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January 14 2011

15:30

This Week in Review: Real-time reporting errors in Tucson, Twitter’s WikiLeaks stand, and Quora arrives

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Managing reporting errors in the river of news: Though Saturday’s tragic shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was primarily a political story, it created several ripples that quickly spread into the media world. (One of those was the debate over our rather toxic climate of political rhetoric, though I’ll leave that to other outlets to focus on.) Another issue, more directly related to the future-of-news discussion, regarded how the news spread in the shooting’s immediate aftermath.

As Lost Remote’s Steve Safran described, several major news organizations, including Reuters, NPR, BBC News, and CNN, wrongly reported soon after the shooting that Giffords had died — reports that were corrected within a half-hour. NPR in particular devoted quite a bit of space to explaining its error, with social media editor Andy Carvin, ombudsman Alicia Shepard, and executive editor Dick Meyer all weighing in.

There was plenty of scrutiny from outside, too: Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore called the mishap “understandable, but not excusable,” and The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio suggested that Twitter use editorial judgment to ensure that inaccurate information isn’t highlighted in its Top Tweets. Salon’s Dan Gillmor cited the situation as a reminder of Clay Shirky’s line that “fact checking is down, but after-the-fact checking is way up.” Gillmor also posted an appropriate excerpt from his book, Mediactive, urging all of us to take a “slow news” approach to breaking news stories. Seattle TV journalist Paul Balcerak took the opportunity to remind both journalists and their audiences to ask “How do you know that?”

The erroneous tweets launched a parallel discussion on just what exactly to do with them: Leave them there? Delete them? Correct them? The debate began in the comments of Safran’s Lost Remote post, with NPR’s Carvin explaining why he left his faulty tweet as is. WBUR’s Andrew Phelps explained why he made the same decision, and ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg defended both of them in two posts, suggesting a corrected retweet might offer a good compromise.

A couple of other new-media angles to the shooting’s coverage: The Lab’s Justin Ellis and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at the awkward art of publicly making interview requests on Twitter, and Nieman Storyboard highlighted innovative storytelling approaches amid the shooting’s chaotic aftermath.

Twitter’s stand against secrecy: The ongoing WikiLeaks saga publicly roped in Twitter this week, as news broke of the U.S. Department of Justice issuing an order requesting the Twitter activity of several people involved with the organization. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who posted many of the order’s details and a copy of the order itself, also wondered, “did other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply?”

Remarkably, Twitter didn’t just quietly comply. The order originally had a gag order preventing Twitter from telling the targets themselves that it was handing over their data, but Twitter challenged it in court and got a new, unsealed order issued, then told the targets about it. Fast Company looked at the likely role of Twitter’s attorney, Alexander Macgillivray, in challenging the order, and Wired’s Ryan Singel praised Twitter for standing up for its users against government, something that hasn’t really been a norm among online companies.

Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik examined the potential implications of the order for journalists doing reporting on Twitter and other social media platforms, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM noted that the episode illustrates how much we rely on single corporate networks within social media.

The traditional news media, meanwhile, remains lukewarm at best toward WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as McClatchy pointed out. At The Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman broke down one manifestation of that cold shoulder — the way mainstream news organizations continue to incorrectly report that WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, when it has actually released just 2,000.

Also on the WikiLeaks front, Assange claimed in an interview to have “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp., and WikiLeaks attacked those who have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed. American WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum tweeted about his being detained by the U.S. while re-entering the country, and was profiled by Rolling Stone. And Evgeny Morozov of Foreign Policy argued that WikiLeaks’ cause would be best served if it would shift from leaking information to building a decentralized, open Internet infrastructure.

Quora hits the scene: The explosion of the question-and-answer site Quora is a story that’s been building for several weeks, but I thought now would be as good a time as any to get you up to speed on it. The buzz started just after Christmas, when tech guru Robert Scoble wondered whether it could be the next evolution of blogging. MG Siegler of the influential tech blog TechCrunch followed up by saying much the same thing, and talked about using Quora as inspiration for many of his TechCrunch posts. That week, it also received praise from Google’s head of user interaction, Irene Au.

That was the nudge Quora needed to begin some seriously explosive growth, doubling its number of signups twice in about two weeks. Quora, which was founded in 2009 by two Facebook veterans, is a fairly simple site — just questions and answers, not unlike Yahoo Answers and Facebook Questions. But it’s managed to keep the quality of questions and answers up, and it’s attracted a smart user base heavy on the “cool kids” of the tech world.

The next question, though, was how this rapid growth would shape Quora. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos predicted that it would get bigger than Twitter, though Vadim Lavrusik of Mashable saw it as more suited to niche communities: “Quora feels heavy, which is of course where it excels, providing in-depth commentary to questions. But that heaviness is unlikely to attract a large audience.”

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM questioned whether Quora will be able to maintain its standard of quality as it grows, and Mary Hamilton wrote about Quora’s struggles between what its admins want and what its user want. Meanwhile, Journalism.co.uk’s Kristine Lowe noted that more journalism-related questions were being posted, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore explored several of the best ways for journalists to use Quora, including looking for ideas for local content and monitoring the buzz around an issue.

Reading roundup: I haven’t given you any iPad updates yet, so you know this review can’t quite be finished. Very well then:

— We’re still talking about the decline of magazine app sales on the iPad, with The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss looking at that disappointment and some publishers’ efforts to overcome it. Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco called those sales declines meaningless, but designer Khoi Vinh urged those publishers to stop pouring their resources into print-like tablet products.

