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July 01 2013

13:56

Open Data Directory, Barriers to Open Government Data and a Distributed Data Supply Chain

This week's data digest features plans for an Open Data Directory and attempts to understand barriers to open government data. Some great examples of how open data is transforming journalism are also featured and thoughts on the need to build a distributed data supply chain is expressed.

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June 28 2013

15:00

This Week in Review: The backlash against Greenwald and Snowden, and RSS’s new wave

glenn-greenwald-cc

Greenwald, journalism, and advocacy: It’s been three weeks since the last review, and a particularly eventful three weeks at that. So this review will cover more than just the last week, but it’ll be weighted toward the most recent stuff. I’ll start with the U.S. National Security Agency spying revelations, covering first the reporter who broke them (Glenn Greenwald), then his source (Edward Snowden), and finally a few brief tech-oriented pieces of the news itself.

Nearly a month since the first stories on U.S. government data-gathering, Greenwald, who runs an opinionated and meticulously reported blog for the Guardian, continues to break news of further electronic surveillance, including widespread online metadata collection by the Obama administration that continues today, despite the official line that it ended in 2011. Greenwald’s been the object of scrutiny himself, with a thorough BuzzFeed profile on his past as an attorney and questions from reporters about old lawsuits, back taxes, and student loan debt.

The rhetoric directed toward Greenwald by other journalists was particularly fierce: The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin said on CNBC he’s “almost arrest” Greenwald (he later apologized), and most notably, NBC’s David Gregory asked Greenwald “to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden,” why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple refuted Gregory’s line of questioning point-by-point and also examined the legal case for prosecuting Greenwald (there really isn’t one).

There were several other breakdowns of Gregory’s questions as a way of defending himself as a professional journalist by excluding Greenwald as one; of these, NYU professor Jay Rosen’s was the definitive take. The Los Angeles Times’ Benjamin Mueller seconded his point, arguing that by going after Greenwald’s journalistic credentials, “from behind the veil of impartiality, Gregory and his colleagues went to bat for those in power, hiding a dangerous case for tightening the journalistic circle.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm argued that Gregory is endangering himself by defining journalism based on absence of opinion, and The New York Times’ David Carr called for journalists to show some solidarity on behalf of transparency. PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram used the case to argue that the “bloggers vs. journalists” tension remains important, and Greenwald himself said it indicated the incestuous relationship between Washington journalists and those in power.

A few, like Salon’s David Sirota, turned the questions on Gregory, wondering why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime, since he too has disclosed classified information. Or why he should be considered a journalist, given his track record of subservience to politicians, as New York magazine’s Frank Rich argued.

Earlier, Rosen had attempted to mediate some of the criticism of Greenwald by arguing that there are two valid ways of approaching journalism — with or without politics — that are both necessary for a strong press. Former newspaper editor John L. Robinson added a call for passion in journalism, while CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi both went further and argued that all journalism is advocacy.

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Snowden and leaking in public: The other major figure in the aftermath of this story has been Edward Snowden, the employee of a national security contractor who leaked the NSA information to Greenwald and revealed his identity shortly after the story broke. The U.S. government charged Snowden with espionage (about which Greenwald was understandably livid), as he waited in Hong Kong, not expecting to see home again.

The first 48 hours of this week were a bit of blur: Snowden applied for asylum in Ecuador (the country that’s been harboring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange), then reportedly left Hong Kong for Moscow. But Snowden wasn’t on a scheduled flight from Moscow to Cuba, creating confusion about where exactly he was — and whether he was ever in Moscow in the first place. He did all this with the apparent aid of WikiLeaks, whose leaders claimed that they know where Snowden is and that they could publish the rest of his NSA documents. It was a bit of a return to the spotlight for WikiLeaks, which has nonetheless remained on the FBI’s radar for the last several years, with the bureau even paying a WikiLeaks volunteer as an informant.

We got accounts from the three journalists Snowden contacted — Greenwald, The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, and filmmaker Laura Poitras — about their interactions with him, as well as a probe by New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan into why he didn’t go to The Times. In a pair of posts, paidContent’s Mathew Ingram argued that the leak’s path showed that having a reputation as an alternative voice can be preferable to being in the mainstream when it comes to some newsgathering, and that news will flow to wherever it finds the least resistance. The Times’ David Carr similarly concluded that news stories aren’t as likely to follow established avenues of power as they used to.

As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described, news organizations debated whether to call Snowden a “leaker,” “source,” or “whistleblower,” Several people, including The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta and Forbes’ Tom Watson, tried to explain why Snowden was garnering less popular support than might be expected, while The New Yorker’s John Cassidy detailed the backlash against Snowden in official circles, which, as Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post pointed out, was made largely with the aid of anonymity granted by journalists.

Numerous people, such as Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast, also decried that backlash, with Ben Smith of BuzzFeed making a particularly salient point: Journalists have long disregarded their sources’ personal motives and backgrounds in favor of the substance of the information they provide, and now that sources have become more public, the rest of us are going to have to get used to that, too. The New York Times’ David Carr also noted that “The age of the leaker as Web-enabled public figure has arrived.”

Finally the tech angle: The Prism program that Snowden leaked relied on data from tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo, and those companies responded first by denying their direct involvement in the program, then by competing to show off their commitment to transparency, as Time’s Sam Gustin reported. First, Google asked the U.S. government for permission to reveal all their incoming government requests for information, followed quickly by Facebook and Microsoft. Then, starting with Facebook, those companies released the total number of government requests for data they’ve received, though Google and Twitter pushed to be able to release more specific numbers. Though there were early reports of special government access to those companies’ servers, Google reported that it uses secure FTP to transfer its data to the government.

Instagram’s bet on longer (but still short) video: Facebook’s Instagram moved into video last week, announcing 15-second videos, as TechCrunch reported in its good summary of the new feature. That number drew immediate comparisons to the six-second looping videos of Twitter’s Vine. As The New York Times noted, length is the primary difference between the two video services (though TechCrunch has a pretty comprehensive comparison), and Instagram is betting that longer videos will be better.

The reason isn’t aesthetics: As Quartz’s Christopher Mims pointed out, the ad-friendly 15-second length fits perfectly with Facebook’s ongoing move into video advertising. As soon as Instagram’s video service was released, critics started asking a question that would’ve seemed absurd just a few years ago: Is 15 seconds too long? Josh Wolford of WebProNews concluded that it is indeed too much, at least for the poorly produced amateur content that will dominate the service. At CNET, Danny Sullivan tried to make peace with the TL;DR culture behind Vine and Instagram Video.

Several tech writers dismissed it on sight: John Gruber of Daring Fireball gave it a terse kiss-off, while Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained why he won’t use it — can’t be easily scanned, and a low signal-to-noise ratio — though he said it could be useful for advertisers and kids. PandoDaily’s Nathaniel Mott argued that Instagram’s video (like Instagram itself) is more about vanity-oriented presentation than useful communication. And both John Herrman of BuzzFeed and Farhad Manjoo of Slate lamented the idea that Instagram and Facebook seem out of ideas, with Manjoo called it symptomatic of the tech world in general. “Instead of invention, many in tech have fallen into the comfortable groove of reinvention,” Manjoo wrote.

Chris Gayomali of The Week, however, saw room for both Vine and Instagram to succeed. Meanwhile, Nick Statt of ReadWrite examined the way Instagram’s filters have changed the way photography is seen, even among professional photographers and photojournalists.

google-reader-mark-all-as-readThe post-Google Reader RSS rush: As Google Reader approaches its shutdown Monday, several other companies are taking the opportunity to jump into the suddenly reinvigorated RSS market. AOL launched its own Reader this week, and old favorite NetNewsWire relaunched a new reader as well.

Based on some API code, there was speculation that Facebook could be announcing its own RSS reader soon. That hasn’t happened, though The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is working on a Flipboard-like mobile aggregation device. GigaOM’s Eliza Kern explained why she wouldn’t want a Facebook RSS feed, while Fast Company’s Chris Dannen said a Facebook RSS reader could actually help solve the “filter bubble” like-minded information problem.

Sarah Perez of TechCrunch examined the alternatives to Google Reader, concluding disappointedly that there simply isn’t a replacement out there for it. Her colleague, Darrell Etherington, chided tech companies for their reactionary stance toward RSS development. Carol Kopp of Minyanville argued, however, that much of the rush toward RSS development is being driven just as much by a desire to crack the mobile-news nut, something she believed could be accomplished. RSS pioneer Dave Winer was also optimistic about its future, urging developers to think about “What would news do?” in order to reshape it for a new generation.

Reading roundup: A few of the other stories you might have missed over the past couple of weeks:

— Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, who had built up a reputation as a maverick through his stellar, incisive reporting on foreign affairs, was killed in a car accident last week at age 33. Several journalists — including BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, Slate’s David Weigel, and freelancer Corey Pein — wrote warm, inspiring remembrances of a fearless journalist and friend. Time’s James Poniewozik detected among reporters in general “maybe a little shame that more of us don’t always remember who our work is meant to serve” in their responses to Hastings’ death.

— Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism issued a study based on a survey of nonprofit news organizations that provided some valuable insights into the state of nonprofit journalism. The Lab’s Justin Ellis, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, and J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer explained the findings. Media analyst Alan Mutter urged nonprofit news orgs to put more focus on financial sustainability, while Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center called on their funders to do the same thing.

— Oxford’s Reuters Institute also issued a survey-based study whose findings focused on consumers’ willingness to pay for news. The Lab’s Sarah Darville and BBC News’ Leo Kelion summarized the findings, while paidContent’s Mathew Ingram gave an anti-paywall reading. The Press Gazette also highlighted a side point in the study — the popularity of live blogs.

— Texas state politics briefly grabbed a much broader spotlight this week with state Sen. Wendy Davis’ successful 13-hour filibuster of a controversial abortion bill. Many people noticed that coverage of the filibuster (and surrounding protest) was propelled by digital photo and video, rather than cable news. VentureBeat’s Meghan Kelly, Time’s James Poniewozik, and The Verge’s Carl Franzen offered explanations.

