Teaching old dogs new tricks

A good deal of what’s been written about the impact of the Web on journalism, politics and other aspects of the life of the mind deal with distribution, aggregation, the proliferation of blogs and other forms of content created by amateurs (as in the sense of being unpaid as opposed to crappy). All of these are important considerations on the distribution side of media.


Some media, both new and old, have seized on the real novelty of the Web as a feedback mechanism tool given the ease of two-way communication. An entire class of Web startups have arisen around concepts like ranking and recommendations, and old media have tiptoed into this two-way street by enabling comments on stories.


But on Monday (October 29, 2007) at the National Press Club, the Missouri School of Journalism will discuss the somewhat novel topic of verification — that is, how can the media provide its publics with the evidence for story claims as opposed to mere assertions by he-said, she-said sources. The verification issue is just one element of a yearlong look by a slew of journalism gurus looking for ways tha mass media can use Web capabilities to “ensure that the most important journalistic principles survive this time of fast-paced change.” (See press release for details).


The presentation on verification, or news literacy as I prefer to think of it, will detail how the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal has been giving readers the tools to find original source material whenever possible. The event program says:

“The goal of this endeavor is to make the Journal Sentinel the “encyclopedia of education for Wisconsin” by putting into the hands of news consumers the tools of verification. The news consumer can go directly to original sources, for example, to test the truthfulness/fairness/comprehensiveness of a news story from his or her own perspective. Martin Kaiser, the paper’s editor, will speak on this project.”

I love this! It’s how we tell the reader: Here’s the beef.


Apropos of this Wired Magazine published a cover story in March on what it calls radical transparency. Although Wired focuses the article on its own center of gravity, global corporations and the technology elites who revolve in their orbit, the piece contains many good ideas and proofs. And come to think of it every large news organization of which I am aware is also corporate (if not global and technologically elite) so maybe the old dogs and the new dogs are not so far apart.


Elsewhere in the learningshpere: Amy Gahran of Poynter Institute mentions how the Los Angeles Times has used Google Maps in conjunction with its coverage of the Southern California wildfire. Her column will point you to what they are doing and also aim you at the Google Maps tutorial so you can try to teach yourself. I printed out the five-page outline, so the process is a bit daunting for a non-techie like me, but I’d guess it would take a couple of people — it helps to have a co-pilot in such learning experiences — no more than a workday to get the hang of mapping information. Seems worth the time investment for professional news organizations.