Monday, March 17, 2008
Bloggers, Journalists and Sourcing
Here's a little Vermont blogger inside baseball news for you.
One thing about the story immediately jumped out at me — the meaty part was a conversation during which Agency of Natural Resources secretary George Crombie allegedly said he had Intervale Compost "in a noose."
People who have been following the story may recall that John Odum posted that item on Green Mountain Daily. But though VPR obviously used Odum's intel, it didn't cite GMD. Reporter John Dillon told listeners that the conversation appeared "on a web blog."
I was surprised and disappointed that VPR declined to name GMD. Bloggers who raise important issues deserve to be credited, especially when others use their reporting as a jumping off point for a story.
I wrote to VPR this weekend to complain about the omission, and John Dillon wrote back: "We had intended to name the blog and will make that addition in the web version of the story."
I just checked, and they have, in fact, inserted GMD in the online version.
I think the GMD-related bit of the story is worth sharing here, too. It's a good example of how journalists and bloggers can work together to advance the public understanding of an important issue. From the transcript of the VPR report:
On the Green Mountain Daily blog it was stated recently that Agency of Natural Resources Secretary George Crombie told the Intervale that he had the center in a -- quote -- “noose.” For some at the meeting, the meaning was clear: Crombie was going to tighten the regulatory vise on the compost center.
Intervale Director Kit Perkins was there.
(Perkins) ``It was upsetting. But I certainly didn’t get it out publicly. This is not my initiative here. But I will tell the truth and say yes that was said at the meeting.’’
(Dillon) Crombie has said publicly that the Intervale is the wrong place for a composting operation.
But Crombie said he did not use the word noose to describe his agency’s hold on the Intervale.
(Crombie) ``No. No. I would not do that.’’
(Dillon) Perkins said she said heard Crombie say it. She said she was hoping to work with the state on resolving the environmental and archaeological concerns.
As someone who's following this story closely, I was grateful for the opportunity to hear both Perkins and Crombie respond.
Alas, for some reason, the VPR website doesn't actually link to GMD's blog post. And it doesn't name Odum as the source of the tip. So there's still room for improvement.
Friday, February 29, 2008
But here's a snazzy article in Business Week about Ben Kaufman.
It even mentions the Burlington Brainstorm, which was apparently not as successful as hoped.
Not all the news is good. Two weeks before TED, Kaufman held brainstorming sessions in Burlington. His plan was to introduce a crowd to Kluster, luring folks into his downtown lair with vouchers for free drinks at local bars. He had hoped that ideas would percolate on the brand-new system, including a project for the TED attendees. More than 100 thirsty and curious visitors made their way in, but their ideas for TED came up short.
I just logged in to check their progress. Looks like they've got a lot more ideas, anyway.
Anyone have more info? Man, that conference sounds cool.
UPDATE: Just looked at Vermont Tiger and found this post by Cairn Cross, about Robin Williams stopping by the table at TED to talk with the klusterers.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Who are the (rotten) people in your neighborhood?
And you thought the iBrattleboro lawsuit was juicy... Some enterprising team of people has created www.rottenneighbor.com, a site where you can tell the world about your rotten neighbors. There are actually a few local entries. I'm putting the comments here, but removing actual addresses.
Old guy that lives in this apt is a pain in the ass. 40-ish guy that complains about noise too much and looks anorexic, get a life ****-head!
The kids have no respect they won't listen and they have had the cops called on them many many times.
dog bits [sic],kids very loud, smoke smells from there, they leave there butts out side for me to pick up, kids have sex out side and smoke, father never home, lots of kids coming and going, land loard don't care, nasty condo to live next to.
Guy's a loser and a drunk.
These neighbors are also very nice they are polite and considerate and also has helped me jump my car many times Kudos to them.
Why build a site like this? Here's what the founders say:
What We Believe
- Real estate agents are not obligated to disclose problem neighbors, leaving clients in the dark
- Information on bad neighbors should be made freely and easily available to everyone
- The internet can offer unique, valuable guidance to home buyers and sellers
- The more rotten neighbors you contribute, the better the service for everyone.
You can comment on these opinions and report them abusive, but this site still seems risky. Can you really trust these anonymous tipsters to give good info? I like the Front Porch Forum model of neighborhood knowledge better, though, alas, you have to live in a neighborhood to see comments from neighborhood residents.
