ColaLife

Reach

ColaLife is a “campaign to try and leverage the distribution muscle of a multi-national corporate institution to get life saving medicines to children in developing countries.” In short, to convince the Coca-Cola Corporation that it is worthwhile to distribute rehydration salts through their robust and well-developed delivery network, apparently a weakness of most non-governmental organizations. Those spearheading the ColaLife campaign, to my understanding, have focused their advocacy efforts largely online, using a Flickr Group, a Facebook Group, and a Twitter account to raise awareness, organize people, and spread the word. Coverage in traditional media is also a goal, obviously, but it’s interesting for me to watch, among with other reasons, because I think this “social internet” now has the critical mass necessary to be used as catalyst for a singular goal. ColaLife, in my opinion, could be a ground breaking test case.

As a plus, I’ve finally found a good cause for a random series of images I took while in Peru last summer. Sweet, huh?

Liberties

Liberties

“5. In case the guest does not sleep during late hours and remains out of the room during the day times his activities should be kept under watch. In the night-time there is a possibility of making explosive device after collecting necessary equipment/articles during the daytime.”

Found in Paharganj, Dehli.

The plot thickens

On my argument against College Publisher, and for an open source coalition of student newspapers, Brad Arendt of The Arbiter presents several good points about the advantages of using College Publisher.  Considering the time he took writing a well-detailed comment, I thought I would clarify on a several things I think he missed.

First, I think student newspapers should actively work on developing 1 or 2 alternatives to CP. This may not mean collaboratively building a CMS from scratch, rather it’s more likely to be facilitating a developer ecosystem specific to our needs around common platforms. For anyone familiar with WordPress, which I’ve helped implement for the Whitman Pioneer and most recently, Oregon Direct Action (which is a work in progress), it’s strength is an abundance of plugins and themes you can add to your install. A developer ecosystem is important for continued innovation and, as far as I can tell, CP doesn’t have one.

Cost is certainly an issue. Both CP and WordPress, Django, or Drupal are “free,” but the critical difference is that CP comes working out of the box for student newspapers and the others require a developer. One stated goal is to have an open source alternative that can be quickly up and running with full functionality. If the paper has resources to develop their platform beyond point, they would be able to do so with the support of other developers across the country. This platform would also be available to local papers, although that is not the intended market. Furthermore, I do see a business model in this, in a very Ubuntu and WordPress-esque fashion.

Quoting Brad,

There are some rather innovative and creative things which the CP4.0 system does offer. I would not say it limits creativity, rather it is the students you have on staff who know what to do with the tools that limits your creativity more than CP4.0. The Daily Pennsylvanian has done some very creative stuff in the LAMP environment, which is open source. The Daily Tar Heel has also figured out an interesting work around for blogs, granted done via WordPress but the 4.0 system and the students figured out how to “fit” it in.

Personally, I think arguing that College Publisher allows for innovation is completely erroneous. LAMP, which means Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, is an open source stack and doesn’t stand for anything specific. I don’t mean to discount your example, I’m just not sure how you mean to imply CP is innovative by allowing hacking outside the platform. Furthermore, any server environment should allow working with and around the software running on it. Allowing WordPress to be installed as a blogging platform is not a sellable strength of College Publisher

Brian also mentions that CP does provide backups of your site for the scenario in which it disappears.  Unfortunately, these, I imagine, are only backups of your data, not the content management system your data is living in. If your site were to go down, you would have to install and develop an alternative CMS, as well as port your database, before you have a live site.  You shouldn’t have to completely rebuild your website if College Publisher disappears.  When the web presence becomes the only presence, having your site suddenly not exist would have very real consequences.

One case against College Publisher

When you control the platform, you also control the content and innovation associated with it.

In the school news industry, College Publisher, now branded as the College Media Network, desperately needs a competitor. Owned by MTV, a subsidiary of Viacom, College Publisher provides a content management system now used by “550 going on 600” student newspapers across the country. It offers under-staffed and under-funded newsrooms an easy way to get their content online at a price that can’t be beat.  

