Category Archives: aggregation

“a duopoly of Reuters-AP”: illusions of diversity in online news

Newswatch reports a powerful new study by the University of Ulster Centre for Media Research that confirms what many of us have long suspected about online news sources:

Through an examination of the content of major web news providers, our study confirms what many web surfers will already know – that when looking for reporting of international affairs online, we see the same few stories over and over again. We are being offered an illusion of information diversity and an apparently endless range of perspectives which in fact what is actually being offered is very limited information.

The appearance of diversity can be a powerful thing. Back in March, 2004, the McClatchy Washington Bureau (then Knight Ridder) put out a devastating piece revealing how the Iraqi National Congress (Ahmad Chalabi’s group) had fed dubious intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs not only to the Bush administration (as we all know), but to dozens of news agencies. The effect was a swarm of seemingly independent yet mutually corroborating reportage, edging American public opinion toward war.

A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC’s Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.
The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush’s claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons.
Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq’s illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden.
In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren’t confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials and others who supported a pre-emptive invasion quoted the allegations in statements and interviews without running afoul of restrictions on classified information or doubts about the defectors’ reliability.
Other Iraqi groups made similar allegations about Iraq’s links to terrorism and hidden weapons that also found their way into official administration statements and into news reports, including several by Knight Ridder.

The repackaging of information goes into overdrive with the internet, and everyone, from the lone blogger to the mega news conglomerate, plays a part. Moreover, it’s in the interest of the aggregators and portals like Google and MSN to emphasize cosmetic or brand differences, so as to bolster their claims as indispensible filters for a tidal wave of news. So whether it’s Bush-Cheney-Chalabi’s WMDs or Google News’s “4,500 news sources updated continuously,” we need to maintain a skeptical eye.
***Related: myths of diversity in book publishing and large-scale digitization efforts.

world cup coverage in the blogosphere

Like much of the rest of the world, I got swept up in the World Cup. Matthew Hurst from Nielsen Buzzmetrics has some great visualizations of the blogosphere’s coverage of the World Cup. He shows images of who the blogosphere expected to win (Italy,) the interest of bloggers rise and fall during the month long tournament, a proposal to estimate TV viewership from blogosphere size, and the increase of online discussion over time by country.
The discussion that occurred online is a reflection of an overall online international consciousness. The World Cup is a great opportunity to see what information can be teased out from the aggregate conversation. Overtime, domestic coverage is an interesting case, because the popularity of soccer in the US is growing but is still less than average on a global scale. What are the reasons behind the much greater interest this year, even though the team was eliminated in the first round? Perhaps, the success four years ago when they reached the quarterfinals lead to more viewers this year. What role did the time difference from the US to Germany versus 2002’s co-hosts Japan and South Korea, and therefore the ability to watch more games live, play? Does more coverage from traditional US media outlets explain the high volume of online World Cup discussions? I expect in the future, as we witness more events, be it political, economic or entertainment, we will able to use these aggregation tools and visualizations to gain insight on these kinds of questions.
Via Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine

pulitzers will accept online journalism

Online news is now fair game for all fourteen journalism categories of the Pulitzer Prize (previously only the Public Service category accepted online entries). However, online portions of prize submissions must be text-based, and the only web-exclusive content accepted will be in the breaking news reporting and breaking news photography categories. Pulitzer.jpg But this presumably opens the door to some Katrina-related Pulitzers this April. I would put my bets on, the New Orleans Times-Picayune site that kept reports flying online throughout the hurricane.
Of course, the significance of this is mainly symbolic. When the super-prestigious Pulitzer (that’s him to the right) starts to re-align its operations, you know there are bigger plate tectonics at work. This would seem to herald an eventual embrace of blogs, most obviously in the areas of commentary, beat reporting, community service, and explanatory reporting (though investigative reporting may not be far off). The committee would do well to consider adding a “news analysis” category for all the fantastic websites, many of them blogs, that help readers make sense of the news and act as a collective watchdog for the press.
Also, while the Pulitzer changes evince a clear preference for the written word, it seems inevitable that inter-media journalism will continue to gain in both quality and legitimacy. We’ll probably look back on all the Katrina coverage as the watershed moment. Newspapers (some of them anyway) will figure out that to stay relevant, and distinctive enough not to be pulled apart by aggregators like Google or Yahoo news search, they will have to weave a richer tapestry of traditional reporting, commentary, features, and rich multimedia: a unique window to the world. didn’t just provide good, constant coverage, it saved lives. It was an indispensible, unique portal that could not be matched by any aggregator (though harnessing the power of aggregation is part of what made it successful). The crisis of the hurricane put in relief what could be a more everyday strategy for newspapers. The NY Times currently is experimenting with this, developing a range of multimedia features and cordoning off premium content behind its Select pay wall. While I don’t think they’ve yet figured out the right combination of premium content to attract large numbers of paying web subscribers, their efforts shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed.
Discussions on the future of the news industry usually center around business models and the problem of solvency with a web-based model. These questions are by no means trivial, but what they tend to leave out is how the evolving forms of journalism might affect what readers consider valuable. And value is, after all, what you can charge for. It’s fatalistic to assume that the web’s entropic power will just continue to wear down news institutions until they vanish. The tendency on the web toward fragmentation is indeed strong, but I wouldn’t underestimate the attraction of a quality product.
A couple of years ago, file sharing seemed to spell doom for the music industry, but today online music retailers are outselling most physical stores. Perhaps there is a way for news as well, but the news will have to change. Dan Gillmor is someone who has understood this for quite some time, and I quote from a rather prescient opinion piece he wrote back in 1997 when the Pulitzers were just beginning to wonder what to do about all this new media (this came up today on the Poynter Online-News list):

When we take journalism into the digital realm, media distinctions lose their meaning. My newspaper is creating multimedia journalism, including video reports, for our Web site. We strongly believe that the online component of our work augments what we sometimes call the “dead-tree” edition, the newspaper itself. Meanwhile, CNN is running text articles on its Web site, adding context to video reports.
So you have to ask a simple question or two: Online, what’s a newspaper? What’s a broadcaster?
Suppose CNN posts a particularly fine video report on its Web site, augmented by old-fashioned text and graphics. If the Pulitzer Prizes are o pen to online content, the CNN report should be just as valid an entry as, say, a newspaper series posted online and augmented with video.
And what about the occasionally exceptional journalism we’re seeing from Web sites (or on CD-ROMs) produced by magazines, newsletters, online-only companies or even self-appointed gadflies? Corporate propaganda obviously will fail the Pulitzer test, but is a Microsoft-sponsored expose of venality by a competitor automatically invalid when it’s posted on the Microsoft Network news site or MSNBC? Drawing these lines will take serious wisdom, unless the Pulitzer people decide simply to ignore trends and keep the prizes the way they are, in which case the awards will become quaint – or worse, irrelevant.

I’m also intrigued by another change made by the Pulitzer committee (from the A.P.):

In a separate change, the upcoming Pulitzer guidelines for the feature writing category will give ”prime consideration to quality of writing, originality and concision.” The previous guidelines gave ”prime consideration to high literary quality and originality.”

Drop the “literary” and add “concision.” A move to brevity and a more colloquial character are already greatly in evidence in the blogosphere and it’s beginning to feed back into the establishment press. Employing once again the trusty old Pulitzer as barometer, this suggests that that most basic of journalistic forms — “the story” — is changing.

news and blogs to live under one roof at yahoo!

Yahoo’s revamped news search will present news and blogs side by side on the same page. In addition, the site will feature related images from Flickr, the social photo-sharing site that Yahoo purchased earlier this year, as well as user-contributed links from My Web (a feature that allows you to save and store web pages, and share them with others).
As before, the front news page will promote only stories from mainstream media sources, while the blog-news combo appears on a second-tier page that you arrive at when you conduct a specific search, or click for more details or more stories. No doubt, this was done, at least in part, to mollify angry news outlets who will likely call foul for making hard news share space with blogs. Still, the webscape has changed. All but the most cursory glance at the headlines will yield a richly confusing array of mainstream and grassroots sources.
(story, Yahoo Search Blog)
(thoughtful analysis from Tim Porter)

