Briefly Noted

Things Read, Seen or Heard Elsewhere

Where goes truth when a new Gallup poll indicates American trust in the media is (yet again) at an all-time low?

Back in 2009, Michael Hirschorn, reflecting on the first decade of the 21st century for New York Magazine, wrote that we live “in a media age that lacks a central authority to referee reality” where there’s a “nagging sense that the agents of chaos are now so diffuse and powerful that no central authority can counteract them”.

Welcome to 2016 where the question isn’t whether we live in a fact free age but whether anyone can mediate truth from fiction.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace rejects the notion that it’s his responsibility to fact-check the candidates when he moderates one of the upcoming presidential debate. “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad.” he told Howard Kurtz in a recent interview. But, if not journalists, then who?

A new Gallup poll indicates American trust in the media is (yet again) at an all time low. This is quite a blow for a journalists who believe, ostensibly, that they work for the public, that their job is, indeed, in the public interest and that “truth squadding” is part and parcel of their work.

Simply, if people don’t trust “the media” as arbiters of the truth, can or will they trust anyone outside their information cocoon? Long term trends on American faith in institutions suggest no. Similarly, studies show that people not only reject information that counters their beliefs, but will double down on those beliefs despite the fact that they’re based on falsehoods.

As a societal – and psychological – issue there’s no real solution to navigating truth and establishing basic facts. Yes, newsroom fact-checking is and will continue to be exceptionally valuable and important but if the audience distrusts those doing this important work, more needs to be done.

One starting point would be for our broadcast media to stop enlisting partisans as voices of authority in their segments and instead promote, dare I say, actual experts on the issues being debated. It’s a small step but could move an important needle despite distrust in experts to begin with.(1)

That said, let’s travel back to 2004 when Jon Stewart pleaded much the same to the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire. “You’re hurting America,” he said at the time. The same holds true today.

Image: American trust in the media, 1997 – 2016. Data via Gallup.

Americans Hate the Media originally appeared on the Future Journalism Project

  1. Yes, I realize there can be a disconnect here where a public that lacks faith in institutions will also lack faith in experts. We saw this in England with coverage of Brexit and we see it in the United States as well.

    I’d argue though that a primary reason for this distrust is because of the prominence our news organizations give to strict partisans.

    In this framing, experts are just another distrustful voice that viewers see and hear. That is, because of the he-said, she-said, partisan production structure employed by our media outlets, the expert is positioned to fail.

    He or she is just another “voice” that is presenting information we should be skeptical of.

A new study shows how little we know about current and historical events. This affects strategies for how we understand and process the news.

A new study by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic outlines how much American university students don’t know about the world around them. If we were grading, most of us would get a solid F (PDF).

Earlier this year, CFR and National Geographic commissioned a survey to gauge what young people educated in American colleges and universities know about geography, the environment, demographics, U.S. foreign policy, recent international events, and economics…

…On the knowledge questions asked, the average score was only 55 percent correct. Just 29 percent of respondents earned a minimal pass—66 percent correct or better. Just over 1 percent—17 of 1,203—earned an A, 91 percent or higher. Respondents exhibited limited knowledge of issues critical to the United States. Only 28 percent of respondents knew that the United States is bound by treaty to protect Japan if it is attacked. Just 34 percent knew this about South Korea. Meanwhile, only 30 percent knew that the constitutional authority to declare war rests in the legislative branch of the U.S. government.

Basic conditions and realities about the world are also relatively poorly understood. Over the past five years, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States and returning to Mexico has been greater than the number of Mexicans entering the United States. However, only 34 percent of respondents recognized this fact; 49 percent said it was false.

Our assumption is older folk wouldn’t do any better.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss, though. We see this first-hand as we tumble through our current fact-free presidential election.

Interesting is a piece from the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan who reported this weekend on various news literacy programs and efforts that target our information environments.

“‘There’s a cacophony of untrue information out there,’ and it’s drowning out what’s dependable and accurate,” Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor, tells her. While we have more information at our disposal, she writes, we’re not better informed. Instead, we trend towards news that fits our biases or throw our hands up trying to make sense of the barrage of “facts” that come our way.

