Category Archives: Citizen Journalism

Online wunderkind launches local database, EveryBlock


Ever since Adrian Holovaty got his bachelor’s degree in journalism from University of Missouri–Columbia in 2001, he has been building Web sites that let people find the information they want in contrast to old media that mass produce content from which readers must choose. His projects and credits include:

In 2007 Holovaty won a $1 million grant from the Knight 21st Century News Challenge. He used it to pull together the team that is launching –  a grander version of earlier data-aggregation efforts. 

It’s early days and there’s not much to see or do yet. Read the EveryBlock launch announcement to learn where things are headed. Find more details in the Poynter Institute interview where Holovat talks about “geocoding” the news because:

“people tend to be more interested in news that happens near them. It’s as simple as that!”

EveryBlock is the data spine of a localized information kiosk. I hope this spine, in DNA-like fashion, will become the core of a local ecosystem of the other uses we derive from media: discussion, entertainment, commentary, sales and commerce.

Not yet clear, at least to me, is the business model to support local news and search; how will EveryBlock interoperate with blogs and local news producers, old and new? how will it build or interoperate with community forum efforts like how will it sell advertising and then move beyond advertising to some form of localized e-commerce?



Anecdotal ‘poll’ guesses at blog influence on reporters

The bullet points in the telephone survey by the marketing firm Brodeur were impressive but the fine print undermined their authority. A press release about the survey said:

  • Journalists are increasingly active participants in the blogosphere: One in four reporters (27.7%) have their own blogs and nearly one in five (16.3%) have their own social networking page.

  • About half of reporters (47.5%) say they are “lurkers” – reading blogs but rarely commenting.

 Then I read to the last paragraph, in which readers are usually told how the information was gleaned:

“the online survey was conducted among a random sample of North American reporters and editors between December 18, 2007 and January 3, 2008. Some 4,000 reporters were invited via email to participate; a total of 178 completed responses.” (italics added)

If by random Brodeur meant “we don’t know who responded, why and how they differed from the vast majority of non-responders,” I would understand. But random in this case does not mean the sample has a scientific or statistical validity and so whatever its findings they should be taken as strong anecdotalism — there are 178 responses — but I would suspect they self-selected themself for inclusion in ways that greatly make this survey not easy to extrapolate. I am a reporter like the 3,822 (add that to 178 to get to the 4000) people who were invited but declined to participate* and what peaked my interest in this headline was astonishment that anybody had actually taken an accurate reading of this group.

 As it turns out, no one has, which makes the survey more useful as a suggestion than as a statistic.

* * *

* (I don’t answer PR polls because they are generally intended to ascertain my views toward news-makers; reporters are not supposed to have views or they are expected to stifle any feelings they might have; I have occasionally been offered small sums, from $25 to $100, to answer questions but have always declined. I’m not suggesting the size of the bribe be higher; that would only make it more annoying to feel obliged to refuse.)

To stop my mind from wandering

In strolling through the Web this morning I found a posting by freelance science writer David Cohn talking about science journalism and followed it back to his blog where he talked about another one of my faves, media literacy.

It might not be apparent from reading my published output but I am a science writer by training and approach: how does it work, what are its pivot points, what metaphors communicate the gist of the science. Those questions can guide any curious and attentive observer to heart of issues in politics, business and culture as well as science. Alas, professional newswriting has been hijacked and repeatedly raped by the sports-writer’s mentality which makes everything a horse race, every story a he-said, she-said, feeds into the cynicism that drives all too many journalists into drinking, drugging or public relations.

 But I digress. Cohn’s posting, Science Journalism and the Web 2.0, mentioned that Scientific American magazine had established a community site — evidence of the evolution of media from the pontification toward participation. Great idea. Especially for technical communities whose associations arise from their shared interest. A bit tougher, I think, to graft onto the geographic communities served by incumbent media. Local communities have identifies and participatory habits that, however poor or infrequently used; they lack the single cohesive interest of the specialty community. Eventually I expect newsgatherers will figure out how to more tightly involve the single moms and the soccer moms, white collar and blue collar dads, in community discourse.

