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Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Source tagging' will help readers find news they want and trust

From time to time I make noises about adding context to news stories by including a reference/source list - who was spoken to, what documents, books, websites were referenced, even who initiated the story.

So I was chuffed today to read about a project under way to develop 'source tagging' technology.

Called Transparent Journalism, the project is the brainchild of Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust. It's being funded by the Knight Foundation's News Challenge programme and is consulting the BBC and Reuters about how to include 'source tagging' in reporters' daily workflows.

Here's the summary:

"With the copious amounts of information – and misinformation – on the Internet, the public needs more help finding fair, accurate and contextual news. This project will create a system to do just that.

"The plan: to design a way for content creators to add information on their sources to their reports, as a form of “source tagging.” For instance, a reporter could note that an article was based on personal observations, interviews with eyewitnesses or specific, original documents. Filters would then use this data - the “story behind the story” - to help find high-quality articles.

"A reader searching the phrase “Pakistan riots” for example, might find 9,000 articles. But filtering by “eyewitness accounts” would yield a more selective list."
This is a timely and hugely welcome development, in my view. Credibility is an increasingly valuable commodity online and this kind of transparency will help readers find news they can use, news they trust, and let them easily check the facts behind the news when they want to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pneumatic story delivery

Another piece of nostalgia from the NZ Herald Manual of Journalism 1967.

Pneumatic tubes as a story delivery system within newsrooms were before my time but what a shame, they look cracking.

Monday, October 27, 2008

NZ On Screen is where you go to remember things you don't realise you've forgotten

I've forgotten more TV shows and movies than I remember, which is what makes the new website NZ On Screen so good.

In the past 20 minutes I've stumbled across McPhail and Gadsby, the first episode of Spot On and It's In The Bag, none of which I'd thought about in years. Lots of years. (My, Selwyn Toogood had lovely enunciation.)

This is my first look around since the site launched late last week, and I'm sure I'll be back. Funded by NZ on Air, NZ On Screen serves as a repository for all manner of New Zealand movies, TV shows and short films over the years.

Or, in some cases, a repository of parts of NZ movies, TV shows and short films.

Often you can't see the whole movie, rather the movie trailer; and with TV programmes you get parts of episodes rather than shows in their entirety. Others, however, are there in full, and there are links to parent websites which hold more information on the content in question or offer it for sale.

The site strikes me more as a first port of call than a final destination for movie and TV buffs, but a useful one nonetheless.

I can easily imagine NZ On Screen becoming the first place I look for vintage TV footage, say, to use in a lecture or blog post. Especially since it's nicely laid out and commendably usable. Hats off to the creators.

It hurts that you can't embed any of the clips, a la YouTube, which is generally my first instinct whenever I come across something I want to share. (At least, I couldn't see a way to embed.)

But it's a fine start and with luck we'll see ever more content added and more of it available for embedding before long. My thanks to all concerned.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Journalists should 'think more about context than content'

Thought for the day (from Amy Gahran on MediaShift IdeaLab:

Today's journalists can -- and probably should -- consciously shift away from jobs that revolve around content creation (producing packaged "stories") and toward providing layers of journalistic insight and context on top of content created by others (including public information). Finding ways to help people sort through info overload is far more valuable than providing more information. Journos also should learn to cultivate and openly participate in public discourse -- something that provokes an inordinate and irrational amount of fear in the hearts of many traditional journalists. God forbid they acknowledge that they are, in fact, human beings with perspectives, opinions, and blind spots!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The journalist's toolkit circa 1967

From the NZ Herald Manual of Journalism, 1967

Monday, October 20, 2008

Journalistic privilege - an NZ postscript

My post earlier today on journalistic privilege was based on reading Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody and the issues he raises are interesting and well worth a read, particularly those on the roles/rights of bloggers and who can be defined as a journalist.

