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April 01 2011

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

09:39

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Jonny Campbell's Charlie Sheen internship hoax

Image from jonnycampbell.com

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

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October 13 2010

16:00

From tornadoes to Noxema: Hany Farid on using digital forensics to assess the authenticity of photos

Late last month, when tornado-like, end-times-are-nigh-style winds sliced through New York City, Time magazine posted to its NewsFeed an image of a twister forming in the waters beyond the Statue of Liberty — menacing, dark, grainy. The story the mag published — “Gotham Tornado: Amazing Photo of Twister Passing Statue of Liberty” — let the image in question pretty much speak for itself, with the only text accompanying the photo being its headline and twelve SEO-friendly tags. Turns out, though, that the graininess of the image was a symptom not of camera-phone authenticity, but of old age: The photo was shot in 1976.

Time’s mistake — the overzealous posting of an image that, given its context, would seem to be authentic — is one that almost any news organization could make. How, after all, do we check the accuracy of news images, particularly in moments of breaking-news urgency? Though we’re seeing a blossoming of fact-checking in text-based journalism, we have yet to see an equivalent movement in image-based news reporting — mostly, of course, because we lack good tools for determining whether images are authentic or manipulated, whether they depict what they claim to or something else entirely. Which is disturbing, given that we look to images — the raw material of the world, supposedly filtered only through a camera’s lens — to give us an unvarnished view of human events.

Enter Hany Farid. A computer science professor at Dartmouth, Farid is a pioneer in the field of digital forensics, figuring out how to analyze images to determine their authenticity. (Think CSI: Photojournalism.) In his day-to-day work, Farid deals with the algorithmic aspects of photo manipulation — how to translate light and shadow, for example, into data sets that will detect whether a particular image could actually exist in the real world.

“The issues of photo manipulation are going well beyond just the technical, mathematical, geek stuff,” Farid notes. “We’re struggling as a society to deal with what happens when this thing that we have learned to trust over so many years” — the photographic image — “becomes incredibly untrustworthy. And that, to me, is extremely interesting.”

The biggest element of mistrust is the increasing prevalence of manipulation, via Photoshop and other tools. While, most often, those programs are used to create basic composites, or ironically derivative images (cf: Rebecca Gayheart’s Noxemas, courtesy of Gawker), more and more, they’re also being used to produce composites designed to mislead the viewer. Take a tabloid photo of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on a beach, which seems, at first, true to its caption: “CAUGHT TOGETHER!” Study the image closely, though — actually analyze it — and it becomes apparent that the photo is doctored: Its stars are lit from opposite sides. The image is a combination of two separate photos of the couple merged together through the magic of image-layering. (See more about this photo here.)

One problem is that our brains simply don’t seem to be wired for the kind of bit-by-bit observation such analysis requires. On the contrary: When it comes to images, our minds — which tend to interpret images as singular units, rather than composites of atomic ones — can often abet manipulation. “Your brain is remarkable, but it has some pretty serious limitations,” Farid says. And one of those limitations is image assessment. On sabbatical last year in Berkeley, he worked with neuroscientists and vision scientists, studying the limits of the visual system. In general, “people tend to over-trust their eye…and that’s a very dangerous game to be playing.”

Now, photo-tampering is becoming so prevalent, Farid notes, that mistrust of images is slowly becoming our default. “There’s almost a backlash,” he says, “and now there’s this over-skepticism of everything out there. It’s amazing.”

Digital forensics — shifting the analysis of images from an art to a science — is one way for images to earn back our trust. Forensic techniques “can help bring some sanity to this.” And the field “just continues to get more and more sophisticated,” Farid notes. “We’re able to do things today that a few years ago seemed unimaginable. And a few years from now, we’ll do something that, today, seems unimaginable.” Farid and his team have been developing software that can be used — by news organizations, in particular — to analyze the authenticity of images before publishing them. It’ll be a few years before that software is ready to be used, he notes; but “we are just getting to the stage where, I think, commercialization is viable.”

