#131 – Ben Wikler is looking for a good fight

Ben Wikler is always looking to do some good, whether it’s as the Washington director of MoveOn.org, the political advocacy group, or as the host of The Good Fight, a podcast that loves telling David vs. Goliath tales.

Ben Wikler

Ben Wikler is the Washington director of MoveOn.org and the host of The Good Fight podcast.

We talked to Ben back in 2013, when he told us about his journey toward advocacy, his time at The Onion and his experiences working with Al Franken on Air America and on Franken’s book, “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

Ben also told us about his friendship with Aaron Swartz and the experience launching their first podcast, The Flaming Sword of Justice — a name that we at It’s All Journalism love and, when Ben’s back is turned, we plan on stealing.

As The Good Fight enters its second year, Ben is turning to his listeners to help him with his own David vs. Goliath tale. He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to help fund the podcast.

While we can’t tell you how to spend you money, we do think The Good Fight is a good thing to fight for. While the rest of us schlubs are podcasting about feel-good things like movies, video games, football and other nonsense — saving journalism, indeed! — Ben is actually doing some good. That should be worth something.

Michael O’Connell

Find out more about The Good Fight with Ben Wikler’s Kickstarter Campaign.

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#130 – Conflict through Ben Lowy’s eyes

Ben Lowy didn’t set out to be a conflict photojournalist or even a photographer, for that matter. He went to school to become an illustrator and used photography as a tool to help him draw the human form.

But, in a New York bookstore, he came across a copy of Inferno, James Nachtwey’s collection of war-crime photos from the 1990s, and the direction of his life changed.

Ferguson, Missouri Protest by Ben Lowy

Ferguson, MO | Nov. 25, 2014: A protester points out the origin of a smoke bomb thrown at a police and national guard formation outside the Ferguson police department, the night after riots rocked this St. Louis Suburb.
(Photo by Ben Lowy)

“That idea of witnessing something so powerful that the rest of us, most of the time, choose not to see, choose not to care, to me, that was incredibly powerful and a righteous thing to do,” he said. “That’s very specifically why I went really into conflict photojournalism as the first thing that I did in photography. It wasn’t trying to do fashion or trying to do sports. It was very specifically trying to do conflict photojournalism.”

Lowy developed an interest in world events by watching the news with his father while he was growing up. This helped him develop an appreciation for things that were going on around him.

“Seeing what was happening in the world, between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9-11, which was my adolescence in the ’90s, that’s where my eyes really opened and I started paying attention to the world around me and seeing that there were so many things that were happening, whether it was in the Balkans or in the Caucuses, that the world would say, ‘Oh that’s horrible,’ and then go about our day,” he said. “To me, that wasn’t good. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t what I was personally about.”

It’s difficult for Lowy to translate what he was thinking as a 23-year-old, going to Israel and the Middle East, setting out to teach himself how to be a conflict photojournalist.

Photo courtesy of Ben Lowy

Photo courtesy of Ben Lowy

“I wasn’t really thinking about changing the world as much as being an idealist and wanting to help in some way, and this was my way of doing it,” he said.

Lowy sees two aspects to his role as a conflict photojournalist. One is capturing the humanity of those involved in the conflict.

“There are very intrinsic similarities between people the world over and that idea gets lost in the fray of demagogues and policy hacks and think tanks and everyone has their opinion,” he said. “That intrinsic humanity of how we’re all the same gets lost. And I think it’s a very big thing to try to photograph humanity within the horrible environment so somehow it can relate to someone back home.”

The other aspect is the traditional photojournalist’s job of simply documenting events.

“I’m not naive enough to think that I’m going to change the world and stop war from happening,” Lowy said. “But I think that it is worth remembering what has been done and what will be done to create an archive of our history on this planet for good or for bad.”

In this week’s podcast, Ben Lowy talks to It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell about his experiences of covering war and conflict around the world, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Sudan, Libya and Ferguson, Missouri. He also discusses how covering these events have impacted his life and the challenges photojournalists face when they choose to go into dangerous places. You can view Lowy’s work by following him on Instagram or find out more about him at his website.

Michael O’Connell

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#129 – Cartoonists react to Paris attack

“It is every cartoonist’s worse nightmare and it’s absolutely chilling. Sadness, shock and horror.”

Cartoonists react to Paris attack

Artwork by political cartoonist Jen Sorensen and used with her permission. View the the full cartoon on Fusion.

That’s how political cartoonist Jen Sorensen described her reaction on hearing of the Jan. 7, 2015, attack on the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo magazine by two Islamist gunman.

The shootings killed 12, including cartoonists Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Philippe Honoré Tignous and Georges Wolinski.

“It definitely, I would say, is an attack on cartooning,” Sorensen said. “I certainly feel terrible for the victims, as we’re all kind of members of the tribe, the cartooning tribe.”

