Muslim New Media Producers

Muslim producers in the U.S. and abroad are addressing the narratives of Muslim audiences through multiple media outlets.

Watch all past Producers Guild of America New Media Council events.

The Muslim world has been one of the fastest-growing markets for Internet and mobile services and Muslim producers have delivered cross-platform storytelling in the western world successfully for several years, despite political and cultural backlash.

The new generation that is expressing its collective voice loudly in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’ through social media networks is only a part of the diverse, nearly 1.6 billion-strong worldwide Muslim community. Learn how Muslim producers in the U.S. and abroad are addressing the narratives of Muslim audiences through multiple media outlets.

Speakers include

Tariq Khan, COO, Muxlim (the largest global online Muslim community)

Muxlim ( is the first major effort to create a broad online community for the global Muslim audience. The social network combines interactive video, audio, blogs, polls and images, and is focused on the Muslim lifestyle as part of a diverse, all-inclusive world which recognizes and welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds who want to share, learn and have fun.

Mahdis Keshavarz, founder, The Make Agency

As social media producer, journalist, and human rights advocate, Mahdis Keshavarz has worked to deliver stories for Middle Eastern audiences, both domestically and internationally, working with international dignitaries, Hollywood stars and numerous film festivals and events. An accomplished advocate of human rights and social justice issues, Keshavarz has written for the online magazine Slate and has appeared as a commentator on BBC and Democracy Now!. She serves on the advisory board for the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association, the Center for Social Inclusion, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship Program.

Dana Offenbach, producer, ‘Mooz-lum’

Dana produced the film ‘Mooz-lum’ – starring Danny Glover, Nia Long, and Evan Ross – which looks at a young Muslim’s coming-of-age and conflicts between his strict upbringing and the social life he’s never had. The film’s new media marketing, which included a broad social media community, demonstrates how producers can overcome zenophobia and cultural ignorance by building online and mobile audiences. Her work with director Qasim Basir resulted in an independent distribution deal, in a groundbreaking partnership with AMC Theatres. She recently opened her own production company, CinemaStreet.

Mahyad Tousi, co-founder and CEO, BoomGen Studios

Having grown up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the succeeding war, Mahyad brings a cross-cultural view to his work as an entrepreneur, producer, and artist. His work as both producer and cinematographer on award-winning television and film features has been melded with his growing work as a transmedia producer. Having founded BoomGen Studios three years ago with best-selling author Reza Aslan, Mahyad develops multi-platform entertainment concerning the cultures and peoples of the Greater Middle East, and develops social media engagement services for major studio releases, including ‘Prince of Persia;’ ‘Rendition,’ ‘Amreeka, and others.

Panel Discussion

Interactivity and Social Mechanics in Video

Transmedia storytelling case studies.

New digital technologies are allowing creators to explore compelling new types of storytelling. Interactive videos, Transmedia, Social Films, and user generated content — the techniques vary, but the results are deeper viewer experiences and improved audience engagement.

Established networks and studios tend to simply re-purpose linear video content that was created for one medium (television/cinema). They post it on the Internet and simply attach functionality to it, generally at the end of the piece. This approach is flawed and inconsistent with the most basic tenets of the modern web experience: non-linearity and social interaction.

No surprise, the indie crowd is leading the way. A crop of new filmmakers and digital storytellers are pushing the boundaries to explore how to integrate interactivity and social mechanics into video narrative. The results are both promising and inspiring. Let’s take a look at a few.

The Wilderness Downtown

Indie-rock darlings Arcade Fire pushed boundaries of the music video with The Wilderness Downtown, (launched in the Summer of 2010). Through a partnership with, B-Reel, and Google, Director Chris Milk created an entirely new type of music video experience.

A viewer inputs the address of their childhood home and the video begins a fantastic journey through various Google Earth views of the viewer’s neighborhood. The visual experience is multi-layered and climaxes with a drawing application that asks viewers to write a message to a younger version of themselves.

The experience is highly personalized and for a fan of Arcade Fire, creates an even deeper connection with the band and it’s music.

Johnny Cash Project

Another innovative video project from Director Chris Milk is The Johnny Cash Project, an interactive website where participants draw their own portrait of Johnny Cash that is then integrated into a collective whole.

As drawings are added the project evolves and grows, one frame at a time. Viewer-submitted drawings are strung together in sequence and paired with Cash’s haunting song. The result is a living, moving, and ever changing video portrait of the Man in Black, created by his fans.