But the book refers to US laws and practice, and Jim Tucker quite rightly responded to my post with a clarification about the situation in New Zealand, which I wanted to add here as a postscript:

Journalistic privilege means a lot more than just the "legal right to protect sources", and when it comes to that right, it applies only to our lower court (under the Evidence Act) but can be overridden at High Court and above.

Privilege applies to qualified privilege, which has many applications - protection in covering court and local government meetings, publishing official statements, covering Parliament.

It also applies to anyone's right to impart information, if there is an argument that the imparter has a duty to tell and the receiver has a duty to receive. It also applies to reporting political discussion (the Lange defence).

The whole point about this in countries whose law and media conventions are rooted in the Commonwealth is that everyone has the right, not just journalists. So [Clay Shirky's] argument might be a problem in the US, but it doesn't apply here.

Who should enjoy journalistic privilege?

The question of who should enjoy journalistic privilege - the legal right to protect sources - these days is not an easy one to answer given that it's no longer simple to define who is and who is not a journalist.

A related question is who should be given access to cover court proceedings and political conferences given that only so many journalists can be accommodated in a courtroom or catered for at a news or political conference.

Clay Shirky provides some food for thought on privilege and the definition of a journalist in Here Comes Everybody, which I'm finally getting round to reading.

Shirky notes the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a journalist is "a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television".

In other words, a journalist is defined by who they work for - the publisher - rather than by the work they do.

That worked fine when publishing was such an expensive business that only a few could afford to invest in the vast plant required to broadcast television programmes or print newspapers.

Journalistic privilege applied only to a relatively small number of journalists, which made it achievable for the legal system to "uncover and prosecute wrongdoing while allowing a safety valve for investigative reporting".

But now that we have the internet, anyone with access to a computer or a mobile phone and an internet connection can be a publisher.

"If anyone can be a publisher, then anyone can be a journalist," says Shirky. "And if anyone can be a journalist, then journalistic privilege suddenly becomes a loophole too large to be borne by society.

"Imagine, in a world where any blogger could claim protection, trying to compel someone to testify about their friend's shady business: 'Oh, I can't testify about that. I've been blogging about it, so what he told me is confidential.'

"We can't just exclude bloggers either. Many well-read bloggers are journalists, like the war reporter Kevin Sites, who was fired from CNN for blogging then went to blog on his own; or Rebecca Mackinnon, who was formerly at CNN and went on to cofound Global Voices, dedicated to spreading blogging throughout the world; or Dan Gillmore, a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News who blogged both during and after his tenure; and so on.

"It's tempting to grandfather these bloggers as journalists, since they were journalists before they were blogging, but that would essentially be to ignore the weblog as a form, since a journalist would have to be anointed by some older form of media.

"This idea preserves what is most wrong with the original definition, namely that the definition of journalist is not internally consistent but rather is tied to ownership of communications machinery.

"It would exclude Ethan Zuckerman, a cofounder of Global Voices with Mackinnon; it's hard to imagine any sensible definition of journalist that would include her and exclude him, but it's also hard to imagine any definition that includes him without opening the door to including tens of millions of bloggers, too large a group to be acceptable.

"It would include Xeni Jardin, one of the contributors to the well-trafficked weblog Boing Boing who, as a result of her blogging, has gotten a spot on NPR. Did she become a journalist after NPR anointed her? Did her blogging for Boing Boing become journalism afterward? What about the posts from before - did they retroactively become the work of a journalist?

"The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.

"Now that scarcity is gone... Facing the new abundance of publishing options, we could just keep adding to the list of possible outlets to which journalism is tied - newspapers and television, and now blogging and video blogging and podcasting and so on. But the latter items on the list are different because they have no built-in scarcity. Anyone can be a publisher."

And so it goes on.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The email 'pebble pile' effect

A nice observation about email expectations from Merlin Mann, a software usability expert quoted in Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody:

Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn't take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that's taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can't handle that one tiny thing. "What pile? It's just a pebble!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Country Calendar still hits the mark

Country Calendar must be one of the few New Zealand media institutions that truly count as 'iconic'. The weekly programme, which casts light on NZ farming, hasn't looked back since its launch in 1966 and the current theme tune must be one of the most readily identifiable sounds for any Kiwi.

