What are the information needs of the Puget Sound region?

Last month a group of local journalism creators/innovators/enthusiasts convened at the Alki Arts Studio in West Seattle to welcome Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow Lisa Skube. Skube has been trekking the country as part of her mission to accelerate the field of journalism in the digital media world, and she provided great fodder for discussion on the information needs of our community. WNC’s John Hamer and Jacob Caggiano took part in the brainshare hosted by Journalism that Matters.

There was talk of collaboration, platform fatigue, content management, relational impact, Facebook engagement, and even a funding success story with a dash of optimism thrown in for good measure.

Please check out Lisa’s video highlights of the evening and learn more about the work she is doing with RJI.

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. Attendees roster:

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Putting Journalism Back into Focus at Seattle’s Town Hall

The Town Hall discussion, moderated by former Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher (left) with Tom Rosenstiel (center) and Bill Kovach (right)

While many hail the awe and power of the internet as the most revolutionary medium since the printing press, its most complained about side effect is information overload. Popular web evangelist Clay Shirky likes to say, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure,” and there are plenty of technological filters in place to help us (Google, Wikipedia, Digg, Newsvine, and so on…). Smart technology, however, doesn’t make up for smart people, which is why the new book Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload is an important addition to the discussion.

If you’re a reporter that’s been through journalism school, then you’re already familiar with authors and veteran journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel who penned The Elements of Journalism back in 2001 . Following their long successful careers as reporters for staple publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times, and The LA Times, the two are now hard at work trying to keep the values of journalism itself alive. Rosenstiel stays busy with the Project for Excellence in Journalism at Pew Research, and Kovach runs the Committee for Concerned Journalists (after spending 11 years with Harvard’s Nieman Lab). The duo made an appearance at Seattle’s Town Hall last Thursday to discuss the impact of journalism’s newest and arguably most potent element yet, citizens.

There are many interesting ways to compare the traditional media paradigm with the new era of citizen journalism, but perhaps the most dramatic is the shift in power dynamics. Gone are the days where we had a single trusted brand telling us “and that’s the way it is” with no recourse for dispute except a shot in the dark known as the letter to the editor. With an infinite supply of places to get news, the authority of the newspaper has greatly diminished.

While this conversation has been rehashed many times over the last decade, Rosenstiel and Kovach added some new insight to consider. One would assume that more democratic media equals a greater check on power, but as Rosenstiel pointed out, the irony is that more media gives more power into the hands of those who wish to manipulate it. A press release that was turned down by a major newspaper has many more places to go and spawn without first being vetted by trained journalists. Rosenstiel also disputed the notion that our news consumption has grown increasingly partisan, saying that of the top visited websites for news, 80% are what can be considered traditional non-partisan sources (i.e. Yahoo, MSNBC, CNN, AOL, etc.) It’s only after we get the story that we turn to opinionated sources to help digest and analyze the information.

In Blur, the authors detail six essential questions that all consumers of information must consider:

1. What kind of content am I encountering?

2. Is the information complete? If not, what’s missing?

3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?

4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?

5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?

6. Am I learning what I need?

The last chapter of the book offers advice on how journalism needs to change in order to adapt to the shift in relationship between reporter and audience. As Kovach noted in the talk, newspapers who once said “trust me” are now being asked to “show me.” It’s no longer enough for a reporter to give a summary, they need to offer the database. The new function of the press is to empower the audience to take action, use tools, and find information for themselves. Perhaps this explains why The Seattle Times won its Pulitzer through its use of Twitter, Google Wave, and other participatory tools.

There were many good questions from the audience about the responsibility of the press, and perhaps the most interesting question came from former Seattle PI reporter Monica Guzman, who asked about the responsibility of the citizen. Taking the idea of good Samaritan law a step further, she asked “If you see news and have the tools and don’t use them, are you being irresponsible as a citizen?” This definitely merits a lot of thought, as we’ve seen situations where citizen journalism was enormously valuable (i.e. the 2009 protests following the Iranian Election) as well as harmful (i.e. the inaccurate details of the Fort Hood shooting where reporters relied on a witness’s tweets).