Sullivan name-checks programs and efforts — the News Literacy Project, The Lamp and the Center for News Literacy among them — that are doing serious, heavy-lifting for younger news consumers but more needs to be done. What needs to be done, though, is a difficult nut to crack when we exist in an age where spin, half-truths and outright fabrications cross our daily social feeds.

Ignorance has consequences. As Sullivan writes, “Citizens who don’t know much, and don’t care to find out, will get the government they deserve.”

Let’s deserve better. As the Council on Foreign Relations, National Geographic study shows, we’re not very good with current or historical events. We need to help ourselves help ourselves.

At the very least, check in with the likes of, Politifact or The Washington Post’s own Fact Checker as the election draws closer. More important, dig through claims, and discover how, if and where they’re sourced before passing them along.

Getting to Know What We Do Not Know originally appeared on The Future Journalism Project.

What do publishers and news consumers do in a world of infinite choice?

There’s a game that a group of people have been playing for the last few years. Be the last person in America to know who won the Super Bowl. Unplug both online and off, avoid people and places that might clue you in, and see how long you can last. This year, some fell within an hour. Others barely made it a few days before the news presented itself.

The game is an exercise in “intentional ignorance” as The New Yorker put it back in February. Through it, we learn how pervasive information is. We learn that whether we seek it or not, news finds us.

This is how we generally “know” things we haven’t consciously read, listened to or watched, such as who won the Super Bowl; that an earthquake happened somewhere; that a Gwenyth Paltrow is trying to survive on food stamps. Information is ambient. We don’t just brush up against it. We exist within it.

Publishers still struggle to make their way through an information saturated world but generally gravitate toward settled strategy: Bring the news to the social and mobile platforms where people already are. Become a signal or a beacon on those platforms. Become the trusted someone an audience can hold onto. Trust that they’ll share.

Some of this is clever. For example, the BBC covered India’s elections and launched an Ebola information service in West Africa with chat apps.

Some of it’s simply puzzling, like now, where the new, new thing being considered is to hand the keys over to Facebook and publish news natively on that platform.

And some is settling on a more subtle, design approach. As Amy Webb recently pointed out, it’s not just information that’s ambient. Attention is ambient too. That is, we have repetitive, mindless moments over the course of a day where we fiddle somewhat unconsciously with our devices. Publishers can harness these moments, she thinks, with better material and interface design.

Apple’s new watch uses haptic, or tactile, feedback for information prompts which is neat until, perhaps, it becomes annoying. We’ll find out more as the New York Times experiments with its one sentence stories.

All this is a relatively straightforward overview of how publishers can — or intend — to reach audiences. But flip the equation and ask how news consumers make their way through the ambience. How they find new stories, sources and a bit of joy in the serendipity of discovery. The question isn’t just how do we find and read the news when there’s infinite choice; but how do we organize our media diets to fit the flow of our otherwise busy lives. For many, it’s ingesting small bits because that’s all the time available. Many also try to make space for more substantial meals. The question though is how?

Yes, there are the Flipboards, Instapapers and Feedly’s that attempt to solve the particular issues of news and information everywhere. Facebook is ever tinkering with their algorithms in an ongoing attempt to surface relevance. While worthwhile tools, apps and algorithms alone won’t solve personal, individual news consumption and understanding.

Instead, the solutions are more methodological. That is, how in a news ambient world do we create habits that enable deeper understanding of the issues important to us and bring a bit of joy as we do so? How do we understand tools and services offered to us so we can leverage those that are best for our particular needs? How, at root, do we become more literate?

A version of this originally appeared in The Future Journalism Project.

As the Washington Post tries to create a near real-time fact checking system for political speeches, how might it work? And do we want it to?

During the Republican primaries in 2011, Steven Ginsberg, National Political Editor for the Washington Post, was covering a Michele Bachmann speech in Iowa.

It was a small affair, not much more than fifty people, and after Bachman finished Ginsberg got on the phone with Cory Haik, the Post’s Executive Producer for Digital News. What he wanted to know was whether there was a way they could accelerate the fact checking process for political speeches and bring it as close to real-time as possible?

“Yes,” Haik recalls saying, “because to me, the answer is always yes.”

Her idea was that with the increasing frequency with which people use their mobile phones to record events, there’s almost always audio or video of a speech. If you could get a recording, you could then transcribe it and run it against a database of a newsroom’s known facts. The goal would be to try to create a real-time fact checking algorithm.

