A group weblog about the intersection of news & technology

How Journalists Can Incorporate Computational Thinking into Their Work

Over the last few years, the journalism community has discussed mindset, skillset, journalist-programmers, and other ideas aimed not just at “saving journalism,” but making journalism better. Perhaps now it’s time to discuss how we think about journalism.

Greg Linch, the news innovation manager at Publish2, has been spreading an idea he calls “Rethinking Our Thinking.” The core of this idea is that journalists should explore other disciplines for concepts that they can use to do better journalism.

Linch begins this process by reading and writing about “computational thinking.” He asks, “What from the field of computation can we use to do better journalism?”

Jeannette Wing, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, described computational thinking in the 2006 article that sparked Linch’s interest:

“Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science.”

The three major areas that Wing outlines are automation, algorithms and abstraction. Read more


Monday, July 12, 2010

Chat Replay: How Can Journalists and Programmers Collaborate More Effectively?

It’s oversimplified to call it a right-brain, left-brain difference, but it’s clear that while programmers and journalists need each other, they don’t always find it easy to work together. Differences in project needs and personal styles can add to the disconnect.

Below, you can replay a chat we held about the practical ways to help journalists and programmers collaborate. Here are the folks we talked to:

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=2402af06b0″ >Live Chat: How Can Journalists and Programmers Collaborate More Effectively?</a> Read more


Sunday, July 04, 2010

From Open Mics to Buzz Brokers, ‘Content Farms’ are Not all Created Equal

They are called a variety of euphemisms, from “content mills” or “content farms” to “content creation houses” and the Fifth Estate, but make no mistake: sites that specialize in the production and distribution of user-generated content are influencing the news industry and journalism.

The evergreen content produced by Demand Media, Helium.com, and Associated Content finds its way from these platforms to a variety of media partners, including newspapers, magazines and online news providers seeking to add local or evergreen content to their sites.

These partnerships generate low-cost content for publications and revenue for the content provider. And for some writers, these opportunities provide them with credibility and a small amount of regular income.

In a recent webinar hosted by Poynter’s News University, Mitch Gelman, Vice President of Special Projects at Examiner.com — a relatively recent addition to the stable of content creation houses — discussed the differences between these sites. Read more


Friday, June 25, 2010

How the Semantic Web Can Connect News and Make Stories More Accessible

Tom Tague isn’t content to let an article just be an article. “How do I take a chunk of text,” he asked, “and turn it into a chunk of data?”

He was speaking Thursday night at a panel discussion hosted by Hacks/Hackers, a San Francisco-based group that bridges the worlds of journalism and engineering. Coinciding with the 2010 Semantic Technology Conference, Thursday’s presentation dealt with the Web’s evolution from a tangle of text to a database capable of understanding its own content.

Tague, vice president for platform strategy with Thompson Reuters, was joined by New York Times Semantic Technologist Evan Sandhaus, allVoices CEO Amra Tareen, and Read It Later creator Nate Weiner. The semantic Web is already here, they explained; and it’s getting smarter.

Make news worth more

Simply put, the semantic Web is a strategy for enabling communication between independent databases on the Web. Read more


Monday, June 21, 2010

Why USA Today Partnered with Demand Media

As more news organizations begin to consider integrating user-generated content into their daily offerings, several traditional news publishers (Hearst) have started using various forms of user-generated content from content production sites like Helium.com and Associated Content. Demand Media is the newest and perhaps most closely watched of the content production sites.

Concern over Demand comes not just from its 2008 merger with blog syndicator and aggregation software developer Pluck, but also due to its proprietary algorithm that is said to help content producers generate keyword-rich content that increases reach into the first pages of Google and other search results.

In the deal between Demand Media and USA Today, Demand provides 4,000-plus keyword-rich “Travel Tips” articles and other types of content that will be cached in USA Today’s Travel Section. Demand Media will also provide keyword-rich advertising to accompany the content. While the article content will be free to USA Today, the revenue generated from the ads will be split between the news organization and Demand. Read more


Helium Hopes Credentialing Sets it Apart from other Social Content Producers

For those who are concerned about the future of news, the notion that a “content mill” could produce quality journalism seems to be anathema.