The particular project that everyone’s most interested in is Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, which was reported to be launching next Wednesday with Murdoch and Steve Jobs on stage together but now has reportedly tabled its launch for a few weeks. Rex Sorgatz heard that its companion website will have no homepage and be hidden from search engines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow took a peek at the site’s source code for clues.

— Wikipedia will turn 10 this weekend, and Pew kicked off the commemoration with a survey finding that 42% of American adults use Wikipedia to look up information. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained how Wikipedia set the prototype for modern information flow on the web.

— Facebook announced this week that it will allow users to like individual authors and topics within sites. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick said it’s a step toward Facebook being able to do what RSS feeds couldn’t. Meanwhile, the Bivings Group looked at the top newspaper Facebook fan pages.

— One great piece I missed last week: Paul Ford conceptualized the web as a customer service medium, organized around the central question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Ryan Sholin applied the concept to online reporting.

— If you’re interested in real-time editing and curation, this might be an experiment to watch: Quickish, launched this week by former ESPN-er Dan Shanoff, who is starting by applying that concept to sports commentary and hoping to expand to other areas.

— Finally, three bigger pieces to ponder over the weekend: Dan Gillmor’s book excerpt at Salon on surviving the tsunami of information; Forbes’ Lewis DVorkin’s vision for the news site built on personally branded journalists; and the Lab’s Ken Doctor on the metrics that will define news in 2011.

January 11 2011

15:00

Seeking out sources, made transparent on Twitter

As the story of the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues to unfold, we’re seeing another example of Twitter in motion and the different approaches news organizations take to using social media.

Twitter has proven its usefulness to the media in breaking news as a real-time search tool, an instantaneous publisher, and a source discovery service. It’s that last point that is often of most use — and interest — to reporters on Twitter, finding and talking to people who could be useful in a story. But making that approach can be difficult — if not downright awkward. How does Twitter etiquette work when approaching a potential source, particularly when that approach plays out in the open?

NYC The Blog tracked the media requests of Caitie Parker, a woman who tweeted that the shooting took place near her house and that she was a former classmate of the alleged shooter. And that’s when the stampede for interviews began, with more than 30 interview requests coming in on Twitter from The New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press, and more. (Not to mention a similar number by email and Facebook.) So what were their approaches?

The 140-character interview

Anthony De Rosa of Reuters seems to be the first person to find Parker and through a series of tweets conducted something in between an interview and standard fact checking. But De Rosa’s discovery seems to be what broke the floodgates on Parker.

Playing the local card

Reporters from outlets like the Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Republic, and KTAR radio in Phoenix made a pitch for talking with the local guy, as they tried to compete with the national media parachuting in to cover the story. At least one reporter from the Los Angeles Times tried to play up his local ties, telling Parker he “went to school at UofA.”

Name dropping

Sometimes you have to roll the dice on name recognition and hope it has a little sway. The New York Times wants to talk to you! PBS NewsHour wants to talk to you!

The question tweet

At least a few reporters cut to the chase and asked Parker a question outright, or sought to verify new information about the shooter.

I feel your pain

Another approach uses a little empathy — as in, “I know yr overwhelmed,” or “sorry to add to circus.”

Going native

ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper is known for being savvy when it comes to using social media in his reporting. Tapper apparently decided to cut to the chase and use the parlance of Twitter when reaching out to Parker: “how can abc news get in touch w you? I will follow u so u can DM me”

The end result of all this attention from journalists?

@caitieparker: I've said it before & I'll say it again I AM NOT DOING & WILL NOT DO ANY MORE INTERVIEWS. Please leave my family, & home, alone!

January 10 2011

16:11

Narrative on deadline: stories on the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords

Doing narrative stories on the heels of breaking news generally precludes the kind of lyricism often associated with the best examples of the form. Yet it can be a good way to get a framework established on a confusing story – such as the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords over the weekend.

Building a story from social media, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin started a Storify timeline just two hours after the shooting began. Early on, NPR and several other outlets mistakenly posted that Giffords had been killed, which is reflected and then corrected in Carvin’s Storify account. (There has been a lot of discussion of the error since, including criticism of NPR and the station’s apology.)

The next day, The New York Times and The Washington Post sites posted text narratives of that deceptively sunny morning outside a Safeway in Tucson. In “Tucson shootings: How Gabrielle Giffords’s event for constituents turned to tragedy,” the Post’s Philip Rucker and Marc Fisher give readers some background on Giffords and her normal schedule, recapturing the feel of what started as a mundane event. When the shooting begins, readers feel the shock and horror of the moment. “A Single, Terrifying Moment: Shots Fired, a Scuffle and Some Luck,” Adam Nagourney’s piece in The New York Times, focuses more tightly on the chaos and violence, opening with a dramatic struggle between bystanders and the gunman as he attempted to reload.

And hours before the Post and the Times had posted their narratives, The Arizona Republic’s Jaimee Rose and Mary Jo Pitzl had turned on a dime to get their own angle by following Daniel Hernandez, Giffords’ brand-new intern, who may have saved her life. “Daniel Hernandez, intern, stays by Gabrielle Giffords’ side,” the brief story of events from Hernandez’s view, added a new perspective on not only the shooting but our understanding of Giffords’ condition in the moments just afterward.

We’ll continue to compile storytelling approaches to the tragic events of this weekend. Please send us links to any related narratives you see.

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