Innovation @ BBG » Censorship Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Creating “Remembering Tiananmen”: iBook Allows Long-Form Journalism to Cross Closed Borders Mon, 22 Jul 2013 17:04:00 +0000 Steve Fuchs It is a cliché: you are walking down the street and a friend comes up holding a book and says: “Read this book. It changed my life!”

As with all clichés, there is a nugget of truth at its core.

A book, whether it is analog or digital, is a special thing. People have great expectations when they open a book. Readers are looking for a comprehensive, thoughtful, and immersive experience.

Whether it is a serialized collection of text-based stories for small e-readers, or an interactive audio/video/photo magazine for tablet devices, eBooks offer new channels for journalists to engage with an audience and tell great stories.

On June 4th, the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Radio Free Asia (RFA) released an iBook account of the 1989 protests in both Mandarin and English.

Remembering Tiananmen is RFA’s first fully interactive book for the tablet market. Produced in Mandarin and English, the publication gathers audio eyewitness accounts, historic “RFA exclusive” photography and video, as well as archive news photography; and pairs these previously published items with specially commissioned text, custom maps, and diagrams. The heart of the book is an interactive timeline that allows the reader to navigate events chronologically, in addition to traditional chapter-based browsing. Through the multi-media interface the viewer not only reads the narrative facts of events, but also experiences the sights and sounds of Beijing in the spring of 1989.

The Process.

As Director of the Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) studio I led the team that matched our creative and technical resources with RFA content and editorial resources. The two teams worked intensely and collaboratively over a 3 month period.

Once an initial direction was decided and content was collected, the design and editorial team began to storyboard out what a book might look like. An interactive timeline was devised to anchor events in place and assist the reader in navigating the book. The events of the Spring of 1989 were also divided into 5 phases (The Protest Begins, The Politburo Splits, Tension Rises, Crackdown, and Aftermath) each of which would constitute a chapter of the book, and have its own section of timeline.

Decks of copy were needed to stitch the chapters together, along with an introduction and closing section. Video and photos needed to be at the higher qualities allowed on tablets. Chinese material needed to be translated to English and vice versa. At this point in the process a diagram of Tiananmen was commissioned, as well as a map of central Beijing, since many of the actions happened in the surrounding area.  Luckily, RFA had experienced editors who covered the Tiananmen from the ground, including Dan Southerland, now Executive Editor of RFA, but then China Bureau Chief from the Washington Post and Feng Xiaoming, now the Mandarin Service Director of RFA, who was a co-anchor for CCTV.

We used iBooks Author, as  well as Adobe CS6 tools, to layout and create the book. Part of the power of iBooks Author is that it allows editors to quickly assemble an interactive publication with no coding and minimal graphic knowledge.

But this same functionality makes iBooks Author a mixed bag for graphic designers, since templates are more complex to adapt and change than one-off pages. We found that the existing templates were too generic: our designers created a set of branded templates to give all RFA iBooks a distinctive look. We also invested technical and design time to create the custom timeline.

The good news for designers is, once the template and custom graphics are done, a trained editor can make all the picky text corrections, changes, and updates. This is a huge plus in a multi-lingual environment.

New devices create new challenges. While eReaders have been around for many years, tablet devices are relatively new. The iPad displays dozens of languages and a broad array of fonts, but  iBook Authur supports only a few languages in multi-touch format, and even fewer fonts. This currently results is real challenges in placing these native functioning books in iBook stores around the world. PDF and ePub formats are more universally accepted, but far less functional.

The “ah ha” Moment.

The first rough draft that could be loaded on a iPad was a considerable milestone, since the entire team finally experienced how the book actually “felt.” iBooks are meant to be experienced through multiple channels (and possibly in a nonlinear manner), and this working prototype generated a lot of crucial feedback on everything from how a slideshow was styled and how videos launched, to the size of touch targets on the timeline.

Journalism without borders.

Tucked inside a phone, or concealed on a USB stick, eBooks allow articulate, immersive, long-form journalism to get around restricted web environments, and across closed borders. This trait is a very significant one for the BBG news entities.

What we have learned.

A great editorial team must be paired with a great design team in order to turn previously published material into a meaningful new experience.  With all the multimedia components, an iBook is still a book, and good copywriting is a must. Edits need to be made to archival material to trim away elements that, with the passage of time, have become less relevant. Readers expect high quality graphics, interactive elements, as well as video and audio to yield an immersive storytelling experience. It is also crucial to take advantage of the native storytelling and navigation attributes of any particular device, and to do this you will have to prepare different editions of the same book for various platforms.

