Four researchers from the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have performed a multi-part analysis of Twitter. They conclude that it's a surprisingly interconnected network and an effective way to filter quality information.
Archive for June, 2010
Independent local papers are a vital part of any thriving democracy. The rigour with which local journalists scrutinise the activity and spending of councils is a key factor in open and transparent government where local people can hold their councillors to account.
The steady creep of publicity beyond council-related matters started in 2001 when a watering down of a statutory code lifted the restrictions on council publicity. The new Secretary of State intends to clamp down on this by making changes to the statutory code that will stop unfair competition, ensure a tougher value for money test, and prevent municipal literature passing itself off as independent journalism.
For me this is now a severely antiquated argument which simply needs to stop. Those still hung up about sorting the ‘professionals’ from the ‘amateurs’ need to seriously think about their future in journalism – because there needs to be an attitudinal shift from singular news-agenda-driven content to understanding the value of collaboration and community driven projects.
I was this weekend invited to a fascinating insight into the worldwide problem of kidnap. The small gathering was conducted under the Chatham House Rule which, interpreted correctly, means simply that I am unable to attribute what was said to a named individual or reveal the person’s affiliations. But I did additionally (for reasons which I hope will become obvious later in this post) agree not to report the discussions concerning some of the case studies mentioned because, in a couple of instances, they are still ongoing situations.
Despite the restrictions, there were some elements which I felt would be on interest to readers of this section of my blog, not least how technology is driving both the problem of kidnapping and its solutions, plus the media’s role in such a highly complex arena.
The following are some notes/thoughts from the event – it won’t be news to anyone working in this field, but I’m hoping it’s of interest to journalists who rarely have to deal with such issues.
Kidnapping worldwide is increasing – to my mind a fairly unsurprising consequence of the growing divide between the global haves and have nots.
A map of the globe was able to pinpoint places where kidnap has long been high-risk such as south America and Nigeria, but also places where the risk is emerging such as Georgia.
The meeting spent some time considering the different definitions of types of kidnap from the rich person held for cash to terrorism motivated abductions seeking to effect political change.
With the commercial type of kidnap, there’s a category defined as ‘express’ where a person is taken shortly before midnight and forced to withdraw as much cash as allowable and then held a short time before being forced to do it all again after midnight – a fast way of obtaining cash with violence, very real, quick and dirty with no reliance on any technology..
But then there’s ‘virtual’ kidnapping – where the subject won’t even be aware of the crime at the time. After carrying out surveillance on the subject to build up a picture of their regular movements, the kidnappers place signal blockers at a venue the target is safely inside – think nightclub or friend’s house – before extorting cash from frantic worried family or friends.
But mobile technologies are also helping those tasked with preventing and solving kidnap crimes.
Using the GPS capabilities of mobile phones, tech savvy workers in high risk areas can use them as beacons to alert people as to their last known whereabouts or to activate voice recording.
They can also register their known radius or regular routes so that any deviation to this can be sent to their employers or security services.
Of course the kidnappers can also be pretty tech savvy too, having ‘wands’ to detect beacons or rather more crudely cutting open scarred area of limbs to search for sub-cutaneous implanted devices.
The number of kidnaps where a UK citizen is seized is difficult to quantify as crimes defined as kidnap also relate to the abduction of children or situations when one element of a family takes a child into their care against the wishes of the legal guardian.
The role of the media has been a contentious issue. As a journalist it was somewhat startling the hear investigative journalism standing accused – ‘public right to know V lives of hostages – but there have reportedly been situations when the activity of journalists has been responsible for a kidnap negotiation failing.
Plus some agreed news blackouts have been credited with helping bring about releases.
But clearly, while not all publicity of kidnaps can always be a bad thing in all circumstances, the communication problems stem from the complexities of the negotiations involved which become clear when the number of different agencies involved is detailed.
As well as the victim, their immediate family (and sometimes their employers), the stakeholders involved every time a UK citizen is taken hostage are incredibly widespread – the government agencies, security services, the wider family, the media, negotiators, intermediaries from specialist companies, the metropolitan police – and the list goes on.