This clip gives a glimpse of what the programme used to look, and sound, like.

It's gone on to become one of the longest-running TV programmes anywhere in the world and still ranks in the top 10 for viewing figures each week, according to the TVNZ website, with those viewers being both urban and rural and numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

That's no mean feat. Someone somewhere must be doing something right.

So I'm looking forward to meeting Frank Torley, the show's executive producer. He's been involved with Country Calendar in one way or another almost since the beginning and he's our guest speaker at Wintec's Media Bites lunch in Hamilton next week.

Media Bites is a series of lunch/lectures hosted by the Editor in Residence (that's me) with the idea of bringing together journalism students with tutors, journalists working in the Waikato and people in business with an interest in the media.

Past speakers have included Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, TV3 news chief Mark Jennings, John Campbell, former Al-Jazeera bureau chief Trish Carter and Morning Report's Sean Plunket. Earlier this year we heard from Sam Farrow.

I'm hoping to bail Frank up and ask him for a few top tips on storytelling and staying on top. What would you ask Frank if you had the chance?

Monday, October 13, 2008

UK news group recruits 1,000 citizen journalists

Trinity Mirror's Teesside Evening Gazette is recruiting 1,000 citizen journalists over the next 12 months to boost content on its network of hyperlocal news sites, according to

The postcode-based community websites, which were rolled out from January last year as 'cousins' to the paper's Gazette Live website, feature content written and posted directly by a combination of non-journalists and the Gazette's editorial team.

While the 22 sites currently have around 400 registered contributors, the paper is planning to recruit a host of new bloggers and community correspondents, Darren Thwaites, editor of the Evening Gazette, told today's Regional Media Research Forum's Insight Day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

John Cleese and the social networks

John Cleese, who recently popped up on Twitter, has now started appearing over on Seesmic, the video blogging version of Twitter, albeit with a bit of help from a 'delivery system' called Dean and 'Frog'.

Re: John Cleese on Seesmic Tuesday 7th at NOON Pacific Time

Re:Poppy / Howdy Mr Cleese :-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When to beg the question, and when not to

Phrases and terms have a way of getting mangled over time and it can be hard finding clear examples of what is and isn't right.

Philip Corbett, a deputy news editor at the New York Times who's in charge of its style manual, does a fine job explaining how to use 'beg the question':

Not long ago, I gently noted (again) our frequent misuse of the phrase “beg the question.” I pointed out that in precise usage, it does not mean “to raise the question” or “to beg that the question be asked” or even “to evade the question.” Rather, it refers to a circular argument; it means “to use an argument that assumes as proved the very thing one is trying to prove.”

... I’ll try to clarify the meaning with a pair of made-up examples. Imagine that we’re discussing Lindsay Lohan.

YOU: I can’t understand why the news media give so much coverage to Lindsay Lohan. It’s ridiculous. She’s not that important or newsworthy.

ME: What? Of course she’s important and newsworthy! Lindsay Lohan is a big deal. Why, just look at the newsstand. People magazine, The Post, you name it. She’s everywhere.

YOU: That begs the question.

ME: Huh?

Your use of the phrase is correct. In arguing that Lindsay is important enough to merit heavy news coverage, I cite as evidence the fact that she gets heavy news coverage. It’s a circular argument that begs the question.


But imagine this conversation.

ME: I can’t understand why all the news media give so much coverage to Lindsay Lohan. It’s ridiculous.

YOU: I’m sure they do it just to sell papers and magazines.

ME: Yeah — which begs the question, why do people want to read about her?

YOU: That’s not begging the question. That’s simply raising the question.

ME: Huh?

