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Jan. 14, 2014, 2:06 p.m.
LINK: blog.nytlabs.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 14, 2014

nytrnd_logoLet’s say you work in a modern digital newsroom. Your colleagues are looking at interesting stuff online all day long — reading stimulating news stories, searching down rabbit holes you’ve never thought of. There are probably connections between what the reporter five desks down from you is looking for and what you already know — or vice versa. Wouldn’t it be useful if you could somehow gather up that all that knowledge-questing and turn it into a kind of intraoffice intel?

A version of that vision is what Noah Feehan and others in The New York Times’ R&D Lab is working on with a new system called Curriculum. It started as an in-house browser extension he and Jer Thorp built last year called Semex, which monitored your browsing and, by semantically analyzing the web pages you visit, rendered it as a series of themes. Semex

presents your web history as a series of sessions and topics rather than URLs and timestamps. For example, one session might be a fifteen minute period this morning where I was researching the topic “humidity sensors.”

Semex was useful when it helped me remember where I was in a problem that I hadn’t worked on in awhile: seeing the sequence of topics I browsed made much more sense than a list of page titles. At the same time, Semex felt anticlimactic in the way that a lot of Quantified Self projects do: there was a sense of OK, we recorded all this; now what?

The “now what” was to shift Semex from your own web browsing to a shared environment — to move it from Quantified Self to Quantified Everybody, you might say.

…if Semex was most useful to me as a way to record my cognitive context, the state in which I left a problem, maybe I could share that state with other people who might need to know it. Sharing topics from my browsing history with a close group of colleagues can afford us insight into one another’s processes, yet is abstracted enough (and constrained to a trusted group) to not feel too invasive…

Each user in a group has a Chrome extension that submits pageviews to a server to perform semantic analysis and publish a private, authenticated feed. (I should note here that the extension ignores any pages using HTTPS, to avoid analyzing emails, bank statements, and other secure pages.) Curriculum is carefully designed to be anonymous; that is, no topic in the feed can be traced back to any one particular user. The anonymity isn’t perfect, of course: because there are only five people using it, and because we five are in very close communication with each other, it is usually not too difficult to figure out who might be researching a particular topic.

You could think of it as a natural progression from something like Fuego, which tracks what URLs are being shared in a given community on Twitter. Rather than analyzing what people are sharing, Curriculum analyzes what people are reading.

There’s a lot that I love about this idea. It matches up with something Heidi Moore and I (and others) were tweeting about last fall:

You don’t need me to tell you the potential privacy problems of something like this. If this sort of tool were actually used in a newsroom, I imagine its most immediate impact would be to send lots of people scurrying to their phones when they don’t want their colleagues virtually reading over their shoulder. (A few too many fantasy baseball topics showing up in the newsroom feed might lead to a trip to HR, one imagines.) I’d have to think it would take a special kind of work environment for people to find this sort of thing tolerable — it’d be a nightmare in most newsrooms.

But that very real issue aside, there’s a ton of potential with this line of thinking. Journalists learn so much information every day — and so little of it ends up anywhere other than their heads. With business models in flux, finding new ways to generate more value out of the expertise of journalists is critical. My thinking about that question has focused on more ways for that information to reach audiences, via niche blogging, social media, events, and other routes:

But Curriculum raises the interesting point that that information can be of great value just by spreading it further within the same news organization. Feehan:

… Curriculum is kind of like a Fitbit for context, an effortless way to record what’s on our minds throughout the day and make it available to the people who need it most: the people we work with. The function Curriculum performs, that of semantic listening, is fantastically useful when people need to share their contexts (what they were working on, what approaches they were investigating, what problems they’re facing) with each other.

The Curriculum feed is truly a new channel of input for us, a stream of information of a different character than we’ve encountered before. Having access to the residue of our collective web travels has led to many questions, conversations, and jokes that wouldn’t have happened without it.

When asked on Twitter whether any of Curriculum might be made publicly available, Feehan replied:

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LINK: reporterslab.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 20, 2015

A new census from Duke’s Reporters’ Lab says that fact-checking sites are on the rise worldwide:

The 2015 Fact-Checking Census from the Duke Reporters’ Lab found 89 that have been active in the past few years and 64 that are active today. That’s up from 59 total/44 active when we did our last count in May 2014. (We include inactive sites in our total count because sites come and go with election cycles. Some news organizations and journalism NGOs only fact-check during election years.)

Bill Adair, who runs the Reporters’ Lab, used to run PolitiFact — hence his interest.

The survey also found that the use of true/false ratings scales was on the rise, though “Pants On Fire” hasn’t become the universal synonym for lying:

Many rating systems use a true to false scale while others have devised more creative names. For example, ratings for the European site FactCheckEU include “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.” Canada’s Baloney Meter rates statements from “No Baloney” to “Full of Baloney.”

There’s also True to Huckster Propaganda, True to Rubbish, Verdadero to Ridículo, and an array of Pinocchios.

The full list of sites is here.

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You may remember a year ago I posted this short piece that detailed the decline of free daily newspapers in Europe. (“Remember how, a few years ago, some thought that Metro and others of its free ilk would sweep into the space paid dailies were leaving behind? It didn’t work out exactly that way.”) I included this chart by Piet Bakker, perhaps the world’s top analyst of free newspapers:

free-newspapers-chart-piet-bakker

Another year, another chart: Bakker has just updated with 2013 data:

free-dailies-europe-1995-2013-piet-bakker

In other words, more of the same. WAN-IFRA did a brief email interview with Bakker about the state of affairs:

Since free dailies have only one source of income — advertising — the economic crisis hit this sector harder than other print media. Apart from that, there is a general decline in print circulation, probably because younger generations don’t use print that often. This generation was always rather interested in free dailies but now increasingly uses mobile phones during the time that they used to read a free newspaper. And just before the crisis, many free titles were launched (in 2005-2007), which resulted in fierce competition among free papers, hurting the business model even more.