Pandemic 1.0

Created by Transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler, Pandemic 1.0 is a comprehensive storyworld that extends beyond one medium. So far it consists of a short film (“Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259”) and a multimedia, real-world story experience first presented at Sundance 2011.

The Pandemic 1.0 storyworld unites film, mobile and online technologies, props, social gaming, and data visualization. It ran during Sundance 2011 and allowed audiences to step into the shoes of the Pandemic protagonists anytime during the day.

This approach of telling the story across a variety of media channels reveals a number of compelling results. The creators are able to “R&D” various story elements, new business models/revenue streams are created, and the potential audience size for the story is dramatically increased.


Collapsus was developed by Submarine Channel in partnership with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO. The project was directed by Tommy Pallotta and combines video blogging, interactive maps, fictional newscasts, live action footage, and animation.

The story explores the impending energy crisis and was created to raise awareness of the global issues of peak oil. As viewers interactive with Collapsus they assess information and make decisions about the world’s energy production at both a national and global scale.

As a hybrid game/film, the experience immerses the viewer in a true cross-media narrative. Collapsus is presented in a unique three-paneled interface that allows users to switch from interactive game, fictional film, and documentary. In this way the user is able to determine how they want to experience the story.

Him, Her and Them

Created by my company, Social Film studio Murmur, Him, Her and Them is a short film released as a Facebook application. The film tells two interwoven stories that involve an average young man living in the city — the narrative shifts back and forth between the lightness of a burgeoning office romance, and the dark, unsettling memories of a recent mugging.

As a Social Film it combines a cinematic narrative with social interactivity. The film contains both linear narrative and interactive scenes. In the interactive scenes viewers can add to the film and their friends can too. This approach embeds social functionality (sharing, commenting, liking) into the narrative thread.

This mix of original and user-generated content creates a highly personalized experience, one that is intimate and shared within one’s social circle of friends.


The above projects show the promise of a deeper integrated, interactive, and social film/video experience. New business models are being created and audiences are engaging in ways that were previously not possible.

As interactivity and social functionality continue to play an ever-increasingly important role in entertainment it will not be long before these types of experiences are the norm.

Future Journalism Project Does NYC

Reporting from New York on disruption and opportunity in American journalism — a short video update on who we’ve been talking to and what you can expect to see.

Over the past few months we’ve been exploring current disruptions and opportunities in American journalism by interviewing great minds about their thoughts on — and efforts in — a remarkably fluid and changing landscape. The video above introduces some of whom we’ve been talking to.

Following the FJP

Project Background

Our goal is to launch a Web site in early 2011 that houses these interviews so that those interested in the future of American news media have a deep resource through which they can explore changing newsrooms, business models, education and the stakes all this has on democracy itself.

Interested in Collaborating? We are Too.

A good place to start is joining us at our Tumblr blog at A few of us are posting there now. A few more would be great. If you’re passionate about the changing journalism landscape and want to join in, send us an email and tell us a bit about yourself.

We’re also looking for hacks and hackers of all stripes:

Sponsorship Opportunities

Interested in being a Future Journalism Project Sponsor? We are too!

Contact us and we’ll let you know how we plan to integrate Sponsors across the Web Site, the Podcast Series and feature length documentary planned for 2011.

You can learn more about the scope of the project here (PDF).

News and Updates

You can follow our progress on Tumblr or on Twitter (@futureJproject), or send us an email at

Video Still: Heading for the Scrap Heap by John O’Connell via Flickr. Used with permission.

Monetizing Original Web TV Programming

There are no get rich quick schemes in the world of online video. Prepare to break a sweat and earn your money video producers.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Sponsored by

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Jenni Powell, New Media Consultant, (LonelyGirl15, The Guild, Legend of Neil), currently with DeFranco Inc, moderated a panel discussion at the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles about making money with online video.

As web video continues to grow and mature due to technological advances and audience awareness, the question still exists of how to monetize it, whether via funding, sponsorship, or other strategies. The panel discussed the various ways content creators can successfully finance and/or gain profits from their work. Topics include branded entertainment, sponsorships, the use of transmedia elements to extend the audience experience, and unique and creative ways to garner funding (including but not limited to crowdsourcing, fan donations, web-a-thons, etc.).

