Tag Archives: journalism

On Twitter suspensions, spam, censorship and SOPA

Suspended OwlEarlier this afternoon, David Seaman claimed that Twitter suspended his account for tweeting too much about “Occupy Wall Street … and talking too much about the controversial detainment without trial provisions contained in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”

His account is now back online. Twitter’s official response to him, according to Seaman, was that his account was ‘caught up in one of spam groups by mistake.

Seaman continued to suggest otherwise and implied that Twitter is banning accounts because of their content.

Speaking only for myself, I believe this was completely unrelated to NDAA or OWS and was instead tied to his behavior using a new account. I think what happened today was an auto-suspension of a new account exhibiting behavior associated, not intentional censorship by Twitter. Jillian C. York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed:

I’m writing without an official statement from Twitter but I’d bet that’s what happened. (If I receive such a statement, I’ll post it here.)

UPDATE: Here are the emails Seaman posted to his post, containing Twitter’s responses. They validates my understanding of Twitter’s anti-spam protocols.

At approximately 7:37pm ET, my Twitter account was restored, and I received the following message from Twitter support: “Hello, Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like your account got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake. I’ve restored your account; sorry for the inconvenience. Please note that it may take an hour or so for your follower and following numbers to return to normal.” At 8:29pm ET, a second email from Twitter support was received: “Hello, As a clarification, your account was suspended twice; the initial suspension was due to a number of unsolicited duplicate or near-duplicate messages being sent using the @reply and/or mention feature. These features are intended to make communication between people on Twitter easier. Twitter monitors the use of these features to make sure they are used as intended and not for abuse. Using either feature to post messages to a bunch of users in an unsolicited or egregious manner is considered an abuse of its use, which results in an automated account suspension. However, the second suspension after you navigated the self-unsuspension page was due to a known error we are working to fix; our apologies for the re-suspension. Please let me know if you have any questions.”

As far as I know, Twitter accounts aren’t automatically suspended based upon a journalist writing about a controversial issue. You can read the Twitter FAQ on suspensions for their official position. Suspensions are only supposed to happen when a user breaks the Twitter Rules, not because of what they describe or report on. Again, York:

Suspending accounts on Twitter is precedented behavior. What’s less so is a self-identified journalist making a sweeping claim of censorship like this without confirmation, corroboration or analysis of Twitter’s past practices. My account was suspended 2 years ago when @Twitter swept it up on people tweeting on the #g2s hashtag. It was restored the day after wards, along with other people tweeting from the IP address.

I doubt Seaman’s contention that this suspension was related to content. I think it was a mistaken outcome based upon interactions. New accounts are more likely to be flagged automatically as @spam. What happened wasn’t about any one tweet: it’s came through nine tweets in a row of nearly duplicate content to non-followers from a new account. Specifically, “How #Occupy and the #TeaParty could end their struggle tonight: http://read.bi/vL02ZI #NDAA #SOPA #OWS”

Bottom line: Seaman made a sensational claim that probably shouldn’t have been made without more legwork and a statement from Twitter. He used Business Insider’s platform to bring attention to a mistake. It may have brought Business Insider a lot of traffic today but I think, on balance, that Seaman damaged his credibility today.

That’s unfortunate, given that the episode could have been leveraged to make an important point about how governments might work with private social media platforms to remove content that they do not wish to see published.

On that count, learn more about the Stop Online Piracy Act at Radar.

Update: Conor Adams Stevens picked up the Business Insider post and wrote a largely uncritical op-ed at International Business Times that repeated the claim that “NDAA, SOPA, Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous may be off-limits on Twitter.” (If that were true, I wouldn’t have been able to tweet for quite a few months now.)

Update: Nick Judd picked up the story at techPresident, adding some context to the latest episode of Twitter denying another censorship accusation. Judd observes that Deamon’s post “appears to be flat out wrong”:

Seaman still seems to think that some occult hand is at work against opponents of NDAA, questioning the veracity of Twitter’s response to him. This makes no sense, given that NDAA has generated at least 117,000 tweets in the last seven days. None of those have been swept under the digital rug.

There’s also a conspiracy theory floating around about why Twitter has not listed NDAA as a trending topic. Mat Honan bursts that bubble in a post from last week for Gizmodo, which is actually focused on a hashtag memorializing the late Christopher Hitchens. Its title is succinct: “Shutup, Twitter Isn’t Censoring Your Dumb Trends.”

Image Credit: Steve Garfield

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My Poynter Institute presentation on open data journalism

This week, I’m down in Florida at the Poynter Institute as a “visiting faculty member,” talking about social media and politics. My first presentation, embedded below, was on the promise of open data journalism.

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On online trust, reputation, satire and misquotation on Twitter and beyond

The issue of online trust deeply resonates with me. People can and do lose jobs or opportunities because of social media. I do not find intentional misquotes of someone, particularly any journalist or government official, funny. It’s happened a couple of times to me recently, so I thought I’d offer some personal reflections on why I asked those who did so not to change my updates or to substitute words I never used.

