Input needed: HOW could a news site be a truth vigilante?

I’ve been following, with interest, the recent flap sparked by this Jan. 12 column by New York Times public editor (ombudsman), Arthur Brisbane: Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

Brisbane asked NYT readers: “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

This led to consternation from many Times readers, who believed this kind of revelation is part of the basic job of any news organization. GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram offered a good roundup of the flap, and at The Guardian Clay Shirky wrote an eloquent deeper exploration of the mindset disconnect between the Times and its readers.

Many people are debating the ethical implications of this issue. However, I’m wondering about the practicalities and possible opportunities.

If the NYT (or any news organization) does decide to point out when sources offer inaccurate “facts,” HOW might they accomplish that? Might there be good options, especially online, that could serve this purpose in addition to inserting relevant text into stories?… Continue reading

Mea culpa: I can’t be an off-duty journalist

Is a journalist ever off-duty? I tend to think not — and yesterday I feel like I neglected my duty. It’s bugging me.

It was Memorial Day, I decided to go for a long bike ride to see the beach at Alameda. I needed the exercise, and the weather was perfect. I was enjoying myself greatly — but as I was biking back along Crown Beach in Alameda, I saw police, firefighters, and onlookers gathered. I asked what was happening, and they told me that a man was stranded offshore. A firefighter pointed out into the water, and I could see a head bobbing above the waves, about 150 feet out.

“It’s shallow out there, he’s standing,” said the firefighter. And indeed, the man didn’t seem to be struggling. But he wasn’t waving or shouting for help, either.

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Sunshine Week, March 13-19: Acceptable advocacy for journalists

For several years, I’ve loved Sunshine Week — a campaign by the American Society of News Editors to call for more government transparency.  It’s one of the few times that journalists and news orgs are willing to engage in direct activism, which makes for a lot of amusing verbal gymnastics.

Today at the Knight Digital Media Center, I wrote about new advocacy/awareness tool from Sunshine Week: a model proclamation that news orgs and other activists/advocates can customize, publish, and challenge specific government officials and agencies to adopt. It gets into specifics, at least to some extent.

See: Sunshine Week shows how to call for open government

It’s a good start, but here’s what else I’d love to see from Sunshine Week…

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WSJ & the Kindle: Puzzling Relationship

What might a larger-screen e-reader look like? Here's what Plastic Logic plans to release later this year. Whether Amazon will follow suit remains to be seen.

What might a larger-screen e-reader look like? Here's what Plastic Logic plans to release later this year. Whether Amazon will follow suit remains to be seen.

Over the weekend, while I was reading the Wall Street Journal on my Kindle e-reader (I pay $10/month for that subscription), I noticed this headline: Amazon Is Developing Bigger-Screen Kindle. I found the article interesting for several reasons — including that the sole source for the headline’s claim is the unnamed group, “people who said they have seen a version of the device.” I was even more surprised to read that “the new Kindle could debut before the 2009 holiday shopping season, they said.” That’s pretty damn ambitious.

…WSJ.com also noted that an Amazon spokesman “declined to comment on what he called ‘rumors or speculation.'”

Hmmm… could this be a replay of the rumors of an Apple tablet computer that have been recurring for years? (Thanks for the reminder of that, Ron Miller.)

A larger-format Kindle would indeed be an attractive product to many consumers. It would be even more appealing to news organizations that are already selling (or are considering selling) Kindle subscriptions to their content. The Kindle’s current screen size significantly constrains formatting and excludes advertising — and thus news revenue potential for this device.

When considering this story’s conspicuously scanty sourcing, I noticed that this article did not acknowledge that the Wall Street Journal — and every other news org selling Kindle subscriptions — stands to benefit financially from the availability of a larger-size Kindle. In other words, the Journal used a definitively-worded headline to amplify an unconfirmed rumor that, if true, might eventually increase its e-reader revenue stream. And this claim has been widely repeated.

Of course, Amazon’s alleged forthcoming Kindle is not the only emerging larger e-reader option…

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What ABCnews.com got really wrong about social media and Mumbai attacks

On Nov. 28, ABCnews.com published a story by Ki Mae Huessner called Social Media a Lifeline, Also a Threat? about the role of Twitter and other social media in the coverage of, and public discourse about, last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Huessner interviewed me for this story because I’ve been blogging about it on Contentious.com and on E-Media Tidbits. She chose to include a few highly edited and interpreted quotes from me that I think grossly misrepresent my own views and the character of our conversation.

Yeah, being a journalist, I know that no one is ever completely happy with their quotes. I’ve been misquoted plenty in the past, and normally I just roll with it. But this particular case is an especially teachable moment for my journalist colleagues in mainstream media about understanding and covering the role of social media in today’s media landscape.