That’s a good thing, because the need for rigorous analysis of images is, and will continue to be, increasingly urgent. “It used to be, if you had a handful of photojournalists around the country, you could have some kind of quality control,” Farid points out. But now — “when everybody’s got a cell phone with video and images and they’re posting on their blogs, and to Twitter and YouTube” — the ethics of photojournalism are being tested and shifted. An analytic platform could bring a sense of universality back to those principles. “The issue with photo manipulation is that it’s not black-and-white,” Farid notes. “There are certain types of photo manipulation which are completely acceptable — and there are other ones that are completely unacceptable.” Images have always held a powerful place in journalism, of course, and “you’ve always been able to editorialize with photographs.” But now, Farid says, “it’s a question of degree.” Now, using images, “you can really change the entire story. And that, obviously, is a very different beast.”

September 01 2010

10:57

NEW DIGITAL NARRATIVES: FACTS, GRAPHIC IDEAS AND FAST QUALITY JOURNALISM &

chiquiesteban

INNOVATION’s Chiqui Esteban leads the New Narratives department of lainformacion.com in Madrid, Spain.

The graphic work done with his small team (he and Carlos Gamez plus Sarah Potts, an intern) is astonishing.

They have the support of the Art Director Antonio Pasagali, video and web developers, HTML designers of lainformacion.com but they do 90% of the final work.

They use Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, Cinema 4d, Dreamweaver, Soundbooth, Premiere and Click2Map for Google Maps…

Chiqui and Carlos are fast like the best writers of the best newswire services.

They are quick, but accurate, and always focus on “the news behind the news” trying to explain, to find out, discover new angles and delivering not just facts but graphic ideas and fast quality journalism.

This is a 24/7 full time team and they are on permanent deadline mood.

Chiqui and Carlos have limited resources but unlimited creativity, and shows what you can do when you have real journalists.

Here you can review some of the work done during the last 12 months of lainformacion.com.

portada

An amazing showcase of almost 400 pieces of first class visual journalism!

Keep in mind that lainformacion.com was founded by Mario Tascon, the most influential Spanish infographics journalist, a new pure digital media company that today has a new editor, Carlos Salas, a very visual journalist, founding editor of El Economista, the financial newspaper launched by INNOVATION, and one the Best Designed Newspapers of the World.

And more:

Chiqui has been able to lead all this effort and at the same time work with many INNOVATION clients around the world teaching and preaching the New Visual Journalism Gospel.

Follow his Spanish/English blog.

A must-read blog.

March 25 2010

16:52

The Pitfalls of Using Self-Publishing Book Packages

The rise of self-publishing has made it possible for anyone to be an author. Now, some people are also choosing to outsource their book project by hiring an author services company.

On the surface, this seems much easier than finding and hiring a half-dozen professionals to create your book. (For background on the self-publishing industry and author services companies, please read my previous MediaShift article.) But is it worth it? Below are some of the potential danger zones of working with these services, as exposed by authors who were seduced by the promises of quick and easy self-publishing packages. I also offer some advice about avoiding these pitfalls.

Beware the ISBN Acquisition

Larry Jaffee wants his book back.

"Albert Square & Me: The Actors of EastEnders" is based on 18 years of interviews with actors from the popular BBC show. eastenders.jpgHe chose iUniverse to publish his book because "I was looking for a one-stop shop that would run the interference I needed." He bought their Premier program for $899 (on special from $1099), which included the ISBN and bar code acquisition, and distribution in the U.K. Getting into U.K. wholesalers Bertrams and Gardners was an integral part of his marketing plan, as the 25th anniversary of the show was coming up.

"They even talked me into an additional $699 for a program to handle bookstore returns," he said.

The only problem?

"The U.K. bookstores didn't order it because it was a [print-on-demand] book."

Jaffee is planning a second edition of the title, and he intends to do things differently this time.

"I have over 30 interviews that didn't make it into the first edition, so I'll create a second edition with my own ISBN," he said. He'll probably design the book himself in QuarkXPress, and will hire one of his editors to edit and proofread the work. He is considering an offset printer because he fears that printing with Lightning Source will tag it as a POD book, which the U.K. wholesalers reject. (Jaffee need not worry: Lightning Source is a publisher services company whose business model is based on print and distribution. They do not have the same stigma with resellers.)

