Hands up

I'm fascinated by the concept of "radical transparency", though not under the guise of eroding privacy norms.

The concept is especially relevant to media organisations and newsrooms; journalists and media executives are not themselves used to being obliged to reveal how the sausage is made.

Still, the (media) world is moving toward more openness around the reporting process, including in the slightly uncomfortable area of corrections and clarifications, and the not unrelated challenging of keeping on top of evolving stories. Online media have been far more willing to embrace transparency than their printed ilk. (Good examples: Business Insider's use of Chartbeat, FT Alphaville passim.)

Along those lines, a colleague shared what I think are a very good set of rules for dealing with either corrections and clarifications or fast-moving news situations. 

 

  1. Don't kill posts
  2. Keep the reader updated about contentious things as quickly and honestly as possible
  3. Don't back yourself into a corner by accepting the first plausible explanation
  4. Rely on facts whenever challenged

I will put my editor hat on here for a moment. These are excellent principles; in practice, the challenge is getting reporters (and indeed, editors at all levels) to be comfortable with what is a radical departure from the voice of God approach.

This is a challenge that can only really be tackled by creating an environment in which reporting is preferred to punditry; in which gaps in knowledge are met with training and mentoring instead of ridicule (because there is no shame in not knowing, only in not then seeking to find out); in which editors will stand up for their reporters when the pressure is on; in which genuine mistakes, errors and misunderstandings are acknowledged and corrected swiftly, openly and guilelessly; in which press release "journalism" is shunned; in which reporters are challenged to go deeper, to ask more questions, to seek more (and better) sources, and crucially, to always question their assumptions; and in which the most junior reporter feels empowered to fact-check or correct the most senior of colleagues.

Such an environment is not easy to achieve, but it's worth it.

My $0.02, etc.

Of Ryan Chittum and dumb copy errors

Things that make me go 'hmm':

I enjoyed the perspective presented in this article, but I am impatient with the incorrect use of punctuation and possessives in CJR. Case in point: " In other words, it’s paying about $10 million a year too much in rent. It will be able to downsize at some point, either when it’s lease is up or if it’s able to sublet part of its space to another tenant."

"its" and "it's" are not to be used interchangeably.

Posted by Alice Mercer on Thu 5 Aug 2010 at 07:12 PM

Alice, I couldn't agree more. Most writers, even from English speaking nations, have stumbled when it comes to the word ít's (as in it is) and the possessive its.

Posted by Patrick Michael on Fri 6 Aug 2010 at 05:29 AM

"It's" fixed. Thanks, Alice and Patrick.

Posted by Dean Starkman on Fri 6 Aug 2010 at 08:42 AM

my bad, guys. But please keep in mind that this is a blog. I dont have a fact checker, much less a copy editor. The format is different. That's not to excuse my dumb copy errors, but they're just going to happen. Thanks for pointing out.

Posted by Ryan Chittum on Fri 6 Aug 2010 at 11:33 AM

Source: CJR

Two things struck me about Chittum's response: the old-school idea that one can hand-off the responsibility for fact-checking and copy-editing to other, designated staffers, and the idea that readers should automatically expect lower standards from blogs (and their authors).

On the former point, no (and in this age of obligatory media cost-cutting, a point covered with more than a little Schadenfreude by Chittum in the post in question, entirely unrealistic).

@complianceweek nailed it with this tweet:

'It's a blog' usually means your publisher steps up expectations on volume w/o more resources

On the latter point, as @LorcanRK put it:

Might as well say 'It's a blog' means you have to lower all your expectations. More honest to say 'I don't take this blog seriously'

Now, should higher standards also apply to comments on blogs...

 

Why I find it hard to take Robert Scoble seriously

I would like to know 30 minutes before you that some stock I own is about to tank.

via techcrunch.com

As is often true, I found the comment thread to a breathless post on TechCrunch - This Is Why The Internet (And Twitter) Wins - more interesting and reasoned than the post itself.

The essential premise of the TechCrunch post, by MG Siegler, was that Twitter = win and the Mainstream Media = fail. In this instance, the fact that @BreakingNews was able to swiftly, if not entirely accurately, disseminate the news of Tiger Wood's car crash was enough to hail Twitter as full of win.

A quick point here: Twitter is a platform. It is only valuable as a mechanism for distribution. To ellide the efficiency of @BreakingNews - a fantastic service, and one which lives on multiple platforms - with the inherent superiority of Twitter over traditional news organisations is a nonsense. It is equivalent to saying SMS is better than CNN.

But on to Robert Scoble, who in the comments to Siegler's post said two things I found quite interesting.

First, as quoted above and in response to a commenter's irritation with tech bloggers' obsession with the real-time web, Scoble asserted:

"I would like to know 30 minutes before you that some stock I own is about to tank."

To which another commenter, Nick, swiftly replied:

"I’m curious if that could be construed as insider trading."

(Note to Nick - probably only if the information was material and non-public, as opposed to just inaccessible to you)

But it was another commenter, Phil, who took the words right out of my fingers:

"You’d sell stock based on a random Tweet from a stranger? Wow."

Later, Scoble scoffed at another commenter, Twirrim, who complained about rumours and misinformation being spread on Twitter about the Tiger Woods crash.

Per Scoble:

"I haven’t read ANY of that stuff on Twitter. Sounds like you’re following idiots! Maybe THAT is the problem!"

Let me get this straight - Twitter = the way of the future, as long as you're tuned in to well-informed types who have access to information others may not; the kind of people who don't glibly repeat rumours and who fact-check and verify?

Gosh that sounds a lot like the kind of people who work at and for reputable media organisations, and that 'access' sounds exactly like the sales pitch for services ranging from the Economist to Gerson Lehman Group.

There is a compelling argument that in a world of rapid and overwhelming information dissemination, what we need is not more and faster soundbites but thoughtful and informed editing.

As Twirrim put it, in his reply to Scoble's out of hand dismissal of the quality of the former's network, the crowd is not always wise:

It’s herd mentality. Most of the people in my follow list are smart peeps, about all they did was RT the Breaking news alert, which was woefully inaccurate in itself (he wasn’t seriously injured, only suffered face lacerations.) It’s when you search the twitter stream that the rubbish comes up, and more disturbingly gets massively retweeted.Start a story or rumour going on Twitter and people start playing the escalating game with it. It’s not good enough to RT the original, they have to add something more and more dramatic to it. At best all that twitter was really useful for in this story was knowing that something had happened to Tiger Woods, and probably involved a car some how.

Chris Ware animation of This American Life story - Boing Boing

As Boing Boing put it, "an outstanding cartoon (by Chris Ware) depicting a This American Life story about kids who started a fake TV camera craze at their elementary school".

Animation aside, it's the story that's amazing. There are important lessons in there for the media, and implicit commentary on the dehumanising effect of the reality TV craze. Yes, people are different behind the camera. And in front of them.