Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Two bits of feedback to yesterday’s piece on the Google News Lab University Network.

The Frenemy Dance

It’s interesting isn’t it? Only a few years ago, Google was the enemy because it atomises our content (people find articles through search, not index pages) and provides an alternative front page via Google News – thus, indirectly, making money of four content. And now, all of a sudden Google is an ally, and Facebook is the enemy because FAKE NEWS.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Google has its own fake news problems, and Facebook is now our dominant traffic source. But the journalism world’s odd whiplash between perceiving tech platforms as friend or enemy – and then back – betrays nothing less than the insecurity we feel about our place in this new world.

It’s almost like we want a junior partner to guide guys into the digital reality, while failing to realise that we are very much the junior partners in this relationship.

Get your digital production right

It’s a fair point. If you’re going to make point about how you’re supporting journalists in digital, failing to show decent digital production standards isn’t a great start. And Medium, where the post is hosted, makes it really easy to do.

Here’s the Europe list, as it appears in the article:

In Europe: Hamburg Media School (strategic partner for DACH region); Deutscher Journalisten Verband (DJV); Studiengang Journalistik, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt; Technische Universität Dortmund (Prof. Dr. Lobigs); Fjum_forum Journalismus und Medien Wien; Deutsche Journalistenschule (DJS); EPFL Extension School; Le Centre de formation des journalistes (CFJ); City, University of London; Cardiff University; Dublin City University, Future Media and Journalism (FuJo); Master in Journalism — University of Turin, centre de formation des journalistes

And here it is properly formatted:

In Europe:

  • Hamburg Media School (strategic partner for DACH region);
  • Deutscher Journalisten Verband (DJV);
  • Studiengang Journalistik, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt;
  • Technische Universität Dortmund (Prof. Dr. Lobigs);
  • Fjum_forum Journalismus und Medien Wien;
  • Deutsche Journalistenschule (DJS);
  • EPFL Extension School;
  • Le Centre de formation des journalistes (CFJ);
  • City, University of London;
  • Cardiff University;
  • Dublin City University,
  • Future Media and Journalism (FuJo);
  • Master in Journalism — University of Turin, centre de formation des journalistes

That was less than a minute’s work (editing using Markdown in WordPress).

Attention to detail on production isn’t just pedantry, it’s paying a fundamental respect to the idea of making the copy more usable for the reader. And it’s certainly a LOT easier to browse that list in the second format.

Fake news is Facebook’s problem, right? Well, maybe it’s a touch bigger than that.

Maybe Google has the problem, too:

Are Jews evil? It’s not a question I’ve ever thought of asking. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But there it was. I press enter. A page of results appears. This was Google’s question. And this was Google’s answer: Jews are evil. Because there, on my screen, was the proof: an entire page of results, nine out of 10 of which “confirm” this.

The problem is much bigger than just fake news. The problem is that our new systems of trust – in Google, in Facebook – are shaping how people views many subjects – and that’s open to exploitation. We’ve know that Russia has been using the internet as an effective propaganda tool for years. ISIL uses social media as a core component of its propaganda strategy. And now other groups are adopting these tactics, with staggering results.

The author, Carole Cadwalladr, talks to Danny Sullivan, one of the leading experts in search engines:

“I thought they stopped offering autocomplete suggestions for religions in 2011.” And then he types “are women” into his own computer.

Google discusses women's "evil"

“Good lord! That answer at the top. It’s a featured result. It’s called a “direct answer”. This is supposed to be indisputable. It’s Google’s highest endorsement.” That every women has some degree of prostitute in her? “Yes. This is Google’s algorithm going terribly wrong.”

Propaganda is winning the web

Google has since acted on these results (with somewhat mixed results) but you should still read the whole piece. This isn’t just technology companies making mistakes – this is an example of a whole industry of sites with a deep understanding of digital platform distribution exploiting that knowledge to spread their messages. In short, political propaganda is beginning to take a hold on the internet:

And the constellation of websites that Albright found – a sort of shadow internet – has another function. More than just spreading rightwing ideology, they are being used to track and monitor and influence anyone who comes across their content. “I scraped the trackers on these sites and I was absolutely dumbfounded. Every time someone likes one of these posts on Facebook or visits one of these websites, the scripts are then following you around the web. And this enables data-mining and influencing companies like Cambridge Analytica to precisely target individuals, to follow them around the web, and to send them highly personalised political messages. This is a propaganda machine.

Are we, as the journalism industry, up to the challenge of beating them? I’m seeing precious little evidence of it so far.

Journalism is failing in the face of such change and is only going to fail further. New platforms have put a bomb under the financial model – advertising – resources are shrinking, traffic is increasingly dependent on them, and publishers have no access, no insight at all, into what these platforms are doing in their headquarters, their labs.

