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August 02 2012

13:34

The responsibilities and opportunities of the platform

Technology companies and news organizations have a lot to learn from each other about the responsibilities of running platforms.

I have been arguing that news organizations should reimagine and rebuild themselves as platforms for their communities, enabling people to share what they know and adding journalistic value to that. As such, they should study technology companies.

But technology companies also need to learn lessons from news organizations about the perils of violating trust and the need to establish principles to work by. That, of course, is a topic of conversation these days thanks to Twitter’s favoring a sponsor when it killed journalist Guy Adams’ account (later reinstated under pressure) and its abandonment of the developers who made Twitter what it is today.

One question that hangs over this discussion is advertising and whether it is possible to maintain trust when taking sponsors’ dollars — see efforts to start app.net as a user-supported Twitter; see Seth Godin suggesting just that; see, also, discussion about ad-supported NBC ill-serving Olympics fans vs. the viewer-support BBC super-serving them. I have not given up on advertising support because we can’t afford do; without it, my business, news, would implode and we’d all end up with less and more expensive media and services. So we’d better hope companies getting advertiser support learn how to maintain their integrity.

In the discussion on Twitter about Twitter’s failings in the Adams affair, Anil Dash suggested drafting the policy Twitter should adapt. Even I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. But I would like to see a discussion — not just for technology companies but also for media companies and governments and universities of institutions in many shapes — of the responsibilities that come with providing a platform.

For the opportunities and benefits of building that platform are many: Your users will distribute you. Developers will build and improve you. You can reach critical mass quickly and inexpensively. As vertically integrated firms are replaced by ecosystems — platforms, entrepreneurial endeavors, and networks — huge value falls to the platforms. It’s worthwhile being a platform.

But if you lose trust, you lose users, and you lose everything. So that leads to a first principle:

Users come first. A platform without users is nothing. That is why was wrong for Twitter to put a sponsor ahead of users. That is why Twitter is right to fight efforts to hand over data about users to government. That is why newspapers built church/state walls to try to protect their integrity against accusations of sponsor influence. That is why Yahoo was wrong to hand over an email user to Chinese authorities; who in China would ever use it again? Screw your users, screw yourself.

I believe the true mark of a platform is that users take it over and use it in ways the creators never imagined. Twitter didn’t know it would become a platform for communication and news. Craigslist wasn’t designed for disaster relief. That leads to another principle:

A platform is defined by its users. In other words: Hand over control to your users. Give them power. Design in flexibility. That’s not easy for companies to do.

But, of course, it’s not just users who make a platform what it is. It’s developers and other collaborators. In the case of Twitter, developers created the applications that let us use it on our phones and desktops — until Twitter decided it would rather control that. If I were a developer [oh, if only] I’d be gun-shy about building atop such a platform now. Similarly, if a news organization becomes a platform for its community to share information and for others to build atop it, then it has to keep in sight their interests and protect them. So:

Platforms collaborate. Platforms have APIs. They reveal the keys to the kingdom so others can work with them and atop them. Are they open-source? Not necessarily. Though making its underlying platform open is what made WordPress such a success.

In the discussion about Adams and Twitter, some said that Twitter is a business and thus cannot be a platform for free speech. I disagree. It is a platform for speech. And if that speech is not free, then it’s no platform at all. Speech is its business.

When a platform is a business, it becomes all the more important for it to subscribe to principles so it can be relied upon. Of course, the platform needs to make money. It needs to control certain aspects of its product and business. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But if it keeps shifting that business so users and collaborators feel at risk, then in the long-run, it won’t work as a business.

Platforms need principles.

All this can, of course, be summed up in a single, simple principle: Don’t be evil. That’s why Google has that principle: because it’s good business; because if it is evil, it’s users — we — can call it out quickly and loudly and desert it. As Umair Haque says, when your users can talk about you, the cost of doing evil rises.

There are other behaviors of platforms that aren’t so much principles as virtues.

A good platform is transparent. Black boxes breed distrust.

A good platform enables portability. Knowing I can take my stuff and leave reduces the risk of staying.

A good platform is reliable. Oh, that.

What else?

July 30 2012

14:14

May 04 2012

20:33

How the newspaper was made in 1942

The British Council has posted a wonderful video on the production of an issue of The Times during the Blitz in the 1940s.

The film, called Morning Paper, follows the different stages of the process, from the daily editorial conference to the printing presses.

“Britons are inveterate newspaper readers,” says the presenter. “The morning survey of events at home and aboard is for them almost a ritual.”

