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About Barbara K Iverson

Barbara K. Iverson, PhD.
Associate Professor, Journalism
Columbia College Chicago

Barbara K. Iverson is co-founder and web guru for, a community and citizen news website. She teaches Online Journalism at Columbia College Chicago, as well as doing workshops on social networking, social media, citizen journalism, and blogging when she isn't online or writing.

"DrBarb" joined Twitter when it was only a few months old, and she was an early proponent of Twitter as a tool for journalists. A "midlife" journalist, Barbara was an interactive multimedia producer, before working in journalism.

Iverson was inspired by her experience at Ohmynews Citizen Journalism Forum in Seoul, S. Korea in 2005. She has been a contributor to Poynter's E-Media Tidbits, VP for Technology for Association of Women Journalists(AWJ), and a mmeber of Media Bloggers Association (MBA,) and the Online News Association (ONA.) Barbara is excited to a board member of Chicago Instructional Technology Foundation to foster educational innovation through smart use of technology.

Here are my most recent posts

Mobile Phones are a Powerful Tool for Citizen Media

Information is a powerful commodity for human rights defenders. Receiving and sharing information is at the heart of human rights work. Modern technology, such as the mobile phone, and the global distribution of the internet, provides new opportunities for citizens to actively participate in journalism. The mobile phone is arguably the most accessible form of information communication technology and a popular tool for receiving and sharing information.

via New Tactics | Using Mobile Phones for Citizen Media.

From “What is citizen journalism?” to “How do you design citizen media?” plus a growing list of resources that you can use and add to are available starting July 27 from The New Tactics in Human Rights site and its
online dialogue.

Working in citizen media can mean that you are isolated from  people doing the same kind of work. Whether you are thinking of getting started as a citizen journalist or if you’ve been working with citizen media, you can make use of the site.

This site will let you connect with a group of “featured resource practitioners” from all over the world. Ask questions, read about what they’ve been doing. You can ask questions, and offer to be featured resource practitioner yourself.

As far as what is citizen journalism, I liked what Amy O’Donnell from FrontlineSMS contributed to the online dialogue,

“I am coming to understand citizen media to begin when individuals feel compelled to share or report information which might not otherwise enter the public domain and use the media as a tool so that communities are enabled to contribute and participate in discussions which affect them.”

There’s lots to this site, and I’m going to check it out and add my views, so see you online.


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07 2011

Google WDYL a Windfall for Citizen Journalists

” Google+,” (Google Plus) which is Google’s second attempt at harnessing social media was getting all the buzz this week, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Google launched a search tool that will be useful for citizen journalists and place bloggers, without any buzz at all.

Screen shot 2011-06-30 at 11.11.55 AM

Screen shot of, Google's new search utility is the new site, and it stands for What do you love?

I already love WDLY. The site starts with a plain looking search engine page, with the question “What do you love” a “from Google” note, and a search box. Type in a search term or terms, and WDYL returns a grid that holds a series of sub-searches on your term.


I discovered via smartphone, traveling on the subway. When I found it,  I typed “Chicago” into the search box, because that is a subject I know about. takes your search term and runs it through a very useful collection of what I would call “sub-searches” that it presents on one page. The design is flexible, so it scales to be readable on any size screen.

It pays to treat any new tool like any kind of information, and be a journalist. Vet it before you use or recommend it. That means, look you for mistakes, errors, and omissions and verify that it works. When you can explain it to yourself, you are ready to use that tool as citizen journalist.

So I took it through its paces and here is what I found out about First it is a Google-centric tool. The sub-searches it conducts are on Google-related sites, for example, it includes:

  • Measure Popularity (Google Trends)
  • Explore Chicago 3-D (Sketchup)
  • Make a Photo Album (Picasa)
  • Find Books (Google books)
  • Translate (Google Translate)
  • Watch videos (
  • Call someone (Google Voice)
  • Scour the Earth (Google Earth, KML)

The searches were fast, and what you expect from these tools. For a citizen journalist, the news tool is a quick way to monitor what’s going on and see if there is breaking news. It is not the kind of exhaustive, custom search you need to do when you are doing in-depth reporting.

