News You Like to Use?
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism surveyed 18,000 online news consumers across ten countries on their news habits. The results are available in their 2014 Digital News Report.
Related, via Al Jazeera, American’s faith in the news is at an all time low:

The latest edition of a Gallup poll that tracks confidence in media follows a decades-long trend that shows a declining faith in television and print news. The percentage of Americans that have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the three media formats now hover around one-fifth.
Twenty-two percent of respondents trust newspapers, 19 percent trust web-based news sites, and 18 percent say they trust TV. All three of those numbers are within the polls 4-point margin of error. 

Somewhat Related, via The New Republic: Does Fox News Cause Ignorance, or Do Ignorant Viewers Prefer Fox News?
TL;DR: Yes, but give it a read. It’s a great analysis of bandwagon effects and confirmation bias no matter your political inclinations.
Image: Most Important Types of News Among US News Consumers, via Marketing Charts and based on data from the Reuters Institute. Select to embiggen.

News You Like to Use?

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism surveyed 18,000 online news consumers across ten countries on their news habits. The results are available in their 2014 Digital News Report.

Related, via Al Jazeera, American’s faith in the news is at an all time low:

The latest edition of a Gallup poll that tracks confidence in media follows a decades-long trend that shows a declining faith in television and print news. The percentage of Americans that have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the three media formats now hover around one-fifth.

Twenty-two percent of respondents trust newspapers, 19 percent trust web-based news sites, and 18 percent say they trust TV. All three of those numbers are within the polls 4-point margin of error. 

Somewhat Related, via The New Republic: Does Fox News Cause Ignorance, or Do Ignorant Viewers Prefer Fox News?

TL;DR: Yes, but give it a read. It’s a great analysis of bandwagon effects and confirmation bias no matter your political inclinations.

Image: Most Important Types of News Among US News Consumers, via Marketing Charts and based on data from the Reuters Institute. Select to embiggen.

My Handwriting’s Crap, How ‘Bout Yours
Ever since personal computers made their way into the classroom, handwriting’s been on the way out. Many schools teach kindergartners and first graders how to print but don’t move on to cursive. Consider handwriting an increasingly obsolete art.
But research shows that writing by hand actually improves brain development. For example, Nancy Darling, psychology professor at Oberlin:

Using our hands requires the development of particular areas of the brain. That’s true when we are learning to use a tool, like our ancestors wielding an axe. It’s true when we learn to play the piano. It’s true when we learn to write. It’s true when we learn to sew or play with blocks. One of the advantages of moving away from the keyboard and doing something that requires greater flexibility in how we use our hands is that it also requires greater flexibility in how we use our brains. This, in turn, requires our brains to develop in new ways.

In Pacific Standard, Ted Scheinman explains, “The benefits of writing by hand, and doing so from a young age, are fundamental: improved and sustained development in social skills, hand-eye coordination, long-term memory. And when one considers “fluency” in its literal sense, it makes sense that cursive especially can energize a more fluid and coherent process of thought.”
He then goes into this doozy of an anecdote from Valerie Hotchkiss at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign:

Recently, an undergraduate asked me for help with a manuscript she was studying. I assumed it was something along the lines of a medieval Latin text or perhaps even a particularly difficult Marcel Proust letter (our library holds the largest collection of Proust letters in the world), but when I bent over the letter to help, I saw that it was in English and in the very neat, clear hand of John Ruskin. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t do cursive,” answered the undergraduate.

Takeaway: Practice your chickenscratch. — Michael
Image: Some words, written using the Dakota font.

My Handwriting’s Crap, How ‘Bout Yours

Ever since personal computers made their way into the classroom, handwriting’s been on the way out. Many schools teach kindergartners and first graders how to print but don’t move on to cursive. Consider handwriting an increasingly obsolete art.

But research shows that writing by hand actually improves brain development. For example, Nancy Darling, psychology professor at Oberlin:

Using our hands requires the development of particular areas of the brain. That’s true when we are learning to use a tool, like our ancestors wielding an axe. It’s true when we learn to play the piano. It’s true when we learn to write. It’s true when we learn to sew or play with blocks. One of the advantages of moving away from the keyboard and doing something that requires greater flexibility in how we use our hands is that it also requires greater flexibility in how we use our brains. This, in turn, requires our brains to develop in new ways.

