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April 03 2013

22:05

Intercontinental collaboration: How 86 journalists in 46 countries can work on a single investigation

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On Thursday morning, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will begin releasing detailed reports on the workings of offshore tax havens. A little over a year ago, 260 gigabytes of data were leaked to ICIJ executive dIrector Gerard Ryle; they contained information about the finances of individuals in over 170 countries.

Ryle was a media executive in Australia at the time he received the data, says deputy director Marina Walker Guevara. “He came with the story under his arm.” Walker Guevara says the ICIJ was surprised Ryle wanted a job in their small office in Washington, but soon realized that it was only through their international scope and experience with cross border reporting that the Offshore Project could be executed. The result is a major international collaboration that has to be one of the largest in journalism history.

“It was a huge step. As reporters and journalists, the first thing you think is not ‘Let me see how I can share this with the world.’ You think: ‘How can I scoop everyone else?’ The thinking here was different.” Walker Guevara says the ICIJ seriously considered keeping the team to a core five or six members, but ultimately decided to go with the “most risky” approach when they realized the enormous scope of the project: Journalists from around the world were given lists of names to identify and, if they found interesting connections, were given access to Interdata, the secure, searchable, online database built by the ICIJ.

Just as the rise of information technology has allowed new competition for the attention of audiences, it’s also enabled traditional news organizations to partner in what can sometimes seem like dizzyingly complex relationships. The ICIJ says this is the largest collaborative journalism project they have ever organized, with the most comparable involving a team of 25 cross border journalists.

In the end, the Offshore Project brings together 86 journalists from 46 countries into an ongoing reporting collaboration. German and Canadian news outlets (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and the CBC) will be among the first to report their findings this week, with The Washington Post beginning their report on April 7, just in time for Tax Day. Reporters from more than 30 other publications also contributed, including Le Monde, the BBC and The Guardian. (The ICIJ actually published some preliminary findings in conjunction with the U.K. publications as a teaser back in November.)

“The natural step wasn’t to sit in Washington and try to figure out who is this person and why this matters in Azerbaijan or Romania,” Walker Guevara said, “but to go to our members there — or a good reporter if we didn’t have a member — give them the names, invite them into the project, see if the name mattered, and involve them in the process.”

Defining names that matter was a learning experience for the leaders of the Offshore Project. Writes Duncan Campbell, an ICIJ founder and current data journalism manager:

ICIJ’s fundamental lesson from the Offshore Project data has been patience and perseverance. Many members started by feeding in lists of names of politicians, tycoons, suspected or convicted fraudsters and the like, hoping that bank accounts and scam plots would just pop out. It was a frustrating road to follow. The data was not like that.

The data was, in fact, very messy and unstructured. Between a bevy of spreadsheets, emails, PDFs without OCR, and pictures of passports, the ICIJ still hasn’t finished mining all the data from the raw files. Campbell details the complicated process of cleaning the data and sorting it into a searchable database. Using NUIX software licenses granted to the ICIJ for free, it took a British programmer two weeks to build a secure database that would allow all of the far-flung journalists not only to safely search and download the documents, but also to communicate with one another through an online forum.

“Once we went to these places and gathered these reporters, we needed to give them the tools to function as a team,” Walker Guevara said.

Even so, some were so overwhelmed by the amount of information available, and so unaccustomed to hunting for stories in a database, that the ICIJ ultimately hired a research manager to do searches for reporters and send them the documents via email. “We do have places like Pakistan where the reporters didn’t have much Internet access, so it was a hassle for him,” says Walker Guevara, adding that there were also security concerns. “We asked him to take precautions and all that, and he was nervous, so I understand.”

They also had to explain to each of the reporting teams that they weren’t simply on the lookout for politicians hiding money and people who had broken the law. “First, you try the name of your president. Then, your biggest politician, former presidents — everybody has to go through that,” Walker Guevara says. While a few headline names did eventually appear — Imelda Marcos, Robert Mugabe — she says some of the most surprising stories came from observing broader trends.

“Alongside many usual suspects, there were hundreds of thousands of regular people — doctors and dentists from the U.S.,” she says, “It made us understand a system that is a lot more used than what you think. It’s not just people breaking the law or politicians hiding money, but a lot of people who may feel insecure in their own countries. Or hiding money from their spouses. We’re actually writing some stories about divorce.”