Sorensen draws a weekly cartoon of political and social satire that appears online at Fusion.net and in more than 20 alternative newspapers.

After the initial shock, Sorensen’s next impulse was to leap into action. She began reaching out to cartoonists from around the world. The end result was “12 great cartoon responses to the Charlie Hebdo killings,” a feature she put together with Andy Dubbin.

As events unfolded, other cartoonists began posting their art and news outlets began reprinting the works on their websites and in social media.

Erin Polgreen, editor of the online comics journalism magazine Symbolia, was concerned that many media outlets appeared to be reprinting the artwork without the artist’s permission or even offering to pay for the work. She wrote about her concerns in TPM: “Hey, Media: Instead of Lionizing Charlie Hebdo, Support The Artists You’re Exploiting.”

Cartoons, comics and cartoonists are Michael Cavna’s beat, as the editor of the Comic Riffs column in The Washington Post. In the aftermath of the Paris shootings, he aggregated the reactions of cartoonists on social media and reported the American cartooning community’s response to the attack.

In this week’s podcast, It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell interviews Jen Sorensen, Erin Polgreen and Michael Cavna on their reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attack and how the media — and the cartooning community in particular — responded. For those wishing to show their support for cartoonists around the world, Sorensen recommends donating to Cartoonists Rights Network International.

Michael O’Connell

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#128 – Mobile journalism gets its MoJo

Glen Mulcahy‘s first foray into mobile journalism took place in 2010, when he was training video journalists at an event in Budapest

“I took my iPhone 4 and some of the accessories that I had slowly accrued over a few months and I decided to shoot a news package just to see more than anything else,” he said.

Glen Mulcahy teaches mobile journalism.

Glen Mulcahy is the innovation lead for technology with RTÉ-Irelands National Public Service Broadcaster and the organizer of the first international mobile journalism conference, MoJoCon.

Back then, Mulcahy was a video journalist working for RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster.

In Budapest, he used the FiLMiC Pro app to shoot the video and edited it on his iPad using iMovie. He then FTPed the finished video back to Dublin.

“I didn’t tell our guys in the quality control room that it was shot on an iPhone,” he said. “I just asked them to give me the thumbs up or the thumbs down on the quality and they passed it. And for me it was a bit of a revelation, I kind of thought, ‘I wonder if I had told them it was shot on an iPhone would it be more scrutinized more acutely?'”

Returning to Ireland, he replicated his mobile journalism experiment with one of the video journalists at RTE using the same equipment.

“He shot a full story for broadcast,” Mulcahy said. “It passed the quality control checks after being FTPed and it was broadcast. It was then after it went to air that I then revealed the big show of ‘This is all just done on the iPhone.’ And it created quite a bit of reaction, some of our union people had something to say. Even the director general weighed in and asked how it happened and what was the theory behind it.”

This led to a presentation to management and an investment of money in the RTE Mobile Journalism Project, which is now in its third year.

Neal Augenstein, the technology editor at WTOP in Washington, D.C., has blazed his own trails with mobile journalism, using the iPhone to report the news on a daily basis. He’s profuse in his praise of the work Mulcahy is producing at RTE.

“Glen, with his training and his background, really approaches it the way a professional photo journalist would, and he’s able to teach people how to use this consumer tool to make some incredible art and news,” Augenstein said.

Spreading the mobile journalism MoJo

As a way to spread the message of mobile journalism, Mulcahy has organized the first international mobile journalism conference, MojoCon 2015.

“Part of the logic behind MoJoCon is to try and unite a global network of storytellers who have embraced mobile and to put them on the stage together, so they can share their stories and tell people about what they achieved,” Mulcahy said.

The conference, which takes place March 27 and 28, in Dublin, brings together mobile storytellers from around the world and offers training opportunities in the technology and storytelling techniques they use as mobile journalists.

“It is the core conference where you get to hear a fairly unique panel of speakers talk about their experiences,” he said. “Running in parallel, there’s an exhibition space where you can literally do hands-on time with some of the most visible hardware solutions and app solutions that are on the market.”

On the second day of the conference, attendees will have the opportunity to train with some of the panelists, including Augenstein.

“They’re going to share their knowledge and do three-hour workshops on what they do best,” Mulcahy said. “So, if I was a journalism student or if even I was a print journalist with no exposure to telling stories with video, for me, this would be quite a holistic way for me to get full open sight of all the different, amazing initiatives around the world, look at some of the gadgets and gear without spending money online and then learn from some of the best people in the business.”

Michael O’Connell

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#127 – Mike Causey walks the federal beat

Mike Causey covers the federal workforce for — wait for it — Federal News Radio. He formerly worked for The Washington Post, where he also wrote a column about the federal government.

Mike Causey covers the federal workforce.