— Finally, a couple of reads from the folks at Digital First, one sobering and another inspiring: CEO John Paton made the case for the inadequacy of past-oriented models in sustaining newspapers, and digital editor Steve Buttry collected some fantastic advice for students on shaping the future of journalism.

Photos of Glenn Greenwald by Gage Skidmore and Edward Snowden stencil by Steve Rhodes used under a Creative Commons license. Instagram video by @bakerbk.

June 11 2013

17:48

Privacy versus transparency: Connecticut bans access to many homicide records post-Newtown

Editor’s note: Our friends at Harvard’s Digital Media Law Project wrote this interesting post on the new, Newtown-inspired limits on public access to information about homicides in Connecticut. We thought it was worth amplifying, so we’re republishing it here.

digital-media-law-project-dmlp-cmlpAt a time when citizens increasingly call for government transparency, the Connecticut legislature recently passed a bill to withhold graphic information depicting homicides from the public in response to records from last December’s devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Though secret discussions drafting this bill reportedly date back to at least early April, the bill did not become public knowledge until an email was leaked to the Hartford Courant on May 21. The initial draft of what became Senate Bill 1149 offered wide protection specifically for families of victims of the December 14 shootings, preventing disclosure of public photographs, videos, 911 audio recordings, death certificates, and more.

Since then, there has been a whirlwind of activity in Connecticut. After a Fox reporter brought to the attention of Newtown families a blog post by Michael Moore suggesting the gruesome photos should be released, parents of children lost in the terrible shooting banded together to write a petition to “keep Sandy Hook crime scene information private.” The petition, which received over 100,000 signatures in a matter of days, aimed to “urge the Connecticut legislature to pass a law that would keep sensitive information, including photos and audio, about this tragic day private and out of the hands of people who’d like to misuse it for political gain.”

As this petition was clearly concerned about exploitation by Moore and others, Moore later clarified his position, emphasizing that the photos should not be released without the parents’ permission. Rather, he spoke about the potential significance of these photos if used voluntarily to resolve the gun control debate, in the same manner that Emmet Till’s mother releasing a photo of her son killed by the KKK influenced the civil rights movement.

Like the petitioners, members of the Connecticut legislature responded with overwhelming support for SB 1149. Working into the early hours of June 4, the last day of the legislative session, the state Senate and House approved the bill 33-2 and 130-2, respectively. The bill as approved exempts photographs, film, video, digital or other images depicting a homicide victim from being part of the public record “to the extent that such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.” The bill particularly protects child victims, exempting from disclosure the names of victims and witnesses under 18 years old. It would also limit disclosure of audio records of emergency and other law enforcement calls as public records, such that portions describing the homicide victim’s condition would not have to be released, though this provision will be reevaluated by a 17-member task force by May 2014.

Though more limited in scope than the original draft with respect of the types of materials that may not be disclosed, this final bill addresses all homicides committed in the state, not only the massacre in Newtown. It was signed by Governor Dannel Malloy within twelve hours of the legislature’s vote and took effect immediately.

From the beginning, this topic has raised concerns with respect to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act and government transparency. In addition to being drafted in secrecy, the bill was not subjected to the traditional public hearing process. All four representatives who voted against SB 1149 raised these democratic concerns, challenging the process and scope of this FOI exemption. This blogger agrees that in its rush to appropriately protect the grieving families of Newtown before the session ended, Connecticut’s legislature went too far in promoting privacy over public access to records, namely with respect to the broad extension of the bill to all homicides and limitations on releasing 911 calls.

Though influenced primarily by the plight of those in Newtown, SB 1149 makes no distinction based on the gravity or brutality of the homicide, or any other factor that may relate to the strength of the privacy interest. Instead, it restricts access to traditionally public records for all homicides in the state, reaching far beyond the massacre at Sandy Hook. As the Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said with respect to photographs depicting injuries to victims and recordings of their distress, “it seems to me that the intrusion of the privacy of the individuals outweighs any public interest in seeing these.” Pressure to expand the bill as Kane desired came primarily from advocates of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. They criticized the fairness of differentiating between the protection owed to Newtown families and that due the families of homicide victims in urban areas, where homicides occur more frequently.

This fairness and equality based argument raises valid concerns about how the legislature is drawing the line between protected and unprotected records: If limited to the shootings at Sandy Hook, then in the future, what level of severity would make visual records of a killing “worthy” of exemption from disclosure? But an all-inclusive exemption like the one Connecticut passed goes too far in restricting the public’s access to important public records. It restricts public access to information so long as a minimal privacy interest is established, regardless of the strength of the interest in disclosure. While restricting the release of photos of the young children who lost their lives this past December is based in a strong privacy interest that far outweighs the public or governmental interest, the same cannot be said for every homicide that has occurred or will occur in the state. The potential lasting consequences of this substantial exemption from the FOIA should not be overlooked or minimized in the face of today’s tragedy.

SB1149 is also problematic in that it extends to recordings of emergency calls. While there is some precedent for restricting access to gruesome photos and video after a tragedy, this is far more limited with respect to audio recordings. Recordings have been made available to the public after many of our nation’s tragic shootings, including the recordings from the first responders to Aurora, 911 calls and surveillance video footage from Columbine, as well as 911 calls from the Hartford Distributors and Trayvon Martin shootings. While a compromise was reached in permitting the general release of these recordings, the bill includes a provision that prevents disclosure of audio segments describing the victim’s condition. Although there is a stronger interest in limiting access to the full descriptions of the child victims at Sandy Hook, weighing in favor of nondisclosure in that limited circumstance, emergency response recordings should be released in their entirety in the majority of homicide cases.

This aspect of the law in particular may have grave consequences for the future of the state’s transparency. Records of emergency calls traditionally become public records and are used by the media and ordinary citizens alike to evaluate law enforcement and their response to emergencies. The condition of the victim is an essential element of evaluating law enforcement response. As the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sonny Albarado, noted, “If you hide away documents from the public, then the public has no way of knowing whether police…have done their jobs correctly.” In other words, these calls serve as an essential check on government. As a nation which strives for an informed and engaged citizenry, making otherwise public records unavailable is rarely a good thing and should be done with more public discussion and caution than recently afforded by Connecticut’s legislature.

Connecticut’s bill demonstrates a frightening trend away from access and transparency. Colleen Murphy, the executive director of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, has observed a gradual change in “toward more people asking questions about why should the public have access to information instead of why shouldn’t they.” It has never been easy to balance privacy rights with the freedom of information, and this is undoubtedly more difficult in today’s digital age where materials uploaded to the Internet exist forever. Still, our commitment to self-regulation, progress, and the First Amendment weighs in favor of disclosure. Exceptions should be limited to circumstances, like the Newtown shooting, where the privacy interest strongly outweighs the public’s interest in accessing information. As the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information wrote in a letter to Governor Malloy, “History has demonstrated repeatedly that governments must favor disclosure. Only an informed society can make informed judgments on issues of great moment.”

Kristin Bergman is an intern at the Digital Media Law Project and a rising 3L at William & Mary Law School. Republished from the Digital Media Law Project blog.

Photo of Connecticut state capitol by Jimmy Emerson used under a Creative Commons license.

March 25 2013

15:51

We are Manning

I have just one problem with David Carr’s good column decrying government opacity in the prosecution and trial of Bradley Manning: He lets us in the press (as well as in the chattering blog class) off easy.

Carr doesn’t mention the wrist-slap given The Times by its own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, for not sending a reporter to the Manning hearings.

He also gives newspapers as a group a too-easy excuse for not covering Manning: “Yet coverage has been limited, partly by the court’s restrictions and partly because an increasingly stretched news media business often does not have the time, or the resources, to cover lengthy trials.”

We aren’t going to use that excuse all the time now, are we? “Oh, we couldn’t cover that story vital to the nation and the fate of a free press because not enough of you are paying or because retail advertisers are dying or because Google took our customers.” Yes, our resources are scarce — always have been — and getting scarcer. But this is still a matter of news judgment. What was covered while Manning wasn’t? I’ll bet we can find stories to have sacrificed.

If we’re going to argue that the public still needs editors and their news judgment, then it’s a tad disingenuous to say that this is a story of vital national interest that the government has been trying to hide from us but we don’t have the time to cover it. Isn’t that precisely the story we should be covering? Isn’t coverage just what is needed to keep a watch on government and its efforts at secrecy?

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, whom Carr quotes, has maintained coverage of the Manning story long after the splash of the Wikileaks revelations that both papers carried — thus he helps to secure the Guardian’s role as a truly international news organization. Greg Mitchell has also been diligent in pursuing the story. Beyond that, there has been too little coverage from The Times and other U.S. news organizations.

And there has been too little discussion from bloggers like me, I’ll confess. I care about openness, about journalism, and about over-aggressive prosecutions and legislation that demonize technology. So I should have been talking about Manning more and also about the case of Aaron Swartz. These are stories central to the fate of free speech. In both cases, I fear the attention came too little, too late, which makes it all the more vital that we concentrate on them now, for every reason Carr gives.

May 03 2012

19:47

What to do when text tells you nothing

As it turns out, journalists aren't the only ones stymied and frustrated by badly scanned records and hard-to-parse legislation -- developers are too. And at Transparency Camp, they talked about how to join forces to fix it. Read More »

April 30 2012

14:00

How to Contribute to OpenStreetMap and Grow the Open Geodata Set

Hundreds of delegates from government, civil society, and business gathered in Brasilia recently for the first Open Government Partnership meetings since the inception of this initiative. Transparency, accountability, and open data as fundamental building blocks of a new, open form of government were the main issues debated. With the advent of these meetings, we took the opportunity to expand an open data set by adding street names to OpenStreetMap.

Getting ready to survey the Cruzeiro neighborhood in Brasilia.