In the 2 million records they accessed, ICIJ reporters began to get an understanding of the methods account holders use to avoid association with these accounts. Many use “nominee directors,” a process which Campbell says is similar to registering a car in the name of a stranger. But in their post about the Offshore Project, the ICIJ team acknowledges that, to a great extent, most of the money being channeled through offshore accounts and shell companies is actually not being used for illegal transactions. Defenders of the offshore banks say they “allow companies and individuals to diversify their investments, forge commercial alliances across national borders, and do business in entrepreneur-friendly zones that eschew the heavy rules and red tape of the onshore world.”

Walker Guevara says that, while that can be true, the “parallel set of rules” that governs the offshore world so disproportionately favor the elite, wealthy few as to be unethical. “Regulations, bureaucracy, and red tape are bothersome,” she says, “but that’s how democracy works.”

Perhaps the most interesting question surrounding the Offshore Project, however, is how do you get traditional shoe-leather journalists up to speed on an international story that involves intensive data crunching. Walker Guevara says it’s all about recognizing when the numbers cease to be interesting on their own and putting them in global context. Ultimately, while it’s rewarding to be able to trace dozens of shell companies to a man accused of stealing $5 billion from a Russian bank, someone has to be able to connect the dots.

“This is not a data story. It was based on a huge amount of data, but once you have the name and you look at your documents, you can’t just sit there and write a story,” says Walker Guevara. “That’s why we needed reporters on the ground. We needed people checking courthouse records. We needed people going and talking to experts in the field.”

All of the stories that result from the Offshore Project — some of which could take up to a year to be published — will live on a central project page at ICIJ.org. The team is also considering creating a web app that will allow users to explore some (though probably not all) of the data. In terms of the unique tools they built, Walker Guevara says most are easily replicable by anyone using NUIX or dtSearch software, but they won’t be open sourced. Other lessons from the project, like the inherent vulnerability of PGP encryption and “other complex cryptographic systems popular with computer hackers,” will endure.

“I think one of the most fascinating things about the project was that you couldn’t isolate yourself. It was a big temptation — the data was very addictive,” Walker Guevara says. “But the story worked because there was a whole other level of traditional reporting that was going and checking public records, going and seeing — going places.”

Photo by Aaron Shumaker used under a Creative Commons license.

March 29 2013

15:00

The coolest Canadian

Screenshot 2013-03-29 at 9.27.41 AMI had the great pleasure last night to watch one of my favorite interviewers on one of my favorite shows, live in New York. Jian Ghomeshi [except for an excess H it sounds like it's spelled] is the host of the CBC’s Q, which I’ve listened to for years. You can — no, should — listen to him online, on Sirius (channel 159), or on some smart public-radio stations like WNYC, which have started carrying him.

Ghomeshi runs a radio variety show, but not like one of the late-night TV shows in America. It’s a smart variety show. It doesn’t try to be funny or hip but is both. Ghomeshi’s opening monologue is a written essay/soliloquy/riff that sets the pace for the show; it says, “keep up now.” He gets great musical bookings and gives them time. He knows how to speak with them because he was a rock musician himself. But the heart of the show is his long-form interviews with musicians, authors, actors, and divas; he’s comfortable with them all.

Last night I was thinking about my favorite interviewers: Howard Stern, Jian Ghomeshi, and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, each live and uncut. And I started to understand, I think, what makes them great. They treat interviews like music.

That’s not my thought. At the after-party — an understated Canadian affair — I was talking with an American public-radio executive who was also a musician and a jazz producer and he said he saw Ghomeshi’s experience as a musician play out in his interviews: playing over the occasional wrong note, going with the flow of someone else’s solo. When Jian arrived later he, too, talked about getting into the right rhythm with a guest. It is musical, he said.

03-25-13---James-FrancoRight. In the car on the way home, I listened to a replay of Stern’s hour-and-a-half interview with James Franco this week. When I first heard the start of it, live, I thought Stern was being slightly ADD. He’d get Franco to go down a path; Franco would get ready to launch into a story; Stern would get distracted by a squirrel or perhaps he’d worry that Franco would spend too long and he’d deflect him to another subject; there was a bit of Mexican jumping bean to it. But last night I heard the rest of the interview and it was amazing. They got into sync. They were comfortable and out of that comfort came the surprising candor Stern can get even from jaded, over-interviewed stars. He truly is a genius at it. The real advantage of Sirius is not that he can say “fuck” but that he has the time, uninterrupted, to find that rhythm.

