Mozfest : measuring the impact of news

A couple of weekends ago the glorious Mozfest happened in Ravensbourne college right next to the  02 dome in London. If you haven’t been before you should, (to Mozfest I mean). You’ll find awesome people and atmosphere, something tech related for everyone to get involved in from all the makers activities to the open badges work, and an array of surprisingly nice crustless sandwiches. All well and good I hear you say – but what hsa this to do with news? Well, the Mozfest folks look at journalism as one of their areas for development – and this is my personal area of interest – I beelined it up to the top floor to find out more.

Why is measuring impact of news so important?

We could answer this in a number of different ways. In a way, at the heart of it this is about power and learning. If you control media (or you control your own consumption of media) then in a way you reduce diversity of opinion and stories you are exposed to ; and you could argue that reduced exposure to alternative viewpoints therefore reduces learning and collective understanding. We now use so few sources, increasingly so few websites to get our news -in effect tailoring our own customised ‘agreement’ channels to view our online world. We can easily create our own lens to view the world, one which provides little challenge to our own views and assumptions about the world. Its easy and perhaps more comfortable to live in a news echo chamber, or perhaps to block out the ‘news’ from our online experiences completely. When in theory there is more content available then ever this poses a big challenge particularly to campaigning journalists bloggers and citizen reporters. Aspirations are including but not limited to the following:
1. How to be read by a lot of people (understandably where a lot of focus goes but possibly as important I think are the following three…)

2. How to be read by diverse groups whose opinions you want to shift

3. How to be read and responded to by decision makers who can affect change

4. How to inspire direct action-taking by readers.

The journalism fellowship folk from Knight Mozilla there were working on many related questions, one of which was around what ‘impact’ actually looks like and how we go about helping many diverse and often under resourced journalists operating in widely ranging circumstances to define and to measure impact.

We started with a pyramid sketch on the day:

pyramid news impact

with the intention of giving a hierarchical value to measurable indicators. Pyramids are unhelpful in the long run but can be a good place to start visualising value and frequency as they tend to expose what doesn’t really work in a hierarchical approach – you read more thoughts on it here from Jessica Soberman – noting that as ever the reality is more complex. The challenge is to know to know which combination of variables are important/valuable, at which frequency under which circumstances- so, after our initial pyramids were created I went back to drawing board after meeting and tried boiling down to this crude set of first level definitions that can be combined and drilled into to suit multiple purposes.

Mozfest measuring news

Mozfest measuring news

Where to go from here? We need to add some more specific, measurable indicators and ways of easily tracking them in a dashboard to assign value or weight to the article and try and help journalists target their work more effectively.

I am going to try writing those up next so if you have any thoughts please drop me a note or add a comment below.


Iran Election : London Protest : Social Media

Iran Vote Campaign Waterloo Bridge London

I just met this group of young Iranians and supporters on Waterloo Bridge. They’re campaigning on the recent Iranian voting scandal and will be protesting in London outside the Iranian embassy this Saturday as part of the global day of action on July 25th from 1-4pm.

“The Global Day of Action is not affiliated with any partisan political agenda and is aimed at securing the internationally recognized rights of the Iranian people”

Interesting to see local groups getting active and handing out flyers in such a positive and friendly way, I think it really works well. I’d say that I’m far more likely to go along to something if asked in person rather than tweeted at, emailed or facebook-messaged. Social media is great, but sometimes having a chat is what’s really the motivator.

As it is, I’m off on holiday from tomorrow so can’t be there, so went to the website to find out more about what I could do online instead. Joining a Facebook group is not as good as turning up by any means, but its a way of showing support and keeping in touch with the cause, and other opportunities to act in real life. 

Aha! So that might be what social media is for….?

—- Newsflash! —-In ‘Other Inspiring Iranians I’ve met on Waterloo Bridge’, see my Ahmad Foroughi post from the time of the Obama Election – an awesome photo, and a sweet piece of social history!

Blogging Ideas : Pakistani Spectator

A -kind of- festive post for you before the holiday season kicks off for real… I read a few international blogs through the excellent global voices and one of the active ones is the Pakistani Spectator. Ghazala Khan does a regular series of interviews with bloggers from all over the place and it was my turn last week: 

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I write about public involvement in decision making. This is actually takes in quite a wide range of different issues, from the tension between different modes of governance and electoral systems to how individuals collaborate on decision making in their own communities, both locally and online. I blog here.

    Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

I think everyone learns as they write more frequently – it forces you to order your thoughts in a structured format and to try and imagine how others might understand your meaning. Having said that, I feel that the most important thing is to get out from behind the keyboard and monitor and to speak with a whole range of different people to gain inspiration whenever possible. That’s where you find opportunities to grow as an individual and as a member of several wider communities.

