have been requesting for the last few years." He
believes that the startup news company which succeeds in drawing users to
form a community will be the winner in the competition among the growing
number of startup companies.

Newsvine currently has a five person staff. It has drawn a venture capital
investment from Second Avenue Partners, which like Newsvine, is physically
located in Seattle, Washington. The venture capital firm includes directors
who have worked at Microsoft, ESPN, and one who was an early investor in
Amazon.com. (3)

One of the areas on Newsvine which draws the most comments is the area
where users discuss Newsvine itself. Some of the posts point out problems
that have been identified, or questions that have been raised by a user's
experience on Newsvine. Many of the posts express appreciation by users to
the staff for creating a functional site. Also, some of the posts ask what
the aim is of Newsvine.  Newsvine is but one effort to apply the concept of
citizen journalist, or citizen reporter which has been pioneered by the
Korean online newspaper OhmyNews.

An important difference between Newsvine and OhmyNews is that Newsvine relies on
AP or ESPN for 80% of its content. OhmyNews created six years ago in
February 2000, was begun as a criticism of the mainstream conservative
media which dominated politics in South Korea. It is an online newspaper
which draws its content from contributions by citizen reporters or from the paid
staff it employs.

OhmyNews began and continues as a part of the movement for greater democracy
in South Korea. A progressive online media which welcomes participation and
articles from netizens is critical for such a movement.

OhmyNews pays its citizen reporters a small set fee for their articles,
depending on where they are placed on the OhmyNews web site. The decision
of where articles are placed is made by the editors. OhmyNews is a
commercial entity. It has ads on its web site. But a primary objective is to
create a significant 21st century news media that will help to extend the
development of democracy in South Korea.

Newsvine, and several of the other startup news sites, have a commercial
objective, hoping to become the Amazon.com or Ebay of news reading sites.
Newsvine says that it will offer users a portion of the advertising revenue
that comes from where their articles are placed. This has the danger of
focusing its writers on the ad sales process, rather than treating them as
journalists. Writers need to be paid, but tying what they are paid to the
ads near their articles can influence the writing process.  Describing this
problem in an article about another startup which uses this practice,
Stephen Bryant writes, "I'm all for making easy money, but I certainly don't
want to feel like a wage slave every time I post to a forum. And I don't
want to feel like revenue shares are my main economic incentive for being

While OhmyNews has worked out a number of ways of welcoming netizens to
participate in its news process in its Korean edition, only some of these
forms have been transferred to the OhmyNews English edition created to help
people who are not able to read Korean learn about OhmyNews. Writing as a
citizen reporter for the English edition, or spending some time reading it
provides a beginning introduction to OhmyNews. But it takes an additional
effort to learn about the Korean language edition and the role it has played
in the struggle to extend democracy in South Korea.  For example,  OhmyNews
played an important role in the election of 2002 when netizens made it possible
for a politician from outside of the political mainstream to be elected as
President of South Korea. (5) Roh Moo-Hyun is commonly called "the President
Elected by Netizens." Then in 2004 OhmyNews was again instrumental in helping
to overturn the impeachment of Roh Moo-Hyun.

A user commenting on Newsvine suggested that Newsvine is an effort to
integrate the citizen journalist aspect of OhmyNews into a site that
contains 80% of its articles from AP or ESPN. This is, however, a
contradiction in terms. The whole point of citizen reporters contributing to
an online newspaper is that their articles are featured, and when possible,
commented on. When articles by citizen reporters are relegated to an area
where few can find them to read or where they will get few if any
comments, the incentive for writing disappears. While AP articles are
widely available elsewhere, the articles contributed by users to Newsvine
are a unique resource. It requires time, effort, and a commitment to
encourage and support articles submitted by users. Also it helps if there is
a form and amount of payment to writers which recognizes the time and effort
it takes to write a worthwhile article. Telepolis, in Germany, is an example
of an online publication that contains valuable original content and
substantial online discussion by users since it began publication in the mid
1990s. (6) Telepolis publishes mainly in German, but also includes
occasional articles in English. Its payments for articles, called
an honorarium, are substantially more than the payments by OhmyNews,
and the articles it publishes often reflect considerable time and effort
on the part of its writers.

