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September 04 2012

15:37

August 30 2012

15:44
05:36

Reddit as journalism: Crowdsourcing an interview with the President

GigaOM :: Reddit landed a personal appearance by the President of the United States on Wednesday when Barack Obama stopped by for one of the site’s “Ask Me Anything” interviews — an event that further adds to the web community’s reputation as an alternative source of journalism.

Hi, I’m Barack Obama, President of the United States. Ask me anything. I’ll be taking your questions for half an hour starting at about 4:30 ET.

Proof it's me: https://twitter.com/BarackObama/status/240903767350968320

Hey, everyone: I'll be taking your questions online today. Ask yours here: OFA.BO/gBof44 -bo

— Barack Obama (@barackobama) August 29, 2012

A report by Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com

July 27 2012

14:04

This Week in Review: Reddit and news orgs’ shooting coverage, and Yahoo and Twitter’s identities

The Aurora shooting, Reddit, and citizen journalism’s value: Much of this week’s news has been related to last week’s shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that killed 12 and injured dozens. Poynter tracked the spread of the news of the late-night shooting, and the site that got the most recognition for thorough reporting of the news as it broke was the social-news site Reddit. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon rounded up the range of coverage on Reddit, which included photos, comment threads with people who were in the theater, and comprehensive, continually updated timelines.

Those timelines drew particular attention from media observers: The Atlantic’s Megan Garber marveled at their empathy through thoroughness, and BuzzFeed’s John Herrman and NPR’s Elise Hu talked to the timelines’ author — an 18-year-old named Morgan Jones — with Herrman calling him “the go-to source in the story,” and Poynter’s Alan Stamm held him up as a model for aspiring journalists.

As The New York Times described, the site’s users also unearthed some details about the alleged shooter that the traditional news media missed. Adweek talked about Reddit’s reporting capabilities with the site’s general manager, Erik Martin, who said Reddit wasn’t designed to be a breaking-news source, but its users have used its tools for journalistic purposes anyway.

Several writers praised Reddit’s ability to cover breaking news collaboratively in such an effective way. Keith Wagstaff of Time wrote that “no news organization or social media site currently offers an experience that’s concurrently as immediate, engaging and thorough as the one offered by Reddit,” and in a pair of posts, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram remarked on Reddit’s ability to act as a verification hub and to allow readers to interact with people involved in news stories, and offered a defense of “citizen journalism” such as Reddit’s.

At Salon, Michael Barthel took issue with the praise for Reddit and citizen journalism, arguing that it isn’t immune from the same criticism the traditional media and that it’s “doing more or less the exact same thing that traditional journalism has always done, except not as reliably or sustainably.” J-prof Jay Rosen countered the piece with a Salon post of his own arguing that no one is saying citizen journalism will replace professional journalism.

Some traditional media organizations were also recognized for their skill in covering the story — the Denver Post’s Twitter coverage was run in part by its Digital First new curation team, and Digital First’s Steve Buttry drew tips for news organizations from the Post’s Twitter coverage, while Poynter looked at how the Post covered the news without a copy desk. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple also highlighted the coverage of Denver’s 9News TV.

How to cover tragedy carefully and sensibly: But traditional news organizations were also responsible for some serious missteps and some eyeroll-inducing coverage of the Aurora shooting, too. ABC News’ Brian Ross misidentified the shooter as a Tea Party member who had the same name, a mistake which Poynter’s Craig Silverman said the network made insufficient efforts to correct and apologize for.

Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review and Steve Myers of Poynter pinned the blame for Ross’ and similar errors on the practice of incremental or “process” reporting, in which news is reported, bit by bit, as it comes in, then later confirmed or corrected. Rieder said he doesn’t find the practice “a very confidence-inducing or satisfying approach to journalism,” and Myers described how disclaimers and corrections can be separated from initial reports on Twitter.

Beyond that specific error, coverage of the event and its aftermath followed a predictable path of sensational coverage and unfounded speculation. The New York Times’ David Carr lamented that pattern in shooting coverage, concluding that many of the problems stem from the news media’s desire to answer the question that can’t be answered: “Why?”

