Tactical Technology Collective Citizen Journalism Toolkit – How not to do a toolkit

Tactical Technology Collective has come out with a new Citizen Journalism toolkit, to complement earlier toolkits for NGOs and activists on security, audio and video publishing on the internet and FOSS publishing.

Covering audio, blogs, images and print (strangely no video) the toolkit is somewhat of a useful resource, but as its stands is irascibly incomplete, confusing and badly executed.

The lack of an emphasis on online video production and dissemination is bizarre, because this is a vital aspect of citizen journalism on the web (e.g. Vikalpa YouTube Channel). Far as I could gather, it only gets passing mention in the sections dealing with podcasts on WordPress!

There’s also no real media / advocacy strategy talked about in any of the sections. This suggests the authors are more versed in the technical aspects of new media and desk research than with any lived experience of citizen journalism in violent contexts, where I usually find the most innovation and the greatest need for this kind of manual.

Further, there is no emphasis on the strategic complementarity of using a range of services and products (e.g. blog + twitter or podcast + transcript on blog), redundancy or planning for failure. No mention of mobile phones. No mention of RSS and how it can be used to get information across even when websites are blocked by ISPs.

The website is also quite a mess. Content could have been vastly better edited and proofed. Navigation is difficult and not at all intuitive. There’s no PDF to download to read and print content off when offline and bizarrely no search function at all. Some of the pages are also just formatted all wrong (e.g. ironically, the page on best practices for effective blogging). The presentation and grouping of content can at time get very confusing. For example, the page of Distributing & publicising your blog’s content lists Flickr and ourmedia.org as sites that allow you to store, share and view a range of media such as digital photographs, audio files like podcasts, videos. I fail to see the connection here. While these sites certainly help in online content storage and have dissemination mechanisms of their own (without the need for any blog at all) how they feed into blogs and how blogs can be connected to them isn’t made at all clear. 

There are also pages where the graphics don’t show up at all (didn’t anyone actually go through this website before it went public?!)

There’s an emphasis on products like VLC, Songbird Firefox and WordPress in the manuals, but no real explanation given as to why they were chosen above other competing products and services. I blog for example using Safari 3.1 – others may blog just as well using Internet Explorer, Opera or other browsers. While I know the advantages of Firefox, just saying that it’s a better programme isn’t terribly helpful. Ditto with WordPress. Why not Blogger for example? (An exception here is the discussion on the pros and cons of Flickr)

There’s some really useful content here, but I was really struck more by what’s missing. Tactical Technology must live up to its name and reputation and urgently work on this set of resources to make it much better than what it is. As it stands, the section on print media is the strongest, with some really useful insights and tips on how best to communicate one’s message.

As noted earlier, the exclusion of video from a CJ toolkit is wholly unpardonable. This, and an emphasis on mobile phones will make this toolkit far more useful than what it presently is.


Updated – 22 May 2008, 7.42pm

Perhaps as a result of the feedback they got and on account of my suggestion below, the website now clearly notes that it is a work in progress and will be officially launched in June 2008. A tactical mistake by Tactical Technology, now rectified. 

6 thoughts on “Tactical Technology Collective Citizen Journalism Toolkit – How not to do a toolkit

  1. I agree, Tactical Tech has a long way to go until their citizen journalism toolkit is really useful, but at least they are working on something. It’s always much more difficult to creat these things than to critique them. Ideally, we’ll one day all be able to put together a collective library of well-produced guides and case studies which people can mix and match.

  2. Hi David,

    That they are working on something is certainly appreciated. So are most of us, as you know. My question is why they’ve released to the public domain something that’s half-arsed? It just takes seconds upon going to the homepage to realise that the non-inclusion of that which I have enumerated above severely vitiates the appeal and usefulness of this “manual” as it stands now. What I don’t understand is why they released it in such as state. Mind you, their other resources are excellent.


  3. Hi Sanjana,

    We at Tactical Tech are really surprised (and pleased!) with all this feedback on this tool kit that is not yet released. The website is intended for Tactical Tech staff and we usually run our projects on wikis and open CMS sites – even before they are finished. Since we haven’t made any announcement of this tool kit’s release and it is still a work-in-progress, it is rather interesting that this one has got already some attention.

    Thanks for the feedback. It always helps in making our final products better. We intend to release this in June 2008 (most probably with a new name!) and hope to hear more from you in the future.

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Sophia,

    Thanks for that explanation and appreciate the positive engagement with the criticism.

    I wonder though – if this is quite clearly a work in progress, then why not say it up front? The website as it stands gives the impression that it is final and if you want feedback and input (crowd-sourcing the manual as it were) then clearly you have a singular way of going about it!

    Just so you know, the Information Policy blog / newsletter has also featured your website. See http://i-policy.typepad.com/informationpolicy/2008/05/diy-communicati.html. No mention of “work in progress” there either, unsurprisingly.

    Take away lesson – if this is a “work in progress” internal site, say it is so and firewall it. If you want feedback from those who visit it, also be explicit about it.

    One more thing. Noticed there’s no search function on the Security Edition of the NGO-in-a-Box site – http://security.ngoinabox.org/html/en/index.html. I hope the CJ site ends up with one, like your A/V edition site and the FOSS publishing site.

    Stay well,


  5. Greetings Sanjana!

    Message in-a-box: Tools and Tactics for Communicating your Cause is a set of strategic guides to using communications tools for social change, together with a suite of open source tools to get you making your own media. The toolkit is designed for small and medium-sized NGOs, advocates, and citizen journalists to help them create and distribute content for their advocacy efforts while exploring the constantly evolving world of campaigning and communications.

    The toolkit is available online at http://messageinabox.tacticaltech.org/ and also as a booklet and DVD to enable those without internet access to make the most of the content. To order copies, please write to miab@tacticaltech.org

  6. Thanks Sophia. The new toolkit looks good on the web though I had only time to briefly glance through it. Will write a more detailed review anon. Any idea when the CJ Toolkit will be released? The website has been dormant for months.



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