Robots Reporting Earthquakes
Via Slate:

Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, was jolted awake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit “publish.” And that’s how the LAT became the first media outlet to report on this morning’s temblor. “I think we had it up within three minutes,” Schwencke told me.
If that sounds faster than humanly possible, it probably is. While the post appeared under Schwencke’s byline, the real author was an algorithm called Quakebot that he developed a little over two years ago. Whenever an alert comes in from the U.S. Geological Survey about an earthquake above a certain size threshold, Quakebot is programmed to extract the relevant data from the USGS report and plug it into a pre-written template. The story goes into the LAT’s content management system, where it awaits review and publication by a human editor.

Interested in – or freaked out about – robots writing your news? Check our Robots Tag.
Image: Screenshot, text I received from my brother Peter this morning. – Michael

Robots Reporting Earthquakes

Via Slate:

Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, was jolted awake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit “publish.” And that’s how the LAT became the first media outlet to report on this morning’s temblor. “I think we had it up within three minutes,” Schwencke told me.

If that sounds faster than humanly possible, it probably is. While the post appeared under Schwencke’s byline, the real author was an algorithm called Quakebot that he developed a little over two years ago. Whenever an alert comes in from the U.S. Geological Survey about an earthquake above a certain size threshold, Quakebot is programmed to extract the relevant data from the USGS report and plug it into a pre-written template. The story goes into the LAT’s content management system, where it awaits review and publication by a human editor.

Interested in – or freaked out about – robots writing your news? Check our Robots Tag.

Image: Screenshot, text I received from my brother Peter this morning. – Michael

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.

Janet Malcom, The Journalist and the Murderer, via Slate. The Storytellers: Walter Kirn gets taken in by a con man.

So begins a review in Slate of Blood Will Out, a new memoir by Walter Kirn about his relationship with Clark Rockefeller, a real life Mr. Ripley who impersonated a famous name, lived the high life and was eventually charged on kidnapping and murder charges. Kirn’s book explores how, as a writer, he was taken in by the faux Rockefeller. Or, more precisely, by the German-born Christian Gerhartsreiter who successfully played a Rockefeller in New York City social circles.

But while Kirn explores why and how he was taken over a decade-long relationship, let’s go back to Malcom’s original quote, to the journalist as con man, to his or her relationship with sources, and why sources should talk with reporters.

In the wake of NSA revelations, national security journalists have spoken about their increased difficulty reporting the news (see here, here and here). And with the Obama administration’s use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers you can see why that would be the case.

So why should sources talk to reporters? It’s an important, unasked question, says Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley:

When you think about it, that question goes to the foundation of the entire edifice of a free press. And that foundation, at the moment, is shaky.

Let’s back up. No honest press, whatever its sense of mission and however firm its legal protections, can outperform its sources. It can’t be any better, stronger, braver, more richly informed, or more dedicated to broad public purpose than the people who swallow their misgivings, return the phone call, step forward, and risk embarrassment and reprisal to talk to the reporter.

The mythology of journalism enshrines the sleuths, sometimes the editors, even the publishers, but sources are really the whole ball game. Press freedom is nothing more than source freedom, one step removed. The right of a news organization to tell what it learns is an empty abstraction without the willingness of news sources to tell what they know.

Considering how important sources are, it’s stunning how little affection they get and how flimsy the protections are that anybody claims for them.

Give Wasserman’s article a good read.

It moves well beyond national security issues as it explores, again, why when a source’s quote can be nitpicked a thousand different ways — in “the online multiverse, and his or her words, motives and integrity will be denounced or impugned, often by pseudonymous dingbats, some of them undisclosed hirelings” — he or she should ever want to talk to the news media.

Hello, Sunshine Week
Sunshine Week is on us. Here are a few good resources on open government and transparency.
SunshineWeek.org lists events, has toolkits and shows how the Freedom of Information Act Works.
The Sunlight Foundation provides information on transparency issues, and provides API’s for developers to hack government data.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Transparency Project has  backgrounders on all things FOIA.
FOIA.gov let’s you query data and file your requests.
Reading US Attorney General Eric Holder’s now five-year-old memo to federal agencies on becoming more open to FOIA requests is eye-opening. The ostensible goal was to make agencies more open and transparent. 
Seems the message has been lost. Via the AP: 

The Obama administration has a way to go to fulfill its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history.
More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.
The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category - except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees - the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.