Thanks to Richard Sambrook

May 03 2012

17:09

Working toward a more "open" news organization at @TheTyee

Come in we're open

I haven’t done much “thinking out loud” about my ongoing work for the award-winning daily online news site, The Tyee. The collaboration started in 2007 when I was asked to retool and automate The Tyee’s e-newsletter systems. From there, we started working together on special projects and campaigns, and — after their design refresh in 2009 — I took over as the resident Web Maker on May 1st, 2010.

Over the last two years, I’ve worked most closely with The Tyee’s Front Page & Technical Editor, Geoff D’Auria. We work together so closely, in fact, that I often stay at Geoff’s when I’m in Vancouver for work sprints with The Tyee (you know a working relationship is a good one when you can pull that off!).

We’ve often discussed the opportunity to be more “open” and transparent with The Tyee’s community — specifically, we’ve discussed being more proactive in talking about technical changes we implement and about technical priorities in the coming months. For example, there have been several re-launches of The Tyee’s commenting system over the years — it started as a kludge to tie together story pages with Web forum software back in 2003 or 2004 — and eventually became what it is today, where the comments are powered by Drupal, while the site itself is managed with Bricolage. There’s a good chance it will change again later this year — part of our push to simplify the technical infrastructure as much as possible — and it would be an interesting experiment to communicate that to users in advance, and to invite feedback on the options that we’re investigating.

There are many other projects that would have been interesting to announce ahead of their implementation, like the HTML5 Web app, the “Small-M” mobile site, and the new Video section. And, as new non-technical projects roll out at The Tyee this year, like the Master Class series, the Builder Campaign, and a soon-to-be-launched iBook experiment, my sense is that there are lots of opportunities to leverage the wisdom of The Tyee’s crowd, who are in my experience smart, often tech-savvy, and very tuned-in to local and regional issues.

But, practically, what does this type of user engagement look like?

Geoff and I have discussed everything from a “Tyee Labs” blog, similar to what several news organizations with “news apps” teams have done, to something more straightforward like The Verge’s Version History page. For me, neither are quite right for The Tyee. Even though the team at The Tyee likes to think of the whole enterprise as an experiment (which is an awesome context to be able to work within), the honest truth is that technical resources are stretched pretty thin and we don’t have a lot of extra cycles for true “experiments,” so my sense is that a “Labs blog” might be underwhelming. On the flip side, while I like the simplicity of the Version History idea, it does nothing to provide a forward-looking view into what we’re working on, i.e., what’s on deck for next week, next month, or next year.

The more I think about it, the more a picture comes to mind that is half what the Guardian UK is trying by publishing their “news lists” and with their Inside The Guardian blog, and half an idea that Amanda Hickman waxed poetic about at last year’s NICAR conference that involved using a “bug tracker” or issue-tracking system for news, and making that system visible to the users. In summary, something that would capture both what we are working on, what we’re discussing, what we’ve completed recently, and what “bugs” or issues that the community has brought to our attention.

Ultimately, I wrestle with the two tensions around a project like this:

  • First, I have a gut sense that a lot of the Tyee’s community would really appreciate a “view inside” their favourite news organization, a peek “inside the tent” if you will. But what I’m talking about here is almost exclusively technical, and not about the editorial calendar or the personalities inside The Tyee, which is probably the most outwardly interesting stuff. So, would this view across technical projects be enough to create some deeper engagement with Tyee users?

  • Second, there’s the obvious question of the work involved in “opening-up The Tyee,” whether that’s technical systems or, more likely to be a big push, the effort to change the way we do things so that there’s more “thinking out loud.” Then, after that work, there’s the added overhead of listening to users and bringing their voices into regular planning meetings, and so on. Just like having comments on stories, once you give users the opportunity to speak you have to be prepared to make time to listen.

With any new project I always try to consider the opportunity cost, i.e., What will we not be able to do because we’re embarking on this undertaking, and I try to weight that against the possible upside, i.e., what’s the best and worst possible outcome of the project in question and does it justify the investment of time and resources?

It’s a tough question.

Having inspiring examples of other news organizations that have lead the way on projects like this is always helpful fodder for these discussions. So, if you have some examples, please drop them in the comments, or shoot me a note on The Twitters.

May 02 2012

19:58

April 27 2012

16:09

Daily Must Reads, April 27, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1. Rupert Murdoch apologizes for hacking scandal (NYT)



2. Providence may sell its stake in Hulu for $2 billion (Bloomberg)



3. Redbox revenue grows 39 percent in the first quarter (LAT)



4. Gawker still embraces anonymous commenters as other media orgs push them away (Gawker)



5. Free data-journalism handbook to launch Saturday (Online Journalism Blog)



6. Why flying drones may be a big part of the future of journalism (Fast Company)




Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



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April 26 2012

14:00

LedeHub to Foster Open, Collaborative Journalism

I'm honored to be selected as one of the inaugural AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship fellows for the 2012-13 academic school year, and am excited to begin work on my project, LedeHub.

