Posts about networkedjournalism

News can’t go it alone

I finally had a free hour to read Phil Bronstein’s post about the future and lack thereof of newspapers and how to live to inform another day (including reference to me reading entrails, not a pleasant visual, especially for me). I can sum up his piece in one word:

Cooperation.

Right. If there is one big lesson of the internet age, one moral to the still-unfinished (but not for long) story of newspapers and the future of news, it is that single companies and products will not own news in markets anymore and the way they will move into the networked future is by cooperating. Collaborating. Linking. That is not a small lesson for an industry that is used to going it alone, owning it alone.

Citizen journalism ruins the world (again)

On Friday, like clockwork, I got calls from three reporters asking me to defend citizen journalism (again) after its latest mortal sin against the gods of journalism: the report/rumor/lie on CNN’s iReport that Apple’s Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, which spread and sent the company’s share’s diving.

Every time so-called citizen journalism muffs one, I get such calls, as if to say, look what your bratty kid is up to now. Funny, I don’t get them – as a journalist – every time a reporter messes up.

I told these reporters that they were on the tail of the wrong story. This may not be about citizen journalism at all. It may be about someone trying to game Apple stock and using, nefariously, whatever tools were available. I also told them that anyone who sold their stock on the basis of a pseudonymous post on the web was a fool who deserved what they got (are these the same people who invested in subprime mortgages?).

The proper response to this is to ask what our response should be, not to decry all “citizen journalism” because of this.

First, we need to recognize that life is messy. The idea that we could package the world neatly in a box with a bow on top is a vestige of the old means of production and distribution of news: tightly controlled with the limitation-turned-luxury of time.

Ever since the creation of 24-hour cable news, we have lost that luxury of time. Mistakes – let alone rumors and lies – go out live and the public has to learn to judge the news more skeptically. The truth is, they always have. But now rather than ignoring their skepticism, we need to encourage it and educate people to think this way. Call it media literacy. That is one proper response.

Another response from media is that we have to get better at giving caveats. As news rushes by, it is important that we make it clear what is and isn’t confirmed. We thought we were in the business of saying what we know in the news. But we’re more in the business of saying what we don’t know. I’ve often quoted Nick Denton’s definition of what we bloggers call “half-baked posts.” They say to our readers: “Here’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know. What do you know?”

Note well that CNN iReport issues a blanket caveat on everything it “reports” — hell, this is its tagline and slogan: “Unfiltered. Unedited. News.” Maybe that last word is a problem, but then iReport has had lots of news, including video from the scene of the Virginia Tech massacre. CNN president Jonathan Klein said at a McGraw-Hill conference some months ago that the point of iReport was to have a place to accept stuff from citizens and witnesses that wasn’t CNN. Only that which is vetted, he said, goes up under the CNN brand. But, of course, iReport is near the CNN brand.

It may be a mistake for news organizations to keep begging people to send them stuff. That’s the way they think — centralized, controlling, exclusive. But the better structure may be for journalists to curate the best of what is out on the web. Rather than playing wack-a-mole on the occasional mistake/rumor/lie sent it, editors would better serve if they found the best content anywhere, not just among that which was sent to them.

When the web, like TV, goes live (I can broadcast live today from my Nokia phone over Qik.com), news organizations will have no choice but to find and point to others’ content elsewhere because there won’t be time to send it in.

But the sanest response to reading a report from an unidentifiable source on Steve Jobs’ health is to get on the phone to Apple and find the truth. Note well that that happened quickly online. When I first heard this “news,” it was not that Jobs was sick but that Apple said he wasn’t sick. The reporters I talked to said that was what they first heard as well. Hmm, the system seems to have worked pretty well — except for fools who sell stock based on baseless rumors. But then, that has happened on Wall Street long before there was an internet.

The web, as it turns out, is almost as fast at spreading truth as it as at spreading rumors.

Is this a story of citizen journalism and its failings or of professional journalism and its jealousies?

(Crossposted at Comment is Free)

A newspaper’s life-and-death struggle, played out in a new medium

At the Star-Ledger’s new LedgerLive daily news show from the newsroom (unofficial motto: It’s not TV, damnit), we are watching a big, old paper fight for its survival as it announced buyouts and a possible sale. And the grand irony is that we’re watching this even as the paper reinvents itself in a new medium: online video. The new show and the momentous news about the newspaper came in the same week.

