What Drives Social Change?

Good question. I’ve been working on this as a part of my thesis. How do ideas move from scholarship to policy? What creates the intellectual mood of a time? I came across this interesting article from the Columbia Journalism Review that talked about driving forces behind public opinion on climate change.

From my thesis I am interested in looking at the ideas of sustainability promoted by activists such as Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben (on the grassroots level) and Jeffrey Sachs and the normative frameworks they put out, as well as take into consideration constructivist and cosmopolitan philosophies and explore their frameworks as well (Anne-Marie Slaughter and Kwame Anthony Appiah for starters). Then, how do these eventually become law? I get the impression that artists and activists often have their fingers on society’s pulse before policy catches up. I’m going to peek into social movement theory too!

And….also from CJR – Bloomberg has a new sustainability section!! And it’s edited by Eric Roston, whom they interviewed! So, something’s happening out there. Let’s make it good!


The Future of Journalism

My research over the past week has got me thinking about the future of journalism and possibilities. I rounded up a few articles from the past year that I thought did a good job of poking around the media field – just a look for you all!

  1. A recap of a TIME Magazine panel on the future of journalism (Oct 2011)
  2. The NextWeb has a nice little recap of London’s Social Media Week: what happens when Twitter and journalism meet?
  3. 5 myths about the future of journalism, according to WaPo
  4. A way old (2010!) Forbes article on the future of journalism and why it shouldn’t become a public good 
  5. And…Nieman Lab, a great resource who dedicates all of its time to this stuff!  

Let me know if any of this catches your eyes!! 


My Q&A with ProPublica got me thinking about new models of journalism, or emerging forms of new media. While I will publish a more collected post tomorrow, I wanted to bring your attention to an organization that I think is doing interesting work: Purpose.

Purpose creates “21st Century Movements.” Their aim is to use the power of an engaged people to create massive social change through social movements. They call their work “movement entrepreneurship” and have been behind campaigns that work to change health policy, security policy and marriage equality.

Purpose’s cofounder and CEO, Jeremy Heimans, was the keynote speaker on the last day of Social Media Week (Friday the 17th). I’ve included a brief introduction to his speech (take from Social Media Week’s site and block quoted below) and the video. It’s a bit long but worth the watch: Heimans and his organization have their finger on the pulse of change, and are able to harness changing media, social and economic structures to make a big difference.

Purpose.com co-founder/CEO Jeremy Heimans will discuss new sources of power in the 21st century – and the risks and opportunities this creates for established institutions. Rapidly forming, self-organizing, technology-enabled movements (such as those seen in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and through groups like Avaaz.org) and new economic models (such as collaborative consumption) are emerging almost every day. Working together, these groups are challenging the power of entities such as governments, corporations and even NGOs. These changes have prompted a dramatic re-evaluation that forces us to ask what does it mean to have lasting power in the 21st century.

How do entities respond to these new demands while still fulfilling their missions? How should new entities structure themselves, and to whom are they accountable? How do we balance the inside/outside power dynamic to create positive social change? When should traditional institutions seek to deploy the technologies and techniques of rapid self-organization and mobilization to aid their existing work?

Watch the keynote here.

Q and A with Minhee Cho of ProPublica

Editor’s note: We have to conduct two Q and As with media startups and publish them on our blogs. I got in touch with ProPublica, and luckily their Communications Manager, Minhee Cho, was kind enough to take the time to answer my long list of questions. If you don’t know ProPublica yet, you need to. They’re “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest”, and they’re awesome. Q and A below –  Ms. Cho drops some real knowledge on us all: 


1.     How does ProPublica’s online platform differentiate it from a traditional print publication? Did the founders conceptualize it in a totally different manner? Did they draw on their experiences from print publications?

The business crisis in publishing is making it increasingly difficult for the companies that control nearly all of our nation’s news organizations to afford – or at least to think they can afford – the sort of intensive and uncertain efforts that produce great investigative journalism. ProPublica’s founders recognized this need and wanted to create a news outlet that would address the growing gap in investigative journalism while also being completely independent and focusing solely on stories with “moral force.”