“I was thinking of Shazam and thinking of how Shazam does what it does,” Haik explains. “But a Shazam for truth.” Her reference is to the music discovery app that instantly tells you the name and artist of a song when you hold your phone to a speaker.

“Figuring out whether elected leaders are lying is one of the oldest and most vital aspects of journalism, and that remains unchanged,” says Ginsberg. “But being able to figure that out instantly and all over the place at the same time would be revolutionary.”

A $50,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge later and Ginsberg, Haik and their team have created Truth Teller, a prototype that is beginning to accomplish their goals.

How it Works

What the Post team has done at a high level is impressive. They can take a video, use speech-to-text to create a transcript, run that against a database they’ve created and start exploring facts — or fictions — as the case may be.

“Our algorithm goes through the transcript to find claims,” says Haik. “Then, whatever claims it sees in the text it touches our database and says, ‘OK, these claims match these facts,’ and this says it’s true or it’s false.”

The front end is a video with a transcript underneath it. Items considered facts are highlighted and the viewer can then select a “Fact Checks” tab to get the Post’s take on the veracity of a statement.

“Realistically, I think Truth Teller can be exactly what we’re aiming for, or very close to it,” writes Ginsberg in an e-mail to me. “Real-time fact checking of political speeches will be possible. Getting there will require an enormous commitment and a great deal of effort, but it’s clear what needs to happen and we’re confident that we know how to make it happen.”

As a prototype, what’s shown is more promise and hope than the refinement of a finished product. As Haik explains to me on the phone, there’s still much to do.

“We have to tune the algorithm,” she says.

“We’ve got to build a database of facts that we put in ourselves,” she adds.

“We need to figure out how to structure the data across our site so we can touch that data in a good way,” she continues.

As Haik finishes this thought with, “We have to get the speech-to-text faster,” you can almost hear her clicking through a much longer mental checklist. Still, she believes they’ve developed a “real framework” to get to where they want to go.

Promise, Hope and Other Difficulties

Projects like these are difficult by their nature. Like those that try to measure sentiment across our social networks, there’s the difficulty of getting speaker intent from a straight transcript. For example, is the speaker being sarcastic, humorous or purposefully embellishing to drive home a larger point? Or what about literal versus figurative speech? Much as it annoys those of us outside the Washington circus, these are well-known tropes that people use to motivate and influence audiences. (Just to show two: Republicans want to starve the poor or Democrats want to make people dependent on government.)

And then, beyond the fib, there are all sorts of lies: some are white, some disassemble, some fabricate. There are the sins of omission, commission and exaggeration. Our vocabulary for lying is large and diverse because our ability to lie and otherwise shade the truth is large and diverse. The BBC even outlines which type of lies are journalistically relevant.

Add to this that there are “hard” and “soft” facts and the difficulty of the mission continues to grow. You can see a Truth Teller project working well with hard, numbers-driven realities since we already have companies like Narrative Science using algorithms to write sports, real estate and financial news. More difficult though is to take that algorithm and place it against soft, interpretative data. For example — and keeping things current — how sequestration will affect governmental agency X, Y or Z, if at all.

The idea here isn’t to replace humans with robots, but to marry the best of old and new journalism.

“Natural Language Processing isn’t advanced enough,” explains Damon Horowitz, Google’s In-House Philosopher and professor at Columbia University, when I ask him what he conceptually thinks about a project like Truth Teller. “The databases aren’t developed enough, we don’t have the right kind of information retrieval to do the matching [ie, search], we don’t have the right kind of reasoning to make the inferences. We could derive simple systems that approximate the task, with high rates of errors; but the main issue here is that then you pay a lot of attention to those things which the system happens to be able to find, which is a curious way of advancing public debate.”

Horowitz’s career straddles two interesting components here: he’s created products and companies around the use of artificial intelligence and intelligent language processing, and he also happens to think about what this all means. “Technically, we are a long way from being able to do a good job at the particular thing being proposed,” he says.

So, yes, let’s agree that real-time fact checking is a daunting task. But let’s also agree that we can set out our goals accordingly. Here, the idea isn’t trying to get the Machine to completely tell truth from fiction, but perhaps to provide a flag or warning system for humans to observe and dive into spoken “facts” more deeply.

