#sholinonrap on Clayton Christensen

It’s been a good week for guest speakers here at the office. Gary Vaynerchuk was here on Tuesday, and Clayton Christensen spoke yesterday. Pretty much a coincidence, I think, as their talks were part of two different programs here, but I think Christensen would happily cite @garyvee as an example of his theories in action.

So Gary was fun, but I was looking forward to Christensen. There’s a not-too-thin logical chain where I have a job in this industry because of his research getting into the hands of certain early online news adopters.

When Gary spoke, I think I promised Sean Blanda I would give Christensen the #sholinonrap treatment.

I had my dates mixed up, but you get the picture.

For the uninitiated, “#sholinonrap” is how Sean responds on Twitter or Facebook or wherever, whenever I make some sort of hip-hop reference. Last time Sean was here at the office for some sort of panel, I gave him the treatment, tweeting about the panel in the form of rap lyrics.

And not only was it fun, but it was also a disciplined approach to note-taking that forced me to do three things:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Boil down complex topics into simple, 140-character-or-less approximations of lines of verse, complete with rhymes and flow where possible. (I am not an expert at this, kids.)
  3. Show my work by tweeting it.

In other words, an efficient and entertaining (for me, anyway) bit of exercise for my brain.

So yesterday during Christensen’s talk, I found a nondescript spot in the audience between a VP of News and a Social Media Editor and did my thing. It went okay.

Many, many thanks to Chris Amico for whipping up a Storify of #christensenonrap before I even had a chance to get back to my desk to prep for my next meeting. Here it is:



I had a couple interesting conversations later in the day about why Christensen might not have been too excited about answering direct questions about how this applies to the news business.

One reason might be that the American Press Institute (hi y’all!) spent a few years of research on how Christensen’s theories about disruptive innovation fit into the news business. Newspaper Next. You might have heard of it. Maybe not. Here are a few useful links. (Some of these are remarkably useful.)

Plenty to peruse there over your holiday weekend, eh? Anyway, hope you enjoyed this episode of #sholinonrap. Beast!


2012 Civic Media Conference takeaways, open questions, reactions, notes

It’s been three years since I last made the trek to Cambridge for what we once called KNCMIT, and although the cast of characters has changed (with little-to-no representation of 2007-8-9 Knight News Challenge winners, different faces at the MIT Media Lab, and a rebooted Knight Foundation posse) the outcome was similar.

All unhappy airport terminals are alike, so the sense of deja vu carries over from the hotel to the cab to the fluorescent carpeted discomfort of Logan, and the foreboding sense of dread that comes with a United flight. (Prove me wrong, airline. Prove me wrong.)

On to the obligatory, but hopefully not exclusively duplicative and obvious notes:

  • Homicide Watch is excellent, and repeatable. Whether or not you use the code powering the DC site, the model of reporting on every homicide in a city — and not just reporting it, but reporting on it, while maintaining pages for every victim and suspect — this is something that doesn’t depend exclusively on technology, although the platform is perfectly tailored to the job. But it does depend on being obsessed with telling the stories that we often hide behind numbers, or a map. (Previously.) Also, it helps to be as driven and passionate about it as Laura, and to care about people.
  • Sometimes, there’s just no story in the data. Jonathan Stray hoisted this banner of editorial force, and Daniel X. O’Neill waved it high, the sort of basic news value that journalism school drills into us if we listen: Check the facts, check the data, then double-check it and account for the fragile chain of human actions that produced the data. Because a spreadsheet packed with invalid data and intervening variables is not a story. It’s a mess, and a risk, and it might be the start of the reporting process, not the end of it. (Session video here, worth watching.)
  • The contraction of the Knight News Challenge grant cycle into themed 90-day periods is a right and good thing, as is the new prototype fund. You should apply to one or both, right now. This minute.

Not pictured in this list: An improved opinion of the food and beverage options in Cambridge, Mass.

A future history of crowdsourced reporting

During the second or third or so year of my still-brief career in what we might as well call “the news business” for lack of a more encompassing and descriptive term, I found myself jumping up and down advocating for a tool to standardize the task of gathering data from the news audience.

Crowdsourcing as a term was new, and by definition “bigger” than just “sourcing” because it could happen at scale, where scale could be thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people with the right call to action and programming framework.

WNYC’s “beer, lettuce, milk” price data gathering project was a favorite, although it appears to have been powered by a comment thread, mostly.