In short, there is no quick fix diet or get rich scheme when it comes to making money with online video. Building an audience, attracting sponsors, and producing interesting content all take time, effort and sweat. I interviewed both Jenni (above), and Susan Miller, Executive Producer, Writer, Anyone But Me (L Word, Thirtysomething), whose interview can be seen below.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Jenni and Susan offered some advice to content producers. Some of the highlights are:

  • connect and cultivate relationships with fans. They will be your champions;
  • think about the marketing side as you begin to create your concept and produce your show, not as an after thought;
  • ask prospective sponsors for product and / or gear to borrow instead of cash, especially if you’re in the early stages and can’t point to a large rabid audience yet (The Bannen Way used this strategy with Jaguar and Rayban);
  • approach brands that make sense related to your content and show that you’ve done your homework when you articulate why they would be a good fit;
  • push your content out through multiple channels (youtube, blip, vimeo, iTunes, Hulu, Flickr) using a service such as TubeMogul;
  • tweet about your show and ask your friends and fans to retweet;
  • be prepared to wear all hats (writer, producer, casting director, DP, gaffer, editor, PR, shamelessly self promote in a tactful way) and, lastly;
  • make sure your content is good…cause none of the above matters if your show / series / production is not very good.

Transmedia Storytelling

Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment teaches a Transmedia Master Class.

Watch all past Producers Guild of America New Media Council events.

Transmedia development, production and implementation is now fully in practice at the highest levels of companies such as Disney, Saban, Microsoft and Mattel. Around the world, visionaries are generating stunning multi-platform endeavors based on the principles of transmedia. Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, is the world’s foremost expert at developing entertainment properties and premium brands into highly successful transmedia franchises. He has worked on such properties as Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory, Halo, Transformers and the upcoming Tron Legacy.

In this, his first Master Class, Jeff candidly shares his latest experiences in the field funding, planning, creating and producing highly engaging story worlds that maximize both the creative potential of your work, equity participation and subsequent revenues. Case studies include analysis of some of the biggest entertainment franchises of today, and the discussion includes advice on how to apply these concepts to your own projects, large or small, fact or fiction.

Transmedia Storytelling Part 2

Transmedia Storytelling Part 3


CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment

Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, is the world’s foremost expert at developing entertainment properties and premium brands into highly successful transmedia franchises. As a creative consultant to Fortune 500 companies, he contributes strategic planning and production for the cross-platform implementation of content.

Jeff conceived, co-wrote and produced one of the most successful transmedia storylines of the decade with Mattel’s Hot Wheels comic books, videogames, web content and animated series. He has gone on to work with such franchises as Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron Legacy for The Walt Disney Company, James Cameron’s Avatar for 20th Century Fox, Halo for Microsoft, Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company, Transformers for Hasbro, and most recently Men in Black 3 for Sony Pictures.

Jeff is a member of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) East Executive Committee and serves on the national board of the PGA New Media Council.

Brent Weinstein
Head of Digital Media, United Talent Agency
Brent is one of the leading figures in the digital media industry, helping develop content deals for broadband, videogame, and mobile platforms. He formed the digital media practice at United Talent Agency in 2003, where he leads a team of dedicated digital media agents to identify and evaluate opportunities for UTA clients: actors, writers, directors, producers, and recording artists, in addition to many business-to-business and consumer-oriented technology and corporate clients. Brent, with UTA co-founder and partner Jeremy Zimmer, also formed UTA Online, a dedicated broadband division that finds and represents the next generation of web-based content artists. In 2007, Brent served as the CEO of 60Frames, a privately-held, venture backed company dedicated to financing, ad sales and syndication of original professionally produced entertainment content for the internet. The company was incubated by United Talent Agency and Spot Runner, an innovative internet-based advertising agency.

During his tenure at UTA, Weinstein made digital media deals for many of the best known artists in entertainment, including Johnny Depp, Jack Black, Jim Carrey, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as well as top digital media artists such as Big Fantastic (“Prom Queen”), AskANinja (, and others.

Prior to joining UTA in 2001, Weinstein practiced corporate and business litigation in Los Angeles and Irvine, California. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where he earned a Bachelors degree in Business Administration, and the University of San Diego School of Law.

On Architecture and Music

David Byrne walks us through nightclubs, cathedrals and rain forests and asks how music is affected by the venue it’s created for.

It’s an interesting thought experiment: how do our musical venues affect the type of music that’s actually created and played.