“It’s important to understand that Truth Teller won’t replace fact checkers,” Ginsberg says. “In fact, it relies on them, both to build and maintain the database and provide more information once lies are identified. The idea here isn’t to replace humans with robots, but to marry the best of old and new journalism.”

So How Might We Get There? And Still More Difficulties

No matter how large, a single newsroom can only do so much. It has only so much time and resources. For example, the Truth Teller team is manually entering facts into spreadsheets and their current set of facts is centered around taxes.

But what if a bunch of news organizations came together to create The Giant Database of Facts™ and augmented it, for example, with additional information from governmental agencies and trusted foundations and NGO’s? Plug in some some API’s and perhaps you have something to work with.

Perhaps. Your base set of facts will be huge but you can also see partisans decrying the facts to begin with (see, Climate Science, or last fall’s brouhaha over unemployment numbers during the election). That is, it’s easy to see arguments erupt over whose numbers are used, and who’s the gatekeeper to those numbers.

Culturally, you could see popular resistance to this type of system. People will always complain about “the media” and perceived bias within it, but will they be comfortable with an automated, supposedly objective system put in its place?

Let me backtrack for just a bit: This article was motivated by a question posed to The FJP on our Tumblr that runs like this:

Hi, I am a student in journalism and am preparing an article about robots (like the Washington Post’s Truth Teller) validating facts instead of journalists. I am curious to know the Future Journalism Project’s point of view of about this. What are the consequences for journalists, journalism and for democracy?

There’s a lot to unravel in the question and Horowitz identifies an inherent tension we have with accelerated technological change. We want it and we don’t want it.

“Socioculturally, reactions to automation are always revealing,” he believes. “On the one hand, there’s human desire for uniqueness, and a general conservatism and a dislike of change. On the other hand, there’s the dream of an automated future where we could escape the messiness of human affairs and doing things manually. There’s the hope that there is such a thing as a simple world of facts which could be exhaustively recorded, and the record could then be set straight.”

Haik, like Ginsberg, doesn’t think Truth Teller will replace human fact checkers, or interpret data and political statements. Instead, it’s an aid through the process.

If we keep it here, I think we have a tremendous tool for the newsroom. Consider it an early warning system that reporters, editors and the audience can all use. For example, the reporter files a story, submits it to Truth Teller and is alerted to possible errors or idiosyncrasies of fact. He or she can then go back to the data or the source to clarify or refine, or discover that the “fact on record” is, in fact, incorrect.

Obviously, this process can be repeated throughout the editorial workflow and speed the entire process. I’d argue the public should have access to something like this too. An interface through which they can drop articles and speeches to check things out on their own. Students and teachers have a system like this in TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection tool.

But technologies advance and someday soon we might see something quite different: an algorithmic truth teller tracking our every step.

If it isn’t happening yet, it will sometime soon and the robots will be watching us.

Image: Marvin the Paranoid Android, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Bonus: Jeff Hancock, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Communications at Cornell University, researches how people lie in digital and mobile environments. In November 2012, he gave a TED talk called The Future of Lying.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Future Journalism Project.

How news organizations are covering fact and fiction in the 2012 presidential campaign.

While much is being said today about the veracity of Paul Ryan’s convention speech, if you turned off your set after listening to the talking heads last night you’d come away with the belief that this, by far, was: The. Best. Speech. Ever.

I had the unfortunate displeasure of listening to Politico’s deeply cynical panel that appeared late night on CSPAN. It was a good half hour of brushing aside the factually challenged and pimping the excellent and energetic delivery, the quotable one liners, the zing. Never mind that the main thrust of Ryan’s arguments are untrue.

While Politico’s on camera team waxed effusive about Ryan’s stirring rhetoric, Wolf Blitzer had one of his Wolf Blitzer moments. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo calls it Great Moments in CNN Euphemisms:

Blitzer: So there he is, the Republican vice presidential nominee and his beautiful family there. His mom is up there. This is exactly what this crowd of Republicans here certainly Republicans all across the country were hoping for. He delivered a powerful speech. Erin, a powerful speech. Although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will. As far as Mitt Romney’s campaign is concerned, Paul Ryan on this night delivered.

Yes, I’m sure there’s a profession out there, somewhere, that might “want to go forward” with some of those points. Considering his perch atop CNN’s news team it’s too bad Blitzer hasn’t figured that out yet.

