Richard Gingras at the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Richard Gingras, Google News

Richard Gingras, Google News

The leader of Google News gave an insightful talk about the current state of online journalism. Here are my tweets during his keynote. Appreciated his visionary thinking about the state and future of news, especially the extent to which the concept of a “news story” is being redefined and reshaped as the Internet evolves past old media paradigms (page/periodical/book) and new forms of distribution emerge that are a more natural fit for technical and social networks. One caveat: he doesn’t really have to think the same way as some of the other speakers about finding a new business model – Google already has one that works. Also note that he was feeling good about Google+. (You think Facebook has Google+ beat? We used to think that Apple was never going to be a leader.)

(Pardon my typos.)

http://storify.com/jonl/richard-gingras-at-the-international-symposium-on

International Symposium on Online Journalism: New approaches in engaging with the news community

ISOJ Program

Angela Lee: Audience preference and editorial judgment: a study of time-lagged influence in online news

To what extent are audiences influencing editors and journalists, and vice versa? Editorial judgement measured based on placement on paper; audience preference measured by clicks, looking at a 3-hour interval. Audience preference influences editorial decisions three hours later (which suggests editors are watching behavior and responding). However not seeing a reciprocal effect of editorial judgement on audiences.

I’m wondering if the results are influenced by assumptions embedded in the structure of the methodology for the report.

Some popular stories get pushed down on the home page, not sure why? Could be relevance of speed and immediacy – stories might be pushed down to make room for fresh content. Lee calls for input from journalists at the conference.

Alfred Hermida (who’s also been live blogging the conference, and who wrote the book on Participatory Journalism).

Sourcing the Arab Spring: A case study of Andy Carvin’s sources during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. How is sourcing evolving in the networked social sphere?

“We looked at sourcing, because sourcing matters.” Who we talk to as journalists affects not just what we report, but the meaning we derive from the reporting. When journalists cite non-elite sources or alternative voices, we treat them as deviant, as the others. Powerful and privileged dominate sourcing.

Carvin was doing a very different type of reporting, messaging and retweeting on Twitter. Carvin was like a “must-read newswire” (per Columbia Journalism Review). 162 sources in Tunisia, 185 sources in Egypt. Coded into categories: mainstream media, institutional elites, alternative voices, and other. Alternative voices included people involved in the protests.

Tunisia source types: alternative voices were 23%, and 32% institutional elites – but the latter were most “digerati.” Source type doesn’t necessarily give the whole picture: if you look at frequency, alternative voices 31% vs institutional elites 30%. He’s priviligeing alternative voices.

Egypt: source type inclues 39% mainstream media (journalists) vs 23% alternative voices – but looking at frequency, alternative voices 50% vs 33% mainstream media.

Here we see a reversal of traditional patterns of sources, esp with regard to protests. Alternative voices are amplified in Carvin’s reporting. On Twitter, you have an ability to bring in a broader range of voices. Carvin was turning to people on the street to get a sense what was actually happening.

Balance may be an issue here, where alternative source were more predominant.

Information cascade: Carvin may have influenced other reporting with his reporting based quite a bit on “rebel voices.”

How far does this reshape the narrative coming out of Tunisia or Tahrir Square? How does this impact sentiment?

Carvin used Twitter in a very new way, overturning the sourcing paradigm of traditional journalism. This gets to the role of journalist as curator, where journalist is a central node in a distributed network – the networked newsroom.

Mark Coddington, University of Texas at Austin, on Citizen Journalism. Who knows best? Attitudes and perceptions of citizen journalism and the news through the lens of creators and consumers.

People participating in the creation of content classified as news – this is a niche group that is largely reactionary – reacting to news sourced from traditional news, not creating their own content. They are co-opted. They are valued increasingly for the data they provide. In fact, they are increasingly valuable through creation of content.

Citizen journalist or participatory journalist content, while seen as valuable, not generally considered as valuable as professional news content.

What is good journalism – values of the profession: accuracy, autonomy, objectivity, watchdog role. Public’s tenets overlap somewhat, they view journalism from populist perspective: gives voice to the people.

Will citizen journalists and power consumers of news affirm the professional journalists’ perspective?

Distinction between content creation and consumption. More important may be type of consumption – consumers of news vs consumers of citizen journalism. Latter more positive toward citizen journalism and are not as concerned about the values of professional journalism.