I believe in journalism's ability to better the world around us. To fully realize the potential of journalism in the digital age, we need to transform news into a dialogue between readers and reporters. LedeHub does just that, fostering collaborative, continuous and open journalism while incorporating elements of crowdsourcing to allow citizens, reporters and news organizations to come together in unprecedented ways.

LedeHub in Action

Here's a potential case study: "Alice" isn't a journalist, but she loves data and can spot the potential for a story amid the rows and columns of a CSV file. She comes across some interesting census data illustrating the rise of poverty in traditionally wealthy Chicagoland suburbs, but isn't quite sure how to use it, so she points her browser to www.ledehub.com. She creates a new story repository called "census-chicago-12," tags it under "Government Data," and commits the numbers.

Two days later, "Bob" -- a student journalist with a knack for data reporting -- is browsing the site and comes across Alice's repository. He forks it and commits a couple paragraphs of analysis. Alice sees Bob's changes and likes where he's headed, so she merges it back into her repository, and the two continue to collaborate. Alice works on data visualization, and Bob continues to do traditional reporting, voicing the story of middle-class families who can no longer afford to send their children to college.

A few days later, a news outlet like the Chicago Tribune sees "census-chicago-12" and flags it as a promising repository -- pulls it, edits, fact-checks and publishes the story, giving Alice and Bob their first bylines.

As you can see, LedeHub re-imagines the current reporting and writing workflow while underscoring the living nature of articles. By representing stories as "repositories" -- with the ability to edit, update, commit and revert changes over time -- the dynamic nature of news is effectively captured.

Fostering Open-Source Journalism

GitHub and Google Code are social coding platforms that have done wonders for the open-source community. I'd like to see similar openness in the journalism industry.

My proposal for LedeHub is to adapt the tenets of Git -- a distributed version control system -- and appropriate its functionality as it applies to the processes of journalism. I will implement a web application layer on top of this core functionality to build a tool for social reporting, writing and coding in the open. This affords multiple use cases for LedeHub, as illustrated in the case study I described above -- users can start new stories, or search for and contribute to stories already started. I'd like to mirror the basic structure of GitHub, but re-appropriate the front end to cater to the news industry and be more reporter-focused, not code-driven. That said, here's a screenshot of the upcoming LedeHub repository on GitHub (to give you a general idea of what the LedeHub dashboard might look like):

ledehub.jpg

Each story repository may contain text, data, images or code. The GitHub actions of committing (adding changes), forking (diverging story repositories to allow for deeper collaboration and account for potential overlap) and cloning will remain analagous in LedeHub. Repositories will be categorized according to news "topics" or "areas" like education or politics. Users -- from citizens to reporters or coders -- will have the ability to "watch" different story repositories they are interested in and receive updates when changes to that story are made. Users can also comment on different "commits" for a story, offering their input or suggestions for improvement. GitHub offers a "company" option, which allows for multiple users to be added to the organization, a feature I would like to mimic in my project for news outlets, in addition to Google Code's "issues" feature.

Next Steps

I recognize that the scope of my project is ambitious, and my current plan is to segment implementation into iterations -- to build an initial prototype to test within one publication and expand from there.

Journalism needs to become more open, like the web. Information should be shared. The collaboration between the New York Times and the Guardian over WikiLeaks data was very inspiring, two "competing" organizations sharing confidential information for publication. With my project, LedeHub, I hope to foster similar transparency and collaboration.

So, that's the proposal. There's still a lot to figure out. For example, what's the best way to motivate users to collaborate? What types of data can be committed? What copyright issues need to be considered? Should there be compensation involved? Fact-checking? Sound off. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Katie Zhu is a junior at Northwestern University, studying journalism and computer science, and is particularly interested in human-computer interaction, data visualization and interaction design. She has previously interned at GOOD in Los Angeles, where she helped build GOOD's mobile website. She continues development work part-time throughout the school year, and enjoys designing and building products at the intersection of news and technology. She was selected as a finalist in the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership in 2011.

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April 25 2012

14:00

52 Applicants Move to Next Round of Knight News Challenge

The Knight Foundation has selected 52 applicants that will move onto the next stage of its News Challenge.

klogo.jpg

There's a theme you'll see running through the proposals that have made it thus far -- namely, networking. That's because networks are the focus of this year's first round. (The Knight News Challenge now offers three rounds instead of one competition per year.)

What sort of networks? "The Internet, and the mini-computers in our pockets, enable us to connect with one another, friends and strangers, in new ways," Knight's John Bracken wrote in a release when the round was first announced. "We're looking for ideas that build on the rise of these existing network events and tools -- that deliver news and information and extend our understanding of the phenomenon."