Why is Viacom interested in managing the online platforms for as many college newspapers as possible? To deliver advertising, of course. As a part of the contract for a cheap, if not free, way to get your stories and images online, College Publisher reserves the top placements on your site for their own use. This allows an even bigger media giant (Viacom) to directly make money off a school newspaper’s content, either by selling advertising slots to big corporations like T-Mobile and Bank of America or by running advertisements for their other properties. Student newspapers are especially valuable to Viacom because they largely produce for its key demographic: the college student. Most, too, are held captive to this partnership because there isn’t the motivation, manpower, or vision for more innovative options.

Should any independent student newspaper want in a part of this? No.

College Publisher, unfortunately, is not the innovation aspiring journalists and reporters should depend on in this changing media environment. Claiming RateMyProfessors.com and a CMN Facebook app are “national media outlets” is not creativity. Rather than outsourcing the heavy-lifting to College Publisher, student newspapers need to allocate resources internally to running and developing their own platform. This can seem somewhat paradoxical, adding to your staff when you’re losing more and more revenue, but it is a necessity for survival. The future isn’t all that bleak, we’re just in a time of transition.

At Publishing 2.0, Scott Karp argues that newspapers need to take a hint from General Motors and learn how to innovate. Most newspapers have had roughly the same business model since the 1950’s which they’re now largely attempting to reapply to the internet. It’s not the same medium, though. Advertising and classifieds were king in past years, but the playing field is now open to the most ambitious entrepreneurs. Maybe a model like Spot.us will succeed, maybe it won’t. Without trying new things, there’s no way to find out.

Part of the innovation that has to happen, I would like to add, is how you manage, display, and distribute your content online. For student newspapers, the solution isn’t College Publisher. It’s too restrictive, poorly developed, and proprietary, locking innovative students to a platform that limits creativity. Page load times are atrocious because of far too much Javascript, and if they go out of business, your website goes down. The answer, instead, is open source.

One component of a strategy for student newspapers to move forward is a consortium dedicated to collaboratively building an open source content management system which best fits everyone’s needs. We need a robust, free to use platform that thrives under many of the same values which the open source movement holds dear. The growth of such a community around the publishing software used by student newspapers would be of tremendous value to everyone, especially because most papers aren’t in competing markets. Collaborative innovation is a win-win for these types of organizations, a fact I think few have realized.

As the start for a transition I hope to begin with the Oregon Daily Emerald in the winter, I’m taking steps forward. At this point, my work involves researching mature platforms already in the ecosystem, such as WordPress, Drupal, and Django, contacting people at what I think are progressive school newspapers, and working to identify the crucial features for any online newsroom (like managing media assets and placing advertisements). While I recognize there are already many content management systems on the market, my paradoxical goal is for a platform as easy to use and install as WordPress that also offers advanced management features. Software that any student newspaper can install, but also be able to develop further if they have the resources to do so.

I’m passionate about making this happen. Let’s do it.

Ironically, the College Media Network blog runs WordPress. They obviously aren’t drinking their own Kool-Aid.

Cove Palisades

Every year, with this being the fourth, I try to get away for at least a weekend and join my friends at Cove Palisades State Park.  Spearheaded by the Lofgren family, it’s a grand time of wakeboarding, beach, and sun.  At dinner Saturday night, I finally pulled myself together enough to make a few images (largely at the urging of everyone else).

Unshaven
Colin’s stubble is the new look, kind of like sagging pants.

Collin Sherwood Elwyn is one of those friends I’ve had since at least middle school, if not elementary school.  I think we played both soccer and basketball together at one point, but it’s fuzzy trying to think back that far.

The Kitchen
Colin’s stubble is the new look, kind of like sagging pants.

For dinner that night, we had pizza from the grill, perfected after many years of trial and error.  I can remember back to the good ol’ days when we tried to cook it over the fire and ended up making calzones.  The secret, as it stands, is to coat the dough in olive oil to prevent burning.  Just reminisce of all of the dinners we had, though, before we figured that out.

