The Open Newsroom: the crucial difference between tools and method

Newsroom in Berdsk.

Newsroom in Berdsk, workshop co-facilitator Charles Maynes is on the left.

Should a newsroom be totally open? As in ‘tell everyone in real-time what you’re discussing and doing’? I don’t think so. Investigative reporting for instance needs discretion, and sources do not always want to be in the open. However, there are also less convincing reasons for keeping the doors – physically and virtually – closed, such as ‘we can’t let the competition know what we’re planning’. In general, I believe newsrooms should be far more open than they are now.

Why? Because right now, people don’t trust journalists. Whether it’s in Russia or in the United States, media are regarded with suspicion. What are the hidden agendas? How independent are newsrooms? Telling the world ‘outside’ about news projects, from the very beginning (even right from the brainstorming phase) can improve the reputation of news services.

It’s not just a reputation issue. A lot of innovation in countless industries is taking place at the intersection of the digital and the physical world. It’s in that ‘mixed reality’ that journalists can experiment with crowdsourcing, data-gathering, networking with external coders etc. Having a more open newsroom facilitates all that.

The New Journalist’s Full Circle presentation I included in a previous blogpost points out in some detail which tools to use and which methodology to follow in order to benefit from an Open Newsroom approach.

The Eurasia Foundation gave me the opportunity to discuss these ideas with journalists in Russia. I worked with a local newspaper in Siberia, Kurer-Sreda, which reports diligently about local news in Berdsk.

The journalists had a very natural reaction when I presented the Full Circle tools: they pick and choose. They won’t use that particular social bookmark tool, but they will consider using some visualization tool or maybe some chat and video-streaming tools. I get the same reaction in my own newsroom and during other workshops.

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

It’s totally okay to pick and choose, and in the Russian case there is an additional element: it simply isn’t true that English is universally spoken. Non-Russian interfaces can be a considerable hurdle. Furthermore, Facebook and Google are global companies, but in huge countries such as Russia there are strong local competitors: VKontakte is an alternative for Facebook and Yandex beats Google in Russia. Which is an additional complication if you want to introduce people to stuff such as Google Hangout On Air.

Demonstrating Google Hangout

Here I’m demonstrating Google Hangout on Air, but Google is not universal.

However, the specific tools are not crucial. What is most important is the philosophy. There are many tools out there for organizing public collaborative mind maps, social media radars, forums, blogs and online discussions. What is most needed is the change of mentality, away from private note-taking and brainstorming behind closed doors. Newsrooms should embrace the sharing of ideas and resources. Journalists can try this out for specific projects but my real hope is that they will embrace it for the daily newsroom activities, by default livestreaming their deliberations and information gathering and only closing the doors in order to protect sources and delicate aspects of investigative work.

The five forces transforming media revisited (updated)

Updated: at the end of the post, discussion notes

I had a great discussion today with a group of journalism students at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). I facilitated a discussion about the five forces transforming media, based on the book The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel  (about mobile, social media, data, sensors and location):


After this discussion I talked about how we adapt our newspaper and newsroom practices.

I also presented a Prezi about how journalists (or bloggers of course) can use social media to make the people formerly called ‘the audience’ participate in the production of the story or project:



I was very fortunate: my students had very outspoken opinions. They insisted on the need for well-designed digital news media. It seems people get bombarded with far too much information they are not interested in.

Some students suggested to present only a few news items deemed ‘need to know’ to all users. So each day journalists would select two, maybe 5 at the most, news items as ‘universally’ important. There would be much more content, but that content would be suggested through personalized filters so that people get news in function of their own preferences. Tags, key words, hidden tags and semantic techniques were suggested to accomplish this.

Another suggestion was to use Amazon.com-like tools such as ‘people who read this article also read these other articles’. I mentioned Flipboard which uses the social graph as a filter and Zite which allows users to correct the suggestions made by the algorithm (by giving a thumbs up or down).

However, not all students liked the idea of personalized digital news media – some of them wanted the newsroom to continue to decide the news selection and hierarchy. They fear that personalized news could lead to a filter bubble in which we only learn what we want to learn and block everything which is inconvenient.

We did not go very deep in analyzing how wearable computing could impact news media. Google Glass, virtual assistents will make us rethink the newspaper-metaphor for digital media in a very fundamental way, and I’m sure the issues of ‘filter bubble’ and privacy will stay high on the list of urgent discussion themes.