My use is incorrect, though it is becoming extremely common. There’s even a Web site dedicated to stamping out this abuse of the term ( You can print out handy cards that explain the correct meaning, and pass them out to strangers if you hear them misusing the phrase. (I am not endorsing this approach.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

So you found something wrong on the internet? No worries. Just fix it.

I do sometimes find it tiresome hearing the same old refrains about the internet: 'oh, but it's full of rubbish', 'but there's some terrible misinformation online', 'yes but who has time for all this?'

Clearly I'm not alone. Jeff Jarvis does a good job collating some of his standard rebuttals:

There’s junk on the internet. True. There’s junk everywhere (even on bookshop shelves). The mistake is to think that the internet should be packaged and perfected, like media. It’s not media. Blogger Doc Searls, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, says the web is instead a place where we talk and connect. In his 1996 Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow called it “the new home of the mind.” The internet is life. Life is messy. Get used to it.

Most people watch junk. True. But “most” is a measurement that mattered only in the mass media economy, which is over. In our new mass of niches, we each may seek out and support what we like. Yes, we’ve all watched our silly flaming cat videos (not to mention Big Brother). But we’ve also watched moments of genius made possible by the internet. Why concentrate on the crap when brilliance is only a click away?

Anyone can say anything on the internet. True. And God bless it for that. That cacophony you hear is democracy and the free marketplace of ideas.

There are inaccuracies on the internet. True. But the web enables us to correct our mistakes - because nothing is finished there. With a link or a comment, we can also correct others. And thanks to Google, we can look up facts from many sources in an instant. I’d say the internet has given us a greater respect and facility for facts and has made us as a society more accurate.

Wikipedia has mistakes. True. So does this newspaper. Both are better at making corrections than books and encyclopedias. Wikipedia, like the web, has enabled an unprecedented collection of knowledge, passion, creation, and collaboration.

We need a seal of approval for internet content. False. The last thing we need is a system for certification. For who should have the authority to do it? Who would wield that shield in China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia? The web is not one-size-fits-all. Neither is knowledge.

Bloggers aren’t journalists. True and false. The Pew Internet & American Life survey says only a third of bloggers consider what they do journalism. But today any witness can perform an act of journalism, giving us more eyes on society - which journalists should celebrate.

People are rude on the internet. True. They’re rude in life, but perhaps more so online, thanks to anonymity. But we all know who the idiots are. The smart response is to ignore the stupid.

The internet has no ethics. True. It no more has a moral code than a telephone wire, a car, or a knife. We who use it bring the ethics and laws we live under already.

And in summary:

When you see nothing but junk, create quality. Where quality is hard to find, curate it, adding your own seal of approval with a link. When you read inaccuracies and misunderstandings, add facts, corrections, context and journalism. If people on the internet get things wrong, educate them. When you hear the noise of people talking online, listen. I know I come across as the internet triumphalist. Somebody has to.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Hack the Debate lets you eavesdrop on other people's living rooms while watching live TV

Here's something news sites in NZ might want to look at given we have an election coming up.

Current, a peer-to-peer news aggregator and broadcaster, and Twitter, a popular social network/microblogging platform, have teamed up to cover the vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden later today:

Current & Twitter have teamed up for the very first time to integrate real-time Twitter messages (aka "tweets") over major portions of a live television broadcast.

Hack the Debate by adding your Twitter posts to our live broadcast of the 2008 Presidential Debates.

We will broadcast as many of your debate tweets as possible right over the candidates, in real time, on our live broadcast.
In a nutshell, Twitter users comment on the debate as it happens and include the hashtag #current. (A hashtag - the # symbol followed by a keyword - is a way of tracking Twitter conversations about a particular topic.) Current TV will aggregate all those tweets tagged with #current and include them in its coverage of the debate.

This highlight package of the McCain/Obama debate run on Current gives you an idea of how it works.

Other tags to watch for on Twitter tonight are
| | | | - check out Nancy Scola's post on techPresident to find out the relevance. (Thanks to Imogen for the link).