Pizza
Forrest takes a bite out of some pretty stellar pizza cooked, of course, on a Weber bar-b-que.

I think Forrest would agree with me in that it was quite tasty.

Glimpses of a subcontinent

Two months after the fact, I’ve started processing images from my journey around the Indian subcontinent.

Festivities

No particular rhyme or reason to what I’m putting up at the moment, just whatever catches my eye.

Debate

I think, when I’ve worked through the body of a few thousand images, I’ll compose more of a narrative to weave the story together. Until then, enjoy the visual tour.

Curiosity

Mia and Beckham

In the last few days, this Bachhuber family has received not one, but two new additions: Mia Hamm and David Beckham:

David and Mia

As my sister gets ready to go off to college, my mom thought it would be best to make sure the house stays lively.  We visited the local animal rescue shelter, and Maggie picked out her favorite: Mia.

Madeline, envious of Maggie’s new friend, decided she wanted to get one too: David.

Lively it’s been, too, as these two dynamos never stop.  Personally, I’ve never thought myself much of an animal person, but the two new kittens are growing on me.

David

Somedays you just have to take a break from the work to capture the beautiful things around you.

Ideas for a UO Sustainability Conference in October?

Steve Mital, Sustainability Director for the University of Oregon, recently sent a call for ideas to help guide a Sustainability Conference tentatively planned for the 23rd and 24th of October, 2008.  It is being organized by Sustainability Directors at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Oregon, and the second day will reportedly be “entirely devoted to students and sustainability.”  My suggestions for the conference, written in full on the Oregon Direct Action blog, revolve around these ideas:

  • Planning this conference digitally and in the public eye so that students can be a part of the entire process
  • Adding an international component to help bridge the local-international sustainability gap
  • Networking with local sustainability non-profits
  • Drafting a set of sustainability guidelines for campus community to voluntarily adopt (i.e. minimizing paper use, using Tupperware instead of styrofoam, etc.)
They are looking for ideas on “workshops, themes, keynote speakers, etc.” until July 3rd.  Let’s make this conference worth attending!

Shooting in the mirror: India

Shooting in the mirror

I left for India young, naive, and partially unprepared for the extraordinary series of events I was about to experience.  My bag wasn’t packed until late the night before I left, and it didn’t hit me that I was spending three months photographing in a completely foreign country until two weeks in to the journey.  By not thinking too much about it, and being entirely focused on what I was trying achieve, I think it was better this way.

Nike has the motto, “Just do it.”  Cliche, yes, but it is one which wholly encompasses every lesson I learned while traveling to capture a story on the cultural, social, and religious constraints to clean water access in India.  Always do what you’re most in fear of.  Feel uncomfortable shooting in the crowds of Magh Mela, the largest annual Hindu gathering on the banks of the Ganges? Just do it.  Uneasy about experiencing poverty in the worst slums of south East Asia?  Just do it.  Worried about the security situation in Kashmir, the disputed territory between India and Pakistan?  Just do it.  The first situation I wimped out on, a hundred thousand people in one stretch of river sounds like a lot of bodies, but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

Of course, any advice I make should be taken with a grain of salt.  Pushing boundaries just isn’t for some people.  For all the others, though, keep doing it.

Being a networking madman also has its advantages in putting together a story.  If you see an opportunity to shoot something you hadn’t thought of before, take it.  Don’t hesitate.  It’s difficult to do in an alien environment, especially when you would like everything to be normal, planned out, and calm, but certainly worth the effort.  Furthermore, tying journalism with development also will score you a number of connections, particularly in India.  The people behind the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are generally more than happy to talk to you about the issues they are combating.  The government, not so much.

With all of that being said, there are a number of things I’ll be making happen next time. 

For one, rethinking my adoption of technology.  Oddly enough, the trip journey was partially intended to give me a 90 day hiatus from being digitally connected at all hours of the day.   I made a decision to leave my MP3 player at home, which lasted until two weeks from the end when I broke down and bought a Chinese knockoff, as well as to take time off Twitter, a micro-blogging service.