I must admit, I am tempted to log on and tell people about the drug dealing that goes on in my neighborhood.
I just told my co-workers about this site, and read the comments above out loud. They wondered how it will play in Vermont. Says Paula: "It's a good way to get your head blown off by your neighbor." Yup.
Thanks, Boing Boing.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Journalism without ads?
Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I really should have taken a day off after returning from San Fran, just to get my ducks in a row, but I didn't. And now I'm paying for it.
Here's an interesting opinion piece about journalism from Edward Wasserman, a j-school prof at my alma mater, Washington and Lee University. Incidentally, I didn't actually study much journalism there — I was an English major.
Wasserman wonders, "Can journalism live without ads?" I wonder that, too.
Modern computing offers unparalleled capacities to track and calculate. Imagine a vast menu of news and commentary offered to you ad-free for pennies per item, the charges micro-billed, added up and presented like a utility bill at month's end. The money that journalism providers got would depend on their audience.
Plus, if you uploaded comment or video in response, to the degree it was downloaded by others you'd get credited for it -- compensated like any other provider.
Interesting. I looked into the micro-billing option a few years ago, when I was working for cartoonist Alison Bechdel. At the time, it seemed that there weren't any good ways to micro-bill. Has that changed?
I wish there were a way to either 1) allow people to pay a small fee if they choose or 2) make some things pay per view (like, pay a few cents per view), in exchange for dispensing with ads online.
I'm not sure how I feel about it all yet — as a media-lover or as a media company employee — but I'd like to know more about what's out there.
I should add that I'm not really sure that removing ads is a good idea — not just because they pay my salary, but also because I use them as a source of information. A different type of information, to be sure, but they're a source nonetheless.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Dan Gillmor Strikes Again
It's refreshing to read an articulate defense of citizen journalism from someone with legitimate Old Media cred.
The relationship between "citizen media" and "traditional media" is complicated and evolving. I think it's an exciting time to be a professional journalist. It's important for us to be engaged in the evolution of our craft.
But I still see many traditional media-types — in both the mainstream and the alternative press — instinctively take a defensive stance every time the subject comes up. I think they have some legitimate concerns, but I often see those concerns obscured by anger and fear. It's disheartening. And frustrating.
Thanks, Dan, for having an open mind, and for being a kindred spirit.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Staffing Cuts at Alt-Weeklies
Not sure if anyone else around here is paying attention to this, but there have been a bunch of staffing cuts recently at Creative Loafing-owned alt-weeklies, including the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper.
Creative Loafing Atlanta Editor Ken Edelstein gives an overview of the carnage:
In Atlanta, we laid off four sales people, a marketing assistant, a sales assistant and our wonderful assistant distribution manager — seven employees total. No Edit staff member was among those cuts, but that’s partly because we have a couple of open positions right now.
The edit departments at the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper – altweeklies that Creative Loafing Inc. bought last August — were hit a bit harder. Reader Editor Alison True had to lay off John Conroy and three other highly respected, longtime staff writers on Friday. City Paper Erik Wemple laid off four writers and an editorial assistant.
At the Reader, the cuts included Steve Bogira, who was on leave working on a book.
I'm pretty sure I saw Steve Bogira speak at an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference a few years ago. He wrote Courtroom 302, a widely-acclaimed account of a year in the life of a Chicago courtroom.
If memory serves, he talked about investigative reporting, about the importance of developing sources and building a sound fundamental understanding of your beat, about how there are lots and lots of important stories out there in the world for reporters who take the time to find them.
I remember that he advised the writers in the audience to spend time in courthouses, to spend the day watching trial proceedings, even if we didn't necessarily have a story to cover. He said that's how he found some of his best stories.
I remember thinking, Yeah right, like I have the time to just hang out in a courthouse. I don't have the luxury of being able to do all of this background research.
Now, I guess, neither does he.
It's too bad. He's a great reporter.
I want to point out that the editorial staff at Seven Days is growing — we added a 2nd Staff Writer and a Food Editor in 2005, an Online Editor, a Videographer and a News Editor in 2007 — but I have to admit that it's still hard for us to do the kind of research that Bogira recommended. I wonder how he'll subsidize his reporting from now on?
Friday, December 07, 2007
Good audio slideshows
This is good stuff!
Beautiful photos. And the audio editing on this cow slideshow makes me jealous. I really need to hone my Audacity skills.
