Nick Denton unveils “the great unclenching” at Gawker Media

Gawker founder Nick Denton unveiled a management shakeup he referred to as “the great unclenching,” in which he will share power over the blog network with a management committee of seven, a change he hopes will help Gawker compete with BuzzFeed and Vox

Why I’m interested in First Look’s new social-journalism project

As I reported earlier today, First Look Media editor Andy Carvin — formerly of National Public Radio — has just launched a new project called Reportedly, which will see a staff of half a dozen reporters focus on using social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit for journalistic purposes. There are a number of things that interest me about this idea, not the least of which is the fact that Carvin says he prefers to think of the Reportedly team as being “anchor/producers” for the communities on those social platforms, rather than traditional reporters.

Whatever you think of the term “anchor/producers” — or the term “news DJ,” which is the one that Carvin (who is a friend) often used to describe what he did on Twitter during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt — I like the fact that this First Look Media team are trying to think about their jobs in a different way, because that means they have a chance of shaking off some of the preconceived notions about what journalists should and shouldn’t do in such situations.

As Carvin mentioned in his interview with me, too many media outlets approach platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Reddit either as sources to be plundered — meaning they take content from those platforms and repurpose it on their own platform or website, in many cases without attribution — or simply as distribution outlets: places where you post your links and then hope that enough people share them that they “go viral.”

Not just for clickbait

Reportedly explicitly doesn’t want to take that approach to these online communities. Instead, Carvin says, it wants to treat those platforms as destinations in their own right — and their users not just as passive sources of content or viral link-clickers, but potential partners in committing acts of real-time journalism. As his introductory message puts it:

“We don’t try to send people away from their favorite online communities just to rack up pageviews. We want to tell stories from around the world, serving these online communities as our primary platforms for reporting?—?not secondary to some website or app. Forget native advertising?—?we want to produce native journalism for social media communities, in conjunction with members of those communities.”

This is a dramatically different approach than many reporters take to such platforms, particularly Reddit, which is often seen as a backwater filled with mouth-breathing reprobates. But as groups like the Syrian Civil War sub-Reddit have shown, the platform can serve a real purpose when it comes to real-time reporting. And this isn’t reporting that is designed to live somewhere else — it is created and consumed on Reddit.

Crowdsourcing

BuzzFeed is doing something roughly equivalent with a project it is calling BuzzFeed Distributed, which has a team of writers and editors creating content of various kinds that is designed to live within the various social platforms, whether it’s Twitter and Facebook or Snapchat and Instagram. They aren’t designed to push users to the BuzzFeed site, but to raise awareness of the BuzzFeed brand and meet potential future readers on their home turf, in a sense (and likely also to show potential advertisers that it understands such communities and how they function).

News as a process

The other main thing that interests me about Carvin’s project is that it is explicitly taking a “news as a process” approach to real-time journalism — in other words, it sees truth in the journalistic sense as something that evolves over time, with multiple inputs from multiple different sources, some professional and some not, and fact-checking that is done in real time and in full public view. To quote from Reportedly’s statement of core values:

“There will be many occasions where we will share information that hasn’t been confirmed yet. We do so in the spirit of providing context to our newsgathering process, as well as inviting the public to help us confirm or debunk aspects of a particular news story. We will always be clear about what has not been confirmed. What we discuss on social media shouldn’t be seen as the conclusions of our reporting; instead, it’s the opening gambit of a public conversation that we hope will help us sort fact from fiction.”

This is the same process that Carvin used when he was reporting during the Arab Spring, using his Twitter followers as a kind of crowdsourced newsroom (as he described it to me in a previous interview). There were plenty of media types who criticized this approach, arguing that journalists shouldn’t make statements if they can’t prove they are true, but I think there is a clear social value in having that process occur in public — not the least of which is the old open-source software adage that “more eyes mean fewer bugs.”

If there’s one overwhelming aspect of Reportedly’s approach, it’s this collaborative element: the idea that Twitter users or Reddit posters aren’t just passive consumers of content, but have the potential to become active, engaged contributors to the practice of journalism, broadly defined. It’s an ambitious effort and it isn’t guaranteed to succeed, but I think it’s a worthwhile gamble, and I’m glad First Look is doing it. Other outlets should pay attention — and they should read Reportedly’s statement of core values too.

