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

Posts tagged journalism

Liveblogged notes from the “Fake News” event at City University, co-organised by The Media Society and the Student Publication Association. Prone to error, inaccuracy, horrible typos and screaming crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be improved over the next 48 hours.

Jonathan Hewett, our chair, isn’t keen on the phrase “fake news”. What are we actually talking about? Intentionally produced misinformation, that’s designed to be propagated.

Megan Lucero and Jonathan Hewett discussing fake news

Alastair Reid, ex-First Draft News, now independent digital journalist

First Draft was initially set up to deal with user generated content from breaking news events – and the verification of it. But over the last 18 months the rapid growth of misinformation and disinformation has shifted that focus.

Megan Lucero, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

That phrase is not one she’ll be using. It’s being to delegitimise the press, and so we shouldn’t use it. Yes, a small sliver of it is bad journalism, but there’s far more misinformation, propaganda and so on. There’s a glut of information – we need more journalists to sift through it.

James Ball, special correspondent, Buzzfeed

He’s writing a book on bullshit and “fake news”. The web is full of hoax sites full of deceptive news. It’s the pantomime villain behind this era of bullshit. You can make a distinction between fake news and hyperpartisan news, or accurate stories spun out of all proportion. Lots of people on the centre left are sharing stories about “Trump’s secret plan”, the same sort of conspiracy theory thinking that we criticise the far right for. But this isn’t going to be solved by Google withdrawing ads, or Facebook tagging content.

How did we get here?

AR: Social media has a huge role in that. Anyone can publish anything they want to. The barriers to reaching thousands or millions of people have collapsed. Five years ago everyone was hailing the Arab Spring as a wonderful example of social media use. But that freedom has now been weaponised by those with an agenda. 15 years ago blogging was being talked about in the same way.

ML: It’s exploited a very beautiful part of humanity: trust and integrity. People trust what they read. Your world view was the paper you subscribed to. We have to change that. We need to critically assess what we read online. (more…)

Ah, Media Twitter is all aflutter with this news from the New York Times:

The Gateway Pundit, a provocative conservative blog, gained notice last year for its fervent pro-Trump coverage and its penchant for promoting false rumors about voter fraud and Hillary Clinton’s health that rocketed around right-wing websites.

Now the site will report on politics from a prominent perch: the White House.

And they certainly seem pleased about it:

Heavens-to-Betsy, a blogger in the press room? There will be a predictable backlash from journalists (in fact there probably already is one), who will do some eye-rolling at the infiltration of the true journalists’ space. And they will all have forgotten this:

Bloggers and pundits have been granted access to White House briefings in previous administrations

The use of the word “blog” here is pretty arbitrary. The definition of “blog” and “website” are pretty hazy at the best of times and the past five years have only blurred that. (Remember when people were calling Buzzfeed and Huffington Post blogs?)

Gateway Pudit itself has a little fun with that distinction:

The New York Times, a provocative liberal blog

The concern here isn’t that the White House has granted press credentials to a Pro-Trump Blog, but that it has granted them to a Pro-Trump blog. But even that shouldn’t necessarily be of deep concern, because we have so much partisan press already (especially in the UK).

The pundit/propagandist boundary

When should we worry? Well, look at the outlet’s record for truth – if it’s so pro-Trump that it lies for the president, than it’s crossed that hazy line from partisan journalism to straight-up propaganda. And on that charge, they have some form:

The Gateway Pundit did not see protesters getting on or off the bus, and they offered no proof that any protesters had been paid (by George Soros or anyone else). The web site published three pictures of buses and then fabricated a story about paid protesters based on the mistaken observations of a sole Twitter user.

The Washington Post, a blog owned by tech mogul Jeff Bezos, has many more examples for you:

Just last week, the Gateway Pundit published the absurd, social media-generated claim that the Washington Post’s Doris Truong had sneakily snapped cellphone photos of notes belonging to secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, during his confirmation hearing. Truong was not at the hearing; it made no sense to think she would have been at the hearing, since she is an editor of The Post’s website.

