Jon Vidar speaks at the US Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
So much amazing news to report! In the last three weeks, I have wrapped up more than 23,000 miles between Switzerland, Qatar, and Boston!
The United Nations
First off, I was invited to speak in Geneva, Switzerland by the US Mission to the United Nations on the topic of "supporting local voices." The talk was part of the Internet Freedom Forum on the occasion of the 17th session of the Human Rights Council. The event itself was pretty incredible, with seven "freedom fellows" flown in from places like Egpyt, Tunisia, and China. These fellows are the actual citizens who are using the Internet to inspire revolutions in their countries. Needless to say, an amazing group of individuals with extremely interesting stories and insights.
My favorite quote comes from Henda Hendoud of Tunisia, who said, "The world is in the midst of a revolution, it's not just Egypt and Tunisia. ... There is a whole group of youth who only know this new world and it is a world without borders. And that is the revolution."
She later went on to tell me, however, that in the upcoming elections we will see the older generation of Tunisians once again assume control of the country. I asked why, after a revolution inspired by the youth, that a young leader could not emerge. The response -- from a person who just participated in overthrowing a dictator -- was, "it is impossible." Wow.
Anyway, my time in Geneva was short, only two days, but during my stay I participated in a lively dinner with the US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council at her residence, received a private tour of the UN, and got to present on The Tiziano Project and why we do what we do. Amazing trip.
Straight from Geneva it was off to Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar to discuss The Tiziano Project and how we could help with their community journalism initiative.
Doha is an interesting place. At 85% expat, it becomes a very Disney-like version of a middle east city (mixed with a San Fransisco-esque skyline). It is hard to believe that there was basically nothing there 20 years ago before the oil boom hit. Now, just being a Qatari citizen entitles you to $50,000 a year from the government as soon as you turn 18 -- $80,000 if you get a college degree.
Not sure if anything will pan out from this, but will keep you posted as the relationship develops.
Knight News Challenge - $200,000 Winner!
But really, I have saved the best for last. Last week it was announced that The Tiziano Project will be the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation as part of the Knight News Challenge!
Of more than 1600 applications, we are one of only 16 winners!
This is a technology-only grant to support the development of our 360 platform that we developed in Iraq this past summer: http://360.tizianoproject.org
We plan to do three primary things with the grant funding:
1) Develop the 360 as a tool that other organizations completing community journalism organizations around the world can implement for their own projects
2) Create an interactive map for curating those 360s and allowing audiences to explore the world through local perspectives
3) Integrate a communication layer on top of the system that will allow for direct two-way communication between community members and outside audiences.
The overall goals of the project are to help elevate the quality of community journalism through collaboration, while empowering local community members with a tool that will enable them to shift the common perceptions of the regions in which they live.
But, we need your help!
In true Steve Jobs fashion, there is one more thing -- But for this one, we need your help.
The Iraqi Cultural Center in Washington DC has offered to host a photography and multimedia exhibit on the 360 Kurdistan. The exhibit we have planned will be truly an incredible capstone for our students in Erbil. We will feature work from each student and plan to purchase 15 digital video frames to show off each of their video pieces as well. Technology permitting, we will videoconference in many of our students to speak at the opening and to be available throughout the night for questions.
The catch... We need to raise the funds for this event ourselves. The budget is coming in at just more than $3,000 for printing, equipment, etc relating to the exhibit. I know that I recently called on everyone's support for the Summit Series (and what an amazing event it was and thank you all again for your help!), but I need help once more in order to pull this exhibit off in time. If you are up for supporting and giving our students in Iraq a voice in DC, please help us raise the funds needed here:
The exhibit is currently scheduled to open with a reception on August 4th at 6:30 if you find yourself in DC!
Above:Screenshot of the interactive map on my newly launched project counterspill.org
Wow. Where to begin. It's been several months since I last sent out an update and things have been incredibly busy!
Let me start by following up on my last email. As you probably know, I made it on the boat for the Summit Series (thanks to all of your help) and it was an incredible experience! While I know that I promised tweets and updates while on the boat, the number one greatest thing about the trip was the utter disconnectedness of having no cellphone service and $0.65/minute internet. It was the first time in recent years that I can remember that not a single conversation was interrupted by a phone call or text message, no one needed to stop to check their Facebook or look something up on wikipedia -- just 100% pure attention. Highlights of the trip included shark tagging with Tim Ferris, talks by Richard Branson and Peter Thiel, hanging out with a member of the British royalty turned Amazon protector, and nightly concerts by the house band - The Roots. It was an absolutely amazing experience.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped make that trip possible. To let you know that it was not in vain, I have already had numerous conversations with industry leaders, foundation heads, and venture capitalists about the many projects I have going on and I think that there are definite prospects for the future because of this trip.
