At Contributoria we recently released the figures on the right of this page to do just that, take stock of what’s felt like a remarkable first year for the independent journalism network myself, Matt and Dan launched into the world on January 1 2014.
Only in existence for a year and already it seems like a lifetime ago we won that Google IPI News Innovation Contest with the basic idea for its prototype.
But, exciting as they are, the stats only tell part of the story. Behind those blunt measures, there’s been plenty of conversations, plans and dreams too. And for me, a major pre-occupation throughout 2014 has been thinking about ‘what journalists really want.’
The easy answer is to say, ‘proper financial recognition’ and of course, money is always going to be an issue. But once the payment question is out of the way, what then? What really matters every day?
Measure of everything
Publishers spend plenty of energy working out metrics and measures for just about everything – page views, dwell time, shares on social platforms etc. etc. and that’s great to get a feel in aggregate but, what really gets a writer fired up?
I don’t know m/any journalists who get out of bed in the hope that the shareholder will get a better return on their news org’s holding! Without being puffed up about it, didn’t we all get into this to ‘change the world’ in some small way?
Looking for common threads running through the work of many of the Contributoria writers, a really important outcome would seem to be around the impact their work has, its influence.
And that’s one of those things that’s hard to measure despite being easy to spot when it does happen.
Stories with impact
We saw this recently with the startling piece by Harry Vale who wrote about his first hand experience of working in a High Street bookmakers.
It was one of those pieces of writing that couldn’t be ignored – it screamed, snarled, swore and spat in the faces of those who think having access to gambling machines on every poverty-hit spew-splattered street corner is acceptable.
To date its been widely read and shared from the Contributoria site; prompted complaints to the Gambling Commission (the Confidential intelligence line is at 0121 230 6655 if you feel moved to do that too); been read and tweeted by campaigning MP Tom Watson and featured on the primetime BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show (last Friday if you want to listen again).
Harry’s on his way to writing the second instalment just now and my gut feeling is that this still has some way to play out. Follow what happens next here.
Perhaps another interesting measure of influence can be seen in the global reach and appeal of a story and the places it travels. We’ve seen this many times over the year and do our best to help writers track what happens after their articles are published under a Creative Commons non-commercial share and attribution licence.
Rich McEachran’s piece on the feasibility of eating insects was one such piece. While it was a popular read here in the UK – where we’re seemingly happy to eat bacteria-filled chicken but wince at the idea of grubs – it also had resonance in parts of the world where eating insects isn’t quite so taboo.
The topic was such a good talking point for South Africans that the Big Issue magazine there used the story for its cover issue – and sold out.
As well as the arresting image, the editors there provided a useful recipe and asked ‘crickets or beef?’, providing an informative nutritional breakdown.
I asked Rich about the article’s popularity:
Some people don’t like to be told what to eat, but they do like to be intrigued. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of their meat consumption … I guess the article has been popular with both camps because, even though the thought of eating insects is yuckish, the idea that we could all be consuming them in the form of cookies and tortillas, snack foods that we love, made from cricket flour, makes us want to taste them and find out more. Well I do anyway.
Back in July, two of the Contributoria writers, Jen Wilton and Liam Barrington-Bush travelled to Spain to find out more about the unusual town of Marinaleda. They couldn’t have known as they packed their passports just how that story would mushroom into publications around the globe, including:
- Truth Out (1,900 Likes)
- Yes! Magazine (1,500 Likes)
- New Internationalist (1,000 Likes)
- ROAR Magazine (1,000 Likes)
- The Ecologist
and then last month it was translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil.
I wondered if they could explain the huge success of that article. Liam said they both felt it had something to do with the positive message expressed:
“Lots of progressive press can be as guilty of just writing more and more stories highlighting the bad stuff out there (with good cause), but which can have a really demoralising effect on peoples’ outlook. So when alternatives come to light, I think they provide a bit of relief, that the world isn’t as bad as it can sometimes appear from reading the news…”
Here’s to even more of that in 2015!