Remembering Tiananmen represents a powerful first foray for BBG into the iBook world of interactive storytelling.  The Chinese edition is aimed at an audience that was not even born when these events happened, and because of censorship, may not have any idea that the turmoil of 1989 ever took place. Will this iBook change anyone’s life? Possibly not, but it may start some very interesting conversations.

For more information:

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Hakki Ocal (Guest Blogger): The Importance of Social Conversation Wed, 10 Oct 2012 15:06:00 +0000 April Deibert Hakki Ocal works as the Internet Managing Editor for VOA Near East and Central Asia Division, which consists of the Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kurdish, Turkish and Uzbek language services. Like many other broadcast services, VOA NECA division is also reallocating its resources into the new media and social networks.  Although this is the case, not everyone understands and appreciates the necessity for staff to spend increasingly more time responding to user comments on articles and social media.


Hakki Ocal

Hakki Ocal:
We were comparing notes about our grandfathers with a Bosnian colleague the other day: hers would also walk into a crowded room in his extended family’s house and change the channel on TV without even saying “Hello!” to anyone! This is a cultural element: every family has an elderly patriarch who would exercise autocratic authority over an extended family. Extend this idea to the whole society—you then start appreciating the importance of conversations on the social networks and the invaluable commentary boxes following a news item or opinion piece on a website.

The traditional and transitional societies understood the value of IP-based communication even before the modern world.  So, how do you explain the inverse ratio of the numbers on Facebook in some countries that are not at the top of the international development indexes?  (See links below to compare for yourself.)  I am not trying to say some cultures are better than others; what I am saying is that the IP-based, peer-to-per communications (that covers almost all engagements: conversations and community-building efforts on the social networks, as well as non-traditional reporting) is complementing the traditional oral or formal communications.

Also they are enjoying what sociologists call “the latecomers’ advantage”.  This means that in most of the traditional and transitional societies, the mainstream media is either under the authoritarian control of governments or have some other type of oligarchic filters. Today, any high school kid, tired of his grandfather’s control of the TV’s remote control, can start his own television station with a $500 computer and a $100 camera! The video and audio editing skills come with the kid, for free!

When we say the magic words “IP-based”, we mean a stream of information that no autocratic government has found a permanent solution to stop (yet).  In some societies we sometimes see legitimate efforts to prevent some sort of communications that are deemed against their cultural and religious values or to prevent pornography. The inevitability of total control of the offensive material sometimes results in violence in these countries. If we compare the level of violence and areas where the violence spreads, we will see that those fatal reactions are replaced fast with tolerance. People in our neck of the woods are discovering that if you find certain communications offensive, the best way to counter it is by starting a new discussion about it! I agree that this process is slow; but we are living in an era that social permeability is much faster and the spread of tolerance is increasing.

The marriage of IP-based communication with mobile technology is even more promising. We received videos from smart phone users in Syria before our reporters in the field could send their reports using expensive satellite equipment. This is a country where, as the local saying has it, birds cannot fly without the government’s permission! How was it possible for the insurgents to send videos using their cheap phones? They were using the connections from the neighboring countries? How difficult could it be to bring a SIM card with you from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey to Syria? A Micro-SIM card is about 25 mm by 15 mm today. The next generation SIM will be called Nano-SIM and 12.3 mm wide by 8.8 mm high! Let’s not forget the ever-extending base coverage of the cell phone infrastructure.

It seems that grandfathers and regimes as paternalistic as they are soon will be left alone in that room with their control; everyone else will be on Twitter or in Odniklasniki chat rooms!


For more info:


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(Thank you to Hakki Ocal for his contributions to this post.  To contact Ocal:

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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PopTech!DC @BBG Talk: Catherine Antoine “Citizen Reporters Save the Day” Wed, 14 Dec 2011 18:35:36 +0000 admin

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BBG & PopTech: Communicating in Closed Societies Mon, 21 Nov 2011 20:01:11 +0000 admin Poptech has had a long tradition of breaking new innovative talent and we wanted to showcase the innovative talent we have been breaking here at our networks. This year’s PopTech theme is “The World Rebalancing” and it fits well with the work our journalists do every day -rebalance the world with unbiased news and information – and connect people to one another -this is how the world rebalances – when people have enough information to make the decisions that can improve lives. These presentations center around our work with communicating in closed societies – this is what sets us apart from most media organizations.

Watch the videos below to see how BBG broadcasters harness innovations in their own networks and enjoy the talks from other innovators around Washington, DC such as Rob Bluey from the Heritage Foundation, and Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs. Parazit kicked off the day with a live talk from the Poptech stage in Maine: Watch Parazit at PopTech: Arbabi and Hosseini “The Daily Show” of Iran.