I was in the newsroom on Friday to watch LedgerLive being broadcast and I heard the staff talking about the paper’s and their future, of course. Some of these folks are going to be, well, independent in the fall if they elect to take the buyout and it comes off as announced.

But what struck me listening to them is that they are not prepared for that independent life. I was looking at this from the perspective of being both a former newspaperman who did find a new life in the academe and elsewhere and from the perspective of now being a journalism educator. It is vital that we prepare journalists for this new and independent life or we will lose their journalism. Preparation, to me, means both training – it’s a great thing that Ledger print people are making video in the Rosenblum Method – and setting up an infrastructure to help them create sustainable journalistic enterprises if at all possible. The first factor is why I’m trying to establish a continuing education program for professionals at CUNY. The second is why I’m holding a summit for new business models for news there. That’s my perspective.

I thought the journalists there would benefit from hearing from someone who found life after print and so I suggested to the Ledger’s digiczar, John Hassell, that they get hyperlocal postergirl Debbie Galant to make a video for an upcoming episode of LedgerLive. It didn’t turn out exactly as I’d predicted but it did turn out the start of an entertaining discussion that captures the life-and-death questions journalists across the country are facing now.

Debbie’s message aired on Tuesday from her (very nice) garden in metaphorical PJs:

Baristanet weighs in on The Star-Ledger

On today‘s LedgerLive, reporter Carol Ann Campbell responded in her PJs:

A clip from Ledger Live 08-06-08

Unfortunately, this reprises an us-v-them, pro-v-am rivalry. Fine. Let’s get that out of our system.

And then I’ll challenge Deb to come back and now share her secrets with her still-ink-stained peers: How do you find life after print, Deb? What would you advise a print journalist in the post-print era to do? And I’ll challenge Carol to imagine a new world where she might operate independently. It’s hard but it may be very necessary.

Facing Arianna

Phil Rosenthal from the Chicago Tribune asked me the right question: If you were a newspaper in Chicago, how would you react to the invasion of Arianna (see the post below). My response:

The old way would be to treat her as a competitor and try to do what she does.

The new way would be to find ways to work with her in a network: Sell her local ads and get a piece of her revenue as a result. Take feeds of the good blogs and bloggers she finds and put that in your site, taking the advantage of her curation and relationships. Start lots of blogs that crosspost in her product and yours so you use her to promote those blogs to a new audience. Provide her with feeds of your news so she can deliver it to her audience and you can get links from them to your content. Start to curate blogs on your own and include her in that collection so you can deliver the best of the larger network of local content to your audience. You no longer own the market; you are now part of a larger network and the larger that network is — if you’ve put yourself in the right position — the better it is for you.

Supermedia

Charlie Beckett’s Supermedia, Saving journalism so it can save the world has been pubilshed in the UK and soon will be in the US. It’s really a treatise on networked journalism.

I was honored to have been asked to write the foreword. Snippets:

First, let’s get this straight: No one says that amateurs will or should replace professional journalists. That’s not what networked journalism is about. Instead, networked journalism proposes to take advantage of the new opportunities for collaboration presented by the linked ecology of the internet. Professional and amateur, journalist and citizen may now work together to gather and share more news in more ways to more people than was ever possible before. Networked journalism is founded on a simple, self-evident and self-interested truth: We can do more together than we can apart. . . .

By joining and creating networks of journalistic effort – helping with curation, editing, vetting, education, and, yes, revenue – these news organizations can, indeed, grow. Newspapers can get hyperlocal or international. TV stations can have cameras everywhere. Investigators can have many more hands helping them dig. News sites can become more efficient by doing what they do best and linking to the rest. Reporters can get help and corrections on their work before and after it is published.

The tools journalists can use are constantly expanding. Links and search enable journalism to be found. Blogs allow anyone to publish and contribute. Mobile devices help witnesses share what they see – even as it happens – in the form of text, photos, audio, and video. Databases and wikis enable large groups to pool their knowledge. Social services can connect experts and communities of information.

This, I believe, is the natural state of media: two-way and collaborative. The one-way nature of news media until now was merely a result of the limitations of production and distribution. Properly done, news should be a conversation among those who know and those who want to know, with journalists – in their new roles as curators, enablers, organizers, educators – helping where they can. The product of their work is no longer the publication-cum-fishwrap but instead a process of progressive enlightenment.