The Atlantic’s J.J. Gould urged media outlets and consumers to start shaming organizations that cover such events exploitatively, and numerous people circulated a 2009 video by the BBC’s Charlie Brooker that illustrated how to (and how not to) cover a mass shooting properly, which New Statesman compared to Britain’s newspapers. Jay Rosen, meanwhile, criticized the excitement that characterized so much of the coverage.

The ethics of quote approval and draft sharing: Following last week’s New York Times story on news organizations allowing candidates and their staffs to approve their quotes, more news orgs were establishing or reiterating their policies barring those practices this week, including Bloomberg, McClatchy, and National Journal. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple parsed through a few common quoting and negotiation practices, and the Journal’s Ron Fournier told him the key element differentiating what’s OK from what’s not is who has control.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post journalist caught some flak after the Texas Observer reported that he shared drafts of a story with University of Texas officials and allowed them to suggest edits that ended up in the story. Post editor Marcus Brauchli ultimately decreed that future draft-sharing would have to be approved by an editor.

In the ensuing discussion on draft sharing, the reporter had some defenders, including Poynter ethicist Kelly McBride in the Observer story. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon noted that the story contained quite a bit information that was unfavorable to the university, while the Post’s Erik Wemple defended the practice of draft sharing in general, saying that a refusal to do so affirms journalists’ arrogance. “It’s a convention built on the idea that journalists are so brilliant that they can get a complicated set of facts and circumstances dead-bang right on the first try without feedback from the people who know the topic best.”

What exactly is Yahoo?: A week after ex-Googler Marissa Mayer took over as Yahoo CEO, she’s begun to inspire confidence in the troops there, according to All Things D’s Kara Swisher, while Wired’s Steven Levy reported on the army of ex-Google managers Mayer could lure to Yahoo. The New York Times’ David Carr said the key question for Yahoo — as it has been for so many web companies before it — is, what is it, exactly? He concluded that Yahoo is (among other things) in the news business, but by accident more than anything.

Tim Carmody of The Verge said that question — especially whether it’s a media or tech company — could be shaped in part by where it moves most of its operations. He reported that Mayer may move many of Yahoo’s media execs to New York, making it a place where it could pursue both its media and tech sides. Ad Age’s Jason Del Rey and Michael Learmonth said Yahoo’s future is in creating more high-quality products, an area in which it hasn’t spent much money recently.

Twitter moves further toward media: We were also asking the “What is it?” question this week about another company: Twitter. The Wall Street Journal reported (paywalled) on Twitter’s plans to build out around big events, as Twitter announced the first of those partnerships — a hub for curating conversation about the Olympics with NBCUniversal. Meanwhile, Adweek reported that Twitter is in talks with Hollywood producers about launching original web shows a la “The Real World.”

In a series of posts, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about Twitter’s move toward being a media outlet, saying that it doesn’t really need media outlets such as NBCUniversal to coordinate event-based coverage, that Twitter is moving toward an Apple- or Facebook-esque “walled garden” approach with regard to developers, and that producing ad-driven content like web shows gets away from Twitter’s core aims.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Nick Bilton asked whether Twitter is a media or tech company, concluding that it looks an awful lot like a media company. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen posed that Twitter is “a new kind of media company that doesn’t make any content.” Slate’s Matt Yglesias said the media/tech distinction isn’t a good one — the real distinction is between companies that sell a product and ones that sell an audience, and Twitter is quite clearly the latter.

Reading roundup: Here are the most interesting smaller stories going on this week:

— A couple of updates on the ongoing News Corp. saga: Rupert Murdoch resigned from the board of News International, his British newspaper division, and Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast explained why Murdoch is loosening his grip on his newspapers. Meanwhile, former News International head Rebekah Brooks was charged in the phone hacking scandal, and the Telegraph wondered if the charges could lead to a deeper U.S. investigation. The New York Times wrote about the case’s impact on British newspaper culture.

