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Sci Tech    H3'ed 2/3/11

Localeaks for Anonymous News Tips to 1500 News Organizations

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My guest today is CUNY [City University of New York] student, Matthew Terenzio. Welcome to OpEdNews, Matt. You've been in the news of late because of a great program you started. Can you tell our readers about it?

Okay. Well, actually I took CUNY's Entrepreneurial Journalism course last semester and the point of the course is to create a sustainable journalism business. My project was called MediaLobby, a demand-driven journalism platform. One of the features was an anonymous tip box. It wasn't even a large part of the project but since there was so much buzz around Wikileaks in December when I started building it, I decided to hammer out that feature first and release it as Localeaks. The idea is simple. Users can use the service to submit anonymous news tips to nearly 1500 local and state news organizations across the U.S. It's proven to be a pretty popular idea with the news organizations and I'm trying to keep up with all the requests from organizations to be added to the service.

So, this was a class assignment, Matt? Take a moment and please explain to our readers what Entrepreneurial Journalism is. That will give better context for what you created.

It was just one feature of a semester long class project, but right now, it's become a lot bigger than the project as a whole. Entrepreneurial Journalism is an idea that is gaining popularity in journalism schools to address the need for creating new business models that support producing quality journalism. As you may know, the old business models for journalism are struggling with the changing economic and digital landscapes. CUNY is a leader in this field and has launched the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

That's good to know. It sounds great and very necessary. Yes, traditional jobs for journalism have certainly dried up and disappeared. So, for those of us not familiar with this new entrepreneurial journalism, please explain more about your project and what a demand-driven journalism platform is.

The web is great at disrupting entrenched economic systems. Most businesses have traditionally started the product or supply side and then tried to grow a customer base. Now we have the ability to form groups and drive the production of products to feed our demands. So it will not only affect journalism and news. Kickstarter is a great example of this kind of thing. So if you know that 5,000 people have asked you to cover a given topic, you can get a pretty good estimate on what that audience will be worth and budget your coverage accordingly. It doesn't solve all news and information scenarios, but it's definitely going to be a big part of the way news providers operate in the future. the MediaLobby project is creating software to automate this demand driven system for journalism.

Okay. So now, let's talk some more about MediaLobby and Localeaks, the feature that caught the public eye. The Bush administration's policy of going after leakers and whistleblowers has only intensified under Obama, now culminating in the Wikileaks story. I imagine that tipsters are nervous about anonymity. How have you been able to guarantee with Localeaks that their identity is not inadvertently revealed?

Nope. But we are trying to make every effort to accomplish that. We don't log IP addresses and we encrypt submissions and we operate over secured connections.

Please clarify, Matt. When you say,  "Nope," you're saying that you can't guarantee anonymity? So tipsters are warned to proceed at their own risk?

Localeaks, nor any service imaginable can make any guarantees. I think we all understand that. That said, the system is using security that was created by some of the world's best encryption and security computer scientists.

Got it. So, you've done your class project and Localeaks is already out there. Now what? Will you keep working on it? What are your plans?

At least one multi-publication news organization has asked to get the service integrated into their sites. Meaning a widget on their site that links to a secure page aimed at their users particularly. Others have said they would be interested too, so I think that is what I'll be working on. Ironically, this stemmed from a venture that had a business model, but it doesn't have one as a standalone project. So I'll be looking at ways to make it sustainable. Certainly not ads on the tip page. Perhaps donations. We'll have to see. But there certainly is plenty of work ahead. Software is never finished.

Pretty nice. Any ideas at this point of what you can see yourself doing after graduation?

My apologies, Joan. Let me clarify my background.

I'm a mid-career news professional/web developer. I work as the Web Development Director at The Hour in Norwalk, CT. I returned to CUNY last semester because of interest the whole Entrepreneurial Journalism concept and because I do believe the existing business models need work and/or replacement. Plus, I was very familiar with Jeff Jarvis and the work he's been doing in that field. They have, in fact, decided to offer a Master's in Entrepreneurial Journalism as well as a Certificate for returning professionals. I might continue on, but my hands are now full with this project. Plus, the project is still technically in their incubator and I'll continue receiving help from them in a number of advisory ways.

And here I was thinking of you as a young undergrad, suddenly in the spotlight. Instead, you're a seasoned professional, keeping yourself current. My mistake. Thanks for clearing that up, Matt. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

I'm seasoned, stuffed and roasted. The business of news online has been a difficult and frustrating haul. Thankfully, we are now really starting to see some innovation.

I'd only like to add that anonymous tips have always played an important role in journalism. It's surprising that it took this long to give digital users some viable options. With less and less journalists on newspaper staffs, one major concern has been the ability of the press to effectively continue its vital role of watchdog journalism. I think this will help.

I firmly believe in privacy and secrecy in the government when necessary. It is only when that privilege is abused that citizens have a right to breach that secrecy. Responsible journalism includes protecting those rights as well as exposing them when necessary. If journalists act responsibly, then those that need to be protected are, and those that need to be exposed are as well. I view this as preserving a feature of the Constitution that has made the United States a great place to be a citizen. Let's make sure we don't lose those freedoms.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Matt. Good luck with Localeaks. It sounds like a winner.

MediaLobby website

Localeaks website

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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