So the means, economics, architecture, tools, and technology of journalism all change. What I hope changes most, though, is the culture. I hope journalism becomes more open, transparent, inclusive, flexible. I do believe that journalism will be stronger and more valuable as a component of networks than it was as the product of professional priesthoods. I also believe the amateurs who help in this process will be stronger for learning the standards, practices, and lessons journalists have learned over the years. Both will be better off for realizing that we are in this together, we are members of the same communities. But even with all this change, the essential task of journalism is still unchanged: We want to uncover what the world knows and what the world needs to know and bring them together. . . .

That power – the means, opportunities, and implications of networked journalism – is explored most ably in the pages that follow. Until now, networked journalism has been the subject mostly of blog posts and conference panel discussions. The idea and practice of networked journalism needs this thorough examination and this manifesto in its favor. And I second Charlie Beckett’s contention that we in the news business and in society need networked journalism not just to protect but to expand journalism’s future.

A challenge from the Times

In a comment under my post about restructuring the Times Company below, someone calling him or herself Timesman says that indeed Bill Keller of the Times does want to work collaboratively with his readers, the question is how:

But what, specifically, should journalists at the Times ask its users to do? Let’s hear some very concrete next steps. We’re listening.

OK, friends, let’s take up that challenge. I’ll start the bidding. Please add your ideas of how the Times and its public can work together to perform concrete acts of journalism. (And spare us the kneejerk Times-bashing; those sentiments are stipulated.) Some suggestions:

* Put large amounts of data or documents online and ask the public to help find the stories there. The Dallas Morning News did this with the just-released JFK documents. The Ft. Myers News Press did it with a FOIA on a botched hurricane-relief effort. The Sunlight Foundation has us exposing earmarks in spending bills. Someone, I can’t recall who, did it with Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress. Use your access to get such data and then ask us to help dig into it because we know what’s going on or simply because you want the help. I’d start with Congress and get help from Sunlight and bloggers to strategize that.

* Ask the public to help gather data points around a story. The quickly classical example of this was Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show asking listeners to find out the prices of milk, lettuce, and beer to find out who is being gouged where (which then enables the journalists to ask why — put their price maps against maps of income and race in New York and stories emerge). This should work particularly well on a local level: Ask people to tell you the price they pay for drugs and doctors and map that. Ask them to tell you just how late or dirty their trains are. And on and on. If you get enough data, you can pay attention to the center of the bell curve; the outliers are either mistakes are damned good stories.

* Get the public to help file no end of FOIAs to birddog government. Create a FOIA repository where you can help train them how to do it and record the responses (that bit’s a great idea from Tom Loosemore in the UK) and collect what’s learned.

* One of the great ideas that came out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — inspired by an idea from an intern I worked with at Burda last summer — is to have the public help assign reporters. Now that could get unwieldy quickly. But my CUNY student, Danny Massey, came up with a very smart structure for capturing what the public wants to know so news organizations can allocate at least some of their resource accordingly. I’ll introduce you.

* Establish communities of experts to help on stories, their reporting and checking and even their assignment. This could take the form of Jay Rosen’s beat-blogging idea or of the Ft. Myers panel of experts. Of course, every reporter has such panels in their Rolodexes. But Ft. Myers has learned that people want to be of service before the reporter happens to call. The Times’ crowd is very wise and filled with experts and so why not use the networking and linking power of the internet to help harness that to help with reporting? Imagine a social network around expertise.

* Hand out camera and recorders and ask citizens to capture meetings, lectures, events of all sorts and turn those into podcasts. Most of the time most of them will not get much audience, but the resource that went into each one is minor and the opportunity to spread a wider blanket of coverage on a community is great.

* Get the advertising side involved in supporting curated, quality blog networks: New York, political, business, and so on. The Washington Post has networks for travel and other topics, the Guardian for environment, Reuters for financial blogs. The Times could support the very best of these blogs and benefit from having a wider net of content and reporting at a low cost and risk. And this is the part they’ll like: They can set the definitions of quality. The Times also has an in-house advantage here because About.com knows how to manage and pay large, distributed networks of contributors based on ad and traffic performance.

These ideas work for most any news organization. As I’ll point out in a post I’m writing now: collaboration to create real value is the next generation of interactivity.