Emily Metzgar: Asserting ″truth″ in political debates: A study of partisan Twitter users

Twitter influences the communication ecosystem. It performs many functions once reserved for professional journalists. It connects citizens who can organize (Shirky: headless organizations). Empowers the “former audience.” Is disruptive in some way.

The big picture: we know that Twitter is growing in popularity, increasingly used for political discourse, can be studied. How are journalistic behaviors manifesting on Twitter? How is political rhetoric used there?

The Truthy Project:
collecting massive amounts of data. Mining that data for this study. Doing hand-coded content analysis.

Basic question: if Twitter is becoming a powerful new platform for storytelling, how are users leveraging it?

Literature gathered: Twitter in context, user generated content, the Internet and politics (mother of all intervening variables), media credibility, media literacy. How do we make sense of the massive amounts of information?

Borrowed from Kovach and Rosenstiel: Blur.

Four types of journalism

  • Verification
  • Assertion
  • Affirmation
  • Special interest
  • “None of the above”

Types of political rhetoric per Benoit & Wicks.

Draw on previous work looking at analysis of Twittersphere based on partisan division.

#tcot True Conservatives on Twitter
#p2 Progressives 2.0

Snapshot of the hashtag communities.

To what extent to Twitter users produce content consistent with partisan categories?

What are the characteristics of the tweets?

  • Retweets more associated with the left.
  • Tweets tend to be scandal-oriented and emotionally charged.
  • Links tend to assist with verification.
  • Attack is the most common form of political rhetoric.

Vittoria Sacco: Curation: a new form of gatewatching for social media?

Online journalists creating new forms, shaping phenomena.

Limits: overwhelming abundance of information. Social media often lack a clear story line.

Gatewatching may replace traditional gatekeeping role.

Gatekeeping is practice of deciding why one story is important, another not. Gatewatching more participatory – point to sources rather than being a source.

Curating a story can include derivation from the source and attachment of additional information (social media etc.)

Storify.com provides a way to pull a story together from curated sources.

Which sources employed in social media creation?

Live blogging #ISOJ

I was actively live tweeting the International Sympsium on Online Journalism when I hit Twitter’s limit of 1000 posts within 24 hours. (I’m finding it a little hard to believe I posted that much, but that’s what Twitter’s algorithm is saying, I suppose).

I’ll do some live blogging here instead, offering this brief post by way of explanation – if you find this interesting, see the @jonl posts for #isoj and #isoj12. I’ll look for a chance to storify some of those tweets later.

bin Laden and the horserace

Osama bin Laden’s death is a complex event with many implications and potential repercussions, yet it’s been trivialized by media analysis (professional and social) that avoids going deep and focuses only on its meaning in the context of the 2012 campaign, or as Adam Hochberg notes, “just another lap in the political horserace.” Another Hochberg point that bears repeating: “…the Internet has removed the traditional filters and allowed the public
to immediately see and participate in Washington’s constant political
posturing.”

The future of global online journalism

(Update: Alfred Hermida blogs Vivian Schiller’s 7 reasons to be cheerful about journalism at Reportr.net.)

The evolution of networked global communication infrastructures is disrupting and changing delivery of news and the way journalists work. While some publishers have been wringing hands and tearing hair over the collapse of the business model for news publishing, others in the industry get that news, and news authority, will always be relevant, that there will always be a need and a market for informed delivery of and interpretation of facts. I just spent two days (Friday and Saturday, April 1st and 2nd) at the University of Texas’ 12th Annual Global Symposium on Online Journalism, organized by brilliant, forward-looking Professor Rosental Alves. After stewing in the juices of the future of journalism for two days, I’d like to summarize what I think I was hearing.

The future of journalism and the future of Internet are intimately related. The Internet has catalyzed a democratization of knowledge, and is (in my opinion) a force beyond our control, though there are enough discussions about controlling it in some way that I’m seeing discussions of substance about how to resist that control (which are interesting, but out of scope for this post). The democratization of knowledge and the evolution of social tools on the Internet are the two aspects of intense interest on my part that have led me to seemingly diverse projects and discussions involving futurism, politics, evolving markets, participatory medicine, and online journalism. While to some I may seem all over the map, I see a consistency in all of these: they’re all part of an Internet-driven evolution. Politics, marketing, healthcare, and journalism are all experiencing disruption and difficulty as the global online information infrastructure becomes increasingly pervasive and sophisticated.