Despite the skepticism that runs through their blood, both Kovach and Rosenstiel agreed that while there were virtues of the past that need to instilled today, we are overall better off in the new era of people powered reporting.

Watch video of the event below, courtesy of the Seattle Channel and Puget Sound Access

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Special Offer for our loyal supporters

John Hamer gives a sample back rub.

We know you get a lot of solicitations to give money, but here’s why we’re different.

This year we’re up for a challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, so all your dollars will be doubled if we can meet our goal of $100,000. Thanks to your help last year, we were able to reinvent the News Council and bring you a completely new website with new features and experiments designed to keep up with the explosion of new media. Over the year we launched our Online Community, the TAO of Journalism Seal, and the Washington News Lab, and we’re excited to take them even further in 2011. We’ve also awarded two scholarships, hosted many events and workshops, and have stayed on top of the headlines with an updated blog on the local journalism community.

Plus, if you chip in $200 or more before January 15th, 2011, our Executive Director John Hamer will personally provide one of the following services:

A) Bake you Cookies
B) Mow your lawn
C) Give you a back rub

Now that’s dedication! Nothing short of what you can expect from a lean and mean non-profit that is determined to keep the truth alive. Thanks for your support!

Please click here to help keep us strong

You can also donate by phone by calling our office at 206-262-9793

Or mail us a check at

P.O. Box 3672, Seattle, WA 98124-3672

The Washington News Council is a 501(c)3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible.

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A Seattle Take on Wikileaks

The Wikileaks “Cablegate” saga has definitely shaken up the beehive, instigating a wide range of strong opinions ranging from calls to execute those responsible for treason (Mike Huckabee), to calls to execute cyber attacks against companies who cut ties with the organization (which took place against Visa and MasterCard by hacker group Anonymous).

Seeing that the controversy hit close to home here in Seattle (Amazon dropped hosting of the site and Tableau cut off graphical information) it was appropriate that we came together for a public forum thrown together in record breaking time thanks to the hard work of Hanson Hosein, Director of the Masters of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington.

Hosein moderated a three person panel featuring:

Mike Fancher, Former Executive Editor at The Seattle Times
Brett Horvath, Director of The Leaders Network
Sarah van Gelder, Editor-in-Chief, Yes! Magazine

The energy of the room was lively, with tweets flying in fast, and each pass of the microphone opening up a new can of worms that could merit a forum of its own.

Many angles to the story were discussed; here are some highlights:

The media coverage

  • Is it a distraction to focus on the personality of Julian Assange and the details of the rape charges rather than the disclosures themselves?
  • Horvath asserted that the media are not paying enough attention to important revelations made in the documents such as the Shell’s powerful relationship with the Nigerian government and the U.S. government’s manipulation of Copenhagen climate change talks.
  • Others disagreed, @lizzyleehunter spoke up from the audience to say that rape is a serious charge and Assange shouldn’t be let off the hook. She also wrote on Twitter that “both #Wikileaks and Assange deserve scrutiny–and lots of it.”
  • Van Gelder from @yesmagazine railed against the mainstream media for “taking the kool-aid” and stepping in line with those in power rather than speaking up against abuses. She said the media have so much anger toward Assange, which implied the point that they are lashing out against him because he’s doing the job that they should be doing.