Ghomeshi has the similar advantage of being on public radio in Canada with two hours to devote to his guests. I’ve had the privilege of being on the show a few times. It’s shocking to my American media biorhythms to find myself in an interview or debate that doesn’t end in 2:30 — a race to the finish of the sound bite — but instead can turn into a real discussion. That contrast was apparent last night in Q’s media panel — one of my favorite parts of his week, but this time with American guests: The New York Times’ David Carr, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, and right-wing CNNer Will Cain. Though Goodman decried the sound bite, the truth is that they were all trained to recite theirs in sparse minutes while Ghomeshi was trying to get them to actually arrive at least at a clear statement of disagreement about gun control. Good luck with that. Cain wouldn’t play. Still, it made for fascinating radio/video/theater.

His other interviews each had their own cadences. Cyndi Lauper, who is approaching diva status, talked about her Broadway show with Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots, and about her childhood and, God help us, the Dalai Lama. Ghomeshi let her go. At his usual pace, with fewer guests than he had on stage last night, the interview would have gone on longer but the clock got in the way. Still, leaving us wanting more is not a bad thing.

Alan Alda tried to show Ghomeshi who was boss (“You grew up in the Bronx,” said Ghomeshi. “No I didn’t but I can tell you’re a Wikipedia reader,” said Alda) but that turned into a pleasant chat about the impact of M*A*S*H and about science (Alda is challenging scientists to define a flame and time so 11-year-olds could understand).

Vampire Weekend played three songs, a luxury the crowd enjoyed. Actually, they played four, asking to come back after the taping was done to rerecord their first. That provided a post facto punch line; now I understood the sly grins they shared when Ghomeshi — obviously aware of the redo that was coming up — asked Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij whether they were perfectionists.

The highlight of the night for me was David Cross talking about the return of Arrested Development. At the party, Ghomeshi said the two of them had hit that certain rhythm; watch how they did it at the start of the second hour, below. Cross began, like Alda, testing the line. He asked Jian whether he was that guy who had that interview — famously strange — with Billy Bob Thornton. “He was just such an insufferable prick,” Cross said. “We’re not going to replay that now, are we?” Ghomeshi asked. That could have gone either way. But then Ghomeshi exhibited real knowledge of Cross; he’d seen his stand-up act and knew his shows and had insightful questions and Cross responded with both candor and great comic timing. In only a moment, they became an act together.

After the show, I talked with a bunch of public-radio people and asked whether there was anyone in the U.S. market like Ghomeshi. They couldn’t think of anyone. Neither can I. We’re lucky we get to listen here. I asked his producers what the Canadian reaction was to Ghomeshi’s growing American fan base — did they wonder why he needed us. No, they said, but Canadians did worry that the show would become — like surely too much else from their perspective — too American. I don’t think that can happen. The acts and the subjects are shared. The attitude isn’t.

Ghomeshi is quite Canadian. He embodies what I like about the place — and why I indeed almost moved there three times (I am the rare Canadophile, but that’s another story). The Venn diagram of his and Canadian’s characteristics has many overlaps: calm, charming, self-deprecating, witty, easy, smart, never too hip, quite comfortable…. Hear for yourself.

I have just one wish: that Sirius and public-radio stations here would give his Q’s full two hours. We’re almost as smart and patient and interested as Canadians. Really.

November 25 2010

17:30

8 Key Lessons the CBC Learned Working with Citizen Journos



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The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto marked the first time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation collaborated with citizen journalists on a large and integrated scale.

In the lead up to the event, we noticed our online community was passionate about the topic. As a public broadcaster, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to tap into that conversation and encourage members of our wider online community to share their perspectives and reflect them back to the rest of the country.

In addition to our extensive TV, radio and online coverage, the CBC News social media team worked with a number of citizen contributors who shared their perspectives on the summit -- and the protests -- taking place in their city by blogging, tweeting, and filing photos to our website. They also appeared live on CBC News Network, CBC's 24-hour news channel.

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While CBCNews.ca had produced community initiatives in the past, the G20 project was a key moment in the evolution of our approach to engagement -- moving from a user-informed model, to user-driven. In the end, the G20 Street Level blog won a 2010 Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Community Feature and was a finalist in the Community Collaboration category at the Online News Association's 2010 Online Journalism Awards.