— A few WikiLeaks developments: A judge ruled that the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks are still secret, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that U.S. government officials are now talking about the possibility of prosecuting news organizations like The New York Times in addition to WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram urged journalists to support WikiLeaks’ First Amendment rights, and the Times’ Bill Keller followed suit.

— Barry Diller, whose IAC now owns most of the Newsweek/Daily Beast partnership, said in an earnings call that he might eliminate part or all of Newsweek’s print edition as soon as the end of this year. Newsweek editor Tina Brown tried to calm her staff down, and the New York Observer’s Foster Kamer detailed the now-ended Sidney Harman era at the magazine.

— The New York Times Co. released its second-quarter figures this week and posted a loss, thanks to declining digital ad sales, even as digital subscriptions for the Times and its Boston Globe are up. As New York magazine’s Joe Coscarelli put up, the Times is beginning to be supported by its readers more than its advertisers.

— Finally, a very thoughtful piece here at the Lab from Jonathan Stray, who suggested three principles by which to design personalized news experiences: interest, effects, and agency.

Photos of Aurora theater by Algr, quotation mark by Quinn Dombrowski, and Yahoo ice sculpture by Randy Stewart used under a Creative Commons license.

July 25 2012

04:31

Erik Martin: Reddit and citizen journalism, no it's not new

No, it is not new and it is not a cause for traffic spikes.

AdWeek :: Adweek: Has this type of painstakingly curated and investigative citizen journalism been going on for a while and people are just getting wise to it on a national level, or is this something new to Reddit?

Erik Martin: ... on a much lighter note in some of our sports communities are pulling in real-time data from FIFA or the NBA or whatever league, and they'll pull those in to create informative threads. For the Euro 2012, users used the data from the games to find a different way to cover these live events. This has been going on since the beginning ... .

Interview with Erik Martin, Reddit - A piece by Charlie Warzel, www.adweek.com

January 18 2012

23:10

Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests

Today was an important day in the history of the Internet and activism. While the U.S. Congress expected to quickly pass two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), mounting opposition online has led them to reconsider. That all came to a head today when various sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit decided to black out their content, and others such as Google put up anti-SOPA messages on their sites. The following is a Storify aggregation of all those efforts, including explainers, stories, tweets, parody videos and more.

[View the story "A Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests" on Storify]

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

January 17 2012

20:16

Jan 18th, "blackout" day: Google will protest SOPA using popular home page

CNet :: Google, the Web's top search company and one of technology's most influential powers in Washington, will post a link on its home page tomorrow to notify users of Google's opposition to controversial antipiracy bills being debated in Congress. The company confirmed in a statement that it will join Wikipedia, Reddit, and other influential tech firms

Continue to read Declan McCullagh | Greg Sandov, news.cnet.com

January 06 2012

10:58

Sharing platform Reddit doubled traffic: 2 billion pageviews 2011

reddit is a platform, where people can share interesting things they discover, what's new and what's popular online. Users vote on links that they like or dislike. 

Reddit Blog :: In December 2011, reddit served 2.07 billion pageviews. "Crazy." Here are some details: 2,065,237,338 pageviews, 34,879,881 unique visitors, 12.97 pages per visit, and 16 minutes average time on site. (If that metric would exist:) Over 100 million monthly pageviews per employee. In less than a year, reddit traffic has more than doubled. How did this happen?

Clipped from: reddit.com (share this clip)

Continue to read Erik, blog.reddit.com

Tags: Reddit

July 17 2011

16:33

Is Reddit the new Twitter? 'Redditor' reports live from crime scene

CNet :: A standoff between New Jersey police and a man who reportedly shot another man with a rifle is being reported live on the Web. But not on Twitter, from which previous real-time incidents such as the river landing of US Airways 1549 were broadcast. This event is unfolding on the community site Reddit, where a "redditor" with the username Ellinika kicked off her reporting.

How does Reddit differ?