Dealing with such diverse interests, often in parts of the world where life is cheap, clearly involves operating and holding discussions in many areas of grey where there is rarely black and white clarity. One thing I’m sure all parties would agree is that this is an environment for highly-skilled and trained experts.
What new skills from other sectors will we need to acquire?
1. Core ‘craft’ skill
2. Platform specific specialism: audio, video, stills, text.
3. Additional technical knowledge or expertise from other sectors (e.g. non-linear narrative, data & infomatics, mobile etc)
4. Broad skills and knowledge to utilise (e.g. Agile project management, business models, managing conversations)
5. Most important, reader/customer/consumer in mind at all times: what they want, how they want it and when & where they want it.
If I was (through some huge error) in a position to hire journalists, I'd ask where they blog. If they didn't, goodbye. iPhones now have 720p HD video, soon it'll be on every crappy mobile phone. There's no excuse.
This was not a bid for citizen journalism to take on professional journalists as the debate has ofen skewed to,
but a genuine attempt to hear from the bottom upwards new voices and fresh stories. In many ways the excercise also mirrored videojournalisms unrehearsed look and feel towards approaching reports.
We in the UK are now expecting ‘a tsunami of data’ to flow from government thanks to the Big Society declaration (including a new ‘right to data’). Some people have begun using the data for development – such as the live train map for the London underground. But it is well worth casting our eyes across the Atlantic – we can learn alot from current developments in the US.
Local online competition is on the rise….and now, at a much faster pace. Don’t be fooled into thinking, ‘hyper-local doesn’t work yet’. Those early journalist-lead experiments from CUNY, New York Times and ChicagoNow still struggle for financial stability due to this common flaw: revenue & sales expertise took a back seat to editorial & tech in the start-up phase. Indeed, ‘build it and they will come’ does not work so well on the web.
It was sad, but perhaps not that surprising, to hear that Crain’s has finished its Manchester publication.
Sad, because it brought along with a specialised in-depth printed product, a decent website, regularly updated and with some free-to-air elements. Unsurprising, because of the overcrowded marketplace of the business niche in Manchester.
“While we have been pleased with the support received from Crain’s Manchester Business readers from the beginning of the project, ultimately the limited support from key advertising sectors has made the project unsustainable,” said Chris Crain, senior vice president, Crain Communications Inc. and editor-in-chief, Crain’s Manchester Business.
The Manchester based journalist David Quinn was quick to give some analysis to the demise of the title with five points which included the pertinent;
“I was told by contacts from time to time that they’d stopped talking to Crain’s, supposedly because the paper had messed up some story or other. But from what I could see Crain’s very rarely got things wrong, it just printed things that others either missed or ignored. This got up people’s noses.”
……..and in a seamless link to another publication which is often accused of getting up people’s noses, the Salford Star today had its appeal hearing against the loss of funding by the devolved community committee of Salford Council deferred. I’ve already posted at length on this at The Guardian and the Star is due to release its statement on the ongoing saga tomorrow.
A great opportunity now presents for a truly open form of governance. Working together as central, regional, local with the creative input of the agile software developer community we can begin to shape what a transparent state might look like for the benefit of citizens.
So here are a couple of do's and don't's for councils starting out on this road.
Former journalist Retha Hill was one of the 12 winners of this year's Knight News Challenge. Her winning concept, which was awarded £90,000, is CitySeed: an online platform where local people can propose topics for local news media attention.
The project will include a widget that news websites can put on their community pages to direct readers to suggestions for neighbourhood improvements.
"We have raised over £2,500 from donations and merchandise but not enough to publish – we believe that with millions of public £ going into 'giving the community a voice' and 'empowering' people a tiny % should go to real community magazines whether us or anyone else."
Gannett Broadcasting is launching community-focused websites in 10 of its TV markets that will be integrated within its existing websites in those markets.
Everybody’s piling on. The latest to join the fray?
Google. Via YouTube.
SF Weekly has the story here about Google very quietly contacting local bloggers and journalists in San Francisco with news of a video-based citizen journalism project that’s happening in July and August.
Open data is not a magic recipe for righting wrongs. What will move things on is the stories that communities tell about their situations and their possible futures. If open data has a part to play in this it will be through the bootstrap empowerment of projects like savvy chavvy, social startup labs and transition towns.
