links for 2008-11-30

links for 2008-11-28

Tracking a Rumor: Indian Government, Twitter, and Common Sense

This morning, as I check in on the still-unfolding news about yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I noticed a widely repeated rumor: allegedly, the Indian government asked Twitter users to stop tweeting info about the location and activities of police and military, out of concern that this could aid the terrorists.

For example, see Indian Government trying to block Twitter as Terrorists may be reading it.

Rumors — even fairly innocuous ones — really bug me. Mainly because they’re so easy to prevent!

I’m trying to track this particular rumor down, but haven’t been able to confirm anything yet. At this point I’m skeptical of this claim. Here’s what I’ve found so far…

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links for 2008-11-27

  • “Our goals are to:

    * Provide the American people primarily but also other English readers around the world with access to independent, objective international reporting that is free from the operational constraints and other negative pressures imposed by large media companies;

    * Offer intelligent, fair, and courageous on-site reporting and analysis from throughout the world and especially from those geographic areas that have been consistently ignored or underreported by the American news media;

    * Provide a depth of coverage on important international issues — social, political and economic — that is generally or completely absent in the media and even on the web;

    * Offer journalists the unique opportunity to have an ownership interest in the collaborative while also providing an important new distribution channel for their best work.”

  • “Ask Mr. Tweet: : who should i follow? : Mr. Tweet looks through your extended network to help you build effective relationships on Twitter. Examples:
    * Which are my followers I should be following in return?
    * Who are the influential people I should be following?

    “Follow Mr. Tweet (Yes, that is all you need to do)”

  • “While most major U.S. news organizations are fleeing the expensive realm of international coverage, the Global Post is poised to enter the space as an online-only organization.

    “Charles Sennott is a veteran of the Boston Globe’s foreign desk. He laments the fact that many major metros like the Globe no longer have foreign bureaus. He believes, however, that the demand is still there for coverage of international news.

    “Enter the Global Post. It is staffed by seven editors — including Sennott, the top dog — and seven business staffers in Boston. It, however, has a large network of global correspondents — 70 in 53 countries, to be exact. This new venture will launch on January 12, 2009.”

Following Mumbai Attacks via Social Media

Right now, the Indian city of Mumbai is reeling under coordinated terrorist attacks. In addition to mainstream news coverage from India and around the world, Internet users are sharing news and information — including people in Mumbai, some of whom are at or near the attack scenes.

Here’s a quick roundup of social media to check for updates and reactions. Some of this information is produced by professional news orgs and journalists, most is not. Use your own judgment regarding which to trust…

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links for 2008-11-26

Press releases: If you use them, say so and LINK BACK!

Transparency is becoming at least as important as — or perhaps more important than — objectivity in news today. This means: If it’s possible to link to your source or provide source materials, people expect you to do so. Failing to offer source links is starting to look about as shifty or lazy as failing to name your source.

Yesterday I wrote about how the New York Times missed an obvious opportunity for transparency by failing to link to (or publish) source documents released during a court case.

But also, a recent flap in Columbia Journalism Review has got me thinking about transparency. This flap concerns the role of press releases in science journalism. Freelance journalist Christine Russell kicked it off with her Nov. 14 CJR article, Science Reporting by Press Release. There, she wrote:

“A dirty little secret of journalism has always been the degree to which some reporters rely on press releases and public relations offices as sources for stories. But recent newsroom cutbacks and increased pressure to churn out online news have given publicity operations even greater prominence in science coverage.

“‘What is distressing to me is that the number of science reporters and the variety of reporting is going down. What does come out is more and more the direct product of PR shops,’ said Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter and media critic, in an interview. Petit has been running MIT’s online Knight Science Journalism Tracker since 2006. …In some cases the line between news story and press release has become so blurred that reporters are using direct quotes from press releases in their stories without acknowledging the source.

“This week, Petit criticized a Salt Lake Tribune article for doing just that. In an article about skepticism surrounding the discovery of alleged dinosaur tracks in Arizona, the reporter had lifted one scientist’s quote verbatim from a University of Utah press release as if it had come from an interview. ‘This quote is not ID’d as, but is, provided by the press release,’ Petit wrote in his critique. ‘If a reporter doesn’t hear it with his or her own ears, or is merely confirming what somebody else reported first, a better practice is to say so.'” (Note: I added the direct links to the article and release here.)