Do large concert halls and sports stadiums change the composer’s process in the type of compositions he or she creates?

David Byrne most definitely thinks yes as he walks us though cathedrals, small clubs and the rain forest to explain how acoustics are affected by environment.


This is the venue where I, as a young man, some of the music that I wrote was first performed. It was, remarkably, a pretty good sounding room. With all the uneven walls and all the crap everywhere, it actually sounded pretty good. This is a song that was recorded there. (Music) This is not Talking Heads, in the picture anyway. (Music: “A Clean Break (Let’s Work)” by Talking Heads) So the nature of the room meant that words could be understood. The lyrics of the songs could be pretty much understood. The sound system was kind of decent. And there wasn’t a lot of reverberation in the room. So the rhythms could be pretty intact too, pretty concise. Other places around the country had similar rooms. This is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville. The music was in some ways different, but in structure and form, very much the same. The clientele behavior was very much the same too. And so the bands at Tootsie’s or at CBGB’s had to play loud enough — the volume had to be loud enough to overcome people falling down, shouting out and doing whatever else they were doing.

Since then, I’ve played other places that are much nicer. I’ve played the Disney Hall here and Carnegie Hall and places like that. And it’s been very exciting. But I also noticed that sometimes the music that I had written, or was writing at the time, didn’t sound all that great in some of those halls. We managed, but sometimes those halls didn’t seem exactly suited to the music I was making or had made. So I asked myself: Do I write stuff for specific rooms? Do I have a place, a venue, in mind when I write? Is that a kind of model for creativity? Do we all make things with a venue, a context, in mind?

Okay, Africa. (Music: “Wenlenga” / Various artists) Most of the popular music that we know now has a big part of its roots in West Africa. And the music there, I would say, the instruments, the intricate rhythms, the way it’s played, the setting, the context, it’s all perfect. It all works perfect. The music works perfectly in that setting. There’s no big room to create reverberation and confuse the rhythms. The instruments are loud enough that they can be heard without amplification, etc., etc. It’s no accident. It’s perfect for that particular context. And it would be a mess in a context like this. This is a gothic cathedral. (Music: “Spem In Alium” by Thomas Tallis) In a gothic cathedral, this kind of music is perfect. It doesn’t change key. The notes are long. There’s almost no rhythm whatsoever. And the room flatters the music. It actually improves it. This is the room that Bach wrote some of his music for. This is the organ. It’s not as big as a gothic cathedral, so he can write things that are a little bit more intricate. He can, very innovatively, actually change keys without risking huge dissonances. (Music: “Fantasia On Jesu, Mein Freunde” by Johann S. Bach)

This is a little bit later. This is the kind of rooms that Mozart wrote in. I think we’re in like 1770, somewhere around there. They’re smaller, even less reverberant, so he can write really frilly music that’s very intricate — and it works. (Music: “Sonata in F,” KV 13, by Wolfgang A. Mozart) It fits the room perfectly. This is La Scala. It’s from around the same time. I think it was built around 1776. People in the audience in these opera houses, when they were built, they used to yell out to one another. They used to eat, drink and yell out to people on the stage, just like they do at CBGB’s and places like that. If they liked an aria, they would holler and suggest that it be done again as an encore, not at the end of the show, but immediately. (Laughter) And well, that was an opera experience. This is the opera house that Wagner built for himself. And the size of the room is not that big. It’s smaller than this. But, Wagner made an innovation. He wanted a bigger band. He wanted a little more bombast. So he increased the size of the orchestra pit so he could get more low-end instruments in there. (Music: “Lohengrin / Prelude to Act III” by Richard Wagner)

Okay. This is Carnegie Hall. Obviously, this kind of thing became popular. The halls got bigger. Carnegie Hall’s fair-sized. It’s larger than some of the other symphony halls. And they’re a lot more reverberant than La Scala. Around the same, according to Alex Ross who writes for the New Yorker, this kind of rule came into effect that audiences had to be quiet, no more eating, drinking and yelling at the stage, or gossiping with one another during the show. They had to be very quiet. So those two things combined meant that a different kind of music worked best in these kind of halls. It meant that there could be extreme dynamics, which there weren’t in some of these other kinds of music. Quiet parts could be heard that would have been drowned out by all the gossiping and shouting. But because of the reverberation in those rooms like Carnegie Hall, the music had to be maybe a little less rhythmic and a little more textural. (Music: “Symphony No. 8 in E Flat Major” by Gustav Mahler) This is Mahler. It looks like Bob Dylan, but it’s Mahler. That was Bob’s last record, yeah.