Continue to read Rafe Needleman, news.cnet.com

May 12 2011

17:34

Comments Are Dead. We Need You to Help Reinvent Them

Let’s face it — technically speaking, comments are broken. With few exceptions, they don’t deliver on their potential to be a force for good.

Web-based discussion threads have been part of the Internet experience since the late 1990s. However, the form of user commentary has stayed fairly static, and — more importantly — few solutions have been presented that address the complaints of publishers, commenters, or those of us who actually read comments.

beyond comment threads.jpg

Publishers, for the most part, want software that will stamp out trolls and outsource the policing to the community itself (or, failing that, to Winnipeg). Commenters, on the other hand, want a functional mini-soapbox from which to have their say — preferably something that is easy to log into and has as few limitations as possible (including moderation). The rest of us are left to deal with the overly complicated switches, flashing lights, and rotary knobs that we’re expected to know how to use to dial in to the conversation so it’s just right for our individual liking, not too hot and not too cold.

Thankfully, there is an opportunity today to really innovate. New capabilities in the browser, and emerging standards provide an opportunity to completely rethink the relationship between news users and producers — between those who comment and those who are commented upon — and to demonstrate new forms of user interaction that are atomic, aggregated, augmented, or just plain awesome.

That’s why our next Knight-Mozilla Challenge is for you to come up with a more dynamic space for online discussions. You can submit your idea here, and you could win a trip to Berlin to compete with other innovators — or even win a year-long fellowship in a newsroom.

PUBLISHERS’ DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

The truth is, many news publishers don’t actually think comments are a good thing. Or if publishers won’t go so far as to admit that, they’ll usually agree that the so-called return on investment when enabling comments, discussion and debate on their site is not entirely clear.

Therein lies the biggest tension in the “beyond comment threads” challenge: At the end of the day, those who comment on stories, and those who have their articles commented upon, often have very different views on the topic.

Ask publishers about the purpose of comments and they’ll often speak to the very aspirations of independent journalism and a free press: democratic debate, informed citizens, and free speech. Ask them about the reality of comment threads on their site, and a very different picture is likely to emerge.

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who comment. No doubt, for some, it’s their very comment — or comments, in the case of those who actively comment — that creates the value on a given page, not the editorial. For others, the value is in the conversation that coalesces or unfolds in the context of a given story — but, to ease the minds of publishers, always at a safe distance from the “real content,” usually at the end of a story, or well below the fold.

In between are the rest of us, the people who benefit from the tension between publishers and commenters. We rely on the individuals who choose to comment to add context and clarifications, do extra fact-checking (a skill that’s often a casualty of newsroom cutbacks), and, ultimately, to hold the publisher accountable — publicly — and using the publishers’ own soapbox to do so. At the same time, we rely on publishers and reporters to start the conversation and keep it civil.

No wonder publishers are still asking questions about the value of comments: It takes a lot of work to build a successful online community, and the outcome is not guaranteed to work in their favor.

The Slashdot Era

Sometime in late 1997 or 1998, a bunch of hackers who agreed that commenting was broken (or — at that time — just simply missing) on most news sites decided to take matters into their own hands. Enter the era of Slashdot, an early example of the kind of sites that would begin to separate church from state by disconnecting the discussion from the content being discussed. These sites — with lots of comment and little content in the editorial sense — threw some powerful ideas into the mix: community, identity and karma (or incentives).

Thumbnail image for slashdot.jpg

Fast-forward to today, more than 10 years later, and not much has changed.

Newer sites, like Hacker News and Reddit, continue in the Slashdot tradition, but don’t break much new ground, nor attempt to innovate on how online discussion is done. At the same time, publishers — realizing the conversation was increasingly happening elsewhere — have improved or re-tooled their commenting systems in the hope of keeping the discussion on their sites. But instead of innovating, they’ve simply imitated, and little real progress has been made.

In an era where Huffington Post is the “state-of-the-art” for online discussion, I ask myself: What went wrong?

