Feeling Warm and Fuzzy about the Chicago Start Up World

Brighttag CRO Marc Kevin

Brighttag CRO/Founder Marc Kiven shows us the ropes at his offices today!

One of the qualities I have never lacked is confidence. I never looked at my background – growing up on the South Side of Chicago, going to a state university or working in near poverty in journalism for a decade as anything but a joyous ride of my life.

I’ve interviewed senators and school teachers with equal awe and assertiveness. So very few situations intimidate me – especially if you don’t count nuns, they frighten me still.

But when I decided to embark on this “start up” journey well, it was easy to seem outgunned.

Drowning in first-tier university folk with lots of letters behind their names, men who wrote languages I could barely recognize with funny names like Ruby Rails and PHP, it’s amazingly easy to forget who you are, where you came from and what God has assembled you to be. But people are just people, even if they went to Stanford and are now worth billions of dollars. And you must still be you. And what I learned in my short stint in the Chicago start up world is that your background, color, gender, upbringing, education notwithstanding, if you’ve got a good idea people will tell you. And if you’ve got a bad one, well, they’ll tell you that too.

Sure, some not-so-good ideas gain traction and garner a lot of attention – see the now defunct Hunter Moore’s IsAnyoneUp.com, and the tech world has its share of “haterators,” but there are people who are looking to do good with tech and they admire people who want to use tech to tackle lofty goals.  They are joyous to hear about someone who wants to start a tech project that isn’t goo-goo eyed over being the next “manquisition,” (i.e., Facebook’s billion-dollar buy of Intagram talent) or million-dollar sell offs to traditional media companies. The world of tech is super focused on money-making right now, as any business should be, but now more than ever these “instant” millionaires turned billionaires are seeking to solve some of the world’s toughest problems if only because they are perennial problem solvers who believe “Code is Law.”

The legacy of this thinking is fodder for another post, but as Google’s first unofficial motto “First do no harm,” epitomizes, these are not your atom-bomb technocrats. They believe in technology for social good as opposed to annihilating life as we know it.

Which is why I am overflowing with glee and happiness at the outpouring of love and support I’ve received from some top-tier Chicago start-ups. They’ve been patient, and strict, benevolent and intrigued by our little idea to train citizens to tell their own stories.

To be sure we’re still struggling to put some money behind this venture (so if you can, visit our Kicstarter project) but we haven’t been told yet, “You’re crazy…stick to  knitting.”

From BrightTag Founder and CRO Marc Kiven taking the time to diagram our dreams into business model reality, to Jessica Schultz, guru over at Groupon Grassroots  providing a willing ear and making connections for us to networking maven Lennie Rose at Big Ooga giving us shout outs on Twitter to my BFF from kindergarten tapping into her vast network of folk, to countless developers, media specialists showering us with time and attention we have felt the love.

We’re working enormously hard to turn that love into money to fuel this rocket ship so we’re going to be doing some local proof of concepts to help get the ball rolling. Still, for the first time in a long time we feel solidly on track. We have a business model, a target market, a talent pool, partners with integrity and working on our business and marketing plans. To look at us you would think we were in the infancy of being a start-up.

We are no social graph platform, we’re not an enormously powerful search engine but we are a group who want to use technology for its most altruistic purpose to connect folks through media so all can enlarge their vision of the world. Because transformation takes knowledge and knowledge takes connection and if when we succeed we’ll have a great sustainable product that builds those connections throughout the world.


A New Way of Storytelling: Virtual Guantanamo

Using Second Life technologies to tell stories

One thing that we’re really excited about at World Media Now is finding ways to leverage tech tools to bring stories from some of the toughest place on earth. We also endeavor to make those stories come to life in a way that hasn’t been done before through the static form of newspaper print even video.

We found this amazing use of virtual technology that is usually reserved for gaming or avatar communities being used to tell stories on what it’s like to be in Guantanamo Bay. To be clear this isn’t a NEWSTORY…this video is based upon a documentary done by filmmaker Nonny De La Pena.