the blog carnival

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a good piece last week by Henry Farrell — “The Blogosphere As A Carnival of Ideas” — looking at the small but growing minority of scholars who have become bloggers. Farrell is a poli sci professor at George Washington, and a contributor to the popular group blog Crooked Timber. He argues from experience how blogs have invigorated scholarly exchange within and across fields, allowing for a more relaxed discourse, free of the jargon and stuffy manner of journals. In some cases, blogs have enabled previously obscure academics to break beyond the ivory tower to connect with a large general readership hungry for their insight and expertise.
What Farrell neglects to mention — which is surprising given the title of the piece — is the phenomenon of the “blog carnival,” an interesting subculture of the web that has been adopted in certain academic, or quasi-academic, circles. A blog carnival is like a roving journal, a rotating showcase of interesting writing from around the blogosphere within a particular discipline. Individual bloggers volunteer to host a carnival on their personal blog, acting as chief editor for that edition. It falls to them to collect noteworthy items, and to sort through suggestions from the community, many of which are direct submissions from authors. On the appointed date (carnivals generally keep to a regular schedule) the carnival gets published and the community is treated to a richly annotated feast of new writing in the field.
Granted, not all participating bloggers are academics. Some are students, some simply enthusiasts. Anyone with a serious interest in the given area is usually welcome. Among the more active blog carnivals are Tangled Bank, a science carnival currently in its 38th edition, the Philosophers’ Carnival, whose 20th edition was just posted this past Sunday, and the History Carnival, currently in its 17th edition.
Here’s a small taste from the most recent offering at History Carnival, hosted by The Apocalyptic Historian:

New Deal liberalism has been on the minds of politicians lately. Hiram Hover posts about the recent talk of New Deal analogies from politicians in deciding how to help the victims of Katrina in “Responding to Katrina: Is History Any Guide?” Caleb McDaniel at Mode for Caleb draws a startling historical parallel between the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Phildelphia and New Orleans after Katrina in 2005.
In a comparison of another of Bush’s crises in the making, Jim MacDonald revisits the history of the Sepoy Rebellion with comments on the current situation in Iraq. Meanwhile Sepoy contributes to a recent attempt to compile the views Westerners have about Islam at Chapati Mystery.
How many times have humans believed the world was coming to an end? Natalie Bennett reviews a recent work on the Anabaptist takeover of Münster in 1534, when the belief in the impending apocalypse sent that city into chaos.

Most carnivals have a central site that indexes links to past editions and provides a schedule of upcoming ones, but the posts themselves exist on the various blogs that comprise the community. Hence the “carnival” — a traveling festival of ideas, a party that moves from house to house. Participating blogs generally display a badge on their sidebar signaling their affiliation with a particular collective.
carnivalesque.jpg Though carnivals keep to a strict schedule, there is no mandated format or style. Host bloggers can organize the material however they choose, putting their own personal spin or filter on the current round — just as long as they stick to the overall topic. The latest issue of Carnivalesque, a monthly circuit on medieval and early modern history, shows how far some hosts will go — styled as a full magazine, the October issue is complete with a mock cover, a letter from the editor, and links organized by section.
The concept of the carnival seems to have originated in 2002 with “The Carnival of the Vanities,” which for a while served as a venue for bloggers to promote their best writing — a way of fighting the swift sinking of words in a sea of rapidly updating blogs. It’s not surprising that the idea was then taken up by academic types, since the carnival model, in its essence, rather jives with the main warranting mechanism of all scholarly publication: peer review. It’s a looser, less formal peer review to be sure, but still operates according to the ethos of the self-evaluating collective.
It’s worth paying attention to how these carnivals work because they provide at least part of the answer to a larger concern about the web: how to maintain quality and authority in a flood of amateur self-publishing. In the cycle of the carnival, blogging becomes a kind of open application process where your best work is dangled in the path of roving editors. You might say all bloggers are roving editors, but these ones represent an authoritative collective, one with a self-sustaining focus.
So the idea of the carnival, refined and sharpened by academics and lifelong learners, might in fact have broader application for electronic publishing. It happily incorporates the de-centralized nature of the web, thriving through collaborative labor, and yet it retains the primacy of individual voices and editorial sensibilities. Again, you might point out that its formula is far from unique, that this is in fact the procedure of just about any blog: find interesting stuff on the web and link to it with a few original comments. But the carnival focuses this practice into a regular, more durable form, providing an authoritative context that can be counted on week after week, even year after year. Sounds sort of like a magazine doesn’t it? But its offices are constantly in flux, its editorial chair a rotating one. I’m interested to see how it evolves. If blogs in cyberspace are like the single-cell organism in the primordial porridge, might the carnival be a form of multi-cell life?