Eight Lessons

Here are eight lessons our team learned from working citizen contributors on a major and fast-moving news event:

  1. Know why you are working with your citizen contributors: As citizen journalism becomes part of the coverage of our news organization, it's important to differentiate our offering and create meaningful community editorial. It's no longer good enough to simply feature a citizen's content in a silo. To collaborate with our community in unique ways, we must develop clear editorial goals and integrate them into our storytelling. For the G20 Street Level project, our team wrote a project statement, which informed everything from how we communicated our ideas to our internal partners in radio and television, to how we developed our call-outs for contributors and developed the editorial plan.
  2. Expect the unexpected: When you plan an editorial package produced by paid staff or freelancers, you set filing dates and times. Barring any last-minute curve balls, you have a fairly good idea of how your content will roll out. When you're working with citizen contributors who are volunteering on a project, you can't -- and shouldn't -- make the same demands of them as paid staff. Flexibility and the ability to improvise is key. You will have influence over filing dates, times, volume of content and consistency -- but very little control.
  3. Plan what you can: Not having control over certain things isn't an excuse to not plan. Ultimately, our audience expects us to deliver a consistent, well-rounded experience. To meet this expectation, we devised an editorial plan for our CBC journalists to help make some of those "unknowns" more manageable. We ensured that our blog host and CBC contributors filed every day, and we integrated the citizen content as we received it.
  4. Recruit more volunteers than you think you will need: I'm a big believer in always planning for the worst-case scenario. When our team debated how many contributors to recruit, we realized that there was no "right" answer. My gut told me that more was better than fewer. We ended up with thirteen in total. In the end, having a bigger citizen team paid off, as some contributors filed more content than expected, and others dropped off the radar or had to pull out.
  5. Survey your potential citizen contributors: A few months ago I took part in a Poynter webinar covering credibility and social media in news organizations. They recommended surveying potential citizen contributors before working with them on projects. It's one of the best tips I've received, and now our team uses a survey as part of our standard chase process for these types of collaborations. The survey shouldn't be long but it should ask specific questions about contributors' familiarity with the topic, their writing and social media experience, and their technical proficiency and access to tools (cameras, smartphones, laptops). It's also helpful to ask them to write a bio and tell you the type of stories they're interested in filing. This last point will clearly illustrate both their potential and commitment level.
  6. Educate your contributors: You may notice volunteers feel a little intimidated after you notify them they've been selected to participate in your project. To avoid this, create an open and supportive environment from day one: Take time to call each person and discuss what it's like to collaborate with your newsroom; demystify terms and processes they may encounter ("graphs", "cut lines", and "vetting" will likely sound foreign to them); assure them that no one expects them to be the next Joan Didion or Bob Woodward, and remind them that there are no dumb questions.
  7. Contributions come in all shapes and sizes: In the kick-off call with our G20 contributors, we gave them two pieces of advice: Don't compare your work to that of our journalists, and don't get overwhelmed and feel like you have to write feature-length blog entries. It's key that your contributors are encouraged to tell their stories in the way they're most comfortable -- be it text, photos, tweets or video. During the G20 project, photos capturing breaking news were often more powerful than any number of words could have been.
  8. Be prepared to feed the beast: When working with volunteers, it's key to get their material up in a timely and consistent manner. The reward for them is their byline and recognition from family and friends; they want to send out links to their work as soon as possible. After notifying a contributor that their submission was live, we'd receive an excited email thanking us and then witness a flurry of activity from their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Be prepared to ramp up on staff and schedule for hours you may not usually work. I didn't do this and paid the price: Many a late night leading up to the summit was spent in front of my laptop, keeping up with an enthusiastic bunch. In retrospect, it was a great problem to have.

Kim Fox is the senior producer of social media for CBC News. She leads the community team and aids in the development and execution of social media, community management and user engagement strategies. The team garnered international attention and awards for their community features during the Haiti earthquake and G20 global summit.

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November 18 2010

21:30

CBC updates social media guidelines

The revised CBC guidelines on social media are to be welcomed. They are based on the principles CBC applies to other forms of media, rather than a detailed list of do’s and don’ts.

The guidelines acknowledge the importance of social media tools “for gathering information, as well as disseminating it.”

But add that “when using social media as an information-gathering tool, we apply the same standards as those for any other source of newsgathering.”

The guidelines advise against using social media to talk about unconfirmed reports:

We are consistent in our standards, no matter what the platform, in disseminating information. If we would not put the information on air or on our own website, we would not use social media to report that information.

In the section on sourcing, the CBC stresses that “our standards apply to all types of sources, including those coming via social media, when they are used for news gathering purposes.”

This suggests the CBC would do what the BBC did during the Mumbai bombing, publishing unverified tweets alongside material from its reporters.