The Augmentationist Weekly: Surveillance, Attention Economy, DRM and Standards

augmentationist_logoThe Augmentationist Weekly with links about the Age of Context, Old and New Media, the Surveillance Society, the Attention Economy, Digital Rights Management and Lowering Standards. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The Age Of Context

I’ve been reading The Age of Context, a book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. They analyze five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. I think the book provides a framework for analyzing all kinds of industries – news media for instance, or education.

While the book is fundamentally optimistic about the consequences of the five above-mentioned forces, it also contains a clear warning about the dangers (most notably loss of privacy, political and corporate abuse).

It’s About Relationships

While Google and ever more other companies know where I am, what time of day it’s for me, what I’m interested in, and are getting ever better in finding out about my intentions, newspapers still believe in the myth of the mass media. “Why does *every* newspaper site still treat it’s hompepage as a one-size-fits-all pring page when it could prioritize news that might be more relevant to me?”, Jeff Jarvis asks onbuzzmachine. Newspaper fail to build relationships with individual readers and fail to help advertisers to build such relationships. He reacts against a Googler who – so Jarvis says – does not apply the Google-lessons to the newspaper industry: chief economist Hal Varian.

I partially agree with Jarvis about relationships, but then again I personally like to escape from filter bubbles and look at the news selection made by quality media.

Tablet Magazines are a failure

On GigaOm Jon Lund considers tablet magazines a failure. Not that Lund is a total pessimist: “I believe the future for producing quality content for niches is both bright and promising. But it has to be presented openly, socially, in flow — not in closed tablet apps.”

Does using Tor turns you into a target?

Journalists, bloggers, whistle blowers, dissidents, anarchists, terrorists, police, spies, illegal porn trafickers and drugs dealers use Tor software to hide their traces on the internet. The whole thing was financed by the US military. These days the NSA tries to find out who uses the software and what for. Even though Tor is a pretty robust system, using it seems to heighten the probability that the NSA will try to find out who you are, and there are quite some mistakes one can make which cancel the advantages of the Tor-features. Bruce Schneier explains it in some detail in the Guardian.

Related: Britain is sliding towards an entirely new kind of surveillance society, John Lanchester says in the Guardian.

The Attention Economy

Daniel Estrada about a ‘big idea’ on Digital Interface: “Attention Economy is a protocol for social organization and economic management that works by accounting for what all the system’s users attend to. The idea is one part Augmented Reality, one part Internet of Things, one part Use-Theory of Value, and one part Cognitive Surplus. I am utterly convinced that an attention-economic system will ultimately replace both money and centralized governance as the dominant method for large-scale organizational management, and moreover that it is the only method for ensuring a timely and effective response to global climate change andsustainability.”

No idea what he talks about? The best illustration, so Estrada says, can be found in science fiction, in Bruce Sterling’s 2009 novel The Caryatids (lengthy quote in his article).

Also read an analysis by Kevin Carson on P2P Foundation’s Blog

DRM and the Future of the W3C

Danny O’Brien on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) analyzes the announcement by the W3C that its Director, Tim Berners-Lee, had determined that the “playback of protected content” was in scope for the W3C HTML Working Group’s new charter, overriding EFF’s formal objection against its inclusion. This means the controversial Encrypted Media Extension (EME) proposal will continue to be part of that group’s work product, and may be included in the W3C’s HTML5.1 standard.

O’Brien is not happy: “A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t “Save As…” an image; where the “allowed” uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively “View Source” on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today. It’s a Web where user agents—browsers—must navigate a nest of enforced duties every time they visit a page. It’s a place where the next Tim Berners-Lee or Mozilla, if they were building a new browser from scratch, couldn’t just look up the details of all the “Web” technologies. They’d have to negotiate and sign compliance agreements with a raft of DRM providers just to be fully standards-compliant and interoperable.”

The Age of Context shows us the storm ahead for news media

What happens if we apply the lessons of the book The Age of Context (Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) to news media? Well, I tried it today for a group of communication experts invited by the Belgian company Outsource and we got an intense debate.

The Age of Context analyzes five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. What could it mean for news media?

1) Mobile: we’re still finding out how to use tablets and smartphones to the fullest extent. More often than not newspapers transfer their print content to the mobile device, making it swipable, adding some videos and links. I think tablets offer new ways of telling stories. Remember movies: these are not just recordings of theater plays, using techniques such as cuts we can deliver a new media form – we’re still in the early phase of discovering the ‘cut’ which unlocks the unique possibilities of the tablet.

