Policy Innovations Digital Magazine (2006-2016): Briefings: Journalism Students Interview Policy Innovations

Sep 20, 2010

As part of their recent classes on how journalists can use social media for newsgathering, research, interviews, crowdsourcing, and publishing, IIJNM multimedia students conducted an email interview with Devin T. Stewart, editor of Policy Innovations. Following are excerpts of the interview.

DEEPTI VENUGOPAL CHEMMARI: How do you manage your Twitter account?

DEVIN T. STEWART: I manage the site's Facebook page while Managing Editor Evan O'Neil manages its Twitter account. We implemented Tweet and Facebook "Like" buttons on all content recently, and have found that both have yielded impressive results. Both buttons have boosted our traffic, but from our initial statistics it looks like the Facebook button has yielded slightly more traffic. A nice feature of the Twitter button is that if you click on the number of Tweets on any given article, you can see which people have Tweeted the article.

From my personal experience with Twitter, meanwhile, I have found it to be a great way of carrying on a slightly more public conversation compared with Facebook. I am happy to say that I have made real friends through both Twitter and Facebook. Unsurprisingly, the friends I have made are those who share my core interests—Japan and corporate responsibility. All in all, I think it is important to view Twitter as a "conversation." If I follow someone who fails to follow me back, I usually unfollow them. Otherwise it just turns into a one-way public relations tool used by what some people call Twankers.

DVC: How do you think Twitter has helped you as medium for spreading news?

We recently did a study with Columbia University students and found that traffic from Twitter and Facebook was "stickier." In other words, when readers found Policy Innovations content through a social networking site, they were likelier to stay on the site compared with readers who found our site through Google or other means. It is as if finding a site through a social network is a kind of seal of approval.

DVC: Have you conducted email interviews? If so, have you faced any problems with such interviews?

We have conducted many interviews via email, some of which have been among our most popular articles, including this one with James Farrer of Sophia University in Tokyo. We have seldom found problems doing email interviews. Our style is to be as flexible as possible. When I send an interviewee questions, I always include this qualifier: Please feel free to add to, skip, or modify any of the questions we have sent you.

DVC: How should we, as journalism students, use social media? What should our approach be?

The recent case of Mike Wise, a sports columnist at the Washington Post, says a lot. Wise was recently suspended for posting false information on his Twitter account about a football team; he said it was an experiment to test how viral gossip can be. Wise's editor made this statement to his staff: "When you use social media, remember that you are representing the Washington Post, even if you are using your own account." I agree with this sentiment.

Just like blogging can be a form of journalism, so can microblogging (like Twitter). You must be held to account for the information that you promulgate. Personally, I never post anything online anonymously. As a citizen of a free, democratic country, I should be able to stand by my posts. (The same principle does not hold, in my view, for people who are oppressed or are at risk of persecution.) We have written extensively on this issue on our project The Ethical Blogger. See this, for example.

MATTIA MICHIELAN: I would like to know why you chose this online medium. Was it just because of the high cost of using traditional media like print and broadcast that you chose the Net, or is it also because you feel freer working in this stream?

With Policy Innovations, we chose to create an online address for a "fairer globalization" because we felt it would be the most efficient, sustainable way of carrying out the mission of Carnegie Council's Global Policy Innovations program. That mission was to "glue global civil society" as conceived by our original supporters: Carnegie Council, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Ford Foundation. The Global Policy Innovations (GPI) program was created in 2004 as a means of giving a voice to civil society, social innovators, and alternative views on development economics. Policy Innovations was launched as an online magazine in 2006 to provide a platform for that voice. GPI has since served as a technology vanguard for the Carnegie Council, pioneering the use of such tools as Google Custom Search, blogs, Creative Commons, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.

MM: Your Web page design is quite simple. I suppose that your aim is not to reach the biggest number of followers possible, but to get the attention of the few good ones that will follow your wave. Do you feel free writing for the Web, or are you scared that it will influence your profession?

We have tried to keep the website's design as clean and uncluttered as possible to give our readers the best educational experience possible. As for writing on the web, I personally write quite often in the belief that being a good editor means being an active, informed, and accomplished writer. In the past few months, I have written for Newsweek, Huffington Post, GlobalPost, and Current History.

NIKEETA RAY: On what basis do you select the articles for your Web site?

Our three themes are globalization, ethics, and innovation. Articles that touch on these themes are the best candidates. We ask our writers to delve into the ethical dimensions of globalization and the innovative solutions to these challenges explicitly. In this way, we have carved out a unique space on the web. We also try to present a broad spectrum of views; we don't want to publish only what we agree with. Our goal is to provide a platform for the "voices for ethics" on the global economy; we do not aim to proclaim what is moral or immoral. The Carnegie Council's programming method is to convene and broadcast dialogues on ethics in international affairs via our Carnegie Ethics Studio, which was launched with generous support from the Carnegie Corporation, as well as corporate donors such as HP and Booz & Company; foundations such as RBF; and individual donors.

NR: How do you think you can promote your site to a larger number of viewers?

Well, the nonprofit business, just like other businesses, is often about resources. Funding and time are two precious resources. We have a limited amount of both. If we had more, we might be able to get our content syndicated more broadly, shared more virally, and advertised more aggressively. Given our limitations, we have to be as innovative we can, constantly pushing the envelope while keeping in mind our ethics and the principle of helping others.

Being a nonprofit does have its advantages, and in the world of media we have mostly traveled along the path of donor-supported work (rather than relying on other forms of support such as paid content, advertising revenue, or a profit-center enterprise). Being a nonprofit also carries certain responsibilities, such as striving to contribute to the public good and operating as transparently as possible.

NABANITA MAJI: I would like to know more about the Fairer Globalization blog. How do you use it to promote fairer globalization?

We launched Fairer Globalization primarily as a complement to Policy Innovations; that's why we originally (and somewhat humorously in a self-referential way) added the tagline "the central address for a Fairer Globalization is Policy Innovations." About a third of my work at Carnegie Council involves research, supported mainly by government grants, so I have used the blog as a place to publish my reflections during research trips—the blog serves as a "first draft" of articles in development.

We also published The Ethical Blogger blog as a storehouse for reflections on a project we ran with Brown University's Watson Institute, Demos, and other institutions. The project started at Brown (in Providence, Rhode Island) from a working group that we participated in on October 22, 2007. If you browse that blog, you might agree it was really ahead of its time, exploring issues such as journalistic ethics, anonymity, and what Jay Rosen calls "the ethic of the link," which he presented at our seminal 2008 conference on "cyberethics."

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