The section on the personal use of social media also draws from general CBC principles. It implicit acknowledges how social media tends to blur the line between the personal and professional, advising staff to “maintain professional decorum and do nothing that can bring the Corporation into disrepute.”

Rather than forbidding staff from expressing their opinion on personal social media accounts, the guidelines advise that “the expression of personal opinions on controversial subjects or politics can undermine the credibility of CBC journalism and erode the trust of our audience.”

Some may see this as extending professional codes of conduct into personal social media spaces. One of the aspects of social media is how it combines both the personal and professional in usually publicly accessible platforms.

(Full disclosure: I am married to the director of digital media for CBC News, Rachel Nixon)

18:10

Special Series: Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

About this Series

How are public media makers and outlets evolving in the digital, participatory age? Stories in this week's special package examine how various players are rising to this challenge, from public stations, to community access projects, to citizen journalists. MediaShift contributors will report back from this weekend's national Public Media Camp in D.C., where developers and community members will join public broadcasting staffers to brainstorm digital projects and engagement strategies. Kim Fox of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer crowdsourcing and citizen journalism lessons learned from its coverage of the G20. And we'll take a look at what viral public broadcasting spoofs tell us about what still needs work.

The entire series is linked below.

Check Out All the Posts

> 5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0 by Jessica Clark

Coming soon

Friday: Katie Donnelly analyzes a raft of public broadcasting news experiments

Saturday: Colin Rhinesmith reports on how community access centers are supporting more inclusive reporting

Sunday: Todd Bieber of the Upright Citizens Brigade dissects viral video spoofs of public broadcasting

Monday: Public Media Camp coverage from Corbin Hiar and Amanda Hirsch

Tuesday: Dorian Benkoil on how WNYC has changed its business model

Wednesday: 5Across show produced and hosted by Mark Glaser, with guests from KQED, Oakland Local, Bay Citizen and ITVS

Thursday: Kim Fox of CBC shares lessons learned from the online team's street-level coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 03 2010

21:28

Canadian Murder Trial a Crucible for Real-Time Coverage

Late last month in a Canadian courtroom, Russell Williams, a former high-ranking colonel in the Canadian military, pleaded guilty to the murders of two young women as well as 86 counts of break and enter, sexual assault and other crimes. His sentencing hearing was widely covered by major Canadian media. Here, Canadian online journalism professor Robert Washburn explains how journalists tackled the story, in real-time.

Using social media in journalism is like watching lightning. It can be explained as a physical phenomenon using the laws of physics. Scientists study it and forecast when it will happen. But nobody can predict where it will hit. Nobody can predict the results. More than anything else, nobody can make it hit the same spot twice.

Social media played a significant role during the Russell Williams hearing, as it became a news ticker from inside the courtroom, sharing vivid, often disturbing details of his crimes.

More and more, newsrooms are recognizing the importance of the use of social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. The American Journalism Review in March reported the influx of social media editors working with citizen journalists, engaging audiences. NYTimes.com and CNN.com, for example, experienced a 300 percent increase in unique visitors via these media.

Yet, social media continues to confound those who want to see reproducible results. Social media is viral and uncontrolled; messages get reworked, reshaped and retweeted, as Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in her post-G20 analysis of the use of Twitter during the protests in Toronto in June.

Robert Picard, a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, said it best in a recent article in Nieman Reports.

"So this may not be the ideal time to suggest that the social media landscape is continuing to be transformed in ways that journalists and news organizations will find confounding," he wrote.

Already there are analyses starting, looking into the ethical dimensions of the use of Twitter during the Williams hearing. It will be up to the media ethicists and other scholars to dissect the content and provide analysis. This article is meant to be an early examination of the role of social media technology and the lessons learned for future applications in journalism.

BlackBerry Ban Lifted

Immediately, it is important to understand the unique context of the Williams hearing. First, a judge lifted a BlackBerry ban and allowed reporters to bring laptop computers and smartphones into the courtroom. This is not always the case in Canada, and is determined by each judge for each case. Hence, this was unusual.

These tools allowed instant communication with the newsroom. It also gave reporters the ability to instantly publish what was going on. Twitter was a popular tool, as some organizations allowed reporters to post to individual accounts or to use aggregator technology like CoveritLive, where a number of reporters, commentators and editors were presenting a stream of information via text and images.

