Adam Hochberg, Bill Krueger, Steve Myers and Latoya Peterson explain the emerging ways that information is created and consumed, from the Fourth Estate to the Fifth Estate.


Public fear and ‘an abundance of caution’

I wonder how George Orwell would react to a phrase that has been repeated time and again by government and university officials to justify recent stringent actions — such as quarantines and dis-invitations — in response to the Ebola crisis.

These officials say they are acting “out of an abundance of caution.”

It seems to be one of the phrases of the day, expressed by leaders who are trying to limit or eliminate contact, not just with sick people or people who have cared for the sick, but with almost anyone who has worked or traveled through countries where Ebola has spread.

Orwell was a famous critic of political speech, especially of the kind that used euphemism or passive constructions to cloud misbehavior or avoid responsibility. Mistakes, after all, are made.

To my ears, “an abundance of caution” is a peculiar phrase. It sounds like a parody of collective nouns such as “a gaggle of geese” or “an exaltation of larks.” How much caution will you exercise, Governor? Read more


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Disputes over crime maps highlight challenge of outsourcing public data

Colin Drane is an unlikely warrior in the fight for open government.

An inventor and TV infomercial producer, Drane spent much of his career marketing products like the Trunkanizer  for organizing car trunks, a toy called Bendaroos, and Invisi-lift self-adhesive breast enhancement pads.

Six years ago, Drane started a different kind of business – a company called ReportSee, which operates the website The site obtains publicly available crime records from police agencies and graphically displays them on colorful maps.

Drane says the site attracts a million views a month from people curious about the burglaries, shootings, and other bedlam in their towns. The site makes money through advertising and from partnerships with television stations and other media organizations.

“Its primary appeal is folks involved in neighborhood watches and people who want to know what’s going on their communities,” Drane said in a phone interview. He said the information on SpotCrime, which typically is culled from police department logs and incident reports, can make communities safer. Read more

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Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013

Boston explosions a reminder of how breaking news reporting is changing

Terrible events such as yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon have always meant “all hands on deck” for news organizations, with staffers pulled off their regular beats to contribute.

But the endpoint of the newsgathering and reporting is no longer a front-page package of stories explaining — the best one can — what happened, why it happened and what might be next. Now, there is no endpoint — events are reported in real time, with stories in constant motion, and the front page is a snapshot of an organization’s reporting at the moment when the presses needed to roll.

Boston was a reminder of that, and a look at what’s changing in real-time journalism. Through Twitter and various live blogs, I found myself looking over my shoulder at the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Reuters and other news organizations, and was able to make some observations and draw some conclusions. Read more


Friday, Apr. 12, 2013

Gosnell story raises questions about when national media should cover local stories

The media question of the day is why the Philadelphia trial of Kermit Gosnell is not garnering national media attention.

Gosnell is a Philadelphia doctor on trial for murder for performing late-term abortions that resulted in living babies that he then executed by snipping their spinal cords.

Kirsten Powers wrote an OpEd for USA Today detailing the horrors of this case, stating that none of the three major television networks have mentioned it in the last three months and claiming that The New York Times has only run one original story since the trial began on March 18. Conor Friedersdorf wrote a similar piece for The Atlantic.

Powers, Friedersdorf and other critics point out that, given how lurid the details of this case are, it’s surprising that national media outlets haven’t covered it more. It is surprising that more outlets haven’t covered it, but it’s not entirely fair to say that national media haven’t reported on it. Read more


Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013

Are you really willing to go to jail over your anonymous source?

When reporters want my advice about whether to grant a source anonymity, this is the question I ask them: Is your story significant enough that you’re willing to spend six months in jail?

When they’re working on a substantial story, the kind that changes our understanding of power or responsibility, reporters don’t even blink at the prospect of jail. But most of the time, journalists aren’t working on that kind of story.

This week, two uses of anonymous sources have been in the news. Mother Jones released a recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell and aides discussing bare-knuckle tactics they might use in a 2014 campaign against actress Ashley Judd. And Fox News reporter Jana Winter got a temporary reprieve from revealing the name of the person who told her about the notebook that suspect James Holmes allegedly sent to a health-care professional before the mass shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colo. Read more


Thursday, Apr. 04, 2013

BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith interviews Sen. Marco Rubio in February (Screengrab

Three lists about BuzzFeed’s serious journalism

A little more than a year ago, BuzzFeed made the leap into the realm of serious journalism. It hired some known journalists and a lot more hungry young writers, expanded its verticals, and announced a plan to create serious content to go alongside the site’s trademark clever lists.