Andy Carvin talks with Jeff Jarvis

Andy Carvin talks with Jeff Jarvis at the 2011 SXSWi Twitter Retreat

1) The size of someone’s following is irrelevant. One tweet to 100 can easily be picked up globally. Context that one person has is also irrelevant to the choice, because the update can be quickly shorn of its origin.

2) I’ve heard that I shouldn’t ask others not to intentionally misquote me because it will “hurt public engagement” or diminish the interest of others in amplifying my signal. I accept that it could affect “engagement” with those I challenge. I prefer to correct the record, especially while history’s rough draft is still being written, to protect my reputation against a misinterpretation of something I never said than that abstraction.

3) With respect to tone, I don’t believe that asking someone politely, directly, to please retract or correct a update is unduly “harsh.” Similarly, I don’t think that objecting to someone else changing my words without indicating that alteration is insulting. In either case, I can also choose to share my request more broadly with an entire audience or use stronger language, though neither is my first or second recourse.

4) Whenever I have asked others to respect the integrity of my writing, whether it’s in 140 characters or 140 paragraphs, I stand by that choice. I’ve been making it for many years and will continue to do so. I’ve reviewed those decisions against the advice of journalism professors and open government advocates and am now in a relatively good position to make a judgment myself, often in a short period of time. It’s quite straightforward to natively RT someone without changing any text, or to share words on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.

5) I don’t see my presences here, on Facebook or Twitter as simply “personal accounts,” as I use them all professionally. I don’t see them as 100% professional, either, since my words any of them do not represent the official views of my employer unless they are shared on corporate accounts. My own accounts also travel with me between positions. Certainly, updates sent to family and friends via circles or closed groups are at least expected to be treated differently, though there’s no guarantor of it, aside from trust in the recipients. Over time, some number of people have chosen to regard me as a trusted source in those contexts. That’s a series of relationships that I’ve built carefully on several platforms over many years, with a great deal of time and attention built to accuracy and focus upon what matters.

6) With respect to scope, If anyone thinks his or her own “personal account” couldn’t inadvertently do damage to that reputation with a joke that went viral, I believe that they are very much mistaken. Here’s a Twitter-specific reference: The decision to place different weight on tweets @attributed to me is based on my history, reputation and trust, along with years of accumulated algorithmic authority. When someone tweets “RT @user: quote,” it indicates to everyone who reads it that the named @user wrote the tweet. To date, I haven’t seen those kinds of issues on Google Plus. Regardless, if someone keeps doing that after being asked politely to stop, the next step is to expose them and then, failing changed behavior, block them.

7) Satire is absolutely approved on social networks, including satiric impersonation. (Ask Rahm Emanuel!). If someone sends out a satirical tweet, update or ‘plus’ that “quotes” me, another writer or a public figure with a goofy picture, it wouldn’t be out of tune with what the Borowitz Report or @MayorEmanuel do. That’s fair game, like SNL skits. Updates that imply actual words (like RT @user”fake quote”) are not, at least in my book.

Are fake updates “allowed?” Governments, corporations, and all kinds of other agents put them up. I think we’ll see more of it. Someone can lie or obfuscate of they want — I think it’s increasingly difficult to do so, though it will continue to happen, particularly in conflict zones. The role of editors and journalists on these networks — and open government advocates or technologist — is to sift the truth from the fiction.

8 ) With respect to whether social media is used differently by journalists, whether different rules apply or whether there are “formal rules” applied to it, I’ve seen enough policies emerge to know that the same standards that apply to those employed by media organizations that distribute journalism on television, public radio or print magazines.

I’ve seen a lot of thought given to the issue of trust and its relationship to media using social networks, particularly by big journalism institutions and those that work for them. This isn’t about rhetoric: it’s about created trusted relationships online over time, where authority and truth aren’t simply stamped by a masthead by given by networks of friends, followers, colleagues and networks. The idea that you don’t need a reputation to succeed, at least as a writer of non-fiction, strikes me as patently false. Trust and reputation is why your pitch is accepted, why you are hired or retained, followed or unfollowed, feted or fired.

When journalists really get things wrong, they can lose trust, reputation and, in some cases, their jobs. And yes, that can include satire gone wrong. My point tonight was to recognize that the professional and the personal have crossed over on these networks.

What I say or what is incorrectly said on my behalf can and does have significant offline effects. In other words, it’s more than a personal problem, and it’s one that you can expect me to defend against now and in the future.

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New digital journalism tools and platforms to connect, present and inspire

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” said Alexis Madrigal. “You don’t have to write bad stuff to get people to come to a website”
Tonight at the August meeting of the Online News Association in D.C., +Madrigal shared several of the tools that he’s been experimenting with to connect with his audience and rethink the way he shares information in his work as senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly.

You can find his digital journalism at www.theatlantic.com/alexis-madrigal and on Twitter at @alexismadrigal.