The content was very raw in some instances, as reporters became stenographers, passing along details with little -- if any -- context or forethought. Twitter technology constrains journalists in this manner, according to Mark Walker, business team leader at Toronto-based real-time content management system ScribbleLive. For one thing, he said in an email to me, messages are limited to 140 characters. It's also push technology, meaning the audience subscribes and then automatically receives information. It is unedited, unauthenticated and unverified, he argued, breaking three of the major protocols of good journalism.

Sure, the contents of the hearing were compelling. Certainly, there were members of the audience and journalists who found the content repulsive. Still, the way crown attorney (prosecutor) Lee Burgess walked the judge through the evidence, building layer upon layer of detailed evidence, made a word-for-word reporting pretty enticing. This, in turn, became more shocking as it unfolded. It was a challenge for journalists to stop and use news judgment due to the momentum created by this legal strategy. The evidence was presented in such a way as to create a very dramatic narrative as the nature of the crimes and violence escalated. While the technology made it easy to publish, the content smoothed the process as well. Neither the technology nor the news media needed to add anything to make this case sensational. It was inherently sensational.

Beyond Social Media

The high news value of the Williams hearing meant additional resources were given to the coverage. And the technology went beyond social media. While some reporters were alone in the courtroom, platforms like CoveritLive allowed editors and other journalists to contribute to the information stream. Reporters back in the newsroom included contextual background, uploaded photo galleries and provided filler when the streams were slow. In the courtroom, illustrators uploaded their drawings directly to the newsroom's live feed. CoveritLive also enabled news organizations to incorporate what readers and other Twitter and social media users were saying.

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In other cases, CoveritLive was used to hold live, interactive chats with audiences to discuss aspects of the trial. For example, the CBC invited trauma specialists and psychotherapists to discuss the impact of the trial.

Another factor was the high public interest in the case. The coverage of the murders, the investigation, the arrest and the pre-hearing reporting laid the foundation for a large audience seeking more information. Social media was a good channel for audiences because it allowed them to follow details instantly and from anywhere.

Expect To Be Confounded

Twitter is useful to journalists as a form of news ticker, a steady stream of information for audiences. It is good at letting people know up-to-the-minute what is going on in the format of short snippets. But the use of CoveritLive by the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and CBC (and ScribbleLive by the National Post), among others, mitigated some of the issues raised by using Twitter alone.

In these cases several techniques were used. For example the blending of several Twitter feeds provided varied points of view. In other cases, Twitter messages were combined with other journalists and experts outside the courtroom and in the newsroom, who were able to provide context, images and other information. This added context in some cases and other perspectives, as well. It also made for a single delivery platform for audiences, giving them one channel to receive a wide range of information.

Toronto Star reporter Joanna Smith, who distinguished herself as one of the better Twittering reporters in the country when she used the platform to report from Haiti, was quoted by her own paper in a story about using Twitter to cover the hearing.

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"The immediacy of Twitter has a power that both news consumers and journalists are still getting used to harnessing,'' she said. "I think of my tweets from Haiti and how crafting a single 140-character tweet that worked as a complete narrative had a power that gave me chills, sometimes, in a way that the same amount of text in a newspaper story would not. I think many of my followers felt the same way about it. I think the same dynamics are at play here, but the content is so graphic that almost any tweet can blow someone away. We have to respect that, and work hard to check and balance ourselves accordingly."

Is Twitter a useful tool for journalists? No doubt. And, should journalists continue to use social media? Of course. But, as Picard rightly said, we must expect to be confounded. What is most important is journalists should be free to experiment with these new technologies. The Williams hearing was an important crucible to test the use of social media in news coverage in Canada.

We are in a period where innovation can happen spontaneously. New standards are yet to be formed. Journalists must remain open to the possibilities. Still, it should never be viewed as predictable or controllable. Like lightning, journalists will need to understand it, but also stand back and watch.

Prof. Robert Washburn instructs in the new Journalism: Online, Print and Broadcast program at Loyalist College in Ontario, Canada, where he teaches the uses of new technologies in journalism. He is the innovation editor for J-Source.ca, where he launched the Canadian Hyperlocal Journalism Project aimed at building resources to assist those interested in this emerging area. He has worked for more than 25 years as a journalist in newspapers, magazines and radio, and was the first post-secondary educator in Canada to teach in Second Life.

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August 06 2010

20:00

Richard Stursberg leaving CBC tops Twitter trends

The surprise news that the head of CBC English services, Richard Stursberg, was leaving his post dominated Twitter in Canada on Friday.

Within hours of the official announcement, Richard Stursberg was the top trending topic in the country.