The documentary paints a grim picture of the American government and accuses it of doing some pretty atrocious things to the men featured in the movie. The virtual tour is created from video footage from a documentary done by activists, not journalists. But that doesn’t mean the way they tell their story isn’t interesting.

What do you guys think? This can get pretty expensive for a small media outfit. But is this something that you see the New York Times adopting? How would readers react? And are we crossing some journalistic lines here between giving information and giving our judgement through these types of technologies? Interesting questions.

Kickstarting a Global News Revolution Our First Training Project

You’re politically savvy. You’re globally aware. You’re smart. You read the daily headlines, you scroll quickly through your Google alerts, and you can answer current event quizzes with the best of them. But yet, something is missing. You crave for the data behind the headlines. You’ve taken a trip abroad and what you saw didn’t jive with what you read.  You watched the Arab Spring unfold on your television and it clashed with what you found on your Twitter feed. You long to reach across the miles and talk directly to people affected by the news of the world. You seek depth more than length, facts more than phrasing, and truth from more than two sides.


I’ve got salve for your global news gap.Introducing World Media Now!


World Media Now trains global citizens in the basics of journalism so they can tell accurate, well-researched, but contextual stories about humanitarian events around the world. We publish those stories to our global website.  WMN offers verified, factual media content – text, podcasts, video, photography – about the most important humanitarian issues including: environmental concerns, poverty, famine/hunger, homelessness, religious conflict, sexual exploitation and war.

We fill in the news gap, producing the type of stories that only those living where the news is made can tell.

If you want global news with more context, depth, and the authenticity that can only come from indigenous people then please support World Media Now and it’s Kickstarter Project.

WMN is seeking to raise $20,000 through crowdfunding site Kickstarter for training trips to South Sudan, Northern Nigeria and Burma. Using our proprietary curriculum which has trained journalists in more than 10 countries, we seek to train, equip and empower 24 citizens in these three countries to report on on-going humanitarian issues. We’ve selected these countries because established news sites have had difficulty getting in-depth coverage of these areas.

Our Kickstarter project pays for instructor training, editorial mentoring and publishing the first issue of our online website. You can give as little as $1 up to $10,000 for really cool rewards!

Find out how you can give and what cool rewards you can receive here!

The world is filled with noise. Why not add some clarity? Join World Media Now to revolutionize the way we receive our global news.

World Media Now…Because News Needs No Filter!

Give to our Kickstarter Project today!

Join us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter: @wmn.org

5 Ways Journalists Can Use Embedded Tweets

So you know on our blog we try to offer the latest and greatest digital tools you guys can use to help your reporting. One great journalism tool from Twitter is the ability to embed a Tweet on a website on or a blog.

As Charlene Kingston noted in Social Media Examiner article, “8 Ways to Use Embeddable Tweets,” embedding Tweets is an awesome way to cross-pollinate your online communications. It’s also an easier way to carry your news story from one social network to another intact without missing a beat. No need for those annoying screen shots or cutting and pasting and hoping you got all of the words in tact. Or being accused of making up a Twitter feed.

But we found some great ways you can use embedded Tweets to your advantage as a reporter. Before embedding any Tweet you have to do your homework and as any good reporter knows you don’t publish anything you can’t verify. So make sure the Twitter feed you’re quoting is authentic and not a “fake,” Twitter stream. Now that, that’s cleared up here are some great uses of Twitter’s cool new feature.

#1. Use it to Quote a Source. Any digital reporter worth his or her salt should be following the people, places and industries on their beat on all social networks but especially Twitter. The real-time, 140-character, Tweet-machine has a kind of Svengali effect on its users allowing most of them in a bid to be authentic to say some pretty interesting things. With embed Tweet you can take a Tweet by a source and embed it in your online story, blog or website. To be completely ethical I’d make sure they know you’re going to use it. (You don’t have to do this, especially when you specify the Tweet came from the source’s Twitter feed but it’s just good manners). You may turn a no-comment into an illuminating conversation by embedding a source’s Tweet as a quote.