Mike Causey has been covering the federal workforce for more than 30 years, first at the Washington Post and now for Federal News Radio. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Causey started out as a “messenger” — which ranked lower than a copy boy — at The Post, while attending college at night. Among his early assignments was being the “bodyguard” for The Post reporter covering the first Beatles concert in Washington, D.C.

“They did not who — what — The Beatles were except it was a big deal,” Causey said. “The fear was there would some kind of riot or some kind of problem.”

During the Civil Rights movement and riots of the 1960s, D.C. was under a curfew. Reporters were one of the few groups of people that were legally allowed out after a certain time of night. As a result, their press credentials glowed so they could be seen in the dark.

Causey eventually took over “Federal Diary” at The Post, which is a column for government workers. Now, he writes a similar column for Federal News Radio and hosts the Your Turn radio show.

“I don’t think the average person has a clue as to what government workers do,” Causey said.

Causey has a good relationship with his readers, who are incredibly loyal. Sometimes, his followers give him tips, such as recent information about the IRS. The agency has cut about 13,000 people from its ranks, which is complicating tax collections, Causey learned from a reader.

Some of the federal workforce jobs can sound kind of crazy. For example, Causey has talked to high-paying government scientists who spent most of their time trying to take the temperature of bears through their — well, listen to the podcast and find out. Strange federal projects are sometimes backed up with logical reasoning. Other times, they are the result of the whim of a congressman.

“Government workers — by and large — don’t sit around and dream up these projects,” Causey said.

Julia O’Donoghue

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#126 – Digital security protects free speech

Shauna Dillavou is quite comfortable with paranoia, especially when it comes to journalists and their digital security.

Shauna Dillavou talks digital security

Shauna Dillavou, left, co-founder and executive director of Community Red, talks to It’s All Journalism Producer Megan Cloherty. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

“Digital security, we tend to focus on what it’s going to take to make free speech as free as possible,” said Shauna Dillavou, cofounder and executive director of Community Red. “That’s going to depend on who’s reporting it and where and what they’re saying.”

Community Red helps journalists around the world assess heir threat model and come up with strategies to protect their information and themselves from “bad actors,” whether they be dictatorial regimes or drug lords seeking to eliminate reporters covering wrongdoing.

“The idea is we want people to think about who they are in the space and time that they’re operating, their geography, the politics around them, what that means to them, and then what they want to say,” Dillavou said. “And so, if you can look at that and the aggressors, the people who may not like to hear what you’re saying, and their potential to do you harm, like what ways they could potentially be getting to you, and the information that you have and what could happen to you as a result.”

In this week’s podcast, Producers Megan Cloherty and Michael O’Connell talk to Shauna Dillavou of Community Red about what her organization is doing to help citizen journalists worldwide. They also discuss what steps journalists can take to protect their information from prying eyes and the impact threats like GamerGate and the Sony hack have on free speech.

Michael O’Connell

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#125 – Designing for the demands of media

WASHINGTON – Designing and developing websites for media is something former journalists and media technologists do best. That’s Josh Kadis’ take. He helps media organizations design and manage the volume and content of their product.

Kadis is the director of product development at Alley Interactive. Prior to moving to Alley he was senior technologist at Quartz.

Josh Kadis

Photo courtesy of Josh Kadis

“We are a full service digital agency. We do technical strategy, user experience and interface design and development,” he says. Working with media organizations, Kadis says his team can use their industry experience to partner with organizations like the Online News Association.

In one of Alley Interactive’s latest projects rebuilding and relaunching the The New York Post, the agency found WordPress isn’t for second tier, smaller news organizations. It in fact is as appropriate for larger publications.

“Historically, there’s been a reluctance on the part of a lot of media organizations to use open content management systems. And I think in part that reflects some genuine things on a technical level specifically in terms of how you connect to the kinds of content management system you need if you’re using the same thing for print and digital,” he says.

They’re finding as they build high volume sites, using a proprietary CMS is unnecessary for anyone. It’s expensive to build and challenging to maintain, Kadis says.

In this week’s podcast, Kadis also talks about designing websites to meet the demands of media outlets and how to analyze metrics to better understand an average reader’s habits on a media website.

Megan Cloherty

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#124 – Oculus Rift and immersive journalism

Putting a reader inside a story is nothing new for journalists. That’s part of the job description. You’re the witness. You’re the reporter. You’re the proxy for the person who’s not there. You use the tools and tricks of the trade to help them see the events as you’ve reported them.

Anthony DeBarros is the director of Interactive Applications at Gannett. (Photo by Jack Gruber, USA TODAY staff)

Anthony DeBarros is the director of Interactive Applications at Gannett. (Photo by Jack Gruber, USA TODAY staff)

But what if one of those tools helped to actually put the reader in the middle of the story, so they could see events unfold around them? That would be kind of a cool thing, right?

That’s one of the promises of Oculus Rift, a three-dimensional, immersive, virtual-reality technology being tested by Gannett Digital.

