links for 2007-08-31

BelgianChocolate, via Flickr (CC license)
Who gets to say when an argument’s over?

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Fixing Old News: How About a Corrections Wiki?
Any news org should be able to do more with corrections than this…
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
Or this… What? You can’t see the corrections on that page?
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
…Look way down here in the corner

Even the best journalists and editors sometimes make mistakes. Or sometimes new information surfaces that proves old stories — even very old stories — wrong, or at least casts them in a vastly different light. What’s a responsible news organization to do, especially when those old stories become more findable online?

On Aug. 28, co-founder Scott Rosenberg posted a thoughtful response to a Aug. 26 column by New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt: When Bad News Follows You.

In a nutshell, the Times recently implemented a search optimization strategy that increased traffic to its site — especially to its voluminous archives. This meant that stories from decades past suddenly appeared quite prominently in current search-engine results. The Times charges non-subscribers to access archived stories.

Hoyt wrote: “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.”

“…Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive. Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, ‘like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.'”

Hoyt’s column offered no options for redress. He didn’t suggest that the Times might start researching more disputed stories or posting more follow-up stories. Nor did he suggest that the Times might directly link archived stories to follow-ups.

Rosenberg asserts that the Times has an obligation to offer redress. Personally, I agree. Plus, I’ve got an idea of how they (or any news org) could do it — and maybe even make some money in the process…

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Definitely not just mobile “phones” anymore

I am totally not a phone person. I tend to use the phone only when I absolutely have to, or to call people I already know and enjoy talking to. Right now, I only have a crappy little low-end prepaid mobile phone because I only want it to coordinate with people when I’m traveling. Most of the time it’s turned off. And on my landline, I only check voice mail a couple of times a week.

But I’m fascinated by mobile technology, and I think within a year I’ll probably buy some kind of mobile device (either a tablet PC, smart phone, or something like a Sidekick) because they’re getting to the point that they can do reasonably well stuff I want to do on the go — like blogging, and research.

This excerpt from a recent talk by Google’s chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf helps illustrate why mobile is becoming so powerful. And I pity the media organization that doesn’t take mobile very, very seriously — especially outside the US, where mobile devices tend to be much more advanced and even more widespread.

Thanks to Liz Foreman of Lost Remote for the tip.

links for 2007-08-29
The NY Times doesn’t want to removed disputed articles — but shouldn’t they investigate and correct them?

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Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream

David Chief, via Flickr (CC license)
How many people use feeds? Probably a whole lot more than you think.

In my Aug. 21 post, It’s not about your site anymore, I talked about how web sites are becoming less important for online content distribution as RSS feeds (with their many uses) are enjoying increasingly mainstream usage.

Basically, the trend is that more people are more interested in getting the content they want delivered to them wherever they prefer to be, rather than having to make a special “trip” online to someone’s site. And they’re using lots of popular tools to do just that.

Reader Steve Sergeant (of The Wildebeat, a great podcast) responded with a perspective I’ve heard often. He said:

“I agree that this is true for the bleeding-edge, early adopters, among which I count myself. …But in my experience, the average news consumer and person with a non-media job often has no idea what an RSS reader or aggregator is. Sure, an adventuresome few have discovered iTunes for podcasts or some server-side aggregator, like My Yahoo.”

While it may be true that most net users aren’t yet using feeds (or perhaps most of them are, I just haven’t found current statistics on that), earlier research and current trends indicate that feeds may have already grown far more popular than conventional wisdom might lead us to assume.

Furthermore, I think general ignorance of the key role that feeds play in supporting many of today’s most popular online-media services and experiences may be causing significant harm — especially to journalism, and thus to democracy and other forms of self-determination.

Sounds extreme, I know. Hear me out…

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Lunar Eclipse, via Flickr

Cheetah100, via Flickr (CC license)
Last night’s total lunar eclipse.

Last night, after a day of mostly overcast skies in Boulder, CO, the clouds finally dissolved around 3am leaving a clear view of the total lunar eclipse. I was out in my driveway with my husband, who’d set up his whompous Meade LX 90 12-inch telescope, and was thrilled to see the moon “get eaten away” and turn blood red.

The most lyrical explanation I found of why the moon turns red during a total lunar eclipse is from this Science@NASA story: “With the Sun blocked, you might expect utter darkness, but no, the ground at your feet is aglow. Why? Look back up at Earth. The rim of the planet seems to be on fire. Around Earth’s circumference you see every sunrise and sunset in the world — all at once.”

I used that same explanation to my spellbound six-year-old neighbor, who (along with his mom) joined us at the scope for an unforgettable hour of viewing and discussion. He totally got it — including when I pointed at the ground to show him where the sun was: “Think through the earth,” I said. “OK, I can do that,” he replied seriously. He was quite taken with the eclipse.

