The Guys

The name of my hotel is the Nile Nest, though no one knows it by that name. The only useful information I can give someone when directing them to my place is to mention the name of the bar in the hotel’s plaza. It’s called Campus, or maybe Compass–I can't always decipher the accent up here. I couldn’t tell you why the bar is named either one. It’s not especially near Juba University, nor is it near a special geographical land mark. All I can tell you is that it is doing well; the bar is perpetually occupied by at least a few members of a group of younger men I’ve come to call "The Guys."

The Guys are a group of Sudanese friends, roughly my age, who know each other through a variety of circumstances from their youth. Some lived together in the refuge camps in Nairobi, some got "drafted" into the SPLA around the same time, or fought together in the war, and some are related.  Their paths cross each other’s all over East Africa like a cobweb.

Until about four months ago they didn’t all know each other, but then they ended up in Juba–either for work or the vote. Now they all hang out in my hotel's bar and go through about two crates of Tusker a night, discussing politics and what they think will happen when the South is recognized as a country.  The vote, of course, is on the front of every Southern Sudanese’s mind and tongue right now.

The Guys are a kind of collective metaphor for all of Southern Sudan.  Young men who have only experienced stability within the last couple of years, growing up knowing violence, hostility, and war. 

Want to know what it’s like to be 12 or 14 years old, learning to fight a guerrilla war with a gun that’s as long as you are tall? The Guys can tell you about that. Or having to march for two or three days without food? I just heard that story last night. Want to know what it’s like to be dropped off in the middle of a refuge camp in Nairobi at age ten by your parents, left to figure out how to get to school and then go on to get a bachelor's degree? Some of The Guys have been there and done that. 

Some have bachelor's degrees but no real employment because, apparently, most professional jobs are taken by “foreigners” (a phrase I first assumed meant “Westerners,” but here refers specifically to the Kenyans and Ugandans who have poured into the region as Juba’s economy has blossomed under the warm rays of recent freedoms. I even heard a Nairobi radio station talk about how one of the main reasons that Southern Sudan’s secession would be good for Kenya was, “in a word, jobs.”)

The Guys' collective story reads like a kind of awful compilation: a best-of collection of all the “War Child” literature that seems to be in vogue these days with a certain type of young Westerner who has a combination of wonder lust and white guilt. With that much baggage and hardship starting in early adolescence, you’re going to have some vices, and The Guys have a few.  As I mentioned earlier, they drink a lot. Some of them struggle with racial hatred.  Yet what dominates The Guys' demeanor and their conversations is an excitement for the future. 

This excitement is practical: some are trying to start businesses, some are mine field clearers (not really for the pay, but because they have a vision for villages to begin local farming again, a practice long abandon as no one actually knows where all the mines are so they don’t plow), and some are still trying to finish up school.  I really admire these guys at their core. Their warm, sincere hearts making their rougher edges forgivable.

Slowly, I’ve talked them into short interviews and have cautiously started asking them to consider the idea of being the subjects of a long term documentary I would like to produce. It’s a slow process, winning over relative strangers to having their lives put in front of a lens.  You don’t just get open doors when you are basically a total and complete foreigner, even if they like you. But things are going well and I still have a couple of days to get everything locked down.

Maybe it just something in the air, but I feel hopeful.

Journalism 3.0 Thesis Parts 2&3

You can find my introducation to this article here

New Media & Journalism 3.0.5

I’m going to take it as read that we all understand that the environment Journalist currently exist in has changed a lot in the last 20 years. It's the reason everyone is constantly bearish about journalism. It's also Newspaper's favorite excuse for lessening readership and the death/consolidation of "print journalism". I wonder if town cryer or bards where as "woe is me" when the first movable type printing presses became main stream.

Paul Bradshaw, founder of, came up with this design to help describe the environment Journalism exist in at the moment (Original Article here); I think we can extend it to Non-Fiction storytellers generally. Paul expresses the Y axis as Speed/User Control, so the way I read the diagram the tip top of the diamond is the moment of an event occurs.

Take a look at that diamond. Figure out where there isn't someone doing that work for free.