#2. Promote Your Article. In addition to embedding a current Tweet you can also use code to ask people to Tweet an embedded Tweet which adds to your Twitter feed promotion. One internet marketer found that embedding Tweets boosted his post promotion by 27%.

#3. Use it as Corroborating Proof. Everyone says things in anger, sadness or fear that they wouldn’t like published. Witness social media king brought low Ashton Kutchner virtual-career ending Tweet about the child molestation scandal at Penn State. He stepped away from Twitter after that. But as journalists we’re so used to people saying that we’ve taken their quotes out of context…now you have a way to permanently record what a person has said or believes by using an embedded Tweet. And the Tweet stays around even if it’s “deleted,” later thanks to the embed code. Just be careful because what you use to sink someone can also sink you if it isn’t true.

#4. Adds Context to Stories – The best thing about Twitter is that so many people are using it. Now you can easily add the voices of people all over the globe to your online article, blog post or website.  Sure you can do it by e-mail but it looks more authentic when the reader can see the quote is in the person’s own Twitter feed. As always with Twitter make sure the feed you’re embedding is actually the person represented in the account and we suggest a friendly acknowledgement to them that you’re using their Tweet in your story.

#5. Adds Real-Time Information to Global News Stories – Twitter has always been great for on-the-ground reporting and embedding Tweets allows you to cover many different areas of a news event without actually having to be there. No travel budget needed. Just cool contacts with Twitter.

So play around with this new feature and let us know what you think!


  1. Find the Tweet you want to embed on Twitter.
  2. Click on “Open” in the far right-hand corner.
  3. Click on “Details” and the Tweet will take over your entire screen.
  4. Click on “Embed this Tweet”,
  5. Grab the HTML code or if you’re using cool platform like WordPress grab the Shortcode or link and paste it in your blog.
Test this Tweet tool by Tweeting this!  We did!

How are you using the embed a Tweet feature?

There’s a Reason We Do this Citizen Journalists Thing

Algeria Writing pic

We love helping folks tell their stories

So for the last six months we’ve been knee deep in business plans, investor meetings, dog and pony shows trying to convince people to write a check so we can get this World Media Now ball rolling.

If we were independently wealthy we wouldn’t have to roll out the red carpet, put on our best suits and smile as we explain over and over again why we do what we’re doing here at World Media Now.

But alas money it seems is essential to make this baby grow and so we’ve had our ear to the ground trying to discover new and inventive ways to fund such a dream.

To wit…we started a project on Kickstarter! Woo hoo! For those of you in the know Kickstarter is a kick-butt website that allows you to sell your dream to an unsuspecting but generally accepting public. It gives dreamers like us a chance to get folks to literally to buy into the dream.

We’ve started the Kickstarter project to raise initial start up money of $20,000 which will get us on site in our first three countries and through the first phase of our super amazing, nothing-you’ve-ever-experienced-before website.

Thanks to our amazing cameraman Shawn Conley, who filmed us for the right price – free yayyy Shawn – we have a 1 min video on what World Media Now does and how.

But for a sense of why we do what we do I wanted to highlight a request we received recently during our citizen recruitment phase:

I am from Makati City, that is within Metro Manila.  Everyday should be a learning process. That’s the reason why I came across of the idea of writing. It has been a dream to me to write. I am challenge with the idea that in  writing, I would have the opportunity to give voices to some people who are afraid or not given the chance to talk or be heard.That they are also some situations that need to be recognized for everyone to see. I would want to write about the main issues what the world continuous to have right now like poverty, politics, religions, environment issues and about technologies. So with the help of World Media Now maybe my dream would come true. I know through your guidance I could gain an extraordinary experience and make a difference as well.