The Tiziano Project
Speaking of the many projects... The Tiziano Project | 360 Kurdistan has been doing better than we could possibly have imagined. In the last several months, we have collected a series of accolades that we always strived for, but never fully knew whether or not they were possible. These recognitions include winning SXSW Interactive for Activism, a Gracie Award for our coverage of women's issues, a Webby Honoree for nonprofit work and a nomination for Best Use of Photography (against National Geographic, LIFE Magazine, the BBC, and Canada), an Adobe Site of the Day recognition, an Outstanding Achievement in Photography from the Interactive Media Council, and a Best in Class recognition from the New Media Institute. We are humbled and honored to be recognized so widely across the board for our work and that of our students. At SXSW, TIME magazine called us the "most meaningful win of the night" providing community journalism that is both "profound and simple."
In addition, we are in the final 28 out of 1,600 applicants for the Knight News Challenge. A competition through the Knight Foundation that gives away up to $5 million per year for innovative projects in journalism. If we receive funding, it will allow us to develop the next phase of The Tiziano Project, making the 360 platform scalable for use by other organizations and allowing for direct two-way communication between people anywhere in the world and the members of these conflict and underreported regions who we are trying to help. I'll keep you posted!
Another project I am currently leading and haven't said too much about is called Counterspill. Working with Chris Paine (Director, Who Killed the Electric Car and Revenge of the Electric Car) and John Quigley (Eco-activist and artist), we launched Counterspill.org yesterday on the one year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill to help counter industry spin around non-renewable energy disasters. The site was already greeted with much fanfare and, thanks to Tory, made it into the front page headlines of Huffington Post's BP coverage yesterday.
In addition to hard hitting journalism, engaging interactives, and extensive multimedia, we are working hard to target main stream audiences and transcend the traditional environmentalist with our messaging. As such, one of the first pieces of marketing material we released is a parody entitled "I Know What You Spilled Last Summer." It got picked up quite a bit yesterday and is already at about 5,000 views!
University of Southern California
Finally, the big news is that I will be starting teaching at the USC in the Fall. I am taking over two of the photojournalism classes handed down by one of my mentors and photojournalism legend Rick Meyer. It is a real honor for me to be continuing his legacy!
It's been a busy week for good news and I just wanted to be sure to share a few of the links!
Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab interviewed me a couple weeks back on The Tiziano Project and just posted their article:
What if online video could prevent genocide? That's what three USC Annenberg School graduate students wondered when they hopped a flight to Rwanda a few years ago, Flip cameras in their carry-ons... [Read on]
USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism shows a little love for their former alumni as well:
The Tiziano Project, a nonprofit collaborative media organization staffed or directed by multiple USC Annenberg alumni and students, recently won the New Media Institute's 2010 "Best in Industry" New Media Award in the Culture - Multimedia Storytelling category... [Read on]
And a couple left over articles from back at FotoweekDC that I forgot to share:
FotoWeek DC kicked-off this week with a launch party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Guests enjoyed cocktails, music and dancing as well as free access to the Corcoran's permanent collection. International Awards Competition entries were on display and winners were unveiled, including People's Choice winner, Jon Vidar and Spirit of Washington winner, Flore de Preneuf... [Read on]
If the name "Jon Vidar" sounds familiar, it is because he was also a winner in the 2009 FotoWeek DC competition, with an Award of Honor in the Travel category... [Read on]
Above: A video I worked on with colleague Grant Slater at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC.
I just returned home from a two-week, whirlwind DC trip that may easily have been an unexpected career-shaping visit. I originally set out for a couple reasons: I was teaching photo/video for the Online News Association Conference, which happened to coincide nicely with FotoweekDC the following week -- where I had my second consecutive win.
Both events went off without a hitch and I managed to make time to shoot the Rally for Sanity (above) with my friend Grant Slater -- An extremely talented videographer who I also worked with in Iraq. But the real game changer of the trip was the week in-between the two conferences. Mara Abrams, who just started working with The Tiziano Project flew out to meet me so that we could make some face-to-face connections with organizations about the future of Tiziano. We had no idea where this would go when we set out, we were just hoping to make as many connections as possible for moving forward with some big projects we have in mind for the future.
Well, we got lucky. In the first couple days we made some pretty clutch connections, including one of the leaders of Hillary Clinton's personal innovation team -- a team that floats above the heavily engrained bureaucracy that is the state department. From there, we were immediately added to an all day technology conference at the State Department called Tech@State and were personally introduced to the Executive Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- a hand-selected agency appointed by Barack Obama who are responsible for more that $700 million to fund organizations like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
In total, we went to more than a dozen meetings ranging from the State Department to the BBG and VOA to the Accenture Development Fund. What was really interesting was the response at each meeting. First of all, it was clear that everyone realized that what we are doing is important and necessary. However, not surprisingly, the higher up the people we met with, the more receptive and interested they were to listen and brainstorm about game changing approaches to new technologies. Further indicative of the pitfalls that prevent broad change in the media industry, we received the most push back and resistance from the meetings with middle management -- the same people we would most likely have to interface with for such a project.
Either way, overall a great two weeks and more will come of this shortly for sure. Now I am on to the recovery stage of the trip in which I stay in bed for two days to get over a nagging cough, while working on my first blog post for Huffington Post -- a treatise on community journalism. Stay tuned.
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