Image: Phil Lapsley, discussing turning the Freedom of Information Act into a hacking tool, via the EFF.

Hello, Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week is on us. Here are a few good resources on open government and transparency.

  • SunshineWeek.org lists events, has toolkits and shows how the Freedom of Information Act Works.
  • The Sunlight Foundation provides information on transparency issues, and provides API’s for developers to hack government data.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Transparency Project has  backgrounders on all things FOIA.
  • FOIA.gov let’s you query data and file your requests.

Reading US Attorney General Eric Holder’s now five-year-old memo to federal agencies on becoming more open to FOIA requests is eye-opening. The ostensible goal was to make agencies more open and transparent. 

Seems the message has been lost. Via the AP

The Obama administration has a way to go to fulfill its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history.

More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.

The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category - except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees - the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.

Image: Phil Lapsley, discussing turning the Freedom of Information Act into a hacking tool, via the EFF.

Digging Through the Archives
That’s quite the memory you have. I think you’re referring to this post:

A recent question in our inbox asked, “What is it about journalism that you love? Why did you become a journalist?”
I began replying, looked at what I was writing, decided it was pretty dull and cast my net on Twitter where I asked #whyJournalism and linked to a simple Google form for people to answer.
Above is a collection of some of the answers we received. Some interesting replies not shown here include people motivated by specific events. For example, NBC’s Craig Kanalley points to 9/11 and his inspiration about how the press covered it.

FJP: Survey Says! #whyJournalism — Michael.

Digging Through the Archives

That’s quite the memory you have. I think you’re referring to this post:

A recent question in our inbox asked, “What is it about journalism that you love? Why did you become a journalist?”

I began replying, looked at what I was writing, decided it was pretty dull and cast my net on Twitter where I asked #whyJournalism and linked to a simple Google form for people to answer.

Above is a collection of some of the answers we received. Some interesting replies not shown here include people motivated by specific events. For example, NBC’s Craig Kanalley points to 9/11 and his inspiration about how the press covered it.

FJP: Survey Says! #whyJournalismMichael.

Average Time US Millennials Spend Interacting with Media Per Day
Eighteen hours? It’s all about multitasking. Via the Wall Street Journal.

Average Time US Millennials Spend Interacting with Media Per Day

Eighteen hours? It’s all about multitasking. Via the Wall Street Journal.

Lessons from Alice

[T]ied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words “DRINK ME” beautifully printed on it in large letters.
It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison or not;” for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is most certain to disagree with you sooner or later.
However, This bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

Alice ventured to taste it and found it very nice.
Image: Alice in Wonderland from Read.gov, which is putting classic books online.

Lessons from Alice

[T]ied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words “DRINK ME” beautifully printed on it in large letters.

It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison or not;” for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is most certain to disagree with you sooner or later.

However, This bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

Alice ventured to taste it and found it very nice.

Image: Alice in Wonderland from Read.gov, which is putting classic books online.

I don’t even know if anyone is reading this anymore.

Russia Blocks Four Opposition Media Portals — (via globalvoices)

Background, via EFF:

Russia’s government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country’s ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.

The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov’s opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.

The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia’s Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been “entered into the single register of banned information” after “calls for participation in unauthorized rallies.” Navalny’s livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest, which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet.

Juoksentelisinkohan

Juoksentelisinkohan

Gangsta Lorem Ipsum
Let us begin:

Lorizzle pot dolizzle the bizzle amizzle, mammasay mammasa mamma oo sa adipiscing elit. Nullizzle tellivizzle velizzle, we gonna chung volutpizzle, crackalackin quizzle, shiz vel, arcu. Pellentesque fizzle tortizzle. You son of a bizzle erizzle. Yo izzle dolizzle dapibizzle turpis tempizzle hizzle. Maurizzle pellentesque nibh et turpizzle. Go to hizzle rizzle mammasay mammasa mamma oo sa.

