Echo Chamber Project Receives A $55,000 Grant

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I'm happy to report that through a series of connections that The Echo Chamber Project has received a $55,000 grant for the next year of operations. Below is the text of the four-page grant that I submitted to the foundation, who prefers to remain anonymous.

I am also pleased to report that I have made it past the first round of the Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge competition, and am in the process of submitting a full proposal.

OVERVIEW
The Echo Chamber Project explores collaborative investigative filmmaking by using new media technologies as well as a repository of original video interviews with journalists and scholars. It is a project that details the limitations of American journalism while at the same time embodying innovative solutions through collaborative media production. In short, it is an independent filmmaker's "YouTube" combined with "Wikipedia" for serious journalism.

Radical innovation is needed in order to discover both sustainable business models for hard-hitting investigative journalism as well as new ways of maintaining influence and audience attention with trustworthy content. The Echo Chamber Project explores the two key trends of Online Video and Tapping into Collective Intelligence through Citizen Participation.

Continued below is a brief overview of the history and scope of the Echo Chamber Project, as well as a funding request for a total of $55,000 for the next year of operations...

The project will continue to test the developed collaborative editing software during the first quarter of 2007. Volunteers will assist in collaboratively completing a 90-minute film by the fourth quarter of 2007. The finished documentary film will capture the essence of the major conclusions from the 86 interviews with journalists, scholars and media critics concerning the press' pre-war performance. It will also include documentary evidence from a comprehensive collection of 5 months worth of pre-war news coverage from ABC, CBS and NBC used within the confines of fair use.

By the first quarter of 2007, the online component will provide a comprehensive collection of all of the interview source material in a way that is easily navigated and searchable. If a viewer wants to seek out more details on any given topic, then there will be multiple ways to discover the source material in its original context.

Finally, the project intends to provide a proof-of-concept business model for an open access, collaborative video production that could be applied to large-scale media organizations. A financially successful project could provide a viable blueprint for the future of online video journalism and the collaborative peer production of rich media.

The History of The Echo Chamber Project
The absence of independent and skeptical journalism during the build-up to the war in Iraq in the fall of 2002 is what initially catalyzed The Echo Chamber Project. I watched and recorded five months of ABC, CBS and NBC footage leading up to the war. Then in the summer of 2004, my wife and I went on a journey of interviewing 45 different experts who described the general symptoms and underlying illnesses of American Journalism as well as the specific pre-war media failings (http://www.echochamberproject.com/interviews).

After gathering many insights into journalism through the first round of production interviews, I realized that I didn't want to just describe the existing problems, but that I wanted to actually try to provide some practical solutions. I could see that the trends in new media were incorporating principles of transparency, openness, cooperation, collaboration and authenticity. So I began to explore the concept of "Open Source Journalism" in early 2005 and how to apply it to my documentary production.

Throughout 2005, I attended a number of technology conferences and interviewed another 41 experts on New Media, Open Source Intelligence and Culture & Consciousness to explore the future landscape of collaborative journalism. For the duration of 2006, we have been developing open source software in order to put these collaborative theories into practice for The Echo Chamber Project.

The request for $55,000 is to sustain this collaborative phase throughout the duration of 2007.

Exploring Open Questions in the Future of Journalism
American journalism is facing many crises while trying to transform their business models and products for a communications environment that is marked by a fierce competition for advertising dollars and audience attention.

Radical innovation is desperately needed, and The Echo Chamber Project intends on reducing the uncertainty on a number of open questions:

* With cutbacks in newsroom personnel and resources, how are journalists going to continue to dedicate the time and energy to hard-hitting investigative reporting?

* How can the press be collaboratively produced in a way that produces accurate and verified information?

* How can journalists do a better job at tapping into the wisdom of the citizens and be more inclusive of alternative perspectives and points of view?

* If news is a conversation and not a lecture, then what does this look like in the context of video production?

* How can the press provide a more comprehensive map that represents the complexity of the world that we live in?

* How can the press do a better job at cutting through the public relations spin to detect political deception by analyzing facts over time?

* How can journalists better engage youth culture into current affairs?

* How can the Open Business principles of openness, free services and free access be applied to independent documentary filmmaking?

* How can the Free Culture principles of
cooperative sharing and word-of-mouth marketing be leveraged through Creative Commons licensing of video content?

* What is the potential of online advertising revenue to support an open and transparent post-production process?

APPENDIX: Exploring Solutions to the Open Questions in the Future of Journalism
This final section provides more technical details that could be treated as an appendix.

I have found it is easiest to actually show people how some of these concepts have been implemented through a working demonstration -- rather than just describing it in words. The following two videos offer a general five-minute overview, and then a more detailed nine-minute presentation and brief demonstration from the Vloggercon conference:
http://www.echochamberproject.com/media_politics_socialchange &
http://www.echochamberproject.com/vloggercon_presentation

These two videos offer a visual overview, and the following sections encapsulate the essence of some of the potential solutions to the open questions listed above.

* Distributed Sensemaking
Hard-hitting investigative reporting could be sustained by putting the following Dan Gillmor aphorism into action with technology: "readers collectively know more than the reporter." This could be practically achieved through a number of peer production methods and collective intelligence technologies described in more detail below (http://www.echochamberproject.com/collaborativesensemaking).