Cohn’s science musings made me follow the digital breadcrumbs to his blog, Dididave, where today’s hot-off-the-presses posting was titled: My Work at NewsTrust.Net – Media Literacy 2.0. In it he explores the concept of voting on stories to rank them for interest or accuracy or any other criteria. Cohn focuses on his work with an experimental non-profit along the lines of Digg and Reddit. (I am truly not clear on what are the differences other than that the latter were garage-launched and on a commerical trajectory while the former is grant-launched and would presumably being developing open source tools and lesson plans for wannabe community builders.)

Cohn strikes what I consider to be the sober middle ground behind the technogical optimists who get starry eyed about the vox populatteness of content ranking and the pessimists who fear the hoi polloization of the body politic when he writes:

“Allowing people to vote on content is fantastic, as long as we remember that journalism is not just a consumer product. The media, although changing, still plays an integral role in our democracy and it should not be treated like ‘Digg bait.’ “

Hear, hear. Noble sentiments and I do not doubt Cohn believes them, but in real world people would rather read about Hot Tubs than Hot Zones. So in this pay-per-click, eyeball-grabbing world, the inexorable momentum of current Web media, like the mass media they seek to supplant, will be driven by lowest common denominator news judgment. If anything Web media will be even more demogogic simply by virtue of youth. It took decades for newspaper and broadcast barons to get guilt-tripped into committing investigative or public service journalism. Now their economic support is crumbling and with it their commitment to costly, trouble-making journalism. And if Web media have put their profits into original works of  journalism or public policy, I’ve missed it.

Which brings me back to the specialty community of Scientific American, which I imagine as the prototype for how 21st century journalism will be done: media outlets of varying specialties will gather around themselves flocks of interested and literate contributors; these constellations of speciality zines and communities will feed into the mass media — and here I include the mega-portals as well as the dead-tree and broadcast types — whose editors will select from these specialty offerings a buffet of our world today.

At least that’s my hope.

Looking into the crystal ball . . .


eMarketer predicts YouTube will decide the 2008 election

I’m not much for predictions. I prefer to study the recent past for clues about the direction in which things may be headed. But as a mainstream media employee it is neither my job nor my professional instinct to predict. This is because I am always positive when I am wrong, at least on the facts, because the audience catches mistakes and demands corrections. And it’s darn near impossible to be recognized as “right” on big issues, like whether or not there were WMDs in Iraq before we invaded. Plus, even if a journalist is somehow proven correct on such a big issue, what does it matter? For instance, Editor & Publisher magazine recently lauded Jonathan Landy, a correspondent for the McClatchy media empire, for being skeptical — properly so, it turns out — about the WMD issue, and for being doubly skeptical about the similar drumbeat for war that we can hear relative to Iran. Did being right do Landy or the U.S. any good with respect to Iraq? No so far as I can tell. Maybe Landy got a bonus or a parking spot but it didn’t change U.S. history, nor did it do the Iraqis much good. No one is even sure how many of them have been killed since their liberation.

But I digress.

Harmless predictions are always fun and in that vein the trade zine eMarketer has made its Ten Key Online Predictions for 2008. I am intrigued by number five: “YouTube decides the election.”

That is a pretty bold statement and indeed even the eMarketeers backpedal a bit in the expanded discussion of its top ten, specifically:

“YouTube will play a decisive role in the 2008 US presidential election by either airing a user-submitted clip that embarrasses a leading candidate or setting the tone of the campaign through its series of sponsored debates.”

That strikes me as entirely consistent with how politics get done. The competition is about not committing mistakes while looking for those tiny bits that capture the public mind and build a positive image for one candidate, perhaps at the expense of another. That is a prediction that we can check in November 2008. Stay tuned.


The ghost of Captain Jack Sparrow haunts CES


Mashup is a Caribbean word, mateys

As the crowned heads of cyberspace met at the Consumer Electronics Show, the spectre of  content piracy,  aided and abetted by peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, cast a shadow of fear over the event.

“The volume of P2P which is dominated by illegal, uncopyrighted material is overwhelming and that clearly should not be an acceptable continuing status,” the general counsel of NBC Universal is quoted as saying in The Hollywood Reporter.