Today’s a pretty busy day for me, but I didn’t want to let this go unsaid any longer. So I made a little Seesmic video response to this story. Here I am speaking strictly for myself — not on behalf of any of my clients or colleagues. Yes, I am very emphatic here and somewhat critical. Please understand that my frustration is borne of seeing this particular problem over and over again.

Boulder Police DID Have Options: Disorderly Conduct Citation

Yesterday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Amy Bounds interviewed me about my experience at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run, where 12 streakers were cited by police for indecent exposure. She used that information to expand her Camera story naming those cited — a list that included several local scientists and students. (I wrote about this yesterday.)

Bounds also added to her story a brief quote from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner:

“Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said indecent exposure was the charge that best fit the violation. ‘We don’t set the law,’ he said. ‘As police officers, we enforce it. We don’t get into the sentencing part of it.”

It doesn’t look like the Camera saw fit to push back against Beckner’s facile claim, which is unfortunate. Because the Boulder police did have another option here. They could have chosen to cite the streakers instead under Colorado statute 18-9-106. Disorderly conduct.
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Ethical Quandary: Assistant, Blogging, and Logins

I’m wondering how to handle a tricky aspect of working with an assistant.

Hi, all. Sorry I haven’t been blogging here much lately, but I’ve been slammed trying to keep my head above water with my client projects. I’m working on a strategy to lighten my stress level (and reduce the near-constant sensation of being pecked to death by ducks) by considering hiring an assistant.

OK, assistants (virtual and otherwise), PLEASE don’t consider this an opening to pitch yourself in my comments! I need to think through some issues first, and here’s a biggie:

Posting to blogs takes an inordinate amount of my time — not writing the post, generally, but simply making the post — logging into a client blog’s back-end system and dealing with its formatting and other idiosyncrasies to make the post go live. This is especially time-consuming for one client’s blog, which relies on an entirely custom-made, clunky, and bug-ridden content management system.

One thing I’d like an assistant to do for me would be to take the post that I’ve completed and edited, along with illustration (if any), log in to the client’s back-end, and actually post the entry — and preview it to check it before it goes live.

I’m about the ethical and logistical issues. Here are the questions I’m pondering:

  • Should I get the client’s permission beforehand before giving my assistant access to the blog back-end?
  • Should I ask the client to set up a separate login for my assistant, or just give my assistant access to my login for the blog?
  • What questions or concerns are the blog owners likely to have about this, and how might I address them constructively?

I’d love to hear thoughts on this — especially from anyone who has outsourced blog posting (rather than writing). I’d especially love tips for training, oversight, expectations, etc. Please comment below!

AP replacing journalism with stenography?

Parade.com
AP let Parade off way too easy.

In my daily links post today, I noted Steve Outing‘s spot-on Jan 6 critique of this weekend’s gaffe by Parade Magazine — the popular full-color, feature-rich magazine wedged into already-bloated Sunday papers around the country. Here’s Outing’s description of what happened:

“Tens of millions of people were treated to an example of print media’s slide toward irrelevance this morning. Parade magazine, which is inserted in Sunday papers across the US, offered up its cover story about Benazir Bhutto: ‘Is Benazir Bhutto America’s best hope against al-Qaeda?’ (Only if you believe in reincarnation.)

“The story, an interview by Gail Sheehy done prior to Bhutto’s death, is particularly relevant now. But it needed to be reworked to acknowledge the assassination, of course.

“…Bhutto was assassinated on December 27. Parade shows up in newspapers with this embarrassingly outdated story 10 DAYS later! …Parade’s site, of course, does acknowledge the assassination, and explains its publishing schedule and why what people received in print is so outdated. And some newspapers ran editor’s notes along with the copy of today’s Parade — though not my local paper.”

Apparently, Parade is still in damage-control mode over this one. Today on Poynter’s site, uber-journo-blogger Jim Romenesko noted this Jan 6. AP story in which Parade publisher Randy Siegel offered this explanation…

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Matthew Murray and The Dark Side of Support Forums

Ex-Pentecostals.org forums
Colorado gunman Matthew Murray displayed a disturbing pattern of behavior in these forums. Could this community have acted earlier to prevent tragedy?

Make no mistake: Online support forums, whether grassroots community efforts or run by organizations, generally do a hell of a lot of good. You can find support forums dealing with just about any issue or community. Personally I’ve participated in some support forums, and have generally benefited from them.

But there can be a dark side that managers and members of online support forums shouldn’t overlook: reinforcing negative triggers in mentally unstable people.

In fact, it’s possible that this dynamic this could have played a role in my own state last weekend, when Matthew Murray shot and killed four people in Arvada and Colorado springs, CO — and then finally killed himself after being downed by a church security guard…

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