The fact that ProPublica is an online-only news outlet definitely works in our favor. For one thing, print is expensive. Managing the costs of printing and distributing a traditional newspaper would have made launching ProPublica much more difficult. On top of that, ProPublica stories are mostly deep-dive investigations that are much longer than what a traditional newspaper would run. An online platform is ideal for this type of journalism to thrive.

2.     Do you see yourself as a news organization? An elaboration on a news organization?

ProPublica is definitely a news organization. We produce top-notch journalism with the same quality and aggressive reporting you can find at any traditional news outlet. We are led by some of the nation’s top journalists and have won two Pulitzer Prizes in two years, which emphasizes how our cohorts feel the same way.

3.     Do you believe you fill a different role than a traditional media organization as we’ve come to know them?

In some ways, yes. Unlike many traditional news outlets, ProPublica isn’t just looking for stories that drive traffic. Our mission is to produce journalism in the public interest, or stories with “moral force” as our key leaders like to say. While a Kim Kardashian piece may bring us more readers than say a piece on the foreclosure crisis or hydraulic fracturing, we recognize the need for these stories to be told and aren’t afraid to pursue them. And luckily, our readers have grown to appreciate the issues we cover.

4.     What stylistic and content evolutions has ProPublica undergone since its launch in 2007?

ProPublica is still relatively young but we’ve had a few website redesigns since we first starting publishing stories in 2008. We’ve also increased the volume of stories from our initial launch by mixing in quick, hard-hitting posts to balance out our deep-dive stories and provide fresh content for our readers daily.

In June 2011, we also began a new project called MuckReads where we curate the best accountability stories of the day: http://projects.propublica.org/muckreads/ In line with our mission, we wanted to uphold journalism that has real-world impact and support others that have the same impetus. More details on that ongoing project here: http://www.propublica.org/article/introducing-muckreads-a-new-way-to-share-the-best-accountability-reporting

5.     Investigative reporting is inherently risky: both time and labor intensive. What’s your secret to success?

ProPublica is led by some of the nation’s most distinguished editors and journalists who are devoted to the art of investigative journalism. Their skills, experience and drive to produce stories that serve the public have led to much of ProPublica’s success.


6.     How sustainable is the non-profit model for your organization? Would you recommend it for other news organizations/platforms?

ProPublica is very fortunate to have donors that support our work wholeheartedly and recognize the ever-growing importance of investigative journalism. I have no doubt that the nonprofit model is sustainable for ProPublica in the years to come, especially with our Vice President of Development, Debby Goldberg, at the helm.

As our annual report states, we’ve doubled our number of donors from 2010 to 2011, and last year we also received more than half of our funding from supporters outside the Sandlers – demonstrating that we are on right path.

ProPublica’s General Manager, Dick Tofel, has also facilitated many new and exciting means of additional funding for ProPublica, including a partnership with SurveyMonkey Contribute (https://contribute.surveymonkey.com/charity/propublica), Amazon Kindle Singles (http://www.propublica.org/kindlesingles), Open Road (http://www.mediabistro.com/ebooknewser/open-road-teams-with-propublica_b19827), as well as advertisements on our site (http://www.propublica.org/article/why-were-publishing-advertising-and-where-we-stand-on-funding).

7.     Who tend to be your biggest donors grant-making organizations or individual supporters? In your experience, what is the relationship between one-time donors and repeat supporters?

Our largest supporters tend to be foundations, which include the Sandler Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, among several others. To the best of my knowledge, we also have many significant contributions from individuals but ProPublica is still relatively new (we’re just approaching our fourth anniversary) so it’s hard to say what drives a one-time donor compared to a regular supporter. My best guess is that one-time donors are those who love a particular story or series and that repeat supporters are those that love ProPublica and want to support our overall mission rather than any specific topic we’re investigating.

8.     Has your funding model changed since inception?

ProPublica’s funding model has evolved since our inception but the change was something we always had in mind. When we first began, ProPublica relied on the Sandler Foundation for nearly all of its operating budget. Over the years, however, our funding has become more and more varied. We had only about 100 donors in 2009 but grew to 1,300 in 2010 and then 2,600 in 2011. In fact, in 2011, more than half of our funding came from donors outside the Sandlers.