The news of the immediate change at the top of CBC provoked more of a discussion on Twitter other more usual topics, such as Emma Watson and Megan Fox.

No reason was given for the departure. In a statement, Hubert T. Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, talked of Stursberg’s record and added:

We are in the midst of developing a new strategic plan that will guide CBC/Radio-Canada through the next five years. This is the opportune time to bring new leadership to English Services and to ensure alignment of the senior team on the future of the public broadcaster.

The interim replacement is Kirstine Stewart, general manager, CBC Television.

July 15 2010

16:00

With surplus comes expendability? When the publishing club expands

[Matthew Battles is one of my favorite thinkers about how we read, consume, and learn. He's reading and reacting to Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. Over the next several weeks, we'll be running Matthew's ongoing twin review; here are parts one, two, three, four, and five. — Josh]

It’s a common belief that the average human uses a mere 10 percent of her total brain power. Of course, it’s a myth. “Brain power,” after all, is an impossible quality to define. Are we talking about the kinds of things Mensa tests for, such as computational ability, spatial intelligence, and logical acuity? Do we mean artistic genius, emotional intelligence? And how do we separate these things from the social expression of thinking, the emergence of powerful new ideas and cultural forms, the rebooting of beliefs and ethical norms? Even (and perhaps especially) in brain science, the terms are constantly shifting — as in recent research suggesting that the ratio of glial and neuronal cells is roughly equal, and that glial cells aid intervene in cognition to a previously unknown extent. Most authorities agree that while a small percentage of neurons are firing at any given moment, over the course of a day the brain is active throughout its entire cellular complement. We use the whole brain — even if not always to our own satisfaction.

While Shirky never mentions it, the 10-percent meme haunts the notion of the cognitive surplus — the linchpin of Shirky’s argument, which remains murky throughout the book. In fact Shirky is not talking about free cognitive power or brain cycles per se, but free time — time we may choose to spend on cognitive or creative work, but which may be spent in other ways as well. Eighteenth-century Britons, in Shirky’s telling, spent newfound funds of time getting pissed on gin. (It’s worth pointing out that this is a very selective view of the 1700’s, and the passages in which Shirky discusses gin are unsourced.) If the tools to make use of spare time — not only gin but religion, books, and newspapers, to name a few — seem crude by our lights, so too were the machinations that princes and politicians could undertake to bend spare cycles to their own ends. As our tools for sharing and creating grow more sophisticated, it becomes crucial that we understand whose purposes they truly serve.

Surpluses are complicated things. In a post dark with foreboding, Quiet Babylon’s Tim Maly quotes Ira Basen of the CBC’s Media Watch column on the effects of a surplus of quasi-journalistic documentation at the G20 protests in Toronto: “Perhaps the best way of understanding police behaviour,” Basen writes, “is to recognize that almost everyone in that crowd had some sort of camera-equipped mobile device, which meant that, in the minds of the police, almost everyone was a potential journalist. That meant they could either give special treatment to everyone or to no one. They chose no one.” Maly follows Basen’s logic to its scary ends:

In a network of cheap ubiquitous sensors, any given node becomes disposable. At highly documented events, the rate at which recordings are made far outstrips the rate at which we can view them. Any given photo or video can be lost but the loss is not that great. Any given observer can be beaten, arrested, even killed, and the loss is not that great. At least not that much greater than if it was any other participant.

This is the terrifying endpoint that Basen does not reach. When everyone is a journalist, not only do their fates no longer warrant special attention by the people being covered, their fates no longer warrant special attention by the people consuming their work.

There’s much to be celebrated in the technological changes that have driven the costs of recording, broadcasting, and publishing towards zero. But we do well to remember that with surplus comes expendability. Basen’s concerns notwithstanding, the danger is less to professional journalism than the nature of the public sphere: the prospect that, faced with the potential marginal costs of spending our cognitive surpluses on oversight, witness, and commentary, we nodes in the network will choose to stick to LOLcats and fanfiction.

July 01 2010

15:00

From Bryan Adams to Neil Young: Canadian Music Wiki

Wondered what Neil Young’s been up to lately? Or k.d. lang? Or Avril Lavigne?

If so…meet Canadian Music Wiki, the collaborative site dedicated to, yes, Canadian music. The project, the brainchild of the Vancouver-based j-school student and music journalist Amanda Ash, adds a new dimension to the crowdsourcing-of-information ethos behind projects like Wikipedia: It’s crowdsourcing culture. “This project,” the site explains, “is dedicated to using collaborative and social media to enrich Canada’s music scene by creating a comprehensive guide to Canadian music. We welcome your contributions.”