Popular music, coming along at the same time. This is a jazz band. According to Scott Joplin, the bands were playing on riverboats and clubs. Again, it’s noisy. They’re playing for dancers. There’s certain sections of the song — the songs had different sections that the dancers really liked. And they’d say, “Play that part again.” Well, there’s only so many times you can play the same section of a song over and over again for the dancers. So the bands started to improvise new melodies. And a new form of music was born. (Music: “Royal Garden Blues” by W.C. Handy / Ethel Waters) These are played mainly in small rooms. People are dancing, shouting and drinking. So the music has to be loud enough to be heard above that. Same thing goes true for — that’s the beginning of the century — for the whole of 20th-century popular music, whether it’s rock or Latin music or whatever. [Live music] doesn’t really change that much.

It changes about a third of the way into the twentieth century, when this became one of the primary venues for music. And this was one way that the music got there. Microphones enabled singers, in particular, and musicians and composers, to completely change the kind of music that they were writing. So far, a lot of the stuff that was on the radio was live music, but singers, like Frank Sinatra, could use the mic and do things that they could never do without a microphone. Other singers after him, went even further. (Music: “My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker) This is Chet Baker. And this kind of thing would have been impossible without a microphone. It would have been impossible without recorded music as well. And he’s singing right into your ear. He’s whispering into your ear. The effect is just electric. It’s like the guy is sitting next to you, whispering who knows what into your ear.

So at this point, music diverged. There’s live music, and there’s recorded music. And they no longer have to be exactly the same. Now there’s venues like this, a discotheque, and there’s jukeboxes in bars, where you don’t even need to have a band. There doesn’t need to be any live performing musicians whatsoever. And the sound systems are good. People began to make music specifically for discos and for those sound systems. And, as with jazz, the dancers liked certain sections more than they did others. So there early hip-hop guys would loop certain sections. (Music: “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang) The MC would improvise lyrics in the same way that the jazz players would improvise melodies. And another new form of music was born.

Live performance, when it was incredibly successful, ended up in what is probably, acoustically, the worst sounding venues on the planet, sports stadiums, basketball arenas and hockey arenas. Musicians who ended up there did the best they could. They wrote what is now called arena rock, which is medium-speed ballads. (Music: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2) They did the best they could given that this is what they’re writing for. The tempos are medium. It sounds big. It’s more a social situation than a musical situation. And in some ways, the music that they’re writing for this place works perfectly.

So there’s more new venues. One of the new ones is the automobile. I grew up with a radio in a car. But now that’s evolved into something else. The car is a whole venue. (Music: “Who U Wit” by Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz) The music that, I would say, is written for automobile sound systems, works perfectly on it. It might not be what you want to listen to at home, but it works great in the car — has a huge frequency spectrum, you know, big bass and high-end and the voice kind of stuck in the middle. Automobile music, you can share with your friends.

There’s one other kind of new venue, the private MP3 player. Presumably, this is just for Christian music. (Laughter) And in some ways it’s like Carnegie Hall, or when the audience had to hush up, because you can now hear every single detail. In other ways, it’s more like the West African music because if the music in an MP3 player gets too quiet, you turn it up, and the next minute, your ears are blasted out by a louder passage. So that doesn’t really work. I think pop music, mainly, it’s written today, to some extent, is written for these kind of players, for this kind of personal experience where you can hear extreme detail, but the dynamic doesn’t change that much.

So I asked myself: Okay, is this a model for creation, this adaptation that we do? And does it happen anywhere else? Well, according to David Attenborough and some other people, birds do it too. That the birds in the canopy, where the foliage is dense, their calls tend to be high-pitched, short and repetitive. And the birds on the floor tend to have lower pitched calls, so they don’t get distorted when they bounce off the forest floor. And birds like this Savannah sparrow, they tend to have a buzzing (Sound clip: Savannah sparrow song) type call. And it turns out that a sound like this is the most energy efficient and practical way to transmit their call across the fields and savannahs. Other birds, like this tananger, have adapted within the same species. The tananger on the east coast of the United States, where the forests are a little denser, has one kind of call, and the tananger on the other side, on the west, (Sound clip: Scarlet tanager song) has a different kind of call. (Sound clip: Scarlet tanager song) So birds do it too.