This isn’t a failure in our reporting, it’s a failure in our commitment to getting that reporting to the people who need it. Next time you hear a journalist scoffing at a “social media editor” or “audience engagement editor”, remember that they’re actually showing the care precious little about actually getting knowledge out to the public.

Journalism education in the UK has a digital problem.

I’ve worked with a number of universities offering journalism degrees now – and there’s a consistent pattern. While there are a few bright spots of very deep digital knowledge, it’s unevenly spread, even within individual departments. It’s no great surprise – many journalism academics left the industry for the (not very) ivory towers before digital became a big thing, and sometimes the feedback they’re getting from the industry is from people who don’t well understand it themselves.

That needs to change, and the new Google News Lab University Initiative looks like a useful step in the right direction.

Google News Lab University Network

The Network is designed to provide in-person training when possible, and online training materials and support to professors and students on topics ranging from Google tool fundamentals, trust and verification, immersive storytelling, data journalism, advanced search and Google Trends, data visualization, mapping and more. We also want to celebrate and promote academic journalism projects that use Google tools.

Now, there’s clearly a bias towards providing education on Google tools – and that needs to be handled with caution, as we don’t want a generation of journalists to grow up effectively indoctrinated with the idea that Google tools are the tools for journalism. But every single initiative that helps up the baseline knowledge of digital skills – especially verification – in journalism academia, has to be a good thing.

I’m glad to see City, University of London, where I do most of my lecturing, is on the list of participating institutions.

Caroline Scott finds that mojo has some unexpected dangers in war zones from an interview with Nick Garnett of BBC 5Live:

“For years I have been extolling the virtues of small, hand-held devices, on the basis that they are non-intrusive, but here we have a situation where that could cause you more grief – frankly, you’re holding a device that looks like a gun.”

Garnett explained that as the country is very militarised, with guns part and parcel of everyday life, everything with a pistol grip, such as a gimbal, can look like a weapon from 100 metres away through the barrel of a sniper.

Very big, very obvious kit clearly still has its place.

Ello, the social network you’ve forgotten about, is to launch its own magazine:

Not For Print will help bring the best of Ello into the real world with a tangible, show-it-off-on-your-coffee-table magazine featuring the art of 50 creators on Ello. And we want to see your work in it! Not For Print is another way Ello is committing to provide visibility and opportunity for our incredibly talented community.

I’m sure it’ll be a high quality effort.

And to make a rad fucking magazine.

Well, fairly sure.

Interesting – and quite important – experiment from The Guardianexposing the right and left in the US to Facebook newsfeeds from the other side of politics:

Tobias said that exposure to the other side made her realize how difficult it might be to find common ground after the election.

“It’s frightening to me to see how much the left and the right are divided right now,” she said. To bring us back together, I don’t know what it’s going to take.”

I have much to say about the recent kerfuffle over fake news – but I’m still working it through. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that what Facebook has created in its newsfeed algorithm is a dark mirror of humanity, one that feeds on our own confirmation bias to reinforce a cosily reassuring view of the world, in the sense that our existing opinions are rarely challenged.

That said, exposing people to new views doesn’t mean they’ll shift the way you might want them to:

“Seeing the liberal feed pulled me further to the right,” said Loos. “Without getting the counterpoint, I was drawn more and more to the conservative side. Instead of luring me in, it pushed me away.”

The filter bubble is us – Facebook just makes it easier.

The Lad Bible is gradually de-ladding itself:

“[When it started] The Lad Bible was a 14-year old kid that had just discovered porn,” said the publisher’s junior creative strategist Jordan Schwarzenberger. “But what is amazing is that it has evolved so much away from that as it realised it’s not healthy and not a good attitude to have about the world. People from the outside looked in and said what are you guys doing, why are you promoting being misogynistic, and it took that on board.”

This seems to be the playbook for digital publishers: start with something fun, lightweight that gets dismissed by serious publishers – and once you’ve built an audience and a style, interate towards winning a wider and more serious audience.

This certainly show what they’re capable of:

Blogosphere magazine has just revealed its latest cover star – the ubiquitous Zoella. The reveal video does give some surprising insights into the impact on her life of YouTube-driven celebrity. The idea of bus tours driving by your house is rather disturbing…

The Mail has got rather hot under the collar at the imagery, though:

But seven years after she first burst onto the scene, Zoella’s latest photo shoot, in which she lounges on a bed in just her underwear, is further evidence of the teen idol’s move towards an increasingly grown-up image.

YouTubers. Bless ’em. They grow up so fast.