(Notes:

1. This might be a good place to quote P.D. Ouspensky: “In order to understand a thing, you must see it s connection with some bigger subject, or bigger whole, and the possible consequences of this connection. Understanding is always the understanding of a smaller problem in relation to a bigger problem.”

2. I don’t see “democratization of knowledge” as an inherently wonderful thing. While I’m dedicated to open and distributed knowledge systems, I recognize the relevant issues: “a little knowledge can be dangerous,” “in the wrong hands, knowledge can be dangerous,” etc. I’m also committed to participatory or democratic systems, but with the understanding that they have significant issues – democracy doesn’t scale well, doesn’t necessarily result in the best actions or decisions for all, can be little better than “mob rule,” etc. We have to be thoughtful about these things, and attend to the down sides.)

Internet forces have undermined business models for publishing and news delivery – enough’s been said about that. The UT conference I attended looks beyond that disruption and focuses on the new reality of technology-mediated news dissemination and a new more symmetrical relationship of news organization with news reader. Readers have similar access to the means of production as news organizations, and have the expectation of an environment where they can readily provide feedback on news, if not participate in gathering and disseminationg news stories. Bloggers and small independents are breaking stories and conducting deep investigation. Journalism is becoming a partnership of the news professionals with their more or less informed audiences.

Here are some thoughts and questions I’m having, inspired by the conference (and to some extent by the Future of Journalism track at SXSW Interactive that I helped curate).

  • Today’s newsroom is a high technology operation. The new journalist understands code, and there’s a new breed of developer (in the hacks hackers, program or be programmed mode) who understands journalism well enough to be an effective partner in application development. In this context, there’s an evolution from “shovelware” to apps that effectively leverage diverse platforms, especially mobile platforms.
  • Will the web and the browser continue to be primary platform for news delivery, or will mobile apps be more prominent and effective? Or (more likely) are we looking at an ecosystem where both will be adopted and used? The web has advantages, including ubiquity, existing infrastructure, linkability, bookmarking and social tech.
  • How important are aggregation and curation vs reporting? Are aggregators practicing journalism, or “making sense of the Internet.”
  • Many publications are integrating social media, becoming more conversational. How well can conversations scale? Does this have a democratizing effect?
  • Revolution in Egypt wasn’t driven by social media alone, but also (if not more so) by Egypt’s independent press.
  • How polarized are we, how do we become less polarized, what is the relationship of news to politicization and polarization, and is there a relationship between polarization and credibility?
  • What is the impact of moving from a workflow heavily based on editing to real-time publishing models?
  • What’s the relationship of news to engagement? How can you both engage and scale?
  • New concept: “newsfulness,” or likelihood of a device to be used for news access.
  • Is public journalism a public good? Does it make more sense for investigative news organizations to be nonprofit rather than for-profit?
  • How do news organizations use, and monetize, Twitter?
  • “Gatejumping” vs gatekeeping. Twitter allows early gatekeepers to jump the gates, deliver news directly and immediately.
  • Do online journalists have more autonomy than their offline counterparts?
  • Open APIs catalyze developer communities, potentially bring new revenue potential, speed up internal and external product development.
  • How do news organizations keep up with increasing R&D demands with decreasing budgets?
  • What is the impact of pay walls, and how well will they succeed? What makes paywalls viable: scale still matters, but brand is back. Users are depending more on brand authority, advertisers are getting back to basics.

Link to my tweets from the conference.

The Future of Journalism: a conversation

With colleagues Pete Lewis, Tony Deifell, Kevin Anderson, Andrew Haeg, and Scott Rosenberg, I’m in a two week conversation about the future of journalism on the WELL. The WELL is the seminal online community; this conversation is in the Inkwell forums, where Bruce Sterling and I have our annual state of the world conversation. Inkwell usually has conversations with authors, but for this conversation we’re trying a panel format.

Here’s my latest contribution to the conversation:

Most of us who studied to be journalists were taught consistent bits about how to structure and tell a story. We learned about inverted pyramids and who-what-when-where-how, about the problem of burying the lede, about economy of writing, and about an ethic that pertains to the profession. So we share something that might feed into our world view, but then we’re shaped by all sorts of other experiences that can take us down this or that rabbit hole.

I personally had a mission to find and tell the truth, and felt that the practice of journalism didn’t cut it. I left ostensibly to create literature, and found myself doing all sorts of things that didn’t always include writing.

