Posts tagged Reporting

In Praise of Sources

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.

Verification Handbook
In times of crisis our social spaces become troves of information. Misinformation too as journalists and ordinary citizens try to make heads and tails of what’s going on around them.
Enter the European Journalism Centre which just released the Verification Handbook, a collection of essays and case studies from journalists at the BBC, Storyful, ABC and other news organizations.
In their introduction to the collection, Craig Silverman and Rina Tsubaki write:

A disaster is no time to try to verify on the fly. It’s not the moment to figure out what your standards and practices are for handling crowdsourced information. Yet it’s what many - too many - newsrooms and other organizations do.
Fortunately, an abundance of tools, technologies and best practices have emerged in recent years that enable anyone to master the new art of verification, and more are being developed all the time.
It is, in the end, about achieving a harmony of two core elements: Preparing, training and coordinating people in advance and during an emergency; and providing them with access and resources to enable them to take full advantage of the ever-evolving tools that can help with verification.
The combination of the human and the technological with a sense of direction and diligence is ultimately what helps speed and perfect verification. Admittedly, however, this is a new combination, and the landscape of tools and technologies can change quickly.
This book synthesizes the best advice and experience by drawing upon the expertise of leading practitioners from some of the world’s top news organizations, NGOs, volunteer and technical communities, and even the United Nations. It offers essential guidance, tools and processes to help organizations and professionals serve the public with reliable, timely information when it matters most.

The online edition is here. ePub and PDF versions are coming soon.

Verification Handbook

In times of crisis our social spaces become troves of information. Misinformation too as journalists and ordinary citizens try to make heads and tails of what’s going on around them.

Enter the European Journalism Centre which just released the Verification Handbook, a collection of essays and case studies from journalists at the BBC, Storyful, ABC and other news organizations.

In their introduction to the collection, Craig Silverman and Rina Tsubaki write:

A disaster is no time to try to verify on the fly. It’s not the moment to figure out what your standards and practices are for handling crowdsourced information. Yet it’s what many - too many - newsrooms and other organizations do.

Fortunately, an abundance of tools, technologies and best practices have emerged in recent years that enable anyone to master the new art of verification, and more are being developed all the time.

It is, in the end, about achieving a harmony of two core elements: Preparing, training and coordinating people in advance and during an emergency; and providing them with access and resources to enable them to take full advantage of the ever-evolving tools that can help with verification.

The combination of the human and the technological with a sense of direction and diligence is ultimately what helps speed and perfect verification. Admittedly, however, this is a new combination, and the landscape of tools and technologies can change quickly.

This book synthesizes the best advice and experience by drawing upon the expertise of leading practitioners from some of the world’s top news organizations, NGOs, volunteer and technical communities, and even the United Nations. It offers essential guidance, tools and processes to help organizations and professionals serve the public with reliable, timely information when it matters most.

The online edition is here. ePub and PDF versions are coming soon.

The First Annual FJP Absolutely Arbitrary Best of Everything List: 2013 Edition

As 2013 comes to a close, we see best of lists everywhere and think we should create one of our own. As de facto head of this operation I put forth The First Annual FJP Absolutely Arbitrary Best of Everything List: 2013 Edition.

So while arbitrary, these are things we bandied about during the year.

We read/watch/listen a lot. We sit around and talk about how we consume a lot.

We talk about how to digest what we consume. We talk about healthful media diets.

Jihii leads this charge and keeps us honest and relatively sane. Meanwhile, we eat the news.

So here are things that didn’t make the Tumblr but occupies what we read, watched and talked about over the last 365 days. They’re the oddities and peculiarities that caught our interest. Obviously there’s much more but in the spirit of occupying attention for a few moments before passing it along, here’s our abbreviated – and arbitrary – hit list. – Michael

Most Important Presentations on the NSA, Surveillance, What it All Means, Why it Matters and Why You Should Order a Tinfoil Hat Now
Tie, Jacob Applebaum (video), Glenn Greenwald (video) and the Guardian (interactive).