And I thought: Well, if this is a model for creation, if we make music, primarily the form at least, to fit these contexts, and if we make art to fit gallery walls or museum walls, and if we write software to fit existing operating systems, is that how it works? Yeah. I think it’s evolutionary. It’s adaptive. But the pleasure and the passion and the joy is still there. This is a reverse view of things from the kind of traditional romantic view. The romantic view is that first comes the passion and then the outpouring of emotion, and then somehow it gets shaped into something. And I’m saying, well, the passion’s still there, but the vessel that it’s going to be injected into and poured into, that is instinctively and intuitively created first. We already know where that passion is going. But this conflict of views is kind of interesting.

The writer, Thomas Frank, says that this might be a kind of explanation why some voters vote against their best interests, that voters, like a lot of us, assume, that if they hear something that sounds like it’s sincere, that it’s coming from the gut, that it’s passionate, that it’s more authentic. And they’ll vote for that. So that, if somebody can fake sincerity, if they can fake passion, they stand a better chance of being selected in that way, which seems a little dangerous. I’m saying the two, the passion, the joy, are not mutually exclusive.

Maybe what the world needs now is for us to realize that we are like the birds. We adapt. We sing. And like the birds, the joy is still there, even though we have changed what we do to fit the context.

Thank you very much.


Citizen Journalism as Early Warning System

Ground Report Founder and CEO Rachel Sterne talks citizen journalism and an interesting question arises: in our evolving journalism landscape, can sites such as hers serve as early warning systems to mainstream media organizations?

Are citizen journalists more agile than their professional counterparts, often breaking news before the big boys have had time to react?

About this Screencast

This screencast is from a course I teach at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs that focusses on how NGO’s, non-profits, governmental agencies and citizen journalists use Internet and mobile technologies to communicate with core constituencies.

Future lectures as the semester progresses will be posted here.

The answer is quantitative and anecdotal rather than qualitative, and looks in part on how people use social tools such as Twitter and Facebook to report on the world around them. It also includes content produced for citizen journalism sites such as upstarts EveryBlock, Global Voices and Neighborhoodr as well as mainstream initiatives such as CNN’s iReport and AOL’s high profile Patch network of community news sites.

Social Web followers are familiar with the fact that the first image of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River appeared on Twitter; Facebook’s use by activists to report on protests in Moldova, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere; and Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and other social networks as prime channels for the world to learn what was happening in the streets after the contested 2009 Iranian elections.

More recently, Jose L. Leyva wrote about how citizens in Monterrey, Mexico are taking to social networks— and creating new ones — in order to document drug cartel violence.

Twitter, Facebook and other online forums have also become a primary source of information in a society in which self-censorship and anonymity have become one resort for journalists covering the drug war to avoid threats by cartels or harassment by Mexican authorities. Social media platforms have also become a place in which people eager know what’s going on the streets can get real-time information.

Interesting too are anecdotes given by Rachel Sterne, Founder and CEO of Ground Report, a global citizen journalism site launched in 2006. Speaking to a class I teach at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Rachel put her site head to head with the New York Times to demonstrate how her network of 9,000 reporters has broken news ranging from January 2008 suicide attacks in Peshawar to Albino killings in Tanzania.

While readily admitting that her network of reporters can’t compete with mainstream outlets like the Times on access and persistent, overall journalism quality, she does outline how citizen reporting such as that done on Ground Report brings entirely new perspectives and voices to the news cycle. In that way, she thinks publications like Ground Report can function as early warning systems in our future journalism environment.

This idea dovetails nicely with a conversation I had with Mitchell Stephens, Journalism Professor at NYU and author of A History of News, over the summer for the Future Journalism Project documentary I’m working on. At the time he said something counterintuitive that makes more sense as I’ve thought about it over time: Journalists, he said, have to get out of the news business.

By this he meant focussing less time on being a “reporter” telling the world about the daily events that are going on, and more time being a “journalist” contextualizing the significance of what is going on. In other words, in a social media landscape where we already know the who, what, where and when, journalists and news organizations need to harness their scarce resources on delivering the how and why.

Perhaps, as Rachel suggests, citizen journalism sites such as hers can increasingly fill the early warning reporting role. As she says in her presentation above, her contributors aren’t necessarily amateurs, they’re often journalists in their own countries or subject matter experts with deep knowledge of the specific verticals they’re writing about.