So the site’s not fully comprehensive yet (Justin Bieber’s not in there, for example, which means that the site is both incomplete and tasteful) — but, then, it’s also young. It came about as Ash’s masters thesis, part of the arts and culture journalism program at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism; the wiki was one aspect of a broader examination of public media’s new mandate in the digital world. (The digital journalist and UBC professor Alfred Hermida was Ash’s — and the project’s — adviser.) In August of 2009, Ash received a $15,000 grant from the internship facilitator MITACS Accelerate to develop her idea for a music wiki into a full-fledged, public site, in conjunction with CBC Radio 3. In September, she began her internship with Radio 3, working with the network to develop the wiki into a site that would become both a resource and an outlet for music fans in Canada and beyond.

The wiki had its public launch just over a month ago, in late May. Since then, it has generated around 14,000 page views, Ash told me, and — probably a more meaningful metric for a wiki — 2,300 pages of original, crowd-sourced content about Canadian music (everything from albums to songs, labels to venues, stores to studios). Ash and Hermida attribute that response in part to the wiki’s topic itself: Music is one of those things that, whether you’re into Broken Social Scene or the Crash Test Dummies or Shania Twain or even Justin Bieber (the hair, the hair, we get it), people tend to feel strongly about — and committed to. “It seems like people are happy to have a resource out there where the average fan can contribute,” Ash says. The wiki adds an extra element of democratization to music culture. “It’s kind of this two-way dialogue.”

That puts the wiki on the receiving end of one of the most sought-after resources in journalism: engagement. One mystery for news organizations — and, if solved, probably the closest we’ll come to a financial silver bullet — is how to leverage the interests, and the passions, of the crowd. And, yes, if there’s anything people tend to be passionate about, it’s music. But not just music, the product, tellingly — but music, the community: the concerts, the camaraderie, the shared knowledge of a group’s history and sensibility. Music is “one of those niche topics that people can create communities around,” Ash says. And while there’s no shortage of online outlets that serve those communities — MySpace, Pitchfork, and on and on — what a wiki offers is centralization by way of information. “MySpace is fragmented,” Hermida points out; and, on the other side of the scale, much of traditional music journalism focuses on pushing content out rather than pulling communities in. A wiki is a kind of middle ground: it gives and gets at the same time.

In that, the Canadian Music Wiki — a resource for journalism, more than a strict product of it — puts a culture-specific spin on the Wikipedia effect we’re seeing in journalism: It hints at a future of news that marries content with context, information with conversation, old news with new…all in a single platform. A wikified approach to music “flips the broadcast model on its head,” Hermida says. But it also fulfills a broader, and perhaps even more relevant, mandate: It “helps Canadians express themselves.”

June 01 2010

20:48

How CBC news online differs from TV and radio

The CBC has released an interim report (PDF) into its news content across television, radio and online.

CBC News editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire said the News Balance Report “adds to a considerable body of research we use to ensure our journalism continues its leading role in establishing and performing to best industry practices.”

Among the areas covered by the report is a comparison of the issues covered by TV, radio and online. The study found that broadcast ranked the top stories in a similar manner.

Top issues by platform

However, CBCNews.ca gave coverage to crime and economic news and less to political news. It also devoted more space to disaster stories than radio or TV. (The Haiti earthquake took place during the period studied.)

The study found slightly less diversity of the issues covered online than in broadcast. The five top issues account for 59% of all internet coverage, compared to 50% of radio and 48% of television coverage.

The time was measured by time for radio and television and by word count for the internet.

The current report is based on a 10-week sample of television, radio and internet news between October 26, 2009 and January 17, 2010.

(Cross-post from Newslab.ca)

April 24 2010

15:57

Slides from talk on CBC Radio 3 wiki project

Here are the slides from the paper, Wikifying the CBC: Reimagining the remit of public service media (PDF), presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism with one of my graduate students, Amanda Ash.

The paper discusses a collaboration between the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC and CBC Radio 3 to research and develop a Canadian music wiki, funded through the MITACS Accelerate program.

January 18 2010

09:02

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – aggregating content

Radio 5's head of digital, @brettsr says that clever aggregation of content can push people around your networks. For an example, take a look at: http://www.cbc.ca/bc/community/tweetcentral/ Tipster: Judith Townend. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link - we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.


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