Consultant Ryan Jacoby wrote further about some of the trends he saw among applicants. You can read more about that here.

Here's the list of who's moving onward to the next round of the challenge (49 are listed because two were closed entries so we're not able to share them):

Amauta (Eric French)

Asia Beat (Jeffrey Wasserstrom/Angilee Shah)

Bridging the Big Data Digital Divide (Dan Brickley)

Change the Ratio (Rachel Sklar)

CitJo (Sarah Wali/Mahamad El Tanahy)

Connecting the global Hacks/Hackers network (Burt Herman, Hacks/Hackers)

Connecting the World with Rural India (Brian Conley)

Cont3nt.com (Anton Gelman/Daniel Shaw)

Cowbird (Jonathan Harris/Aaron Huey)

Data Networks are Local (Erik Gundersen, Development Seed)

DifferentFeather (Elana Berkowitz/Amina Sow)

DIY drone fleets (Ben Moskowitz/Jack Labarba)

Docs to WordPress to InDesign (William Davis, Bangor Daily News)

Electoral College of Me (John Keefe/Ron Williams)

EnviroFact (Beth Parke/Chris Marstall)

Funf.org: Open Mobile Sourcing (Nadav Aharony/Alan Gardner; MIT)

Global Censorship Monitoring System (Ruben Bloemgarten, James Burke, Chris Pinchen)

Google News for the Social Web (Sachim Kandar, Andrew Montalenti, Parse.ly)

Hawaii Eco-Net (Jay April, Maui Community Television)

Hypothes.is (Dan Whaley/Randall Leeds)

IAVA New GI Bill Veterans Alumni Network Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (Paul Rieckhoff)

m.health.news.network (Marcus Messner and Yan Jin)

MediaReputations.com (Anton Gelman/Daniel Shaw)

Mesh Potato 2.0 (Steve Song/David Rowe)

Mobile Publishing for Everyone (David Jacobs/Blake Eskin/Natalie Podrazik)

NOULA (Tayana Etienne)

Peepol.tv (Eduardo Hauser/Jeff Warren)

PreScouter (Dinesh Ganesarajah)

Prozr (Pueng Vongs/Sherbeam Wright)

Rbutr (Shane Greenup/Craig O'Shannessy)

Recovers.org (Caitria O'Neill/Alvin Liang)

Secure, Anonymous Journalism Toolkit (Karen Reilly)

Sensor Networks for News (Matt Waite, University of Nebraska)

Shareable (Seth Schneider and Neal Gorenflo)

Tethr (Aaron Huslage/Roger Weeks)

The PressForward Dashboard (Dan Cohen/ Joan Fragaszy Troyano, George Mason University)

ThinkUpApp (Gina Trapani/Anil Dash)

Tracks News Stories (David Burrows, designsuperbuild.com)

Truth Goggles (Dan Schultz)

Truth Teller (Cory Haik/Steven Ginsberg, Washington Post)

Unconsumption Project (Rob Walker/Molly Block)

UNICEF GIS (Joseph Agoada, UNICEF)

Watchup (Adriano Farrano/Jonathan Lundell)

Water Canary (Sonaar Luthra/Zach Eveland)

A Bridge Between WordPress and Git (Robert McMillan / Evan Hansen)

In the Life (Joe Miloscia, American Public Media)

Get to the Source (Joanna S. Kao/MIT)

Farm-to-Table School Lunch (Leonardo Bonanni, Sourcemap)

Partisans.org (Michael Trice)

Protecting Journalists (Diego Mendiburu and Ela Stapley)

What do you think about the finalists? Who are your favorites and who do you think should win?

April 24 2012

14:00

Collaborating for Dollars: How to Raise Revenue With Others

At the recent Collab/Space 2012 event, more hands shot up when Journalism Accelerator's Emily Harris asked who was interested in generating revenue than for any other question. Clearly, there's big interest in collaborating to earn money.

Here, then, are some pointers on collaborating to earn revenue and otherwise improve business performance.

Share The Pie to Make It Bigger

The common model in the media business used to be that one party would pay another a flat fee for a specified service or product. A publisher, for example, paid a vendor for printing or distribution. A freelancer got a check for a specified amount, agreed upon in advance.

PieThese days, however, it's increasingly common for two parties in a media deal to share revenue as it grows, rather than for one to fork over a single lump sum -- an approach that aligns interests and keeps both sides working toward the same goal.

Content creators for platforms like YouTube, BlogTV and Yahoo Voices can earn more revenue as what they produce gets more traffic. Vendors like AdSense and ad networks collect a share of revenue as it's earned, rather than simply charging a fee upfront for their technology.