Enter the innovators’ dilemma

Meanwhile, as the events above unfolded, the rest of the web went on innovating. As publishers and comment-driven communities lamented their situation and pondered how to improve it, the conversation left those sites entirely. The people formerly known as the audience were suddenly empowered to have their say almost anywhere, via micro-blogs, status updates, and social networks.

It was the classic innovators’ dilemma at work. While focusing on how to make commenting systems better, many people didn’t see the real innovation happening: Everyone on the Internet was given their own, personal commenting system. Services like Twitter and Identi.ca solved the most pressing issue for commenters: autonomy. Services such as Facebook and LinkedIn addressed another problem: identity.

Unfortunately, not all innovation is good. Local improvements do not always equal systemwide benefits. That is the situation we are left with today: Comments, discussion and identity are scattered all over the web. Even worse, the majority of what we as individuals have to say online is locked in competing, often commercial, prisons — or “corporate blogging silos” — and is completely disconnected from our online identity.

The Sixth Estate

The opportunity in the beyond comment threads challenge is to radically re-imagine how we, the users, relate to the people producing news, and to each other. It’s time to get out of a 10-year-old box and completely rethink the current social and technical aspects of online discussion and debate. It’s time to stop thinking about faster horses, and start thinking about cars (or jetpacks!).

To get specific, let’s start with a list of great experiences that are made possible with comments:

  • Providing value to the publisher: Think about the times that comments have revealed new facts, uncovered sources, or pointed out easily correctable errors. This exemplifies the opportunity for a community to provide value back to a publisher, and helps answer the return-on-investment question. Recently, during the uprising in the Middle East and the earthquake in Japan — when several news organizations introduced real-time streams that mixed editorial content with user-submitted comments — we witnessed a glimmer of something new. What does it look like to push those ideas to their extremes?

  • Publishers and users working together: Sites like Stack Overflow (and the other sites in that network) introduced a new standard for directed conversations. More than just question-and-answer forums, these sites attempted to leverage the sense of community on sites like Slashdot and Hacker News, but also direct that energy toward a socially useful outcome, such as collective wisdom. If the Press is a “key social institution that helps us understand what’s going on in the world around us,” then we are all responsible for making it better — reporters, publishers and news readers. So what does that collaboration and the goal of collectively assembled wisdom (other than Wikipedia, of course) look like?

  • Holding publishers, or authors, accountable: If the publishers’ aim is to stamp out trolls, the commenters’ equivalent goal is to squelch bad reporting. Many readers expect news stories to be factually accurate, fair and balanced, and free of hidden agendas or unstated personal opinions. Comments were the first opportunity to quickly point out shortcomings in a story (versus a letter to the editor that may or may not be printed some days or weeks later). Think of that span — an immediate retort versus an edited response published well after the fact — and project it into the future, and then ask yourself, “How far could an idea like MediaBugz go?”

The last example on my list has to do with providing value to the community and learning together. How do we address the myriad concerns on both sides of the fence and come out the other end with something that isn’t broken? How can the historical tension between the need for anonymity and the perceived advantages of a real identity be overcome using our knowledge and the tools of the open web? In what way can the visual language of online discussion be taken beyond “thumbs up” or “thumbs down?” And what does it look like to enable commenting on the HTML5 web, which is increasingly driven by video, audio, animations and interactivity?

In those rare inspirational moments — when two sides of a conversation come together and actually listen — there is the nucleus of the idea that inspired the world to embrace comments in the first place. How do we weave that idea into the web of tomorrow? How do we turn up the volume on everything we love about comments, discussion and debate online, without losing what we love in the process?

That, if you accept it, is your mission.

January 13 2011

19:30

National Post rolls out digital “welcome mats”

On Monday, Canada’s National Post published an article about a local school instituting a ban on gay-straight alliance groups. It’s a good local story with broad cultural relevance, and, not surprisingly, it got linked on the web-curiosities aggregator Fark. Which led to a sudden surge in traffic to the story on the Post’s site.

The Post uses the real-time analytics tool Chartbeat — an addiction for many a digital newsie — and so noticed both the spike and its source. So its web production team updated the school story to include a specialized greeting to the new visitors (“Welcome, Fark readers!”), as well as some hand-curated links that it figured might interest members of the Fark community.