Jessica Beinecke “OMG! Meiyu”

Guillermo Santa Cruz “Breaking Paradigms: Bringing New Media to Closed Societies”

Golnaz Esfandiari “A Brave New World of Digital Journalism”

Matthew Baise “Data Visualization in the News”

Ken Berman “Dealing with Repressive, Authoritarian, Totalitarian States”

Ahmad AbouAmmo “Broadcasting vs. Engaging: communicating the news via social media”

Rob Bluey “How to Influence the Influencers”

Bill Bell “11 Things You Didn’t Know Before”

Catherine Antoine “Citizen Reporters Save the Day”

Peter Corbett “Architecting for Social Mass Collaboration”

What is Poptech!
PopTech is a unique innovation network – a global community of cutting-edge leaders, thinkers, and doers from many different disciplines, who come together to explore the social impact of new technologies, the forces of change shaping our future, and new approaches to solving the world’s most significant challenges. PopTech’s mission is to accelerate the positive impact of world changing people, projects and ideas. PopTech fosters breakthrough, multidisciplinary collaborations that help individuals, companies and organizations work together to change the world.

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Mobile Media Toolkit Thu, 28 Jul 2011 14:41:20 +0000 admin
Mobile Active recently released The Mobile Media Toolkit detailing how to produce media on and for mobile phones. It includes how-to guides, mobile tools and case studies on how mobile phones can (and are) being used for reporting, news broadcasting and in citizen media.  The site has guides for an array of devices, from basic feature phones to the latest smartphone applications.

More about the toolkit from the creators:

There are many media projects that use mobiles effectively. There are also many tools and resources that can serve the potential needs of journalists, citizen reporters, and media organizations. The Mobile Media Toolkit is a collection of these tools and resources, as well as examples of how mobile phones can be and are being used in the media industry.

The simple fact is that using mobile phones in media production isn’t always as easy as it seems. Finding the right tool and using it correctly to reach the broadest possible audience requires knowledge of the mobile landscape. The need for guidance in the industry is apparent.

The Mobile Media Toolkit provides guidance on tools, resources, and case studies of how mobiles can be used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media participation on a variety of platforms and in a variety of circumstances.

The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and run by Melissa Ulbricht, Project Manager of the Mobile Media Toolkit.

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SXSWi: Conversational Journalism Tue, 15 Mar 2011 22:56:17 +0000 admin By Trisha Creekmore

Austin Tex. — The idea of journalism as a conversation has been bandied about since the first newspapers brought their brands into the online space in the late ‘90s. If traditional journalism has been more akin to a lecture or discourse between elites, what does it mean to bring citizens into the dialogue?

Many traditional journalism distributors have experimented with conversational journalism over the past 20 years, but there has, up to now, been a dearth of data to show editors and publishers whether these plans are resonating with users or, as some fear, damaging credibility.

Doreen Marchionni discusses conversational journalism at SXSWi.

Doreen Marchionni, a professor at Pacific Lutheran University and 17-year veteran of newspapers, decided to use her doctorate to measure the phenomenon of conversational journalism. What, exactly, is this thing and which real-world applications might allow it to coexist with core journalism values such as credibility and expertise?

Marchionni found, not surprisingly, that haphazard implementation of community and crowdsourcing can mean a loss of perceived credibility, authority and likeability. But organizations that do it well can create sustained interest and repeat engagement with their sites.

She began the panel by reiterating that conversational journalism is real. Anyone with Internet access and a few web tools can create and distribute news, collaborate with professional journalists in real time, and select which news stories and sources to follow. The gatekeeper no longer sits in the newsroom.

Twitter is the preferred discussion tool at SWSWi.

A theme that popped up throughout her research is perceived humanity and likeability of the journalist. She found that modern audiences are constantly sizing up authors, looking for similarities with themselves.

Marchionni presented tips for bringing the community into the news process, all based on her research:

  • Add photos and bios of reporters and writers to a website. This is an easy way to give users the familiarity they’re looking for.
  • Put reporters and writers on video if possible. Marchionni found that video was a very powerful way to humanize the people behind the news. Audiences responded extremely well when reporters talked about themselves and how they covered a story in a short video clip.
  • Write with voice. Users in her study trusted a reporter with a distinctive voice over a reporter who wrote straight AP-style inverted pyramid stories.
  • Voice is good, informality is not. Too much informality, especially in hard news stories, became a problem. A balance between a journalist’s and organization’s credibility along with a conversational tone helped create and maintain a community.
  • Use social media tools to crowdsource stories. This probably wouldn’t have been true even five years ago, but now audiences expect it. Be explicit if a story was crowdsourced: audiences appreciate the candor.
  • Don’t use Twitter only to broadcast a message, use it to engage the audience.

Marchionni pointed to Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Network as a good example of conversational journalism in action.

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