Sure, if you're a content creator, it can be hard to let go of the impulse to keep all the money your efforts earn -- after all, the more participants there are, the more revenue has to be generated to support them. But your chances of earning more revenue grow if more people are collaborating to help make a project a success.

Help Promotion and Distribution

The more people or organizations there are collaborating on a media effort, the more promotional and distribution outlets become available, from websites to social networks, broadcast outlets, emails, mobile platforms, word of mouth, and so on. 

A New York Times executive recently told me that the paper's collaboration with WNYC on SchoolBook generates a lot more awareness of the education website because of the radio station's reach. (Read our previous coverage of SchoolBook.)

Lowell Bergman

Such active linking and sharing can, in turn, increase a product's search engine visibility, thus generating more traffic over time. And every additional pageview that carries revenue opportunities such as ads equals more money over time.

For non-profits, increased traffic can lead to increased funding.

"Collaborations could lead to ... more recognition, more distribution and more impact for stories," MediaShift's Mark Glaser, who co-hosted Collab/Space with UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program (Berkeley IRP), wrote on a discussion thread started by Harris on the Journalism Accelerator website. "That could lead to more donations, memberships and foundation interest for funding."

At Collab/Space, co-host Lowell Bergman of Berkeley IRP pointed out that a Frontline collaboration with another news organization generated twice the viewership of a typical episode of the investigative documentary series.

Increase Efficiencies and Decrease Costs

In today's resource-starved news business, with reporters being laid off and fact-checking and copy desks eviscerated, it's increasingly difficult for any individual news organization to have the person-hours needed to carefully report a story and get it right.

"Collaboration has become something that is not just optional," Glaser said at the event. "It's become something that's really required and necessary."

Collaborating creates efficiencies by enabling partners to report and produce different parts of the same story. Rather than having multiple partners send a reporter or camera operator to a news conference, the partnership can send one coverage team, and other staff can focus on complementary work. People who are good at writing can write; those who specialize in video production can focus on that; and so forth. Organizations can share resources on the business side, too.

"Do we all want to be islands, or do we want to collaborate, share things like back-office operations?" asked Evelyn Larrubia of the Investigative News Network collaborative, which helps its dozens of members share "back-end" resources such as billing and accounting. "The problem we're solving is not a content problem. It's a resource problem and a depth problem."

Change the Mentality and Learn "Coopetition"

arm wrestling

Journalists needed to learn, as technologists in Silicon Valley have, that sometimes, cooperation with competitors is the best thing for your business, Glaser said. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Foursquare and many other media and technology companies share some level of information and code with competitors, knowing they'll be stronger for having done so.

As The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Gawker have shown, others will share your material and build a business on it with or without your active participation; in that case, it's better to form proactive partnerships for mutual benefit.

Many news organizations and some journalists still tend to be proprietary about their efforts. But in a linked economy, why invest resources in "matching" a story that's just a click away?

"We have to have this kind of cultural shift," Glaser said. "There's a kind of ownership of the story that ... becomes about us. 'I want this scoop, I want the award.' What we have lost along the way is it's not about us, it's about serving people -- uncovering things that are important."

Oakland Local's Susan Mernit talked at Collab/Space about a for-profit news organization that "doesn't link out" and refused to help fund her organization's efforts to contribute to their site for fear her not-for-profit group would eventually overtake them. Both, actually, could have benefited and earned more revenue from the content.

Build Smart Networks to Build Value

Collaboration can take advantage of the network effect, the concept that the more nodes there are in a network, the more value there is to the network and to each of those nodes -- even when the nodes are competitors.

One apt illustration is "private label" ad networks that allow similar, sometimes competitive websites to aggregate their page views and communities through platforms such as Addiply, BSA Private Label and AdKiwi and increase each site's ability to appeal to advertisers they'd have more trouble reaching on their own.

In one example, a group of local websites that reach different neighborhoods around Chicago are banding together and increasing their ability to sell throughout the region with one sales staff.

Large media companies such as NBC Universal and Cox media have formed their own private label networks to group sites by subject, such as health, sports and food. Collaborating in this way can lead to more revenue for all.

Limit Liability

Imagine if CBS News had collaborated with computer experts to vet documents allegedly showing George W. Bush shirked his duties in the National Guard, or if Jason Blair had collaborators on his false stories published in Times. In each case, the news organization could have saved huge embarrassment and cost, and even kept the focus on the issues in the stories rather than the mistakes.

Also, the more contributors and organizations there are behind a story, the less easy it is for someone offended by it to take legal action. As Bergman noted, "If you can spread the liability on a story," you can make those who might sue think a little more before they do.

By its nature, business is a collaborative venture. All sides must derive value for a deal to succeed, and that's never been truer than in today's media business. Journalists who've grown up in a lone wolf, competitive culture would do well to emulate the lessons of their brethren in other domains.