How to buy your own ISBN and bar codes: Visit Bowker Identifier Services to purchase a block of 10 ISBNs for under $250. Why 10 and not one? barcode.gifBecause they're a lot cheaper in bulk (a single ISBN is $125), and you'll need a new ISBN for each form of the book: print, e-book, audio, new editions and, of course, your next book. Also, if you buy just one, booksellers might figure out that you're a self-published author. You can purchase EAN Bar Codes for each ISBN for $25 on an as-needed basis for your print editions. With your own publishing house name on the book, you can print and distribute offset or print-on-demand or short runs, and booksellers won't lump you in with Lulu, iUniverse, and other POD services.

Great Distribution, Paltry Profits

It's important to realize author services companies do not make their money from selling books -- they make money from convincing authors to buy their services. An author services company sells your book through their program to online resellers like Amazon and in their own online store, and they allow you to buy an inventory of your own book for a set price.

For example, when Jaffee sells "EastEnders" on Amazon, he gets about $2 per book after iUniverse takes their cut. That's an incredibly small payout for a book with a list price of $25.95.

On top of that, author services companies rarely receive orders from brick-and-mortar booksellers, unless a customer specifically orders the book.

grassroutes.jpgWhen Serena Bartlett published the first "GrassRoutes Travel Guide" with subsidy press Lulu, she was impressed that it immediately appeared online everywhere.

"Lulu is really deeply embedded with the distribution companies," she said, "which I thought was great until I wanted to take my book off Lulu and create my own company, maximizing profits with a 'real' distribution deal." (Bartlett eventually made a deal with Sasquatch Books.)

How to get great distribution and a nice profit margin: Get a DBA name and publish your book with your own company name and logo. (Be sure to choose a name that doesn't scream "self-publisher.") Booksellers, distributors and readers are not likely to notice, or care, as long as your book is produced professionally and you have a great website and social media presence. From there, join the Amazon Advantage program to sell your book directly through Amazon.com, or sign up with Lightning Source to get listed in the Ingram database. Sign their print and e-book distribution contracts for U.S., U.K., and Canadian online and brick-and-mortar resellers. If your book is of very high quality and you have a great marketing plan, you can apply for bookstore distribution with a reputable company like Small Press United. You will ship a large number of offset print books to them (the best price breaks occur at 1,000 and 2,500 copies), and they will handle all domestic (U.S.) distribution for you. These channels will all take a 55 percent cut on the retail price, but when you sell your book through your website and personal appearances you receive 100 percent of the cover price.

Print-On-Demand: The Proof is in the Price

Many POD author services companies outsource their printing jobs to the lowest bidder. The result is a lack of quality control. When Bartlett published "GrassRoutes" with Lulu, she was delighted with the ease of the process but said "the print quality was awful. Guidebooks are used -- they're opened and closed and bump around in backpacks. Pages fell out, bindings cracked, covers curled."

Lisa Alpine, a member of my Wild Writing Women group, is a book-birthing coach and author of the upcoming anthology, "Exotic Life: Laughing Rivers, Dancing Drums and Tangled Hearts." She advises using Lulu or CreateSpace only for printing cheap proofs.

"Proofs can cost up to $75 from print companies, but I upload my latest PDF to Lulu, click the print button, and get a copy of my latest experiment in the mail for under $10," she said. "It's an affordable way to learn, to play with the design, fonts, even the order of my stories."

How to print a proof, a short run, get a good POD contract, and a quantity in offset: Use POD author services companies with no upfront costs like Lulu or CreateSpace to print proofs only (do not include the ISBN and barcode). When you're sure of your product, print a small inventory with a reputable short run printer like 48HrBooks (100 minimum), and sign up to print and distribute with Lightning Source, which can take a while, as a representative will need to walk you through the process. When you're ready to print 1,000 copies at a time, find a reputable offset printer. Both Alpine and Bartlett chose Transcontinental. "They're printed on 100 percent recycled paper, have great service, excellent quality, and are priced very competitively," said Alpine. Jaffee may go the same route, but in the meantime he's stuck with the iUniverse contract: He pays $10 per book for a minimum quantity of 500 books.