Too bad I can't read more of the Valley News articles online. I actually went to the site trying to find an article. The article was linked from another website, but the link was broken. I went to the site to find the story, then I realized that they don't archive anything. And they don't post the entire paper online. What a bummer! Also a bummer that I can't tell when these slideshows appeared. And there's no contact info or masthead. So I don't really know what James Patterson does at the Valley News.
But his slideshows look great!
Monday, December 03, 2007
Times Argus take on iBrattleboro suit
Another twist on my last post...
It's my understanding that iBrat is covered under the Communications Decency Act (Section 230, I think), so they should be fine legally.
But I have to agree with Traci Griffith's assessment:
"The government is still playing catch-up with the Internet in a lot of areas, especially around speech," said Traci Griffith, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at St. Michael's College in Colchester. "It's too bad we didn't have the foresight to address some of these issues earlier, but we are going to see new attempts to regulate the Internet in the next few years."
Will the laws change? Will websites become liable for comments posted by 3rd parties? It does seem unlikely. Can you imagine someone having to read and filter every single comment on every single web forum before it got published? That seems crazy to me.
But maybe that's because I'm one of the people who would have to do it.
I mean, I think hands-on moderation is key to hosting a healthy discussion. It's definitely smart to read comments and remove them if they violate a policy, but pre-screening seems too labor-intensive to me for a site like iBrat. And it would put up a barrier that could inhibit the community conversation that makes the site so useful.
Incidentally, what's up with the lack of links in this story? C'mon, Times Argus. How hard is it to link to iBrattleboro?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Comments on news stories
Fiona Spruill of the New York Times is participating in a Q&A this week on the Times website. A co-worker emailed it to me a few days ago, and I just checked it out. I appreciate her willingness to answer questions (and the Times' willingness to let her), because I'm really interested in what she has to say.
I'm particularly curious about the Times' commenting policy. Seven Days is moving closer to adding reader comments to stories, and I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Like, how are we going to moderate them? Or, more accurately, how am I going to moderate them?
Here's part of Spruill's answer to a question about adding more reader comments:
We have made the decision to pre-screen everything and weed out the tenacious few who might try to derail a conversation with off-topic or abusive comments. (Our moderating guidelines are available here.) Moderating takes time, which is why only a handful of articles have comments right now, but we hope to open up more articles to comments in the near future.
I know we aren't going to pre-screen everything, but I do want to have a system that encourages civility and thoughtful comments, and discourages trolls.
I notice that Spruill mentions the Times is hiring a part-time communty moderator, to help deal with the increase in comments. Unfortunately, that's not an option here... yet.
I also want to point out this comment thread on the Burlington Free Press site. I almost posted about it last week, but I held off, because I wasn't sure what to say about it. I'm still not sure, actually, but I'm putting it out there anyway.
The article it's attached to is the first (I think) of the two that the BFP ran about Shawn Burritt, a guy from Jericho who was arrested for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a high school student. It's a tragic story.
I think this comment thread exemplifies some of the best and worst aspects of online discussion.
Within this thread, there are comments from readers who were involved in the accident and knew the people involved. Their comments add a different and — I think — valuable perspective to the news story.
That is, if you believe that they are who they say they are.
There's no way to know for sure, really, since the writers use aliases, and there's no way to contact them.
There are also several inflammatory posts by people who just want to sound off on the story. Some of their comments are insensitive, and don't add anything to the discussion. They probably make more rational readers shy away from commenting.
It feels like this thread needs another layer of moderation, either by a paid moderator, or by the readers. Some way of elevating the useful comments, and downgrading the others.
I don't know if we'll be able to build something like that into our site, but I hope that we can eventually. I think I want to have the option of reading all of the comments, but I want to see the best ones first. Or I want some way of seeing at a glance which are worth reading, and which are worth skipping unless I decide I want to delve deeper.
As you can see, I'm still trying to figure all of this out. Thoughts?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Jeep hits house in Winooski
A woman drove her Jeep Rodeo through the picture window of a house on Mallett's Bay Ave. in Winooski earlier today. I'm posting this because the Free Press has posted some unbelievable photos of this bizarre occurrence. Nice job, Alison Redlich.
Here's the story. More in tomorrow's paper.
It is a little weird that you can purchase these photos (framed copies go for $54.95), but I guess we've all gotta make money somehow, right? Wonder if they'll sell any.
Incidentally, this is just a couple blocks from my house.