This week MediaShift is doing a special in-depth report on cutting the cord to cable TV — who’s doing it, why, and how. One of our most popular posts over the past 5 years has been our special guides to cutting the cord, which we first published in January 2010 and again in 2012.  Stay tuned to MediaShift for more on cutting the cord.


Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: The monthly bill keeps going up. You can get a lot of channels and DVR functions, but that of course comes with a cost. According to research from Centris, the average cable bill was nearly $75 in 2009, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69. Fast-forward to 2015, and the prices are even more startling: A January Bloomberg Business report predicted the average DirecTV bill would climb to $107 by February and that dish customers would pay between $2 to $5 more per month starting that month as well. A 2014 report by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, also cited in the Bloomberg article, found that the average cost of expanded basic cable service has been increasing by about six percent a year since 1995.

Photo by on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

On top of that, access to more and more options doesn’t necessarily mean that people are turning on all these channels. Nielsen’s 2014 Advertising & Audiences Report found that while the average U.S. home television receives 189 TV channels, the typical consumer only watches 17 different channels. And with mobile devices like tablets and phones increasingly becoming go-to screens as well, it makes sense that some people may prefer having “cordless” viewing options, particularly young people who have grown up used to watching shows online — sometimes referred to as“cord-nevers.”

Yet a report by Leichtman Research Group found that the top pay TV providers have lost only about 0.2 percent of its customer based in the past couple of years. A study by that was cited in the January/February 2015 issue of Streaming Media Magazine also found that most of its respondents hadn’t completely “cut the cord.”

Instead, combining streaming services with traditional programming — in other words, creating individual viewing options according to your own preferences — is becoming much more the norm. Among the study’s respondents, for example, almost 60 percent subscribed to paid TV, and 66 percent had Netflix accounts and 48 percent Amazon Prime/Instant video accounts.

Amazon Prime's membership pitch. Screenshot courtesy of

And there are more and more services catering to the various viewing habits of the American population. HBO Now, “the network’s stand-alone premium subscription tier,” is now available in the App Store for iOS and Apple TV users as well as Optimum Online customers for $15 a month. HBO expects to add about 10 to 15 million more cord cutters to the current pool with its new service, according to a report from Quartz. Sling TV, the live TV package of 16 channels available for $20 a month, is also set to add HBO to its list of services for an additional $15 a month. CBS’ Internet TV service CBS All Access, which shows previous and current CBS content on demand, just launched on Roku for $5.99 a month. Sony Vue, a streaming service of 53 channels for $50 a month available on PlayStation, is slated to come to the iPad soon. Consumers can now also expect to watch TV over the air on XBox One.

Depending on various room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But thanks to the rise of all these streaming services, packages, and hardware options (like the Roku box and Apple TV), cutting the cord to cable TV is much more common than before and sure to save you some money. And it might actually suit your lifestyle and viewing interests more than you realize.

“In short, you don’t need cable anymore to watch all the cool stuff that’s out there,” cord cutter Zhulmira Paredes, an attorney based in Chicago, wrote in a message.


The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel’s streaming sites (such as,, etc.), or on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don’t appear until much later and usually must be bought via a service like iTunes.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to what’s available online, check out the kinds of TVs you’re working (or not working) with. The quality of over-the-air broadcast channels has changed since the digital switch-over in 2009. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which currently run at about $30 to $50. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site and check out Steve Belk’s advice on how to get the best reception. Many new HDTV sets now come with Internet connections built in them as well (in other words, they’re “Internet-enabled” TV), so you might not even need extra hardware such as a Roku box or Apple TV.

Below is a rundown of some of the more important options for enjoying TV content via the web. You can mix and match them to get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.


This is the box many cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and computer network and let’s you watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, as well as offers some free and pay options for additional content. Models range from $49.99 to $99.99, depending on your needs.

Google Chromecast
This thumb-sized device plugs into the HDMI port on your TV so you can stream media. It works with a number of apps so you can transfer what you see on a small screen — as in a phone, tablet, or laptop — onto the big screen. The price is currently set at about $30.

Amazon Fire TV
This is a small device you can connect to your HDTV, allowing you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more. The current price is about $99.

amazon fire tv stick

Amazon Fire Stick
Like the Amazon Fire TV, this stick allows you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more by connecting to your TV’s HDMI post. The current price is about $39. (Note, MediaShift contributor Kathy E. Gillcompared the streaming sticks on the market and found the Amazon Fire Stick to be the winner.)

Apple TV
It’s basically a front-end device to iTunes, and allows you to download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: no TV tuner or DVR functionality. However, it now connects to Apple’s iCloud service so you can view your media much easier. Apple is also reportedly working on a new, cheaper streaming service aside from iTunes. The current price is about $70.

Second generation Apple TV. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Viera Connect Panasonic TVs
From 32” to 65”, these TV sets come with Internet access built into them. All you need to do is connect them to your WiFi network, and then you can bring up extra content through the TV remote. Content and services include Netflix, Hulu, AP, Skype, YouTube, and more. Learn more about Viera Connect and its apps here. Prices range from $400 to over $3200.

Samsung Smart TVs
Samsung even has a Samsung App Store for all the services it offers for its line of Smart TVs. That includes Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, and even Facebook and Twitter.

WD TV Live box
This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos, or music you have downloaded. WD TV Live comes in a regular $99 model, or a $199 model with a 1 TB hard drive included.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Services and Sites

The godfather of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they’re available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for unlimited streaming for new members.

The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. There are still commercials (you can’t skip) on its Hulu Plus premium service, which costs $7.99 per month, and has no contract. Hulu Plus includes content that’s hard to find elsewhere, like “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”

Apple’s digital media buying service started out selling music downloads (hence the name). Then it added a podcast directory and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $2.99 per episode is pricey compared to other options, though there are discounted “Season Passes” and some limited free TV show offers.

YouTube "play" button courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and resused here with Creative Commons license.

The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. Plus, YouTube has created helps support original content and even lets creators charge for their videos.

Amazon Instant Video
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV. You can rent or own content for a fee, or stream it instantly. Streaming is free for Amazon Prime members who pay $99 per year, which includes free shipping from Amazon for all online purchases.

Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation, Wii or XBox. Cost: $19.99 per year, $39.99 for lifetime, $49.99 for lifetime with AdSkipper technology.

HBO Go is an app that allows you to stream HBO anytime through your normal cable subscription. It’s available on both Apple and Android devices, as well as Microsoft XBox’s gaming platform. With HBO Now, however, you can access all that same content without the cable subscription. HBO Now is available at $15 a month. A good explainer on how it currently operates is here. Another list of where you can watch HBO content via different services and devices, alongside their prices, is here.

Sling TV
Sling TV streams live TV over the Internet. It offers a package of 16 cable channels at $20 a month, including ESPN, AMC and the Food Network. HBO content — both the live channel feed and a library of on-demand programming — is also available for an extra $15 a month.

The Public Library
In a comment on the previous version of this guide, Prashant Shah, said: “The missing option is the public library, where I’ve always found not-so-recent shows. Newer shows you need to wait a bit, but then I’m in no hurry.” True enough. The public library in many communities offers up free borrowing of TV shows and movies on DVD. The selection can vary from library to library, but the price is right: free, as long as you return them on time.


Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Samsung TV + Apple TV/Amazon Fire + Netflix 


Who: RoseAnne Gutierrez Towers, stay-at-home mom, Los Angeles, Calif.

Setup: Netflix streaming, computer/phone for mobile access to content; Netflix streaming, television, Apple TV or Amazon Fire for access to content at home

Quote: “We cut the cord for a number of reasons, but the big one was that the cost of cable no longer reflected the how we prioritized our time watching television — particularly premium shows on premium channels. We still have a television, but we use a regular antenna (which are really good nowadays) for network channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, etc. [But] at the end of the day, what we can get through Netflix, Amazon or even content from the individual network websites is all that we need.”

TV + Apple TV + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Now


Who: Lisbeth Ortega, community manager at EyeEm photo app, San Francisco, Calif.

Setup: TV, Apple TV, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now

Quote:  “I really love not feeling tethered to a cable service. It’s one part not having to be contractually/monetarily obliged to something that feels like a luxury and one part being able to choose what programming actually matters to me. Less choices means I’ll more likely get what I want out of it. I know what I want out of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now. That’s why I pay for them individually.”

Roku + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Go

Who: Bernice P. Ines, assistant director of Experiential Education, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC

Setup: Roku, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

Quote: “So the pro of cutting cable is cost, but the con is…when I lived by myself, I used to just have the TV on in the background — mainly the cooking channel, and now I can’t do that. I have to (maybe not have to, but I do) make conscious decisions about what show I’m going to watch. In that sense probably also a pro for cutting cable is that, I deliberately figure out what I watch and take time to watch it, versus just having something on and only being mildly interested.”

Apple TV/XBOX + Hulu Plus + Amazon Prime/Netflix

Paredes switches between using the XBOX (white, below) and the Apple TV (the small black box to the left of the TV) to stream content. Picture courtesy of Paredes.

Who: Zhulmira Paredes, attorney at law, Paredes Law Office, P.C., Chicago, IL.

Setup: Apple TV or XBox, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime/Netflix

Quote: “We decided to get rid of our cable service to 1) Save money; and 2) Because we realized we didn’t really need it to meet our TV-watching needs … Apple TV allows us to watch networks like ESPN and HBO. Hulu Plus is great because it works basically like a DVR, allowing us to watch most programs we miss the very next day. Pros are definitely the money we’re saving and also just coming to the realization that we don’t need all of the options that come with cable…Cons: Not being able to watch certain programs the day of and having to avoid spoilers for about 24 hours.”


For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports and the loss of live events in general. “Mainly, live TV content is impossible,” said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. “And most of that live TV content isn’t available to download on iTunes later — for example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content.”

YouTube this year experimented with offering its own halftime show online during the SuperBowl, and CBS All Access now offers sports content on demand. Sling TV too offered its subscribers the chance to stream college basketball’s Final Four game in the beginning of this April, but the traffic spike proved too much to handle, and an outage occurred. As AdAge wrote, “The brief weekend outage that prevented some Sling TV subscribers from watching college basketball’s Final Four highlighted the Achilles heel of cable cord-cutting: reliability.”

Buffering and crashing issues aside, being behind on a show, sports, or awards event that’s become part of the national conversation can be frustrating for some people.

“We’re also just not the type to ‘have to watch’ the next big show,” Gutierrez Towers wrote in a message when explaining how cutting the cord has worked for her and her husband. She estimates that about 70 percent of people she knows still have traditional cable subscriptions. “A lot of people I know still are caught in the ‘FOMO’ of television,” she wrote. “Fear Of Missing Out.”

Chris Turillo, co-founder of the NGO Medha, based in Lucknow, India, also pointed out that streaming options can be difficult for expats or people who must travel frequently for work, even if it is becoming easier and easier to primarily rely on streaming services.

“There are geographic restrictions if you’re outside the country, because most of the streaming services are for U.S.-based accounts,” he said.

Screenshot courtesy of

Ortega, the community manager at EyeEm, also wrote in a message that she misses not having access to national news channels without a cable subscription, even though she is still able to get local channels. “Instead, I’ve found other ways to keep up with news (Twitter, news sites, local news), but I do miss having it all in one place,” she wrote. “Then again, it’s nice to not have a monopolized new source.”


If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

Diary of a Cord Cutter in 2015, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, TechCrunch

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy?, CNET

HBO Now hands-on: it’s HBO Go without cable. What else do you need?, The Verge website

Should You Cut the Cord?, Slate

Streaming TV Is Bigger Than Ever — But Pause Before Cutting the Cord, Huffington Post

The Internet’s Clearly Not Ready to Stream Big TV Events, Wired

What Is an Internet-Enabled TV?,

TV Breaks Rules To Take Ads From Streaming-Video Rivals, Variety

Cord Cutting and Hollywood: The Sequel, BloombergView

2015 Best Internet and TV Comparisons and Reviews, TopTenReviews

Un-Bundling Pay TV Brings New Questions, WSJ

HBO to Netflix: Bring It On, FastCompany


Do you have thoughts on important elements to cutting the cord, or different setup options that have worked for you? Share in the comments below, and I’ll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on April 13, 2015, on PBS MediaShift. 