Jon Gosier, director for SwftRiver (a crisis information software org.) once said to me that the idea of “First Responders” in Aid and Journalism is an oxymoron: there is always someone responding to what is happening in a crisis and reporting it to someone, somewhere.

We used to call them eyewitnesses, but now they aren’t “passive consumers” as Clay Shirky would say. Now they are able to broadcast what is happening to millions of people within seconds of an event. Now, they own part of the narrative in an unprecedented way. They aren't witnesses, let’s be honest, they're amateur reporters. They are faster than us, they are cheaper than us, they know where things will happen with greater accuracy because it’s their home court.

We knew what was happening during the Iranian election because of video capable cellphones. SMS messages to the Ushahidi's Haiti website via a shortcode was what allowed first responders to best organize relief efforts after the earthquake, not CNN’s Sanjay Gupta running around with a 8 man crew trying to patch up kids.

I mean that with no disrespect to Dr Gupta or his producers. CNN has 24 hours of programing to fill in a day and if a neurosurgeon/reporter performing emergency surgery on earthquake victims makes it more real to viewer, then it certainly has it's place; but it's not actually news, it's an illustration. They chose to fill those hours with illustration because they couldn't find a news story that was more compelling, and that's the irony. Even with the army of reporters, crew, and producers that CNN put on the ground, they couldn't pull together enough stories to fill all 24 hours because it takes too long for outsiders to get their bearings, find a story, an angle, find subjects, shoot, drive, shoot some more, edit and file.

As Journalists, we are learning how absurd it is to think that we can walk into an environment twenty four hours after an event and believe that we as reporters can do anything better in the first day on the ground than organize information that may already have been broadcast by someone else from their phone or in an internet cafe. At best, we make it more concise, easily, digestible, and hopefully, more accurate and penetrating. Which brings me back to the diamond.

I would like to submit that given the change of environment, and the introduction of a new species into Journalism’s traditional turf, that we do what we are best at and let “amateurs” do what they are best at. Let the crowd have the middle of the diamond. Just let it go, our time there is ending. There’s too many of them, they are too fast, they will out man and out maneuver you every time that it matters to them–and if it doesn’t matter to them, I bet there’s not much of a market for it. Just walk away... and watch. [/column]

[column]As the crowd starts to figure out this space, it will evolve, social rules will start to take shape, formats will evolve and, while it will not be the same animal, it will start to look more and more like the type of animals that used to sit in that part of the societal food chain.

Those of us who decid not to make a career change will find that more in-depth reporting is going to be of higher value in the coming decades for two reasons

1) An amateur will have a harder time engaging in a story that requires more time and resources without the funding of an organization (though here again, things like Kickstart mean that "nobodies" can still show up and do amazing work.) Its going to be more about longer projects, better in-depth reporting, more customized reporting. If it’s not really intentional work, it can probably be done by the crowd for less money and-in some cases–better.

2) Because the crowd will be pushing out a lot of content, there will become a growing savvy about what people are willing to spend their time and money on.

We are already seeing this. Consumers trying to figure out how to sift through the mountains of information in the internet are gravitating to a small handful of sources for information on a given subject and then venturing out only when those favored sources don't have exactly what they where looking for. Notice that NYT and the WSJ are not loosing readership, just physical circulation. People know that it takes a lot of time to wade through a news aggregator site, so they stick with who they trust to help them understand the world around them.

That trust is valuable and it's time to start behaving like it's valuable.

The Underpants Gnomes can no longer run Professional Reportage.

Phase One, put stories on the web. Phase Two.... Phase Three, profit.

This is going to makes some people upset, specifically consumers. The era of professional online reporting wholly subsidized by internet ads is at an end. There’s no real money in it. “I post an article in deep space among thousands of other articles, millions of people will read it, and then I’ll make enough money to justify the cost of having a guy living in a foreign country to write the articles, or produce the videos, or shoot the photo essays.” It doesn't compute in an ecosystem where people are putting together a lot of the same information for free.

National Geographic does not show up at my door every month for free. The Economist can not produce their content on add reveniew alone (AND ALL THEY DO IS WRITE!!!!)