While we’re doing that, a new kind of mobile devices is about to be launched: wearable stuff such as Google Glass, making it even harder to stay in the print newspaper paradigm.

2) Social Media: meaning new curation practices for journalists but also new distribution challenges. Flipboard and Zite for instance convert social streams into customized news magazines. People re-assemble the content of very different providers through the filter of their social graph and preferences.

3) Data: do news media use the data on social media and on their own digital platforms to get to know the needs and intentions of their communities? They try to do so, but much more could be done.

4) Sensors. If sensors make devices aware of what their owner is doing (traveling, running, relaxing…) one could imagine that news will be selected and transmitted in a way which suits the user.

5) Location. There is no reason to assume that a user of a Belgian newspaper who happens to be in New York City needs the same information as someone who is in Brussels.

I added some ideas about communities, which in part can mitigate the conclusions mentioned above. If a newsroom can determine efficiently what really matters for a certain community, they’ll be more able to produce a common news selection which is relevant for the users as members of that community. The news provides a common background for the social interactions in that community. Real life meetings, forums and chat sessions help the newsroom to open up and to gain deeper insight in the needs of the community.

Of course we also discussed privacy. The Age of Context is optimistic: respect for privacy concerns will be a competitive advantage for makers of devices or service providers. Not everyone is that convinced – maybe the new generation cares less about privacy.

There was quite some discussion about ‘who determines what the individual wants’. I have the feeling that it’s not the newsroom, but not the individual either. It will be an algorithm, which makes a selection for the individual on the basis of revealed preferences, social graph, sensor and location data, and expressed preferences (explicit likes and dislikes).

The changes ahead are tremendous (we only discussed news production and distribution, but then there’s also the impact on advertising which adds another layer of complications) and very hard to predict. Exactly the kind of situation journalists like…

 

 

Weekend Reading: “news may be in decline, but insight is booming”

- On Fastcompany I read a story about Lara Setrakian and her site Syria Deeply. The site is ultra-focused and makes good use of infographics and video. It not only provides news but also context to make sense of it. They are working on new software to facilitate policy crowdsourcing. Technology could pay for the news, like a Bloomberg-terminal pays for the Bloomberg-journalism – such a terminal delivers not only well-structured news, but also services such as communication, secured mail, transaction, lots and lots of data – and is very expensive. As Setrakian says:

The news business may be down, but the insight industry is booming.

– On TechCrunch Gregory Ferenstein brings us Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams Lays Out His Plan For The Future Of Media. A remarkable quote:

News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and more ideas that have more lasting import.

The post also refers to the research paper, “Does the Media Matter”, in which a team of economists found that getting a randomized group of citizens to read the Washington Post did nothing for “political knowledge, stated opinions, or turnout in post-election survey and voter data.” Medium tries to make publishing stuff easy, also for those who maybe have something very insipring to tell but don’t find the time nor have the inclination to devote lots of time for running their own blog and building an audience. Medium runs an intelligent algorithm that suggests stories, primarily based on how long users spend reading certain articles.

– Another way of applying technology to journalism is Google Glass. In July Sarah Hill explained in some detail on MediaShift how Glass will change the future of broadcast journalism. There are new tricks to be learned (how do you warn people you’re conducting an interview and not just chatting with someone during a conference), microphone issues but as she explains in Mediatwits it can be a kind of real time social backchannel. For Robert Scoble, on that same Mediatwits, it’s a new device category which will change media – he has been using Glass for several months now. Jeff Jarvis expects new eye-witness stuff being generated through Glass and similar devices. Robert Scoble also interviewed Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite and now a VP at CNN. As an information discovery specialist he wonders whether Glass/Google will be smart enough to give us really relevant information via Glass. It’s the future, but when will it happen?


Eric Scherer talks about Google Glass (and drones, and encryption) as a new tool for journalists and interviewed Tim Pool about how he uses Glass. Interesting is that Pool also uses a mini keyboard and the touch pad of a smartphone in combination with Glass.

The Augmentationist about Surveillance and Sousveillance

augmentationist_logoIn this edition of the weekly Augmentationist I gathered some interesting links about questions of surveillance and sousveillance. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

The internet as a surveillance platform

The Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica published new revelations about the US and UK spy angencies: how they unlock encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records. They work covertly with tech companies. The information is deeply disturbing. The Obama administrationresponded by saying the information is not news but provides a road map to the adversaries.

In other news: a federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance (the Guardian).