Can Solving the World’s Problems Be As Easy as a Game?

On the Ground Reporter Game _Darfur

Courtesy of on the ground Reporter

Gamers. They seem to have their own world. They have their own language – a pc may bunny hop to avoid a train – and they have their own code of ethics. But could the gaming culture influence the way we understand humanitarian news? Could games actually help us change the world?

One top gamer thinks so. Jane McGonigal has more accolades behind her name than the Kardashians have reality television shows. The fair-skinned, blue-eyed Ph.D is the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, based in Palo Alto, Calif.
On her website McGonigal says her top goal is to see a game developer win a Nobel Peace Prize. Really? There are gamers for peace? You bet.

Gamers Changing the World

McGonigal and a cluster of game developers have devoted a lot of their skills and energy in creating games that focus on humanitarian problems but also soliciting solutions. These gamers believe that by using the collective nature of game culture that we can solve some of the worlds most complex and intricate humanitarian problems.

McGonigal, who makes alternative reality games, partners with large international development organizations such as World Bank to create games that look at humanitarian crisis such as poverty and world hunger to create positive and lasting impacts.

Though we haven’t played any of McGonigal’s games we’re intrigued at the concept of using something a lot of parents say is a “time waster,” as a way to change the world.

Gamers Solving AIDS Enigma
The idea that games could provide solutions to humanitarian problems was thrust fully into the mainstream in a study published in 2011. That’s when video gamers took only 10 days to figure out an enzyme problem that had stumped AIDS experts for years.

The story is amazing.

Years ago researchers at the University of Washington built a computer program that sought to build the three-dimensional shapes of proteins, a key component in trying to find cures to debilitating diseases such as HIV, malaria and cancer. Called rosetta@home, the researchers asked people to download the program on their home computer and allow it to run when the computers were idle. The program would run, unassisted, trying out millions of possible ways to fold the protein.

People downloaded the program, but they also complained that the computer was “doing it wrong.”
Researchers say people called them with suggestions on how the protein shapes could be twisted and changed into different structures, folds that the computer program hadn’t done. People used their innate spatial reasoning skills to predict the protein folds, folds the computer program had missed.

University of Washington researchers, listening to the people, created a “game,” where people could shape the proteins while in competition with each other. The game, called Foldit, is a free online game which asks them to shape, wiggle or tug at a protein structure to force it to twist into its most natural state. More than 50,000 people are playing the online game.

Using Foldit, online gamers, most of them not scientists, were able to create a protein model of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) that mirrored structures observed by scientists. This protein plays a pivotal role in the multiplication of the HIV virus. Knowing its structure can lead to virus-blocking drugs that could potentially stop the enzyme from replicating. About the discovery Foldit co-founder Seth Cooper said:

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at. Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.

Play and Change the World
Here are some links to games you can play that focus on world issues. Who knows? You just may get the high score and change the world!

Foldit – Solve Puzzles for Science
Games for Change – lists a whole host of games for social change (we like the On the Ground Reporter game set in Darfur!)

What’s the Best Video Tools for Your Smartphone

Today we shot our first video. We’ll use the video to promote our Kickstarter project. If you haven’t heard of Kickstarter it’s this fabulous website where people post their latest projects and people vote with their wallets. You set a goal and a time limit and if people give you reach your goal you get all the money. But if you don’t reach your goal you get nada.

One project earned a record $3 million in just month. But many projects aren’t successful. According to the Kickstarter school, if you want to be successful in your campaign video is the way to go. In fact, it doesn’t have a place to upload images but it does ask you to upload video.

So we shot our video thanks to some cool friends. Now I have to edit it. Just trying to see what great editing tools are out there.

What are you guys using? I love the video tools that are out their for smartphones including Reel Director and Quik Video. But there are other tools out there.

By the way if you sign up for World Media Now training we spend a bunch of time teaching the latest video and photography techniques so folks can effectively communicate from the field, even when there are no outlets!