OpenStreetMap, sometimes dubbed the "Wikipedia of maps," is an open geospatial database. Anyone can go to openstreetmap.org, create an account, and add to the world map. The accessibility of this form of contribution, paired with the openness of its common data repository, holds a powerful promise of commoditized geographic data.

As this data repository evolves, along with corresponding tools, many more people gain access to geospatial analysis and publishing -- which previously was limited to a select few.

When Steve Coast founded OpenStreetMap in 2004, the proposition to go out and crowdsource a map of the world must have sounded ludicrous to most. After pivotal growth in 2008 and the widely publicized rallying around mapping Haiti in 2010, the OpenStreetMap community has proven how incredibly powerful a free-floating network of contributors can be. There are more than 500,000 OpenStreetMap contributors today. About 3 percent (that's still a whopping 15,000 people) contribute a majority of the data, with roughly 1,300 contributors joining each week. Around the time when Foursquare switched to OpenStreetMap and Apple began using OpenStreetMap data in iPhoto, new contributors jumped to about 2,300 per month.

As the OpenGovernment Partnership meetings took place, we wanted to show people how easy it is to contribute to OpenStreetMap. So two days before the meetings kicked off, we invited attendees to join us for a mapping party, where we walked and drove around neighborhoods surveying street names and points of interest. This is just one technique for contributing to OpenStreetMap, one that is quite simple and fun.

Here's a rundown of the most common ways people add data to OpenStreetMap.

Getting started

It takes two minutes to get started with contributing to OpenStreetMap. First, create a user account on openstreetmap.org. You can then immediately zoom to your neighborhood, hit the edit button, and get to work. We recommend that you also download the JOSM editor, which is needed for more in-depth editing.

Once you start JOSM, you can download an area of OpenStreetMap data, edit it, and then upload it. Whatever you do, it's crucial to add a descriptive commit message when uploading -- this is very helpful for other contributors to out figure the intent and context of an edit. Common first edits are adding street names to unnamed roads, fixing typos, and adding points of interest like a hospital or a gas station. Keep in mind that any information you add to OpenStreetMap must be observed fact or taken from data in the public domain -- so, for instance, copying street names from Google is a big no-no.

Satellite tracing and GPS data

JOSM allows for quick tracing of satellite images. You can simply turn on a satellite layer and start drawing the outlines of features that can be found there such as streets, building foot prints, rivers, and forests. Using satellite imagery is a great way to create coverage fast. We've blogged before about how to do this. Here's a look at our progress tracing Brasilia in preparation for the OGP meetings:

Brasilia progress

OpenStreetMap contributions in Brasilia between April 5 and April 12.

In places where good satellite imagery isn't available, a GPS tracker goes a long way. OpenStreetMap offers a good comparison of GPS units. Whichever device you use, the basics are the same -- you track an area by driving or walking around and later load the data into JOSM, where you can clean it up, classify it, and upload it into OpenStreetMap.

Synchronizing your camera with your tracker

Synchronizing your camera with the GPS unit.

Walking papers

For our survey in Brasilia, we used walking papers, which are simple printouts of OpenStreetMap that let you jot down notes on paper. This is a great tool for on-the-ground surveys to gather street names and points of interest. It's as simple as you'd imagine. You walk or drive around a neighborhood and write up information that you see that's missing in OpenStreetMap. Check out our report of our efforts doing this in Brasilia on our blog.

Walking papers for Brasilia.

Further reading

For more details on how to contribute to OpenStreetMap, check out Learn OSM -- it's a great resource with step-by-step guides for the most common OpenStreetMap tasks. Also feel free to send us questions directly via @mapbox.

December 30 2011

15:20

The 5 Tenets of Open Journalism

I'm not a middle-of-the-roader and wasn't aiming for a compromise position with my discussion paper, "The Case for Open Journalism Now: A new framework for informing communities," published early this month by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab. Instead, I sought to identify and propel a culture shift that might build a healthier relationship among those who produce journalism and others who consume news and information.

Yet the values and emerging practices I call open journalism stand apart from the polarizing intramural debate on whether quality journalism in the future will come from institutions, information networks or individuals. (Answer: yes.) This intermittent fight, which broke out again following a recent Dean Starkman piece in CJR, forces people into corners. After a recent USC Annenberg event at the National Press Club where I gave a talk on this paper, a young journalism academic told me he hadn't read "The Case for Open Journalism Now" but added, "I'm probably against it -- the whole thing."

Open journalism should be up for debate, like any idea, but it's built squarely on some of the traditional journalism values we're so quick to protect. "Open journalism" just gives it a name and now, a better roadmap for two-way journalism in the digital era (see the five tenets below).

My open journalism idea sees journalism as acts that provide service in the larger context of Internet-era communication. It recognizes that communities gain from skilled and expert journalism (there never has been enough) and that such work has the best hope of success through robust connections to sources, citizens and other contributors in a networked information universe.

Public affairs journalism, especially the time-consuming work of investigative reporting and accountability coverage that relies on accumulated knowledge and expertise, is indeed a public good and must be responsive to those it serves. Those who provide it need to build trust as well as tangible support such as digital subscriptions, e-book payments, organizational alliances, donations or philanthropic grants. In 2012 and beyond, in the communication age that has blossomed post-Internet, such support involves not blind faith but open and active connection.

Explore transparency

Consider the new "Explore Sources" tool unveiled by ProPublica last week as part of a story by Marshall Allen on a Texas woman's efforts to learn how her husband had died. Explore Sources (which readers can turn on or off) allows web viewers to click on highlighted information and view primary source material. News applications developer Al Shaw's blog post explained both the function of the tool and how it was built, concluding: "While Explore Sources is just an experiment, we look forward to finding new ways to use it to make our reporting process more transparent and accountable, and when we can we'll open-source the code so other newsrooms can show their work, too."

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I began my work at USC Annenberg in June intending to focus on how journalism contributes to community engagement in public life and to spotlight experiments that seemed to be working. I quickly learned that Joy Mayer, a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, was finishing an academic year's work on this topic and that many interesting experiments were too young to assess in any fair way.

Rather than repeat Mayer's work and other recent explorations, I wanted to build on it. Away from the front lines of most mainstream news flow, I found a web-influenced culture responding in new ways to journalism values of serving community needs and making a difference. Peer-level collaboration was sparking invention and problem-solving, especially involving data journalism and investigative methods. Social media tools were enabling more direct dialogue among news providers and their sources, contributors and customers.

In a small but significant number of exceptions to the norm, and in the ideas of a number of writers and practitioners, I glimpsed a nascent but potentially transformative approach to journalism that could build trust and support (moral and practical) for informing communities in key ways amid media upheaval. Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian called their strategy "open journalism on the web."

Open journalism struck me as the right headline for framing journalism as a true public endeavor: accountable, responsible and accessible, like open government or an open kitchen or "Open Leadership," the title of a book by social media consultant Charlene Li.

My experience leading newsrooms in North Carolina and California taught me that ideas need both support and structure to turn into improvements. I wanted not just to argue for direction, but to offer useful guidance to practitioners -- in any size of newsroom, nonprofit or commercial, and to individuals -- on how open journalism can and does work for quality as well as relevance. I highlighted journalism action, not theories, demonstrating creative and often effective new approaches to the core mission of providing timely, accessible and high-quality coverage.

You can find examples and references linked throughout the discussion paper and highlighted in a sidebar element called "100 Ideas, Arguments and Illustrations for Open Journalism." Additionally, I offered "Action Steps for News People" in the five key categories I identified for open journalism to emphasize:

5 tenets of open journalism

  • Transparency: Buzzword or not, this is a contemporary cultural value that connects deeply to journalism tradition. Yet it's a value news providers must more openly embrace in the processes and the presentation of news coverage. For instance, established media sites rest on "brand" and rarely explain their missions or practices. New information and news sites, perhaps because they're introducing themselves and working to build brands, routinely tell users who they are, what their editorial mission is, and how they're funded. The best of them provide easy links to staff at all levels and take the next steps to embracing "show your work" tactics such as posting original data, using blogging to explain how journalism is made, and inviting others to make use of resources. News organizations here and there are opening up or webstreaming news meetings, sharing working story lists, soliciting questions and input, and explaining how corrections are handled.
  • Responsiveness and engagement as central functions rather than add-ons: Open journalism makes newsgathering and dissemination two-way practices that ask and answer questions and invest trust even while expecting to be trusted. This matters for community value but also has benefits as business practice. The Internet has changed the expectations of viewers and readers -- more broadly, customers. Companies learn the hard way about failing to monitor or respond to user input, which now often happens via social media. In this environment, providers of news and information suffer when lines of communication are unmonitored (online story comments being the case in point) or miss opportunities when these lines operate as one-way channels (e.g., here's our story, what do you think?) By seeing engagement as part of newsgathering rather than as link promotion, journalists can pick up on news tips and promising sources and, in turn, make their work more useful by delivering on requests for certain information.
  • Substantive and mutually rewarding participation: The interplay among news providers and others who exchange and supply information gets more attention than other aspects of open journalism and fuels the most debate (over citizen journalism, for instance, a term almost no one likes). Yet notable experiments such as HuffingtonPost's OffTheBus presidential campaign crowdsourcing effort in 2008 (back for 2012) are being joined by a rapidly expanding menu of ways that news and community information sites are tapping contributions and knowledge. On most news sites "user generated content" gets little respect or attention, and again the vandals who troll online comment sites consume far too much of the resources newsrooms have for interaction. We're ready for the next steps in understanding that people want to participate in life, not news sites. Some news sites are improving interaction tools, using forms and other mechanisms to streamline participation and engaging in more active social media dialogue with contributors.
  • Collaboration: This is an overused word, perhaps, because true collaboration is less common than an expanding list of cross-promotion and content sharing. Yet the open-source ideas infecting some newsrooms via the influence of programmers and technology have produced direct benefits for some kinds of journalism. Practitioners working to analyze data and to map and graphically display their findings regularly share knowledge and software via traditional channels (such as Investigative Reporters and Editors) and new ones including the GitHub software website.
  • Networked presence: Information-sharing happens online through many crisscrossing networks, from fan communities and social media to highly specialized knowledge blogs and discussion forums. It also happens in person, often in conjunction with digital community-building. News sites may be where most people, in one way or another, pick up headlines and traditional news, but other networks supply a vastly greater variety and style of information. By understanding the greater context and looking for ways to carry out their service missions, news providers can make an important leap forward from the gatekeeper role that defined journalism for so long. The next conceptual leap involves community-level collaboration around the goals of information as a service.