“We’re trying to make things just a little more relevant — a little more meaningful — to you in every way we can,” Chris Boutet, the senior producer for digital media at the Post, told me. The paper’s been experimenting with what it calls “welcome mats” since the summer, doing similar experiments with “Westerners vs. the world: We’re the Weird ones” and “Garbage truck cameras give new meaning to trash TV” (“Welcome, Drudge Report readers”);
A Tale of Two Ghettos” (“Welcome, Reddit readers”); and “Margaret Atwood Thinks the Moon Landing Was Fake — Or Does She?” and “When is twins too many?” (“Welcome, Fark readers”).

The Post isn’t the only outlet to experiment with the welcome mat idea. The Wall Street Journal, when it realized that an old story ranked first on a Google search for “Verizon iPhone,” tried something similar, as well. So have we here at the Lab. (If you know of any others, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.)

The mats take a few minutes to put together, Boutet says, and the return isn’t just a matter of more traffic — although that’s certainly part of it. (With the school story, “the clickthrough was just okay,” he notes. “It wasn’t huge, but it certainly was more through traffic than we would have seen if we hadn’t had that there. It always is.”) The bigger idea is brand identity. “We basically have two kinds of readers that visit the site: native readers and nomadic readers. Natives come to you because you’re you; nomadic readers are coming in from other communities or search traffic.” Welcome mats are an attempt to do what every news organization hopes to: to convert some of the nomads into natives. “We’re just trying to get them that little bit deeper into the site,” Boutet notes, and “to get them to develop some opinion or feeling about what the National Post is. And maybe next time, they’ll come back here natively.”

We often talk about the web’s effect on narrative, how its new grammars are changing the way we write and connect and even think. What we talk less about, though, is the web’s effect on the structures narratives operate within: assumptions about what constitutes relevance itself. “Archive,” we assume, is an analog concept. But there’s no need for it to be. There’s nothing to say that older stories can’t find new relevance in a networked environment — or that stories’ structures can’t leverage analytics in the same way that their narratives do. Welcome mats are one way to do that. (For Wordpress users, there’s even a handy plugin, WP Greet Box, that can generate those mats automatically.) Another might be, for example, to add specific social media buttons to stories when they’re seen by users who’ve reached the site from them. (Someone who came to a site from StumbleUpon might see StumbleUpon buttons on the site’s pages, for instance. A Digg visitor would see Digg buttons.)

Real-time analytics — in fact, the plethora of new metrics available for news organizations to learn and otherwise benefit from — mean that outlets have a fantastic new way to relate to their users and, of course, their products. Stories on news sites, Boutet notes, can feel very static. “We fire and forget, and they read it, and no one ever looks at it again.” But welcome mats, and similar real-time updates, can be small gestures of dynamism. “What we want to do is make people aware, in a subtle way, that this is all part of the communication between the reader and the editors of a site. We’re watching you watching us.”

November 05 2010

13:39

Cooks Source: What should Judith Griggs have done?

It’s barely 24 hours since the Cooks Source/Judith Griggs saga blew up, but so much has happened in that time that I thought it worth reflecting on how other publishers might handle a similar situation.

Although it’s an extreme example, the story has particular relevance to those publications that rely on Facebook or another web presence to publish material online and communicate with readers, and might at some point face a backlash on that platform.

In the case of Cooks Source, their Facebook page went from 100 ‘likes’ to over 3,000, as people ‘liked’ the page in order to post a critical comment (given the huge numbers of comments it’s fair to say there were many more people who un-’liked’ the page as soon as their comment was posted). The first question that many publishers looking at this might ask is defensive:

Should you have a Facebook page at all?

It would be easy to take the Cooks Source case as an indication that you shouldn’t have a Facebook page at all – on the basis that it might become hijacked by your critics or enemies. Or that if you do create a page you should do so in a way that does not allow postings to the wall.

