Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.
We’ve got two weeks to cover with this review, but since one of those weeks was dominated for many us by football, family, and post-turkey stupor, it’s a relatively quiet period to catch up on. Here’s what you might have missed:
Citizen journalism and the Occupy movement: The furor surrounding the Occupy Wall Street protests hit another peak before Thanksgiving, thanks in large part to the police officer who pepper-sprayed seated UC Davis students at close range. The episode was captured in numerous videos and photos by surrounding students that quickly achieved meme status, and the Lab’s Megan Garber argued that the Pepper Spraying Cop meme was crucial in pushing the movement beyond its theme of economic justice and in demanding emotional, empathetic participation by viewers.
Zack Whittaker of ZDNet held up the incident as an example of citizen journalism holding authority to account and exposing spin for what it is, and GigaOM’s Janko Roettgers argued that while the Arab Spring relied on this type of coverage because many kinds of professional reporting were outlawed, it’s being used in the U.S. to supplement the limited resources of the professional press. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen highlighted the work of one of those Occupy citizen reporters, offering some fine advice to young would-be journalists in the process: The most important thing is to put yourself in a “journalistic situation,” which is “when a live community is depending on you for regular reports about some unfolding thing that clearly matters to them.”
Meanwhile, the concern over police’s heavy-handed tactics toward reporters — including arrests and removal from the scenes of their Occupy crackdowns — has continued. Numerous New York news organizations called for an investigation into the New York Police Department’s brutishness toward journalists, and New York Times columnist Michael Powell made a sharp rebuttal to NYPD’s “but they didn’t have press passes!” defense. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram gave some thoughts about how these situations have changed now that journalists are everywhere, and Free Press’ Josh Stearns gave a great example of journalistic curation in his explanation of how he’s reported on journalist arrests nationwide.
The Times has a few miscellaneous angles covered as well: Brian Stelter looked at Occupy coverage from within and outside the mainstream, and David Carr wondered what’s next for Occupy, particularly in terms of its media narrative.
SOPA as innovation killer: On the heels of last month’s congressional hearing on the U.S.’ ominous Stop Online Piracy Act, alarm about the bill’s potential to dramatically curtail online speech continues to echo around the web, including from the editorial boards of both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, who has been the go-to writer on SOPA, billed one of his posts arguing against the bill as the definitive argument, and he’s probably right. Masnick’s argument had a few parts: 1) Enforcement is the wrong way to prevent copyright infringement; 2) Even if it was the right way, SOPA is an ineffective enforcement strategy; and 3) Along the way, SOPA would do significant collateral damage to the economy and innovation. To the first point, Masnick argued that the problem behind copyright infringement is one of a broken business model, the symptom of an industry that refuses to adjust to meet changing audience demands. “The best way, by far, to decrease infringement is to offer awesome new services that are convenient and useful,” he wrote.
Alex Howard of O’Reilly Media provided another long post detailing the dangers of SOPA, particularly the chilling effect it will have on innovation. He also explained to the Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran how the bill could hinder innovation in news organizations, especially small ones. In a carefully balanced piece, The Economist touched on some of the same business model issues behind SOPA that Masnick did, while Ars Technica’s Timothy Lee argued that this internationally oriented bill would have damaging effects on the U.S.’ reputation abroad in technological areas.
Frictionless sharing’s pros and cons: Two months after Facebook introduced a new set of social apps that largely centered on automatic sharing, the company announced some of the early stats from news orgs’ new apps. All the news Facebook reported is, of course, good news, but Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman went a bit deeper into the apps to pull out several lessons for news orgs. Among them, he noted that publishers are finding success both within the walls of Facebook and on their own sites using the social graph. The organizations themselves approve, too: The Guardian said it’s had great success reaching younger audiences through the app, and the Independent said it’s given fresh attention to stories at least a decade old.
Facebook’s big changes introduced this fall haven’t come without their discontents, though. CNET’s Molly Wood argued that Facebook’s new “frictionless sharing” through automatically sharing apps like the ones developed by news orgs is actually increasing barriers to sharing, at the same time that it’s turning sharing passive. “Frictionless sharing via Open Graph recasts Facebook’s basic purpose, making it more about recommending and archiving than about sharing and communicating.”
Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash chimed in, noting that Facebook is putting up additional barriers even to websites that are using its commenting systems. And ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick argued that with its new sharing functions making indiscriminate sharing the default, Facebook is starting to resemble malware.
A couple of other Facebook-related news items: The New York Times overhauled its comments to incorporate Facebook and Twitter (and also to reward “trusted” commenters, among other changes). Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman explained the changes, and j-prof Dan Kennedy praised the Times for continuing to try new things to improve its comments.
Also, a study was published that found that the classic “six degrees of separation” has been reduced to 4.74 degrees between any random users across the world on Facebook. As a New York Times article on the study noted, this raises questions of whether Facebook “friends” actually correspond to real-life relationships, though some scholars defended the idea by noting that these “weak ties” have been shown to be quite important for several functions, including spreading news. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram went into some more detail on the possible effects of these weak ties that are amplified by Facebook.
Reading roundup: Several smaller stories over the past two weeks. Here they are, in short form:
— WikiLeaks released a new set of documents this week — the first of a database of documents from the surveillance industry, but it’s also delayed the launch of its new online document submission system. Julian Assange ripped news editors for being too subservient to the political powers that be, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation examined WikiLeaks’ effects on several global revolutions, as well as the future of the U.S.’ First Amendment.
— At a time when almost everyone in finance is running away screaming from newspapers, billionaire Warren Buffett announced surprising plans to buy his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici saw the move as a vote of confidence in the financial viability of newspapers, while former World-Herald journalist Steve Buttry said it’s about personal attachment, not confidence in the newspaper business. Jim Romenesko noted that the World-Herald’s employee-owned model was struggling, which few younger employees buying in.
— After at least 10 days of testimony into News Corp.’s phone hacking case, the Guardian has a good, quick summary of what we’ve found out so far. The company’s stock remains surprisingly hot, even if its public image is plummeting: NYU’s Jay Rosen wrote an Australia-centric argument that News Corp. has an incontrovertibly corrupt culture.
— A couple of (hopefully) final notes about Jim Romenesko’s acrimonious departure from Poynter: Romenesko gave his account of the episode, and the Lab’s Joshua Benton wrote a fantastic post comparing Romenesko’s aggregation practices with the tech world’s dichotomy between specs and user experience. Read it, if you haven’t already.
— In a perceptive post, 10,000 Words’ Lauren Rabaino traced the evolution of news stories’ development online, and argued for a more wiki-style story format.
— I’ll leave you with a sharp big-picture piece by the Associated Press’ Jonathan Stray, who attempted to define what he called the “digital public sphere” and outlined what we should expect it to do. It’s a wonderful starting point (or rebooting point) for thinking about what we’re all trying to do here with the future of journalism and information online.