"The Case for Open Journalism Now" is one of the first "Future of Journalism" efforts by the Annenberg Innovation Lab, built as a simple website with a response function. Please add your thoughts, criticism and links. However far the Internet has taken us already, those who believe in quality journalism as public service have only begun to comprehend the opportunities ahead.

The only thing certain is that we're building journalism's future now through our actions and our omissions. I prefer the former.

Melanie Sill is the Executive in Residence at the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. Before joining USC Annenberg Sill was senior vice president and top editor at the Sacramento Bee in California and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Raised in Hawaii, Sill earned her journalism degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1993-94.

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November 14 2011

20:49

How To Set Up Facebook Subscribe For Journalists

Facebook Subscribe allows Facebook users to share their public updates with other users, even if they are not friends. I've created this step-by-step guide for users who want to take advantage of this feature without putting their own privacy at risk. [...]

October 07 2011

21:21

TrueTies.Org Wants to Increase Transparency on the Op-Ed Page

The following is a guest opinion from Gabe Elsner of The Checks and Balances Project, which recently launched a new project aimed at increasing transparency at news outlets.

Every day, Americans read the opinion and commentary of seemingly impartial "experts" from think tanks on critical subjects in the pages of the nation's newspapers.

What these readers don't know is that the authors of these opinion pieces work for think tanks and organizations funded by the same industries they are "impartially" writing about. Rarely -- if ever -- are readers informed that the so-called expert has received money from the industry he or she is championing or defending.

Why? All too often, top news outlets don't ask pundits about these conflicts, and so readers don't get the whole story.

That's why, starting Oct. 6, The Checks and Balances Project launched an online petition at TrueTies.org.

As the recession has ground on, many news media outlets went out of business or fled quality journalism. Fortunately, the New York Times did the opposite -- it doubled down. That's why we're asking the Times, as our nation's paper of record, to increase transparency on the opinion pages by beginning a practice of asking one basic question of every op-ed submission finalist: "Do you have direct or indirect ties to the industries you are writing about?" And, if the answer is yes, to tell their readers at the time the piece is published.

The case of the "senior fellow"

The Checks and Balances Project -- a startup watchdog organization committed to holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public -- decided to launch True Ties after reading a June 2011 op-ed in The New York Times by Robert Bryce.

Bryce, using the title "senior fellow" at the Manhattan Institute, claimed that renewable energy was bad for the environment and that natural gas was far preferable, despite widespread concerns about the gas industry's potential contamination of public drinking water supplies. What readers weren't told, while reading his argument in favor of fossil fuels, is that his host organization, the Manhattan Institute, received nearly $3 million from fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

Wouldn't it have been better if someone from the Times' opinion page staff asked Bryce one question about his financial ties? Don't readers deserve to know that this columnist's paycheck is funded in part by fossil fuel-tied groups?

Sadly, the New York Times piece by Bryce is not an isolated incident. This problem is widespread -- in newspapers, cable television, radio and beyond. Bryce points out that his work has been seen by millions of Americans through "publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Counterpunch and Atlantic Monthly to Oklahoma Stripper." In addition, he's appeared on television shows ranging from the PBS "Newshour" to Fox News to "Energy Now."

Bryce is just one example in a growing industry of front groups and industry-sponsored pundits. These organizations are functionally serving as industry public relations firms, while carrying neutral-sounding names such as the Mercatus Center, Institute for Energy Research and the Cato Institute. They provide a platform not just for Bryce, but for other "experts," such as the Mercatus Center's Andrew P. Morriss, to spread fossil-fuel industry talking points while taking fossil-fuel money. Much of the funding for the Mercatus Center comes from the Koch Family Foundations, while the Institute for Energy Research is essentially a joint project of Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. And, similar to Bryce, Morriss, a fellow at the Mercatus Center, works for organizations with sponsors who remain hidden from readers and viewers.

These pundits have the right to be heard, but they shouldn't get to hide their industry funding. The New York Times, as the standard bearer of journalism, has a responsibility to ensure consumers know all the facts.

What do we do about it?

The clearest step forward is simple: The New York Times and other important media outlets can ask a basic question of anyone publishing opinions on their pages regarding financial conflicts of interest -- and then tell readers about the conflicts.

Full disclosure of these ties will increase transparency. More importantly, it will ensure that readers have the relevant information they need to put commentaries into proper context, and ultimately, help inform their opinions on vital issues. By asking contributors like Bryce to answer a short set of disclosure questions, the New York Times can set the industry standard and help their readers get the full story.

Gabe Elsner is a public interest advocate based in Washington, D.C. For the past five years, he has worked with a variety of non-profit organizations to elevate the voice of ordinary people in policy debates. Gabe understands that citizens need to stand up for true American values to restore democracy and to overcome the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups. He joined the Checks and Balances Project in June 2011 to help increase transparency and inform the public on critical issues, especially related to energy.

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August 03 2011

14:00

Transparency, iteration, standards: Knight-Mozilla’s learning lab offers journalism lessons of open source

This spring, the Knight Foundation and Mozilla took the premise of hacks and hackers collaboration and pushed it a step further, creating a contest to encourage journalists, developers, programmers, and anyone else so inclined to put together ideas to innovate news.

Informally called “MoJo,” the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership has been run as a challenge, the ultimate prize being a one-year paid fellowship in one of five news organizations: Al Jazeera English, the BBC, the Guardian, Boston.com, and Zeit Online.

We’ve been following the challenge from contest entries to its second phase, an online learning lab, where some 60 participants were selected on the basis of their proposal to take part in four weeks of intense lectures. At the end, they were required to pitch a software prototype designed to make news, well, better.

Through the learning lab, we heard from a super cast of web experts, like Chris Heilmann, one of the guys behind the HTML5 effort; Aza Raskin, the person responsible for Firefox’s tabbed browsing; and John Resig, who basically invented the jQuery JavaScript library; among other tech luminaries. (See the full lineup.)

There was a theme running through the talks: openness. Not only were the lectures meant to get participants thinking about how to make their projects well-designed and up to web standards, but they also generally stressed the importance of open-source code. (“News should be universally accessible across phones, tablets, and computers,” MoJo’s site explains. “It should be multilingual. It should be rich with audio, video, and elegant data visualization. It should enlighten, inform, and entertain people, and it should make them part of the story. All of that work will be open source, and available for others to use and build upon.”)

We also heard from journalists: Discussing the opportunities and challenges for technology and journalism were, among other luminaries, Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief of Wired.com; Amanda Cox, graphics editor of The New York Times; Shazna Nessa, director of interactive at the AP; Mohamed Nanabhay, head of new media at Al Jazeera English; and Jeff Jarvis.

In other words, over the four weeks of the learning lab’s lectures, we heard from a great group of some of the smartest journalists and programmers who are thinking about — and designing — the future of news. So, after all that, what can we begin to see about the common threads emerging between the open source movement and journalism? What can open source teach journalism? And journalism open source?

Finding 1:
* Open source is about transparency.
* Journalism has traditionally not been about transparency, instead keeping projects under wraps — the art of making the sausage and then keeping it stored inside newsrooms.

Because open-source software development often occurs among widely distributed and mostly volunteer participants who tinker with the code ad-hoc, transparency is a must. Discussion threads, version histories, bug-tracking tools, and task lists lay bare the process underlying the development — what’s been done, who’s done it, and what yet needs tweaking. There’s a basic assumption of openness and collaboration achieving a greater good.

Ergo: In a participatory news world, can we journalists be challenged by the ethics of open source to make the sausage-making more visible, even collaborative?

No one is advocating making investigative reporting an open book, but sharing how journalists work might be a start. As Hansen pointed out, journalists are already swimming in information overload from the data they gather in reporting; why not make some of that more accessible to others? And giving people greater space for commenting and offering correction when they think journalists have gone wrong — therein lies another opportunity for transparency.

Finding 2:
* Open source is iterative.
* Journalism is iterative, but news organizations generally aren’t (yet).

Software development moves quickly. Particularly in the open source realm, developers aren’t afraid to make mistakes and make those mistakes public as they work through the bugs in a perpetual beta mode rather than wait until ideas are perfected. The group dynamic means that participants feel free to share ideas and try new things, with a “freedom to fail” attitude that emphasizes freedom much more than failure. Failure, in fact, is embraced as a step forward, a bug identified, rather than backward. This cyclical process of iterative software development — continuous improvement based on rapid testing — stands in contrast to the waterfall method of slower, more centralized planning and deployment.

On the one hand, journalism has iterative elements, like breaking news. As work, journalism is designed for agility. But journalism within legacy news organizations is often much harder to change, and tends to be more “waterfall” in orientation: The bureaucracy and business models and organizational structures can take a long time to adapt. Trying new things, being willing to fail (a lot) along the way, and being more iterative in general are something we can learn from open-source software.

Finding 3:
* Open source is about standards.
* So is journalism.

We were surprised to find that, despite its emphasis on openness and collaboration, the wide world of open source is also a codified world with strict standards for implementation and use. Programming languages have documentation for how they are used, and there is generally consensus among developers about what looks good on the web and what makes for good code.

Journalism is also about standards, though of a different kind: shared values about newsgathering, news judgment, and ethics. But even while journalism tends to get done within hierarchical organizations and open-source development doesn’t, journalism and open source share essentially the same ideals about making things that serve the public interest. In one case, it’s programming; in the other case, it’s telling stories. But there’s increasingly overlap between those two goals, and a common purpose that tends to rise above mere profit motive in favor of a broader sense of public good.