* If you’d like to join the freelance writers on Contributoria.com and get paid for your original journalism – from anywhere in the world – join us here.
And if you’d like a print edition or e-reader of the best stories from our online issue each month, then you can sign-up for those there too.
Today is World Toilet Day. If that’s something you haven’t come across before, let me share a few details with you here as it’s a topic that’s becoming increasingly urgent.
If you’d told me this time last year, I’d be blogging about bogs, well, I’d have doubted you to say the least, but various things have happened during 2014 that have brought this issue into sharp relief. Even if they hadn’t, just seeing the dreadful sanitation in areas suffering with Ebola should surely be enough to make even the least interested person sit up and be thankful for their cushioned toilet roll.
Like most people in the UK, toilets are something I take for granted. The fact that we can all have one at home, that we don’t really think about every flush – these things have always been present in my lifetime. But in many places that’s still an unachievable luxury, which is why the United Nations Development Goals includes a sanitation resolution calling for an end to what is termed ‘open defecation’.
You don’t need to dwell too long on those words to grasp their meaning and, shockingly, a huge 2.5 million people do not have access to the most basic of toilets and so are forced ‘elsewhere’.
It’s an issue that has been high on agenda for some of the journalists and activists I’ve been fortunate to work with this year.
At Contributoria.com, our lead story this month also takes a look at this issue. In his piece, The world’s biggest problem and how to fix it, journalist Sam Hailes talks about the activities of fledgling philanthropists Adam and Pete James who discover the dirty truth about this great need.
“We thought we might end up on transport or building roads,” Adam says referencing The West Wing, “but actually that’s not the most significant contributing factor to global poverty. There are bigger pieces to the puzzle. The scale and the value we would add to trying to solve that, is minimal. Clean, safe toilets is where we landed.”
On top of preventing poverty and ending violence to women, Adam believes clean, safe toilets can also provide jobs and even education.
“If we deliver dignity, which is part of what a toilet does to that community, can we also deliver the dignity of business to women? Is there a way of building that into what we’re doing?”
That impact on the lives of women and girls is an aspect that another Contributoria.com writer, Emma Jayne addressed back in June in the UNDP sponsored issue for that month. In an article titled Toilets save lives, she raised fears that the current target will be missed by the organisation and added:
“Toilets have many other benefits too, particularly for girls and women. Many girls end up missing up to a week of school a month when they start menstruating as there is nowhere to change or dispose of sanitary protection. This means they often fall behind in their work and more likely to drop out of education. 1 in 10 African girls do not attend school during menstruation, or drop out at puberty because of the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools, according to research by UNICEF.
The simple act of building a toilet can have huge implications for their future. Toilets also help protect women and girls from violence. When they are out seeking somewhere to defecate after dark. they are vulnerable to sexual assault and also from attacks by wild animals.”
This isn’t only an issue for remote rural outposts with little infrastructure. A group of activists I’ve recently come across while doing media training work in South Africa are busy tracking the public toilets issue for their township near Cape Town – a place that needs no introduction as a major city, tourist destination and business centre.
And when I say ‘public toilets’, let’s be clear, these aren’t facilities for people caught short while out of the home – these are the ONLY facilities, shared in communities without access to home toilets.
The organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi has carried out an audit of the toilets in Khyaelitsha – they are dirty, they are broken and they are unsafe. They produced the video at the top of this page and also this data rich map looking at every facility.
You’ll be hearing more about their work in the coming months too……
But for now, when you flush today, spare a thought on World Toilet Day for those who really can’t (and shouldn’t have to) wait.
* Follow news about the day on Twitter @worldtoiletday and via the hashtag #wecantwait.
“Do you have a Twitter and a Facebook account?” That question is just about standard these days at the start of any training session which is going to involve media and comms.