Back then, I wouldn’t have known the truth if it bit me on the ass, but I thought it was important. Today I have a more nuanced view; I don’t expect the truth from journalism. I expect a perspective which, when combined with other perspectives, will help me build a world view. And that will be my perspecive… and there may be glimpses of something like the “truth” I was looking for 40 years ago. But I’m lucky if I can be merely accurate.

Over years of being close to many stories covered by journalists, I never saw one account that fit what I thought I had seen myself. There were errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations. A reporter who has limited time and access likely won’t get a story exactly right. What I like about the web is that it facilitates the public exposure of many perspectives, and through that exposure you can hope to get a sense what’s happening in the world.

In putting together talks about media and the Internet, I’ve given a lot of thought to the evolution of communication. For most of us, our expectations of media are conditioned by a deeply rooted experience of mass media as we were growing up. For us, journalism was few to many – channels were scarce and could carry only a few writers and perspectives.

Before mass media, I think we were more intimately conversational and knew far less of the world. Post-broadcast, in the Internet era, we’re conversational again, but we also have an abundance of channels and information. This is pretty new, and I’m not clear where it’s going, but (to the point about Daily) I don’t think we’re going back.

Iraq 2006: a bag of words

How to make sense of Wikileaks data? One way is visual analysis, as we see here, via Jonathan Stray of Associated Press:

Click the image for the high res version.

Stray and Julian Burgess created a visualization using data from December 2006 Iraq Significant Action (SIGACT) reports from Wikileaks. That was the bloodiest month of the war, and the central (blue) point on the visualization represents homicides, i.e. clusters of reports that are “criminal events” and include the word “corpse.” These merge into green “enemy action” reports, and at the inteface we have “civ, killed, shot,” civilians killed in battle. Stray tells how this was done, with some interesting notes, e.g.

…by turning each document into a list of numbers, the order of the words is lost. Once we crunch the text in this way, “the insurgents fired on the civilians” and “the civilians fired on the insurgents” are indistinguishable. Both will appear in the same cluster. This is why a vector of TF-IDF numbers is called a “bag of words” model; it’s as if we cut out all the individual words and put them in a bag, losing their relationships before further processing.

As a result, he warns that “any visualization based on a bag-of-words model cannot show distinctions that depend on word order.” (Much more explanation and detail in Stray’s original post; if you’re interested in data visualization and its relevance to the future of journalism, be sure to read it.)

Thanks to Charles Knickerbocker for pointing out the Stray post.

Taking a Wikileak

In my obligatory post about Wikileaks as the story du jour, I point to the great set of questions Dan Gillmor has posted in his column at Salon. These are especially lucid. I like especially Dan’s point about the character of the communications that were leaked, that many of the messages are gossip. Journalists are dutifully reporting “facts” gleaned from the leaked material without necessarily digging deeper, verifying and analyzing. Of course, they don’t have time – the information environment moves too quickly, he who hesitates is lost, accuracy be damned.

Then again, journalism is so often about facts, not truth.  Facts are always suspect, personal interpretations are often incorrect, memories are often wildly inaccurate. History is, no doubt, filled with wrong facts and bad interpretations that, regardless, are accepted as somehow “true.”

The high-minded interpretation of this and other leaks, that people need to know what is being said and done by their representatives in government, especially in a “democratic society,” is worth examining. We’re not really a democracy; government by rule or consensus of a majority of the people doesn’t scale, and it would be difficult for the average citizen to commit the time required to be conversant in depth with all the issues that a complex government must consider.

Do we benefit by sharing more facts with more people? (Dan notes that 3 million or so in government have the clearance to read most of the documents leaked – this seems like a lot of people to be keeping secrets… is the “secret” designation really all that meaningful, in this case?) But to my question – I think there’s a benefit in knowing more about government operations, but I’m less clear that this sort of leak increases knowledge vs. noise.

I’m certain about one thing: we shouldn’t assume that the leaked documents alone reveal secrets that are accurate and true. They’re just more pieces of a very complex puzzle.

Jay Rosen on the state and future of journalism

Jay Rosen has a terrific post about the state of media, beginning with this clip from the film “Network”:

Pretty timely, eh?

Jay analyzes the scene:

… the filmmakers are showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another. Or to use the term I have favored, they are “atomized.” But Howard Beale does what no television person ever does: he uses television to tell its viewers to stop watching television.

When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been “out there,” watching television in atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Beale put into words. (“I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the streets. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad!”)