However, when it comes to standards, a big difference between the the open-source movement and journalism is that journalists, across the board, aren’t generally cooperating to achieve common goals. While programmers might work together to make a programming language easier to use, news organizations tend to go at their own development in isolation from each other. For example, The Times went about building its pay meter fairly secretly: While in development, even those in the newsroom didn’t know the details about the meter’s structure. Adopting a more open-source attitude could teach journalists, within news organizations and across them, to think more collaboratively when it comes to solving common industry problems.

Finding 4:
* Open-source development is collaborative, free, and flexible.
* Producing news costs money, and open source may not get to the heart of journalism’s business problems.

Open-source software development is premised on the idea of coders working together, for free, without seeking to make a profit at the expense of someone else’s intellectual property. Bit by bit, this labor is rewarded by the creation of sophisticated programming languages, better-and-better software, and the like.

But there’s a problem: Journalism can’t run on an open source model alone. Open source doesn’t give journalism any guidance for how to harness a business model that pays for the news. Maybe open-source projects are the kind of work that will keep people engaged in the news, thus bulking up traditional forms of subsidy, such as ad revenue. (Or, as in the case of the “open R&D” approach of open APIs, news organizations might use openness techniques to find new revenue opportunities. Maybe.)

Then again, the business model question isn’t, specifically, the point. The goal of MoJo’s learning lab, and the innovation challenge it’s part of, is simply to make the news better technologically — by making it more user-friendly, more participatory, etc. It’s not about helping news organizations succeed financially. In all, the MoJo project has been more about what open source can teach journalism, not vice versa. And that’s not surprising, given that the MoJo ethos has been about using open technologies to help reboot the news — rather than the reverse.

But as the 60 learning lab participants hone their final projects this week, in hopes of being one of the 15 who will win a next-stage invite to a hackathon in Berlin, they have been encouraged to collaborate with each other to fill out their skill set — by, say, a hack partnering with a hacker, and so forth. From those collaborations may come ideas not only for reinventing online journalism, but also for contributing to the iteration of open-source work as a whole.

So keep an eye out: Those final projects are due on Friday.

July 20 2011

19:45

AP will link back to newspapers who get scoops

News organizations that break big stories will soon get a little more credit — and maybe even a little traffic — from The Associated Press. Beginning Aug. 1, whenever the AP picks up a local story from a member for rewriting and distribution, the text of AP’s story will include a link back to the original report.

For example: When the Boston Globe reported that TV producers had doctored the CBS broadcast of the July 4th fireworks show, the AP picked it up and the story went national. The Globe got credit on the hundreds of news sites that carried the story — but no link back to the original story. That’ll change.

“The days are long past that you’re writing a story and you’re only thinking about…rewriting it so that you can put it into the paper,” said Martin Kaiser, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who brought the idea to the AP. “Why spend the time rewriting? Why not link back?”

Pickups will now include a parenthetical bit.ly link to the original story, in addition to the credit. So in the fireworks story, you might see: “According to the Boston Globe report (http://bit.ly/pDHZ6h)…” The change will be most noticeable on state wires, where pickups are common. (Most of the AP’s national content is original reporting. Less than 2 percent of the national wire is material picked up from members.)

Kaiser said he has been pushing the AP for years to act more like an aggregator and less like a rewrite desk. And while this new policy doesn’t directly save AP staffers the time they spend rewriting a member’s copy, it’s a step toward more transparent credit and could drive some marginal amount of traffic to local news sites. 

Kaiser remembers breaking stories at smaller papers and seeing them edited, sanitized, and byline-less on the wire the next day. Several years ago, the AP added an “Information From” footnote to credit the news organization. Then the footnote got a link to that organization’s home page. About a year ago, the AP started crediting newsrooms in the body of the story.

Because the AP is a cooperative, it has no legal obligation to credit its members. But “that’s a legal point, not a journalistic one,” said Mike Oreskes, AP’s senior managing editor.

“We came to the conclusion last year that proper journalistic practice was to credit the member newspaper in all cases where an article was picked up, especially in an Internet age when the origins of information are really important to understand,” Oreskes said.

Oreskes said the linking rule does not change the AP’s existing attribution standards. “Nothing about this change alters our existing policy on attributing to other organizations information that we haven’t independently reported. Nor does it change our policy to give credit to another organization that broke a story first, even when we match it or advance it through our own reporting,” he said in a memo to staff.

The AP tested several link-shortening services, Oreskes said, before settling on Bit.ly. He was sold on the compactness of Bit.ly URLs (20 characters), the stability of the service, and the fact that Bit.ly links never expire (as long as Bit.ly is in business, anyway).

While more credit for original reporting is a good thing, and the Jeff Jarvis/link economy school of thought should welcome AP’s new policy, it risks running into one of the biggest potential roadblocks of any large-scale technological change at news organizations: the sometimes cruddy back-end systems that run news websites and print workflows.

The AP has been testing the idea in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and there’ve been some kinks. The URLs cross the wire in plain text, without the familiar-to-nerds <a href=”…”> HTML code that makes a link clickable. News sites will have to handle that digital chore, either leaving the links unlinked, automating that bit of HTML on each story, or dealing with the code by hand. (The AP’s change appears to have broken the code on several news sites.) And some newspapers may not see much value in putting URLs in to their print products, which would mean someone stripping them out in production. Oreskes said the AP will listen to feedback from members and continue tinkering with the policy to get it right.

The AP’s full staff memo follows. (“Elvis,” by the way, refers to the AP’s internal content-management system.)

Colleagues,

Last year, we introduced a new policy for the crediting of other news organizations in our reporting. The goal was to introduce consistency into our proud practice of being transparent in our handling of information that originated elsewhere than in our own reporting.

Since that time, several of our newspaper members have asked us to take an additional step in offering additional credit when we “pick up” a story from them.

In addition to offering a link to the contributing member’s home page at the end of a text story in the “Information From” tag, they have asked that a direct link to the actual story from which the pick-up originated be placed in the text of the AP version.

We have tested this practice since the start of the year, and are ready to enact it as AP policy starting Aug. 1.

This new policy only applies to what we call a “straight pick-up” — when the entirety of the story is derived from a single member’s contribution. These are found most often on the domestic state print/online and broadcast wires, but on rare occasion move nationally and beyond.

As you are aware, AP sells only a selection of its staff-generated international and national news stories to Google and other commercial customers. A very small slice of this material sold to commercial customers— less than 2 percent— are picked up from member newspapers, and they typically are scoops credited to the papers.

Stories from member newspapers make up a larger piece of AP’s state wires — but the state wires are not available to Google and others outside the AP membership.

Nothing about this change alters our existing policy on attributing to other organizations information that we haven’t independently reported. Nor does it change our policy to give credit to another organization that broke a story first, even when we match it or advance it through our own reporting.

We should provide this new direct link attribution whenever we pick up a story from any single AP member, newspaper or broadcaster. (It’s important to note that we shouldn’t write a “straight pick-up” from a non-member news organization, even with credit.) It applies equally to stories that are limited to APNewsNows and those we expand into longer versions, and to spot stories as well as enterprise and investigative pieces.

As always, our standards editor, Tom Kent, is available to help think through the application of this new policy. In addition, David Scott, who oversaw the testing of this in Central Region, will be happy to consult. We’ll schedule a few WebEx tutorials on the new policy for later this month.

Best,

Mike Oreskes

Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News

Direct Linking FAQ

Q. In the United States, we’ve long given attribution to members with the “Information From” tag. What’s changed?

A. The way we consume information has changed, driven in no small part by the Internet and news online. Our members increasingly want us to drive readers to the specific content they have shared with the cooperative, and this is a way we can comply with those requests.

Q. Should we still use the “Information From” tag?

A. Yes. By using both, we address the concerns of members who want the direct link in the text and those who prefer the homepage link at a story’s conclusion.

Q. The “Information From” tag is generated automatically by Elvis [editorial system]. Will the new direct link also be inserted into our text automatically?

A. No. You will need to copy and paste the URL to the story into the text manually, using bit.ly to shorten the link.

Q: What is bit.ly?

A: bit.ly is a service that takes a long URL (and direct links can be very long) and shortens it into something that fits much more neatly in a text story. There are several tools that make creating bit.ly links quite easy, and they’ll be explained during the WebEx tutorials.

Q: What if the member has a paywall?

A: In those instances, the link will generally direct a reader to a page informing them the story they seek is behind a paywall and explaining how they can purchase access to that content. That will work for the purposes of this policy.

Q: What if our direct link gets around a member’s paywall?

A: If you find that to be the case, or receive any other complaints about this new approach, please email the member’s information to Tom Kent and your chief of bureau.

Q: Sometimes our reporting goes so far beyond the other organization’s report that AP’s story is substantially our work. In such a case, should we still provide a link to the member’s story?

A: No. We should only provide a direct link in text stories that are substantially crafted from a single member’s contribution.

Q: We often supplement a pick-up with some original reporting, such as to call an attorney for comment or to update the condition of a patient. Should we still provide the direct link in those cases?

A: Yes. In such an instance, the substance of the story is still derived from a single member’s contribution and should get the credit.

Q: What if I combine information from two or more members into a single pickup?

A: Do not provide a direct link in these instances. Instead, provide credit for the reporting offered by each member in the text of the story per the AP’s general policy on crediting.

Q: Often in a breaking news story, we begin coverage with a straight pickup that evolves over time into an AP story. Should we still include the direct link if we expect that to happen?

A: Yes. Include the link for as long as the text story remains a straight pick-up from a single member. Drop the link at the point the story evolves, but continue to include a “first reporting by” credit in the text on merits.

Q: What if I pick up a story from a print edition or an electronic carbon, before the story is posted online? Do I need to go back and add the link later?

