Elina Makri is the co-founder of oikomedia.com, a networked digital platform designed to trace and connect journalists, fixers and media professionals around the globe. She’s also the Greek editor of dialoggers.eu (a Greek-German collaborative journalism project, and the founder of the Youth Investigative Journalism prize, which aims to train and reward budding data journalists. Thus, she’s uniquely placed to discuss the future of journalism; which, from her perspective, is digitised, data-driven and transnational. We spoke to Elina recently about her work, and her thoughts on the future of the ever-evolving media industry.
To begin with, tell us a little more about Oikomedia.
Oikomedia.com is a platform (a very targeted social network) that helps journalists trace other journalists, media fixers, photographers, cameramen, sound engineers etc around the world, in order to collaborate or exchange views, ideas, expertise. It is a very targeted social network for media professionals.
The idea behind oikomedia is the following: media companies and professionals (local journalists, cameramen, fixers, photographers, etc) need to be able to trace other professionals quickly, but also with a degree of accuracy (based on location, speciality, and previous experience).
Think about a journalist in Oslo who has to leave today because of an uprising in Lebanon. He has to find quickly someone trustworthy who can help him, once in Beirut, have a general overview of the uprising, contact people, translate interviews, find interesting stories.
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With Oikomedia, he has just to log in (in all probability through his mobile phone), do an advanced search: =>‘beirut’, =>‘fixer’, => ‘english speaking’, =>‘previous demonstrations covered’), have a look at the portfolio of 5 or 6 local journalists, contact directly a couple of them and wait for a direct answer.
Why do you think there’s such a demand for services like Oikomedia?
I connected with the other Oikomedia founders precisely because there was such a demand. I met Gianluca, my Italian partner, because he was a fixer for quite dangerous reporting in Italy. Without him, foreign media could not “penetrate” into the situation. When his reporting was published, Coca-Cola cancelled all the contracts in Southern Italy. There are so many media freelancers out there that need to find partners and set up projects. Plus, we take no commissions from those collaborations or any by-products, we just offer the platform. Moreover, we will soon release the virtual bureaus: Why maintain an expensive local newsroom / bureau when you can have a global + digital, cost effective and customized network of media professionals when and wherever you need them?
Oikomedia is the answer to an increasing demand. This demand is a direct consequence of the global financial crisis, as well as the challenges presented from new models of reporting, and an effort to harness new business models that pay for the news, big news agencies, broadcast providers. Newspapers are cutting more and more of their foreign correspondent offices, and slashing foreign coverage at an alarming rate, despite the fact that readers demand for news is exploding.
In a pragmatic approach, very often media companies (MARKET) have no extra money and time to send their staff to foreign countries (NEED). They don’t even have time to vainly search Internet directories in order to get stories and ideas in unknown languages (NEED).
You’ve also established hackathons and an award for data journalism; why do you think data journalism has become so important?
Four words: Explosion of available data. This data gives context to journalists’ stories. Data married to narrative structure and expert human knowledge can tell us a lot about our ever-changing world, and can provide checks and balances to a democratic society. Also, I have kept the expression of David Livingstone, the director of the New Jersey Trauma Center at University Hospital in Newark (from a ProPublica story): “In the absence of real data, politicians and policy makers can do what the hell they want.”
So, data journalism can be a powerful tool for:
1. Data control
2. Access and analysis on the information
3. New kinds of reporting with citizens’ participation. A method that can actually build the next generation of civic infrastructure by empowering citizens.
What do you consider to be the biggest changes the digital age has brought about it in the media?
1. Tectonic shifts on the business side- we’ve all felt the importance of this. It’s actually a matter of life and death for a media organization. We are no longer sure if the news industry, as such, exists. Print media bleeds red ink.
2. New ways of storytelling: very, very compelling multimedia storytelling. Should I refer to the post snowfall era?
3. Greater accountability within journalism. Many journalists are afraid of robowriting. I am not. I definitely believe that the work of the journalist after the digital tsunami has been upgraded.
4. More freedom: on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, interactive user feedback, “democratization” of the creation, publishing distribution and consumption of content. Paradise!
What do you foresee in the future of media and journalism in the digital age?
Absolutely better journalism made by new means…for the ones who will survive. Data will become-if it’s not already- a strategic resource for media. The digital age has provided tools to the people (not only to journalists) to control authorities, has forced governments to adopt “by default open data” acts as is the case for the Greek government and has provided metrics for impact. I wouldn’t worry much for the business models.On the other hand, we should be cautious due to the surveillance mechanisms: who has access on our data, and for what reason?
(Image credit: Galymzhan Abdugalimov, via Unsplash)