But Mark Ranalli, CEO of Helium.com, has been working towards building the kind of online community that could do that.

In a recent conversation with Ranalli, he explained that since its launch in 2006, Helium has been growing as both a content platform and community in many different ways. One of the significant changes is Helium’s Credentialed Professional Program.

As more professionals have come to Helium, some via its partnership with the Society of Professional Journalists, Helium needed a system that brought their offline credentials into the online community.

For example, a journalist or SPJ member can apply to Helium’s credentialing board with all the necessary information, and the board will check those credentials. If the writer is credentialed as a journalist, then he will receive the appropriate site badge, and a four-star ranking. Read more


How Associated Content Helps Yahoo Go Local

Since 2004, Associated Content — “The People’s Media Company” — has grown a stable of over 380,000 loyal content producers who have contributed over two million pieces of text, audio, video, and photographic content to its distribution platform. In mid-May, it was announced that Associated Content had been sold to Yahoo! for a little more than $100 million, and has plans to shut down the Associated Content website when the sale is complete in the third quarter of this year.

How will Associated Content continue to court the loyalty of its contributors while the sale and shutdown are pending? And what — beyond the obvious advantages of loyal contributors and a huge cache of money-earning, evergreen content — does Yahoo get? I posed these questions to Patrick Keane, CEO of Associated Content.

But first, here’s how it works now. Associated Content’s writers create self-selected and assignment-based content. Most of what is produced is evergreen content, but there are also personal essays, product reviews, and the like. Read more


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Miami Herald Marks Anniversary of Mariel Boatlift with Database of Passengers, Vessels

A Miami Herald database has publicized in-depth information on one of the most important events of Cuban emigration. A reporter, data analyst and Web developer worked for months to digitize and organize little-known data about the 1980 Mariel boatlift, published in late May to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the vessels’ arrivals in the United States.

The data sets are more than mere numbers and names; every record hints at the story of someone beginning a new chapter of his or her life. It’s a powerful example that demonstrates that data-driven projects can be much more than stark, emotionless series of numbers.

The project tracks more than 125,000 passengers of the 1980 Mariel boatlift from Cuba to Florida, which was one of three post-Castro exoduses. The idea behind the database was to create a master list of people who arrived during the boatlift, culled from data obtained from an unknown government source of raw, unstandardized logs. Read more


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

‘All Facebook’ Blogger Explains Reporting Process, Decision to Unpublish Erroneous Post

Last week I saw a refreshingly honest post on a site called All Facebook, which provides reporting and analysis of, you guessed it, all things Facebook. The post that attracted my attention was a follow-up to something that had been posted on the site the day before. Nick O’Neill, blogger and founder of the site, wrote:

“Yesterday I posted an article on here which suggested Facebook or Google had accidentally ‘leaked’ user emails, through Facebook’s opt-out system. The logic we used at the time to deduce this was completely off. …

“Since the article was so off base, we decided to pull it all together. While the logic we used was a round-about logic, we weren’t the only ones confused. However rather than updating a post which has practically become useless, we’ve pulled it all together.”

Talk about transparency being the new objectivity. O’Neill’s approach struck me as more forthright than many bloggers, who use the term “update” when they really mean “correction.” And it was more up-front than news organizations that are willing to correct a minor factual error but won’t acknowledge if the premise of a story is “completely off,” to use O’Neill’s words. Read more


Saturday, June 05, 2010

How to be a social climber on the digital ladder

There are a variety of ways to participate in or experience news via social media. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Yelp, Foursquare, Gowalla… the list goes on. But in what ways should a journalist utilize social technology?

A few years ago, Forrester researchers Charlene Li (a Poynter National Advisory Board member) and Josh Bernoff created the Social Technographics Ladder. This graphic (below) defines the behaviors and interactions associated with social media by placing users into overlapping categories. Each rung on the ladder represents a specific set of behaviors, and people can move up and down these rungs. (The most recent addition to the ladder is the “Conversationalists” category.)

How many of these rungs should today’s journalist climb? I say every rung above “Inactive.” Why? Because while there may be a learning curve for using specific tools, these categories describe behaviors that defined journalism before social media became the “it girl.” Here’s how each rung relates to journalism, from the top of the ladder to the bottom. Read more