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.


Events this week – NPOCamp and Austin News Hackathon

Cross-posted from

Two great events coming up this weekend in Austin, sponsored by EFF-Austin.

Friday, join us at NPO Camp – a Barcamp for Nonprofits and Techs. We had one of these several months ago, and it was a real blast! The idea here is to bring the nonprofit and technology communities together for a day and talk about the technical challenges the NPOs face, while educating the techs about that world. Last event, we had 200+ attendees forming into sessions and pods; all were lively.  Greg Foster, our newest EFF-Austin board member, has done most of the legwork in organizing the event, with major production assistance from Maggie Duval, also a board member and producer of the annual Plutopia event during SXSW. Sign up here.

Saturday, coders and journalists come together to build innovative news applications at the Austin News Hackathon, cosponsored by EFF-Austin and the local Hacks Hackers chapter led by Cindy Royal.  The day will begin with a presentation by Matt Stiles and Niran Babalola of the Texas Tribune, talking about some of the news apps they’ve been developing. Then teams will form to match ideas from journalists with technical expertise from the coders who are attending. These kinds of events are the future of journalism!  This event also benefited from Maggie Duval’s production assistance. Sign up here.

Both events will be catered by Pick Up Stix of South Austin.


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.


Redefining journalism: the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Journalists have been curious, and often anxious, about prospects for the future of news in an era of user generated content, fragmented abundant media, and cheap or free web-based advertising platforms. Nobody doubts the importance of in-depth news reporting, but the business model’s unclear. Many publications are moving online, which may reduce some physical costs but also reduces advertising revenues. There’s still the cost of content development. Sure, you can leverage user-generated free content, which can be very good, but the time and attention required for excellent reporting can’t be free. Said another way, to the extent writing is done without compensation, it tends to be shallow and incomplete. And reporting without editorial process and fact checking is subjective, not authoritative. Reporters may try to be objective and fair, but that’s very hard to do outside a process of vetting, checks and balances.

Academics that study journalism are studying and thinking about the changing present and the future. Several gathered in Austin last week for the International Symposium on Online Journalism. I was there the second day. It was a great event; I came away with my brain churning – though I’ve had an interesting thread of complementary career paths in my life, my original goal was to be a journalist, and I’m most passionate about writing.

You can see my complete tweets (over 250, I think, in one day) here. I also jotted down some notes just after the conference; here are some thoughts based on those notes:

I felt I was hearing a consensus that news is a public good, and news reporting will increasingly be funded, coordinated, and curated through nonprofit entities. I’ve been focused quite a bit lately on Texas Tribune, which is an innovative Texas news organization operating as a nonprofit. Its CEO and editor, Evan Smith, told me at the conference that he’s feeling positive and excited about the future of journalism and the kinds of experiments we were hearing about at the conference.

Former for-profit newspapers are focusing more on infotainment to build and sustain attention and revenue – it’s harder for them to fund hard, in-depth reporting. One potential model would be for nonprofits to report in depth, and provide reporting through content syndication partnerships with for-profits. That may be one wave of the future.

Another interesting experiment presented at the conference:, a site set up to source public funding for news stories suggested by – I think the best word to use here is particpants. We were talking a lot about participatory journalism, which could manifest in any number of ways. Anyone who can read, write, and has access to a computer can potentially report news. What works as journalism is, I think, a matter of context. Is the reporting feeding into a journalistic process of some sort, and what sort of analysis/vetting do you have within that process? I’m all for broader sourcing of facts and perspectives, but how that mix becomes journalism in today’s world of social and collaborative media is still being defined.


Slow news is good news

We’ve talked about slow (vs fast) food, and earlier today I heard about the new slow money movement. Now I’m hearing the best case for friction yet – slow news, which is about reporting the news after you’ve checked it out, not before. Internet immediacy was a rush for the longest time, and journalists have felt increasingly compelled to report first, ask questions later. Recent symptoms: misreporting of various facts around the Fort Hood shootings last week. My friend Ethan Zuckerman coined the “slow news” phrase, reported by another friend, Dan Gillmor. Dan’s talking about a slow news movement, where journalists reclaim accuracy and leave news that is both breaking and broken to bloggers as first responders. Wish I’d heard this before I spoke at the National College Media Conference a couple of weeks ago. I could’ve said “slow news is the new black.”