A: No. Please check to see if there is an online version, but be quick about it. If there’s not, move on to the next story. If there is, please add the link.

Q. Does this policy apply to U.S. broadcast as well as newspaper/online copy?

Yes.

New Pickup Crediting Example

BC-WI–Milwaukee Police-Complaints, 1st Ld-Writethru Report: 3 Milwaukee police officers still wear badges despite sexual misconduct complaints

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Three Milwaukee police officers who were disciplined after women accused them of on-duty sexual misconduct are still wearing badges.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday that their cases show that without a criminal conviction, officers who are the subject of sexual misconduct complaints deemed credible by the department can keep their jobs even if the police chief wants them fired.

The Journal Sentinel report (http://bit.ly/gCChEq) said its investigation found that one of the officers, Scott D. Charles, served a 60-day suspension and was later promoted to sergeant. The other two, Reginald L. Hampton and Milford Adams, were fired but reinstated after appealing to the Fire and Police Commission, a civilian board that has the power to overturn punishments imposed by the chief.

Chief Edward Flynn said he has no choice but to live with the commission’s decisions.

“The decision was made by higher authority that they are competent to be officers,” Flynn said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure they’re properly supervised and are held accountable.” …

For Milwaukee police officers, it’s up to the Fire and Police Commission to decide if the “just cause” standard has been met. Commissioners conduct their own investigation but can also consider what happened in the internal affairs investigation, said Michael G. Tobin, who has been executive director of the Fire and Police Commission since November 2007. ___ Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

July 15 2011

07:19

When information is power, these are the questions we should be asking

Various commentators over the past year have made the observation that “Data is the new oil“. If that’s the case, journalists should be following the money. But they’re not.

Instead it’s falling to the likes of Tony Hirst (an Open University academic), Dan Herbert (an Oxford Brookes academic) and Chris Taggart (a developer who used to be a magazine publisher) to fill the scrutiny gap. Recently all three have shone a light into the move towards transparency and open data which anyone with an interest in information would be advised to read.

Hirst wrote a particularly detailed post breaking down the results of a consultation about higher education data.

Herbert wrote about the publication of the first Whole of Government Accounts for the UK.

And Taggart made one of the best presentations I’ve seen on the relationship between information and democracy.

What all three highlight is how control of information still represents the exercise of power, and how shifts in that control as a result of the transparency/open data/linked data agenda are open to abuse, gaming, or spin.

Control, Cost, Confusion

Hirst, for example, identifies the potential for data about higher education to be monopolised by one organisation – UCAS, or HEFCE – at extra cost to universities, resulting in less detailed information for students and parents.

His translation of the outcomes of a HEFCE consultation brings to mind the situation that existed for years around Ordnance Survey data: taxpayers were paying for the information up to 8 times over, and the prohibitive cost of accessing that data ended up inspiring the Free Our Data campaign. As Hirst writes:

“The data burden is on the universities?! But the aggregation – where the value is locked up – is under the control of the centre? … So how much do we think the third party software vendors are going to claim for to make the changes to their systems? And hands up who thinks that those changes will also be antagonistic to developers who might be minded to open up the data via APIs. After all, if you can get data out of your commercially licensed enterprise software via a programmable API, there’s less requirement to stump up the cash to pay for maintenance and the implementation of “additional” features…”

Meanwhile Dan Herbert analyses another approach to data publication: the arrival of commercial-style accounting reports for the public sector. On the surface this all sounds transparent, but it may be just the opposite:

“There is absolutely no empiric evidence that shows that anyone actually uses the accounts produced by public bodies to make any decision. There is no group of principals analogous to investors. There are many lists of potential users of the accounts. The Treasury, CIPFA (the UK public sector accounting body) and others have said that users might include the public, taxpayers, regulators and oversight bodies. I would be prepared to put up a reward for anyone who could prove to me that any of these people have ever made a decision based on the financial reports of a public body. If there are no users of the information then there is no point in making the reports better. If there are no users more technically correct reports do nothing to improve the understanding of public finances. In effect all that better reports do is legitimise the role of professional accountants in the accountability process.

Like Hirst, he argues that the raw data – and the ability to interrogate that – should instead be made available because (quoting Anthony Hopwood): “Those with the power to determine what enters into organisational accounts have the means to articulate and diffuse their values and concerns, and subsequently to monitor, observe and regulate the actions of those that are now accounted for.”

This is a characteristic of the transparency initiative that we need to be sharper around as journalists. The Manchester Evening News discovered this when they wanted to look at spending cuts. What they found was a dataset that had been ‘spun’ to make it harder to see the story hidden within, and to answer their question they first had to unspin it – or, in data journalism parlance, clean it. Likewise, having granular data – ideally from more than one source – allows us to better judge the quality of the information itself.

Chris Taggart meanwhile looks at the big picture: friction, he says, underpins society as we know it. Businesses such as real estate are based on it; privacy exists because of it; and democracies depend on it. As friction is removed through access to information, we get problems such as “jurisdiction failure” (corporate lawyers having “hacked” local laws to international advantage), but also issues around the democratic accountability of ad hoc communities and how we deal with different conceptions of privacy across borders.

Questions to ask of ‘transparency’

The point isn’t about the answers to the questions that Taggart, Herbert and Hirst raise – it’s the questions themselves, and the fact that journalists are, too often, not asking them when we are presented with yet another ‘transparency initiative‘.

If data is the new oil those three posts and a presentation provide a useful introduction to following the money.

(By the way, for a great example of a journalist asking all the right questions of one such initiative, however, see The Telegraph’s Conrad Quilty-Harper on the launch of Police.uk)

Data is not just some opaque term; something for geeks: it’s information: the raw material we deal in as journalists. Knowledge. Power. The site of a struggle for control. And considering it’s a site that journalists have always fought over, it’s surprisingly placid as we enter one of the most important ages in the history of information control.

As Heather Brooke writes today of the hacking scandal:

“Journalism in Britain is a patronage system – just like politics. It is rare to get good, timely information through merit (eg by trawling through public records); instead it’s about knowing the right people, exchanging favours. In America reporters are not allowed to accept any hospitality. In Britain, taking people out to lunch is de rigueur. It’s where information is traded. But in this setting, information comes at a price.

“This is why there is collusion between the elites of the police, politicians and the press. It is a cartel of information. The press only get information by playing the game. There is a reason none of the main political reporters investigated MPs’ expenses – because to do so would have meant falling out with those who control access to important civic information. The press – like the public – have little statutory right to information with no strings attached. Inside parliament the lobby system is an exercise in client journalism that serves primarily the interests of the powerful. Freedom of information laws bust open the cartel.”

But laws come with loopholes and exemptions, red tape and ignorance. And they need to be fought over.

One bill to extend the FOI law to “remove provisions permitting Ministers to overrule decisions of the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal; to limit the time allowed for public authorities to respond to requests involving consideration of the public interest; to amend the definition of public authorities” and more, for example, was recently put on indefinite hold. How many publishers and journalists are lobbying to un-pause this?

So let’s simplify things. And in doing so, there’s no better place to start than David Eaves’ 3 laws of government data.

This is summed up as the need to be able to “Find, Play and Share” information. For the purposes of journalism, however, I’ll rephrase them as 3 questions to ask of any transparency initiative:

  1. If information is to be published in a database behind a form, then it’s hidden in plain sight. It cannot be easily found by a journalist, and only simple questions will be answered.
  2. If information is to be published in PDFs or JPEGs, or some format that you need proprietary software to see, then it cannot be easily be questioned by a journalist
  3. If you will have to pass a test to use the information, then obstacles will be placed between the journalist and that information

The next time an organisation claims that they are opening up their information, tick those questions off. (If you want more, see Gurstein’s list of 7 elements that are needed to make effective use of open data).

At the moment, the history of information is being written without journalists.

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May 03 2011

17:00

Reality TV: OpenCourt has begun its livestream of the judicial system

OpenCourt is about as real as reality TV can get when it doesn’t involve Kardashians, real housewives, or people trapped on an island. That’s because OpenCourt, which launched yesterday, offers a view inside the legal system — specifically, the Quincy District Court here in Massachusetts, where traffic infractions, drug cases, and arraignments of all kinds now unfold not only in the courtroom, but also via streaming video.

The streaming is the next step in what was formerly known as Order in the Court 2.0, the winner of a 2010 Knight News Challenge grant and a project with an explicit goal of making the courts as transparent as the other branches of government. It’s something that seems simple as a premise: Put a webcam in a courtroom, and, boom, livestreamed court proceedings. But of course it’s tricker than that; otherwise, the Knight Foundation may not have awarded $250,000 to the WBUR-led project.

“The truth of the matter is when we put this out there the concept is so simple,” John Davidow, OpenCourt’s executive producer, told me. “We’re just going to stream live what takes place in public.”

A test run for transparency

The tasks OpenCourt is addressing are technical as much as they are legal, and sometimes conventional. The project operates within the boundaries of camera-use in the courts (video recording is permitted here in Massachusetts but can be limited by judges — though the current law may be broadened). But it still must confront concerns from the legal community, and ultimately try to balance the idea of transparency with the right to a fair trial.

But since there is no universal standard for new media access when it comes to the legal system in the US, OpenCourt is also a test case. Walking into any random courtroom, there’s no way of knowing whether tweeting is allowed, whether recording is an option, or even whether the use of a laptop is acceptable. That’s why Davidow says OpenCourt is an experiment, and one that will need to be watched closely if it’s to be duplicated elsewhere.

“It’s a pilot,” Davidow told me. “It’s now a reality and off the white board. More and more issues will come forward.”

And already something has come forward. On its first day of operation, the Norfolk County District Attorney’s office filed a a motion to close access to OpenCourt’s archives. An attorney from the DA’s office said the archives would present a lasting, un-editable record if inappropriate or inaccurate information — the names of crime victims, say, or of confidential informants — were to come out in a hearing. Judge Mark Coven denied the motion, saying “respectfully, I can’t address hypotheticals.”