As much as I applaud efforts to combat terrorism, it seems to me that the tactics used to stop journalists and bloggers from investigating intelligence activities and practices are very worrying. We shouldn’t sacrifice democracy in the attempt to defend it against its real adversaries.

Please read Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian about Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, and especially his reference to Immanuel Kant and his distinction between “public” and “private” use of reason. Also worth reading: Hacktivists as Gadflies by philosopher Peter Ludlow in The New York Times, discussing hacktivism and Socrates.

Historical Reading

It’s almost uncanny, but this article about Crypto Rebels in Wired Magazine by Steven Levy was written in 1993: “It’s the FBIs, NSAs, and Equifaxes of the world versus a swelling movement of Cypherpunks , civil libertarians, and millionaire hackers. At stake: Whether privacy will exist in the 21st century.” Of course, nowadays we realize the real question is whether humanity can afford privacy now technological progress makes small groups capable to use doomsday weapons?

Stuff recommended by Howard Rheingold

Howard posted in our G+ HRU Alumni community about cooperation and morality: “A set of cultural norms may encourage and enforce cooperation within a group, but the world consists of many groups, different cultures, and the deep problem is precisely the one that Joshua Greene is pursuing.” ReadDeep Pragmatism, A conversation with Joshua D. Greene.

The other recommendation is about the “always-on lifestyle”. Howard: “I find many critiques of the always-on lifestyle to be shallow, but Rebecca Solnit’s is worth paying attention to. I’m assigning it to my Stanford students.” Read Diary in the London Review of Books.

The Augmentationist Weekly | New Ways of Writing and Publishing

augmentationist_logoWant to subscribe to the weekly newsletter? Use the form at the right-handside!

Of course you can also find the content on this site (for the very first edition, click here):

Rheingold about tech, power, innovation and the commons

The structure of the internet allows for decentralized collaboration and innovation, Howard Rheingold explains in this video-intrevie (April 2007, just published on YouTube). In fact, there are two videos with him, one about shifts in technology and power and the other about innovation and the commons.  Both videos were mentioned in the paper.li The #ThinkKnow Chronicle.

Scraping for everybody

In fact, the book is titled Scraping for Journalists by Paul Bradshaw, but then again, I think many others might benefit from this highly instructive ebook which learns you how to grab data from hundreds of sources and put those data “in a form you can interrogate”. It’s a leanpub-publication and one of the nice features is that the text gets updated. There is a minimum price and a suggested price.

In other news: the Knight Center started this week a MOOC about Data-Driven Journalism.

Learn Do Share

Learn Do Share is a pdf book series that captures storytelling experiments at diy days. It’s a narrative exploration into ethos, socio-economic context and open collaboration. The results are rather unusual look-do-and-think-books that explore the methods we used, pitfalls we encountered and lessons we learned when we try all kinds of games and methods to trigger social innovation.

The diy days take place in various cities around the world – also in Ghent here in Belgium.

(via Peeragogy in action at G+).

GitHub for Writers

GitHub is a platform for collaboration, code review and code management for open source and private projects. But, as J.J. Merelo explains at Medium, writers (so not just coders) can use the platform too fortext-based collaboration. He explains how in Writers: start using GitHub now and has interesting things to say about open sourcing novels.

Publishers pushing toward the annotated web

Caroline O’Donovan at Niemanlab discusses a number of experiments by start-ups and legacy media to promote and use the annotated web as a 21st century way to organize discussion by the people formerly known as “the readers”.

I often think publishers are rather condescending toward the ‘readers’ – seemingly not realizing that chances are that members of their audience probably are far more knowledgeable about certain topics than the staff journalists or bloggers. But if you organize the discussions on media sites in a bad way, you get bad results – which is a pity, as I’m convinced media should be more like Massive Open Online Courses – not in the top-down version, but in the distributed, learner-centric version of connectivist courses.

Agile Learning Centers

The Peeragogy-community at Google+ is about to reach 500 members. One of the new members works with a team of educators, entrepreneurs, and social change agents to develop Agile Learning Centers — ‘a 21st Century model of education.’ They launched a Indiegogo campaign: http://igg.me/at/AgileLearning.

Just like GitHub can be used for other groups than coders, the Agile methods can be applied outside the world of software development. Of course, it became famous in the programming world because Agile “empowers teams and individuals to respond directly to user needs in quick, iterative sprints”, but here Agile practices (such a standup meetings, Kanban boards) are used in the context of a learner-centric education.