The 3-D was more useful than I thought, because Chicago is a center of architecture, and most of our major skyscrapers have been rendered in 3-D. I’d pull those in if there was an emergency or perhaps to illustrate a zoning variance story. If you are writing about phyical objects, be sure to try the 3-D and see if it has images that could illustrate your story.

The trends search is more useful if you narrow your search term, for example, I could search for “Chicago mayor,” and see that topic was trending up as the last mayoral election was held. I think “Trends” searches can add to a story, but it is easy to forget to do one when you are using Google’s regular search page.

An important thing to remember, is that if you are signed into Google, when you do a WDYL search, it will customize some of the searches based on your login. So the “Make a Photo Album” brings back only your photos if you are logged into Google. If you aren’t logged in, then you will see all the public albums that meet your search criteria. This could prove confusing if you work with shared computers, or switch between Google accounts.

For some of the offerings like Google Voice, or Calendar, you will have to login or sign up for an account in order to use the feature.

The pros of WDYL are its speed, ease of use, it scales to any device, and you can customize it to work with any Google login. Because the sub-searches are in boxes in a grid view, the sidebar can feature a navigation grid that makes scrolling up and down a bit more precise and easier to accomplish. Cartoonist Scott McCloud’s pioneering work on visualizing images on the web, used a sidebar navigation grid that was way more elegant than WDYL’s, but I’ve always found that style of navigation to be intuitive and user-friendly.

The cons of WDYO are that it is Google-centric, and that because it customizes to your Google login, it could confuse a user. While Google is generally “good,” it should give all of us pause to trust any single site or company as our information source. For journalists, this is very important to remember. isn’t going to beat for elegant, scholarly, and specific searching, but it is easier to use than blekko, and its multiple search dimensions give you a quick and easy overview of your search domain.

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07 2011

Curating Citizen and Community News Stories

Journalists today are being urged to add context and curate news events for their viewer/users. As OMNI’s Joe McPherson says, just start with “…an article or video from a citizen journalism source and talk about it.” For lots of local news, this kind of simple reporting works well.

You can find a newsworthy post or photo or video, and add a bit of background information, some details, and explain the local connection or angle to the story, and it works for your audience.

There are stories, even local stories, that end up generating streams of comments and SMS-style updates, related photos, or videos but as they are posted in real time, they don’t create a structured narrative.

Reporters today need to learn how to verify, source, and analyze social information streams to provide context. Curating is adding a structure or frame to this social stream, reducing redundancy or echo in the messages, and writi

ng what you know best, and just  linking  to the rest.

I found a small but important example of this new kind of reporting on one of Chicago’s Everyblock community sections. From the initial question about an incident of  indecent exposure– a “flasher” –near an elementary school, a discussion ensures about the flasher and what can be done. Then a community reporter,  tipped to the stream by his publisher, uses the community site to get in contact with the victim. The reporter followed up on the story, which ended with the apprehension and arrest of the flasher. The reporter published the story in print, but then posted it back on the community site.

Most of the interesting reading, from the comments to the timeline, to the reporter’s version of the story, happened online as part of Everyblock’s community section for Bowmanville/Ravenswood, or via Twitter. If I tried to copy/paste and link them here, it would have been a big job. Instead, I used a new tool,, that let’s a reporter easily integrate social media from multiple social networks into a storyline, with drag and drop. It preserves all attribution and metadata of each element, and is set up for easy sharing when your story is finished.

You can read and view how the social media are formatted automatically with the metadata and links for yourself. You will be able to view the discussion as it happened. What do you think of this method of curating a story? Want to talk about it? Leave a comment.