And so it was for the participants of the latest citizen reporting training sessions I’ve been running with Raymond Joseph for activists in South Africa. Nothing unusual in that and it can be a great starting point to a wider discussion about social media with a group.
But ultimately, it’s also a pretty limited question – after all, just because a person has an account, it doesn’t follow that a. They know how use it effectively or b. It suits their professional needs.
During our training sessions to date, we’ve tended to talk more about the underlying principles of social media and how it works in the whole mix of media available to a storyteller these days.
- Try out different platforms, but go back to the one that works best for you. If your audience mainly contact you on Twitter use that; if they favour Facebook, focus your energy building the community there.
- Pick a metric and measure the impact of your social content. This might be likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter or simply the quality of conversation you have around a topic.
- Keep your organisation’s tone of voice consistent. Having lots of different styles is confusing, so establish your values, have them agreed and supported across all levels of stakeholder plus provide training to those involved.
- Think about a visual element. How about publishing video clips regularly on YouTube, Instagram or Vine? Use more pictures. Images embedded directly into Twitter are 94% more likely to get more retweets.
- When. Post less and at specific times. Facebook or Twitter analytics tell you when your community is most active, so concentrate on those times.
- Think short and shareable to cut through the noise. It needs to be new, important or genuinely funny to engage an audience.
Having some general approaches in mind can help people focus on which platforms will be most suitable for their particular projects and campaigns as well as hopefully providing them with some future-proofing for when THE NEXT BIG THING inevitably comes round the corner.
However, there is also a role for some detailed hands-on, ‘how to’ training which is why I’m pleased that we’re going to be offering two short one-day courses which will get into the nuts and bolts of the most popular platforms in the new year. (If you’re interested in signing up for that, please do get in touch).
This work in Cape Town is going to continue in February when we’re going to be working with some of those mapping, investigating and exploring major issues thanks to the support of the Indigo Trust.
Their work unearths some incredibly important issues – participants in this last workshop are looking at everything from the campaigning around antiretroviral drugs to the state of a township’s public toilet provision for example.
I hope to be able to share more of their stories in the coming weeks and months. If you’re interested in following, there is a Twitter list for the participants here and we are using the hashtag #MediaCT.
* The picture gallery above is by participant and journalist Kim Harrisberg. It shows the session taking place at the home of Code 4 South Africa, Codebridge, Cape Town and the hook-up via Google + Hangout with The Guardian in London.
Image: Dean Vipond.
One of the most inspiring things about working on Contributoria.com has been the global spread of issues and interests our writers have demonstrated.
Here is just a snapshot – this month’s issue mapped, simply touch the image to explore the world of stories.
Although most active in the UK and Europe (not surprising considering that’s where the team is based) the growing community of writers has also been turning their attention further afield.
The global nature of the coverage is something we noticed from day one on the platform and is continuing apace, helping to answer one of our initial aims in starting the site by exposing new writers and stories that might not otherwise emerge.
If I had to pick three personal favourites from this month which show that diversity, I’d suggest taking a look at Naomi Klein: “We’re not who we were told we were” (Canada), Kalashnikovs and cameras on the road to Syrian freedom (Syria) and Who makes the best cup of tea: George Orwell or Douglas Adams? (UK).
The full range of articles from the October issue can be access via the map above or by continent here:
- Do political attitudes to tech need a 21st-century upgrade? By Clare Speak
- Who makes the best cup of tea: George Orwell or Douglas Adams? By Jon Bounds
- A juicy affair: 3D fruit and other printed foods. By Rich McEachran
- Betty Tebbs: Woman of our time. By Bernadette Hyland.
- The town of entrepreneurs. By Aneira Davies.
- Newham Council and the LOBO loan scandal. By Joel Benjamin.
- Is there life out there? How the world’s largest telescope could tell us everything.By Katiem.
- Birmingham’s food revolution. By Jon Card.