Best Reflection on Women and the Internet
Quinn Nortan, Online and Offline Violence Towards Women.

Best Interview Where the Interviewee Takes Over and Explains Why Western Democracy is a Sham, UK Edition
Russell Brand v the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman. See also, Brand’s follow-up on his comments.

Best Explainer for Why All Language is Metaphor
The Economist, The impossibility of being literal.

Best Comic Reflecting How Social Media Influences Our Reporting
xdcd: Social Media.

Best Debate Over Punctuation Marks
The Apostrophe, Slate versus The New Republic.

Best MacGyvering by Citizens when Their Government Shuts Down the Internet During Protests
Vice, Protesters Are Dodging Sudan’s Internet Shutdown with a Phone-Powered Crowdmap.

Best Five Percent of the American Public
The Verge, Study says five percent of Americans find the internet pointless.

Best Ad About Covering Up Poo Stink
PooPourri with this ad about covering up poo stink.

Best New Google Streetview Map
Google, Large Hadron Collider

Best Example of Drinking on the Job
My Drunk Science. Honorable mention: Drunk History and My Drunk Kitchen.

Best Demonstration of Social Media in the 16th Century
The Economist, How Luther Went Viral.

Best Explainer on Whether You’re an Internet Addict
Pacific Standard, We Are All Internet Addicts Now—Just Don’t Call It That.

Best Example on the Highs and Lows of Covering the Marijuana Beat
Center for Investigative Reporting, High on the job.

Best Demonstration of Google’s Global Reach
Techspot, Five-minute Google outage reportedly caused 40% drop in global traffic.

Best Example of Moore’s Law Presented in One Image
Singularity Hub, Moore’s Law is No Joke – Pile of Electronics from 1993 Fits in your Palm Today.

Best Way to Incarcerate A Large Portion Your Population
The Register, Jail time promised for false tweets in China.

Best City in which to Shoot Ruin Porn
Detroit: See here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Best Waiver a University Makes Students Sign
TIME, Chinese University Asks Students to Sign ‘Suicide Waivers’.

Best Humblebrag about a Newsroom’s Excellent Multimedia Reporting
New York Times, The Year in Interactive Storytelling.

Best Use of Sponsored Content
NSA, as Placed on 60 Minutes. See also, On The Media, The Verge, and The Wire.

Best documentary about corporate spin, lawsuits and the media that we should have known about and finally just saw on Netflix.
Big Boys Gone Bananas.

Best representative segment of FOX News being FOX News
Spirited Debate, Reza Alslan interview.

Best Analysis of CNN Jumping the Shark
John Stewart, Good Thing Versus Bad Thing. See also, Jay Rosen on why he no longer bothers to criticize CNN.

Best Art Hack of How the Contemporary New Cycle Works
Jonathan Chomko, News Machine.

Best #Hashtag Conversations on Media, Culture and Society
#NotYourAsianSideKick. Runner Up: #NotYourNarrative.

Best Best of Lists, Journalism and Storytelling Style
Various: Check Josh Stearns on online storytelling, Nieman Storyboard on best narrative, Electronic Frontier Foundation on how MENA activists are fighting governments, Slate on crime reporting, and, of course, Longform’s Best of 2013.

Shield Law Protecting Established Journalists and Bloggers Passes Senate Committee

Wikileak-type organizations, not so much.

Via the Los Angeles Times:

Journalists and bloggers who report news to the public will be protected from being forced to testify about their work under a media shield bill passed by a Senate committee Thursday.

But the new legal protections will not extend to the controversial online website Wikileaks and others whose principal work involves disclosing “primary-source documents … without authorization.”…

…The final hurdle for the Judiciary Committee was defining who is a journalist in the digital era.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted on limiting the legal protection to “real reporters” and not, she said, a 17-year-old with his own website.

"I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I’m not going to go there," she said.