StoryCorps, the initiative that helps give people the opportunity to record, share, and preserve their own personal stories, has been around since 2003. What started out as just an idea and experiment from founder Dave Isay turned into an American success, and it’s now a global project. Isay is the winner of the 2015 Ted Prize, and with the funding from the million-dollar award, he and the StoryCorps team have launched the new StoryCorps app.

A week after the app launched, I got the chance to talk with Isay on Skype about StoryCorps, its app, and what it means for the future of the oral history project. Below is our edited conversation with some audio clips.


Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, accepts the 2015 Ted Prize and announces his Ted Prize wish -- a StoryCorps app. Screenshot courtesy of

Sonia Paul: Dave, could you please just introduce yourself and StoryCorps a bit more, for people who might not know much about it?

Dave Isay: Sure. I’d been in public radio for many, many, many years and used to make documentaries for NPR. But I was always an independent journalist, and then had this idea about a dozen years ago to start StoryCorps. I did all social justice documentaries, and saw when I did these documentaries that people who felt like they hadn’t been listened to before, that the act of being interviewed could be an important moment in their lives, sometimes a transformative moment in their lives. I could literally see people’s backs straighten when they’d be listened to for the first time, whether it was in a prison, or psychiatric hospital, or wherever it was.

So I had this crazy idea twelve years ago to start this project that kind of, in a way, turns documentary on its head, at least broadcast documentary. And it says that the purpose of what we’re doing is not about the final product. It’s not about doing interviews to create the final product; the purpose is the interviews themselves.

I wanted to give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So I put a booth in Grand Central Terminal where two people can come, and they’re met by a trained facilitator. You sit in basically a soundproof booth for forty minutes. And you have a conversation. And a lot of people think of it as, “If I had forty minutes left to live, what would I say to this person, or ask of this person who means so much to me?” So very intense conversations.

Photo by Renée Johnson on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

At the end of the interview, you get a copy. And another copy stays with us and goes to the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress. So your great-great-great grandkids can somehow get to know your grandmother through her voice and stories.

So it was a kind of crazy idea that took a little while to take off. But it worked, and we’ve now recorded about 65,000 interviews, with about 100,000 to 110,000 people. Most people come in pairs, across America, all fifty states, thousands of cities and towns, in eighty different languages.

It also turned out that there was pretty amazing content coming out of these interviews. So we also have broadcasts on NPR every Friday, and we’ve done animations for PBS. We have a couple of dozen of those, and we have books that have come out, all of which just celebrate the poetry and wisdom and beauty in the words of everyday people all around us. And it’s a project about listening, and helping us recognize our shared humanity — that if we spend a little more time listening to each other and a little less time shouting at each other, we’d be a better and stronger country. So it very much speaks to the core values of public broadcasting.

Here’s an example of one of a StoryCorps animation: “Danny and Annie,” a married couple who recount their twenty-seven-year romance, from their first date to Danny’s final days with terminal cancer.

Dave Isay: And then a couple of months ago, I got word of this Ted Prize. Ted is the amazing organization that has the conferences and does these videos that everybody knows about. I had actually never even seen a Ted Talk. I was the last person in the universe, when they called me and told me I had been nominated for this thing. But I’ve since seen a bunch, and they asked me to come up with a wish for humanity, which I did, and then got a call a few weeks later which said that I’d won, and then a couple of weeks ago gave a Ted Talk where we announced what that wish was. And we’ve created an app that takes StoryCorps out of the booth and gives anybody, anywhere, the chance to record a StoryCorps interview. It’s basically a digital facilitator that walks through the StoryCorps process, and then with one tap you can upload your interview to the Library of Congress. So that’s a very, very long answer, from Brooklyn to India, to your question!

Sonia Paul: Ok, thank you. And so, just to make sure we’re understanding correctly, has StoryCorps always worked with the booth setup, in that two people or more duck into the booth to do the interview?

Dave Isay: Yes, well they don’t duck into a booth. Because now it’s very hard to get an appointment. You know, you make a reservation. And you come into the booth, and you record the interview with the help of a facilitator. We also do these in quiet rooms around the country.

What changes with the app is that the app becomes the facilitator. So that allows us to do many, many more interviews, and you don’t have to come to StoryCorps, you don’t have to make a reservation. Anyone can do these interviews. And, you know, it’s an experiment just like StoryCorps was an experiment 11 years ago when we opened up. And we’re going to see — you know, we’ve seen, really, a tremendous response.

I don’t have the stats today, but it’s obviously growing very, very quickly. If you go on the site and see the interviews that are coming in from all over the world. And we’ll see what happens.



Screenshots from the StoryCorps app. It walks you through the process of doing an interview.

Sonia Paul: Yeah, and so I was curious about this idea of the app becoming a digital facilitator. Do you think that having the other human being there in the beginning ever added to the experience in any way?

Dave Isay: Of course, yes! I mean, having the facilitator there was huge. But you can’t scale. You know, obviously our facilitators are paid; they’re highly trained. But, you know, we’re doing 5,000 interviews a year, 6,000 interviews a year. And that is the gold standard of the StoryCorps experience, and it always will be. But it was time to experiment and see if we could spread this wider and spread this to places where we couldn’t necessarily go with facilitators.

So again, it’s an experiment. And having a facilitator is great. We do our best to approximate the facilitator with the phone; we’ll see how it works. I’m very encouraged by the interviews that are coming in that, from what I’ve heard, and again, they’re coming in far more quickly than what I had expected, a week into it.

But people are being respectful, and they’re taking it seriously. You know, they’re not the same as StoryCorps interviews, but people are having the opportunity with this app to, you know, have meaningful conversations. And that’s what it’s all about.

Dave Isay expands on the differences between the app and the original StoryCorps experience:

Sonia Paul: And so what kind of hurdles are you anticipating in getting the app off the ground, if anything?