    I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

My favourite recent post was an interview with an Obama supporter on London bridge – I took a quick photo of him with my camera phone and it came out so well – really capturing the enthusiasm and spirit of the moment. I was affected by the belief of an individual that genuine change can come from those at the top rather than the cynicism that is often expressed towards decision makers in the UK.

    What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I use RSS feeds to keep up to date – attempt to keep my netvibes page which pulls all of those feeds together in good order. Then of course, I read and comment when I have some spare time.

    What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

In politics, it has to be the Obama campaign in terms of excitement and the interplay between online connection and offline action. This was a very powerful mix and am very glad to see this strong emphasis on online tools continuing. See obamacto for an interesting take on what should happen next!

    Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

I do think that new technology can make people feel more personally connected than ever before, and more able to respond quickly and easily to causes or issues that they are interested in. Not only this, I think that it can supplement our existing networks in new ways which are only just beginning to be realised.

    What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

It focuses on public participation and involvement from a personal perspective. I work for an organistion called which is based in the UK – this enables me to look at public engagement and participation from a more analytical viewpoint during the day – then my blog covers the aspect I feel is often not covered so well – what do these ideas and projects mean for real people in their working and home lives?

    If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Critical optimism!

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

I’m not sure on this one – life is a journey and I’m usually looking forwards not back!

    If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

I like this question – I’d go to Tierra del Fuego to see lava pouring into the sea, then drop by Venezuela to see the Angel Falls, and then maybe to Dongtan to see the eco city… in a year or two.

   What is your favorite book and why?

I don’t have a favourite – I love reading and lots of books have strong meaning for me – one would be ….read the rest here

Enjoy the holidays! 

(Yes, I know the life is a journey line is a bit Forest Gump –  is tough not to be able to edit your words after you write them…!)

Time for a change : US Election, unprecedented turnouts

The US Presidential race is making history – and its not just about Obama believe it or not! Across the US we’re seeing unprecedented turnouts at the polling stations, which buck the historic trends across Western democracy of declining turnout at the ballot box.

CNN have reported  that the early voting figures suggest overall turnout across the US could surpass 64 percent attained in 1960’s Kennedy vs. Nixon election. In fact, experts estimate that a record 213 million voters are eligible to vote this year- voter registration drives by both parties, particularly the democrats, have played a significant role in boosting this figure. No matter which candidate they’re all voting for [though the Obama effect does seem to be boosting the turnout ;) ] this has to be good for reviving democracy.

Gallup estimates a 60% turnout – check out the graph below from OpenLeft to see what a strong trend that would actually be. (I’m hoping for something higher than this!):


But of course, unprecedented turnout equals unprecedented queues. Interesting to see how the system copes (or doesn’t) with significant numbers of people actually showing up to exercise their democratic right to vote… and that’s happening on an astonishing scale right now.

Whether in Long Island, Missouri, or Washington DC. people are turning up to be part of history – to play their own role in this grand occasion. They are standing in the winding queues, waiting there in good faith that their personal participation will count for something far bigger and more significant than any one individual’s action. That very fact is in itself a real change already being delivered by the candidates’ campaigns. Somehow, this contest has made voting suddenly seem attractive again.

Let’s see if Cameron or Brown can make me want to queue in the rain for six hours or so … hm, or maybe I’ll just do postal next year.

Obama McCain : The world is watching… and participating!

Iranian Obama Campaigner

Ahmad Foroughi : Iranian Obama Campaigner


I love this picture of Ahmad Foroughi standing on Waterloo bridge. I met him a few weeks ago when I stopped to talk as I was curious to know what was motivating him to stand there, giving up his time on a windy Saturday afternoon.  He was wearing a cool T-shirt and carrying a sign that said “We’re searching for Americans! Can you help? Are YOU American?”

I assumed that he himself was a US citizen – enthused by Obama’s message of change – trying to spread the zeal and get others to vote Democrat too on November 4th. I was off the mark – he is in fact Iranian by birth- and unhappy with the US’s current foreign policy around terrorism and extremism. He himself is unable to cast a vote in the US election, so gave up his Saturday afternoon to stand on Waterloo bridge trying to find any American who hadn’t registered in the hope that it’ll help Obama win tomorrow.

I asked him why he was so passionate in wanting Obama to win – he went on to discuss his family and roots in Iran and the impact of US foreign policy in previous years and what it might be the future. He then went on to tell me in a matter of fact way: “Its time for a real change and I believe Obama can do this.”

The world is not only watching this election – they want to be part of it in whatever way they are able to, and its not just happening online, there are people like Ahmad willing to give up more than a mouseclick moment to the campaign. Inspired by politics, inspired by a politician, belief in the possibility of real change… write it off as  Obamamania if you like – but the passion and interest in participating has to be good for people’s rights and for generating the demand for real democratic process and real opportunities for people to influence power across the world.

I’d like to see this level of enthusiasm in the UK election next time around…