He goes on to ask what would happen today in response to a “Howard Beale” event…

Immediately people who happened to be watching would alert their followers on Twitter. Someone would post a clip the same day on YouTube. The social networks would light up before the incident was over. Bloggers would be commenting on it well before professional critics had their chance. The media world today is a shifted space. People are connected horizontally to one another as effectively as they are connected up to Big Media; and they have the powers of production in their hands.

Jay follows with an expansion of his comments, and concludes with a set of recommendations for today’s journalists. (The post is a must-read for journalists and news bloggers.)

There’s been too much hand-wringing over the supposed collapse of journalism as we know it, but journalism’s never been more exciting, never had the kind of tools and channels of information available today. We’re seeing, not collapse, but evolution. I’m wanting to spend more and more time with journalists, and think more and more about the relationship of professional journalism to blogging and other more or less informal information channels.

Blogging’s not dead

Social media-savvy medical advocate Regina Holliday pointed out a clueful post at Health is Social, a blog “about integrating social and digital media into healthcare.”

The post’s subject is “Healthcare Blogging: Wide Open Opportunities,” but the post itself is not just abou9t healthcare blogging. It’s a more general explanation why blogging is NOT dead, contrary to the opinion, expressed by some supposed social media experts, that “blogging wasn’t worth the effort and that nobody reads blogs.” Of course, “experts” who are totally focused on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube argue that those platforms are “all that’s needed anymore and that … websites [including blogs] were basically useless.”

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among other social apps, are indeed important to consider in creating an organizational media strategy; many businesses truly don’t understand how to use them effectively. Anyone hoping to create a vital and productive Internet presence should go where the conversations are, generally Twitter and Facebook.

Note that there’s a lot of confusion and questioning about the future of the Internet. John Battelle posts about points of control, and Tim O’Reilly has posted a map to highlight the point that we’re seeing platform wars from which the Internet of the future will emerge. [Link to complete map.] Blogs are nowhere on that map, probably because blogs will be everywhere in that world, like trees spewing oxygen into the ecosystem.

So blogs and web sites will continue to be critical points of presence for individuals and organizations, where they will develop more static core content, and dynamic emerging content via blogs, to show expertise, articulate new ideas, publish news about relevant organizations or projects, etc.

Some history: Blogs catalyzed the mainstreaming of social technology by making it easy for anyone to publish online. This meant more writers and more readers, a more robust social ecosystem online, which spiraled ever greater adoption. As more people were communicating in more ways over the web, social network platforms and messaging systems other than blogs appeared and evolved – the platforms on the O’Reilly/Battelle map. The growth of interest in social connection and persistent short messaging made Twitter a hot phenomenon, and as Facebook incorporated its own form of short messaging and activity streaming, it grew like wildfire and became the mainstream platform of choice for all sorts of social activity.

A new breed of consultants emerged who were not especially active on the Internet before Twitter and Facebook came along. I would argue that these consultants have blinders on; because of their limited experience, they don’t have a deep understanding of the Internet and the broader set of potentials inherent in its still-evolving ecosystem. Much of what you hear about “social media” is noise generated by folks who’re smart enough, but have limited experience and constrained vision. Considering that, confusion around “platform wars,” anxiety over economic instability, persistent growing deluges of unfiltered information, it’s great to see a breath of fresh air like the post at “Health is Social.” In fact, I’m finding that empowered patients and their advocates are as clear as anybody about the current and potential uses of social media in their world. They’re in the middle of a revolution that depends on the Internet, democracy of information, and robust social knowledge-sharing environments (patient communities).

I have more to say another day about the importance of deep, sustained conversation, not really supported by Twitter/Facebook short messaging/activity streaming strategies.

Vote for the future of journalism!

I’m part of an informal group of journalists who are focusing on the future of that profession, and more generally on the future of news discovery and delivery. We proposed a coordinated set of SXSW Interactive sessions on journalism via the panel picker, and we’re soliciting votes from any and all of you who are ready to see journalism re-imagined and re-invented in the context of what McLuhan referred to as the “new media matrix,” facilitated by the Internet and participatory media.

The informal group includes Evan Smith from Texas Tribune, Chris Tomlinson from Texas Observer, Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report, Dan Gillmor from the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Tom Stites from the Banyan Project, Burt Herman from Storify and Hacks/Hackers, Jennifer 8. Lee of the Knight News Challenge,, Jay Rosen of NYU, and Andrew Haeg of the American Public Media Public Insight Network.

The sessions:

We’d be thrilled to get your vote for each and every one of these sessions, or for any you have time to review!