And how we got there, via The London Review of Books:

Sometimes, when we’re putting together an issue of the LRB, we use Lorem Ipsum, a chunk of phoney Latin dummy text that’s been used by printers and typesetters since the 16th century. We paste it into a layout so we can tell what a page will look like before the copy’s ready. The practice is known as ‘greeking’ because the Latin’s so mixed up it’s all Greek.
Only it isn’t. The text itself has been designed not to communicate, to have the look of text but no meaning – but meaning bubbles up through it nonetheless. The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’, an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon. Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: the text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was…
…Try translating it and you get some striking effects. Of course a straightforward translation isn’t possible – for one thing, ‘lorem’ isn’t a word, it’s a chopped off bit of ‘dolorem’ – but Jaspreet Singh Boparai, a postgraduate at Cambridge, has come up with the following:

For language and design nerds, your translation.
Image: Screenshot, Gangsta Lorem Ipsum.

Gangsta Lorem Ipsum

Let us begin:

Lorizzle pot dolizzle the bizzle amizzle, mammasay mammasa mamma oo sa adipiscing elit. Nullizzle tellivizzle velizzle, we gonna chung volutpizzle, crackalackin quizzle, shiz vel, arcu. Pellentesque fizzle tortizzle. You son of a bizzle erizzle. Yo izzle dolizzle dapibizzle turpis tempizzle hizzle. Maurizzle pellentesque nibh et turpizzle. Go to hizzle rizzle mammasay mammasa mamma oo sa.

And how we got there, via The London Review of Books:

Sometimes, when we’re putting together an issue of the LRB, we use Lorem Ipsum, a chunk of phoney Latin dummy text that’s been used by printers and typesetters since the 16th century. We paste it into a layout so we can tell what a page will look like before the copy’s ready. The practice is known as ‘greeking’ because the Latin’s so mixed up it’s all Greek.

Only it isn’t. The text itself has been designed not to communicate, to have the look of text but no meaning – but meaning bubbles up through it nonetheless. The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’, an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon. Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: the text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was…

…Try translating it and you get some striking effects. Of course a straightforward translation isn’t possible – for one thing, ‘lorem’ isn’t a word, it’s a chopped off bit of ‘dolorem’ – but Jaspreet Singh Boparai, a postgraduate at Cambridge, has come up with the following:

For language and design nerds, your translation.

Image: Screenshot, Gangsta Lorem Ipsum.

The Pope Has a New Magazine

Stephen Colbert breaks it down.

For more of Colbert’s take on Catholism, see OnFaith.

Why Even Have a Mormon Blog?

To the question: Why—given that only 2% of Americans are Mormon—does Religion Dispatches have a blog about Mormonism but not other equally small churches?, RD writer Holly Welker replies:

I admit I haven’t asked my editors for their exact reasoning, but my standard explanation goes something like this: “Well, we’re interesting. Love us or hate us, a lot of people want to read about us. And we’re more politically engaged than other 19th-century American religions—Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, even Christian Scientists. They might have the Monitor, but they don’t have a Senate majority leader like Harry Reid or a former presidential nominee like Mitt Romney.”

But really, she goes on, in light of the question of what might happen if the Supreme Court strikes state-level bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional:

[Another] reason why a very small religion warrants a prominent place within the broader current discussion of religion, politics and culture: because Mormons have been where the Christian Right is collectively right now: we staked much of our political and personal identity and capital on a fight over the definition of marriage. We could see we were losing; we retrenched; we lost decisively. We sulked about it for a really long time, and now we just wish the whole sordid past could go away and stop haunting us.

And then we managed not to learn anything from our mistake and did the same basic thing again a century or so later, but this time, we got a whole bunch of other people to join us.

Journalists my age and younger (I’ve been in the business since 2005—right around the time digital media emerged as a plausible career option) have never operated under the illusion that a staff job at The New Yorker or a New York Times column was in our future. But nearly a decade into the digital-media revolution, another shift has occurred. It’s not just that journalists understand former “prestige” jobs will be nearly impossible to get. Now we don’t even want them.
Ann Friedman, The New Dream Job, Columbia Journalism Review

Why We Follow Porn

Because in the New York Times, an “adult film actor” named Stoya writes about pornography, stage names and identity:

Along with desires to differentiate themselves from performers in similar fields, increase ease of spelling and pronunciation or convey a certain image, some performers do take a stage name for the purpose of making themselves more difficult to recognize. This might possibly have worked in the ’70s, but with easy access to enormous amounts of adult content on the Internet and the ease with which we can all find juicy tidbits of information about one another’s pasts online, I can’t see it having much effect anymore…

…[But] my stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.