* Peer Production
Collaboratively produced news with accurate and verified information can potentially come out of developing an ecosystem of volunteer roles and tasks that can add up to complex intelligence through an "architecture of participation." Best practices for this can be adapted from successful open source software projects, peer-produced Wikipedia, social bookmarking site del.icio.us, news filtering site digg.com and the playlisting community at webjay.org (http://www.echochamberproject.com/iterative_collaborative_media_open_source_code).

* Collective Intelligence
Tapping into collective intelligence is achieved by aggregating context and meaning on video segment sound bites through the mechanism of "user-contributed metadata" (i.e. credibility ratings, quality ratings, free tagging categorization and organizing video segments into playlist sequences). The end result a rich body of links and associations between the facts and subjective judgments that is used to aggregate contextual knowledge from the participants. There are many practical examples from technology firms that aggregate individual judgments into collective decisions -- Amazon.com book recommendations, eBay trust and reputation systems, the link citation analysis built into Google's PageRank algorithm, and the front-page voting system of Digg.com. The Echo Chamber Project will be combining some of these technological mechanisms within a journalistic context by using the collection of interview video segments.

* Participatory Engagement
The trend of "news is a conversation and not a lecture" indicates a preference of active engagement over passive consumption. This is manifesting with blog conversations and comment feedback systems. Audio and video "conversations" are limited by the post-production bottleneck involved with rich media. The Echo Chamber Project intends on exploring the dialogue possibilities by using a collection of video segment sound bites from subject matter experts. These video segments can be used as building blocks for creating longer discussions and arguments by juxtaposing multiple segments within a chronological sequence and virtually editing them together at http://www.EchoChamberProject.com.

* Handling Complexity
The world's problems have become more complex than the maps that we have to describe them. We are reaching the limits of linear storytelling and reductionistic approaches to describing the world that we live in. A more holistic and comprehensive map can be achieved by describing the interconnectivity and relationships between individual elements. The hypertext-linked medium of the Internet has a lot of potential for mapping out this network of connections, but most newspapers and television journalists are still stuck in the mindset of producing content for the flat mediums of print and television. The Echo Chamber Project will experiment with exploring new layers of depth and contextual relevance of video segments by using the filtering and clustering mechanisms of ratings, tags and playlists.

* Countering Deceptive Public Relations Spin
Merriam Webster's 2006 Word of the Year is "Truthiness," which indicates how much the proliferation of political deception has saturated our media environment. The tactics of political spin have matured well past the ability of the existing journalistic paradigms to effectively counter them. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert use humor and satire as their pretext for making political judgments. But there are other mechanisms for aggregating facts over time in a transparent way that provides an audit trail to justify controversial judgments and avoids charges of political bias (http://www.echochamberproject.com/node/722).

* Engaging Young Audiences
Traditional journalism institutions are facing dwindling revenue streams through their legacy distribution systems, and the trend is the online movement of viewership and advertising revenue. It is harder and harder to capture the attention and engagement of the MySpace and YouTube Generation, and my goal is to create a social networking environment that is fun and exciting for me to learn, explore, connect and create. A key towards achieving this is to make it easy for like-minded people to communicate and collaborate in editing video content.

* Exploring Open Business Principles
The latest trends in "Web 2.0" technology have been free services and free access to open content supported by advertising. Cooperation and Openness are key buzzwords. It is an ecosystem of symbiotic partnerships rather than competitive enemies. The downside to openness is more creative and financial uncertainty through the loss of control. The benefit is more creativity, more engagement, more diversity, and a much richer end product with stronger grassroots word-of-mouth reputation, trust and influence. The benefits have the potential to outweigh the costs, but the fear of uncertainty has prevented media companies from fully embracing Open principles and making the quantum leap into this new paradigm.

* Implementing Free Culture Principles Through Creative Commons Licensing
One mechanism of cooperation and sharing is through "Creative Commons licensing" of content. Volunteers will be able to use some of the original interview videos under the conditions that they attribute it to The Echo Chamber Project and use it in a non-commercial context. This will help expand the reach and cultural influence of the source material.

* Exploring Sustainable Business Models
The key for this type of video production and distribution model to expand to other contexts is to prove that it economically sustainable. This will be achieved through a partnership with the advertising program with www.Blip.tv and potential advertising sponsorships. The online component will also serve as a marketing mechanism for the DVD release of the final film.

Congrats Kent

You are doing your Great Work. congratulations for the Grant, kent.

I saw your weblog is filled with great stuff and the truth in the stuff has inspired me a lot.

hope you will do your great post about this project also.

congratulations!

congrats on the grant. looking forward to hearing more about the project

thrilled

Hi Kend,
just found your project here in the web by accident – and got very interested about it.
Sitting here in Germany and I’m thrilled by what you want to archive…
How you are coming along? Your latest post dates from 6 month ago....

Grant

Wow, that is incredible...
Just found your stuff looking forward to reading more later on tonight.

Wicked!

Nice one, Kent! Can't wait to see what comes out of this!

Brett

Kent, Congratulations on the

Kent,

Congratulations on the grant.

Keep up the good work on this New Media Ecosystem... it's very exciting, intellectually and pragmatically!

Daniel