- One year on, has Birmingham turned over a new leaf? By Wilko.
- Death by cow. By James Alexander.
- Shakespeare’s universal language and 450th birthday. By Tugay Kest.
- What’s in your backpack? By jonhickman
- #altbeebies: Modern day kids TV through the eyes of silly grown ups. By Stuart Parker.
- An enthographic study of group dynamics pertaining to the observance of the ritual of ‘football’. By Danny_Smith
- Family welfare in Finland – a lesson for Scotland. By Helena Greenlees
- Context, Conflict, & Historical Consciousness: Pondering the Meaning of Ukraine. By Spindoctorjimbo.
- Who’s taking care of protecting your privacy? By Basile Simon.
- Meat the future. By Rich McEachran.
- Someone I met in September. By Danielle Batist.
- Income inequality: how big is the gap between Ireland’s rich and poor? By Mark O’Brien.
- Fast walking V slow walking. By James Alexander.
- Unusual design: Objects being fashioned from food. By Rich McEachran.
- Social sport coaches reach most vulnerable players. By Danielle Batist.
- Encounters with history in Berlin. By Hannah Wilson.
- Naomi Klein: “We’re not who we were told we were”. By Liam Barrington-Bush.
- The other Maradona. By Gonzalo Zegarra.
- The rise of revolutionary street art in Oaxaca. By Jen Wilton.
- Child labour in Bolivia: “Let us work”. By Michael Ertl.
- Ladies of the garden. By Julie Schwietert Collazo.
- Mapping out trade policy with human values. By Fanny Malinen.
- Cocaine: an uneasy paradox in the Colombian Pacific. By Colombia Calling.
- Ten promises… because I said I would. By Danielle Batist.
- How many people have to die before we open our minds to mental illness? By Thomas Roden.
- Magic mushrooms for depression, MDMA for PTSD: the 21st century revolution in psychedelic psychotherapy. By Monthrie.
- Sugar: the next “tobacco war”? Bt Jennifer Parker.
- Can a song change the world? By Adam Pearson
- Can insects learn to love eating us? By Jeremy Blachman.
- My long healing journey. By Giulia Loi.
- Kalashnikovs and cameras on the road to Syrian freedom. By Joris Leverink.
- Iran, inside out. By Joshua Virasami.
- Women risk everything in fight for human rights. By Tania_Haas.
- Investigating reports of rising antisemitism. By Mischa Wilmers.
- Israel & Ireland: Some personal reflections on conflict & resolution. By James MW.
- Why is the British government arming Israel? By Steve Rushton
- Lessons from the Holocaust: racism, genocide and the Gaza crisis. By Joe Turnbull.
- The life of a hand-rickshaw puller. By Arpita Chakrabarty.
- Baluchistan on the brink. By Joshua Virasami.
- Lost to the race of modernity. By Akhilesh.
- Is Madrassa education relevant? By Gagandeep Kaur.
- Working close to nature. By Trisha Bhattacharya.
- Travel stories from the pink city. By Trisha Bhattacharya.
If you’d like to join the freelance writers on Contributoria.com and get paid for your original journalism – from anywhere in the world – join us here.
And if you’d like a print edition or e-reader of the best stories from our online issue each month, then you can sign-up for those there too.
I’ve been experimenting with different ways to get the message out about the opportunity to collaborate on stories I’m working on and came across this neat way to embed multimedia elements into a single picture. Called http://www.thinglink.com, it means you can embed the links to other media (using different styles of icons) and create an easily shareable final interactive image. No code required.
Simply mouse over the image and the buttons to click onto for additional material become visible.
I’m just about to finish this story about a charity working with entrepreneurs in Congo which has been funded by members of Contributoria and so have created this particular image in a bid to spread the word here on my blog, via my newsletter, on Twitter and Facebook etc.
But it’s very easy to see how it could be powerfully applied to a news feature with multimedia elements emanating from a strong picture too.