Feinstein introduced an amendment that defines a “covered journalist” as someone who gathers and reports news for “an entity or service that disseminates news and information.” The definition includes freelancers, part-timers and student journalists, and it permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any “legitimate news-gathering activities.”

But the bill also makes it clear that the legal protection is not absolute. Federal officials still may “compel disclosure” from a journalist who has information that could stop or prevent crimes such as murder, kidnapping or child abduction or prevent “acts of terrorism” or significant harm to national security.

FJP: TL;DR? Seventeen year olds are on their own. Ditto sites that host primary source documents like Wikileaks. Because there must be a responsible adult intermediary (read: liable) between information and the public.

For what it’s worth, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that while the bill isn’t as inclusive as it would have liked, it generally likes the bill.

shortformblog:

So NowThisNews has an Instagram channel, and while they’ve been shooting a lot of video over this way, yesterday they posted something pretty mind-blowing. Here’s an Instagram infographic about civilian casualties in Afghanistan which is at once informative and well-produced. They’ve packed a lot into 15 seconds.

The Plural of Anecdote is Data
Via @kissane.

The Plural of Anecdote is Data

Via @kissane.

Police Blotter: Bathroom Humor Edition
FJP: What happens in Detroit should stay in Detroit?
Otherwise, Part 01: “expeditiously”.
Otherwise, Part 02: Yes you will cover stories like this on your local beat.

Police Blotter: Bathroom Humor Edition

FJP: What happens in Detroit should stay in Detroit?

Otherwise, Part 01: “expeditiously”.

Otherwise, Part 02: Yes you will cover stories like this on your local beat.

The Ultimate Nerd Assignment
Slate’s Matthew Yglesias watches every movie and every episode of every Star Trek and reports back on what it all means.

The Ultimate Nerd Assignment

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias watches every movie and every episode of every Star Trek and reports back on what it all means.

"Creative Newsroom" Not Actually Reporting Anything

Edelman, as an agency, should be embarrassed to ever pitch reporters or seek what they might call “earned media,” i.e. coverage of what they’re pitching, again if they’re willing to call this branded content agency division a “Newsroom.”

Reporting Traumatic Events
Steven Gorelick, professor of media studies, Hunter College:

Be very careful about the experts you select as sources. These kinds of high-profile stories are magnets for everyone from legitimate scholars and practitioners to self-proclaimed “profilers.”
Serious experts are almost always quick to admit that there is no easy explanation for why and how something happened, especially before even the most basic information is released. Beware of the expert source who is just dying to be helpful. And perk up your ears when someone tells you: “I really need to get more information before I have anything useful to say.”

Scott Wallace, freelance journalist:
Despite the fact that we are all on deadline, you must take the time to breathe, empathize and feel the pain of survivors and loved ones whom you interview and come in contact with…
…Above all, forget trying to “scoop” your colleagues on this story. A spirit of cooperation should reign among the reporters, photographers and producers on a story like this. It may be useful to work in tandem with a colleague or two from some other media outlet, sharing the material and the experience of the interview rather than putting the same subject through it multiple times.

Lena Jakobsson, television producer:

Chasing victims’ family members down the street seems like a far more reasonable idea if CNN and MSNBC and FOX and all the nets are doing it, too, and you’re about to get yelled at if you don’t get that video. But you always have at least a few seconds to stop and listen to what your gut is telling you. Ratings come and go. The impact on your integrity, and on the people you’re covering — that stays.

Al Tompkins, Poynter

Clearly tell the public what you know and what you do not know. With a story like this — one that changes by the hour — do not assume the public is up to date…
…Acknowledge the emotional impact of the tragedy. Online conversations about the bombings, especially Twitter, have been loaded with people who are in distress, wondering what has become of humankind. Don’t underestimate that feeling. Spend some time and space honoring the good people who performed selfless acts in a time of crisis and beyond. Work with your local crisis lines, counselors and clergy, and stay in touch with the pulse of what they are hearing.

