Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.
Managing reporting errors in the river of news: Though Saturday’s tragic shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was primarily a political story, it created several ripples that quickly spread into the media world. (One of those was the debate over our rather toxic climate of political rhetoric, though I’ll leave that to other outlets to focus on.) Another issue, more directly related to the future-of-news discussion, regarded how the news spread in the shooting’s immediate aftermath.
As Lost Remote’s Steve Safran described, several major news organizations, including Reuters, NPR, BBC News, and CNN, wrongly reported soon after the shooting that Giffords had died — reports that were corrected within a half-hour. NPR in particular devoted quite a bit of space to explaining its error, with social media editor Andy Carvin, ombudsman Alicia Shepard, and executive editor Dick Meyer all weighing in.
There was plenty of scrutiny from outside, too: Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore called the mishap “understandable, but not excusable,” and The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio suggested that Twitter use editorial judgment to ensure that inaccurate information isn’t highlighted in its Top Tweets. Salon’s Dan Gillmor cited the situation as a reminder of Clay Shirky’s line that “fact checking is down, but after-the-fact checking is way up.” Gillmor also posted an appropriate excerpt from his book, Mediactive, urging all of us to take a “slow news” approach to breaking news stories. Seattle TV journalist Paul Balcerak took the opportunity to remind both journalists and their audiences to ask “How do you know that?”
The erroneous tweets launched a parallel discussion on just what exactly to do with them: Leave them there? Delete them? Correct them? The debate began in the comments of Safran’s Lost Remote post, with NPR’s Carvin explaining why he left his faulty tweet as is. WBUR’s Andrew Phelps explained why he made the same decision, and ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg defended both of them in two posts, suggesting a corrected retweet might offer a good compromise.
A couple of other new-media angles to the shooting’s coverage: The Lab’s Justin Ellis and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at the awkward art of publicly making interview requests on Twitter, and Nieman Storyboard highlighted innovative storytelling approaches amid the shooting’s chaotic aftermath.
Twitter’s stand against secrecy: The ongoing WikiLeaks saga publicly roped in Twitter this week, as news broke of the U.S. Department of Justice issuing an order requesting the Twitter activity of several people involved with the organization. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who posted many of the order’s details and a copy of the order itself, also wondered, “did other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply?”
Remarkably, Twitter didn’t just quietly comply. The order originally had a gag order preventing Twitter from telling the targets themselves that it was handing over their data, but Twitter challenged it in court and got a new, unsealed order issued, then told the targets about it. Fast Company looked at the likely role of Twitter’s attorney, Alexander Macgillivray, in challenging the order, and Wired’s Ryan Singel praised Twitter for standing up for its users against government, something that hasn’t really been a norm among online companies.
Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik examined the potential implications of the order for journalists doing reporting on Twitter and other social media platforms, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM noted that the episode illustrates how much we rely on single corporate networks within social media.
The traditional news media, meanwhile, remains lukewarm at best toward WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as McClatchy pointed out. At The Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman broke down one manifestation of that cold shoulder — the way mainstream news organizations continue to incorrectly report that WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, when it has actually released just 2,000.
Also on the WikiLeaks front, Assange claimed in an interview to have “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp., and WikiLeaks attacked those who have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed. American WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum tweeted about his being detained by the U.S. while re-entering the country, and was profiled by Rolling Stone. And Evgeny Morozov of Foreign Policy argued that WikiLeaks’ cause would be best served if it would shift from leaking information to building a decentralized, open Internet infrastructure.
Quora hits the scene: The explosion of the question-and-answer site Quora is a story that’s been building for several weeks, but I thought now would be as good a time as any to get you up to speed on it. The buzz started just after Christmas, when tech guru Robert Scoble wondered whether it could be the next evolution of blogging. MG Siegler of the influential tech blog TechCrunch followed up by saying much the same thing, and talked about using Quora as inspiration for many of his TechCrunch posts. That week, it also received praise from Google’s head of user interaction, Irene Au.
That was the nudge Quora needed to begin some seriously explosive growth, doubling its number of signups twice in about two weeks. Quora, which was founded in 2009 by two Facebook veterans, is a fairly simple site — just questions and answers, not unlike Yahoo Answers and Facebook Questions. But it’s managed to keep the quality of questions and answers up, and it’s attracted a smart user base heavy on the “cool kids” of the tech world.
The next question, though, was how this rapid growth would shape Quora. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos predicted that it would get bigger than Twitter, though Vadim Lavrusik of Mashable saw it as more suited to niche communities: “Quora feels heavy, which is of course where it excels, providing in-depth commentary to questions. But that heaviness is unlikely to attract a large audience.”
Mathew Ingram of GigaOM questioned whether Quora will be able to maintain its standard of quality as it grows, and Mary Hamilton wrote about Quora’s struggles between what its admins want and what its user want. Meanwhile, Journalism.co.uk’s Kristine Lowe noted that more journalism-related questions were being posted, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore explored several of the best ways for journalists to use Quora, including looking for ideas for local content and monitoring the buzz around an issue.
Reading roundup: I haven’t given you any iPad updates yet, so you know this review can’t quite be finished. Very well then:
— We’re still talking about the decline of magazine app sales on the iPad, with The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss looking at that disappointment and some publishers’ efforts to overcome it. Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco called those sales declines meaningless, but designer Khoi Vinh urged those publishers to stop pouring their resources into print-like tablet products.
The particular project that everyone’s most interested in is Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, which was reported to be launching next Wednesday with Murdoch and Steve Jobs on stage together but now has reportedly tabled its launch for a few weeks. Rex Sorgatz heard that its companion website will have no homepage and be hidden from search engines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow took a peek at the site’s source code for clues.
— Wikipedia will turn 10 this weekend, and Pew kicked off the commemoration with a survey finding that 42% of American adults use Wikipedia to look up information. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained how Wikipedia set the prototype for modern information flow on the web.
— Facebook announced this week that it will allow users to like individual authors and topics within sites. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick said it’s a step toward Facebook being able to do what RSS feeds couldn’t. Meanwhile, the Bivings Group looked at the top newspaper Facebook fan pages.
— One great piece I missed last week: Paul Ford conceptualized the web as a customer service medium, organized around the central question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Ryan Sholin applied the concept to online reporting.
— If you’re interested in real-time editing and curation, this might be an experiment to watch: Quickish, launched this week by former ESPN-er Dan Shanoff, who is starting by applying that concept to sports commentary and hoping to expand to other areas.
— Finally, three bigger pieces to ponder over the weekend: Dan Gillmor’s book excerpt at Salon on surviving the tsunami of information; Forbes’ Lewis DVorkin’s vision for the news site built on personally branded journalists; and the Lab’s Ken Doctor on the metrics that will define news in 2011.