In other words, Petit is arguing for transparency. He recommends using extra words as the vehicle for transparency (i.e., adding something like “according to a university press release”). That is indeed a useful tactic. But we have more tools than words — we have links…
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links for 2008-11-25

  • "Think about news as its constituent components, not in the bizarro news world we live in, think about news in the actual world. The components are: sources, facts, ideas, opinions, readers.

    "The challenge of the news industry, to the extent that there is one, is to connect the first four items with the last item. I don't think you need a reporter and editor to do that. I don't think they were doing their jobs anyway, they were being very selective about what sources, facts, ideas and opinions we could have.

    "I want it all, and I don't want anyone saying what I can and can't have. Permalink to this paragraph

  • "The energy team at Google has been analyzing how we could greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030. Our proposal – "Clean Energy 2030" – provides a potential path to weaning the U.S. off of coal and oil for electricity generation by 2030 (with some remaining use of natural gas as well as nuclear), and cutting oil use for cars by 44%."
  • "There is no paucity of African content in the offline world. Africa is home to some of the world’s richest musical traditions, oral histories, and physical heritage. The second piece of good news is that mobile phones are likely to be gateways to the internet in much of the continent. The challenge is how to migrate this wealth of content from the offline to the online world.

    "If Africans are going to get online en masse, they need a reason to go there and they need to see themselves, their values, and their stories when looking through the online prism. With the availability of Google MapMaker in Africa, we’re already seeing that people are creating their own content and populating base maps with layers that are meaningful and useful to them. That is exciting. Whether its stories, pictures, or data on budgets and literacy rates, I hope we can give people a stake and a reason to get online and participate in the information society."

  • A heartfelt tribute to the virtues of traditional journalism from the Washington Post ombudsman. But my colleague Dave Poulson of MSU tweeted about this: "will [good reporters] survive platform change? Should they?"

    Damn good question.

  • Jeff Jarvis: "It’s fair to expect me to put forward scenarios for the future of news. In a sense, that’s all I ever do here, but there’s no one permalink summarizing my apparently endless prognostication. So here is a snapshot of – a strawman for – where I think particularly local news might go. What follows is just a long – I’m sorry – summary of what I’ve written here over time and an extension of the one model I think we need to expand coming out of the conference, where one lesson I took away is that news – on both the content and business side – will no longer be controlled by a single company but will be collaborative."
  • "API;s summary quotes by name only the meeting’s business consultant/facilitators. The few CEO views referenced in the report are anonymous. So, sadly, we don’t know who made this suggestion:

    "'…there were a few calls for radical rethinking of newsrooms. One (participant) suggested hiring experts, such as a scientist or a bank regulator, in place of some reporters, to highlight expertise.'

    "Would the author of that suggestion please step forward?…"

  • "In case any of the 50 news executives attending API's secret conference are interested, here’s Jane Stevens’ 10-Point Webcentric News Organization Roadmap to Success…"
  • "Like much-criticized PayPerPost for blogs, German/UK startup Be-A-Mapgpie will pay you to insert advertisements into your Twitter stream. It’s not clear if Twitter will object to this. Their terms and conditions don’t specifically exclude it, but an amendment may be in order. Users may not be so forgiving though. I imagine anyone who starts to use this will see a sudden decline in followers rather quickly." Source documents, please?

Today the New York Times published on its site this story by Gardiner Harris: Research Center Tied to Drug Company.

Public documents are the crux of this corruption story — specifically, “e-mails and internal documents from Johnson & Johnson made public in a court filing.”

The article included lots of detailed background on this complex case. However, it failed to supply or link to the source documents — or even cite the case (court, case name, docket number) in a way that would allow interested people to find the documents on their own.

I see this a lot, and it confounds me. Here, the New York Times evidently believes its readers are savvy enough to understand the risks of commercial interests undermining scientific research and — in this case — possibly putting kids’ physical and mental health at risk.

…But they expect me to just take their word about what those documents said? They don’t think I’d care to see the original context in which the statements they quoted were made? They don’t even think I might want to be able to look up the documents, or follow the case?

Obviously, the New York Times has these documents. Also, these documents are public information — so you don’t have to worry about breaking copyright or confidentiality. So why didn’t the Times simply present them?…

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