The problem with this approach is that it misunderstands the fundamental shift in power between publisher and reader. Just as Monica Gaudio was able to tell the world about Judith’s cavalier attitude to copyright, not having a Facebook page (or blog, etc.) for your publication doesn’t prevent one existing at all.

In fact, if you don’t set up a space where your readers can communicate with you and each other, it’s likely that they’ll set one up themselves – and that introduces further problems.

If you don’t have a presence online, someone else will create a fake one to attack you with

After people heard about the Cooks Source story, it wasn’t long before some took the opportunity to set up fake Twitter accounts and a Facebook user account in Judith’s name.

These were used in various ways: to make information available (the Twitter account biography featured Judith’s phone number and email); to satirise Judith’s actions through mock-updates; and to tease easily-annoyed Facebook posters into angry responses.

Some people’s responses on Facebook to the ‘fake’ Judith suggested they did not realise that she was not the real thing, which leads to the next point.

A passive presence isn’t enough – be active

Judith obviously did have a Facebook account, but it was her slowness to respond to the critics that allowed others to impersonate her.

Indeed, it was several hours before Judith Griggs made any response on the Facebook page, and when she did it was through the page’s welcoming message – in other words, it was a broadcast.

This might be understandable given the unmanageable volume of comments that had been posted by this time – but her message was also therefore easily missed in the depths of the conversation, and it meant that the ‘fake’ Judith was able to continue to impersonate her in responses to those messages.

One way to focus her actions in a meaningful way might have been to do a ‘Find’ on “Griggs” and respond there to clarify that this person was an imposter.

Instead, by being passive Judith created a vacuum. The activity that filled that vacuum led in all directions, including investigating the magazine more broadly and contacting advertisers and stockists.

Climb down quickly and unreservedly

While being passive can create a vacuum, being active can – if not done in a considered way – also simply add fuel to the fire.

The message that Judith eventually posted did just that. “I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently [sic] it wasnt enough for her,” she wrote, before saying “You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…”".

This “blaming the victim”, as one wall poster described it, compounded the situation and merely confirmed Judith’s misunderstanding of the anger directed at her.

An apology clearly wasn’t what people wanted – or at least, not this sort of reserved apology.

A quicker, fuller response that demonstrated an understanding of her community would have made an enormous difference in channeling the energy that people poured into what became an increasingly aggressive campaign.

Engage with criticism elsewhere

The Cooks Source Facebook page wasn’t the only place where people were gathering to criticise and investigate the magazine. On Reddit hundreds of users collaborated to find other breaches of copyright, put up contact details for the copyright holders, and list advertisers that people could contact. Someone also created a Wikipedia entry to document Griggs’ instant notoriety.

Even if Judith had shut down the Facebook page (not a good idea – it would have merely added further fuel to the fire), the discussion – which had now become a campaign and investigation – was taking place elsewhere. Engaging in that in a positive way might have helped.

A magazine is not just content

One of the key principles demonstrated by the whole affair is that magazines are about much more than just the content inside, but about the community around it, and their values. This is what advertisers are buying into. When I asked one of Cooks Source’s advertisers why they decided to withdraw their support, this is what they said:

“I would estimate that between the emails, [Facebook] messages, calls, and people following us on Twitter, we’ve been contacted by more than 100 people since I first heard of this about 5 hours ago. That doesn’t include many many people who commented on fb to our posts stating that we had requested to pull our ads from the publication. We are just simply trying to run our small business, which by most standards is still in its infancy, and being associated with publications like this that don’t respect its readers (who are all our potential customers) is unacceptable to us in light of their practices. What angers me even more is the fact that it is being made light if by the Editor herself. It is disrupting our business and linking us to something we do not support.”

Postscript: How it unfolded, piece by piece

Kathy E Gill has a wonderfully detailed timeline of how the story broke and developed which offers further lessons in how a situation like this develops.

June 03 2010

21:31

April 02 2010

20:02

The Curator's Dilemma: Individuals and Institutions in News

I like to listen before I talk. Which means that during my morning routine I read before I write. But where to turn and what to read?