The Future of News is Social, Local, and Gets a Flasher off the Streets –

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06 2011

Youth reporters cover story mainstream misses

Immigration is a hot button issue, especially in  Chicago where 26% of the population is Hispanic, and 21% were born outside the U.S. Even if legislators aren’t taking any action, questions about immgration resonate with the public.

On March 20th, young, undocumented, students from all over the Chicago area emerged from the gray area where undocumented individuals exist in the U.S., to speak out in public.  Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL)  a “Chicago-based organization led by undocumented youth, working for immigrant rights through education, resource-gathering, and youth mobilization,” sponsored a rally called  “Coming Out of the Shadows.”

The video produced by citizen reporters, as well as stories and audio on the IYJL website, are the only detailed coverage of this unresolved but critical issue in local media. The mainstream media failed to cover the event with more than a mention, perhaps because there was no action pending in the legislature. Chicago is a sanctuary city, and as such, is at odds with federal authorities on questions of how to pursue undocumented individuals.

For citizen journalists the question is, isn’t there an audience who is interested in this story? The youth video and stories on the IYJL site demonstrate the importance of citizen media as a method of expression for young people today.

I see a  “wet blanket” effect on news coverage in the U.S. exerted by the large Baby Boom generation. There are so many boomers and they control a large share of wealth, and thus corporate media and mainstream media that still rely on advertising, pushes coverage of stories from the point of view of folks who are 50 +years old and reflects the world from the boomers’ point of view.

Younger people whose social connections  via MySpace, Orkut, and now Facebook, have led them to  political ideas and ideas about how society should be democratically organized are speaking out. Citizen journalists in Chicago and across the U.S. provide a way for  the faces of the young and their voices and ideas to reach the public, even if mainstream media misses the story.

YouTube Preview Image


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04 2011

Citizen Journalists ask New Mayor, New Methods or Not

screenshot of tweet

From Mayor Emanuel's Chicago 2011 Tweet Stream

Citizen journalists in Chicago should be skeptical but encouraged, that newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel is tweeting out invitations to get involved in “[E]ffective, open and accountable government.” Everyone from citizen journalists to the mainstream media will be watching to see if open, transparent interactions with the public will continue through the transition time and into his time as mayor. The site, called Chicago 2011 is functional rather than fancy, and it says:

“City government is a large and complicated set of interlocking agencies and offices, and it can be a challenge to increase public participation and motivate civic engagement. Taxpayers deserve access to their government so that they can take part in the democratic process and hold public servants accountable. How and would you make City government more open and accountable? What parts of our government could benefit the most from public involvement?”

via Effective, open and accountable government – Chicago 2011 – Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel.

Minicipal government in Chicago, Ill isn’t known for being open to any outsiders, from mainstream media, to citizens or citizen journalists. In fact, the when the BBC was doing a series about “extremes,” they reached out to local reporter Steve Edwards for a story about Chicago and Illinois, called  “Oiling the Machine – Uncovering Corruption in Chicago, an audio exploration of extreme government corruption.

How bad is it? Since 1971, 1,000 Illinois public servants have been convicted of corruption, and in Chicago, 30 aldermen have gone to jail according to Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who is now teaches political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In February, Chicago voters, or the 41% who turned out to vote, elected Rahm Emanuel as the next mayor. He will replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been in office since 1989 Richard J. Daley, father of Richard M. also served as mayor of Chicago (1954-1976) but that is a story for another day. Emanuel’s inauguration is scheduled for May. His early actions indicate he may open up what has been the black box of information about city finances, hiring, zoning, and other matters.

Through tweets about the Chicago 2011 site, the public is being urged to go to the site and leave public comments, and get involved, during his transition time. The tweets about the site remind people they can ask questions, discuss issues, make suggestions, leave a resume, and generally keep up with the plans for Chicago under Mayor Emanuel.

As the site develops, we’ll return to it, and also track comments from Chicago’s bloggers and hyperlocal citizen media about whether it is really a break from the past in terms of transparency, or simply window dressing to cover up for “business as usual.”


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03 2011