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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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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NYTimes.com: 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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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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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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Nokia’s Blog Starts Discussing Problems

Nokia.com
Nokia’s Conversations blog is getting interesting now that it’s not all just happy talk.

Recently Nokia launched its Conversations blog, a good first step any company can take toward transparency and engagement with its customers, partners, and critics. Not surprisingly, most of the initial posts were “happy news” of one kind or another. I don’t begrudge them that — almost any company is doing some good things worth discussing.

But the real proof of how serious a company is about embracing public conversation is whether it’s willing to openly discuss thorny problems. Today Nokia’s blog took a first step in this direction with this post: When things go wrong with updating your device software.

There, Nokia staffer Charlie Schick picked up on the discussion that’s been happening here on Contentious.com, and on other blogs (like Beth Kanter’s and Jenifer Hanen’s), and via social media like Twitter concerning the myriad obstacles encountered by current and would-be US users of Nokia’s high-end N-Series phones. He focused on the firmware update problem I and other US users have encountered and mentioned Nokia’s support forums — which can indeed be a useful resource for solving some problems with Nokia devices.

Schick’s blog post is a good start. But I found his comment today on my blog even more to the point.

…All in all, I think this is a promising start to the public conversation. Of course, so far it’s all “just talk” — but real progress comes from action. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of action Nokia and its US market can muster together.

I left a couple of comments on Nokia’s blog — which will probably be approved for publication to the blog after people get to work in Finland. So in the meantime, here’s what I commented…
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Nokia USA: Again, your service (not product) is the problem

MobileJones
Nokia Director of Corporate Communications Mark Squires (seen here in a recent MobileJones interview) has joined our conversation about Nokia’s US service problems.

This morning I was encouraged to see that yet another Nokia staffer, Mark Squires (Nokia’s Director of Corporate Communications) left a comment on my blog. He wrote:

“Hi Amy, I work with Charlie at Nokia and have just tracked to your posts. First up sorry that one of our phones has rolled over on you and thank you for your input/thoughts/patience. Charlie and I are based outside of the US but I’ve written to my colleagues who are local to you and brought this matter to their attention. Lets see what can be done, in the mean time feel free to get in tough directly. Mark”

Thanks for joining this conversation Mark. Rather than taking this to private correspondence, I think it’s more beneficial to keep our exchanges on this public, since it affects Nokia’s entire potential US market for your N Series phones. This isn’t just about my personal experience.

You wrote: “Sorry that one of our phones has rolled over on you.”

…Actually, as I explained in my most recent post on this theme, my N95 phone (the device) was NOT the problem in my case. As I’ve expressed several times: the phone itself was great, I loved it. And I do understand that a firmware update to any high-tech device always represents a slight a risk of malfunction.

The main problem was Nokia’s inadequate service for high-end US customers like me.

I’m sorry to harp on the service quality vs. product quality issue, but it’s very important that you and your company understand this distinction. So far, I’m not sure Nokia really gets it. But this key concern could easily make or break Nokia’s attempt to make serious headway in the US high-end cell phone market. I’m continuing to speak up about this because I really do want Nokia to succeed in the US….

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Nokia USA: It’s Not Your Intermediaries, It’s YOU

I was so happy and excited to get my N95 (see video). I could be this happy again, if only Nokia would get its US service and support act together.

As I noted earlier, this morning Charlie Schick of Nokia USA left a comment on this blog to reach out to me about my recent heartbreaking experience with the Nokia N95. Here’s what he said:

“These are the nightmares that we never want to happen.

“I remember in the days before we allowed users to do their firmware updates, this was one of the worries that could have killed the whole process.

“I think what makes it hard for us is all the disintermediation – the, sometimes small but crucial, gap between us and you.

“And what concerns me is that we know when it happens to folks like you who write about it. Yet, that leads us to a one-time fix.

“How can we spread a policy or procedure down the line that helps anyone with this issue (and without costing the company or you an bundle)?

“I don’t know, and any more speculation on my part might be irresponsible.

“For sure, the more folks who bring this up, the more likely the company will come with a plan that can deal with this in a way we are both happy with.”

Here is my response — which I hope will lead to further constructive conversation and perhaps better options for current and would-be US users of high-end Nokia products…

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Talking with Nokia About US Service/Repair Problems (Finally!)

Gdugardier, via YouTube
Charlie Schick, the guy from Nokia USA who just reached out to me about my N95 nightmare.

This morning, I was pleased and relieved to see that a representative of Nokia USA, Charlie Schick, left a constructive comment on my most recent post about my recent N95 fiasco. I’m glad to see that at least someone in that company is savvy about talking over problems and finding solutions through public conversation.

Actually, I’d heard of Charlie just yesterday, before he left that comment. According to Mobile Jones, he’s Nokia’s “social media expert” who ran the company’s blogger outreach program. Also, blogger and N95 user Jenifer Hanen mentioned him in her comments yesterday.

Coincidentally, sometime today Nokia is going to launch a new blog, Nokia Conversations (that link isn’t live just yet, keep trying). Mobile Jones reported that this blog will “highlight the developments inside the world’s largest device manufacturer, and new entrant into mobile content and services that the 60,000 employee company represents. Some of those 60K employees are also introduced along with their accomplishments and new products. Comments are welcomed.”

In this interview, Nokia’s head of social media, Mark Squires (I gather he’s Charlie’s boss), told Mobile Jones that “The idea is to give people who use our products a route straight in to us to talk to us. …A lot of the time we’re selling products to people via up to six [intermediaries], and this way if they don’t like the product, they can tell us. …For me, commenting is the main thing.”

I’m crafting a separate post to respond to Charlie/Nokia USA. It’ll be posted shortly. But I did want to acknowledge that I appreciate being engaged publicly and constructively. I’m skeptical about whether it’ll make any real difference, but it’s a better approach to communication and service than what I’ve experienced thus far from Nokia. Thanks.

…By the way, here’s Charlie’s blog.