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Dialogue Earth crowdsources creativity with online science video contest

A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on, according to an old proverb. And that was before Twitter and other social networks wired the world.

That's the challenge a St. Paul nonprofit media project is grappling with: how to help the facts around important environmental topics catch up with all of the misinformation that can spread so easily and quickly online these days.

Dialogue Earth is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and the Foundation for Environmental Research. This week it announced the completion of a pilot project involving a crowdsourced video contest.

The mission is to find ways to inject timely, trustworthy information into the public debate on environmental issues, without advocating for any particular action or solution.

Its recent video project demonstrates one way in which that goal might be accomplished. Dialogue Earth sponsored a video contest in which all entries had to incorporate information from a list of 12 objective facts about ocean acidification. The other rule: videos couldn't make any specific call to action.

"The only thing we're advocates for is getting good information out," says Dialogue Earth founder Kent Cavender-Bares.

First, participants made short pitches for their ideas. Seven concepts were chosen, after which participants were invited to create 90-second videos based on one of the winning concepts.

The result: a collection of creative, factual videos, ranging from a cartoon starring a snail reggae band to a black-and-white public service announcement parody. The idea is to build a collection of videos that can educate, rather than polarize.

"In order for media to be consumed, we feel that if it's science-based, ultimately it's got to be trustworthy. We also realize it's got to be engaging," says Cavender-Bares.

It also needs to be relevant. The next phase will involve finding ways to produce videos more quickly so that they can be released while a topic is still timely. This contest lasted six weeks, an aeon in Internet attention span.

Dialogue Earth is also preparing to launch a social media/public opinion analysis tool in early 2011 called Pulse, which will seek to track what environmental topics people are talking about. That data could then be used to plan topics for future videos.

Source: Kent Cavender-Bares, Dialogue Earth
Writer: Dan Haugen
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