Your thoughts on cool video shooting and editing tools?

Citizen ‘Journalists’ Occupy Syria and Stir Up Trouble

Do not try this at home kids…

According to Britain’s The Telegraph, more than 6,000 citizens have been killed in Syria, since the uprisings began one year ago in March. More than 15,000 have been injured. And among the dead are foreign war correspondents Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times and Remi Ochlik, a French photographer. It’s safe to say that Syria isn’t a place for amateurs. Yet, that didn’t stop William Gagan and Geoff Shivley from executing some citizen journalism from one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Gagan, 30, and Shivley, 29, two American Occupy Wall Street activists, recently tried their guerrilla media tactics in Syria and got a little bit more than they bargained for.

With no formal media training, and no big media group backing them the Shivley, a computer hacker and security specialist, and Gagan, a bartending college student, packed up some serious techno gear and marched off to the borderland between Turkey and Syria.

Gagan – whose only “reporting experience” has been live streaming the Occupy Oakland movement where one protester was shot in the face and riots erupted – said live streaming in California prepared him to live stream in the middle of a war zone in Syria. Here’s what he told the Guardian:

“All hell broke loose and I was in the middle of it every time,” Gagan said. “I’ve almost felt invincible and thought, ‘Screw it, go live stream from Syria,'” he explained. Over the course of two weeks, he laid out preparations to do just that. According to Gagan, he “organized it very quickly”.

Using Shivley’s computer security network the pair assembled an awesome high-tech tool kit to live stream- including a Samsung 4G phone, amd Spot Connect device were quickly tagged and tracked by the Syrian military shortly after their entrance into the country. Their visit lasted only between 10 and 15 hours but  they returned with footage from a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey and interviews with rebels. (Their YouTube counts are less than 1,000 when we checked…)

From the footage it’s clear Gagan has watched a lot of news reports. In a wooden flat voice, Gagan walks around telling his viewers the obvious what he sees and what has been told. But there’s little else in his reporting. He has some interviews with rebels pleading for help. But that’s about it. A lot of the images we saw were of Gagan walking.  In the Guardian article Gagan fully admits he didn’t think studying Syrian history was “relevant,” for his journalism journey.

Which begs the question – is this journalism?

Gagan and Shivley both entered Syrian illegally, so of course they didn’t talk to the Syrian military. Their reports, from what I can gather, is pro-rebel, and they don’t include any defense of the Syrian military actions. Not that the Syrian Army should be defended but at least people should understand where they are coming from at least.

We are big fans of citizen journalists. We love that they have a passion for stories that sometimes the mainstream media can’t or won’t cover. The pair both have a lot to teach us about using technology to get stories especially in areas where Twitter feeds and Facebook updates are routinely block. (Gagan says they will have a sort of tech “academy” of sorts teaching others how to get around security problems that prevent live streaming).

But one look at “The Implosion,” in The New Yorker – an excellent piece on Syria by the way – shows you why training is needed in journalism. This nine-page article – so filled with history, context and research, paints a more nuanced picture from Syrian citizens who are not activists or military but merchants and businessmen caught in the middle. I learned more about Syria in this one article than I did in the 13- minute video  Gagan and Shivley made while they were actually in Syria.

The point is being there is not enough. Reporting is about communicating and communication takes more than presence. It takes understanding, context, knowledge of history and, well, facts. That’s why we offer training to our citizen journalists who want to do investigative journalism and not just report what they see.

It’s no surprise that Gagan and Shivley have been criticized for their Syrian trip. Some people call it reckless, others biased and not really journalism and others says what the duo did put people in harm’s way for no reason. But many have praised them as truth tellers in a place where little truth is being told. What do you say? Can two Westerners, with no background in the Middle East, no media training and no supervision offer news that you can use?

