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May 31 2013

14:08

This Week in Review: Debating journalists’ role in DOJ seizures, and Facebook tackles hate speech

james-rosen-fox-news

Blame for both the DOJ and journalists: The story of the U.S. Department of Justice’s seizure of news organizations’ phone and email records moved into “who knew what and when” stage, especially regarding the case of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Fox didn’t know Rosen’s phone records and emails had been taken until it became public last week, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that its parent company, News Corp., was notified by the DOJ in 2010 but didn’t tell Fox.

News Corp. issued some mixed signals in response, initially saying it had no record of notification from the DOJ but eventually conceding that it didn’t dispute the DOJ’s claim that notification was sent. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put forward a theory as to why it’s in News Corp.’s interest to be more deferential to the Obama administration DOJ, but in Fox News’ interest to be more antagonistic. However, The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve noted that Fox News doesn’t have a very good track record on advocating for journalists’ freedom in these cases.

The metastasizing issue — coupled with the DOJ’s seizure of what the Associated Press claims is “thousands and thousands” of its phone records — has led Attorney General Eric Holder to plan a meeting with the top representatives of several major news organizations to hash out guidelines for DOJ intrusion. Several news organizations, including The New York Times and AP, announced, however, that they wouldn’t attend the meeting because it’s set to be off the record. The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman wrote a thorough piece on Holder’s regrets in these cases, saying that it’s not part of the progressive image in which he views himself, and Salon’s Alex Pareene explained why Holder’s likely to keep his job despite the outcry.

In a pair of stories, The New York Times reported on the remarkable scale of many of the Obama administration’s leak inquiries and journalists’ charges that such efforts are creating a chilling effect on investigative journalism on the federal government. Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian expressed his dismay at journalists’ lack of action against the administration’s actions: In the current climate, he said, “it’s very difficult to imagine the US press corps taking any meaningful steps to push back against these attacks. And as long as that’s true, it’s very hard to see why the Obama administration would possibly stop doing it.”

At the same time, several others argued that the press’s self-defense reaction is a bit too knee-jerk in this case. Slate’s Fred Kaplan and The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus both argued that Rosen’s source was not a whistleblower exposing corruption but someone simply breaking the law and revealing harmful information. And Reuters’ Jack Shafer contended that Obama has not declared war on the press, as his crusade against leaks has been much more on the supply side than the demand side.

Still others, including Peter Sterne of the New York Observer and Matthew Cooper of the National Journal, were concerned that the proposed shield law wouldn’t do enough to protect journalists. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tried to find a middle way between their concern for journalists and the objections of those such as Pincus.

Facebook rape ad

Facebook, hate speech, and censorship: Yet another debate over Facebook’s control over its users’ content simmered this week, though it was a bit different from the privacy flaps of the past. A coalition of feminist groups called Women, Action, and the Media wrote an open letter to Facebook last week urging it to remove content that trivializes or glorifies violence against women, noting that Facebook already moderates what it considers hate speech and pornographic content.

The groups also campaigned to Facebook’s advertisers, succeeding in getting several of them to pull their advertising until Facebook took some action. Facebook ultimately responded by posting a statement saying it hadn’t policed gender-related hate speech as well as it should have and vowing to take several steps to more closely moderate such content. The New York Times has a good, quick summary tying together the advertiser campaign and Facebook’s response.

While Valleywag’s Sam Biddle argued that all Facebook did was try to placate those protesting rather than commit to any real action, while Forbes’ Kashmir Hill and Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted that Facebook probably didn’t do this out of any morally consistent concern over content, but simply because of advertiser pressure. Hill concluded that “the procedure appears to be that they will draw the line when advertisers start complaining to them,” and Shafer argued that Facebook has only pushed this discourse underground, further away from the voices of reason and shame.

And while everyone seemed to agree that Facebook’s well within its rights to police speech on its own platform (and that it’s clamping down on a particularly heinous form of speech in this case), they also wondered about the precedent. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered about the slippery slope of what Facebook considers hate speech.

newsweek feature

Newsweek on the block (again): Variety reported that IAC is attempting to sell Newsweek, a month after its chairman, Barry Diller, called his purchase of the magazine a “mistake.” IAC shut down Newsweek’s print edition at the end of 2012, turning it into a web-only publication. As Variety noted, most every indicator at Newsweek — subscriptions, traffic, cash flow — is trending downward.

Newsweek confirmed the attempted sale with an internal memo, saying that Newsweek is drawing resources away from its sister site, The Daily Beast. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici offered a more detailed explanation: Diller bought Newsweek thinking he needed a print publication to supplement its digital ad base, but since it’s failed at that, it’s become a mere distraction (and drag on the bottom line). Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan urged prospective buyers to stay away, though Mathew Ingram of paidContent offered some tips for its new owner: drop the paywall, aggregate, go deep on particular topics, develop a strong voice, and embrace mobile.

Reading roundup: Despite the quiet week overall, there were several smaller stories to watch:

— Rob Fishman of BuzzFeed wrote a thoughtful piece questioning whether the social media editor might be an endangered species at news organizations, as engagement with social media becomes a deeper part of each journalists’ work and routines. Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa (more on him in a bit) said social media editors are more important than ever, and Digital First’s Mandy Jenkins countered that many news organizations (especially smaller ones) still have a need for someone dedicated to newsroom-wide social media integration and gave some useful advice about how to do it. Elsewhere in social media, Twitter said it wants to partner with media companies rather than become one of them, and Jeswin and Jesse Koepke talked on Medium about how undo Facebook’s massification of online social interaction.

