How do you turn audio clips into a multimedia journalism project?

Snap_1This question has obsessed me ever since I first met Aadi Seth of the rural radio company Gram Vaani, years ago. GV and other similar projects have enormous troves of what we bloodlessly refer to as “audio data.” Over the past two or three years, companies and nonprofits that use IVR menus to create mobile-phone-based networks have racked up hundreds of thousands of users in India.

A few months ago, I listened to some of these data for the first time. Seth’s team sent me a list of clips about rural-urban migration. As I clicked through the translations and listened to farmers and villagers – in their native languages – describe the joys and heartbreak of being far from home, I realized something: these are great stories.

Seth shares a similar conviction. Enter the most recent Hacks/Hackers Delhi hackathon, which focused on finding new ways to tell women’s stories. I was keen that one group take on the challenge of working with these audio clips and designing an engaging, compelling web story around them. Luckily, GV had recently partnered with our hackathon partner, Breakthrough, on a campaign where they asked women to share their views and experiences with early marriage. They donated these audio data to us, each clip tagged with its location.

Led by Sonia Paul and Neil Holt, a team of coders, journalists and researchers spent the weekend dividing up the clips, translating them, and then building the web framework for an interactive digital audio-magazine.

For those who are interested, below are the screengrabs from their final presentation (h/t 100% Sonia Paul). In addition to being beautiful, they suggest a way to integrate and share voices from India’s rural regions. If you want to know about other projects from the hackathon, here’s the site.

If you want to join Hacks/Hackers New Delhi and be part of our next hackathon, you can do that here.

Why does this matter?

India’s rural, phone-enabled population is huge. Internet penetration is very limited. There are a lot of interesting stories – particularly those related to social justice and administration – that happen in these areas. India’s rural areas represent a big market and a big electorate, but are also fragmented by language and tradition. For companies like GV, there are commercial opportunities in tapping these markets.

But also – when we talk about issues like early marriage, there’s nothing quite like hearing about it from those who have actually been affected. These clips offer a glimpse into the social attitudes that prevail outside major metros, and offer a chance to more deeply understand why and how early marriage persists.

In terms of rural coverage, India’s major English-language media tend to focus on outlandish khap panchayat verdicts and persistent low human development indicators. Our goal was to find ways to disrupt and/or enhance this narrative.

Plus, it’s just cool.

The wireframes of the final digital magazine, in order (click the thumbnails below the gallery to enlarge individual images):

[cycloneslider id=”an-audio-magazine-of-womens-stories”]


The video of the presentation:

Follow NeilSonia, Sunny, and Manasi on Twitter.

Why are top journalists leaving mainstream media?

Well, Brian Stelter certainly hasn’t lost anything in the move from the NYT. Two interviews about highly-publicized and high-profile journalists who are leaving big traditional newsrooms (where they have very good roles) to start something new.

Bill Keller – of NYT – is starting a digital media org that’ll focus on issues and abuses in the American criminal justice system. Laud the motive, appreciate the possibility. Read Stelter’s interview with him.

Ezra Klein’s new Project X – an as-yet-largely-undefined explanatory news site under the Vox Media banner. Here’s Stelter’s interview with Vox CEO Jim Bankoff.

I remember when Andrew Sullivan took the Dish independent, and shock waves went through the industry. Many people ran his numbers and said he’d never get enough subscribers to offset his costs. In the case of Klein, much has been made over Wonkblog’s 4 million visitorship figure (which doesn’t seem all that high).

But it also makes me wonder at this broader trend of top journalists leading major news orgs to start their own digital media ventures. In a piece in Nieman Lab, @kendoctor posited one possible cause: “No printing presses or broadcast pipes.” He says “relatively cheap entry” at about $25 million is now achievable. To be fair, most of these new ventures aren’t projected to be cheap – they’re the opposite. Keller’s site will employ some 20-25 full-time journalists.

Doctor also points to the increasing mobility of individual journalists, who have become content brands in their own right and want to own larger shares of the revenue pie. This isn’t just a greedy move, it’s a smart one, since as he points out, the competition for online ad dollars is already pretty brutal. Doctor says that top journalists have enormous Twitter followings in their own right. To his observation, I’dd add that the digital age has given us very visible and obvious ways to measure the brand value of individual journalists (this brand value probably existed before, but it was lumped in with a newspaper’s general “readership” – which we didn’t parse so closely). Now that we can measure hits, engagement, and RTs for every story and every page, journalists use metrics that even venture capitalists can understand. The shift seems dramatic because it’s taken place so quickly.

These moves make me wonder:

As the competition for talent becomes more intense, are mainstream media organizations losing out?

And if so, what can they do to change that? Walt Mossberg reportedly walked away from AllThingsD in part because he wasn’t offered a sweet enough deal to stay.

In the Millennial age, workers value job “security” less than ever. What do they want? Big challenges, the chance to grow their personal brands, equity or something like it. This is a game where traditional news orgs are going to lose  unless they can find a way to offer that kind of control, risk-taking and profit-sharing.

The other aspect is work culture, and a reputation for valuing really good journalism, rather than just aggregation/virality. A lot of the sites that are coming up plan to spend big (relatively speaking) on talent. Journalists – like all of us – have a tendency to see themselves as indispensable, but the point here is that these ventures are creating jobs for good reporters and writers – for good journalists (something mainstream media companies haven’t been doing for a very long time).

We’ve been talking about “entrepreneurship” within the journalism industry for so long – maybe the chickens are coming home to roost.

It’s natural that those with the ability and talent to take big risks will attract big opportunities. But the industry has also encouraged this new mentality, with conferences, papers and debates over how to bring a culture of entrepreneurship into the journalism industry. Clearly, the efforts are succeeding.

