Category Archives: Tech

No, Reddit won’t ruin journalism (or save it)

I’m not dogmatic about either side of the debate when it comes to using Reddit to crowdsource information that may lead to better understanding about live events. This isn’t limited to Reddit but is true for any platform available to the public where they can share what they’re seeing with the world. Yes, we all realize there’s the capacity to spread rumors, falsehoods, even smear and libel, which should not be taken lightly. We’ll need to work to find ways to avoid and deal seriously with this element. However we should not dismiss the usefulness of these platforms to be a window into what’s happening anywhere in the world at any time.

I’ve seen great things come out of Storyful’s Open Newsroom, mostly because it consists of pseudo-experts or at least people who have a great deal of respect for the basic tenants of journalism. They’re sharing content they’ve found through social networks that have the potential for high value to help the public better understand the current state of affairs in places like Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, and many more places that have varying degrees of 24/7 on-the-ground coverage. The Open Newsroom acts as a place for folks who care very deeply about “getting things right” to share what they’re seeing and talk amongst themselves and use the tools they’ve learned, both new tricks and old, to ferret out if what we’re seeing is true or false. This isn’t different than journalism as it existed 50 to 100 years ago, except we have the abilty to collaborate better and have access to better tools to verify the accuracy of reports. We have more material and we have more metadata.

Reddit, if the very serious issues of libel and rumor can be managed, can become another great source of information for those further up the chain, like Open Newsroom, to chew over and analyze. There are communities all over Reddit and it’s not accurate to paint them all with the same brush. Some will have stricter rules than others, some will be managed with greater accuracy in mind. We should encourage and nuture it, not dismiss and marginalize it.

It’s far from perfect but it has potential that should be given a chance to grow into what Open Newsroom has become.

Required reading: Lessons in crowdsourced verification of news from Storyful and Syria’s Reddit forum

The subtle difference between news apps

Let’s start out by laying it out: anything on your phone today is competing for your attention, therefore every app is a competitor to every other app.

However, there’s a difference between “news readers,” “news apps” and “social feed readers.” Some overlap these categories but for the most part they fall into one of the three.

News Readers

News readers are RSS readers on steroids. They take in your feeds or they supply their own based on other people’s articles, and pull them in. They might categorize them, add some clever design on top of them (Flipboard) but they don’t produce any editorial at all. News readers are useful for keeping up with all the primary news sources you regularly like to read in one app. Examples: ZiteFlipboard.

News Apps

News apps are produced by humans. They might provide those humans with some tools to produce that news, but the product has a heavy human touch. There might be aggregation, but that aggregation is done by humans who use it to build a new story, and cite sources properly. Some folks may have found ways to present the news differently and maybe add features that traditional news apps never had before (Circa’s “Follow” feature.) Examples of News Apps: New York TimesThe GuardianCNNThe Verge, and Circa News

Social Feed Readers

These are apps that pull in your social feeds and present them in a way that might be confused for “news.” These are apps like Flipboard and Facebook’s new “Paper” app. If your friends share a link to a news item they might show up here but that’s not the primary focus of these apps. Flipboard is one of those apps that floats between “News Reader” and “Social Feed Reader” because it offers both options.

The New News Wires

These are apps that are minimalist in their approach. They provide simply headlines and links to primary sources or simply a paragraph. These are apps like Breaking News and Inside. They might provide features like ways to follow topics and be alerted when something new arrives in those topics.

All of these types of apps have their own utility. They might compete with each other but these apps likely see something like Angry Birds as a bigger competitor for your phone time more than anything else.

Giving up on “Inbox Zero”

I gave up on Inbox Zero years ago. It always seemed to me like an elaborate game of whack a mole. I used to create folder after folder trying to compartmentalize and file away each and every email with the misguided idea that somehow I would more easily find what I need later, and that I’d taken action on what needed action taken.

I realized this was a form of OCD and actually a time waster. Search has replaced this function for me. To the dismay of IT departments everywhere, I never delete an email. I’m an email hoarder. I figure at some point I might need what’s in there. Search will unearth it for me. It’s rarely let me down.

In order for this to work, I need to at least spend a few minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening to scan what’s new and for things that require me to take action, I put a note in my calendar to do so, and an alarm. The number of emails that require this are less than a handful a day, I can manage that. The rest I can scan by looking at the subject and sender if I even need to open it at all. My inbox has over 38,000 unread emails. I don’t need to read them because they’re of no use to me and my time is better spent elsewhere than organizing them.

Traditional media’s refusal to enter the link economy

Blogger ethics tend to be better than traditional journalism ethics when it comes to linking to sources. It’s actually far more likely you won’t find a single link in any articles in most mainstream news publications online. Sometimes they may even write out the source, but won’t link to it.

Here’s an example of where the New York Post cites TV Newser and Mediaite, but refuses to link to either. Both Newser and Mediaite are generous with links to their sources. Apparently the New York Post is a common offender. The Post has gone so far as to have allegedly admitted, by way of correspondence from one of their reporters, that they in fact have a policy to not credit blogs (or anyone else) if they can verify independently after they’ve been tipped off from the source they choose not to cite. Other parts of News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes the Post, may have the same policy as well.

Recently, NBC New York used a good deal of their reporting from a post written by NYC The Blog, which does excellent coverage of stories that often fall between the cracks, and does so with great detail. The author of the post originally did not bother to mention his source, then added the mention, but has yet to link to it.

