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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HuffPost’s citizen journalism standards: links required (News orgs, take a hint)

huffpostLast week the Huffington Post posted its standards for citizen journalism. It’s a pretty short, basic list — just six requirements — that reads like journalism 101.

However, many news organizations still could take a lesson from the second item on HuffPost‘s list:

2. Do research and include links to back it up. Whether you are referencing a quote, statistic, or specific event, you should include a link that supports your statement. If you’re not sure, it’s better to lean on the cautious side. More links enhance the piece and let readers know where you’re coming from.”

It amazes me how often I still see mainstream news stories which completely lack links, or which ghettoize links in a box in a sidebar or at the bottom of the story…

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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.

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 Inquisitr.com: 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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12 Naked Pumpkin Runners Named, Camera Catches Up

UPDATE NOV. 5: The Boulder police had other options. They could have cited streakers for disorderly conduct instead of indecent exposure. Also, the Daily Camera interviewed me on this controversy…

Yesterday, after much prodding from local bloggers (including me) and commenters on its site, the Boulder Daily Camera finally reported that the streakers who got busted by Boulder police at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run will, if convicted, have to register as sex offenders. Today, the paper also published the names and ages of the 12 streakers who were cited for indecent exposure. All of these people are over 18, and thus under current CO law must register as sex offenders if convicted.

No acknowledgement of the community/independent media role in pressing this issue was offered by the Camera.

I just called the Boulder Municipal Court (303-441-1842), which informed me that Boulder County Courts (303-441-3750) are handling these cases. The county court rep I spoke was surprised, since normally misdemeanor citations handed out within Boulder City Limits get processed through the municipal court system. However, he did say that if indeed the county will be handling those cases, they should have more information on Friday. So I’ll call back then and will post an update. I’ll also check back with the municipal court, just in case they gave me incorrect information.

I’m contacting the local courts because I want to learn the dates and locations of arraignment hearings for the busted streakers. As far as I know, the public (including media) can observe these hearings. It’d be here that we’d learn whether these cases are being plea bargained down, whether there are motions for dismissal, and in general the attitudes of the judges, cops, attorneys, and defendants.

Stay tuned…

Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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Nokia USA: How to turn talk into action

Brymo, via Flickr (CC license)
Talk is a good start, and it need not be cheap, but by itself it generally doesn’t get much done.

Earlier today Nokia’s Charlie Schick posted a thoughtful comment about how Nokia and its current and would-be customers might, through talking openly together, improve the situation in the high-end US phone market. (Also, Nokia director of corporate communications Mark Squires also just left a comment on this theme.)

Here’s my response to the excellent points Charlie raised…
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