Dave Isay: My first hurdle was that I didn’t think anybody would use it. I mean, the technique is the easy part. When we started StoryCorps, no one actually came to the booth. And it took years before people understood what was going on, and we ended up kind of selling out the booth, and that was because of the public radio broadcasts. But, you know, there are stories coming in from all over the world every couple of minutes now. I did not expect this kind of pick up this quickly.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it [the app]. But I think what we need to do is we need to keep pushing out best practices to people, and encouraging them to do interviews that approximate the StoryCorps experience as closely as possible, and get the word out. And especially because StoryCorps was born out of a kind of social justice, documentary work to, make sure that people who feel like their voices are least heard know about this and have the opportunity to be heard through the app.

Sonia Paul: Right. Yeah, and I downloaded it, and I was looking through it. I mean, obviously not everyone in the world speaks the same language, but the default language for the app right now is English. So I was curious, how do you plan to make it available in other languages and work around issues of translation and interpretation?

Dave Isay: We’re going to translate it into other languages. I mean, this is all very new. But, you know, the app has been created in a way where we can swap other languages. Ted has a community of translators who are getting to work to start translating this thing, and we’ll have a plan and slowly roll it out, depending upon resources, in other languages, as time goes on.

Isay discusses a potential model for how StoryCorps could work in other countries:

Sonia Paul: So I have a question now that’s not directly related to StoryCorps, but it’s kind of related. Have you been paying attention to the emergence of these sort of live broadcasting tools like Meerkat and Periscope?

Dave Isay: Yeah, two weeks ago, yeah.

Sonia Paul: Yeah, so now people can essentially livestream their lives to the world. And now, with social media, putting a status update on Facebook or Twitter is pretty normal for a lot of people. And obviously, StoryCorps is very different from those things because the point has always been to preserve the art of that interview. But do you think we, as a society, are sort of heading in a direction in which people are becoming more accustomed to simply blasting out their lives more, rather than asking the kinds of questions to others that we need to ask in order to actually understand?

Dave Isay: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I do feel like StoryCorps is different. I mean, StoryCorps is an act of generosity. It’s about listening to another person. And it’s kind of the opposite of the selfie, right? And I do see there are some interviews where people are getting on and doing their own life story, and it seems to be helpful to them. I mean, I’m looking at what’s come in in the last couple of hours, and, you know, it’s mostly people talking to each other.

I do think that this is different. The stuff that I’m hearing — and I’m not a tech person, I am not that interested in a lot of tech stuff. But from what I’ve seen from social media and elsewhere, the kind of stuff happening on this app feels very different than what you see elsewhere.

Dave Isay and I discuss more the kinds of conversations StoryCorps produces. But should we need an app to do this?:

Sonia Paul: And if you happen to know, what countries are using the app?

Dave Isay: You know, you’d have to look. I don’t even — I can’t even recognize the languages. If you browse, it seems like a lot of them are in the U.S., from like, all kinds of different towns. It’s largely younger people who are using it.

But, you know there’s Arabic and there’s French, and you know, I don’t know. You’d have to check. And I haven’t had. And you know, it’s Monday morning, and we haven’t gotten the status yet of what’s happened over the weekend. But they’re clearly coming in from all over the world. And unfortunately, we don’t have geo-locate yet on this app, so I can’t easily tell you. But that’ll happen in a couple of weeks.

Sonia Paul: Right, and so, just to be clear, you’re using the funding from the Ted Prize to go forward with this app, that’s how you’re able to do it?

Dave Isay: Used.

Sonia Paul: Oh, right, used! But was the idea for the app something you had before the Ted Prize, though?

Dave Isay: Yeah, but it wasn’t going to happen. Doing something global and doing this app wasn’t going to happen in the next five years, until the Ted Prize came around. But you know, Ted is about digital, and it’s about global. So there was only one way to yes to work with them. And I’m glad. You know, it’s a great thing. It’s great to be pushed out of your comfort zone, and this was a real push. And it’s exciting to see where it’s going.

Here’s the full audio interview with Dave Isay:

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on April 7, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.

It’s the old news adage that continues to dominate the priorities of American newsrooms: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Hard news and tragedies tend to dominate headlines, and we rarely see the other side of the coin — what happens after the fact?

While niche news outlets like Upworthy and the Solutions Journalism Network have made producing and sharing more positive news part of their missions, the non-profit Images and Voices of Hope (IVOH)  hopes to help more mainstream news organizations do the same thing — through a “Restorative Narratives” fellowship program. The program aims to enable journalists to pursue these stories of resilience and have them published at their home news organizations.

The fellowship launched last December. The five fellows work at different outlets across the country and were invited to join the program to test it out in its first year.

“These are stories that need to be told but often come out overlooked,” Mallary Tenore, IVOH’s managing director, told PBS MediaShift.


Screenshot of the Newtown Bee, whose story during the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings helped inspire the idea for a restorative narrative fellowship.

The staff behind IVOH got the idea for building a momentum around this kind of storytelling genre from a New Yorker article detailing how the community newspaper The Newtown Bee reacted to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“The shootings caused him [the editor] to rethink the purpose of his paper,” Tenore said. “He wanted the paper to be a place where people could find a community of support.”

Bringing these stories of restoration — of the rebuilding, survival and resiliency following a tragedy — isn’t necessarily new to journalism, she said. It’s just that often, these stories haven’t always been given a good name, nor have they been the priorities in newsrooms. That might be because of the pressure newsrooms face to chase stories that will attract the right numbers of clicks and engagement or, it might be that some journalists might fear judgement for pursuing “advocacy journalism.”

“I think it’s easy to lump it all together under ‘positive news.’ That term would probably make a lot of journalists cringe,” Tenore said.


But documenting the resilience and restoration after a tragedy is not meant to put a one-dimensional face on these types of stories. And not every story details “restoration” either.

“Some stories aren’t restorative narratives,” Tenore told MediaShift. “You never want to assume that every tragedy is going to yield a story of resilience, and you don’t want to force it.”

Jake Harper, a healthcare reporter and programmer at WFYI in Indianapolis and one of the five fellows of IVOH’s inaugural six-month fellowship, said restorative narratives often fill in the missing pieces of a puzzle when it comes to understanding a story from start to finish.

“It’s sort of like the second half,” he told PBS MediaShift. “So you have a tragedy, or a negative event. You hear about the first part, but you don’t necessarily hear about the recovery.”