Why are mainstream news outlets so averse to the link economy? Even here at Reuters, links are rarely seen, if ever, in the context of the articles we post. Felix Salmon recently referred to the Wall Street Journal as “the kid in class with his arm around his homework” in reference to their refusal to link. The New York Times is just as stingy with their links, relegating their modern link-friendly journalism to excellent places like The Lede.

The Lede is one of the few places I’ll return to multiple times a day, because it’s indicative of the way the world works now: real-time and part of a cooperative effort among outside sources, linking back and forth to one another, without regard for their internal or external affiliation.

Journalism today is a collaborative effort and the digital natives link to their sources as a matter of course. They understand the value of the link economy and it is rarely a one way street. Linking out doesn’t take traffic away from your site; instead, it makes your site more valuable as a comprehensive source of where information is flowing, it helps to show you’ve done your homework and are able to back it up.

This is not particularly new ground I’m covering here. Jeff Jarvis has written extensively on the link economy. Our own president of media, Chris Ahearn, believes in the link economy and Felix Salmon has weighed in on how the link economy benefits Reuters.

The issue is both technical and cultural. Many of these crusty old media behemoths are still embedded in the maw of very old editorial workflows that simply make it impossible to link out. Personally, I find this hard to believe, since if they’re publishing to the web, surely they have some way of linking within their articles. What I find more easy to believe, but not entirely a valid excuse, is the culture.

The culture of current “old media” newsrooms does not have the ethical inclination to link. They’re still provincial and afraid that once someone has clicked a link to a referring source, they’re gone forever. The digital natives practically have the link embedded into their DNA. Sure, there are some bloggers with loose ethics when it comes to citing their sources by way of a link, but few of them do it by way of policy and the ones who do so often are not the ones running a business behind it.

How long will it take for the old guard to make way for the link friendly digital natives? Considering how much the powers that be are relying on those natives to help them transform the media business into something that can feasibly exist in the current landscape, sooner than you think.

(Photo credit: by cogdogblog on Flickr)

The disconnect between traditional media and UGC

The majority of newsworthy video out of Syria, Egypt and all over the world, shot by camera phone finds its way to YouTube by way of citizens. The first thought of the shooter is usually not: “I need to share this with a major TV news network” because they don’t care about traditional television news networks or more likely they’ve never heard of them.

They have, however, heard of the Internet and that’s where they decide to share it with the world.

Companies like Storyful understand this and realize that UGC doesn’t magically come to you and it’s unlikely to seek you out. In order to be the first to discover it, you need to know where to look and develop good systems for hunting it down. It’s very much a traditional journalism exercise but requires very non-traditional journalistic tools to find them.

What we do need more of is people who know how to hunt down UGC and better tools for finding it. We’re pretty much all set with tools on how to capture it and where to upload it. News organizations would like to set up ways for themselves to be the sole place people choose to present that content, but the many attempts to do this have had very poor results.

Think of one of the more recent, most newsworthy photos: a high resolution image of the Boston bomber that was uploaded to, you guessed it: Facebook.

I think it’s incredibly cool to give citizens new tools to get UGC in the hands of the media, just don’t expect them to do something other than what the majority of citizens already do: whip out their phone take a photo or video and share it to Facebook or Twitter.

The people who will win are the ones who can find it.

(Photo credit:  Digital Trends)

Fear, loathing and apathy of digital security

Is Facebook just an elaborate direct marketer’s masterwork? Should I think twice before using my existing Twitter account to log into various services all around the web? Should I be worried abouthanding my credit card over to Sony? These and other perfectly valid and  simultaneously conspiracy theoretical ideas tend to float in and around my head from time to time. The big scare du-jour, is if Apple’s iPhone and Google’s mobile OS, Android, are tracking and archiving our every movement.

A journalistic tennis match on this topic took place over the course of the last few days. First, this is old news. Apple responded to congress regarding this almost a year ago. Digital forensics specialists have known you could track locations on iOS devices for some time, and have used the data to assist law enforcement. Alex Levinson, an RIT student, even published a research paper and subsequent book last December detailing data acquisition techniques for iOS products, like the iPhone and iPad. He says that Apple is not collecting the data.

The Wall Street Journal added Google to the mix, citing that Apple is not alone in the practice of collecting user information. Julia Angwin at the Journal claims that not only are Apple and Google collecting the data and storing it locally on the phone, but they actually regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google. The endgame? Angwin believes they’re racing to build a massive database of location information in order to tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services. Today, Apple seemed to indicate that was part of their plan, as they revealed they’re building a crowd-sourced traffic service.

Apple outright denies they’re collecting user locations.

“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”

In response to the outcry, Apple will release an update to store less information about location and discontinue backing it up entirely. Apple claims that the information they were receiving was anonymous and only stored the wifi hotspots and cell towers around the phone, which could be up to 100 miles away.

I’m as digitally paranoid as the next guy, but this seems like an odd case and strange timing. Why did something that was discovered months ago only recently receive greater attention? Will we see the same thing happen with the earlier reports about apps collecting and sharing demographic information?

Much like Facebook boycotts, we seem to get up in arms about our data being compromised, captured, leveraged, bought and sold, only to lose interest and go on about our lives. Most of us don’t really have the time to care or feel the convenience and novelty of these devices and websites outweigh the potential of being taken advantage of. That’s exactly what many companies in the business of buying and selling data and demographics are banking on.