Reporter David Kaplan of the e-zine Paid Content touched on this same issue in a brief but informative report that contains many useful links to other sources in the battle that is brewing between mashup culture and corporate content.

In searching around this morning I also found an earlier article in the e-zine Ars Technica, reporting on a speech by the chief executive of NBC Universal. The title says it all: “Piracy is the new face of economic crime, and we’re losing.”

I recently wrote about a study by Nokia that suggested that, within a few year’s time, that a quarter of all entertainment “will have been created, edited and shared within their peer circle rather than coming out of traditional media groups.”

Aarrgh! Don’t you just hate it when industries go to war with their customers!

Understand Media? Not me. Lets get literate.


The media watchword for kids, should be wonder, for grownups, wariness

A recent posting on media literacy drew a comment from Nick Pernisco, a communications instructor at Santa Monica college, who wrote:

“What media literacy can do to help the average person is to interpret other people’s ideas, as well as to formulate and sell your own ideas. If you understand messages, not just media messages, but messages in general, then you’ll be able to better construct your ideas for consumption by others. Check out my own media literacy blog at”

I did just that and urge you to do the same if you are a teacher, especially of any communications disciple — journalism, marketing, public relations. I won’t take a lot of time to gush, but I strongly urge you to explore his site, which has links to teaching resources, as well as to other websites involved in teaching people how to evaluate what they see. Gee that sounds awfully nebulous. Let me try to make that concrete with an example from my life that connects to Understand

On Sunday some old friends stopped by my house. They are a missionary family with sons the same age as ours and some years back we all became friends when this family of preachers, who do their thing in Brazil, were doing a sabbatical at an evangelical church not far from where I live. Alas, their boys, who were 6 to 14 when we first met in 1999, were not with them, and my wife and I wanted to see how much they had grown. So they whipped out a picture. “You’re not as tall as Samuel,” my wife said to our visitor, Janet, who appeared in the picture as tall as her 22-year-old son. Now switch gears to a Understand Media, where I was browsing this morning and spotted a cartoon meant to teach visual literacy to kids. The cartoon shows a Native American dad drawing a family portrait on birch bark. His son, looking at the picture, protests: “We all look the same size.”

A coincidence, perhaps, but one that surely made me smile because, as I sit here in my blogger’s bathrobe, wondering why I devote 90 minutes a day to this tomfoolery, one of the things I tell myself is that some of my ideas — such as thinking our kids and their kids will be less gullible than we because they will make as well as consme media — well it’s comforting to know that their are like-minded folks out there with greater technical capability and resources doing the same.

One last point. Wikipedia has a phenomal entry on media literacy: in some parts of the world this is called media education. Call it what you will, the Wikipedia entry will point to literacy resouces and thinkers on every continent and for every culture.

I’d better sign off before I start singing, “We shall overcome.” First off I’m still sitting here in my bathrobe and would only look and sound ridiculous. Plus I’ve a long day ahead and can’t afford to squander all my enthusiasm this early.

New law will make it easier to get info from feds

Improvements to the Freedom of Information Act have become law but won’t take effect until January 2009.FOIA was passed in 1974 after the Watergate scandal (see Wikipedia). It sets forth rules for obtaining reports and correspondence from a variety of federal agencies. FOIA had been significantly weakened over time and the new OPEN Government Act of 2007 is supposed to make it easier for “representative(s) of the news media” to get their questions answered or sue to demand performance if agencies drag their feet.

Poynter Institute commentator Amy Gahran wrote a thorough report on the changes. Her entry links to a Jan. 1 post in which David Ardia of the Harvard Citizen Media Law Project says the changes will also “significantly benefit bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for reduced processing and duplication fees” just like paid media.

I am never pleased with laws that differentiate between paid and unpaid news media. I rather think the words, “Congress shall make no law” mean just that. But making it easier to pry loose info from the federal government is a long overdue reform and even with its mass media tilt, thanks for this one.

For your further amusement, here is a link to the Investigative Reporters & Editors site on Freedom of Information laws.