Next time, I’m twittering the whole trip.

Not only is it a cool way to report interesting things you come across hour by hour, but also a cheap way to keep in contact with friends and family.  The price of telecommunications is dropping quickly; to send an SMS cost Rs. 3.75 (around 10 cents) and receiving messages is free.  These astounding developments allowed me to even publish my experiences as I was in the middle of the Thar Desert, an arid expanse of land on the Pakistani border.

My goal was to go light and cheap.  Pack my backpack with only the things I really need, and then just take half of that.  Next time probably won’t be so light or cheap.  Even though I had to sell two pairs of skis and my kayak to afford this one, I would sell even more to bring a few more items:

An audio recorder.  India is rich with sound.  For the same reasons I brought earplugs, I need a device to archive the myriad of noise happening at all hours of the day.  Every train station has a unique announcement tone unforgetable to any traveler who has spent a lengthy period of time in one, whether waiting for an afternoon city commuter or spending the night curled up on a freezing platform.  Bus rides also offer the cacaphony, let it be a screech of tires as the vehicle races along a narrow, cliffside road or the horn which a driver can commonly lean upon for minutes at a time.  It never ends.  For this story, however, the sound of water is the most valuable component I missed.  Each region has its own footprint, the tap empties in the pot to a different rhythm, the bucket clangs against the dug well to its special beat, and the conversations surrounding these activities are in their own local language.  Sure, photography is rich as a visual medium, but audio definitely helps to complete the circle.

I could also have taken better interviews with a recorder by taping them instead of frantically trying to take notes.

A GPS.  Also known as a global positioning system, such a device has the ability to track where you’ve been and when you were there.  Of course, I can always do this manually by dropping images on the map, as I do with many of my Flickr photos, but automating the process would be a huge timesaver, as well as lowering the barrier to entry.  Geo is the next big thing, and geo-aware news even more so.  Tagging my images geographically would not only provide an interesting way to keep track of them, but also allow any story I create to be geographically interactive.

More memory.  Duh.  Sixteen gigabytes is enough to shoot for just few days tops.  Stretch that over a month, and the photographer is struck with an inability to make images.  I’d like to call it photographer’s block.  When you have to edit on the fly, or at least while driving between locations, it makes you think twice about whether you’d like to shoot 20 or 60 frames on a particular scene.  Furthermore, processing as you go doesn’t give much perspective on the set.  Often when I’m in the States, I’ll go back to my images at a later point only to find I like best a photo I was close to deleting earlier.  Considering I only kept a tenth of what I shot between February and March, I can only hope I didn’t kill too many Pulitzer winners.  This problem of a memory shortage can easily be remedied in these ways: bringing more cards, bringing a laptop, or a combination of both.  Unfortunately, these two solutions require funding.  Students are often short of funding.  My solution: sell more of the junk you don’t really need.  Some call it minimalism; I like to call it keeping to my roots.

Quite possibly the strongest, most poignant lesson I learned was that, to last three months in a country, I need a constructive project to do.  Building upon that, it is also wise to approach a country with multiple story ideas in hand.  With the way my planning worked out, I was done shooting what I had outlined for the water story by the second week of April, leaving me with nearly three weeks free.  I can’t stand the “tourist thing” for more than a few days.  As a result, I came up with a cockeyed notion to photograph people under occupation in Kashmir and Ladakh, with the intent of comparing and contrasting the two regions.  In Kashmir, there are reportedly 1.2 lakh (million) security forces for between 10 and 12 million people.  On nearly every street corner, there are bunkers with intimidating soldiers, intimidating machine guns, and intimidating barbed wire.  Needless to say, it has an effect on the local population.

Research beforehand might’ve helped me refine the second story enough to realise Ladakh is still covered in snowed at the time I wanted to hitchhike there by truck. For all of the regions I missed though because of access, Ladakh, the Kinnaur Valley, Pakistan, Tibet, and Bhutan, there’s always next year, right?

Onward and forward.