Category Archives: networked_journalism

networked journalism in action

An excellent piece in the LA Times this weekend looks at how Josh Marshall’s little Talking Points Memo blog network led the journalistic charge that helped bring the US attorneys scandal to light. As the article details, TPM’s persistent muckraking was also instrumental in bringing national attention to the 2002 racial gaffe that cost Trent Lott his Senate leadership, to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals, and to the initially underappreciated public opposition to Bush’s plan to privatize social security. Truly a force to be reckoned with. And most important, it was all achieved through sustained collaboration with its readership:

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.
In December, Josh Marshall, who owns and runs TPM , posted a short item linking to a news report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the firing of the U.S. attorney for that state. Marshall later followed up, adding that several U.S. attorneys were apparently being replaced and asked his 100,000 or so daily readers to write in if they knew anything about U.S. attorneys being fired in their areas.
For the two months that followed, Talking Points Memo and one of its sister sites, TPM Muckraker, accumulated evidence from around the country on who the axed prosecutors were, and why politics might be behind the firings. The cause was taken up among Democrats in Congress. One senior Justice Department official has resigned, and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales is now in the media crosshairs.

This is precisely what Jeff Jarvis means by “networked journalism“: a more nuanced notion than “citizens journalism” in that it doesn’t insist on a strict distinction between professional and amateur. The emphasis instead is on a productive blurring of that boundary through collaboration and distribution of labor. There’s no doubt that what we’re seeing here is a democratization of the journalistic process, but this bottom-up movement doesn’t mean the end of hierarchy. Marshall and his small staff are clearly the leaders here, a new breed of editors coordinating complex chains of effort.

bush’s iraq speech: a critical edition

Last month we published an online edition of the Iraq Study Group Report in a new format we’re developing (in-house name is “Comment Press”) that allows readers to enter into conversation with a text and with one another. This was a first step in a creative partnership with Lewis Lapham and Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal that will look at contemporary issues through the lens of history. Launching only a few days before Christmas, the timing was certainly against us. Only a handful of commenters showed up in those first few days, slowing down almost to a halt as the holiday hibernation period set in. Since New Year’s, however, the site has been picking up momentum and has now amassed a sizable batch of commentary on the Report from a diverse group of respondents including Howard Zinn, Frances FitzGerald and Gary Hart.
While that discussion continues to develop in the Report’s margins, we are following it up with a companion text: the transcript and video of President Bush’s address to the nation last night where he outlined his new strategy for Iraq, presented in a similarly Talmudic fashion with commentary accreting around the central text. To these two documents invited readers and other interested members of the public can continue to append their comments, criticisms and clarifications, “at liberty to find,” in Lapham’s words, “‘the way forward’ in or out of Iraq, back to the future or across the Potomac and into the trees.”
An added feature this time around is that we’re opening the door to general commenters, although with a fairly high barrier to entry. This is an experiment with a more rigorously moderated kind of web discussion and a chance for Lapham and his staff to begin to explore what it means to be editors in the network environment. Anyone is welcome to apply for entry into the discussion by providing a little background on themselves and a sample first comment. If approved by the Lapham’s Quarterly editors (this will all happen within the same day), they will be given a login, at which point they can fire at will on both the speech and the report.
Together these two publications comprise Operation Iraqi Quagmire, a journalistic experiment and a gesture toward a new way of handling public documents in a networked democracy.
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reuters notices wikipedia revisions

It’s interesting to track how the mainstream media covers the big, sprawling story that is Wikipedia.
Here’s an odd little article from Reuters on Wednesday, which reports the flurry of revisions that took place on the Ken Lay Wikipedia article immediately following news of his fatal heart attack (suicide? murder? vanishing act?). What’s odd about the Reuters piece is its obvious befuddlement at the idea that an article could be evolving in real time, or, more to the point, that a news purveyor would allow unverified information to be posted as the story was unfolding — to allow an argument over facts to be aired in front of the public. Apparently, this was the first time this reporter had ever bothered to click the “history” tab at the top of an article.

At 10:06 a.m. Wikipedia’s entry for Lay said he died “of an apparent suicide.”
At 10:08 it said he died at his Aspen home “of an apparent heart attack or suicide.”
Within the same minute, it said the cause of death was “yet to be determined.”
At 10:09 a.m. it said “no further details have been officially released” about the death.
Two minutes later, it said: “The guilt of ruining so many lives finaly (sic) led him to his suicide.”
At 10:12 a.m. this was replaced by: “According to Lay’s pastor the cause was a ‘massive coronary’ heart attack.”
By 10:39 a.m. Lay’s entry said: “Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial.” This statement was later dropped.
By early Wednesday afternoon, the entry said Lay was pronounced dead at Aspen Valley Hospital, citing the Pitkin, Colorado, sheriff’s department. It said he apparently died of a massive heart attack, citing KHOU-TV in Houston.

Hard news has traditionally been prized as the antidote to rumor and speculation, but Wikipedia delivers a different sort of news. It’s a place where churning through the misinformation, confusion and outright lies is all part of the process of nailing down a controversial, breaking news topic. Thinking perhaps that he/she had a scoop, the Reuters reporter unintentionally captures the surpise and mild discomfort most people tend to feel when grappling for the first time with the full implications of Wikipedia.

networked journalism

Jeff Jarvis came by the Institute yesterday for pizza and a stimulating two-hour chat on the shifting sands of news media and publishing. Lately, Jeff has been re-thinking the term “citizen journalism,” an idea and a corresponding movement he has done much to promote. The problem as he sees it is that citizen journalism implies an opposition between professional and non-professional producers of news, when the goal should be closer collaboration between the two. All are citizens: the pro reporter, the lone blogger, the activist, the bystander with the camera phone; and the best professional journalism often comes out of the strong civic sense of its practitioners.
Jarvis has now posed “networked journalism” as a possible alternative to citizen journalism, and as a better tool for understanding the dramatic realignment of authority and increased access to the means and channels of news production that we are witnessing today. He may as well be talking about networked books here, our ideas or so fundamentally similar (it chimes especially well with this earlier discussion of GAM3R 7H30RY, “what the book has to say“):

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.
…After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

I love this idea of the journalist as moderator of a broader negotiation of the truth. And we see it happening with editors too. The Korean news site Ohmy News is the world’s largest citizens media enterprise, drawing all its content from amateur writers. But it is staffed with professional editors, and so the news is the product of a collaborative network that spans Korean society. This is the big shift: a dialogic approach to the telling of a story, the gathering of facts, the development of an idea. And it applies as much to newspapers as to books, though the upheaval is far more evident right now in the province of news. Like news, certain kinds of books will evolve away from being the product of a single reporter, and become more of a collaborative process of inquiry, with the author as moderator. The reader suddenly is a participant.