Here’s an interesting take on an issue that seems to be gripping American journalists right now:

In a nutshell, a statement can fairly be called a lie if there is abundant evidence to the contrary that a speaker should have known about. For example, you can argue that saying the inauguration drew record crowds deserves to be called a lie because there are multiple credible news reports that have proven this to be untrue. At the time of the inauguration, saying so might merely have been a misunderstanding. But one week later, that stance has hardened into something that could be called a lie.

Mathew Ingram make a good job of untangling the complications and ethical issues around calling something a lie. The core point? To be a lie, there has to be an intent to deceive. And it’s hard for to know people’s intent with authority.

Remember when I was amused by Twitter deciding that I’m not a journalist or in the media? Well, now I’m profoundly glad. Why? Well, this little Tweet from a WikiLeaks-affiliated group went out on Friday:

WikiLeaks Doxxing

Of course, many, many screenshots had been saved before it got pulled down:

WikiLeaks itself tried to distance itself from the tweet – rather unconvincingly:

And even the original account tried to walk it back:

That’s a rather disingenuous reply, because the original tweet specified “family/job/financial/housing relationships” (emphasis mine). To track housing relationships, you need to track addresses. And for an organisation as committed to releasing information as WikiLeaks and its supporters have become – that inevitable raises the spectre of doxing – the politically-motivated release of personal information about people.

Inevitably many of my journalist friends on Facebook – the verified ones working on mainstream national publications that is – were nervous about this, mainly because of the mention of family. Most mainstream journalist accept that there is an element of risk in their work – but bringing families into it is frankly sinister.

Here’s a thought: has the little “verified” tick, originally intended to increase trust in Twitter, by making it harder for people to be fooled by fake and imposter accounts, actually proving counter-productive? It makes a really handy target marker for those perceived as “important” – and in these populist times, that makes them targets…

David Higgerson, quoted on Hold The Front Page:

Lincolnshire Live and Cornwall Live follow the same model of hyperlocal news on a county-wide platform as the recently launched Essex Live, Kent Live, Gloucestershire Live and Somerset Live.

David, I don’t think hyperlocal means what you think it means. Sites for entire counties are pretty much the opposite of hyperlocal – even if stories are “hyperlocal”. Or, in this case, “local”. It’s missing the point of a niche site for a niche community.

The Economist have been posting some older, evergreen (or “stock” content, for regular readers…) on Medium. The piece on cartooning is particularly worth reading:

Cartoons go way back before newspapers. They have their origins in the caricatures and illustrations of early modern Europe. In Renaissance Germany and Italy, woodcuts and mezzotint prints were used to add pictures to books. By the 18th century simple cartoons, or caricatures, circulated in London coffee shops, lampooning royalty, society and politicians. Popular engravers such as William Hogarth and James Gillray came up with tricks we now take for granted: speech bubbles to show dialogue and sequential panels to show time passing.

Older than journalism – and possibly reinventing itself more successfully. Fascinating read.

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.

Alexandra Ma, one of my current crop of Interactive Journalism students, looks at how the New York Times live covered its meeting with Trump:

But out of all the ways the Times covered the event, Twitter was by far the most effective.

The Times’ social media strategy editor, Michael Gold, created a public Twitter list of the journalists who had attended so people could follow — and instantly react to — direct quotes from the president-elect.

But that, in itself, brings some problems:

The Times’ journalists mostly tweeted direct quotes from Trump, some of which — such as his suggestion that Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist and former editor of Breitbart News, was neither racist nor alt-right — seemed factually dubious and would be best accompanied with fact checking after the event.

The danger of immediacy is clearly lack of contextualisation – and that needs to be there.

I have discovered – much to my surprise – that I am not a journalist.