I’ve been reading his book on green energy, “Powering the Dream,” over the past few months. It’s excellent. Alexis also co-founded longshot magazine and wrote for Wired for years.

Given that context, when he talks about the digital tools that he’s using for work and the new applications or platforms that he’s experimenting with online these days, I paid attention. Here’s the breakdown of some of the tools he shared tonight.

First, Google Forms. Alexis described them as “frictionless, easy to set up, and then pull into spreadsheet. He referenced Amanda Michel‘s work using them in her crowdsourcing work at ProPublica.

Second, SoundCloud. That was a new one to me. Time to experiment.

Third, Twitter. This one was not new to me. Alexis said Twitter worked very well for Longshot. He did, however, say “the retweet is dying.” There’s an issue of splitting the incentive model, between “native” vs “manual” RTs, and tracking. Alexis said that he’s noticed all around that retweeting is way down, which has made Twitter less effective.

So, off to explore new places.

One such platform is Tumblr. The problem, said Madrigal, is that Tumblr has its own ecosystem. (I agree with this.) There’s no natural move over from another social media platform, he said, and that sad fact is that you have to put in the same damn work, and then see what moves. On that count, they’ve brought in curator to the Atlantic video channel who’s deeply immersed in the culture but it’s still challenging.

Another new destination is Google Plus. Alexis likes Plus conceptually, given how it allows back and forth, but doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do with it yet. Alexis said he has largely left Facebook and streamlined his social media use. His Google Plus use went way up during the first couple of days and then leveled out. Now he needs to decide what to do with it. (I know the feeling). Alexis is experimenting with “The Atlantic Tech Plus,” which he described as a behind the scenes look at what his team is working on. He’s not sure what’s next. The digest has driven little traffic to date, but Alexis feels like he “has to be here and know how it works.”

Alexis moved from tools for publishing or sharing to presentation tools. He’s interested in timed slideshows and made the analogy that they’re like “full bleed” in a magazine. He used to think they’re just a way to get pageviews but now he thinking that they’re “a way to get content horizontally. ”

Two points here: beautiful tools are awesome and people are limiting themselves in the way they think about them. In that context, Alexis wants to exploit the behavior readers exhibit in compulsive clicking through a slideshow for good. This sort of thing is “gamification,” though Alexis notes that they just ran a story “called gamification is BS.”

Given this list of of tools, I asked him about Facebook for journalism. Alexis said that he chose to keep who he is as a person vs his work separate there. He hasn’t started a Page but knows people like science writer Steve Silberman who have had “wonderful generative conversations there.”

Finally, Alexis shared two sites that are doing work that can push us to think differently about what an editorial product can be online.

DomusIT (http://domusweb.it) is an Italian art magazine website worth looking at because of its vibrant, colorful and dynamic design:

Zeega (http://zeega.org) is a next generation content management system. Zeega pushes website design to a “crazy extreme,” with HTML5 in fully full bleed experience, including video, animations. Alexis suggested that Zeega can enable a different kind of publication online, something “more magazine-y” and interesting. Less cookie cutter. He expects that this or something like it will open up a new way of telling stories.

We’ll see! I know I have some new places and platforms to explore, along with Twitter, Google, Plus and Tumblr. The lesson that Alexis drew from turntable.fm is that “feeling like the Internet is alive is awesome.” I’ll drop by tomorrow.

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Your Twitter journalism is so phat that _____

Today, spurred by a (rather absurd) debate about whether Twitter is journalism, Brian Solis asked whether tweets are recognized as acts of journalism, and as such, regarded as bona fide journalism. That’s a much better question. As of yet, unfortunately, no media law expert has sprung to answer it in the comments for his post.

Del Harvey Somebody else did answer the question on Twitter, albeit substituting snark for substance: @delbius, also known as Del Harvey, the head of Twitter’s Trust & @Safety team.

Her reply, below, set off one of the funniest exchanges I’ve ever had in more than 3 years of tweeting.

Del: Not gonna lie, read that Tweet and what sprang to mind was “Your mom’s an act of journalism.”

Alex: Your journalism is an act of Mom! Or to put it another way, your journalism is so fat, it had to create a @yearly account.

Del: My journalism is phat, thank you.

Alex: Ok, I’ll play. Your journalism is so phat, it can only be published in 140 characters or more.

Del: Your journalism is so phat that it uses the full title of weblog.

Alex: Your micro journalism is so phat that you have to make the Twitter display widgets auto-width.

Del: Your journalism is so phat your lede takes up a paragraph.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that the IEEE had to create a new standard data format for your letters.

Del: Your journalism is so phat that your angle is obtuse.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that you have to use deck.ly to share what your officemate ate for lunch.

Del: Your journalism is so phat your informant was Mrs. Fields.

Alex: Your zombie journalism is so phat that your editor has to use liposuction to find where you buried the lede.

Del: Your journalism is so phat you’re below the *second* fold.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that your readers are directed by their physicians to go on Lipitor after reading it.