Related Stories

> Collab/Space 2012: Building Trust, Tools and Relationships for Collaborating by Meghan Walsh

> Live Coverage of the Collab/Space 2012 Event by Ashwin Seshagiri

> Collab/Space 2012 Detailed Agenda

Keep up with all the new content on Collaboration Central by following our Twitter feed @CollabCentral or subscribing to our RSS feed or email newsletter:







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An award-winning former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA (with honors), Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift, and is the business columnist for the site. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk and you can Circle him on Google+.

Pie photo courtesy of Flickr user Mackenzie Mollo; arm wrestling photo courtesy of Flickr user Fabio Venni.

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14:00

Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Sponsors Dual Journalism Hack Days

There's no better example of the global scale of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project than the dualing hack days we recently sponsored in New York City and Buenos Aires.

In New York, we gave money for travel scholarships to bring top-notch developers to town to take part in the Wall Street Journal's Data Transparency Weekend, which brought more than 100 developers and privacy experts to town to create tools to help people see and control their personal data online. The "hackathon" grew out of the Wall Street Journal's excellent ongoing series that looks at how your online footprint is being used by corporations.

The three-day event (documented extensively here, here, and here) resulted in code for almost 30 different projects with winners in "Scanning," "Education," and "Control" tracks.

hacks.jpeg

Five-thousand miles to the south, we sponsored the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires ShowTimeLine Hackathon, which brought 45 developers together to work on making new timeline-based visualization tools. The OpenNews sponsorship went to hosting the hack day, as well as a small amount of seed money to keep projects going afterward.

The team of developers and journalists in Buenos Aires took a series of different approaches to displaying data over time, from automatic data-and-date extraction from documents, to translating pre-existing timeline libraries into Spanish, and more.

These are exactly the kind of topic-driven code-based events that we're looking to help sponsor at OpenNews. If you've got an idea brewing for a journalism hack day, we'd love to hear about it. Let's work together to make this year the year of journalism code.

A version of this post first appeared here.

April 21 2012

22:15
19:31

WSJ Raju Narisetti on the need to create great news experiences

The last keynote at ISOJ was Raju Narisetti, managing editor, Wall Street Journal Digital Network

Narisetti said the big challenge faces journalism is turning great content into great experiences

He noted that great content is now available in a wide variety of places. So just having smart content is not enough. Instead, he said, we have to create experiences to engage the user.

We are terrible at turning the multimedia parts of stories into a great experience, said Narisetti. There are words, images, perhaps video. But collectively, they do not make for a great experience

For him, a great experience comes at the intersection of technology and content.

Narisetti said that great experiences will not just come from developers or programmers. Instead we should think about embedding the developers in the newsroom.

“The physical architecture of the newsroom matters a lot,” he said. Titles matter now, he added, as a title will affect how journalists in the newsroom perceive and react to a developer.

In his view, a title like frontend developer or backend developer makes it hard for journalists to relate to the work of developers.

Moreover, Narisetti said the credits matter. He recalled how at the Washington Post, a major project credited the journalists but not the developers.

Looking ahead, Narisetti said we need to consider how projects will live on in the future. Is there a shelf-life? Do we post a note to readers, telling them this database is no longer updated?

We have to maintain the experience, he said, or think of the shelf-life of an experience.

In other words, newsrooms must plan for impermanence.

Talking about journalism education, Narisetti asked how students were being taught about engagement, about metrics, about enhancing loyalty to the brand.

One of the things they are doing the WSJ is thinking about the news as a stream of content. He showed an example of the WSJ live coverage of the Oscars.

The WSJ is doing the same thing with market coverage, to have a stream of news and information.

For Narisetti, it is about finding ways of having readers come back to your journalism and your brand.

 

18:35

Study points to prominence of activists in Andy Carvin coverage of Arab Spring

Here’s the media release on the research I presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin on Saturday, April 21:

A new study shows how far NPR’s Andy Carvin, known as “the man who tweets revolutions,” favoured the voice of protesters in his reporting on Twitter of the Arab Spring.

The rigorous analysis of more than 5,000 tweets found that Carvin’s feed gave higher priority to the messages from citizens in repressive societies who were documenting and expressing their desires for social change on Twitter.

During key periods of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in early 2011, just under half of the messages on his Twitter stream came from activists and bloggers (48.3%), even though they only made up a quarter of his sources (26.4%).

Carvin also relied mainstream media journalists as sources. While they made up about a quarter of his sources (26.7%), journalists accounted for 29.4% of tweets.

The study, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution” by academics in Canada and the U.S., points to the dramatic impact social media is having on journalism and the ways news is being reported.