I am pessimistic about the ability of a lot of newspapers to survive. So I'd like to suggest that, however you feel about newspapers, it's important that we generate ideas for replacing the local watchdog functions discussed in this post. Are there any readers who've observed viable replacements for the beat reporter in your community? Does anyone have ideas that are as yet untried?
I do not see councils as ‘using’ hyperlocal sites because they are not there to interfere nor moderate/own the hyperlocal websites. They hyperlocal websites belong to citizens and they are the ‘users’ of hyperlocal websites. Councils are unofficial contributors to useful information that can help citizens within that particular area. So you can view councils as being just another member of that community sitting side-by-side with citizens, reaching out on citizens level without any barriers or judgements. This type of engagement will hopefully break down the barriers or walls that currently exist between councils and citizens and increase citizens trust towards local authorities.
A hyperlocal business model requires community participation. The one-way broadcast “newspaper” model of Topix local news + advertising is just a variation on the old Web 1.0 model. ONE THING IS NOT EVEN BEING MENTIONED IN THIS CONVERSATION ABOUT HYPERLOCAL ADVERTISING – Local advertising revenue models may not even be viable once local merchants discover that they can reach and market to their community through Twitter. Free. Of course, this is based on the assumption that Twitter continues its rapid adoption by the masses, which in one form or the other (see Facebook/Friendfeed) should happen.
Therefore the failure of other media to do this, creates a hole which must be filled. Yet the very reason why local papers don't divert their resources to it, is an imbalance between the resource needed to do it and the rate of return of readers. In short, I'm not sure there is a demand for that level of engagement; certainly not enough to build a business on it.
Pretty much all newspapers rely heavily on press releases for content these days, now that they are understaffed and experiencing severe financial pressures.
What David fails to recognise is the diversity among hyperlocals. When I read the post I instantly though of the phrase ‘tarring with the same brush’ which is a connection shared by Guardian Local editor Sarah Hartley. Will Perrin offered the following examples of hyperlocals in the comments;
As I said in my comment, these are largely examples of sites that are at the news end of the hyperlocal spectrum. Often journalistic in nature, these do aim to provide news coverage to their community.
Blogging lesson one: Never walk away from a debate
An interesting debate is taking place today on one of the Manchester Evening News blogs. Or more accurately, a debate was started but now the conversation is all of a twitter because the unmoderated comments are sitting in the ether somewhere waiting to be published.
The spark of controversy is David Ottewell’s assertions about hyperlocal news sites;
“Too often, though, these sites disappoint. They end up simply regurgitating press releases, or ripping off stories from local newspapers, because they are one-man bands run by amateurs who don’t have the time, resources, or sometimes skills to dig out the news.
“Often you’ll find the authors of these site blur the lines between news and commentary. Instead of finding exclusives, and dealing with them responsibly (by giving right or reply, say, and checking all facts are correct), they simply put their own heavy spin on other people’s stories. This isn’t ‘doing’ news, hyperlocal or otherwise. It’s commentary. And it is far less valuable. That’s what CP Scott meant when he said “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Finding the news is hard. Talking about it is easy.”
Provocative stuff and one that I didn’t want to let lie unchallenged so I responded an hour ago to say;
“Well done on voicing support for the Salford Star David, hopefully the MEN will follow the story through and give it some support too. However, your (probably) link bait assertion about what hyperlocal sites do ‘too often’ shouldn’t be left unchallenged. There’s heaps of sites up and down the country doing the sort of scrutiny you should applaud and unearthing stories of genuine importance to their communities – and that’s the point ‘their communities’. Maybe those stories don’t appeal to your professionalised view of journalism? I know not. Rather than generalise about these sites, perhaps some credit where it’s due and then name names if you have examples where churnalism is going on rather than tarring everyone with the same brush.”
And this is what I’m still seeing;
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
It’s very possible and reasonable that David’s just stepped outside on his day off – perhaps he could leave a message to say so. But now the twitterati is somewhat indignant at having the opportunity for response closed off. Only it’s not. Ooops……….
(btw, any delays in posting comments on this blog will be caused by me driving home so don’t say you’ve not been warned!)