Stoya talks about the inherent paradoxes in the pseudo-anonymity her stage name affords, but equates it with what she sees as part and parcel of a fragmentation many — notwithstanding those who disagree with the notion of digital dualism — experience between their online and offline selves.

Because in PandoDaily, we read about PornHub’s innovative marketing campaigns to get their NSFW “product” into SFW spaces.

As a result, Pornhub must rely (for now) on social advertising, digital advertising, and organic promotion, which makes them as interesting case study for other startups that, while not restricted by social mores, may have financial roadblocks in getting on TV.

The latest untraditional marketing strategy came this week when Pornhub launched a call for “Safe-For-Work” Pornhub ads. Aspiring ad men and women can submit their entries to this Tumblr (SFW). The person behind the winning entrant has a shot at becoming the company’s next creative director, the site promises.

A campaign like this not only grabs headlines (which is its own kind of free advertising). It also allows Pornhub to set the terms of its own brand identity before even launching a national campaign.

Because while reading the above we read some more and came across a study by the Urban Institute on underground economies and learn that Atlanta is the sex trade capital of the United States, a “sex act” runs anywhere from $5 to over $1000 in Dallas and pimps don’t like being called pimps. It’s too seventies. Business Manager will do.

And because so long as we’re reading about fragmentary identity, online marketing and job descriptions, we might as well read how sea slugs mate: The hermaphrodites “penis fence” in an attempt “to penis-stab the other. An inflicted wound inoculates the recipient with sperm.”

Penis stabbing? It’s not just the sea slug. Enter the bedbug, just penis stabbing its way through life:

Males will often jump on and penis-stab anything that comes their way, even females of other species, often killing them in the process — a phenomenon that has driven some species to evolve apart. Male bedbugs regularly jump other males by mistake—which is such a problem that males in one species have evolved their own damage-control spermaleges.

And that’s what we learned this week by following porn. Now off to watch Isabella Rossellini demonstrate the erotic lives of snails. Spoiler alert: “love darts.”

#WithSyria
Via The Independent:

An evocative YouTube video featuring Banksy, Idris Elba and alternative rock band Elbow has been released as part of a global vigil to mark the third anniversary of the crisis in Syria.
The charity video tribute, which is just over a minute-and-a-half long, brings one of graffiti artist Banksy’s most iconic stencils to life - set against a haunting backdrop of heartbreak and bloodshed.
His girl with a heart balloonartwork, which he has recreated for the #WithSyria campaign, is reworked in the guise of a young Syrian refugee.
She holds on to the balloon as it rises over the civil war-torn country, passing buildings destroyed by bombs and children kneeling next to the bodies of the dead.
As she ascends, she is joined by other children and adults, each holding on to a red balloon. British actor Idirs Elba provides the voiceover, asking those watching to “stand with Syria”.

Image: Screenshot, #WithSyria. Visit The Syria Campaign for more.

#WithSyria

Via The Independent:

An evocative YouTube video featuring Banksy, Idris Elba and alternative rock band Elbow has been released as part of a global vigil to mark the third anniversary of the crisis in Syria.

The charity video tribute, which is just over a minute-and-a-half long, brings one of graffiti artist Banksy’s most iconic stencils to life - set against a haunting backdrop of heartbreak and bloodshed.

His girl with a heart balloonartwork, which he has recreated for the #WithSyria campaign, is reworked in the guise of a young Syrian refugee.

She holds on to the balloon as it rises over the civil war-torn country, passing buildings destroyed by bombs and children kneeling next to the bodies of the dead.

As she ascends, she is joined by other children and adults, each holding on to a red balloon. British actor Idirs Elba provides the voiceover, asking those watching to “stand with Syria”.

Image: Screenshot, #WithSyria. Visit The Syria Campaign for more.