University of British Columbia professor and lead author Alfred Hermida said: “Our findings suggest a new style of near real-time reporting where journalists tap into social media to include a broader range of voices in the news.”

“The prominence of what many may consider to be rebel voices raises questions about traditional journalistic approaches to balance and objectivity.”

Carvin, a social media strategist for U.S. public service radio broadcaster NPR, rose to prominence during the uprisings in the Middle East for his mastery of aggregating and verifying real-time news on Twitter.

The study shows how his approach to sourcing marks a break with established news practices. Traditionally, journalists cite a small number of sources who hold institutional positions of power and authority, such as government officials, police or business leaders. Journalists rely on these elite sources, shaping what news gets reported and how it is reported.

News coverage quoting ordinary people still fills only a small part of the news. When it comes to covering protests, journalists tend to cite on officials and police, and tend to discredit activists.

The researchers analysed tweets from two periods in 2011, identifying and categorizing Carvin’s top sources (322 in all). The first, from January 12 to January 19, covered the major portion of Tunisian demonstrations leading to the fall of President Ben Ali. The second, from January 24 to February 13, covered the Egyptian protests and subsequent resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

University of Minnesota professor Seth C. Lewis, a co-author on the study, said: “This research focuses on the work of a single person, but it’s a key case study for understanding larger transformations occurring as journalism evolves through social media.”

The study is authored by Alfred Hermida from the University of British Columbia, and Seth C. Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith from the University of Minnesota.

Note to editors:

The results of the study will be presented on Saturday, April 21, at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at 11:15 a.m. CDT (12.15 p.m. EDT). A live video stream of the conference will be available on the symposium website.

The abstract for the paper, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,” is available from the symposium website on Friday, April 20.

About the researchers:

Alfred Hermida is an award-winning associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research focuses on social media and emerging genres of journalism. An online news pioneer, he was a founding news editor of BBCNews.com and was a BBC correspondent in the Middle East. He co-authored Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers and is currently working on his second book on the impact of social media on the news.

Contact: Alfred.Hermida@ubc.ca - Twitter: @hermida

Seth C. Lewis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His research on the changing nature of journalism in the digital era has received several top-paper awards and has been published in leading academic journals. He co-edited two editions of The Future of News: An Agenda of Perspectives, and he is affiliated with Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. Previously, he was an editor at The Miami Herald and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Spain.

Contact: sclewis@umn.edu - Twitter: @sethclewis

Rodrigo Zamith is a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His primary research interest is in the interplay between media, public opinion, and policymaking, with a focus on foreign affairs. He has previously worked as reporter at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Contact: zamit001@umn.edu

15:36

Insights into data journalism in Argentina

Angelica Peralta Ramos, multimedia development manager, La Nación in Argentina, gave an insight into the challenges of doing data journalism.

In her ISOJ talk, she explained how La Nacion started doing data visualisations with few resources and in a less than friendly government environment.

Peralta pointed out that Argentina ranks 100 out of 180 in corruption index. The country does not have a freedom of information law and it not part of the open government initiative.

But there is hope said Peralta. La Nacion wanted to do data journalism but didn’t have any programmers so they adopted tools for non programmers such as Tableau Public and Excel.

One of its initiatives involved gathering data on inflation to try to reveal more accurate inflation levels.

The newspaper has been taking public data and seeking to derive meaning from masses of figures.

For example, La Nacion took 400 PDFs with tables of 235,000 rows that recorded subsidies to bus companies to figure out who was getting what.

It is using software to keep track of updates to the PDFs to show how subsidies to the companies are on the rise.

Peralta’s short presentation showed how some media organisations are exploring data journalism in circumstances which are very different to the US or UK.

La Nacion have a data blog and will be posting links to the examples mentioned by Peralta.

15:09

Making data visualisation useful for audiences

At ISOJ, Alberto Cairo, lecturer in visual journalism, University of Miami, raised some critical questions about the visualisation of data in journalism.

Cairo explained that an information graphic is a tool for presenting information and for exploring information.

In the past, info graphics were about editing data down and summarising it. But this worries me, he says, as it is just presenting information but does not allow readers to explore the data.

Today we have the opposite trend and often ends up as data art which doesn’t help readers understand the data.

Cairo cited a New York Times project mapping neighbourhoods which he said forced readers to become their own reporters and editors to understand the data.

We have to create layers, he said. We have the presentation layer and we have the exploration layer, and these are complementary.

But readers need help to navigate the data, he said. Part of the task is giving clues to readers to understand the complexity of data.

Cairo quoted a visualistion mantra by Ben Shneiderman: “Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand.”

His approached echoed earlier comments by Brian Boyer, news applications editor, Chicago Tribune Media Group. Boyer said that we should make data beautiful, inspirational but make it useful to the audience.