At the end of the day, these projects are great for our industry. But could Keller’s new project – anchored by good reporting and a clear sense of public purpose – have found a home at the NYT itself? And if not, is that something the NYT should be worried about?

(Also see: this story on Vivian Schiller’s move from NBC – and a many-year career in mainstream media organizations – to Twitter.  Another sign of how the competitive landscape for journalistic talent has shifted dramatically in just a few short years. And this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. As Doctor mentions in the piece above, online ad dollars have gravitated towards big players like Facebook and Google, both of whom are looking for new and creative ways to monetize the relationships between community, technology and content.)

Laser mice, fire-breathing shoes, and other visions of the future

2014-02-01 13.58.58So I was at the final presentations for the MIT Media Lab – WE School design innovation workshop. Why? Firstly, I was scouting for design talent. Secondly, it’s basically a hackathon on steroids, and everyone knows how I feel about hackathons.

Out of thousands of applications, some 300 students/young professionals were selected for the 7-day workshop, and organized into groups working on projects in one of ten tracks. These tracks included banking, grassroots innovation, the future of imaging, etc. Their brief was to visit an institution (bank, school, etc) and then spend the seven days – under the guidance of MIT Media Lab students from the US – creating a working prototype of a futuristic product that solved a problem in their category.

The projects ranged from the fantastical – a group projected images onto fog, another created lightbulbs that jumped when they sensed a person passing under them – to the practical – an e-learning game for girls who drop out of school, a 360-degree camera embedded in a bracelet.

I didn’t see all of these projects, but here’s a video of one of the coolest groups I did meet. They’d created a project that could sense the thickness and size of any surface placed underneath it. The projector would scale the projection to the size of the screen (in the video below, the demonstrator is unfolding a piece of paper. As he unfolds it, the image expands).

They’d also created depth sensation, so that as someone moved the paper up, the image zoomed in or out. Especially fascinated was the way the sensor responded to the picture of a boy. As the paper was moved closer to the sensor, the projector began to cycle through a slide show of the boy aging.

Who wrote the code, I asked. Someone pointed to a skinny kid standing next to his computer. “I’m fourteen,” he said. Geez. (He was a precocious exception. Most of the participants were 18-26 years old). He walked me through the 10,000-line program that controlled the sensors. He had written several sets of code to control the device.

Here’s a video of the team that projected images onto fog. They were part of a track called “Magical interfaces.” Which might explain why, the moment I saw this presentation, I thought of Galadriel’s enormous bowl of magical water from Lord of the Rings. (And now you know why I hang around at hackathons)

Here’s one of a team that connected a laser pointer to a computer mouse. (Ignore my chirpy commentary, please).

Alas, I have no video of this, but one of the teams also designed fire-breathing shoes. (Except that the fire was a specially constructed and contained chemical reaction – or so it looked like.)

Of course, the really fascinating stuff is happening at MIT’s Media Lab, for which this event seems to serve partly as a recruiting exercise. Several professors – including the spectacular Pattie Maes (remotely) – presented the work that their research groups are looking at. Maes spoke about the smarter devices work her group is doing, as well as a dual-sensor system embedded in a ring (the ring reads aloud to blind people.) More of their work on their site.

Ramesh Raskar spoke briefly at the beginning about his group.

The response environments group head, Joseph Paradiso, presented a whole lot of cool stuff happening with sensors. He talked about circuit stickers and this absolutely, insanely cute social story-gathering robot that one of his team mates built. (Seriously, this robot is the cutest thing since Nemo.) I especially liked the idea of the story-gathering robot because of its obvious interfaces with journalistic practice. The idea that we could one day use robots to tell stories – or even do portions of field reporting – is the sort of thing that probably strikes people as sacrilegious now but could one day be a valuable part of SOP.

*The image up top comes from an art project one group created as part of their fabrication prez. The pieces – connected by elastic thread – are supposed to resemble origami.

What Will Facebook India Do To Attract Women?

This report in ET the other day caught my eye. Key stat: “out of the 94 million monthly active [Facebook] users in India, 72 million are men – which amount to a staggering 76% of the total Facebook population in India.” This fact has been widely reported, but I’ve yet to trace it back to an official source (FB’s Q4 calls, slides and statements make no mention).

Now, let’s examine this in closer detail, because I was surprised by these figures. I would have expected a majority of FB’s Indian users to be men (because majority of Indian Internet users are men), but I wouldn’t have expected such a pronounced majority. HOWEVER.

According to the report, FB has 94 million users in India. According to a 6-month-old report in NextBigWhat, FB has 62 million mobile users in India. According to this Tech2 report from September 2013, nearly 90% of India’s mobile Internet users are men.

Let’s assume the same percentage applies for FB. That means that out of 62 million mobile users, some 55.8 million are men.  There’s your gender gap. (Can’t calculate it more exactly, since we can’t assume that the mobile and desktop users for FB are exclusive groups). But we can conclude out of the 22 million Indian women who are regularly using FB, at most one third are accessing on mobile as well. This is an issue for FB only in that its strongest growth has been in mobile, and it increasingly looks like the future of the FB product will be a mobile one.

So does FB India have a woman problem? No, they have a mobile women users opportunity.  Google recently announced “Helping Women Get Online” – a campaign to get 50 million Indian women online (and, it goes without saying, using Google products.) Their pages features messages like “The Internet made simple” and their official blog says “India’s digital gender gap is larger than those of most developing countries and closing it is crucial.”

It’s only a matter of time before FB follows suit.

Fun additional fact: Globally, FB’s users skew slightly female.

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