9.     Do you foresee any upcoming changes or challenges with your current model?

Nothing in particular that I can think of but I don’t work in development so it’s hard to say.


Social Media

10.  Does the company have a social media strategy? How does it fit into ProPublica’s overall mission? Does social media play a significant role in capturing readers?


Social media plays a huge role in ProPublica’s overall outreach strategy. We’ve recently hired a full-time social media editor and social media producer who monitor our accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. and engage with readers and relevant communities. They also drive ProPublica’s crowd-sourcing efforts, much of which is used for our reporting, and are always innovating new ways to create the most impact while upholding our mission of creating journalism in the public interest.

As our annual report mentions, our Twitter account has grew by nearly five-fold to the point that if ProPublica were a daily newspaper, we’d have the eighth-largest following in the country. Our Tumblr was also recently highlighted by TIME Magazine as one of its top 30 must-see Tumblr blogs: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/01/30/30-must-see-tumblr-blogs/. All this has definitely helped us spread our reach and remain at the forefront of online journalism and innovation.

11.   Could you please elaborate on the relationship between ProPublica and its online community? What sort of responses do you get from your readers? Does community response influence new topics or deeper coverage?

We constantly get comments and suggestions for new stories. While ProPublica can’t pursue everything that comes our way, we do engage with our online community and take their responses seriously.

One case that comes to mind is our recent investigation into redistricting issues in California: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-democrats-fooled-californias-redistricting-commission. Our reporter Olga Pierce and news applications developer Jeff Larson received a lot of criticism, particularly from the California Democrats that the story highlighted (go figure): http://www.propublica.org/article/how-democrats-fooled-californias-redistricting-commission. This led our redistricting team to write a separate post shortly afterward addressing the many questions our readers had: http://www.propublica.org/article/answering-your-questions-on-our-california-redistricting-story/


12.   What sorts of trends are you encountering in the field of journalism? Is ProPublica quick to adopt new models early; what are some issues you consider before making bold changes to your style of reporting?

ProPublica is definitely an early-adopter, much of that credited to the superior journalists and editors who are on top of trends. However, we do carefully approach decisions to try new models, making sure they fall in line with generating stories with impact, and not just more noise.

13.   How does ProPublica view citizen journalism?

Citizen journalism has played an important role in ProPublica’s reporting efforts. We launched our reporting network back in May 2009 with the goal of organizing readers and guiding them to “commit acts of journalism” http://www.propublica.org/article/introducing-the-propublica-reporting-network-520 This was specifically focused on the stimulus when it launched, but we’ve more recently used crowdsourcing to drive our series on foreclosures and mortgage modifications: http://www.propublica.org/article/struggling-homeowners-tell-us-your-story-515 More on that project here: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/propublica-demonstrates-the-benefits-of-crowdsourcing_b13394



Elevator Pitch

Ideas for my business. I’m bouncing these off you guys! I want to do a non-profit news aggregation site. A bit like Dowser in that it promotes “solution journalism.” Below is my elevator pitch, what do you all think?

 I’m starting a blog that provides rich, short sharp snippets on theories and projects that make the world better. It will distinguish itself from the pack as a blog that is critical, intelligent and speaks across multiple sectors: a do-good site for pragmatists. It will have a strong aesthetic vision and employ the newest multimedia and blog technologies. The twist? It’s a non-profit and offers a range of services for customers and organizations including a store and publicity platform.

So now, how do I get funding? And what are my perks/services?

Innovation Management

I had a conversation with a friend the other day and we discussed the most effective ways that people can make change. One of the questions I ask myself is: what sector? Non-profit, government or private?

Buddhism cites that you can create value absolutely any place that you are, since your behavior matters more than anything else. Constructivist International Relations claims that “significant aspects of international relations are historically and socially contingent, rather than inevitable consequences of human nature or other essential characteristics of world politics” (according to Wikipedia at least). In this case, NGOs and Civil Society play a large role in shaping culture and norms. So I’ll go with that.