Now, with BuzzFeed creating a home for its long reads, building a business vertical and trying to figure out how to expand into breaking and international news, it’s a good time to assess.

BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith interviews U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in February (Screengrab from BuzzFeed video)

BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith told me in a phone interview that he’s mostly pleased. “I’m psyched about the amount that we’ve been able to punch through,” Smith said. “We are advancing stories. I think that’s what we want to do.”

He emailed me a list of what he considers BuzzFeed’s greatest hits, including Rosie Gray’s story on the GI Bill not working, McKay Coppins’ coverage of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith and Reyhan Harmanci’s profile of an anonymous Google contractor who had to look at porn and violence all day. Read more


Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013


Why railing against CNN for the Steubenville coverage is a waste of time

Momentum is building against CNN for clumsy things anchors said about the teenagers convicted of rape in Steubenville, Ohio.

It’s a misplaced anger that will do nothing but further confuse the public about issues of rape and sexual assault, particularly as the crime affects children and teenagers, who make up 44 percent of rape victims.

This discussion is not just about what has happened in the news and what has transpired in Steubenville; it’s an opportunity to have an honest conversation about the sexual assault of children and teenagers, and about misguided perceptions of healthy sexuality and the role of sports culture.

A petition on – which is asking CNN to apologize for mourning the tragic end of the boys’ promising football careers rather than acknowledging the impact of the rape on the girl — had more than 100,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. Started by Gabriel Garcia of Knoxville, Tenn., the petition states:

That CNN decided to paint the tears of the convicted Steubenville rapists in a sympathetic light and say how their lives were ruined — while completely ignoring the fact that the rape victim’s life is the one whose life was ruined by these rapists’ actions — is disgusting and helps perpetuate a shameful culture in which young people never understand the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed and ostracized.

Read more

Friday, Mar. 01, 2013


Powerful photo essay on domestic violence stirs backlash

A photo essay vividly documenting domestic assault lit up the Internet this week after Time Magazine published it as part of its LightBox series.

Ohio University graduate student Sara Lewkowicz didn’t set out to take pictures of domestic violence. Instead, according to the photo captions, she spent much of her first semester of graduate school photographing a young mother and her boyfriend who was newly released from prison, to demonstrate his struggle to integrate back into the community.

The relationship, tense from the beginning, ended with the man’s arrest after a violent argument unfolded in front of the photographer and the woman’s 2-year-old daughter.

Time published Lewkowicz’s 39 photos Wednesday on its website. As of Friday morning, more than 1,340 commenters had offered their opinions on the startling images. Some questioned the victim’s fitness as a mother. Others defended her.

But many questioned whether it was appropriate for Lewkowicz to continue shooting pictures rather than intervening in the assault. Read more


Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013


Fake news: Pig rescuing goat is really a dog

Dave Itzkoff of the NYTimes asked me last week to look at a 30-second video of a cute little pig rescuing a cute little bleating goat that was somehow trapped in a pond.

My first reaction was: fake. Yet several news organizations, including “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had shared the video as a demonstration of a heartwarming moment that had gone viral.

Here’s how I concluded it was fake (and they could have too):

  • When you see a video like that, your first instinct is to ask questions, like, “What was trapping that goat in the water and how exactly did the pig help free the goat?” “Where did this happen?” You immediately want more context. So I went to the original YouTube posting, where I expected to find a short paragraph answering these questions. But there was nothing there except these sentences: “Pig saves goat who’s foot was stuck underwater at petting zoo.
Read more

Friday, Feb. 15, 2013


A tale of two cop-killer hunts shows shifting role of Twitter from Seattle to LA

Three and half years ago, the Seattle-Tacoma area was paralyzed as police searched for a cop-killer, much like greater Los Angeles this past week. On a Sunday morning in 2009,  a gunman walked into a coffeshop in Parkland, Wa., fired on a group of police officers, killing four of them, and fled in a waiting vehicle.

For 48 hours, police throughout the region were focused on little else. They searched locations up and down the I-5 corridor near Lake Washington, the University of Washington, as well as closer to the original shooting near Tacoma.

The community lived in fear. And Twitter quickly became a clearinghouse for information. Organizing under the hashtag #washooting, citizens and journalists alike shared updates and expressed their condolences and fear.

When Seattle Times Editor David Boardman addressed the Seattle Chamber of Commerce after receiving the Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage, he said, “First of all, I want to say this belongs to all of you. Read more