Marketing and Publicity: More Than a Press Release

Many author services packages that include promotion and marketing cost between $1,500 and $15,000. Karen Leland, a San Francisco Bay Area book publicist and president of Sterling Marketing Group, said clients often come to her on the verge of tears after paying an exorbitant amount of money for just one press release sent to traditional media channels with no results.

karenleland.jpg

"While the best publicist in the world can't guarantee which publication, blog, radio or TV show will run with a review of an author's book, or interview them as an expert, there are certain things a dedicated publicist can do to customize the PR campaign and improve the odds the writer will get picked up by media," she said. "The problem with the generic approach author services companies take is that it's 'one size fits all.' That rarely produces the best results."

How to build your platform and choose a promotion professional: Leland recommends you start promotion activities as many as two years before your book is published. This builds your platform. These activities include getting a website, blogging and taking advantage of social media and networking tools. If you're going to hire a publicist, request a detailed plan that includes the specific projects that will be part of the campaign, the timeline for delivering on these projects, what you as the author are expected to provide to the publicist, and the process by which the publicist will keep you updated on the progress of your campaign. And be sure to ask them to provide other authors as references.

Editing and Design: Big Investment, Big Payoff

The book interior and cover design tools author services companies provide are very easy to use, but they're also proprietary. You have to start all over again if you want to move your book to another company. Also, if you're paying for their design and editing services, remember that their business model is to sell services to authors, not to make your book the next big bestseller.

joelfriedlander.jpg

"It's a crapshoot," said Joel Friedlander, a professional book designer who has spent time correcting bad book covers and interior designs that suffer from poor font choices, inadequate margins, and poorly thought out images. "I have a book from CreateSpace on my desk with the odd page numbers on the left, the even ones on the right, set completely in Times and Times Bold. What a disaster! These companies lead you to believe that you're getting a professional-looking book when all they are selling you is a paint-by-the-numbers standard template that may be completely inappropriate for your book's intended market. It brands the author as an amateur, or worse, incompetent. Find a designer who will respect your work, treat you as an individual, and give you a book that you can proudly sell against the best books on the shelf."

Lisa Alpine's search for a copy editor turned up many who replied to her carefully spelled-out requirements with an email stating, "I'd love to take a look at your book!" and no details on pricing or process. The editor she hired was "the only candidate who professionally returned a price sheet with clear descriptions of the various levels of editing with prices clearly stated for services from proofreading to conceptual editing."

She hired her to edit one chapter to see if their personalities fit.

"The working relationship between editor and author is so close," said Alpine,"that it's essential you're on the same page, so to speak." This is also true for working with designers. Alpine hired Lyn Bishop to consult with her on the cover for "Exotic Life," though she also did part of the work herself since she's competent in Photoshop.

How to get great editing and design: Take a look at Friedlander's articles about book design to get an idea of the complexity of design. For cover design trends, peruse the Book Design Review blog, (though be aware that it was recently put on hiatus). Find an editor by asking around at local writing and publishing organizations, and by asking online groups. Get recommendations and clarity on pricing, and start with one chapter to make sure you're compatible. Print proofs and commit to perfection.

More and more people with serious ambitions for their book are realizing that author services companies aren't necessarily the place to go. More people are starting their own businesses and professionally producing their own books.

In terms of working with consultants, remember that paid professionals are as proud of their work as you are of your own, and they're a joy to collaborate with. For book authors this is, luckily, the more rewarding choice.

"I really savor each step in the process, and getting involved so I don't have to be stressed out and mystified," said Alpine. "You know, we used to throw manuscripts to a publisher and hope for the best. I think it's a real privilege to be able to have control of your own book."

Carla King is a publishing and social media strategist and co-author of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Workbook, which grew out of experiences leading workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and on her website.

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