In the world of digital journalism, it’s fair to say that 2011 was the year of social media. From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, both professional and citizen journalists harnessed the power of mobile devices and social media to make real-time reporting a reality around the globe. Time magazine’s Person of the Year may have been “the protestor,” but most of us know his story thanks to cell phone cameras and Facebook.
As mobile social media reporting has gone mainstream, however, stress patterns have begun to emerge in the platforms that make it possible. Twitter is still embroiled in legal issues surrounding user records related to Occupy Wall Street, while in the case of the UK riots, Blackberry maker RIM agreed to turn its users data over to the police, even as Prime Minister David Cameron proposed selectively blocking access to social media tools. In January of 2011, the Egyptian government convinced the country’s service providers to simply shut down the internet altogether. And these are only legal and technical vulnerabilities; confiscation or destruction of reporting devices is a much more direct method for curtailing publishing across all media.
Enter Dispatch - a secure, encrypted mobile publishing application for both citizen and professional journalists. Dispatch offers secure, instant mobile publishing that can be used for both real-time reporting and coordinating coverage in the field. By encrypting messages and providing users with an authenticated handle that is not connected their real identity, Dispatch also protects digital communication with potentially vulnerable sources. And while no system is completely resilient, Dispatch is designed to generate a “sneakernet” when internet service is unavailable - so that essential media can still be duplicated, disseminated, and eventually published.
Dispatch is being developed by a team of researchers and professionals from Columbia, Stanford and Tumblr and is a recipient of a Brown Institute for Media Innovation Magic Grant.We are especially looking forward to feedback on the project from the digital journalism community at ONA 2012; we hope you’ll stop by the Midway to learn more about the project and to share your thoughts on our initial designs.