And in an up is down, left is right world, it’s Fox News (!) among the cable networks that starts to set the record straight:

On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

Fortunately, a journalistic slumber begins to lift. Over at The Atlantic, James Fallows collects a number of non-network sources debunking what he calls the “Post-Truth Convention Speech“:

To restate the larger points for the moment: The bad one is that a major party’s nominee for national office apparently just doesn’t care that he is standing in front of millions and telling easily catchable lies. The less-bad one is that parts of the media are noticing, and are trying to figure out what they can do in response.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent believes news organizations need to bring lies front and center. Stick them in the headline, he writes, don’t bury them four paragraphs deep. He praises the Los Angeles Times for doing just that when a Tuesday headline read, “Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama”.

Writes Sargent:

I didn’t expect this, but the epic dishonesty of Romney’s campaign is finally prompting something of a debate among media types about whether what we’re seeing here is unprecedented — and how to appropriately respond to it…

…There seems to be a bit of a strain of media defeatism settling in about this. James Bennet, the editor of the Atlantic, wrote yesterday that he is glad to see news outlets calling Romney’s falsehoods out for what they are. But he wondered whether we are about to discover that the press is essentially impotent in the face of this level of deliberate dishonesty: “what if it turns out that when the press calls a lie a lie, nobody cares?

I’m sympathetic to the question. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the Romney campaign’s gamble here, which is that the press simply won’t be able to keep voters informed in the face of the sheer scope and volume of mendacity it unleashes daily.

Earlier this summer Harvard’s Nieman Foundation released a report called Truth in the Age of Social Media.

“Verifying information has always been central to the work of journalists,” its authors write. “These days the task has taken on a new level of complexity due to the volume of videos, photos, and tweets that journalists face. It’s not only the volume that presents challenges but the sophisticated tools that make it easier than ever to manipulate information.”

We recommend reviewing it. The report looks at how news organizations are addressing truth and verification. Would be nice if some of the big players covering our conventions would take notes on it too.

About: Dazzling. Deceitful. Distracting. originally appeared on the Future Journalism Project.

"Are citizen journalists and bloggers 'real journalists'?"

Here’s a question that that came to us at The Future Journalism Project:

I’m a journalism student currently working on an essay where the question is “Are citizen journalists and bloggers ‘real journalists’?”

Do you have any views on this?
Thank you :)

Oh dear, you’re really opening up a can of worms.

Here’s what I think I think.

But before I think, let me back up and ask, what is this creature you speak of? What is this “real journalist”?

Is it a paid professional who ventures out into the world, reports what’s happening, verifies that reporting, distills and concretizes the results and publishes it through some means for consumption by some audience?

Better, does that professional need to be working for an established organization that somehow defines its mission as “news-gathering”?

It could be. And time once was when only well financed organizations had the means of production and distribution to make it so. And so it was.

But what then do we make of the rest of us, the rabble with our blogs and tweets and podcasts and such? Maybe we’re part of an organization but the organization is small. Maybe we plan to make money at it but we don’t quite do so yet. But maybe we do all that stuff the paid professional at the established organization does. Are we then journalists? And is payment a prerequisite for professionalism? Or are we just amateurs playing a pick-up game of journalism basketball?

Or what of the media teams at advocacy organizations such as non-profits and NGOs that can now have media teams because media is in the hands of all and peer production can be very, very powerful?

Some say these people can’t be real journalists because they’re advocates working for advocacy organizations. Where’s the objectivity, these people say. But what then of journalists who work for partisan news organizations? Aren’t they just advocates too in different colored clothing?

I don’t ask these questions to be clever. Instead I ask because they’re questions that are being asked.

And if you asked me really and truly, what is a “real journalist,” I hedge and hedge again and then paraphrase former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he wrote about trying to define porn: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be journalism, but I know it when I see it.”

So let me get back to what I think I think.

Never before have we had such complete and total access to the ignorance, depravity, ugliness, mundanity and folly of others than we do now.

And never before have we had access to the wit, wisdom, intelligence, humor and warmth of the human spirit as we do now.

It’s this latter access that enthuses me. The ability to read, watch, listen to and interact with people who have deep, deep knowledge on discrete subjects is something that perpetually amazes and gives me great hope for the information age we are in. I’m optimistic that way.