Del: Your journalism is so phat your b-roll had butter on it. (wince @ self)

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that newly elected Congressmen are considering a vote to defund it.

Del: Your journalism is so phat your jump cut is a jiggle cut.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that you had to get 5000 TB SATA drives to be the scratch disks for your video editing.

Del: Your journalism is so phat your POV pieces are for two people at once.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that your hyperlinks are coated in myelin.

Alex: Your journalism is so phat that @cjoh had to start running marathons to stay on his information diet.

If you have more reasons your journalism is phat, please add them in the comments.

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28 Tweets about #Newsfoo: Data Journalism, Wikileaks and the Long Form

Last weekend, I was proud to join a fascinating group of people in the first News Foo out in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m still thinking through what it all meant to me. Covering events in Washington has kept me extremely busy from the moment I returned.

Almost by definition, you can’t go to everything at an unconference. And by definition, an unconference is what you make of it, meaning that if you to a session to happen, you need to propose it. If you don’t like the one you’re in, vote with your feet. The open structure means that everyone will have a different experience, a reality that was reflected in the tweets, blogposts and feedback that have emerged in the days since the first News Foo concluded in Phoenix.

Newsfoo is a variant of Tim O’Reilly’s famed Foo camps, which have a wiki unconference format. People create the sessions as they go, and they camp out together. The social + intellectual experience is a bonding opportunity. There is also, for example, a Sci Foo camp which is consponsored by O’Reilly, Nature mag and Google. Now there is a push to do a Newsfoo, which would bring technologists and journalists together in a high-level discussion, that looks forward rather than back. It would tackle cool problems, both content side and business side.

To expand on that concept, posted before the event, News Foo was a collaboration between O’Reilly Media, Google and the Knight Foundation. Each hour or so, four or five sessions frequently competed for attention, along with freewheeling conversations in hallways, tables and in the open spaces of Arizona State University’s beautiful journalism center. As with every unconference, the attendees created the program and decided which sessions to attend, aggregating or disaggregating themselves.

If you’re interested in other reactions to News Foo, several excellent posts have made their way online since Sunday. I’ll be posting more thoughts on Newsfoo soon, along with book recommendations from the science fiction session.

For those who were not present, a post by Steve Buttry is particularly worth reading, along with the lively dialogue in the comments: “News Foo Camp: Not fully open, but certainly secret.” Buttry reached out to Sarah Winge, who provided a lengthy, informative comment about what Foos are about and how “Friend D.A.” works. If you’re not familiar with either, go check out Steve’s excellent post.

As he notes there, heavy tweeting was discouraged by the organizers, a request supported by the thinking that being “fully present,” freed of the necessary attention that documenting an event accurately requires of a writer, will result in a richer in-person experience for all involved.

Over the course of the weekend, I certainly tweeted much less than I would at the average conference or unconference. But then foo isn’t either.

I did take a few moments to share resources or stories I heard about at newsfoo with my distributed audience online. Following are 28 tweets, slightly edited (I took out the #Newsfoo hashtag and replies in a few) that did just that, rather like I’d microblogged it. If you’re confused about the “twitterese” below, consult my explainer on the top 50 Twitter acronyms and abbreviations and my thinking on how #hashtags on Twitter are like channels on cable TV. For many more tweets from other attendees, check out “Newsfoo at a Distance,” a Storify curation.

1. #Newsfoo is an unconference in Phoenix, AZ this weekend. Technologists & journalists talking about “what’s next.”

2. Foo Camp is about “making new synapses in the global brain,” says @TimOReilly. And being present. Here.  http://twitpic.com/3cnxcl

3. ASU Cronkite School of Journalism. Beautiful. http://instagr.am/p/dLie/

4. Loving session on context with @mthomps @adamdangelo & @tristanharris. Some context: http://futureofcontext.com #meta

On the long form

5. In #longform discussion. Love this topic: http://longform.org | http://longreads.com | @NiemanLab: http://j.mp/9X9Php

6. More on #longform at @Guardian: http://j.mp/d5lhF5 @longreads @TheAwl @somethingtoread @longformorg @thelonggoodread

7. “Final Salute” http://j.mp/px3Vk Pulitzer Prize-winning story by @jimsheeler. @TheRocky closed last October.