To get started, I’d hire a collaboration editor charged with getting such projects going all around the newsroom. But I’d make sure that job gets phased out as journalists collaborate on their own self-interested initiative.

So what other ideas do you have for how the Times — or any news organization — could work together to create journalism?

Crowdsourced editing (and conspiracy theorizing)

The Dallas Morning News has put up PDFs of the boxloads of documents about the JFK assassination just released and asked the public to help find the stories therein.

Every journalist a mojo

My Guardian column this week is about my experience in the Reuters-Nokia mojo project at Davos. Since I haven’t written about my conclusions in the blog, here is the full text of what I wrote (which differs slightly from what was printed; link to the videos at the end):

n82.jpgWe already know that camera-phones in the hands of witnesses have been changing news; there is no better illustration of that, so far, than the 7/7 bombings. But I now see that this same device may change the job of the journalist in ways more radical than I could have imagined until I started reporting with one.

At last month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, I begged my way into Reuters’ mojo – mobile journalist – project and was one of a score of delegates and reporters to get a Nokia N82 mojo phone. Reuters picked the phone because it has a high-quality camera and operates at high speed. For their own journalists, they kit it out with a wireless keyboard, a tiny tripod, a solar battery, and a decent microphone, together with software that enables reporters to organize and publish text, photos, and video onto blogs. They kitted the Davoscenti – including me, Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell – with just the camera-phone and simpler software that let us upload videos in two clicks.

At last year’s Davos, I recorded interviews and pieces with a small consumer video camera that I was able to take into more places than jealous big media could, lugging their heavy and obvious equipment. I shot YouTube cofounder saying for the first time that Google would share revenue with video producers and I put that on YouTube. To do that, I had to import the video onto my Mac and edit and encode it and then upload it online: a hassle and a delay.

This year, when I ran into David Cameron in the halls of Davos, alone and without handlers, I walked up and asked him about his own small video work at Webcameron, which I’ve covered in this column. I whipped out my mojo Nokia and asked whether he’d mind my recording it. I told him I was doing this for Reuters, but I can’t imagine he took that seriously, for I was just using a phone. How could that be professional?

And there is the first fundamental change brought on by the mojo phone: It’s small, unobtrusive, unthreatening. You don’t feel as if you’re talking to a camera and, in turn, to thousands or millions online. You’re talking to a phone; how silly. Other Reuters mojo journalists told me they had the same experience: It makes recording people more casual and perhaps candid and certainly easier.

The camera-phone also allowed me to record moments without drawing attention to myself. At Google’s Davos party, I recorded 14 precious seconds of long-time White House aide David Gergen boogying on the dance floor. As Henry Kissinger stood before a computer recording a video for YouTube, I stood next to him recording the event myself; I went unnoticed. Of course, there are issues: Is any moment of our lives now fodder for broadcast? It’s sobering enough that Britons are tracked everywhere by CCTV cameras, but now you’ll be followed by camera-carrying citizens who could be journalists (but who, even if they’re not, can still broadcast you on YouTube). Life is on the record.

Another key change to journalism brought on by the mojo camera is a difference in how video is used in telling stories. I felt no need to produce a piece or write a story to surround those Davos clips. The snippet is sufficient. I can also see using such video clips as part of larger stories – they become moving and talking pictures. They become part of a multimedia narrative, now that journalists no longer need to pick one medium but can work in them all. In short, we’re not using cameras to make TV with all its trappings and orthodoxies. We’re just making video, video that’s good enough to tell a story.

There’s one additional and even more radical use for the mojo phone: I was able to use it to broadcast live to the internet using Qik.com. Live changes everything.

I conclude from my few days as a mojo in the rarified and thin air of Davos that all journalists – print, broadcast; writer, photographer; reporter, editor – should be equipped as mojos. The Nokia is lovely and all the better because it can upload or broadcast while mobile and can be used to send photos to Flickr and tweets to Twitter (more on that another week). But for the cash-strapped news organization, may I also recommend the $90 Flip Video, which records 30 minutes for upload straight to YouTube via a PC. At Davos, I showed it to the editor of Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, and he’s ready to buy them by the gross. For today, a wired journalist without a camera and connectivity is like a hack without a pencil.

(Videos mentioned here may be seen at www.buzzmachine.com/mojo.)