This comes as something of a shock, as that’s exactly what I’ve though of myself as for a quarter of a century now. From the latter days of my student life, working on student magazines, through to my recent career, helping national – and international – newspapers do better digital publishing, journalism is at the very heart of my working life.

Cub editor Adam Tinworth circa 1993

Portrait of the author as a young student magazine editor.

But I am not a journalist. So says Twitter and Facebook. And, as they are now the arbitrators of who is a journalist and who isn’t – I cannot be a journalist.

Twitter says: you’re not a journalist, Tinworth

Twitter declared its verdict first. I popped off a speculative application, once it opened up verification to all comers. The criteria are pretty clear:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

Well, I’m clearly in both journalism and media, so an easy accept, right?

Wrong:

Twitter verified denied

I am not a journalist. Or in media. Twitter says so.

Now, I’m not that bothered on a personal level – sure, it would have been handy to show my students, many of whom go on to be verified users very quickly, some of the tools that verified status gives you access to. But I can appreciate that I’m an edge case, because I train journalists more than I produce journalism right now.

But when I posted about my rejection on Facebook, many of my journalism friends reported the same experience. It became very clear that Twitter only counts those on national newspapers as journalists. In consumer or business press? Forget it. You are not a real journalist. Twitter says so.

Look at that description above:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

(Emphasis mine.) There’s no qualification there of “national” or “newspaper” journalism. Just “journalism” and “media”. Twitter has set itself up and an arbiter of who counts as a journalist – and who doesn’t – and most of us don’t count.

Are journalists journalists? Ask a microblogger.

Those with long memories might remember the seemingly endless debates a decade ago about whether bloggers were journalists. There’s not small irony in the fact, that Twitter, a direct descendent of blogging (it was described as “microblogging” in its early days) has now set itself up as an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t. And it’s chosen a very, very tight definition of that. I suspect that has been done to make the verification process easier – and certainly much journalism verification is done directly between social media editors and their liaisons at Twitter – but once they opened up verification, that needed to be rethought. And it wasn’t.

Would any other social networks do something similar? Like, say, Facebook?

A couple of weeks ago, the spawn of Zuckerberg announced that it was helpfully going to educate journalists. (But it’s not a media company, remember)

The social network has created an learning environment, to help journalists use Facebook better. Handy. That’s part of what I do for a living, but having tools like that to support our work. Great.

As part of this journalists are invited to join the News, Media & Publishing group on Facebook. So, I applied:

Applied to Facebook

And that’s how the group looked for a few days. I waited patiently – confident of inclusion, as I could see a friend who works for Twitter and another who runs a technology company were members, surely both more marginal than my case. Hell, there’s other lecturers in there, so I’m at least as qualified as them. Oh, foolish me.

Facebook: denied

And, after a few days, that Pending button turned into:

Denied

Denied. And silently denied, at that.

Yes, Facebook, also now apparently an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t, has declared that I am not a journalist, either. Nor am I in media. Nor publishing, apparently.

So, we might never have solved the question of whether bloggers are journalists. But apparently, I’ve been deluded for the past 25 years that I am a journalist. I’m not. I’m just a blogger, because Facebook and Twitter tell me so.

The power of social networks to define journalism

Given how much power Twitter and, especially, Facebook, have in driving traffic to our sites and mediating our relationships with our readers – are we comfortable with this? Are we happy for them to give a subset of journalists special privileges over others? Because that’s the situation right now. If you’re not a mainstream journalists, working on a know large news site, forget it. Freelancer? Go away. Trade press? You and your professional readers don’t count. Consumer press? No important. That’s just interest not news.

Once upon a time, in the UK at least, the NUJ was pretty much the arbiter of who was a journalist and who wasn’t. I’ve had my issues with the NUJ in the past, but at least they took a wide and thoughtful view on who was entitled to a press card. As the “verfified” tick becomes an de facto mark of journalistic status, we’re now being assessed by people who active claim not to be media companies – and yet who control our traffic and our access to readers.

And the implications of that should give us pause.