8. Readability changed how I read #longform journalism online: http://readability.com @Pogue: http://nyti.ms/3Yu9KD

9. Learned about @audiopress from @wroush. Roll your own podcast playlists. @Xconomy: http://bit.ly/cuBm1G #longform

Data Journalism

10. Good ooVoo test with @kmcurry. Virtual session with @jeanneholm& @davidherzog on data journalism at 1:45 MST http://bit.ly/etWw7R

11. Data tools at http://opendataday.org being used at #rhok & #odhd hackathons: http://oreil.ly/g4ibiF #opengov #gov20

12. There’s someone from http://scraperwiki.com at #newsfoo.

Wikileaks

13. Moved to #Wikileaks session. Wonderfully deep. Useful take on #cablegate at @TheEconomist: http://econ.st/hyD7kM

14. “Former #WikiLeaks activists to launch new whistleblowing site”-Der Spiegel http://bit.ly/f4iP6Q #cablegate

15. Talking about #COICA: http://act.ly/S3804 http://eff.org/coica #ACTA & DNS issues. Important: http://nyti.ms/evvl6u

Trust and the media

16. Thinking about trust in institutions & the media. See: http://reportanerror.org & @ChangeTracker: http://j.mp/dEzAQw

17. RT @acarvin Same at NPR RT @drcarp Journalist participation in comments leads to reduced moderation and improved tone http://bit.ly/ex9FUx

Newsfoo Ignite

18. Inspired again by @acarvin at Ignite. http://crisiscommons.org http://twitpic.com/3d15em http://twitpic.com/3d15q2

19. You can watch @acarvin do an Ignite on the same topic/preso here now: http://oreil.ly/9ZIEMs

20. Great Ignite on Twitter metrics by @zseward. Bad: http://twitpic.com/3d1qtz Better: http://twitpic.com/3d1qzz

21. Interesting Ignite from the CEO of @peoplebrowsr. Another tool to try: http://research.ly http://twitpic.com/3d1w93

22. “Curiousity is the cartography that allows you to see more finely grained maps of the world”-@tristanharris

Sunday sessions

23. Good morning! Talking how media biz models might work in with FTC #DNTrack. Context: http://oreil.ly/igZJso

24. Reminded of how ugly black hat SEO spammers & fraudsters act online after disasters. http://usat.ly/88pYMk

25. Absolutely geeking out in this #scifi news session. @GreatDismal & Douglas Adams would dig. Geektastic: http://looxcie.com

26. Wonderful moment: “Let me plug a book: “The Victorian Internet'”-@sbma44 “I wrote it”-@tomstandage http://j.mp/QX4tS

27. Yes. @NiemanLab: http://bit.ly/9xFLft RT @tomstandage: Anyone else at #newsfoo interested in the Gutenberg Parenthesis?

28. Bit hard to leave the warm sun of Phoenix & brilliance of the #newsfoo community for DC. Good to debrief with @jsb @rbole @Hari & @pergam.

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Using social media for better journalism: @Sreenet at #ONADC

“I used to say “justify every pixel,” said Sree Sreenivasan. “Now I say earn every reader.”

Sreenivasan, a dean of student affairs and professor at the Columbia Journalism School, went beyond “what Jeff Jarvis calls the blog boy dance,” offering up more than an hour of cogent advice, perspective and tips on social media to a packed classroom populated by members of the DC Online News Association at Georgetown’s campus in Virginia.

Where once he used to go around newsrooms to talk about email, then Google and blogs, now he’s moved to new tools of digital journalism grounded in a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the reporter. After all, Sreenivasan had to tailor his talk to the audience, a collection of writers, editors and producers already steeped in the tools of digital journalism, moving quickly beyond listing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to the tools and services that that enable journalists to use those social media platforms improve their reporting, editing and careers.

“The best people find the things that work for them and skip the rest,” said Sreenivasan. Services need to be useful, relevant and extend the journalist’s work. Quoting a student, now at the Wall Street Journal, Sreenivasan observed that you “can have greatest content in world but will die on the vine if we don’t have a way for our readers to find it.” He classified the utility of social media for journalists into four broad categories:

  • tracking trends on a given beat
  • connecting with the audience, where ever it is online
  • putting that audience to work, aka crowdsourcing
  • building and curating the journalists personal brand

“Tools should fit into workflow and life flow,” he said. “All journalists should be early testers and late adopters.” In that context, he shared three other social media tools he’s tried but does not use: Google Wave, Google Buzz and Foursquare. Sreenivaan also offered Second Life as as an example, quipped that “I have twins; I have no time for first life!”

The new Listener-in-Chief

One group that undoubtedly needs to keep up with new tools and platforms is the burgeoning class of social media editors. Sreenivasan watches the newly-minted “listeners-in-chief” closely, maintaining a list of social media editors on Twitter and analyzing how they’re using the social Web to advance the editorial mission of their mastheads.

He showed the ONA audience a tool new to many in the room, TagHive.com, that showed which tags were trending for a group. What’s trending for social media editors? This morning, it was “news, love, work, today, great, people, awesome and thanks.” A good-natured group, at least as evidenced by language.

Sreenivasan also answered a question I posed that is of great personal interest: Is it ethical to friend sources on social networking platforms?

The simple answer is yes, in his opinion, but with many a caveat and tweaks to privacy settings. Sreenivasan described the experiences of people in NGOs, activists and other sources whose work has been impaired by associations on social media. To protect yourself and sources, he recommended that Facebook users untag themselves, practicing “security by obscurity,” and use lists. As an example of what can go wrong, he pointed to WhatTheFacebook.com.