In Pacific Standard, Ted Scheinman explains, “The benefits of writing by hand, and doing so from a young age, are fundamental: improved and sustained development in social skills, hand-eye coordination, long-term memory. And when one considers “fluency” in its literal sense, it makes sense that cursive especially can energize a more fluid and coherent process of thought.”

He then goes into this doozy of an anecdote from Valerie Hotchkiss at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign:

Recently, an undergraduate asked me for help with a manuscript she was studying. I assumed it was something along the lines of a medieval Latin text or perhaps even a particularly difficult Marcel Proust letter (our library holds the largest collection of Proust letters in the world), but when I bent over the letter to help, I saw that it was in English and in the very neat, clear hand of John Ruskin. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t do cursive,” answered the undergraduate.

Takeaway: Practice your chickenscratch. — Michael

Image: Some words, written using the Dakota font.

One in every seven statehouse reporters today (or 14% of the total) is a college student.

— Statehouse reporters, who cover state government and public policy, are on the decline, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. Get the facts here.  (via pewresearch)

Hacking Politics with Browser Extensions & Twitter Bots
Sixteen-year-old Nick Rubin created a browser extension that shows who’s funding US politicians. Called Greenhouse, the extension pulls data from OpenSecrets.org so that when reading a story you can mouse over politicians’ names to get a quick overview of what industries have donated to them. Additional data pulled from Reform.to shows if the politician supports campaign finance reform.
Over in the political satire corner of the Web, this Chrome Extension will play Entry of the Gladiators when an article about Toronto mayor Rob Ford loads in your browser. Entry of the Gladiators? You might know it better as the clown song that’s played at the circus. Sounds like this.
Meantime, two bots on Twitter are fighting the transparency fight.
One, @PhrmaEdits, tweets whenever anonymous edits to Wikipedia are made that can be traced back to a pharmaceutical’s IP address. The bot is based on @CongressEdits by Ed Summers, that does the same.
As Summers explains on his personal site, the idea behind @CongressEdits has gone international:

The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool. So using my experience on a previous side project I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.
In less than 48 hours the @congressedits Twitter account had more than 3,000 followers. My friend Nick set up gccaedits for Canada using the same software … and @wikiAssemblee (France) and @RiksdagWikiEdit (Sweden) were quick to follow.

Image: Best Web Browser Extension by I Can Barely Draw. Select to embiggen.

Hacking Politics with Browser Extensions & Twitter Bots

Sixteen-year-old Nick Rubin created a browser extension that shows who’s funding US politicians. Called Greenhouse, the extension pulls data from OpenSecrets.org so that when reading a story you can mouse over politicians’ names to get a quick overview of what industries have donated to them. Additional data pulled from Reform.to shows if the politician supports campaign finance reform.

Over in the political satire corner of the Web, this Chrome Extension will play Entry of the Gladiators when an article about Toronto mayor Rob Ford loads in your browser. Entry of the Gladiators? You might know it better as the clown song that’s played at the circus. Sounds like this.

Meantime, two bots on Twitter are fighting the transparency fight.

One, @PhrmaEdits, tweets whenever anonymous edits to Wikipedia are made that can be traced back to a pharmaceutical’s IP address. The bot is based on @CongressEdits by Ed Summers, that does the same.

As Summers explains on his personal site, the idea behind @CongressEdits has gone international:

The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool. So using my experience on a previous side project I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.

In less than 48 hours the @congressedits Twitter account had more than 3,000 followers. My friend Nick set up gccaedits for Canada using the same software … and @wikiAssemblee (France) and @RiksdagWikiEdit (Sweden) were quick to follow.

Image: Best Web Browser Extension by I Can Barely Draw. Select to embiggen.

The Robots are Coming, Part 132
First, some background, via Kevin Roose at New York Magazine:

Earlier this week, one of my business-beat colleagues got assigned to recap the quarterly earnings of Alcoa, the giant metals company, for the Associated Press. The reporter’s story began: “Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts’ expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.”
It may not have been the most artful start to a story, but it got the point across, with just enough background information for a casual reader to make sense of it. Not bad. The most impressive part, though, was how long the story took to produce: less than a second.