The government’s response

  • Horvath had strong feelings against Joe Lieberman’s actions to go after Wikileaks and companies who have associations with them. He spoke specifically of Lieberman’s remark about investigating the New York Times, saying that “when one Senator can pressure the New York Times and say ‘you can’t do those things’ that’s a real problem.”
  • Brian Rowe, a guest faculty member at the Information School at University of Washington, made a well received comment that highlighted two points on the issue
  1. The government should not throw the baby out with the bath water by passing a USA PATRIOT Act type law to go after Assange.
  2. We should focus on building legal solutions that achieve the goals of transparency, similar to how iTunes managed build a legal alternative to the file sharing of copyrighted music. (here’s a post that mentions Muckrock, an organization trying to do just that using our Freedom of Information Laws)

The debate of government transparency versus secrecy

  • There was definitely some back and forth. Horvath made a point that while he believes in “radical transparency,” that’s different from “insane transparency. ” For example, we shouldn’t share nuclear secrets or post every text message sent by government officials.
  • Van Gelder noted that there is an essential difference between individual rights and government transparency, where government has a great deal of power that individuals don’t have and therefore require greater scrutiny.
  • As could be expected, nobody reached any sort of conclusion on how to strike the right balance. One member of the audience, Brian Sollum (@S8Ronin) was more defensive of the government’s right to keep information secret, speaking from a background as a former Intelligence officer and Assistant Director of the White House Situation Room.

The new age of Journalism and its changing role

  • This is where Fancher’s background served the discussion well. He noted the drastic change from the past, where he used to have the luxury as a newspaper editor to decide when to break a story without people on the internet questioning their integrity and making accusations about how they handled the situation.

The take home message?

I saw one tweet criticizing the panel for being all pro-Wikileaks, which is too easy of a conclusion. One thing I learned from the discussion was that this isn’t a black and white pro/con issue. All three panelists seemed to share similar sympathies toward protecting free speech above concerns of national security, but two of them mentioned that they didn’t necessarily support Wikileaks itself.

I’m sure most people will agree it’s a good thing for us to know via Wikileaks that our tax dollars went to a private security company who “Helped Pimp Little Boys To Stoned Afghan Cops.” At the same time, those same people could easily disagree with Wikileaks’ decision to reveal a list of U.S. Strategic sites, which could be targets of terrorism.

As Horvath pointed out, the ultimate question is who decides?

You can watch the entire event on the MCDM’s Livestream page, or catch the play by play action on twitter here (hashtag #opensecrets).

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Special Event featuring Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Thursday, December 16, 2010 | 7:30 – 9pm

Location: Great Hall, enter on 8th Avenue between Spring and Seneca

Amid all the anxiety over the “death of newspapers” and the reliability of a crowdsourced encyclopedia and opinion-based “news,” seeking the truth remains the purpose of journalism—and the object for those who consume it. Veteran journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, authors of BLUR, offer a guide to navigating our modern media terrain, discerning what is reliable, and determining which facts (and whose opinions) to trust.

Presented by The Town Hall Center for Civic Life and University Book Store in association with the Washington News Council and Journalism That Matters. Series media sponsorship provided by PubliCola. Series supported by The Boeing Company Charitable Trust and the RealNetworks Foundation.

WNC President John Hamer will make welcoming remarks and introduce Kovach and Rosenstiel.

Former Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher will interview Kovach and Rosenstiel onstage, then open it up to questions from the audience.

LEARN MORE about BLUR (Copies will be available for sale at event.)

TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE
Tickets are $5. Also available at 800/838-3006, and at the door beginning at 6:30 pm.

DIRECTIONS AVAILABLE HERE

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On your marks, get set…INNOVATE!

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hufse/15529699/in/photostream/

Anybody paying attention to the world of journalism innovation knows about the Knight News Challenge, which just passed its 2011 application deadline. Each year brings a flurry of amazing talent, as hundreds of cash starved brainiacs try to pitch the next big idea for the new media revolution.

The Challenge is in its fifth year of pushing the motto “You Invent it, We Fund It” and is throwing down up to $5 million for ideas that fall into the four categories: Mobile, Authenticity, Sustainability, and Community.

Applicants get to choose whether to make their submission public or private, with 683 people brave enough to put theirs out in the open for all to see, including us. Many of them piqued my interest, but here’s the three that I am especially rooting for.

