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July 3, 2014, 10:05 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.pewinternet.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   July 3, 2014

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is out with a report today based on a survey of leaders in information technology. Earlier, Pew asked experts what digital life would look like in 2025; today’s update focuses on potential threats to our information network.

The concerns are broken down into four categories:

1) Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.

2) Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.

3) Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.

4) Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.


The first two categories have broad implications for journalists — for example, their safety, and how they practice their craft. Journalists will simultaneously have to work to push back against government and commercial control creep while learning how to resist surveillance, as will everyone else.

The second two categories, however, speak more directly and immediately to the world of digital publishing. For example, as those commercial pressures mount, it will become increasingly important to make sure that news and information providers understand and have access to the heavy-duty tools of the Internet, so that rapidly consolidating power and money do not overwhelm them:

Glenn Edens, director of research in networking, security, and distributed systems at PARC, said, “Network operators’ desire to monetize their assets to the detriment of progress represents the biggest potential problem. Enabling content creators to easily and directly reach audiences, better search tools, better promotion mechanisms and curation tools — continuing to dismantle the ‘middle men’ is key.”

The fluidity of content was also a major concern for some, who look forward to considering access a right, and believe that sharing is the antidote to a fractured Internet:

Clark Sept, co-founder and principal of Business Place Strategies Inc., wrote, “Online content access and sharing will be even better and easier by way of personal digital rights access. Sharing freely will be recognized as having greater long-term economic value than strictly limited controls over ‘intellectual property.’”

Or, more briefly:

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, responded, “People are going to get what they want, and they want to share content.”

If the risk of an information ecosystem in which content is produced and controlled by a few economically powerful players isn’t clear, Doc Searls explains:

“What the carriers actually want — badly — is to move television to the Net, and to define the Net in TV terms: as a place you go to buy content, as you do today with cable. For this they’ll run two-sided markets: on the supply side doing deals with “content providers” such as Hollywood and big publishers, and on the demand side by intermediating the sale of that content. This by far is the most serious threat to sharing information on the Net, because it undermines and sidelines the Net’s heterogeneous and distributed system for supporting everybody and everything, and biases the whole thing to favor a few vertically-integrated ‘content’ industries.”

But there’s a flip side to all that sharing and fluid content, says Mike Roberts, former ICANN leader:

“God knows what will happen to the poor authors. John Perry Barlow says ‘information wants to be free,’ which pursued to the ultimate, pauperizes the authors and diminishes society thereby. There has been recent active discussion of this question on the ICANN former director list.”

Despite these looming systemic threats, many respondents were concerned about a challenge we already face everyday — how to efficiently locate the information that we want, and how to guarantee that it will continue to be served to us. Writes Michael Starks, an information science professional:

“The challenge will be in separating the wheat from the chaff. Will people who can create, edit, judge, find and curate content for others become valued for those skills? If so — and if that value is reflected in the salaries those people receive — then highly networked populations will have greater access to better content as well as more content.”

According to the report’s authors, complaints about the sorting process of the future included but were not limited to: “algorithms often categorize people the wrong way and do not suit their needs; they do not change as people change; search algorithms are being written mostly by corporations with financial interests that could sway the ways in which they are being written; search algorithms can be gamed by certain outside interests to sway searches to their advantage.” Susan Etlinger of the Altimeter Group added additional concerns:

“With regard to content, the biggest technical challenge will continue to be filter failure; algorithms today just cannot keep up with the number and type of signals that provisionally predict what a person will want at a certain point in time. There are so many barriers: multiple devices, offline attribution and of course simple human changeability. We will continue to see a push and pull with regard to privacy. People will continue to adapt, but their expectations for control and relevance will also increase.”

A few survey respondents went so far as to imagine the kinds of systems they believe might, or at least should, come into place to help us deal with the deluge of data. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, expressed concerns over consolidated control of the tools we use to find information:

“Currently, approximately 70% of Internet users in the U.S. and 90% in Europe obtain information by going through the search services of one company. This needs to change. There should be many information sources, more distributed, and with less concentration of control. So, I am hoping for positive change. We need many more small and mid-size firms that are stable and enduring. The current model is to find an innovation with monetizing potential, incorporate, demonstrate proof of concept, sell to an Internet giant, and then walk away. This will not end well.”

What could one type of small firm helping redistribute control of search and distribution?

Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, predicted, “To help people realize their fullest potential, an industry of ‘personal information trainers’—by analogy to personal trainers for fitness—will form to help people find and access information that is interesting and useful for them. Reference librarians played this role when we went to the information repository called a library. As the volume of information continues to grow exponentially, personal information trainers will help us with the much more daunting task of creating a virtual dashboard to access the information of value to us, much of which we did not know was out there.”

Ultimately, writers Robert Cannon, U.S. Internet law expert, we are past “the initial utopian introduction that greets the technology with claims of world peace,” and past the era of competition. “In the information era,” he writes “we have moved into the era of consolidation.” But there may yet be hope:

“Unlike other cycles where the era of consolidation also raised barriers to entry, in the modern information era, the barriers to entry still remain low. But this can change as conduit becomes entangled with content or service. […] This is the core concern of the Net neutrality debate: Will the Internet of the future look like the radio market or the telegraph market after consolidation, with few players controlling content — or will it continue to look like the never-ending marketplace of ideas?”

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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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