Feedly will support Dynamic OPML

Feedly is one of the main alternatives for Google Reader, the beloved RSS-reader which passed away far too soon. Dave Winer on Scripting News reports that Feedly will support dynamic OPML in version 18 or 19. “This is very good news for Feedly users, of course, and for people and organizations with domain expertise (curators) and app developers. ”

OPML allows you to hook up other RSS-tools to the service or to export your feeds – for your own convenience or for others. ‘Dynamic’ means that changes in the feeds selection can propagate immediately (correct me if I’m wrong) while static OPML would make it necessary to export the file all over again.

Graphic blog posts

This is new for me: comics-posts. In this case about Doug Engelbart and the importance of experiences and serendipitous encounters, by Jeff Branzburg.

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Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.

gmooc

Have a look at this very rich presentation by Sherry Jones and Kate Caruso (great videos!):

A MOOC with a trailer:

rgMOOC 2 will run between September 2, 2013 to November 10, 2013. In fact, this is already a second round, and the course will explore the rhetoric of first person games and the immersive sandbox game Minecraft. You can find the registration form here.

Interesting: they’ll explore Minecraft as sandbox game. Second Life is still quite huge, but sooo unfashionable, even among academics, so it seems. Or is it too wild and libertarian for educational use (unless you invest heavily in some closed island) – and what about OpenSim?

I think I’ll participate or at least lurk in this rgMOOC. So many themes are relevant for all content creators, not only game-producers: I’m sure journalists and bloggers will learn a lot during this course.

Journalism as a service: what it means

There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism. That’s at least what Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist and entrepreneurial journalism expert wrote on his blog BuzzMachine. So what does this mean? In his post he explains:

Journalism helps communities organize their knowledge so they can better organize themselves.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to meet him in Mechelen, Belgium, at the World Journalism Education Congress:



So why is this important? Because it makes it obvious that thinking about journalism is not something only journalists should do. As so many of us engage in ‘acts of journalism’, there are important issues which concern far more people in a very direct way.

This became very obvious when professor Yochai Benkler testified (pdf) in the case United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning. Jarvis reacted on this testimony in the Guardian (read it, also for the discussion section and the many links provided by Jarvis). Benkler explained that journalism is a network in which there are many roles that can be linked together: witnessing, gathering, selecting, authenticating, explaining, distributing. Each can be an act of journalism. Each can be done by someone else, not necessarily working in a single institution. Jarvis quotes him as saying:

One of the things that’s happened is people realize that you can’t have all the smartest people and all the resources working in the same organization. So we have seen a much greater distribution in networks that even though they use the internet, what’s important about the network structure is actually permissions, who’s allowed to work on what resource or assignments of work assignments.

Which is an important thought, as it has consequences for the political debate about whistle blowers, security and transparency, but also for the organization of journalism as a business.

Streams of News

Stuff I’ve been thinking about:

  • There are advantages of working for an established newspaper. Like having a salary, infrastructure, lots of news-addicts around you. But it’s becoming ever more important to look at how media companies from a streaming tradition innovate. Wire services such as Reuters for instance build rivers of news. Justin Ellis on Nieman Journalism Lab says Every page is your homepage: Reuters, untied to print metaphor, builds a modern river of news.
  • Ben Adler at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses Streams of Consciousness: Millennials expect a steady diet of quick-hit, social-media-mediated bits and bytes. What does that mean for journalism? Adler:

    I found four overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, trends:

    Proliferation of news sources, formats, and new technologies for media consumption
    Participation by consumers in the dissemination and creation of news, through social-media sharing, commenting, blogging, and the posting online of photos, audio, and video
    Personalization of one’s streams of news via email, mobile apps, and social media
    Source promiscuity Rather than having strong relationships with a handful of media brands, young people graze among a vast array of news outlets.

  • One of the most interesting coders/philosophers of the rivers of news is Dave Winer. He explains why every news organization should have a river. It’s about the curation of streams, not of stories: the streams one monitors oneself in order to produce media, the streams produced by bloggers who collaborate or even by those who are competitors, the streams the own organization puts out.Another one by Winer: 11th hour for news nets.
  • Great story about a start-up, Gittip, getting a call from TechCrunch. The guys from the start-up react by saying they want to stream the interview in real-time and publicly. TechCrunch was not amused. Read about it on the blog of Gittip. Even famous blogs have problems adapting to streams.

I found some great folks on Google+ wanting to discuss media in the era of streams. I asked them: Suppose today you got 15 minutes to either follow your social streams (Facebook, Twitter, Google+… ) or read a newspaper. What’s your choice? Answers on my Google+ page