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Civic Media Project

Eric Gordon, Author

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Pop-Up Newsroom: “We Are Where You Are”

By David Baines, Priya Rajsekar, Marco van Kerkhoven and Melissa Wall 

Journalism continues to be closely tied to the health of
civic life, but do journalists still need permanent spaces to do their work? Retreating
to physical newsrooms has tended to isolate rather than connect them with the
public and the topics they cover. Yet today, such boundaries are increasingly contrary to the ways digitized news
blurs producers and consumers of information to create networked journalism
(Bruns 2008; Heinrich 2011; Russell 2011).

Our student journalism project, the Pop-Up Newsroom, challenges
the idea that all news outlets need permanent physical newsrooms. It creates
temporary, virtual news spaces to encourage participants to break free of
traditional news norms and socialization to get closer to local communities.
Pop-Up Newsroom denizens report for limited time periods, disseminating their
stories instantaneously with
own cell phones
and personal social media accounts on
Twitter, Facebook, etc. A shared hashtag networks their reporting. Rather than
trying to drive audiences to a single organizational website, the project
creates information surges via social media. As one student participant has
noted: “Every individual who is able to use a smart phone can be self-media.”

The students’ work is further distributed by temporary
“Command Centers” usually consisting of students with laptops often located in
such as coffee shops. These curators monitor students’ and
the general public’s social media posts about the same topic, selecting content
to redistribute via Pop-Up Newsroom social media
Often, the curation is physically done
in the communities
from which the reporting is taking place. Producing news on the scene makes the
processes of production more transparent and de-emphasizes journalist-source
disparities. Student reporters say this allows them to “reach those areas which
the mainstream media prefers not to.”

Taking away the physical newsroom has helped enable the
creation of a much larger, global news operation. Initially a Los Angeles-based
project, Pop-Up Newsroom has grown to include more than 200 students from
universities and journalism training programs in seven countries (Armenia,
Brazil, India, Netherlands, Taiwan, UK and USA) who have collaboratively
covered topics such as poverty, International Women’s Day, etc. Participants
produce live mobile coverage about their local situation while sharing global
curation responsibilities over a 24-hour period. Mainstream media organizations
such as
The Hindu and The New Indian Express and the social media
RebelMouse have highlighted the project 

Freeing students from the structured newsroom encourages
them to challenge traditional news conventions such as reliance on elite
sources, which industrial news spaces have been designed to accommodate.
Participants conceptualize their journalism roles less as “speaking for”
citizens and, instead, “speaking with” them (Blumler and Coleman 2013, 183).
Thus, students connect with a broader range of voices, rather than simply privileging
traditional go-to sources.  They amplify
the personal stories recounted to them by ordinary citizens and members of
. For example, Indian students covering poverty interviewed
and those forced into poverty due to caste discrimination. In the absence of
bulky and intrusive media devices, these nontraditional sources opened up,
allowing Pop-Up Newsroom to highlight stories typically invisible in mainstream
news coverage. “Never before have I spent so much time listening to their
stories,” one student said about her reporting. “The questions that came to my
mind were, ‘What the hell have I done for my society? How am I going to bring
about change to the current situation?’ ” These experiences further spurred
students to take a broader look at their work by creating
on their roles as journalists.

Working with Pop-Up Newsroom, students come to understand
the power of communication networks to generate new ways of interacting with audiences
as the text, video and photos they post on their social media accounts are
reposted, favorited, etc. by others including members of the communities they
were reporting on. These interactions have ranged from the United Nations reposting
students’ Tweets from Chennai, to a low-income health clinic in Los Angeles and
the students reporting from there
each other
 on their Twitter
accounts. Reflecting on this sort of engagement, a student said that before her
Pop-Up experience, she had never reported with this “amount of involvement with
the public. I both engaged communities and organizations.”

The networked structure also meant students became connected
to other Pop-Up Newsroom participants around the world. Commenting on and
reposting the work of students reporting from other regions revealed how easily
they could become part of a global conversation about shared social issues such
as women’s rights. Thus,
began to conceptualize their work as engaging networks rather than simply
collecting and posting information.

Students also reported that their views of the issues were
broadened by seeing students in other countries covering the same topic. For
example, an Indian student reporting on
poverty in slums around Chennai
was taken aback by a Tweet from the United States about a woman who was
considered deprived because she couldn’t afford a wedding dress. The Indian
student compared this with the Chennai’s poor struggling to afford two meals a
day. Many American students had never heard of International Women’s Day and
were surprised to see the event was so well known in other parts of the world
that Dutch students posted about
demonstrations spurred
by the global day in their local community.


Operating outside the usual
boundaries of journalism, particularly those of a physically permanent
newsroom, helped students exercise greater levels of independence and forced
them to rely more on engagement with the communities they were reporting on to
do their reporting. Embracing the power of networked communication helped them
see their roles in civic life as interconnected with their sources and, at the
same time, revealed the possibilities of global teamwork. Ultimately,
Newsroom demonstrates ways even non-journalistic groups could create a social
media powered pop-up project to engage publics around important social issues. As one student participant said,
“Anyone with a smartphone can bring forth the condition of our society to
public eyes.”




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