Defining an open system

The true hurdles for OpenCourt, as Davidow described them, come in defining the parameters of how, what, and when the video feed would be active. He and his staffJoe Spurr, OpenCourt’s director, and Val Wang, its producer — decided the video stream would be live only when a judge is presiding over a case and when an OpenCourt producer is present. (In other words, this won’t be the equivalent of a traffic cam staring at the bench.) Davidow said they decided that the judge (who has a laptop monitoring the feed) will have discretion over whether the video is online or not. And that will largely depend on the case, Davidow said. (Though, after consulting with their advisory group of lawyers, judges, academics, and others, the team decided not to broadcast restraining order hearings as a rule.) The team had to be mindful, Davidow noted, of how being transparent could cause additional harm to people or prevent them from appearing in court at all.

But rather than setting out more guidelines for limiting the use of live video, the OpenCourt team has tried to find ways to make the camera and what it represents less of an issue. Beginning late last year, they held a series of meetings with the community in and around the court to familiarize others with the project, the gear, and the people who would be filming hearings every day. The camera, and the producer who operates it, have their own pocket in the courtroom and have become something of a fixture. (On the stream, you might notice, not many folks look towards the camera.)

“When you put a TV camera some place, people eventually forget about it,” Davidow said. “There’s a comfort level with it; you get used to it. That has helped the project immensely.”

Watching OpenCourt is C-SPAN-esque — or maybe Court TV-esque (or is that now truTV-esque?) — minus the call-in shows and podium-thumping speeches from politicians. Defendants shuffle in and out, charges are explained, and things follow course from there. It’s an unfiltered eye into the legal process, like staring down at an engine as it’s working.

It’s also more than a little ironic: Courts are open, but are they open open? “Courts have enjoyed what they referred to as ‘virtual obscurity,’” Davidow said. “Yes, justice is done in public, but to see it you need to go to court.”

A judicial education

Watching the video feed also makes you appreciate the simplicity of the kit OpenCourt has put together to create such a seamless product. As the team explains on their “Open Your Court” page, a DIY run-through for filming your local legal system, they use a couple of MacBook Pros, a Canon HD camcorder, and Livestream to get things up and running. One of the project’s goals, said Spurr, is to offer other courts full guidance on using cameras in court — and that guidance includes technology details and other best practices. “It’s about iterability,” Spurr said, “and being able to create an ideal environment that is forward thinking: What could a courtroom look like?”

What OpenCourt is encouraging is more interaction with, if not more information about, the court system. Aside from the livestream, the project is also providing free WiFi at the courthouse for anyone who wants to come in to cover a case. In that, Davidow said, the project could be a boon to local bloggers and citizen journalists, giving them an additional resource for covering the community. It’s also clear that OpenCourt could be useful to understaffed newsrooms as a way of keeping track of cases as they move through the system. “I’d argue that nothing compares to actually being there and seeing with your own eyes,” he said. “At the same time, maybe some news organizations would find efficiency in that setup.” (The Quincy Patriot-Ledger has already embedded the OpenCourt stream in a story.)

While the goal is to throw open the doors of the court, it is also to educate the public about the court’s workings. Though one of the benefits of operating in a district court is that it’s the most accessible step in the judiciary (traffic/moving violations, fines, the types of misdemeanors you don’t want others to know about — all go through district court), there’s still an element of the unknown about how courts work. This is why, in addition to the stream on opencourt.us, you’ll also find a schedule of the day’s cases, a glossary of legal terms, and a rundown of the people who make the court work.

“One of the reasons the courts really embraced this idea is because people don’t understand some basic concepts,” Davidow said. “The courts felt this was a way for people to start learning about how justice is done in this country.”

March 10 2011

14:00

Why We Won't Live-Stream Restraining Order Hearings

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about our project, Order in the Court 2.0, to live-stream court proceedings is, "Is there a way to turn the camera off?" They must imagine a camera bolted to the wall, gobbling up images of domestic violence victims and child sex offenders with no regard to how it affects justice being served.

But I have the opposite fear too -- that the judges in those courtrooms will become so skittish that they'll keep turning the camera off and we'll lose the ideal of openness that is the purpose of our project and a cornerstone of that little thing we call democracy.

So this question of when to keep the camera on and when to turn it off is a complicated one that involves balancing transparency with privacy. It has provoked more controversy than any other question that we've posed.

Knowing that we had a range of viewpoints from "show everything" to "protect the privacy of victims," we asked the Cyberlaw Clinic out of Harvard Law School to put together a preliminary checklist of reasons that the camera could potentially be turned off and took the list to meetings with both local and high-level stakeholders to get their input.

We want to work towards a list of loose guidelines that could guide the judges and clerks, while causing the least amount of interference with the court's business.

First, a little bit about our setup. There will always be a producer present when the camera is on, but it will be the judge and the clerk who actually turn it on and off.

Down in Quincy

We met with the local group in Quincy District Court first. We first ruled out certain proceedings from live-streaming: any cases involving minors or the victims of sexual abuse or assault; and any part of the voir dire or jury empanelment hearings. We also won't be showing the faces of jurors.

Participants brought up the statues that protect the privacy of criminal records and mental health records and we debated how to deal with those cases.

Then came the cases that are up to the judge's discretion. First Justice Mark Coven reiterated that all proceedings were free to be live-streamed but that he would be willing to consider turning off the camera on a case-by-case basis. If a lawyer or advocate has good reason to object to a proceeding being filmed, he or she may file a motion. Judge Coven has said he doesn't want to scare women off from applying for a restraining order.

People at the meeting brought up cases that they could imagine objecting to. These cases tended to fall into three major categories: the protection of victims, of witnesses and of defendants. For example:

  • A woman filing for a restraining order who won't go forward with it if she has to appear before the camera.
  • A spouse or parent committing a family member for substance abuse who doesn't want the community to know about their family problem.
  • An inflammatory sexual assault allegation that the defense has reason to believe is fabricated.
  • An identification case.

The defense lawyers and the representative of DOVE, the domestic violence advocacy group, were satisfied with the result, saying that we can't fully know how people will react to the camera until the project really begins.

Meanwhile, back up in Boston

When we put the same issues before our advisory board, they came up with the opposite answer to the question about restraining order hearings.

We recruited for our advisory board the same constellation of diverse viewpoints as we did with the local group, with the idea that they could offer us a kaleidoscopic view of the court. When we debated whether or not to show the restraining orders, we saw their full range of opinions.

We presented one of the arguments for showing the restraining order proceedings that had come out of our local meetings: the idea that a domestic violence victim watching at home might see the process and understand that she (or he) could come down to the court to apply for one themselves.

The representative of the Massachusetts Bar Association disagreed with this, saying that there are better ways to educate the public and that showing the proceedings could both expose the victim to more physical danger and public humiliation as well as permanently damage the reputation of those who have restraining orders filed against them that are eventually denied.

The head of the D.A.'s Victim Witness Services department concurred, saying that this project "can't afford a body."

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy also agreed, saying that family issues are too sensitive and too fraught with peril to live-stream, at least at the beginning stages of our project.

The only objection came from a Boston University law professor and former ACLU counsel who said that if reporters are allowed into the courtroom, then our cameras should be too. (He also made the disclaimer that as an academic he doesn't really have a dog in the race.)

Justice Cordy said that in theory that's how we would like to operate but in reality there are perils of opening the court through technology. He said he didn't want this issue to trip up the project right at the beginning and that we should revisit the issue later.

These comments drove home to us the seriousness of our project and the impact it might have on people's lives. We want to proceed carefully.

Back in Quincy, Judge Coven disagreed with the advisory board's decision, saying that he believed live-streaming the proceedings would show what a big problem domestic violence is in Quincy, but that he would abide by the decision. He plans to move sensitive cases to other courtrooms rather than turning on and off the camera.

With all of this input, we'll be finalizing the checklist of guidelines soon.

March 07 2011

08:32

Culture Clash: Journalism’s ideology vs blog culture

Culture Clash: Journalism's ideology vs blog cultureIf you read the literature on journalism’s professional ideology – or just follow any argument about journalists-versus-the-rest-of-the-world – you’ll notice particular themes recurring.

Like any profession, journalism separates itself from other fields of work through articulating how it is different. Reading Mark Deuze’s book Media Work recently I was struck by how a similar, parallel, ideology is increasingly articulated by bloggers. And I wanted to sketch that out.

First, two disclaimers: I am not claiming that bloggers are a coherent body any more than journalists are. Blogging is of course not a profession, and many bloggers do not make any claims beyond their own personal beliefs.

What I am exploring here is a common ideology that a particular contingent of bloggers expresses when attacked by journalists, or when attacking professional journalism.

One of the reasons this parallels journalism’s professional ideology may be because the arguments are often made in response to that exact ideology: journalists argue that bloggers are not objective; bloggers counter by arguing that journalists are not transparent, and so on.

Secondly, this is not based on any systematic research, but rather reflecting on ongoing analysis over the past few years. I’m putting this up for discussion and as a basis for further research, rather than suggesting it is the finished article.

Ideology 1: Public service vs accountability

The journalist’s claim is that they are performing a public service, whether that is informing the public, holding power to account, giving a voice to the voiceless (or the ‘voice of the people’), providing a forum for public discussion, or something else.

Bloggers articulate a similar ideology: that they are directly accountable to the public through their comments and the ability of others to direct them in how they ‘serve’.

The journalist’s public service is top-down; the blogger’s, bottom-up.

Ideology 2: Objectivity vs transparency

This is a long-running debate that I barely have to articulate, as it is easily the most prominent ideological battle that has taken place between journalists and bloggers. But here it is: journalists say they are objective while bloggers are subjective. Bloggers argue that any claim to objectivity is flawed, that the grounds for it (limited access to publication) no longer apply, and that in the age of the link transparency is their own badge of honour. Journalists who do not link to their sources, who take credit for the work of others, and who fail to declare interests are all targets in this battle.