Photo by Flickr user Charles William Pelletier and reused here with Creative Commons license.

Arianna Huffington recently made headlines when she announced that the Huffington Post would be partnering with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to deliver more solutions-oriented journalism on the nearly 10-year-old news website.

“As journalists, our job is to give our audience an accurate picture — and that means the full picture — of what’s going on in the world,” she wrote in a blog post about the new initiative. “Just showing tragedy, violence, mayhem — focusing on what’s broken and what’s not working — misses too much of what is happening all around us. What about how people are responding to these challenges, how they’re coming together, even in the midst of violence, poverty and loss? And what about all the other stories of innovation, creativity, ingenuity, compassion and grace? If we in the media only show the dark side, we’re failing at our jobs.”

That strategy is along the lines of IVOH’s purpose with the Restorative Narrative fellowship, Tenore wrote in a blog post. But trying to monetize these stories outside of partnerships like the Huffington Post one is a bit trickier. IVOH, for example, offered each of the fellows this year a $2,500 stipend from the organization’s existing funds to work on their projects. The fellowship also sets out to explore best practices for telling these stories and and different curriculum and training methods.

That each of the fellows already had funding to pursue these restorative stories from an individual entity probably made it easier for editors to jump on board with the project, Harper told MediaShift. His editors at WFYI, for instance, hired him knowing that he had received the fellowship and were excited for it, he said. But it was a different ballgame before joining the newsroom and partnering with IVOH.

“At the time I was a freelancer, and pursuing stories like that — it was a lot of effort to even find them, and then pitching them was another story,” Harper said. “I think it’s just the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality is sort of pervasive, and it’s hard to get attention and readership to those [other] stories.”

Photo by  Rocío Lara on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

IVOH, meanwhile, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in December to raise funds and build awareness and momentum around the fellowship. While the campaign fell short of its goal of raising $25,000 — it raised $18,396 — Tenore said it definitely helped generate a positive buzz around the fellowship and the emergence of the genre. But she also found herself wondering how to make it sustainable.

“The question I found myself asking was: How do you move people along the spectrum from sharing, to caring, to giving?” she wrote in a follow-up email to MediaShift. “I found that it was easier to get people to share the link to our campaign and care about it. Helping them see why they should give/donate required a lot more time and dedication.”

IVOH’s inaugural fellows will present their restorative narrative stories at IVOH’s annual media summit in June, which is currently open for registration. For an example of the restorative narrative genre, check out the stories from Ben Montgomery (one of the fellows) in the Tampa Bay Times.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

Correction: This story has been altered to correct Ben Montgomery’s last name. 

This piece originally published on February 23, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.

With the recent release of his new book “Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digitally Empowered News Audiences,” it seemed like high time to have a long conversation with Jake Batsell on the future of news. The journalism instructor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, previous Seattle Times and Dallas Morning News reporter, and now, book author, was inspired to research and write a book focusing on news engagement when he found himself in a new “hybrid” position at the Dallas Morning News. Half the time he was pursuing and filing stories as he always had, and the other half, he was shooting and editing video.

Now, that sort of “hybrid” position is probably not anything unusual to many newsrooms. But at the time, it was an eye-opener for Batsell on the future direction of news. After getting a teaching position and applying for several grants and fellowships to visit various newsrooms across the U.S. and U.K., he’s come out with a book on best practices in engagement journalism, and theories on how journalists and newsrooms can continue to explore this connection.

Below is an edited transcript of a recent conversation I had with Batsell.

Sonia Paul: Engagement is a buzzword across media circles all over the world now. How do you think most media makers are understanding it, though? Is it similar or different from the way you understand it?

Jake Batsell: There’s a whole different conversation on how the wider world of communications defines engagement. I think from a journalism perspective, I think the sort of default knee-jerk definition a lot of people have in their heads is that engagement means interacting with audiences on social media. But especially after doing my work for the book, I’ve found it’s a much wider understanding than that. It’s not about tweeting links to stories half-heartedly. It’s about really and authentically integrating the audience into your work and mind when doing your job. It’s a way to not only deepen and engage loyalty, but it’s also a revenue opportunity.

My definition of engaged journalism is the degree to which a news organization actively considers and interacts with its audience for its journalistic and financial mission.



Just as “engagement” is part of the everyday lingo of newsrooms now, so too are the ideas of “sustainable business models” and “financially viable revenue sources.” The 1990s and 2000s saw the expansion of a more civic-oriented journalism method — newsrooms experimenting with town halls and other events where journalists could interact more personally with the public. In Batsell’s mind, this hasn’t necessarily stopped. Organizations are now just thinking more strategically about how they can also make money and fill a need for their audiences.

How might the financial incentives around engagement work? 

Batsell: For example, the Texas Tribune has an ideas festival where they have keynote interviews with newsmakers, and there are panel discussions as well. For the last couple of years, they’ve drawn over 2000 people to attend this festival. People attend partly out of altruistic reasons, but it’s also in their self interest to attend, because if you’re interested and involved in Texas politics, it’s THE place to be. The Texas Tribune translates that interest and attention into opportunities for sponsorship — you’ll get a mention in the program, on the stage, and so on. It’s because these sponsors want to reach this influential audience … It’s really through sponsorships that events have the most revenue potential.

But is it too much pressure for the journalist trying to engage an audience to think about the economic implications of engagement? Take me, for example. How should freelancers figure this out if they’re not attached to any one organization?

Batsell: If a freelancer is doing a job or assignment for a magazine or a newspaper or whatever, then first and foremost, she needs to do that job. It might be a little harder for freelancers to crowdsource on the front end if they don’t have institutional support — like someone guiding them, “Oh wow, this could be a better story if you put a call out on Twitter.”

Photo by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

More fundamentally, it’s true this is a lot of pressure! The book is not all rainbows and unicorns. Many journalists [I talked to] came out with the sense that, if done well, engaged journalism never really ends. We’re on social media, on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, and still — how can I do the shoe-leather reporting I still need to do? I can see from the freelancer perspective that it can be even more tough. It’s a matter for the freelancer what your approach is. I think there is still an opportunity to build a community and be there.