Where should journalists turn next for information? Follow @sreenet on Twitter and browse through the resources in his social media guide, which he referenced in the four videos I’ve embedded in this post. He’s a constant source of relevant news, great writing and good tips.

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Is it ethical for journalists to “friend” sources on Facebook or LinkedIn?

In this video, Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs & professor at the Columbia Journalism School, answers my question about whether it’s ethical for journalists to friend sources on social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. Sreenivasan was speaking at a workshop on social media tools and tips hosted by the Online News Association in Arlington, Virginia.

Sreenivasan has posted many useful social media resources.

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FTC workshop explores future of journalism, regulation of aggregation

Early on Tuesday morning, I walked up Massachusetts Avenue to attend the FTC workshop on the future of journalism. Ten hours later, I emerged overstimulated by the volume of ideas presented, saddened again by the tens of thousands of journalists who have lost employment and energized by the quality of the conversations I’d had.

If you look at Danny Sullivan’s impressive liveblog of the FTC workshop on the future of journalism, you’ll see why.

The event began with a video about the changing media world from Minnesota Public Media, embedded below. More about the “Future of News Summit, where it premiered, can be found at thefutureofnews.ning.com.

The FTC established a Twitter account for the conference, @FTCnews. You can see all of the participants’ tweets aggregated at #ftcnews.

Why convene the conference?

The very existence of the forum raised some eyebrows. How does the Federal Trade Commission factor into regulating journalism, after all? FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz observed that:

..the ongoing revolution in the markets for news, then, warrants serious study for at least two reasons. First, markets for public goods such as news may work imperfectly. Competition policy is well-suited to evaluate these market imperfections.

Consumer protection policy is well-suited to help us understand the privacy and data security implications of the behavioral marketing used by media companies to increase ad revenues online. Second, and far more important, this is not just any market. The changes we are seeing in journalism will affect how we govern ourselves, not just the profits and losses of various news organizations.

The full remarks of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz on creative destruction and journalism in the Internet Age are available as a PDF. He was forthright in assessing that there was no reversing the Internet revolution. As he put it, “when Gutenberg printed the Bible, that was bad for those who illustrate by hand.” (Note: Jessica Clark argued that the FTC Should Consider Policy Reform to Support Public Media 2.0” over at PBS’s MediaShift blog.)

Leibowitz was followed by Paul Steiger of Propublica, an “independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. “The answer is not to save newspapers,” said Steiger. “The goal should be to assure the continuation of journalism.”  He called Amanda R. Michel an “Internet genius” for her coverage of the 2008 campaign at the Huffington Post.  Steiger also cited Propublica’s investigative journalism on “hydraulic fracturing” in gas drilling as an example of the work the organization is doing.

Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, author of the BizBlog there, presented results of 2009 State of the media study he co-authored. One of his final assessments was sobering: “Most surviving newspapers will be smaller, more expensive & targeted to older consumers.” As I replied to Andy Carvin , who wondered about the statement,  given the debt loads that Edmonds cited, waiting for hyperwired Echo Boom to “age into” newspapers might be a tough strategy.

The News from News Corporation

It’s a fair bet that the packed room in the morning was there in anticipation of remarks from Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and managing director of News Corporation, especially given that many of the media in attendance left to file stories once he was through.

Cecilia Kang covered his speech in the Washington Post in “Murdoch: Future of newspapers in online payment, feds should stand back.”  Jeff Bercovici offered a similar take in “Murdoch to Washington: Stay out of the way, but please help.”

The other 363 stories in Google News about Murdoch’s speech at the FTC attest to the interest in his remarks, too, including an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal, “FTC to examine possible support of news organizations.”

Why? Murdoch may have held that “a diversity of views is essential to debate” but he was crystal clear:  news organizations that don’t adapt should fail, “just like a restaurant that makes meals that no one wants to eat.”

Further, even as he argued that the feds should keep the U.S. press the most free in the world, the government should also “use its power to make sure the most innovative companies can reach customers,” a view that sounded to this writer’s ears rather like net neutrality.

He was also crystal clear in a  conviction: “online ads can’t sustain good journalism.” Murdoch intends to extend the pay model of the WSJ and @BarronsOnline to the Times UK, perhaps as early as next January.

Murdoch also suggested that the FCC‘s cross-ownership rule that prevents single ownership of both TV and newspaper in local markets was “out-dated” in the Internet age, effectively suggesting that regulators both stay out of the news business and change the market conditions.  He also observed that “for newspapers, spectrum could well prove an economic vehicle,” pointing to online convergence and  the move to a readership increasingly consuming news through mobile computing devices.

What is the state of journalism?

Following Murdoch’s remarks, a state of journalism panel began with a focus on the financial health and accomplishments of newspapers and magazines. Martin Kaiser, senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spoke to journalism’s essential role: enforcing goverment accountability.

Bryan Monroe, a visiting professor at the Medill School of Journalism, brought attention to issues of  diversity. His remarks were published at the Huffington Post as “Why New Media Looks A Whole Lot Like Old Media.”