Of course this morning I wanted to see photos of the eclipse from around the world, so I went to Flickr. I found lots of great photos from last night’s eclipse. Many of them include, in captions, people’s experiences of seeing this eclipse. Worth checking out. My very favorite is this one (you’ve gotta read the caption).

I’m finding that when something visually interesting happens, I tend to go straight to the photo-sharing sites to see first-hand independently produced images — often before I go to mainstream news coverage of the event. Especially with something like an eclipse.

The thing is, when you view an eclipse it’s generally a very personal experience. It’s not just looking out into space, but having a sense of where you are standing, and what the viewing conditions are there. It’s an intriguing personal connection with space — but it’s basically about two points in space.

In contrast, browsing Flickr the day after an eclipse lets you experience the eclipse through others’ eyes (well, at least their cameras) from wherever it was visible around the globe. This goes beyond the connecting of two mere points, and your perspective on the eclipse expands.

Worth a look.

links for 2007-08-28

Ernoldiño, via Flickr (CC license)
“Vs. thinking” sucks. Can we all just get along?

I’m learning Django, blame Matt Waite, grumble….

Jesie Hart, via Flickr (CC license)
Matt Waite, you owe me a drink. At least one.

So today I downloaded and installed Django, the web framework that apparently is one key to creating kick-ass data-driven sites. Adrian Holovaty just wrote a book about it (due out in September, I’ve pre-ordered it). Smart web developers and database geeks who really grasp the value of relevant journalistic information keep raving to me about it.

And then Matt Waite of the St. Petersburg Times, reporter-turned-geek who’s one of the lead developers of the data-driven presidential campaign truth squad site, had to go write this:

“PolitiFact was born when St. Petersburg Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair called me in very late May with an idea he had. He wanted to take the “truth squad” idea and expand it. And he wondered if we could somehow use databases with this idea. He didn’t know how we could do that, just that we should, and that was why he was calling me. I was knee deep in learning Django, the rapid development web framework, and immediately knew we could use Django to make this happen. Based on our conversation, I quick sketched out a series of related tables — models in Django parlance — and PolitiFact was born.

“Learning Django has been a transformative experience for me. PolitiFact is the first Django app I’ve completed, and it won’t be the last. Not even close. Before this, I’d never developed a website before — I don’t count installing WordPress on a hosting account as developing a website — or done anything in Python.

“Learning Django was a challenge for someone like me with no programming experience, but the framework puts incredible abilities into your hands once you learn what you are doing. The documentation is a truly remarkable resource: It is a monument to it’s quality that 98 percent of PolitiFact comes from the documentation.”

Damn you, Matt Waite, I felt like such a coward after I read that. It haunted me. There have been too many times when I’ve hidden behind “I’m not a programmer” and found geeks for hire, rather than knuckling down and learning one truly geeky (rather than semi-geeky) tool that would allow me to apply my own data-driven creativity directly. So today I broke down and downloaded and installed Django. And it’s all your %^*%&^ fault, Matt Waite. I hope you’re proud of yourself.

Of course, I’ll be blogging my learning curve with Django — something that will take time and courage. I’m sure I’ll make a lot of stupid mistakes I’ll be forced to fess up to, and I don’t enjoy looking stupid more than anyone else. Well, if I can deal with it, so can all of you. I figure if I’m going to goad people into learning new online skills, I should be willing to take my own medicine — and then some.

So I’m officially a Django newbie.

And Matt, I’d say you owe me one helluva drink. I’ll Be in St. Pete. Sept. 16-17 for a Poynter seminar. Pencil me in. And be prepared to hear me gripe.

Matching Science to Sci-Fi: Where’s a Good Tool?

San Diego Supercomputer Services
One way to envision dark matter; sci fi stories are another.

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone, but I’m a major science fiction junkie. I always have been. Forget space operas and epic Arthurian fantasies cloaked in spacesuits — I want the hardcore sci-fi. Where the science or speculative reality angles are integral to the plot and characters, not mere set dressing. Where aliens are REALLY alien, not just English-speaking bipeds with funny foreheads.

For me, sci-fi has been a key way to explore the concepts and possibilities raised by science; to consider what might happen, and why, if some remotely plausible twist of fate came to pass, in this universe or some other. For me, the concepts that form the premise of sci-fi stories, movies, and novels are far more compelling than the special effects.

Because of this, I’m getting frustrated.

Lately I’ve been intrigued by various possibilities of a couple of corners of science: epigenetics and dark matter. In addition to reading about research on the topic, I’d love to be able to easily track down sci-fi stories, novels and videos where those themes were key parts of the plot.

I tried’s wiki SciFiPedia — pretty lame results. Google searches and plowing through forums are chaos.

Here’s what I want: a database or wiki where people tag sci-fi works with keywords for the types of science involved. I’d like to be able to quickly find, say, a list of 10 sci-fi works that address epigenetics.

Have you seen something like that? Please comment below.

links for 2007-08-27

Editor & Publisher
E&P story feeds internet fear.

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