In Rachel’s screencast above, she talks about Ground Report, its founding, how it works and who it reaches. She also offers insight into the technical and sociological changes occurring across the the Social Media Landscape. The screencast and her slideshow are available for download below.

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Image Credit: James Nash via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Watch Out Hollywood, Open Source is Here

Hardware and software costs have long blocked independent animators from competing with the big boys of Hollywood in the animation space. That may be changing.

Price barriers have long prevented independent animators from creating films that can compete with the production values of Hollywood spectaculars by the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks. Software costs and the rendering farms needed to produce Shrek, Ratatouille and WALL-E simply run outside the budgets of small production houses.

But the Dutch Blender Foundation and its production arm, the Blender Institute, may be changing that.

Take a look at the video above. It’s the third Open Movie project the Institute’s released and in the past week it’s proved a hit with over 1.2 million views on YouTube.

This is impressive by any stretch but more so because the movie was created using Blender’s eponymous Open Source 3D rendering software.

The 15 minute movie is called Sintel and tells the story of a young female warrior who befriends a baby dragon while out to slay an evil one. The film was created by an international team the Foundation pulled together after sending out a 2009 public call for artists. Also important is Blender’s adherence to its Open Source ethos by using Open Source wherever and whenever possible.

As they wrote the on the Sintel Site during the film’s creation:

For the entire creation pipeline in the studio, we will only use free/open source software. For 3D graphics, compositing and video editing we’ll obviously use Blender. For imaging and drawing we expect to use GIMP and Inkscape a lot. Next to these, we’ll explore the very promising paint programs MyPaint and Krita. Render output will be in OpenEXR. Scripting will be done in Python. Studio database storage will most likely be in SVN. The workstations in the studio will be equipped with 64 bits Linux, distro and desktop environment is to be defined later. We intend to build our own render farm this time, for which a free software solution will be required as well.

The free and Open Source Blender software used to create Sintel is available for Windows, Linux and Mac. To think that they’re able to create films with the production values seen here after just a few years creating the software is amazing.

Hollywood should watch its back. With tools like this available, a whole new generation of animators will be able to compete on screens large and small in the upcoming years.

Sintel is licensed under the Creative Commons and is available for download from the film’s Web site.

Arts, Technology, Human Rights

Ben Cameron believes the performing arts are in the middle of a digital reformation.They’ll only survive if they focus on the human condition.

Ben Cameron, Program Director, Arts, at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, acknowledges that contemporary technologies have disrupted existing economic models of our arts and cultural organizations.

“An organization or an artist who tries to attract the attention of single ticket buyer,” he explains, “now competes with between three and five thousand different marketing messages a typical citizen sees every single day. We now know in fact that technology is our biggest competitor for leisure time.”

But what of it? We’re not going to pack up the theater, call it a millennia and say that arts institutions and practices no longer have a place in 21st century society.

“All of us,” he says, “are engaged in a seismic, fundamental realignment of culture and communications.”

So where to from here?

Cameron believes that disruption has bread an opportunity for artists and institutions to collaborate across disciplines, and in particular focus on bringing their skills and aesthetics to organizations advocating basic human rights across gender, race, religion, culture and sexuality.

In a bold statement he says the arts are in the midst of a technologically necessitated reformation — a word he explicitly links to the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago — and will only emerge if it embraces that status.

The video above is from Cameron’s February 2010 TED talk.

Image: Sokwanele, ‘The truth will set you free.’

Games for Change

G4C is dedicated to using videogames for social change.


The Games for Change movement – spurred by the growth in ‘Serious Games’ and intelligent conflict-resolution games – is now a full-fledged subgenre that has backing from the United Nations and other international bodies. Games for Change – or G4C – is a movement and community of practice dedicated to using videogames for social change.

Games for Change is also the name for the non-profit organization that builds a support framework and shared resources for individuals and organizations using digital games for social change.

This Producers Guild of America panel discussion included some of the leaders in the Games for Change movement, who demonstrated some of their works, and then discussed how G4C producers can join in with a growing community of online, console, and mobile developers for the next generation of progressive video game creativity.

Panelists include:

  • Asi Burak, executive producer, Games for Change
  • Eric Zimmerman, founder, GameLab
  • David Martz, VP, Muzzy Lane Software

Panel moderated by Chris Pfaff, Chapter Chairman, PGA New Media Council East