MediaNext: A New Ukrainian Adventure in New Media (continued)

I ‘ll pick up where I left off in my previous post

I strike curious poses when I train

I strike curious poses when I train

We’re teaching Vkontakte, and showing examples of how journalists are using Facebook. I’d prefer it was just Facebook, because to be honest, Vkontakte is the runt you throw back, by comparison–you can only do a fraction on it of what you can do on Facebook. But, it’s the top site, period, in Ukraine, so Vkontakte it is. Early indications from the training are that some of our trainees think Vkontakte is mostly for young people to goof around on and share silly pictures, and not really something for journalists to conduct serious business. Of course, I’d like to point out that McDonald’s figured out a long time ago that if you target young people, they develop lifelong habits, and begin to think of your brand as something familiar, kind of like going home.

Of course, Twitter is on our list, as well. And Twitter seems to be getting the same treatment that Vkontakte is getting, at least by some of our trainees. I love this about Twitter. It is the easiest tool to use, and the hardest to understand. Ah, Twitter, so powerful, and yet so misunderstood. Journalists who know how to wield you will gain a significant edge on those who don’t.

Coming into this whole experience, I had to really think about what it was we were really doing with this training. This isn’t just about New Media vs. Old Media. This is a complete paradigm shift here in Ukraine. Ukraine is a country  still emerging from a long and brutal history of authoritarian control of information, secrecy, and propaganda. Information was long the real currency of the Soviet Union. People had money, but there was nothing to buy on the shelves. You needed information to know who had the goods that you could then buy with your money. So, information was horded, and exchanged like a commodity.

In my experience in Ukraine, a lot of people still relate to information this way. The idea that information should be free, and not hidden from sight, is still the first blade of grass desperately fighting its way through the last of Spring’s blanket of snow. Or, to keep the metaphor’s going, Jefferson’s idea of knowledge being like a lit candle doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. So, as I was thinking about what to train about Web 2.0, it hit me that really what I was here to train was pushing the thinking of letting go of information completely, opening it up for all to see, making it as visible as possible, spreading via the people you trust to well beyond that circle of trust into the far reaches of your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s casual acquaintance-who knows where the turtle ends. To a Ukrainian, this might be like walking out the front door naked. And I am here to encourage people to feel as okay as possible about this. Fascinating.

We’re training YouTube, because how can you teach the “ABCs of New Media” without video? When something as silly as a “dancing lesson” can attract 120 million viewers, largely by word of mouth, that means there are a tremendous amount of people that you could reach as a professional purveyor of information (aka, journalist). But then, I am going to have to convince people who normally write words for a living to suddenly jump out of their seats and shoot some moving images for their stories. Only a matter of time before someone hits me with, “How do you expect me to do this when I am not getting paid to do it and I have no time?”

Isn’t that the big question?

Along with video, there’s also podcasting. “Now you want me to make some kind of radio, too?” Well, if you want to know the ABCs of New Media. Maybe they won’t be as big in Ukraine, but podcasts are pretty big in the US. And, it’s a great way to give people more content easily, such as the full version of an interview. Aren’t there times when you would rather listen to the actual interview, what they were actually saying, and not just read the journalist’s written take on it? And, is there any chance that in Ukraine, people will download podcasts to their mp3 players, and listen to them on their way to work, in the car, on the subway, etc.? Sure is catching on in America.

The tool we are showing them is podfm.ru. It’s a site where you can easily upload an mp3, create a player that you can share with people and embed on your site, rate, tag, search. But the best thing? It’s all in Russian (which makes it fun to teach when you aren’t fluent in Russian).

To generate these mp3s, we are also showing them how to call someone over Skype, and record the conversation for free using Pamela.biz. The added benefit here of teaching Skype is that it gives journalists a chance to make free online phone calls-computer to computer-for their interviews. And phone calls are things journalists do a lot of, so why not make them free?

And all of this fits under the umbrella of social networking. How do you teach journalists social networking? They aren’t social networkers, they are people who report information, right? Their job is to ask questions and do research, and then report it. Right?

I think all of that is changing. I’m of Jeff Jarvis’s mind that “Our job is not to deliver content or a product. Our job is to help them make connections with information and each other”, particularly as it pertains to journalists, which Jarvis contends, “was, long ago, the job newspapers saw for themselves”.

Social networking with these Web 2.0 tools is what this is all about. And journalists, being paid researchers and communicators of everyday information, are the right people for the job.

Now, to convince some Ukrainian journalists that this is their job and that these are their tools.

Author’s Note:  This is part of a series of posts on my experiences doing New Media trainings with Internews-Ukraine in June 2009, as part of their MediaNext initiative, in partnership with European Journalism Centre. These views are my own, and do not reflect those of Internews-Ukraine or European Journalism Centre. Just so we’re clear on that.

Photo 1:  Courtesy of MediaNext.

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