Andy Carvin launches social-media reporting team for First Look

Former NPR staffer and Twitter-based journalist Andy Carvin is launching a team of half a dozen social-media “anchor/producers” who will be embedded in various social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and use them as sources of journalism

Google News: The biggest missed opportunity in media right now

Despite all of its power and resources, Google has done relatively nothing to improve Google News since it launched. A German designer’s rethinking of the site shows just a fraction of the useful things the search giant could do if it wanted to.

Hacking media: Al Jazeera hackathon imagines the future of news

The Qatar-based news operation Al Jazeera is notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is one of the first new TV ventures to become a significant force on the media landscape since CNN first arrived 30 years ago. And since one of the things that being new allows you to do is experiment more than most of your long-established competitors, that’s exactly what Al Jazeera did with its recent Canvas hackathon, which brought media types and developers together in the Qatari capital of Doha for a weekend of news wonkery.

Hackathons have gotten a bad rap in some circles because they are often exercises in futility: although everyone has fun drinking coffee or Red Bull for 48 hours straight and eating bad pizza, what comes out of them tends to be goofy little apps or widgets that don’t accomplish a whole lot. But the Al Jazeera hackathon produced — or built on — a number of projects that actually sound like they could add something to the practice of online news.

Christopher Wink, who founded the Technical.ly network of local technology sites in Philadelphia, Brooklyn and other cities, was one of the mentors that Al Jazeera brought in for the event — which pulled together 90 participants from 37 countries, out of more than 1,600 applications. He has a blog post in which he lists some of his favorite projects, and almost all of them seem like they could help make the job of a journalist easier, or in some way expand the practice of news (there’s another good list here). Here are a few I found interesting:

Lasertag: This WordPress plugin suggests relevant links for highlighted terms in a blog post, which Wink says would help encourage “contextual linking, and alleviate any loss of institutional memory.” Both of those are necessary, in my view, but the need for links is number one — especially since so many journalists seem to be in such a hurry they rarely add links at all, despite the fact that it has never been easier, and that hyperlinking is the lifeblood of the web.

NewsClip.se: This tool is somewhat similar to Lasertag, in the sense that it runs a broad search on the topics in a blogger or reporter’s article, “like a powerful, automated Lexis Nexis search” according to Wink, and then suggests additional relevant information or resources on the topic. There are other tools that attempt to do this, some of which are plugins for WordPress or other platforms, but they could be so much better and more useful than just a random Wikipedia search, which is all that many seem to provide.

Perspectives: This Chrome extension is one of the most interesting for me, but also one of the more problematic. As Wink describes it, the extension would “suggest news articles about the same topic or subject but with an opposing or otherwise alternate viewpoint to broaden awareness.” There’s no question that this kind of broadening of awareness is necessary, but it might also encourage a simplistic “on the one hand, on the other hand” kind of approach that Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere.” Still, an interesting idea.

Another of the 19 projects that were chosen for the hackathon is somewhat similar to Perspectives: called ReFrame, it would pull in related information about a major news topic but focus specifically on local perspectives on a national or international story — to try and correct some of the misunderstandings that often surface during the reporting of stories like the Ebola crisis, where journalists are often writing about places they have never been. Another valuable effort, although perhaps a difficult one to automate.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.17.40 PM

Interestingly enough, several of the 19 projects were focused on trying to improve the state of comments or reader discussion of news stories, something I feel fairly strongly about. Soapbox is a tool that tries to Twitterize the comment section by limiting responses to 140 characters, to prevent readers from posting lengthy diatribes about their favorite points of view — although you could argue that abbreviating comments too much might actually encourage more flame-wars rather than less, as is often the case when a complex argument gets boiled down to a tweet.

The other experiment that sounded promising is called Safety In Numbers, which has two interesting elements: one is that it encourages websites to become part of a network in which they collaborate to identify and share data about good and bad commenters. The second element is an algorithmic backend that tries to quantify who is behaving well and who is behaving badly — by looking at a variety of factors — and then weights their actions based on those metric. So a “thumbs up” from a bad commenter would be weighted differently than one from a good commenter.

There were a number of other entrants that were doing interesting things to take advantage of the increasingly mobile nature of news, including one called Context that was designed to push hyper-local news to a user’s device based on their location and previous behavior (the news app from NBC-owned Breaking News recently added a similar location-based feature). All in all, it sounded like a fascinating event — if only other established media entities were experimenting as much.

Yes, newsrooms are shrinking — but journalism is growing

Layoffs at newspapers like the New York Times are no longer a surprise. But we should be careful not to assume that just because some papers are downsizing, journalism as a whole is in decline — because it’s growing faster than ever