In the introduction to your book, the idea that “journalism is about people, not technology,” is really emphasized. It sounds obvious, but how do you think that mantra might fit into this paradigm of what we call “engaged journalism?”

Batsell: I think it’s really essentially a mindset to open yourself up to an audience, but to be strategic about it. Look for opportunities to find readers and viewers where they already are. Like take Snapchat’s new Discover tool. My students loved it, and all these twenty-somethings are already on Snapchat … So they will consume the news in their natural habitat.

But being aware of all these available channels doesn’t mean deploying them for every story you do … you can’t do every form of engagement on every story.

On a similar note, you wrote, “At its core engaged journalism is the latest incarnation of the age-old journalistic dilemma between covering what the public needs versus what the audience wants. And that “audience-focused engagement is essential to help sustain the watchdog journalism that benefits the public. Boiled down to a single tweet, it might read something like this: Engagement is crucial to journalism’s survival. But to be effective it must fill a specific audience need. And it comes with perks & costs.”

Can you just unwrap that a bit more? The differences between the audience and public, and what they need and want? Because I don’t think most people distinguish the two!

I had that same moment myself when I read [about it] in the Tow Center report on post industrial journalism … those two terms, audience and public, had seemed indistinguishable to me as well. It presents the age old dilemma of feeding people their spinach and giving them the candy they want. Obviously, this is not a new dilemma. Newspapers have comics and puzzles all the time. I think we as journalists arrogantly assumed people want our news, versus maybe they want cartoons or puzzles or the classifieds.

Photo by NS Newsflash on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

So it’s not necessarily a new dilemma, but it is a present dilemma. The first thing is to understand that distinction. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or debate … To me, it’s how you navigate that balance, and the moderate way of how a news organization balances competing interests.

Yes, and you mention that solving a problem and filling a need is at the core of building an engaged audience. So is that to say that engagement is different for different news outlets? Or is engagement different for different audiences? How do you negotiate the two?

I guess both, but ultimately it comes down to really understanding that audience well enough to understand the need you have to fill, especially niche audiences that have different sensibilities, different interests, and so forth. The Texas Tribune has an insider’s newsletter, for example, and most of their news is for free. But they do have a niche subscription service, Texas Weekly, and it’s really insider stuff. It’s the inner workings of Texas politics. They poll a 100-plus insiders every week, and they respond anonymously because they don’t want to be public on the comments section, trading opinions. That’s the sensibility of that crowd.

It boils down to understanding your audience and knowing your audience. I think just about every news organization just has to have head of audience engagement to see what really resonates with people. Because the stories that strike a chord with communities might not necessarily be on the front page.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant for PBS MediaShift. She’s on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on February 18, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.


The International Women’s Media Foundation has announced an unprecedented new set of funding opportunities for women journalists starting this year. The Washington D.C.-based organization dedicated to supporting the role of female journalists worldwide received a total of $10 million in grant funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which opens up the scope of their current offerings.

Half of the funding is dedicating to expanding IWMF’s existing international reporting trips in Africa’s Great Lakes region — in the Central African Republic, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda — and to conduct security training for both local and international journalists. The training will include both hostile environment training and the use of a mobile app called Reporta, to help in gathering and tracking information on violence and threats against journalists.

“That’s one side of the grant through which we hope to change the narrative of the Great Lakes region,” IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz told PBS MediaShift.

A portrait of 16-year-old Yusra Suleiman al Toum Ahmed in El Fasher, Sudan. Ms. Ahmed is an aspiring journalist. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran for the United Nations and reused here with Creative Commons license.

The other half of the funding will go toward establishing a fund in the name of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which would offer grants of up to $230,000 a year for the next 10 years. The funds would be distributed on a quarterly basis, and the criteria for funding has been purposefully left wide open. It could go toward anything from a book project to an investigate proposal, Muñoz said.

“Really, we haven’t defined the guidelines beyond saying it’s for women journalists looking to advance their careers in some way,” she told MediaShift. “It’s really going to be the basis of them telling us their needs and why they want to do what they want to do.”



IWMF is also creating a Courage in Photojournalism Award with a $1 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in the name of AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan last year.

The IWMF is celebrating its 25th anniversary year in 2015. Especially with press freedom issues becoming even graver, Muñoz said it’s necessary to continue to support women, especially freelancers who might not operate under the support of a traditional news organization.

“We focus on women because we don’t feel there is an organization that does so, and as a result, women might fall through the cracks,” she said. “The investment made by the Howard Buffet Foundation to IWMF, and the true partnership to try to elevate the voices of women around the world is really going to make a difference.”

The first round of applications for the open-ended grants will take place from March 2 to March 23. More information is available on the IWMF website.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant for PBS MediaShift. She’s on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on February 9, 2015, on PBS MediaShift.

At MediaShift, our sweet spot is covering the space where technology and media intersect. And what a dynamic space that is — always changing, always shifting. 2014 was no different. As we see it, here are the biggest stories and trends that shaped the media and technology industry in 2014, and will likely reverberate into the new year and beyond.

We’ve added in embeds from relevant podcasts from The Mediatwits if you’d like to hear more about those topics.


2014 brought the first taste of trouble for a new crop of billionaire media moguls who came into the spotlight the last few years.

Despite the hype surrounding its founding, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media saw the departure of former Rolling Stone staff writer Matt Taibbi after just seven months due to reported conflicts over management style. The Intercept reported — on itself, no less — his leave as a “serious setback” for the organization, which had already scaled down its original plans to have a large general interest website with several “digital magazines.” Former Gawker Media editor John Cook soon followed Taibbi’s departure to return back to Gawker.

Then The New Republic joined the mix, with several staffers publicly resigning en masse after owner Chris Hughes — co-founder of Facebook — decided to “force out the editorial leadership, move the magazine to New York, and rebrand the venerable, century-old publication as a ‘digital media company,’” as Politico reported. Hughes hired Bloomberg media editor Gabriel Snyder, who previously ran The Atlantic Wire blog, to replace former top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier before they even resigned.