 

14:29

April 20 2012

22:27

Study of Samoa Topix finds local news forum falls short

Linda Jean Kenix of University of Canterbury in New Zealand presented the results of a study of Samoa Topix at ISOJ.

The study,with Christine Daviault, asked the question, Is this the future of online news? An examination of Samoa Topix.

Topix describes itself as a place for people to share and talk about the news.

The about page says ”Topix is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them.” Topix ”redefines what it means to create, edit, share and make the news.”

The researchers explored how far Samoa Topix was a forum for news for a country with a patchy record in press freedom and when many  Samoans live abroad.

They found that the level of debate on the site “wasn’t pretty” said Kenix. The more discussion there was on a story, the more nasty the discussion became.

The forum were largely a space to voice ethnic views and overwhelming reliance on racial slurs, they found.

Only about a quarter of the content was news and there was no evidence of the forum generating news content.

Rather, the researchers found that stories mainly functioned as a catalyst for people to vent.

Moreover, many of the news stories on Samoa Topix did not relate to Samoa.

And there was very little overlap with the main Samoan newspaper, the Samoa Observer, and the content on Samoa Topix.

Kenix concluded by suggesting that simply creating spaces for people to make the news does not mean that this is what will actually happen.

 

21:47

The challenges for journalism start-ups in Europe

Online journalism start-ups in Europe are struggling, according to a report from the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen presented the results of the study, Survival is Sucess, co-authored by Nicola Bruno, at ISOJ.

They found that journalism start-ups are facing a challenging time.

First, news is still dominated by legacy businesses, with national differences. In Germany, there is a strong but declining legacy news media, whereas in France and Italy, there is a weak and rapidly declining legacy media.

Secondly, the market for online advertising is tough, with low Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) rates. And it is dominated by a few very large US-based players which capture much of the search and display advertising in Europe.

The journalism start-ups found it hard to survive just based on advertising. The report suggests that “though internet use and online advertising is growing rapidly across Europe, it is not clear that this alone will provide the basis for a new generation of innovative and sustainable journalistic start-ups.”

There are individual examples of success, such as Mediapart, an investigative news website operating behind a paywall in France. But the track record in Europe has been less than inspiring, said Nielsen.

The report concludes:

Based on the countries and cases examined here it seems that at this juncture the journalistic start- ups most likely to thrive are those that deliver a distinct, quality product, operate with lean organisations, have diverse revenue streams, and are oriented towards niche audiences poorly served by existing legacy media.

 

20:42

The inside story of a local newspaper’s cafe project

At ISOJ, John White, deputy editor for online, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada, outlined the paper’s News Café.

A year ago, the Free Press created the café downtown, a space co-managed by a news organisation with a journalist in residence.

Part of the reason was that the paper itself moved out of town to an industrial park. But another reason was to broaden the audience for the paper, which is mostly 55 plus.

However, White noted that not everyone at the paper was behind the idea of a news café. He said resistance came from the board of directors and owners of the paper.

So he worked on a business plan to sell the idea to the Free Press. The plan stressed that the café had to be unique. The harder sell, though, was convincing journalists to work in the cafe and meet with the public.

The café would also break down barriers with the public, but also be a place to cultivate sources and get story ideas, given its central location downtown.

The location was also important as the café is in what used to be the newspaper centre of Winnipeg, so it was a good opportunity to reestablish the paper as a community focal point.

“Our readership is dying, literally dying,” said White, so the café was seen as a way of reaching a different demographic.

White admitted that despite his business arguments, the café was a hard sell. The turning point was meeting a restauranteur who wanted to open a new outlet.

The lure for the restauranteur was a link with an established brand in the city, with built-in marketing reach.

Today, the Free Press news café will host comedians or bands, and events will be streamed live.  The place will be packed, said White, and journalists can conduct interviews and create content.

 

19:58

The six traits of successful entrepreneurs

Mark Briggs, author of Entrepreneurial Journalism and director of Digital Media at KING 5, Seattle, got people thinking at ISOJ by going over the six traits for entrepreneurs.

First of all, you have to be able to get some funding. You need to be able to make the ask, said Briggs, or you are not an entrepreneur.

Then you need to be able to sell, convince others about the value of your idea or proposal.

Briggs said to be successful you needed to be open.  Traditionally journalists tend not be open about their story ideas and more. But as a entrepreneur, said Briggs, you have to be able to socialise your idea, get feedback and collaborate.

The fourth trait was failure. Briggs said failure was inevitable and failure leads to success.

Five, you need partners – people to work with who can bring your idea to fruition.

And finally, Briggs said you have to be able to innovate.  You have to embrace and understand innovation.

And with that quickfire talk, Briggs wrapped up his talk at ISOJ.

 

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