Another issue of concern to users is what will happen to the rights for
articles they contribute. Newsvine claims that writers will be able
to do anything they want with their articles, but that Newsvine will
get the right to do whatever they want with the articles writers submit.(7)
A recent article in OhmyNews notes that this means that any portion of the
article can be published by Newsvine or anyone they choose without any
mention of the author's name or without recognizing any rights belonging to
the author. Concerns raised on some blogs point to the problem that such a
broad statement of rights leads to, effectively canceling the value and
rights that go with authorship. Davidson's response to these concerns is,
"We don't intend on doing anything with user-generated content that isn't
specifically decided upon by the user.  It's all very benevolent, I assure
you, but you are right to dig into things and ask questions." (8) The rights
to the copyright on articles submitted to OhmyNews, on the other hand,
remain with the writer.

One Newsvine user from Germany, Martin Roesgen, commenting on the role he
feels Newsvine can play in meeting the needs of users, writes:

    "I think that blogs and forums have become a considerable force.
     Also many people (like me) do not want to rely on single sources of
     news, because we're all too aware how easy information is manipulated
     these days. So I think Newsvine comes in very handy here,
     although I hope there will be more news agencies in the future
     which feed the Vine directly (not only AP).

     But it's great to browse the articles users seed from all over the
     web. You become aware of much more going on in the world (given the
     time) and you get more details to issues you are interested in, including
     sources outside mainstream media.

     But to be honest, I don't know any other sites which promote the
     average-web-user-writes/links-articles and combines it with agency-news
     on such a scale....

     As for telepolis.de, I like that site very much. The articles are
     critical and often take a different approach to the mainstream. Here
     also, comments are directly under the articles they belong to, you
     don't have to go to a forum and look for the appropriate thread.

     I'd say all of these sites (though Newsvine the most) encourage
     communication which results in making the web tighter."

In general users who have access to Newsvine show, through the comments they
make on posts about Newsvine, that they are trying to help it to succeed.
This is an encouraging sign. If there is online discussion about Newsvine,
OhmyNews, Telepolis, and other online news alternatives, there is the basis
for a vision to emerge. Such a vision needs to articulate the problems with
mainstream news. There is also a need to grasp how a new news will have both
a new form and new content which will contribute to creating a more
democratic society. (10) A process of both welcoming the contributions of
citizen reporters and of providing a broader and more socially oriented form
of news has begun, though it is still in its infancy.


Web sites referred to in article:


OhmyNews in English

Telepolis mainly in German



(1)"Wow the News startup space sure has heated up", Topix.net weblog,
January 19, 2006.

Topix lists Internet news sites:

Newsvine, TailRank, Gather.com, Memorandum, Digg.com, Findory, Associated
Content, Jeff Jarvis/Upendra Shandanand/Craig Newmark news startup,
Backfence, Pegasus News, Tinfinger, Inform, topix.net

Topix reports that five of these sites have funding from venture capitalist
firms, with Gather.com with $9M in funds, and Newsvine with close to $5M in

There are a number of other sites not in the list, such as commonmedia.org

For a comparison of some of the different sites, see: Tinfinger, Monday,
January 23, 2006, Feature Lists for News 2.0


(2) John Cook, "Seattle startup Looking to Transform News", Seattle Post-
Intelligence, posted on Media Channel, Nov. 11, 2005


(3) Stephen Bryant, "Is Ad Revenue Sharing the Future of Publishing?
Publish, January 20, 2006.


(4)Ronda Hauben, Advancing "News guerrillas"
08.09.2005, Telepolis. http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/20/20853/1.html

(5) Telepolis, http://www.heise.de/tp

(6) The Newsvine user agreement says in part:
"you hereby (a) grant Newsvine a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free,
perpetual and fully sublicensable and transferable right to use, reproduce,
modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from
and publicly display and perform such User Content throughout the universe
in any media, now known or hereafter devised; (b)grant Newsvine, its
affiliates and sublicensees the right to use the name, identifier, or any
portion thereof, submitted in connection with such User Content, if they so

(7)Gregory Daigle, "Citizen Journalist Content - Who Owns It? Citizen
journalists, media, or public?", OhmyNews, 1/20/2006

(8) Mike Davidson, The Proof is in the People, January 18, 2006.

(9) About the dissatisfaction with the mainstream news media in the US,
see Michael Hauben, "The Effect of the Net on the Professional News Media",
in "Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet",

(10) For example, writing in the 1820s, almost 200 years, the philosopher
James Mill recognized that unless there is active and adequate oversight
over government officials and the processes of government, they will
not be able to resist the pressures to be corrupt. The Internet and the new
news sites that it makes possible can perhaps make it possible
to provide shine a searchlight on government officials and government
processes. See Michael Hauben, "The Computer as a Democratizer",


A German version of this article appears in Sonntagsbblick.

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