Ideology 3: Autonomy vs non-commercial

A part of journalism’s ideology that is employed much less often in defending the profession is its autonomy: the fact that journalists are independent of government and that there is a church/state separation between advertising and content.

Bloggers articulate a similar argument around their very non-professionalism: because we do not rely on advertising or cover sales, say the bloggers, we enjoy more independence than journalists. We do not need to chase ratings or circulations; we do not need to worry about the institutional voice, or offending advertisers.

Ideology 4: Immediacy vs ‘Publish then filter’

The fourth aspect of journalism’s ideology identified by Deuze is ‘immediacy’, that is, journalists’ desire to be first to report the news.

Bloggers have their own version of ‘immediacy’, however, which is that they ‘publish, then filter’, allowing users to act as their editors (or ‘curators’) rather than being constrained by any editorial production line.

It’s notable that as journalists’ claims to immediacy come under particular challenge in an age where anyone can publish and distribute information, some journalists and news organisations are re-orienting themselves towards a role of ‘curation’, and using the ideology of ‘editorial process’ to defend themselves against the new entrants.

Ideology 5: Ethics vs ethical

This is a line that has always fascinated me. Journalists frequently employ their professional ‘ethics’ as a defence against the incursion of the blogging barbarians. But if journalists were so ethical, why are they consistently one of the least trusted professions?

Journalistic ethics are explicitly declared in documents such as the NUJ’s Code of Conduct, individual organisations’ own statements of principles, and even journalists’ contracts, while organisations such as the PCC act to further enforce behaviour.

Similar attempts to create a code of ethics for bloggers have been met with objections – for reasons not too dissimilar to the reasons that journalists do not want their profession to be professionalised: it would limit access, and provide an opportunity for governments to control the medium.

But bloggers are fiercely ethical. How is difficult to pin down – the transparency ideology outlined above is part of that, and many elements are shared with the ethics asserted by journalism: protecting sources, for instance. But broadly this ideology is one that is held in opposition to the worst excesses of journalism: bloggers would argue that they do not resort to underhand tactics in pursuit of a story: exploiting vulnerable people, passing off others’ work as their own, or pretending to be someone else.

What have I missed?

There may be other themes that I have missed – or examples of the above (after I wrote a first draft of this, Jay Rosen published his own selection of quotes here, some of which I have linked to above). It may be that journalism’s own ideology is changing in response to these challenges (as it seems to be regarding immediacy vs curation). I’d love to know what you think – or if you know of any research in the area (some here and here).

February 23 2011

11:04

Councils should allow public meetings to be recorded, says Pickles

A welcome window of clarity on the issue of whether bloggers can record public council meetings today: Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has weighed in to say that public meetings should be open to bloggers and that they should “routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency”

It’s an issue that I’ve been investigating for a while on Help Me Investigate: while some councils actively stream their own meetings, and others allow members of the public to do the same, some councils explicitly forbid recording, others allow audio but require mayoral permission for video, and a few have conducted ‘investigations’ of citizens for daring to record public proceedings (and councillors), or ejected them from the room (see video above).

Pickles’ guidance – and the accompanying letter sent to all councils – provides useful material to show uncooperative councils.

The letter calls on councils to give “credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have”

It also reassures councils that “giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements”. This is a key part, as data protection is often used as an excuse to prevent filming. The Help Me Investigate investigation revealed a worrying ignorance regarding data protection laws by councils even in formal internal reports. Other areas, including privacy, copyright, defamation and “procedural matters” are covered in this blog post rounding up some of the investigation’s findings.

Other material that bloggers may find useful are mentioned in Pickles’ announcement. They include The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960The Local Government Act of 1972 and The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985.

I’m working on producing a cribsheet for bloggers wanting to record their local council’s public meetings. If you want to help, please leave a comment or subscribe to the investigation blog.

February 11 2011

18:08

Steve Williams, Director, Corporate Social Responsbility, SAP

Hi everyone,

As part of the global SAP Corporate Social Responsibility team, I am responsible for managing our worldwide Technology Donation program that provides free reporting and data visualizaton tools to over 900 non-profts each year in 15 countries. We have been partnering with TechSoup for quite a while now and am excited about the many possibilites to engage.

I am most interested in building capacity in the non-profit sector through technology. At SAP we can bring a wide experience in business management along with the skills of 60,000 employees aroud the world that want to contribute. We also have a large developer ecosystem part of the SAP Community Network. We have also been supporting interesting work around impact measurement for non-profits and social enterprises through the Demonstrating Value Project

What I am most interested in from collaborators is understanding how the different pieces of technology (hardware, networking, different software systems) can be integrated and easily consumed by non-profits. I'm also interested in going beyond traditional training on specific applications to helping organizations create strategies and build operational systems that can deliver better results. Finally I want to learn from, and share with, colleagues best practices on engaging employees with technology donations and how to embed these practices into the business so that CSR programs are not "off to the side" but a core part of operations.

You can find me on twitter @constructive and my (infrequently updated) blog at http://www.constructive.net

February 07 2011

18:04

Councilpedia Follows the Money in New York City Politics

More than two years since the idea first began buzzing in our collective brains, Gotham Gazette yesterday finally launched its Councilpedia site.

Councilpedia, funded in part with a News Challenge grant from the Knight Foundation, is a unique new tool that will let people track the influence of money in New York City politics and help New Yorkers monitor their public officials. To accomplish this it does three main things.

First, it brings together an array of information about two citywide elected officials and the members of the New York City Council: legislative records, campaign finance information, and places to go to find out more. Most -- not all -- of this exists elsewhere, but it is scattered about -- on Gotham Gazette, on the city Campaign Finance Board website and elsewhere. We've put it all in one place. This will help people easily go back and forth between the money -- who helped fund the official's campaign -- and the politics. And in the process find out how the official vote on matters might affect those contributors.

Second it expands upon the campaign finance information previously available. New York City has a tough campaign finance law with public financing of campaigns (unless you're a billionaire and so choose to opt out). As part of that, the Campaign Finance Board pulls together a formidable array of information and makes it readily available to all who come to its site. But the amount of information is overwhelming -- long lists of names of people who gave to a candidate -- and hard to digest. We've taken those lists of contributors and broken them down by categories: labor, for example, people in the real estate industry and so on.

Reader Input

And finally, we've asked our readers to connect the dots for us. Readers are encouraged, urged (even begged) to tell us what they know about contributors and their interests or about council members. If Contributor Z gave money to Candidate X who then proposed a zoning change that boosted the value of Z's property, we want to know. Gotham Gazette reporters will try to check the allegations out; we'll mark those that we can verify and take down ones we determine to be false or abusive.

We hope to have a lively online conversation that will inform New Yorkers and help them become more involved in the politics of their city. This is an experiment in crowdsourcing on local issues. We'll keep you posted on how it develops -- in case some of you want to try something similar in your communities. (And our City Hall editor Courtney Gross and technical manager JaVon Rice, who together did the lion's share of the work on this, can warn you of some of the problems and issue you might face along the way.)

So far, we have received a lot of praise and coverage for Councilpedia. (For a sample go here, here and here for a video). People already are urging us to expand it -- to judges, to state officials, to candidates as well a incumbents. One person even wanted us to delve into records of a past governor. Given how long it took us to get this far -- and given the months of data coding, checking and re-entry, we're gong to pause for now and watch what happens, fine tune what we have, see what kind of discussion develops and, we hope, follow up on some hot tips from readers.

So if you know about New York, tell us what you know. And even if you don't know New York, tell us what you think about the project.

January 27 2011

11:16

The disruptors arrive at Davos

Last year at Davos, I said I was among the disrupted when I preferred to be among the disruptors.

The disruptor arrived last night. Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former spokesman for Wikileaks and founder of the competitive OpenSecrets, came to a dinner about transparency at which I was a panelist, alongside the Guardian’s Timothy Garton-Ash, Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth, and Harvard’s David Kennedy, led by the NY Times’ Arthur Sulzberger.

Sad irony: the session on transparency was off-the-record. I asked for it to be open; Sulzberger asked in turn; no go. Fill in your punchline here.

But Dan Perry of the AP was there and interviewed the hyphenates, Domscheit-Berg and Garton-Ash, on the record. Under Chatham House Rule, we can summarize the talk without attributing it.

In truth, there was little disagreement — until we switched from transparent government to transparent business.

About government, the speakers put forward the expected enthusiasm about forcing more transparency upon government with the expected hesitation about potential harm resulting from incomplete redaction and about making government more secret rather than less. No surprises. One person in the room — a journalist I’ve heard here before who inevitably supports power structures — actually opposed transparent government (preferring mere accountability … though how one gets to the latter without the former, I have no idea).

About business, we did disagree. The question was posed: is secrecy a competitive advantage? Most of the panelists and the room said it was. I disagreed as did one other person you might expect to disagree. I argued that transparency is not about just malfeasance but also about a new and necessary way to operate in collaboration with one’s customers and public. Old, institutional companies will miss another boat as new, transparent companies take advantage of the age of openness to do business in a new way.

What I see is that when corporations are subjected to leaks, the reaction will be different. They’ll have more defenders from the power structure. They’ll too rarely see the opportunity in operating as open companies. But it won’t stop the leaks and the march of transparency.

Tomorrow, I’m going to an awards ceremony held by PublicEye.CH, naming the worst corporation in the world (you can still vote) and there, Domscheit-Berg will present OpenSecrets. This is the counterweight to the congregation of the Davos Man.

* Note also that one of my entrepreneurial journalism students at CUNY, Matt Terenzio, just launched Localeaks, which will enable any newspaper in the U.S. to receive leaks from whistleblowers. Very cool. More about it here.

January 11 2011

15:00

Seeking out sources, made transparent on Twitter

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

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

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

The 140-character interview

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

Playing the local card

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

Name dropping

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

The question tweet

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

I feel your pain

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

Going native

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

The end result of all this attention from journalists?

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

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