Fighting the Pornography of the Poor

Grace, 4-year-old Nigerian child hurt by radicals

A machete-wielding radical attacked Grace in her Northern Nigerian village in March 2010.

How do you tell the story of the world’s dirtiest secrets without rolling around in the muck? That’s the premise examined by “The Rise and Fall of Poverty Porn,”, an article in Fast Company’s cause marketing arm Co.Exist.

Global humanitarian journalists face a unique challenge most other reporters do not. Trying to tell stories about the men, women and children affected by society’s greatest ills without indulging in overwrought prose, grotesque imagery or as I like to call it – the pornography of the poor.

Poverty porn, as it’s known, uses images and stories that do not reflect the dignity of the individual but show instead a person’s unvarnished misery in an attempt to “move” people to give to a humanitarian cause. Think African children with distended stomachs and flies in their face or extremely gaunt Somalian babies with large eyes and spindly limbs. This tactic to immobilize Western groups to alleviate the suffering of innocent victims of poverty, famine, war and other ills in developing nations became the standard of humanitarian aid and awareness groups. The distributors of this content instinctively flinched at using it but felt it was the only way to shock people into action.

New York time's Somalia Front Page

courtesy Huffington Post

A recent New York Times photograph of a dying, gaunt, rib-showing Somalian child published on its front page to explain the urgency of the recent Somalian famine thrust the debate over poverty porn into blogosphere. New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said publishing the graphic photo was “a no-brainer.”

But should it have been? Should the New York Times have put more thought into how to urge action without resulting to the standard poverty exploitation picture? Throughout the media, photographer Tyler Hicks was praised, even lauded for that photograph. It is a stark, disturbing look at what famine can do to a child. But is it effective? Does it help solve the problem the child is suffering from?

Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal may have a different opinion than Tyler and Bill. In a piece printed in the Los Angeles Times the co-directors of the London-based African Rights organization say Western media often use outliers, not representative imagery and stories to explain the world’s ills.

The camera can’t lie, we are told. But anyone who has watched a Western film crew in an African famine will know just how much effort it takes to compose the “right” image. Photogenic starving children are hard to find, even in Somalia.

They went on to suggest that in their passion to cover the “crisis story,” Western media does Somalia or its citizens few favors.

Somali doctors and nurses have expressed shock at the conduct of film crews in hospitals. They rush through crowded corridors, leaping over stretchers, dashing to film the agony before it passes. They hold bedside vigils to record the moment of death. When the Italian actress Sophia Loren visited Somalia, the paparazzi trampled on children as they scrambled to film her feeding a little girl-three times. This is disaster pornography.

In fact, research suggests this type of crisis reporting – following the affliction de jour from country to country – interferes with strategic aid planning that could actually help solve some of these emerging crisis. Tyler Hicks photo of a dying Somalian child could have been taken in 1993 when another Somalian famine crisis was covered by the media. Photographs aside, the problem still exists.

So what does all this tell us?

Imagery alone won’t do it. Context is more important. At World Media Now we want to work with journalists covering humanitarian issues on how to educate, engage and empower our audience to change the world by putting the world’s problems in context. How do you cover the humanitarian crisis while protecting the dignity of the humans you cover in your stories?

Cynical aid workers have espoused that when Western media comes to a crisis, they often bypass better looking, more healthy victims of disaster in favor of finding the “worst-case scenario.” They deliberately find the outlier of agony for the media to cover. Is this ethical?

All this needs to be considered when you practice this kind of journalism. Publishing punishing poverty images should never be a “no-brainer,” on the contrary quite the opposite. It should consume copious amounts of thought before your photographer gets to the field. You should have an editorial policy that address such issues so that you’re not making gut reactions to such media content.

Our answer is to publish a steady diet, robust and diverse diet of content, gathered by the people who live in the areas where conflict, war, famine and disease persists to offer our readers a fuller vision of the ills people face around the globe and the background and context needed to effect real change.

At least that’s our goal anyway! 🙂