One of the most oft-repeated statements I heard at conferences last year: "our problem isn't information overload, it's crappy filters." In other words, we shouldn't complain about all that amazing, free information out there. We just need to get better at finding what we care about and ignoring the rest.

The podium speakers suggested that this would happen in two ways. First, through a variety of crowd recommendation sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, NewsTrust, and Delicious.

These algorithm-based, automated services would then be supplemented by a new wave of mega-content sites that are curated by human (often volunteer) editors: True/Slant, The Daily Beast, Global Voices, Huffington Post, Global Post.

But increasingly I'm finding that neither the crowd recommendation sites nor the human edited sites are my first stop for news. I still read quite a few blogs and I still check in at NYTimes.com, but at least half of what I read these days comes from links on Twitter. To everyone's surprise, Twitter has turned out to be less an inane lifelog of what we ate for lunch and much more a streaming list of cleverly editorialized headlines with links to the main article. For many of us, Twitter is becoming the front page of our morning newspaper. Either in perception or in practice, our reporters are becoming our friends and our friends are becoming the editors of our Twitter-based newspaper.

As a curation of news and interest, Twitter has its pros and cons. The re-tweet function spreads news across networks of followers. Cultural rituals like "Follow Friday" introduce new individuals into like-minded networks. Hashtags allow discussions to take place around certain topics or events.

But perhaps no form of communication - other than arguments between couples - has a more frustrating permanent archive than Twitter. What you post today is just about gone forever tomorrow. (You can only search for a message that has been posted on Twitter in the past 10 days. After that it disappears into the deep sea of the forgotten.)

Twitter as a tool for curation has helped a few special twitterers become practically professional curators. Maria Popova is a native of Sofia, Bulgaria now based in Los Angeles who describes herself as "a cultural curator and curious mind at large." Which is to say that she graduated from college in 2007, started a blog ("curating eclectic interestingness from culture's collective brain"), and then began posting interesting links on Twitter as if it were a way to earn income. In a way it was. Maria was featured in a New York Times blog post by Nick Bilton which drew the conclusion that "we are all human aggregators now", and which also drew a lot more attention to Miss Popova. In addition to her day job at TBWA\Chiat\Day, she has also taken her curatorial skills to TED, Good Magazine, and Wired UK.

Last year we thought that the problem of crappy information filters would be solved either by fancy algorithms on crowd recommendation sites like Digg and StumpleUpon, or with the help of new, human-edited portals like the Huffington Post and Global Voices. Instead it seems that many of us are increasingly depending on individuals; talented curators of the web like Popova, Gina Trapani, and Andrew Sullivan.

In 2005 the rise of the weblog was supposed to turn us all into pundits, voicing our opinions on this matter and that. Five years later, notes Marisa Meltzer in The American Prospect, and everyone seems more interested in curation than opinion: "With blogs, everyone became a critic. With Tumblr, everyone's a curator."

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If "crappy filters" was one of the big conference talking points last year, then "online curation" is quickly making a name for itself this year. Robert Scoble - a conference careerist - says it is the word he hears the most these days, especially at last month's SXSW. (Though Andrew Lih said that 'curation' was also the word of the day at the 2009 SXSW.)

All of this talk about the individual curator has me wondering about the future of news organizations. When someone visits Global Voices or the Daily Beast are they coming for a view of the world through the eyes of the entire organization, or do they come specifically for particular writers and editors who they've come to trust?

Personally I visit The Atlantic for Jeffrey Goldberg and Graeme Wood. When I go to Foreign Policy it's specifically to read the latest from Joshua Keating, Evgeny Morozov, and Marc Lynch. I have absolutely no interest in TechCrunch, but I do try to keep up on the latest from Paul Carr, who happens to write there.

Maybe I am the outlier here, the one who spends too much time reading news and too much time following the evolution of thought and interests of certain individuals. But I also feel like this is a general trend for everyone - that we all are increasingly depending on individuals and not organizations to curate the day's news for us.

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