This panel also raised the first – and as it turned out, only – question to the audience, in the form of a poll: How many of you know someone under 30 who reads a newspaper in print? To my eye, about 40% of those present raised their hands. It’s perhaps worth observing that very few people present were in that demographic.

One hopeful model for reporting by assignment that was cited by David Westphal, Executive in Residence, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California, hailed from my former neck of the woods at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mark Contreras, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Newspaper Association of America & senior VP, newspapers at the E.W. Scripps Co., ended the panel with an analogy to the music industry, suggesting that there are “poignant similarities” to news business. He favors ASCAP/BMI models for content protection and a B2B model for revenue generation. Given the music industry’s struggle to adapt to the Internet, that approach might merit more consideration.

Defending the aggregators

After the representatives of legacy media shared their perspectives, Arianna Huffington came to the defense of aggregators and new media, like her own enterprise, the Huffington Post.

As she dryly observed, citing a post by Mike Masnick at TechDirt, there’s some news aggregation by News Corp/IGN out there. All Things Digital, for instance,  links and  aggregates content, as does Rotten Tomatoes.

Her remarks are posted in full there, as you might expect, in “Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, & the Desperate Need For Better Journalism.”

Huffington didn’t mince words in her denunciation, either:

It’s time for traditional media companies to stop whining and face the fact that far too many of them, lulled by a lack of competition and years of pretax profits of 20 percent or more, put cash flow above journalism and badly misread the web when it arrived on the scene. The focus was on consolidation, cost-cutting, and pleasing Wall Street — not modernization and pleasing their readers.

They were asleep at the wheel, missed the writing on the wall, let the train leave the station, let the ship sail — pick your metaphor — and quickly found themselves on the wrong side of the disruptive innovation the Internet and new media represent. And now they want to call timeout, ask for a do-over, start changing the rules, lobby the government to bail them out, and attack the new media for being… well, new. And different. And transformational. Suddenly it’s all about thievery and parasites and intestines.

Get real, you guys. The world has changed. Here are some facts culled from one of the most popular anthems to the impact of technology on our world:

(I talked with Huffington afterwards about her comments and the transition the industry is going through. She asked if I’d like to write about it – so I did, in “Is journalism going through a Reformation?“)

Where are the readers? Whither remedies? A Yahoo! News consortium? And how does Google News work?

After lunch, media analyst Ken Doctor shared his thoughts about “where the readers are.” You can read more from him at Contentbridges.com.

Leonard Downie presented findings on the reconstruction of journalism from the Columbia journalism report:  Columbiajournalismreport.org

Lem Lloyd, vice president of channel sales at Yahoo!, shared details of the media company’s growing newspaper consortium. Lloyd said they’ve have sold 18,000 campaigns on Yahoo!, amounting to more than six  billion impressions. Behavioral targeting sales represent some ninety percent of that total.

And Josh Cohen explaining how GoogleNews works with publishers. Cohen wrote about the FTC and the future of news at Google’s Public Policy blog. A extensive interview of Cohen on paywalls, publishers and partnerships by Danny Sullivan is also available at Search Engine Land.

Emerging models for journalism

The most dynamic panel of the day featured technologists, entrepreneurs and an bonafide bloggers like Josh Micah Marsall of Talkingpointsmemo.com and Danny Sullivan, who took a break from liveblogging to participate.

Sullivan, at that point, was frustrated with offline metaphors applied online. And Jeff Jarvis, media pundit and CUNY professor, asked the FTC to “stay off the lawn,” suggesting that premise of the event was about the survival of legacy players, not journalism itself.

In considering the prospect of not finding a viable models, Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, observed that “the cost to society of not being able to afford specialist journalism is going to be profound.”

Chris Ahern, of Reuters, and Danny Sullivan replied to Thomson that it’s not “an either/or proposition.” Hybrid models for news are worth trying.

And in a memorable exchange, Marshall observed that “there is more of an ethic online of linking to the story that got the reporter on the track and then adding commentary” than is practiced by traditional media, alluding to stories that the AP and others have run with without linking.

Media consumption trends, the economics of news and online advertising models

For more on the final panel and preceding presentations, consult Danny Sullivan’s liveblog of the FTC workshop on the future of journalism.

Ball State professor Mike Bloxham presented on media consumption based upon data that can be found at ResearchExcellence.com. He described a need for publisher to look cross-platform for media consumption in order to meaninfully gauge a “news footprint” that included print, TV, online and radio.

Susan Athey, a professor of economics at Harvard, presented on the economics of news, particular the trend toward “multi-homing” in consumption and the growth of online advertising. Her presentation addressed the salience of potential FTC regulation more directly than any other, aside from the chairman himself, predicting competition in online ad networks and between aggregators that would require oversight.

Law professor David Evans, following Athey, said that “the one thing I do worry about is mixing up market failure with nostalgia.” His paper on  economics of the online advertising industry is available online.