 But there are definitely ways to make the non-profit (and public sector) more lean and efficient. These are old gems but I thought they’d be worth sharing. The first is a white paper from Bridgespan titled “Ending the Non-Profit Starvation Cycle”: how we can coax donors to allow non-profits larger overheads so that non-profits can operate more efficiently.

 Jason Saul of the Kellogg School of Management published a book in March of 2011 called “The End of Fundraising”. Saul is an expert on measuring social impact. To him, non-profits offer valuable services that can be leveraged so that they actually are paid to do the work that they do. Because higher education rates are proven to create economic good, for instance, you can get private sector companies to donate to the non-profit because it benefits them in the future.

The Lean Startup’s got me thinking so much about management innovation! Fascinating stuff. And now that I have to think about funding models for my online publication, I’m on the prowl for ways that I can leverage my services to others. 


More to come!


Social Good Social Media

Been thinking about what social media could mean to create social good. A few different ideas have come swimming this way lately.

1)   There is a great Q and A between Nick Kristof and Fast Company published in January where Kristof discusses the role of new media in journalism. He talks about his readers’ role in his work, how social media helps him find stories, and the line between journalism and advocacy.

2)   This makes me thinking about the upcoming needs in the journalism sector. As I think about my start-up, I have been looking at organizations and seeing what niche they fill. Hopefully I’ll get to conduct a Q&A with a few of them soon.

  1. Pro-Publica, which does time and labor intensive investigative journalism, is organized as a non-profit, which is an intriguing model. The Center for Investigative Reporting, out in SF, also runs as a non-profit. What are the implications of a journalism/non-profit model? Is this the way it’s headed?
  2. Purpose wants to energize citizen participation through new media: they engage in something called “Movement Entrepreneurship” – how do we keep engaging the community in creating change?
  3. What needs will have to be filled in the upcoming years? I stand behind the statement that nothing can replace journalism. Citizen journalism is important, but we will always need people who can dedicate their time and energy to reporting, writing and fact-checking the stories that are shaping the times. Will websites become specialized non-profits, just like PP is? Going to investigate this more! No pun intended.

3)   Meanwhile, the Lean Startup is offering a great lesson on how people can innovate quickly, nimbly and with little waste. What’s the most interesting is that the principles of innovation apply to any new project, whether it is within a startup or a large company. In fact, they offer examples with the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau, Intuit and HP. I love the idea of training ourselves to be more innovative thinkers.

More to come! Need to work on my business plan now.

The Lean Startup

Reading the Lean Startup for class, a book in which the author, Eric Ries, describes new ways to conceive of entrepreneurship and how to manage and guide it. So far his emphasis is on undertaking entrepreneurship in a way that is efficient and successful and pays attention to detail: he wants to increase innovation and limit the number of new products that come to market and fail. I’ll post a few notes when I’m further in it.

Meanwhile we need to continue to conceive of our media start-up and practice our elevator pitches, so that will be my work for tomorrow. Regardless of whether or not I start a successful business, I am captivated by the idea of how we can bring innovative thinking to everyday activities.

Check out this TED talk by Robert Wright. He published a book in 2000 called “Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny.” To quote Wikipedia, the book “argues that biological evolution and cultural evolution are shaped and directed first and foremost by ‘non-zero-sumness’ [cooperation] that is, the prospect of creating new interactions that are not zero-sum.” Cooperation leads to our success – I like it!!

World lacks enough food, fuel as population soars: U.N

World lacks enough food, fuel as population soars: U.N

Reuters published this article last night, and it is so upsetting. To not have our basic needs is one of the most terrifying scenarios we can imagine, and it makes me wonder what we can do to prevent this before it occurs. 

Social entrepreneurship and social innovations has been one of the most fascinating topics I’ve studied in graduate school, and I’ve been especially taken by innovations surrounding sustainability. I do not know much about agriculture- I’ve been a suburban kid most of my life- but I do wonder how urban ag can make a difference in our food supply. What if we all had wall gardens? And every roof grew food? And we had more urban farms that did such great work as Brooklyn Grange? Last year for a course on social entrepreneurship I was able to design an urban sustainability center: I wonder if that will translate into this class. More thoughts to come.