2009: A retrospective on my year of media development adventures

January 4, 2010

2009 was a banner year for me in terms of media development. It was not by any means my starting point in media, but it could go down as year in which my work achieved lift off. But all was done in the name of helping people spread information, express themselves, and/or strengthen their networks with other people to promote change. So, I thought I’d take a look back at my year in media development, get it all together in one place, take stock, establish something to compare 2010 to, reminisce a little.

Researching Extractive Industry Transparency and Journalism Development in Africa

I began the year leading a team through a study to assess needs and effective training practices to raise the level of business journalism in Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. Our findings would then be synthesized into a report to provide training and media development recommendations to Revenue Watch Institute, which wanted to use training to improve business journalism, and promote extractive industry transparency. The best part of this project was that I got to spend two weeks in January in balmy Nigeria–a country the Bradt guide calls “Africa for the Advanced”–and meet face to face with Nigerian journalists, journalism educators, and media development experts. Lagos, in particular, was INTENSE. And fantastic. I also got a chance in this to bone up on my skills developing surveys and interview guides, building networks of contacts, designing a team research wiki, and producing a report of findings.

Blog posts on my adventures here:

Finishing The Morningside Post‘s Redesign

One of my favorite moments during my time at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) was redesigning The Morningside Post. The Post was started as a simple blog on international affairs just a few years before. But, when I came aboard, I quickly began to see the technological limitations of the Typepad version that was in place–what we had made it difficult to manage content such that we could segment and differentiate it, making it difficult for people to find what they were looking for.  It was clear to me that we were on the cusp of opportunity to bring together many different stakeholders in the SIPA community, and yet what we had with the first version of the site made it so their content looked like everyone else’s. We also couldn’t really incorporate the latest Web 2.0 technologies as we wanted.

To overcome all of this, I led our team through a redesign to build a new interface on a WordPress platform to integrate all of these ideas and significantly expand our capabilities (which we completed in January 2009, and is what you see at the site today). Now, The Post is a much more effective content management system, in which users can view content based on their preferences (e.g. by region or by topic), many different groups in the SIPA community can post and manage their own content, and it is much easier to feature Web 2.0 content such as Google Calendar, YouTube, and CoveritLive liveblogging boxes. And I personally came away with more experience leading a team through creating a Web site concept, finding a vendor to design it, raising the necessary funds and managing the project budget, planning the production schedule, testing the end product, and publicizing the site through a launch event and other forms of publicity. Best part? We finished the site within our project schedule and came in within our budget.

Web Design by Donor Organizations for Low Bandwidth

I published a section of a wiki on New Media and Development Communication called “Web Design by Donor Organizations for Low Bandwidth“. The wiki was part of a course on new media and development taught by Anne Nelson at SIPA. My section of the wiki focused on providing recommendations on how international development organizations, particularly donors, should build their Web sites to make them more accessible in low bandwidth countries, in order to maximize the reach of their assistance. In my opinion, far too many development organizations design Web sites that make it virtually impossible for organizations in low bandwidth areas to access them, and thus they essentially cut off those most in need from assistance.

Web 2.0 in Egypt and Iran – Challenging Authority and Challenges to Expression

As part of my master’s degree coursework at Columbia, I researched how social media are being used to challenge authority and how authorities are using the Internet to challenge expression in Egypt and Iran (some of my findings can be found here: Egypt and Iran). This was a great opportunity to see what people are doing in these countries with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, in particular, to speak out against their governments, connect with the outside world, and organize movements. I also had a chance to dig into the issue of filtering and other technologies used by governments to clamp down on expression, and technologies like proxies used to counter this clamping down. With all that is happening in the Middle East right now (especially Iran’s election and Twitter, which was fascinating to watch shortly after this research), it has proven to be a great test case for Web 2.0 and challenging authority.

Liveblogging Events – Twitter and CoveritLive

One of the ways I built up my social media skills in 2009 was through liveblogging various events. Social media provide remarkable opportunities for people to gain access to at least the information of events they couldn’t attend an event, and give them an approximation of what it was like to be there. In real time, no less.

My particularly favorite tools have come to be Twitter and CoveritLive (CiL), used together. They sync up nicely. Just create a CiL box, assign it a hashtag of your choice, embed that box into a blog that is javascript enabled, and start tweeting. For example, while I was with The Morningside Post, we liveblogged New York University’s CATER Workshop on Technologies and Development in February 2009.

Graduating Columbia University with a Master’s Degree in Media Development

In May 2009, I graduated Columbia University with a Master of International Affairs degree. My concentration was Economic and Political Development (EPD), and within that concentration was a focus on Media and Development. I could have also changed that concentration to International Media and Communications (IMC) along the way, had I wanted to–I had the courses to do it. But, I stuck with EPD for consistency with what I had studied. When I first enrolled at Columbia, I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of it:  take advantage of Columbia’s vast media resources, study and get my hands on as many new media as possible (I came in with more of a traditional media background), and do whatever it took to participate in a media development-related workshop. EPD made the most sense at the time, because I could study international development itself, and with the focus component that was part of going EPD, I had a lot of flexibility to study media, and keep it connected to international development.

