#ONA10: Rebooting the News

Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen, live at #ONA10. They’re reviewing the master narratives for the rebooted system of news. I’d like to highlight the key points.

“Every node in the network is a news node.” The easiest way to see this is in the Twitter network, where every user is a potential source of news.

Sources go direct.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

“It’s easier trust ‘here’s where I’m coming’ from than the ‘view from nowhere’.” A reason for this is that people have access to a lot more news, as well as background information on that news. Journalists traditionally believe that the “mask of objectivity” is what allows people to trust them. Now, users can see the shallowness of the approach.

It’s dangerous for the news industry to rely on the tech industry for the next generation of publishing tools. Journalists cover tech icons as if they were messiahs. This creates a situation where news organizations passively absorb direction from the voice of God. There is a wish and hope the iPad will deliver a magic solution for newspapers.

The news system was built to deliver a stream of updates about what is new today. It’s been weak on context, or the background information you need to understand the story. A major design challenge in the rebooted system of news is how you can deliver both at the same time.

Question: How would you reboot mid-term election coverage?

Rosen: You’d develop a citizen’s agenda for coverage by polling the citizenry for what they want politicians to talk about. Then, in political debates, you’d look at whether the candidates are actually discuss those issues.

Question: Where should transparency be shown in news coverage?

Rosen: The easiest way would be to just link the byline to a background page on the reporter. It should have a listing of relevant topics and your perspective on them. Instead of saying “here’s the view from nowhere,” you’d say “here’s all of the information I had to write this piece.”

Winer: It’s not always about transparency, either. It’s about being clear about where you’re coming from. A blind man approaching the back of an elephant is going to have a completely different perspective than a blind man approaching the front of the elephant.

Question: Where should news organizations go if they can’t rely on technology companies for the future?

Winer: We’re really, really, really early in the news system of the future. Twitter is a large company now, but it doesn’t have a guaranteed position. For instance, updates on Twitter are limited to 140 characters. Is this the ideal length for a news item? Probably not; there’s room for innovation. Do it yourself.

Question: What is open source, can it be applied to the news industry and, if so, in what ways?

Winer: They’ve actually giving some things away but others aren’t free. Licenses for software use to run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, certain things are given away but other things are charged for. “Who cares how you pay the bills?” The news industry insists to make money in a very particular way. Anything else is sacreligious. It’s this inflexibility that’s breaking the business.

Rosen: The motivations of people who contribute to open source projects are usually “if we all contribute, then we can all benefit and others can benefit too.” Just think about what we could do if we applied this to news.

Winer: Others choose to go open source to wipe out their competitors. The analog in the news industry is “open the doors” and let everyone contribute. Otherwise, they’ll fork you. Whomever embraces this model, and does it well, will win.

WinerLinks v0.2 released

Inspired by the paragraph-level permalinks on Jay Rosen’s new Pressthink, I quickly whipped up a plugin last Thursday night to bring this functionality to WordPress. The name? WinerLinks, an homage to Dave Winer who is a rather prolific proto-user.

WinerLinks gives you paragraph-level permalinks on your posts or pages. v0.2, released just a moment ago, adds WinerLinks to your RSS feed too, as well as a magical showy-hidey mode if you only want the links to appear on hover.

Download it at WordPress.org, leave feature requests or bugs in the forum, and fork the project on GitHub.

Open source journalism vs. crowdsourcing

Where is crowdsourcing at in 2010? How is crowdsourcing different from open source journalism, and which is appropriate for what types of stories? This is listing of links to try and illustrate the differences and similarities between crowdsourcing and open source journalism. How you structure a project with many participants will have a significant impact on the end results.

Open-source journalism

The Jane’s incident takes Slashdot’s evolution one major step forward. Slashdot readers are now actively shaping media coverage of the topics near and dear to their geeky little hearts. They are helping journalists get the story right, which is a far cry from exerting censorship. Just as open source programmers would critique a beta release of software filled with bugs, the Slashdot readers panned the first release of Jane’s journalistic offering — and the upgrade, apparently, will be quick to follow.

The original article.

Why the open source way trumps the crowdsourcing way
In essence, open source projects have many contributors and many beneficiaries while crowdsourcing projects have many contributors and few beneficiaries. Open source is advantageous because “everyone who contributes also benefits.” When crowdsourcing is a competition, there are limited beneficiaries and the effort of everyone else can be wasted.