The final panel of the day, addressed the important of behavioral advertising to future business models. Jeff Chester of Democraticmedia.org asserted that “the news media industry should embrace fair information principles.”

Conclusions?

As I look back over the day, it’s not clear to me yet what the FTC intends to do, other than listen. I look forward to returning to the FTC tomorrow to learn more.

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When “we are the media,” how does it change us or society?

The changes that smartphones with camera and an Internet connection are wreaking in society have been both thoughtfully reported upon, relentlessly evangelized and ruthlessly derided, depending upon the angle or intent of the commentator.

The past days will occupy a few lines in the history books. Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a milestone healthcare bill. And earlier in the week, a soldier killed fellow servicemen and women at Fort Hood.

Today, Paul Carr wrote that “citizen journalists can’t handle the truth at TechCrunch.

I agreed with him on a few things. The video from “This American Life” (below) that Carr embedded was deeply affecting on this point, in terms of what becoming an observer can do to our involvement in what we are filming.

Changing an avatar to green or changing a location to Tehran did not, despite good intentions, prove to substantively help students escape repression. I gather from reading accounts from journalists that the solidarity demonstrated by doing so was both noticed and appreciated there. And there was a tipping point in terms of the use of the platform to bring attention to a political cause.

Where I was left frustrated is in Carr’s suggestion that those who are watching should be doing something more, whether in the hospital or, in the case of Neda, on the streets of Tehran, instead of documenting events with the digital tools at hand.

Mathew Ingram posted a thoughtful response about this notion on his blog, “Citizen Journalism: I’ll take it, flaws and all.” David Quigg wrote   a thoughtful reply to Carr’s post as well. Dave Winer was less charitable.

I found the example of Neda to be unworthy of the point I think Carr was trying to make.

It also brushed off two key factors: the effect that the release of that video had in revealing the death of a protester and that of the bullet’s impact itself on her heart.

As Suw Charman-Anderson pointed out in her detailed critique and debunking of Carr’s post, “Killing Strawmen,” (which I won’t repeat here), there was a doctor on-site, who was unable to do anything because of the massive trauma to her chest.

In my limited experience, you provide the standard of care to which you are certified and are able to deliver, ceding primary responsibility to others more able as they arrive on scene. As an EMT couldn’t do much more, for instance, than to gauge consciousness, stanch bleeding, stabilize injuries, provide oxygen and transport people. Your choices must change if someone is in the wilderness but in most scenarios, that’s accurate. Paramedics, nurses, doctors and surgeons each have progressively more expertise and responsibility.

In all of that, communication with the nearest hospital and ER docs available is crucial. Transferring information to both medical professionals and law enforcement is something a bystander can and should do.

And to some extent, communication and documentation is precisely what a member of the public equipped with a cameraphone can contribute, despite the vigor with which Carr has chosen to deride that role.

I don’t doubt that seasoned correspondents, armed with an understanding of the ethics and laws that pertain to reporting, are needed to convey information from the battlefield or to analyze the meaning of the trends that confront us.

In fact, Brock Meeks, one such trusted newsman, made a comment on my post about Twitter lists that emphasized just how important getting the facts right is to both the audience and media.

I was left wondering about other situations where the “citizen journalists” Carr derides are providing an important function in the newsgathering ecosystem, whether in reporting national disasters, disease, voting irregularities or consumer sentiment.

A more calm approach might consider whether models of “hyperlocal” journalism that marry traditional media to online platforms might have a chance of success.

My intention is not to suggest that observers couldn’t play a useful role in a crisis. It was to say that when there are qualified staff on scene, documenting what is happening in the absence of mainstream journalists may be useful for those that follow – including news outlets that may use video or audio gleaned on site.

I agree with Paul that running images shouldn’t occur without a full understanding of the ethics or privacy rights involved.

Unfortunately, many tabloids have shown a poor grasp of either historically.

The fact that technology changes behavior doesn’t make it inherently bad. We’re all struggling to make sense of exactly what living in a modern panopticon created by one another will mean. It changes news, our conception of privacy, and even our perception of self.

The traits for good character and decency that the Greeks described millennia ago remain applicable, however, just as the ethics taught in journalism schools pertain to modern reporters armed with Flip cams, iPhones and a direct line to YouTube.

There will continue to be moments when war correspondents are confronted what choices about how covering conflict, versus participating in it, will mean.

Similarly, people driving by an accident will need to be thoughtful about “playing paparrazzi” as opposed to making sure that those involved are receiving the aid they need. Anyone who has a conflict about whether to “tweet or treat” might to do well to consider what basic human decency means to them, personally.

Does an event need to be documented? Or does calling 911 and then moving to help trump rendering assistance?

Citizens are looking for truth, honesty and facts, where ever we can find them.  That need was frequently the subject of discussion during Public Media Camp, after which I wrote that “2009 is the year of We, the Media.”

Perhaps, as news organizations and citizens alike contribute to the body of knowledge online, a new model for collaborative journalism will emerge that serves each better.

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