If you’re into robots and algorithms writing the news, the article’s worth the read. It’s optimistic, asserting that in contexts like earnings reports, sports roundups and the like, the automation frees journalists for more mindful work such as analyzing what those earning reports actually mean
With 300 million robot-driven stories produced last year – more than all media outlets in the world combined, according to Roose – and an estimated billion stories in store for 2014, that’s a lot of freed up time to cast our minds elsewhere.
Besides, as Roose explains, “The stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway.”
More interesting, and more troubling, are the ethics behind algorithmically driven articles. Slate’s Nicholas Diakopoulos tried to tackle this question in April when he asked how we can incorporate robots into our news gathering with a level of expected transparency needed in today’s media environment. Part of his solution is understanding what he calls the “tuning criteria,” or the inherent biases, that are used to make editorial decisions when algorithms direct the news.
Here’s something else to chew on. Back to Roose:

Robot-generated stories aren’t all fill-in-the-blank jobs; the more advanced algorithms use things like perspective, tone, and humor to tailor a story to its audience. A robot recapping a basketball game, for example, might be able to produce two versions of a story using the same data: one upbeat story that reads as if a fan of the winning team had written it; and another glum version written from the loser’s perspective.

Apply this concept to a holy grail of startups and legacy organizations alike: customizing and personalizing the news just for you. Will future robots feed us a feel-good, meat and potatoes partisan diet of news based on the same sort behavioral tracking the ad industry uses to deliver advertising. With the time and cost of producing multiple stories from the same data sets approaching zero, it’s not difficult to imagine a news site deciding that they’ll serve different versions of the same story based on perceived political affiliations.
That’s a conundrum. One more worth exploring than whether an algorithm can give us a few paragraphs on who’s nominated for the next awards show.
Want more robots? Visit our Robots Tag.
Image: Twitter post, via @hanelly.

The Robots are Coming, Part 132

First, some background, via Kevin Roose at New York Magazine:

Earlier this week, one of my business-beat colleagues got assigned to recap the quarterly earnings of Alcoa, the giant metals company, for the Associated Press. The reporter’s story began: “Alcoa Inc. (AA) on Tuesday reported a second-quarter profit of $138 million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts’ expectation. The company reported strong results in its engineered-products business, which makes parts for industrial customers, while looking to cut costs in its aluminum-smelting segment.”

It may not have been the most artful start to a story, but it got the point across, with just enough background information for a casual reader to make sense of it. Not bad. The most impressive part, though, was how long the story took to produce: less than a second.

If you’re into robots and algorithms writing the news, the article’s worth the read. It’s optimistic, asserting that in contexts like earnings reports, sports roundups and the like, the automation frees journalists for more mindful work such as analyzing what those earning reports actually mean

With 300 million robot-driven stories produced last year – more than all media outlets in the world combined, according to Roose – and an estimated billion stories in store for 2014, that’s a lot of freed up time to cast our minds elsewhere.

Besides, as Roose explains, “The stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway.”

More interesting, and more troubling, are the ethics behind algorithmically driven articles. Slate’s Nicholas Diakopoulos tried to tackle this question in April when he asked how we can incorporate robots into our news gathering with a level of expected transparency needed in today’s media environment. Part of his solution is understanding what he calls the “tuning criteria,” or the inherent biases, that are used to make editorial decisions when algorithms direct the news.

Here’s something else to chew on. Back to Roose:

Robot-generated stories aren’t all fill-in-the-blank jobs; the more advanced algorithms use things like perspective, tone, and humor to tailor a story to its audience. A robot recapping a basketball game, for example, might be able to produce two versions of a story using the same data: one upbeat story that reads as if a fan of the winning team had written it; and another glum version written from the loser’s perspective.

Apply this concept to a holy grail of startups and legacy organizations alike: customizing and personalizing the news just for you. Will future robots feed us a feel-good, meat and potatoes partisan diet of news based on the same sort behavioral tracking the ad industry uses to deliver advertising. With the time and cost of producing multiple stories from the same data sets approaching zero, it’s not difficult to imagine a news site deciding that they’ll serve different versions of the same story based on perceived political affiliations.

That’s a conundrum. One more worth exploring than whether an algorithm can give us a few paragraphs on who’s nominated for the next awards show.

Want more robots? Visit our Robots Tag.

Image: Twitter post, via @hanelly.

Space is a Beautiful Place

The Royal Greenwich Observatory announced the finalists for its sixth annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Here are a few that made the cut. Winners will be announced in September.