— One of the news industry’s most prominent social media editors, Anthony De Rosa, announced he’s leaving Reuters to join Circa, the startup that summarizes top news stories by breaking them down into “atomic units.” PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram explained what Circa’s up to, and Fast Company’s Anjali Mullany published a Q&A with De Rosa about his plans there.

— A few News Corp. pieces: It announced it will officially split into a publishing company (called News Corp.) and an entertainment company (21st Century Fox) on June 28. It introduced its retooled News Corp. logo, and the new News Corp.’s head, Robert Thomson, declared that it would have “relentless” cuts in store after the split.

— BuzzFeed announced a new YouTube channel featuring video through a partnership with CNN. The Wall Street Journal explained what’s behind both companies’ move deeper into online video.

— Finally, a couple of smart pieces on the native advertising phenomenon: CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis made the case against news orgs getting into native advertising, and Publish2′s Scott Karp laid out some of the difficulties of making native advertising scale.

July 08 2011

15:00

The Big Soup: Anthony De Rosa on becoming Reuters social media editor and the ambient wire for news

It was a surprise that wasn’t so surprising. When it was announced Anthony De Rosa would become social media editor for Reuters.com, it was hard to avoid thinking: Yeah, that makes sense.

De Rosa is to Reuters what Andy Carvin is to NPR, a relentless social media news machine. He’s everywhere, following everything and constantly updating it all on his Twitter feed and Tumblr, from Syria and Egypt to the vagaries of Anthony Weiner’s tweeting habits. He has been called “The Undisputed King of Tumblr” and one of the top 20 people to follow on Twitter. And De Rosa did it all while working as a product manager and technologist for Reuters.

Reuters is looking to lay claim to a broader audience outside its financial, business, and legal products by becoming a larger player in news in the U.S. This week they also unveiled the beta version of a newsier redesign of Reuters.com. But if Reuters is looking to meet or beat the likes of The New York Times, the Associated Press, or NPR, staking out that territory also means getting a handle on using new platforms for the sourcing, discovery, and delivery of news. “We want to make Reuters more of a mainstream name for news. It’s a big name for professionals and a big name for people looking for actionable information,” De Rosa said. “We want to continue to do that, but we want to expand out to a broad, mainstream audience as well.”

In his new job De Rosa will continue to do what he’s done, just on a broader scale with bigger stakes.

“The thing I’m most excited about is trying to add more of an element of the news that breaks on the ambient wire of Twitter and Facebook and other social networks, where you have journalists and citizen journalists putting up videos, photos, or just messages,” he told me.

Unlike many positions at news outlets, “social media editor” is still a bit undefined, combining the practicalities of integrating technology with the missionary work of convincing people of its value. That’s a task De Rosa said he’s glad to take on, showing other journalists the benefits of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr as as means of connecting the audience to news as well as the sources behind it all. “That really starts to build a trust factor and familiarity, and once you get that you can be the arbiter, or navigator if you will, of what you need to know today,” he said.

Reuters is already a formidable news organization, one our own Ken Doctor says has the largest news staff in the world. Social media is a way of further leveraging all of that talent, De Rosa said. What he’d like to see is Reuters becoming part of that “ambient wire,” the unceasing (and often unfiltered) flow of news that takes place on social networks. That means increasing journalists usage of social media, but also finding ways of incorporating the information being produced by others, including non journalists.

“We can be curators and navigators for all the news out there, not just the stuff we’re producing but from citizens and other networks,” he said. That carves out a new kind of value to readers, De Rosa said, that relies not just on Reuters’ wealth of reporting and resources, but also on its willingness to experiment and take part in a broader community.

Consider the example De Rosa has already created: His blog Soup spans coverage of uprisings in the Middle East to U.S. politics, sports, and entertainment, all culled from the ether, curated and served up at all-too-frequent clip for a guy busy with a day job. As a result, he’s got 9,000 followers on Twitter and somewhere around 25,000 Tumblr followers. He’s been cited by NBC New York, The Today Show, The New York Times (by David Carr no less), and yes, even Jon Stewart. It’s a small-scale media enterprise, all predicated on social media monitoring, journalistic savvy, and, as De Rosa says, a natural curiosity. “I’ve worked with lots of different publications over the years. I’ve been a writer. I’m interested in sports, technology and politics. I could never see myself not producing some kind of content even though my role was more of a product role,” he said.

The lessons from his blog will also carry over to his new job, in trying to find ways to give people comprehensive and useful information, but also, well, in using Tumblr. It should be no surprise that De Rosa wants to expand the use of Tumblr and find ways for Reuters to explore the platform. The value of Tumblr, he said, is as an in-between medium, something that can offer the succinctness of Twitter, but also the rich content of Facebook. The other plus, particularly for news organizations, is the ease of use: “It’s another interesting way to present the news, a platform that kind of ties into what we’re doing on our main website but allows us to do it in a more nimble way. It allows us to publish quicker and get stories out faster.” Beyond curating content from others, Tumblr could provide a unique experience for specific types of proprietary content, like Q&As or events with video, De Rosa said. He points to examples like the Brian Stelter’s reporting on tornados in Joplin, Missouri for The New York Times, using Tumblr as a way to deliver news, connect with readers and build anticipation for stories on NYTimes.com.

For Stelter, Carvin, De Rosa, or his Reuters colleague Felix Salmon, there’s a reason they’ve built up social media followings: personality. De Rosa has a theory for this as well. As much as technical proficiency, connections, and the urgency of breaking events can help build a following, the audience ultimately wants to feel like they are connected to the news and the people delivering it. That’s a lesson for news organizations and individual journalists, not to mention something else De Rosa is familiar with.

“You need someone to be the human face, almost like an anchor on television,” he said. “I think that applies to social networks. You need someone who is an ambassador. It doesn’t have to be one person — it can be multiple people.”

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