If people want to be well informed and intake compelling reportage, they will pay 5 bucks a month, or 20 bucks a year for it. The problem is that most models price their product either too high (the Kindle version of the Economist is almost the same as the subscription price) or too low, or even worse only charge for yesterdays news. As if I couldn't go to my library.

The future of Journalism is not to become public service with the hopes of gratuity, but a professional service with professional expectations and results. If people are going to blogs and the crowd instead of your publications, it's because your publication is not meeting the expectations of your audience. As a publication you have the choice to evolve to meet those expectations, find a new audience, or leave.

This is real life, it's rough out there.

Journalism 3.0 Thesis Part 1 (an introduction)

[col-sect][column]There is nothing new under the Sun
I thought I would start by letting you all know that you don't need to worry about Journalism any more. Truthful, accurate, timely stories about the world around you are not going anywhere. I promise. Journalism is not dead, it's not even endangered. If there is one thing I've learned from evolution–and reading lot's of books on Megafauna as a kid– it's this:

Holes in the food chain do not remain empty for long (evolutionarily speaking.)

Someone else always shows up to fill in the newly vacated position of "pack shrub grazer."

What I find interesting is that those animals that come in to fill said vacuum, over time, end up looking remarkably similar the animal that left that same role just a few hundred-thousand years earlier. Sure, as the world changes, certain species–specific concepts like scales, very large bodies, and two chamber hearts stop making sense as the earth cools and oxygen becomes less abundant. But if you look at the body shape of a Velociraptor, it has a lot more in common with a wolf, a cheetah, and the thylacine, than say, the lizards that hide under my porch.

The Thylacine is probably one of my favorite animals. It’s a marsupial pack predator living in Tazmainia and is now believed extinct from over hunting. [/column] [column]It’s about the size of most feral dogs and built almost exactly like one too: a long thin torso, big ribcage, long muzzle, perked ears, short hair, long tail.... It’s proof that given similar environmental pressures, the animal that fills a specific role in the environment will end up looking really similar to animals filling similar roles in other parts of the world. Yes, it's not exactly a Wolf or a Hyena, but it looks and behaves more like those animals than say a Koala, which it's actually more closely related to.

That’s because while an environment changes, the roles within a ecosystem are rather static (relatively speaking) and if a species can adapt to a different role where there is less competition, it will. If a species has to adjust to keep it’s role as the environment changes, it will; or it will disappear like the North American Lion.

Dude, where are you going with this?
It's easy to be "objective" about something that fills the "wolf" role in a given ecosystem. It's a lot harder to get perspective on something like our job and our role in a changing society.

So here's the deal. "Journalism" is just a big Northern/Western-World umbrella word under which certain important roles in our social ecosystem have sat for millennia. Historians, Bards, Storytellers, Myth-makers*, Town Criers, have all been pulled slowly, over thousands of years, under this tent we call the Journalist. There isn't much of a difference between Xenophon's account of the March of the 10,000 and Hemingway's Reportage and Robert Capa's work. True, they are not the same animal, but they behave, feel, and function very similarly. They come at you the same way and with similar intentions. So let's forget medium, local, or modus as we discuss the survival of the Journalism species in parts 2 and 3. When survival is the question, everything is on the table.

Part 2 to come soon.

Precursor to giant Journalism 3.0 Thesis.


[column]This is Semi NSFW and a little ADD, but it's worth it. John Roderick of the Long Winters and Merlin Mann have a conversation about work, pay, and "doing it for the love of the game."

Journalism is not on some island that's changing in a vacuum. Journalism is being forced to evolve as the environment that Journalism came to age in is changing rapidly. Musicians, designers, filmmakers are all having to figure out what to do now that it only costs about $2000 (usually less) to get into any of these fields and start producing. Cost of entry used to be the gate that kept the fakers and fanboys at bay from real work, but now any kid with a DSLR can show up and get A1 coverage. The risks seem small, the repercussions for improper coverage seem even smaller.

So how do you as a journalist (a real journalist) rise above the thousands of people who just like the idea of being a journalist on the weekends? Don't compete with them. Don't fight over the same carcass that a thousand hyenas are scrambling over, you're a leopard, go find an actual gazelle yourself and when you find that story, insist on getting paid properly. Always. Enjoy the video[/column]