Dave Weigel, Slate:

In a situation like this, political reporters should probably make a quiet, temporary exit from the scene. There will be political angles in the reaction to this story, because this sort of nightmare knocks everything else out of the news cycle. Gosnell? Manchin-Toomey? Immigration? They’re in the middle of the paper if they’re anywhere. They’re paused, as is any speculation about the motivation for the attack. Who has ever speculated about that and not gone on to total, moronic infamy?

Jeremy Stahl, Slate

[D]on’t use a tragedy to make a political point before the facts are even known. Shortly after the attacks, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted this inanity: “explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.” Probably realizing how his snarkiness sounded under the circumstances, Kristof quickly deleted the tweet and called it a “low blow.” On the right, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin sent out this doozy, comparing the national media’s coverage of Boston to its alleged non-coverage of the Kermit Gosnell abortion case.

Image: A man after the explosions at the Boston Marathon, via Boston.com/AP.

Reporting Traumatic Events

Steven Gorelick, professor of media studies, Hunter College:

Be very careful about the experts you select as sources. These kinds of high-profile stories are magnets for everyone from legitimate scholars and practitioners to self-proclaimed “profilers.”

Serious experts are almost always quick to admit that there is no easy explanation for why and how something happened, especially before even the most basic information is released. Beware of the expert source who is just dying to be helpful. And perk up your ears when someone tells you: “I really need to get more information before I have anything useful to say.”

Scott Wallace, freelance journalist:

Despite the fact that we are all on deadline, you must take the time to breathe, empathize and feel the pain of survivors and loved ones whom you interview and come in contact with…

…Above all, forget trying to “scoop” your colleagues on this story. A spirit of cooperation should reign among the reporters, photographers and producers on a story like this. It may be useful to work in tandem with a colleague or two from some other media outlet, sharing the material and the experience of the interview rather than putting the same subject through it multiple times.

Lena Jakobsson, television producer:

Chasing victims’ family members down the street seems like a far more reasonable idea if CNN and MSNBC and FOX and all the nets are doing it, too, and you’re about to get yelled at if you don’t get that video. But you always have at least a few seconds to stop and listen to what your gut is telling you. Ratings come and go. The impact on your integrity, and on the people you’re covering — that stays.

Al Tompkins, Poynter

Clearly tell the public what you know and what you do not know. With a story like this — one that changes by the hour — do not assume the public is up to date…

…Acknowledge the emotional impact of the tragedy. Online conversations about the bombings, especially Twitter, have been loaded with people who are in distress, wondering what has become of humankind. Don’t underestimate that feeling. Spend some time and space honoring the good people who performed selfless acts in a time of crisis and beyond. Work with your local crisis lines, counselors and clergy, and stay in touch with the pulse of what they are hearing.

Dave Weigel, Slate:

In a situation like this, political reporters should probably make a quiet, temporary exit from the scene. There will be political angles in the reaction to this story, because this sort of nightmare knocks everything else out of the news cycle. Gosnell? Manchin-Toomey? Immigration? They’re in the middle of the paper if they’re anywhere. They’re paused, as is any speculation about the motivation for the attack. Who has ever speculated about that and not gone on to total, moronic infamy?

Jeremy Stahl, Slate

[D]on’t use a tragedy to make a political point before the facts are even known. Shortly after the attacks, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted this inanity: “explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.” Probably realizing how his snarkiness sounded under the circumstances, Kristof quickly deleted the tweet and called it a “low blow.” On the right, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin sent out this doozy, comparing the national media’s coverage of Boston to its alleged non-coverage of the Kermit Gosnell abortion case.

Image: A man after the explosions at the Boston Marathon, via Boston.com/AP.

How Do You Explain the Word “Reporter”

Sesame Street wants to know.

Meantime, and this boggles my mind, they’re five million views away from a billion on YouTube. — Michael

Images: Selected Tweets. Select to embiggen.