Are all these people journalists? Or “real journalists” as the case may be?

Most likely not. But they are citizens. And this is much more important. And they often commit acts of journalism as they go about being citizens and then share that with us through their online lives.

This could be on a personal blog, or it could be by submitting material to a CNN iReport, sifting through document data dumps with news organization like the Guardian, or posting videos and photos and short messages about what’s happening on the street in Egypt and Iran and Tunisia and Yemen and Algeria. Or, less dramatically, your backyard.

Last fall I invited Rachel Sterne to guest lecture a class I teach. Rachel is currently the Chief Digital Officer of New York City. At the time she was the founder of a global hyperlocal news site called Ground Report. This is what I wrote about her thoughts at that time:

While readily admitting that her network of reporters can’t compete with mainstream outlets like the Times on access and persistent, overall journalism quality, she does outline how citizen reporting such as that done on Ground Report brings entirely new perspectives and voices to the news cycle. In that way, she thinks publications like Ground Report can function as early warning systems in our future journalism environment.

I hope these stray ideas give you food for thought as you write your own. As I said, your question really opens up a can of worms.

Here’s another one for you: what’s the difference between a reporter and a journalist?


About: What’s a Journalist originally appeared on the Future Journalism Project


Ground Report Founder and CEO Rachel Sterne talks citizen journalism and an interesting question arises: in our evolving journalism landscape, can sites such as hers serve as early warning systems to mainstream media organizations?

Are citizen journalists more agile than their professional counterparts, often breaking news before the big boys have had time to react?

The answer is anecdotal, and looks in part on how people use social tools such as Twitter and Facebook to report on the world around them. It also includes content produced for citizen journalism sites such as upstarts EveryBlock, Global Voices and Neighborhoodr as well as mainstream initiatives such as CNN’s iReport and AOL’s high profile Patch network of community news sites.

Social Web followers are familiar with the fact that the first image of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River appeared on Twitter; Facebook’s use by activists to report on protests in Moldova, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere; and Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and other social networks as prime channels for the world to learn what was happening in the streets after the contested 2009 Iranian elections.

More recently, Jose L. Leyva wrote about how citizens in Monterrey, Mexico are taking to social networks— and creating new ones — in order to document drug cartel violence.

Twitter, Facebook and other online forums have also become a primary source of information in a society in which self-censorship and anonymity have become one resort for journalists covering the drug war to avoid threats by cartels or harassment by Mexican authorities. Social media platforms have also become a place in which people eager know what’s going on the streets can get real-time information.

Interesting too are anecdotes given by Rachel Sterne, Founder and CEO of Ground Report, a global citizen journalism site launched in 2006. Speaking to a class I teach at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Rachel put her site head to head with the New York Times to demonstrate how her network of 9,000 reporters has broken news ranging from January 2008 suicide attacks in Peshawar to Albino killings in Tanzania.

While readily admitting that her network of reporters can’t compete with mainstream outlets like the Times on access and persistent, overall journalism quality, she does outline how citizen reporting such as that done on Ground Report brings entirely new perspectives and voices to the news cycle. In that way, she thinks publications like Ground Report can function as early warning systems in our future journalism environment.

This idea dovetails nicely with a conversation I had with Mitchell Stephens, Journalism Professor at NYU and author of A History of News, over the summer for the Future Journalism Project. At the time he said something counterintuitive that makes more sense as I’ve thought about it over time: Journalists, he said, have to get out of the news business.

By this he meant focussing less time on being a “reporter” telling the world about the daily events that are going on, and more time being a “journalist” contextualizing the significance of what is going on. In other words, in a social media landscape where we already know the who, what, where and when, journalists and news organizations need to harness their scarce resources on delivering the how and why.

Perhaps, as Rachel suggests, citizen journalism sites such as hers can increasingly fill the early warning reporting role. As she says in her presentation above, her contributors aren’t necessarily amateurs, they’re often journalists in their own countries or subject matter experts with deep knowledge of the specific verticals they’re writing about.

In Rachel’s screencast below, she talks about Ground Report, its founding, how it works and who it reaches. She also offers insight into the technical and sociological changes occurring across the the social media landscape.

About: This screencast is from a course I taught at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs that focussed on how NGO’s, non-profits, governmental agencies and citizen journalists use Internet and mobile technologies to communicate with core constituencies.