As the Guardian’s Emily Bell pointed out, these billionaire troubles are a larger reflection of the existential conflict journalism is facing as technology entrepreneurs and journalists face editorial differences over how to run modern-day newsrooms. Legacy media outlets can never be what they once were anymore — but technologists and journalists also need to integrate their missions so a “new and unified” media culture can emerge. Of all the new tech overlords, Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post has done the best job of balancing the traditional while pushing the new.

Prediction: The tension between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and journalists will continue to be  potent. Change will be hard, but good.


2014 was a year of expansion for social media giant Facebook, especially in the realm of news. With its $19 billion purchase of the international messaging app WhatsApp and its $2 billionacquisition of the virtual reality technology Oculus Rift, Facebook showed it’s not only trying to become a go-to destination — it’s also intent on occupying other popular spaces in the present and future.

Users have long expressed their worries and frustrations at what this dominance means, and now publishers have a right to be concerned. With new controls allowing people to turn down or amplify certain users on their feeds, Facebook users now have more control over what they see, though some critics have been quick to point out this is a “phony claim” because users must agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions to use the service.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

The entire operation is a behemoth to be reckoned with for news organizations and other publishers. A recent Pew study found that more than 30 percent of American adults now get their news on Facebook. These algorithms that dictate what pops up on a person’s news feed, whether the user is tweaking them or not, influence how users are getting their news. The result is thatpublishers are ever more dependent on these social media traffic referrals, especially as users continue to increase their use of mobile devices and access Facebook from their phones or tablets. Facebook in effect is becoming a life raft to publishers, and is encouraging them to use more of its tools to promote content on the social network. The question is, even if they’re not sinking, will the life raft help publishers actually swim?

Prediction: Facebook will continue to extend its arms out to publishers in 2015 and become a powerful news hub on its own, especially as projects like its sentiment analysis shape up. But publishers will pressure the social giant to be more transparent about its algorithm.


HBO announced in October that it’s going to launch its own standalone streaming service in amove to target the 10 million people in the U.S. who have an Internet connection but don’t pay for a bundled cable television or satellite package. It’s what Jeff Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg, called a “seismic event in the future of television,” according to the Wall Street Journal. It offers consumers more choices than ever, but it also shakes up the television industry because HBO content is no longer exclusive to its cable partners. Yet the time was due — a 2013 Nielsen study found that younger viewers are much more likely to live in “zero TV households,” and therefore prefer online video subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Twenty-five percent of people aged 25-34 and 19 percent of people under the age of 25 reported cutting the cord on their television sets.

Indeed, with the announcement of this streaming service, HBO in effect is now modeling itself after Netflix, making the two streaming services competitors. HBO has 30 million subscribers in the U.S., whereas Netflix has about 37 million. HBO’s new streaming service, which will run on a third-party platform, will likely launch in April 2015. It’ll be just in time for new episodes of “Game of Thrones,” its most successful original series.

Prediction: HBO’s streaming service will become enormously successful among consumers when it launches, but only if it gets the price point right — without cannibalizing premium cable packages. Plus, the division of Time Warner will need to calm internal issues: Its chief technology officer, Otto Berkes, stepped down following the announcement that HBO will outsource the building of its streaming service to a third party instead of building it in-house.


Photo by Ronnie Pitman and reused here with Creative Commons license.

The months-long dispute between e-commerce giant Amazon and book publisher Hachette over e-book pricing and profits finally came to a close last month, just in time for the important Christmas holiday shopping season. But as The Economist pointed out, it’s not quite clear who won the battle. The controversy between the two outfits painted Amazon as the bully of the book trade and stirreddiscussions over the entire publishing ecosystem. Is Amazon — which controls nearly half the book market and is America’s largest book retailer — an actual monopoly, and therefore right to insist it had authority over setting e-book prices? One of the main arguments of Amazon’s supporters is that in the world of digital self-publishing, publishers like Hachette aren’t necessarily as relevant as they once were.

Yet in the tussle to help its authors earn more for their work, Hachette, which is the fourth largest book publisher in the U.S., wanted to set its own e-book prices. They were inevitably higher than what Amazon wanted. By the late spring, it became obvious that Amazon “was suppressing Hachette book sales and shipments in response to Hachette’s refusal to agree to lower e-book prices,” as Casey Johnston reported for Ars Technica.

In the multi-year agreement the two companies finally reached, Hachette won the right to set its own prices, but the deal also “includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices.”

Prediction: With the murkiness of the specifics of the agreement, it’s no wonder several analysts are already predicting the standoff is long from over. Amazon’s growing power in book publishing will continue to put pressure on traditional publishers and bookstores.


Some of the hottest names in digital media added clout to their reputations this year by attracting heavy funding. The now 20-year-old media organization Vice, known for its edgy and notoriously rebellious take on news and current affairs, grew up this year. In March, Vice News became a separate entity and quickly went on to provide stunning coverage of the Ukraine uprisings and the rise of the Islamic State. After flirting with a union with Time Warner, Vice Media announced a deal with A&E Networks, which would have A&E “invest $250 million in Vice in exchange for a roughly 10 percent stake in the company,” as the New York Times reported. The deal would value Vice at more than $2.5 billion — an amount that speaks to Vice’s popularity with younger audiences and savviness in the online digital space, especially its early entry into the video market.

Vice Media has made a name for itself by pursuing edgier stories and distributing heavily across digital platforms. Screenshot courtesy of Vice.

While it’s taken two decades for Vice to reach the clout it now has, Ezra Klein’s explanatory news start-up Vox needed only nine weeks to hatch. Just five days after Klein and fellow Washington Post staffers Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews announced their departures from the Post in January, Klein announced they were going to start a news site with Vox Media, and officially launched in April. Last month, Vox Media secured $46.5 million in funding from General Atlantic, which puts the company at $380 million in valuation.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed — which has had a noticeable step into more serious, in-depth reporting — announced in August it secured a $50 million investment from the prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It had previously raised $46 million, which puts its total valuation at $850 million.

Prediction: If there was any sort of hesitation this year over how seriously to take these outlets because of the method of their journalism, they will definitely have more financial clout next year as more people accept their presence for the long-term.


From #YesAllWomen and the #icebucketchallenge to #Ferguson, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #ICantBreathe, hashtag activism, sometimes called “slacktivism,” was certainly a go-to method for raising awareness in 2014. But in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, the hashtags were just one part of a larger shift.