Bakker is also reviewing the situation for free dailies across the world in a 67-part series — the man has stamina! So far, he’s run through Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. (Estonians: Get ready!) He expects to finish Europe by mid-February, then move to the rest of the world.

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LINK: betasurvey.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 15, 2015

nytimes-logoFor two decades, The New York Times has had a reader insight panel — a subset of its audience that it occasionally surveys to “better understand the reading habits, lifestyles and interests of Times readers. (They’re far from alone in this; here’s The Washington Post’s, for instance.) If you’re on it, as I am, you get occasional questions about whether you read a certain section, whether you’d be interested in a particular new Times product, and so on.

But now the Times is using its reader panel for journalistic purposes. For the first time, the results will be published in The New York Times Magazine. I got an email earlier this week under the name of new magazine editor Jake Silverstein (emphasis mine):

Dear New York Times Reader Insight Panel Member,

Whether you are a new Insight Panel member, or have been with us for years, we want to thank you for the invaluable feedback you provide as valued New York Times reader.

Today we have a very special survey. For the first time, results of this Readers Insight Panel survey will be published in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

The survey covers a number of topics, but it’s all about you. Please note that some of the questions are very personal. In these instances we have provided a “Prefer not to answer” option. If, at any point during the survey, you feel that the questions are too personal, please feel free to stop and close out of it completely. We understand if you are not comfortable answering any or all of our questions. As with all NYT Reader Insight Panel surveys, all answers are strictly confidential. Answers will be reported in the magazine only in aggregate.

The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. Just click on the link below or copy and paste the URL into your browser.

[link omitted]

Thank you very much for participating in our survey.

Sincerely,

Jake Silverstein
Editor, The New York Times Sunday Magazine

I won’t spoil the future reveal of this package for the magazine, other than to note that among the questions were “Who is the best American President ever?,” “Do you have any close friends of a different political party?,” “Have you ever had dinner with your neighbors?,” and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”

(Oh, and “Do you believe in God?”)

But I did want to note it as an example of a business-side operation (reader research) and editorial working together, in a way that shouldn’t anger any but the most vitriolic church/state scolds. Why engage an outside polling operation to find out what your readers think — when you’ve already built one in house? The Times’ Innovation report specifically called for more of this sort of collaboration:

The very first step, however, should be a deliberate push to abandon our current metaphors of choice — “The Wall” and “Church and State” — which project an enduring need for division. Increased collaboration, done right, does not present any threat to our values of journalistic independence…

We have an army of colleagues who are committed to helping deliver cutting-edge journalism and growing our audience. [For example?] The Analytics groups use data to learn about our readers’ changing habits as well as the effectiveness of our advertising and marketing. They also gather direct feedback from our readers about what they want from our apps and websites. This group translates those needs for Product and Design.

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Since its launch in 2012, the Solutions Journalism Network has worked with dozens of newsrooms by holding training workshops, helping journalists on individual stories, organizing longterm partnerships, and more.

Today though, SJN is taking its particular brand of journalism to the journalistic masses with the release of a 48-page guide on how to use the solutions journalism method at all stages of reporting a story, from pitching an editor to promoting a finished piece on social media.

Solutions journalism calls for reporters to showcase potential solutions along with the problems they’re reporting on as a way to produce more informative and impactful stories. As the report puts it:

It is increasingly inadequate for journalists to simply note what’s wrong and hope for society to create better laws or provide proper oversight. The world’s problems are just too complex and fast-changing. People must learn about credible examples of responses to problems in order to become empowered, discerning actors capable of shaping a better society. In this context, journalism must augment its traditional role, spotlighting adaptive responses to entrenched social ills.

SJN has previously published tools for practicing solutions journalism on its website, but the new guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF, is meant to be a more comprehensive document that can “answer some of the most common doubts journalists have about this practice — like how to write about failure in a solutions — oriented way.”

The guide gives point-by-point explanations for how to identify what makes a good solutions journalism story, the best way to pitch an editor, the types of questions to ask sources, and how to approach writing a story. There are also annotated stories from The New York Times, The Seattle Times, PRI’s The World, and Kaiser Health News that highlight how the pieces demonstrate solutions journalism.

Here’s a link to the full report.

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Yesterday, CNN announced that it had struck a deal with the feds that represents some progress for those interested in using drones for journalism:

CNN has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance efforts to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into newsgathering and reporting.

The cooperation arrangement will integrate efforts from CNN’s existing research partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Coordination between and among CNN, GTRI and the FAA has already begun. The FAA will use data collected from this initiative to formulate a framework for various types of UAVs to be safely integrated into newsgathering operations.

Some folks reported on this as if it meant you’d be seeing CNN drone footage any day now. (“After months of studying drones as a news reporting tool, CNN just struck a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration today, meaning lots of eye-in-the-sky Wolf Blitzer segments are forthcoming.” “Drones are going to help CNN bring you the news.” “CNN gets go-ahead to use drones in newsgathering.”) But Matt Waite and other drone journalism aficionados cautioned that the deal isn’t as broad as some are making it seem:

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