Friday, December 4, 2009

what we lose? FACTS

If you've ever wondered if the blogosphere, Citizen J, and all else that masquerades as news can fill the void created by the ever-shrinking news industry, today's Boston Globe column by Ellen Goodman is a must must-read. Interested in how journalism is changing? Wonder what the almost-news is doing to the real news? Read it here: short, smart, and to the ever-loving point.

As more and more folks look to blogs, right wing talk shows, shout-out TV shows, and ridiculous email forwards for "news", we replace facts, the cornerstone of actual journalism, with opinion, and often moronic and unsubstantiated opinion at that. I don't know about you, but I'd really don't much care what someone's cantankerous, rightwing uncle has to say about the Obama administration, no matter how quickly his blah-blah goes viral.

The scary thing is that when all the noise becomes confused with boring-old fact based reporting -- the belief in truth, or any semblance thereof flies right out the window. From Goodman's column:

... Facts - along with their enforcers, editors - have long been the guides and saviors of my career, which is 46 years long.

Now I’m planning the next phase of my life. This may be why I’m struck by how much hard facts have softened in this time, how much less they seem to matter.

“Truthiness’’ has exploded alongside a new media that is decidedly not mainstream, that flows into as many rivulets as there are cable channels, points on the radio dial, and unvetted bloggers.

It’s now possible to find a group somewhere in Googleland that will agree with anything. Any outlier can find a tribe and a “fact’’ - Global warming is a hoax! Evolution is a fraud! - that reinforces his own belief.

There is a sense that we don’t need science or editing or fact-checking as long as we have crowd-sourcing. We don’t have to build opinions on facts; we can build facts on opinions.

Well, you can't, as Goodman points out. She ends the column thus:

Those of us who have spent our lives in journalism wake up to daily reports of troubles: newsrooms cut, papers bankrupt. My first employer, Newsweek, no longer covers news. My second, the Detroit Free Press, has cut back home delivery. I have watched my third employer, The Boston Globe, grow and shrink.

Hardest of all is to witness the evaporation of a profession that’s been the vetting agent for the “reality-based community.’’ A craft that has struggled to be right as often and rigorously as possible.

In a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll last month, readers were asked what professions are likely to disappear. Of the likely candidates, 28 percent chose tobacco farmers, but 26 percent picked newspaper reporters. Only 3 percent thought fact-checkers would become extinct.

Well, I have “news’’ for you. When the reporters go, so do the facts. And their checkers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

social media tips for journalists

Here are some practical tips for using social media to enhance your reporting and make more efficient use of your time, courtesy of Mashable. The story features five journalists and how they use Facebook, twitter, etc., in their daily routines to expand their reporting power -- finding story ideas, for example, and sources.

No black holes. Pure efficiency. Read it here. bk

first v. right: when news goes viral

Andrea Ragni, a former capstoner, forwarded this link to a ZDNet post by Ed Bott that illustrates everything that can go wrong when the first value of (internet) news becomes being first with the news. Clearly, being there first has always been important to news organizations, but add the blogosphere, and you've got yourself a real pickle.

Case in point, the so-called "Blak Screen of Death" Story that made its rounds all over cyberspace earlier this week:

On Friday, November 27, an obscure computer security company, Prevx, publishes a blog post accusing Microsoft of releasing security patches that cause catastrophic crashes in Windows PCs. The inflammatory headline reads: Black Screen woes could affect millions on Windows 7, Vista and XP. The post lacks even the most rudimentary technical details and is maddeningly vague. It goes unnoticed over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.

Early Monday morning, November 30, Jeremy Kirk of the IDG News service sends a story out on the wire that is picked up by IDG flagship publications PC World and ComputerWorld. Conveniently, the story is posted at 7:05AM Eastern Time, ensuring that it will be at the top of news sites as Americans drag back into work after the long holiday weekend.

Here’s the first headline as it appeared at PC World and ComputerWorld early Monday morning: Latest Microsoft patches cause black screen of death According to the accompanying story, the patches “cause some PCs to seize up and display a black screen, rendering the computer useless” for millions of Windows users. The security company “hasn’t contacted Microsoft yet” and “Microsoft officials could not be immediately reached for comment.”

The story is echoed by dozens of other publications within an hour, some pointing specifically to PC World as the source. The rush of coverage catapults the accusations into the mainstream. At some point that morning, Microsoft’s security team goes into “fire drill” mode.
And on and on. You can guess the punch line: the black screen of death? Not a problem. Never was:

After two full business days of relentlessly negative coverage for Microsoft, the noise from the echo chamber is deafening. More than 500 separate posts on mainstream tech sites and in blogs have amplified the original story, most of them simply repeating the accusations from the Prevx blog post with no original reporting or fact-checking. The story has now taken on a life of its own.

Finally, on Tuesday evening, Prevx backs down completely from the story, publishing a formal retraction and apologizing to Microsoft. Another follow-up post the next day from Prevx CEO and CTO Mel Morris tries to deny any responsibility for the damage. He includes this hilarious bit of understatement: “Regrettably, it is clear that our original blog post has been taken out of context and may have caused an inconvenience for Microsoft.”

From Andrea: "Ed Bott makes a good case for the reality that some journalists, especially in tech, are jeopardizing accuracy for the sake of real time reporting – in some cases not talking to any sources…craziness!"

Clearly. bk

the beginning of the end: outrage redux

Just when you thought journalism was back earning the respect it deserves, there's this from the Dallas Morning News: Section editors of several sections will now be reporting to the advertising SALES MANAGERS of those sections. They call it business/news integration.

Words fail. I mean it: words fail. So here's a link to the story in Dallas' alt-weekly (along with a transcript of an interview w/an editor at the DMN. Here's an excerpt from the story:

As of yesterday, some section editors at all of the company's papers, including The News, will now report directly to Carr's team of sales managers, now referred to as general managers. In short, those who sell ads for A.H. Belo's products will now dictate content within A.H. Belo's products, which is a radical departure from the way newspapers have been run since, oh, forever.

Those sections mentioned in the memo include sports, entertainment, real estate, automotive and travel, among others.The memo doesn't mention Business or Metro by name, but there are references to "health/education" and "retail/finance"; these are not defined in the missive. Says the memo, Carr's sales force will "be working closely with news leadership in product and content development."