What I Learned from Assignment Zero
Jay Rosen debriefs on Assignment Zero, a distributed trend project in partnership with Wired.com, with the goal of tracking “the spread of peer production and wisdom-of-the-crowd efforts across the social landscape, including the practice of crowdsourcing.” They learned they needed to: understand and articulate the different styles of labor, grok contributors’ motivations, and plan for unexpected levels of participation. Also see Derek Powazek’s review.

Four crowdsourcing lessons from the Guardian’s (spectacular) expenses-scandal experiment
The Guardian’s MP expenses project was put together in a week, and employed more than 20,000 volunteers to review 170,000 documents in the first 80 hours. Participation was quite strong at the very beginning, in line with the publicity, and then tapered off.

Projects to check out include: WNYC’s “Are You Being Gouged?“, The Guardian’s “Investigate your MP’s expenses“, The New York Times’ “Moment in Time“, and SeeClickFix.

Two pieces, loosely joined


Part one. Late last night, Jay Rosen published a small peek at an idea for a new type of news site. ExplainThis.org would be a platform to connect users with questions to journalists with research and communication skills. Jay’s perspective on this idea has a few notable features: users would be able to coalesce around questions by voting up the ones they have in common, the questions would be more complex that what could be answered through a simple search, and the answers would require “real journalism” to be marked off as complete. It’s also distinguished from Cody Brown’s next big idea in that it would limit the answering participation to “journalists”, although it’s not clear how Jay would define this term, and that the questions would focus more on issues of national interest.

Part two. Through a post by Charlie Stross, I learned from The Observer today that drug money is actually what saved banks in the liquidity crisis, according to the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime:

Speaking from his office in Vienna, [Antonio Maria] Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. “In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor,” he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

British bankers want to see the evidence he has to back up those claims and, as a reader, I was left completely perplexed and boggled as to whether this is a significant story or not.

These two parts don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The starting point could be zero, “What questions do you have?” in Jay’s case, but the starting point can also be further along the continuum of discovering the truth for a particular topic. Adding the ability for the user to ask follow-up questions, with the expectation that the journalist will continue researching the most important of them, would be a powerful approach for more quickly getting at what the community needs to know. Pragmatically, this functionality could mimic work NewsMixer has already done: one type of user comment is a question. In the context of the drug money story, I’d like to ask what the implications are if the facts are true.

The story shouldn’t attempt to be a definitive account of what happened, but rather an entry point for deeper learning.

Why we link: #J361 presentation on curation

The link, or the ability to create a web of relationships between content, facts, and ideas, has fundamentally changed journalism. What follows is a recommended set of reading, I stand on the shoulders of giants, for those in Suzi Steffen’s Reporting 1 class I had the fortune to talk with this afternoon. I’ll try to add perspective when I can, but I’ve got to rush off shortly.

Jay Rosen, who you should follow on Twitter if you don’t already, lays an excellent foundation:

Ryan Sholin breaks down the argument for linking into five parts. Basically, journalists should be responsible citizens of the web. They have responsibility to their readers to provide as much information as they can bring together, responsibility to build bridges between the different parts of their online community, and responsibility to point readers in the direction of the right information when the journalists don’t immediately have the answer.

One point I touched on and want to reiterate is linking is a process of showing your work. This is fundamentally a Good Thing. Both Sean Sullivan and Paul Balcerak agree. In the age of newspapers, buggies, and clapboard houses, the reader was forced to make the assumption that the publication fact-checked and caught all of their errors. Hyperlinking text inherently means that the reader can then go and check out what you’re linking to. If you’re writing a piece with facts you want to substantiate, you can link to the source of every one of those facts. In fact, I agree that it’s “suspect for journos not to link whenever possible.” Making the reporting process transparent builds trust between the publication and the reader, and trust builds brand.

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Coral reefs for local information

Every so often, I have one of those runs where I listen to a super inspirational podcast and come back with more ideas than I have the time to write them down. Tonight was one of those nights.

Dave Winer and Jay Rosen in the 12th edition of Rebooting the News explore a concept Dave refers to as a “coral reef” for local information. The importance of a coral reef in the sea is that it is a habitat for many other species to prosper. His argument for starting In Berkeley, what he thinks is the first local blog for Berkley, is that it might provide a coral reef for a lot of tremendous local data to grow from. Given the right formats for information storage, it can become a repository for community knowledge that everyone within the community can both contribute to and benefit from. What got me thinking, though, was what these formats might be.

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