My plan worked like clockwork. I studied a comprehensive range of media and development topics: media for advocacy and communications, new media and development, international media business, international news reporting, social media for communications and organizing, Web 2.0 under authoritarian regimes, and journalism development and transparency in Africa. And, I got that media development-related workshop (mentioned above in the section “Researching Extractive Industry Transparency and Journalism Development in Africa”).

It’s a pretty broad range of topics, to be certain. But, I wanted to leave Columbia with as comprehensive and far-reaching an understanding of media as they pertain to development, communication, and expression as one could fit into two years. As I see it, these issues are all so intermingled and pervasive within all social, political, and economic development matters, and that the only way to be truly effective in media development is to have this degree of understanding. Mission accomplished.

Training Social Media in Ukraine

Almost immediately after graduation, I was flown to Ukraine by the European Journalism Centre to conduct a series of social media training seminars throughout Ukraine. This was an epic adventure, indeed. First, I was training social media, which were designed for personal expression, in the former Soviet Union, which had a long history imprinting a fear of personal expression. Second, while my Ukrainian is still pretty good, it made sense for me to present through a translator (something I hadn’t done before), given that we were dealing with a lot of new technology. Third, I would train with two other people I’d never met before. Fourth, I felt that the absolute imperative technologies to train were Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, which meant that I had some serious work ahead of me to prep for these seminars to fit these social media into the context of the training needs of journalists and NGOs in Ukraine.

Of course, I blogged heavily on this adventure, its tribulations and its triumphs:

Incessant Viewing of Webinars on Social Media

I spent the summer of 2009 voraciously devouring webinars on social media (and still do, though not quite voraciously–my media development rapacity knows no satiety). The big winner this summer in receiving my traffic was HubSpot, which has been steadily producing great webinars on marketing. But, if you were airing a webinar on how to use social media for marketing, communications, advocacy, organizing, networking, blogging, whatever, chances are I was one of your viewers. I ended up with a “social media gut”, I consumed so much. And if you’ve been following me on Twitter, or happened upon my Delicious, you have probably noticed I’ve been regurgitating social media, as well. I’ve come out of this pretty well armed with social media strategy, to say the least. Delicious is my arsenal, Twitter is my howitzer.

Evaluating Journalism Training Programs in Africa

For the last month or so of 2009, I consulted on a project (ongoing) to evaluate business journalism training programs conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation in a number of countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zambia. This has been a great opportunity to advance my skills in guiding a team through an evaluation, and deepen my understanding of media training in Africa. I discovered in this that I get a somewhat strange enjoyment out of designing online surveys (thank you, Survey Monkey, I owe you a Christmas card!), and then seeing what responses they get. Other than designing surveys, I’ve also worked on our interview guides and coached our team on doing this kind of study in an African setting.

Initial indications of our evaluation have shown our methods to be effective–results of the survey have been quite revealing. This is happy news, given that with any evaluation of a training program, it would be unrealistic for participant to say, “Everything was great, no complaints”. Reality is always a little harsh. As an evaluator, you hope to provide an accurate picture of what happened. It appears we are doing that.

Assessing More Journalism Training Needs in Africa, With a Side of Bangladesh

I also spent the last month or so of 2009 on a project (ongoing) to  conduct an initial assessment of journalism training needs, and identify potential training partners, in a number of African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia), as well as Bangladesh. This is to support a potential European Journalism Centre initiative to promote press freedom and economic development in these countries.

Admittedly, it has been somewhat of a tricky affair. I have done this research from New Jersey, without funds to fly to all of these countries. So, I’ve had to be resourceful and a little creative. Ghana and Nigeria were already very familiar to me, so they have only needed a little supplemental research. But the other countries were new to me. And there aren’t a lot of great Web sites among the universities in these countries. They tend not to have a lot of journalism program information, if any info at all. This is a little crazy to me, given that they are the top media universities in their countries–you start to notice the gap immediately (great opportunity for media development projects, hint hint hint!). Fortunately, as a Columbia alum who has been working in international media development for a while now, I have a network of people in the industry I can tap into. They have been key to my assessment (a huge thank you to all!). Particularly in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (as one journalism educator in Zimbabwe colorfully and tragically put it, “Journalism education here is all needs and challenges”). Expect some blog posts on this research soon.
Yeah, 2009 was a big year. I’m not sure there is much more I could have covered in media development in a single year (and even this isn’t every last morsel). Let’s see what 2010 brings.


One comment

  1. […] and/or strengthen their networks with other people to promote change. So, I thought I’d take a look back at my year in media development, get it all together in one place, take stock, establish something to compare 2010 to, reminisce a […]

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