As James Poniewozak wrote in Time, the “meta-protests” on social media of people posting pairs of photos with the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag was a larger form of media criticism. It was a powerful reminder to journalists and editors that they also inevitably promote stereotypes and cultural baggage associated with different races in their picture choices for different stories. The #ICantBreathe hashtag — Eric Garner’s last words —  similarly went viral and became a rallying cry for people upset at the decision not to indict the police officer responsible for his death.

Duke University freshman Jason Fotso constructed and tweeted the poem “Last words” from the entirety of Eric Garner’s own last words. His original tweet has been retweeted nearly 27 thousand times and favorited even more times than that. Yale professor Fred Shapiro is including the words as his most notable quote of the year. He says that doing such an activity is “capturing, producing a first draft of cultural history and political history.”

Prediction: Hashtag activism, particularly ones associated with social justice and racism, will continue to make headlines in the coming year as America comes to terms with its structural racial injustice.


Thanks in large part to the success of the podcast “Serial,” and growth in mobile technology and other forms of technology that are putting automobiles online, podcasts are seeing a renaissance. Smartphones and bluetooth-enabled cars — not to mention third-party apps like Stitcher and Overcast — are making it easier than ever for people to listen to them, because people can now just download a podcast directly onto their listening device of choice.

The economics behind production are also streamlining how ambitious producers might be able to get their own podcasts running, since it requires fewer equipment and software than say a TV show. Marketers can also benefit from the intimacy of the medium, analysts say, since listeners are probably much more likely to sit through an ad, especially when it’s read by the host of the podcast, than they are a television ad. The success of crowdfunders like Roman Mars of the popular podcast “99% Invisible,” who has run annual Kickstarter campaigns for his show to fund it, also adds confidence that people will pay for great storytelling. Take the podcast networkRadiotopia — it ran a Kickstarter campaign pledging to “remake public radio” through podcasts. It raised $620,412 by the time it closed, offering several lessons for others thinking of crowdfunding a project.

Radiotopia had a widely successful Kickstarter campaign (MediaShift file photo).

Prediction: Podcasts will continue to boom in 2015, building stronger bonds with listeners. But the hype over “Serial” will calm down a bit once it finishes its first season — though it will more than likely start up again in anticipation of its second story.


The beheadings and kidnappings of American journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Luke Somers brought home the dangers journalists, especially freelancers, take when reporting abroad. Dwindling foreign news budgets means that cash-strapped news organizations are using these freelancers at unprecedented rates, and they often lack the support and safety that come from institutional media backing. The situation raised discussion on whether the United States should change its ransom policy for targeted kidnappings, because these journalists are going out on their own to bear witness on behalf of their audiences.

Photo by Osvaldo Gago on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons.

But at the same time, the question of what it means to bear witness in the digital age— already a common topic among some individual freelancers and niche news organizations like Tehran Bureau — is alsogaining traction within mainstream news outlets as social media makes events across the world a visceral reality. First Look Media’s global social media news hub also recently launched, with its mastermind Andy Carvin — known for his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring — announcing on Medium, “we want to produce native journalism for social media communities, in conjunction with members of those communities.” In other words, social media outlets are no longer just ways for publishers to refer audiences back to their websites. The act of bearing witness online, whether through watching a direct live stream from a journalist or citizen or debating and analyzing news with others, is just as important.

Prediction: Although sounds promising, bearing witness online won’t necessarily have a universal appeal among news consumers, although there will be a particular interest among journalists. The discussion of freelancers and their risks — and the support needed to help them continue to do their jobs — will definitely be a bigger topic in the months to come.


From Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight to Ezra Klein’s Vox and the New York Times’ Upshot, 2014 proved data journalism had staked its claim in the media world. FiveThirtyEight launched as an ESPN-owned entity in March after years at the New York Times, and its coverage of the 2014 midterm elections and pursuit of America’s best burrito made it a mainstay among both loyal and new audiences.

FiveThirtyEight turned to statistics to help find America's best burrito. Photo courtesy of

With Nate Silver’s departure, the New York Times had a vacancy for a data journalist — and itdecided to fill it by launching a new section on the Times’ website in April called The Upshot, which focuses on politics, policy and economic analysis. Its announcement stated it was necessary tohelp audiences understand the news, which is the same purpose behind Vox, which also started publishing stories in April. Although some observers are still not sure what to make of the explainer website, its fusion of journalism and technology is raising eyebrows across media circles. The “Vox Cards” are designed to offer readers consistent referrals right when they’re reading a story.

Prediction: Other news outlets will bolster their use of data in reporting, but there probably won’t be too many other niche data-explainer websites launching — after all, having too many sources to help explain the news might end up adding more confusion.


Online harassment, especially directed at women, became a huge topic of discussion in 2014, thanks in large part to the #GamerGate controversy that began in August. The issue started with the online harassment of indie game developer Zoe Quinn and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and later spread to award-winning games journalist Jenn Frank and fellow writer Mattie Brice. The moniker now encompasses the wider misogyny in the online gaming world.

A Pew research survey released this year also found out that women, especially young women, are bearing the brunt of online harassment. While men may experience it more, they generally experience the less-than-severe forms like simple name-calling. Women, on the other hand, are prone to stalkers and sexual harassment online. Emma Watson, for example, received wide backlash online after speaking to the United Nations on gender equality. Users on the image board website 4chan threatened to unveil alleged nude photos of the actress. It follows a wave of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online — which some call a “CelebrityGate” scandal of its own.

In effect, GamerGate and CelebrityGate are examples of the rise of “doxxing” — which, as The Economist explained, first emerged about a decade ago to refer to hackers’ habit of collecting personal and private information, including home addresses, and releasing them to the wider public. Others have come to see it as another form of investigative reporting. Meanwhile, Twitter recently announced new tools to make reporting abuse and harassment easier, and prevent users who are “blocked” from seeing the profile of the person who blocked them.

Prediction: More discussion and awareness of the treatment of women online will help curb the skewing of harassment toward them, although Internet trolling and harassment will continue to be an issue as long as people merge their online and offline lives.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on December 16, 2014, on PBS MediaShift.