01: Ivan Eder (top)
Royal Observatory… says: Situated 7500 light years away in the ‘W’-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia, the Heart Nebula is a vast region of glowing gas, energized by a cluster of young stars at its centre. The image depicts the central region, where dust clouds are being eroded and moulded into rugged shapes by the searing cosmic radiation.

02: Anneliese Possberg
Royal Observatory… says: The spectacular Northern Lights pictured unfolding over a fjord, in Skjervøy, Troms, Norway. The vibrant colours are produced at various altitudes by different atmospheric gases, with blue light emitted by nitrogen and green by oxygen. Red light can be produced by both gases, while purples, pinks and yellows occur where the various colours mix and intersect.

03: Mark Hanson
Royal Observatory… says: This colourful starscape taken from Rancho Hidalgo, New Mexico, USA reveals the searing heat of the Crescent Nebula glowing in a whirl of red and blue. The emission nebula is a colossal shell of material ejected from a powerful but short-lived Wolf-Rayet star (WR 136), seen close to the image centre. Ultraviolet radiation and stellar wind now heats the swelling cloud, causing it to glow.

Want More?
Photos for the RGO competition are on Flickr. You can view the 14 finalists here. You can view the 2,500 or so submissions here.

Images: Select to embiggen.

The relationship between the government and the media is like a marriage; it is a dysfunctional marriage to be sure, but we stay together for the kids.

— Thom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, quoted in Time. Bloggers, Surveillance and Obama’s Orwellian State.

Premium Domains
H/T: @charliejane

Premium Domains

H/T: @charliejane

Tsundoku
The closest word we’ve found to describe our bookmarking habits.

Tsundoku

The closest word we’ve found to describe our bookmarking habits.

The News is Stressing Us Out
A new study suggests that following the news stresses Americans out.
The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio, looks at stress in American lives and found that 25% of those polled said they experienced a “great deal” of stress in the previous month.
According to NPR, “[T]hese stressed-out people said one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress was watching, reading or listening to the news.”
In an interview with NPR, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said one of the biggest stress drivers is sensationalist coverage of traumatic events, disturbing imagery used in such coverage and the endless looping of such imagery in newscasts.
You can read the study here and listen to an NPR segment on the study here.

The News is Stressing Us Out

A new study suggests that following the news stresses Americans out.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio, looks at stress in American lives and found that 25% of those polled said they experienced a “great deal” of stress in the previous month.

According to NPR, “[T]hese stressed-out people said one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress was watching, reading or listening to the news.”

In an interview with NPR, Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said one of the biggest stress drivers is sensationalist coverage of traumatic events, disturbing imagery used in such coverage and the endless looping of such imagery in newscasts.

You can read the study here and listen to an NPR segment on the study here.

#BookBenches

England’s National Literacy Trust commissioned artists to create 50 benches based on both specific books and the worlds authors create more generally.

Part of a literacy campaign called Books About Town, the benches are set throughout London across four different walking tours.

Visit Books About Town for more.

Images: Dr. Suess (top); Bridget Jones Diary and Dickens Liverpool (row two); Origin of Species and Paddington (row three); and Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes and Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe (row four). Select to embiggen.

Who Owns Media (US Edition)

Via Gizmodo, which also includes graphics on what brands own what consumer goods, consolidation in financial markets, what auto makers own what cars, and what breweries make what beer… which is important.

Images: Studios and media companies (top), and TV stations (bottom). Select to embiggen.

Score One for Science: BBC Tells Journalists to Stop Including Denialists on Shows →

Via The Telegraph:

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed…

…The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics.

Over at Slate, Phil Plait explains:

In other [non-science] subjects, it’s possible for honest people with different values to come down on different sides of a debate. But when it comes to science, especially firmly established and consensually agreed-upon science, putting on some crackpot who disagrees is not “fair and balanced.”

News shows don’t put on a flat-earther whenever they show a map. They don’t get an opposing opinion from a young-Earth creationist when a new dinosaur fossil is found. They don’t interview an astrologer when a new exoplanet is discovered. So why put on a climate change denier when we’re talking about our planet heating up?

Does two make a trend?

No, but last fall, the Los Angeles Times told its readers that it would no longer publish letters that deny — or argue against — human activity as a contributor to climate change.

GoPro + Drone + Fireworks = One Amazing Video

Via Jos Stiglingh.