1. Muckrock – A Centralized Freedom of Information Publishing Tool.

Creator Michael Morisy describes this as a “legal wikileaks” using the Freedom of Information laws, where anyone can request, track, and publish government documents or data sets. The site is already up and seems to be doing well, seeing that Morisy has already found himself in a bit of trouble with the authorities in Massachusetts. I am a big fan of better transparency in government and like the idea of democratizing the process, especially by leveraging legal rights that are already in place. With all the Wikileaks drama unfolding, it’s important we prop up a politically acceptable alternative that can’t be shut down or deemed a terrorist organization. My biggest concern is the potential for abuse from those who want to bog down government, which Morisy should address. Unfortunately there isn’t an “FAQ” or even an “about” section on the site, which is a major setback for those who want to learn more and put this tool to use.

2. Metafact – An Open Source Machine Readable Fact Checking System.

This is an idea that has been stirring around in my own head for quite some time, and I’m thrilled that Mother Jones is doing work to materialize it. This one is a hefty technical spoonful to swallow, but in theory it is a valuable idea. The goal is to streamline the fact checking process by allowing journalists to mark up their stories to associate statements of fact with sources that back them up. Users can then have easier access to source material, and better yet, annotate the article themselves with their own supporting or contradictory sources. I am a strong believer that we need a better managed system for annotating and fact checking news material, so we can move beyond the politics of “he said, she said” and start debating policy solutions based on known truths.

It’s interesting to compare Metafact’s proposal with that of Truthsquad, which was submitted by NewsTrust. While both proposals offer great potential value, I see Metafact as a better option because it is seeking to create a standardized technology that can be adopted by platforms like Truthsquad to help them do their work more efficiently. Of course, the pursuit of technological standards can be a bitter fight, and I would hate to see this idea flop because it is too difficult to universally adopt. If they get funding, they will be developing it to work with Drupal, which is still widely used, but seems to be falling behind WordPress, so they would have to build something that works with both content management systems.

3. “Crowdsourced Budget Transparency Platform Trial for Seattle and Washington State

Clearly this is a working title, but the idea would be a great experiment. I am a bit biased because it would be launched here in Seattle, and to my surprise, it was the only public submission that came from Washington State besides ours. This one was submitted by Jeff Reifman, who runs a Facebook application service called NewsCloud that has been recently supported by the Knight Foundation. NewsCloud worked with Knight and the Boston Globe to build the Your Boston Facebook application which recently made a beta launch.

Reifman hopes to expand upon NewsCloud to create a platform that allows citizens to “use social media to assess city and state budgets, show affinity for programs they care about, highlight wasteful spending, identify fraud and create more transparency and citizen involvement in general.” I share the reasoning for his proposal as government budgets seem to grow more and more hideous, and many of us complain, though few of us truly understand them. It would be extremely useful to have a way to break it down and crowdsource the pieces that matter most so that we have a better idea of where our tax dollars are going. Part of his goal is to not only shed light on wastefulness, but to highlight usefulness.

As a supporter of the open web, I have serious concerns about moving this process to Facebook, as they already own so much of our lives.  Of course I understand that so many people use it, and it makes it is easy for everyone to participate, so I sympathize on that regard. Either way, I hope we get a chance to test it out and maybe resolve some of the bickering, or in the very least, have it become more informed.

(note: see Reifman’s comment below for clarification that they do not plan to build a Facebook app, but rather use Facebook Connect to access their own web app.)

4. Bonus Runner up! Emancipay

This idea was proposed by Doc Searls at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. This is a big can of worms to open, but basically they are trying to experiment with a new system to fund journalism and build a better relationship between news providers and consumers. If they can pull it off we will all be extremely grateful.

Here’s a complete list of all the previous winners, some that I’m keeping a close eye on are Spot.us (community funded stories), Media Bugs (a tool to report and track news inaccuracies), and Document Cloud (an online repository for reporters to share source documents).

It’s been very refreshing to see all the elbow grease that people have contributed to this contest. Best of luck to everyone, and be sure to vote and comment on our Online Media Guide submission.

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