To access the Oculus Rift experience, a viewer dons a headset that contains a smartphone-sized screen that takes up the entire field of vision. Motion tracking and an accelerometer are incorporated into the headset, so as the viewer moves, the image projected on the screen moves with them.

“The total effect is that when you’re viewing an experience, the experience is all around you,” said Anthony DeBarros, director of Interactive Applications at Gannett Digital. “It’s as if you’ve stepped inside of a world. If you move your head to look up in the experience you’re looking up. If you look to the left or right, in the experience you’re looking left or right.”

The experience DeBarros is describing should be understandable to anyone who’s played a 3-D video game. Oculus Rift and similar technologies are the next step in immersive storytelling within the gaming realm. Big companies like Facebook and Sony are investing heavily in developing the technology.

But, journalists may have a hard time seeing the practical application for reporting the news.

“Most of the early interest in this has come from the gaming world, and that’s to be expected, because something that’s so immersive and so interactive is going to naturally lend itself very well to existing gaming environments,” DeBarros said. “But once you start to get an understanding of what the technology does, it’s not very hard to be able to set aside the whole idea of gaming and start to think about, ‘Well, what are the other applications for this?'”

DeBarros and his team at Gannett took the journalistic plunge last summer with Harvest of Change, a project they developed with The Des Moines Register. Rather than telling a whizz-bang story with video-game like visuals, they chose a visually mundane — though journalistically important — story to tell about the current state of family farming in Iowa.

“What we do as journalists is really all about telling stories,” DeBarros said. “Traditionally, as writers, as photographers, as builders of interactive applications, the thing that we try to do is bring our readers or bring our viewers into the story. We either do that with very good descriptive writing or we do it with well-produced audio and video or we do it with interactive applications that let people dive into the data. Virtual reality is just simply an extension of those kinds of storytelling tools. It’s another medium that journalists could make use of to tell stories.”

Michael O’Connell

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#123 – Innovation specialist Jackie Kazil: Everyone should innovate

The word “innovation” keeps dogging Jackie Kazil.

Currently, she’s an innovation specialist in the General Services Administration’s 18F office, which she describes as a “tech shop” for the government.

Jackie Kazil

Jackie Kazil is an innovation specialist at the General Services Administration’s 18-F office. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Before Kazil became a federal employee, she worked at The Washington Post when the concept of an “innovation editor” was introduced.

“I remember when the positions were created, because I thought to myself … what is this title ‘innovation editor’ and how does it give you some sort of license to innovate?” she said. “It was almost like ‘You can innovate and you cannot.'”

Later, after she’d made the transition from data journalist to government programmer, Kazil became a Presidential Innovation Fellow in the Obama administration, which amused her former coworkers at the Post.

“A couple of ex-colleagues of mine had said to me, ‘Jackie, innovation fellow? Really? The person who had mocked the innovation editor title?'” she said.

It’s not that Kazil dislikes the word or the concept of “innovation”; rather, it’s the exclusivity of picking one group or position as an “innovator” that she questions.

“Everybody should be doing it,” she said. “That is a title that will go away. … There’ll probably always be like a research or labs component to places, like how can we test the boundaries? But, the idea of sort of innovating in the way that we are is going to be an everyday thing.”

In this week’s podcast, Producer Michael O’Connell talks to Jackie Kazil about her journey from being a data journalist to working for the federal government. She says that those two careers aren’t as different as you’d think. She also shares some tips about what skills potential data journalists should pick up.

Michael O’Connell

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#122 – Geeks, GamerGate and games journalism with Aram Zucker-Scharff

Aram Zucker-Scharff is a self-described geek. Which is OK, because if you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ll know that I’m a geek too.

Zucker-Sharff’s particular flavor of geek is gaming. As a freelancer, he’s covered the video gaming industry for the past couple of years. He also moderates Facebook discussions on gaming and a number of other topics too.

Photo courtesy of Aram Zucker-Scharff

Photo courtesy of Aram Zucker-Scharff

When I found out that he was in D.C. for a few days, I invited him into the studio to talk about a topic that’s been floating around at the edge of my awareness for the past few months now, namely, GamerGate.

When I say that I’ve been sort-of aware of GamerGate, I mean that I’ve seen things pop up loudly in social media and the mainstream press about sexism, bullying, harassment and journalism ethics. I learned a new word — doxing — which is when someone uses the tools of the Internet to find out personal information about an individual and publish it online for everyone to see.

There’s been a lot written about GamerGate. Here are some of the better pieces I’ve come across:

GamerGate is big and deep and dark and ugly, and I don’t pretend to understand all of it.

But it’s clear that it’s something we all need to become more familiar with because it forces us to confront many of the new realities borne out of the digital culture we are building around the Internet.

This is not just a geek thing.

— Michael O’Connell

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