That was always one that stuck out in my mind, due to the quantitative nature of it. This wasn’t about asking the news audience for opinions; it was a method of gathering facts about the city and its bodegas, data that wasn’t compiled anywhere, and that made sense to bring together in one place, given the chaotic system (system?) of New York City bodegas.


Matt McAlister has gathered a Big Important List of crowdsourced reporting projects, and he’s notably compiling a list that extends beyond traditional journalism and news organizations, as we all should.

It’s a fascinating list of projects, and a reminder that it’s not always “content” news organizations are looking to “generate” from “users,” but information, or perhaps better yet, analysis of documents or images or cities or rivers or the world surrounding them.

Again, my own interest, albeit usually from afar, in tools like DocumentCloud, is the chance to bring the audience into the reporting process by giving them an assignment. “Read a piece of this giant 1100 page budget, or campaign finance bill, or FEC disclosure, or Friday night data dump (see the classic Talking Points Memo instance here), and annotate it so we can find the important stuff quickly.”


The fun part, naturally, isn’t in examining the past of crowdsourced reporting, but imagining the future. What does a platform to quickly spin up an instance of a crowdsourcing machine when news breaks look like? More than a map, surely, as amazing and powerful as location can be. It has to be flexible and fast and able to parse submissions into something useful, digestible, sortable so the most important information surfaces as if it were weightless.

Or are we already looking at the platform, the system, in Twitter or Facebook or Google Search or the Web itself? I don’t think I believe that. There must be more, or there must be a federated system to harvest and groom information from all these sources — not for the purpose of curation into a story or list or gallery, but for analysis, understanding, quantification at scale.

Continuing to dream of that ideal crowdsourcing platform…

Is Reddit journalism? The inevitable investigation.

If your interaction with Reddit is anything like mine, you’re a 9-percenter.

Remember the 90-9-1 rule of online community interaction? Well, on Reddit, I rarely say a word, and I’ve probably never started a thread, but I do so enjoy their magical little UI for upvoting posts and comments, especially on my phone, often in the middle of the night while trying to get a child back to sleep.

That places me somewhere between a lurker (90 percent) who never logs in, just reads and scans, and at best, might link to a thread from elsewhere, and an active participant (1 percent) who posts daily, optimizes their headlines to be more likely to garner enough upvotes to land on the homepage (please note the title of this blog post), and/or creates “novelty accounts” — usernames designed to be part of the joke themselves.

It’s a fascinating community, with Reddiquette that has evolved over the years, and a language of acronyms as described by David Weinberger in a blog post this weekend that acts as the beginning of a set of open questions along the lines of “Is Reddit Journalism?” But those quotation marks are my own. David’s questions are much better than that.

His questions revolve around the idea of “Reddit and community journalism(the actual title of his post, clearly not optimized for upvotes at the time of this writing.) Several key Reddit acronyms are covered, including TIL (Today I Learned) and AMA (Ask Me Anything).

Sound familiar?

Open up a daily newspaper, and find what in no uncertain terms we’d call “community journalism” in the form of interviews with and profiles of local personalities, unsung heroes, hidden gems, people in your neighborhood, etc.

That’s an AMA.

Admittedly, the request queue for print coverage in this vein could be considered a little less democratic than on Reddit, where a search for “IAMA request” strongly resembles the early days of the Help A Reporter Out mailing list.

And of course, we’ve all read columnists elaborate on some interesting tidbit of information or history of their community, sharing a discovery with their readers, who often write back in the form of letters (and now, comments, naturally) and share their own point of view, rebuttals, or even memories of the factoid in question.

That’s a TIL.

Now, go upvote this on Reddit.

If it makes it to the homepage, I’ll write a sequel titled “10 ways Reddit is like a newspaper in the 1980s.”


Hardly Strictly takeaways

By now, you’ve surely forgotten the barrage of tweets and check-ins from 30 or so of us — the “Hardly, Strictly Young” David Cohn invited to the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute a couple weeks back for a round table Carnival of Journalism mission to gather alternative ideas about how to implement the Knight Commission’s recommendations.

We spent a full day in four rotating groups of around eight people, taking on one of the big Knight Commission questions at a time. Here are some mixed notes, with findings from various groups that still stick out in my mind, some key ideas tweeted, and associated other free associations.

The Four Questions

1. Town and Gown connections

Along with the standard j-school/local news organization mashups, we tried to dig a littler deeper into a goal of breaking down the barriers between a university and the community that surrounds it. One key bit of epigrammar: We need both Public Professorship and to learn from the Professorship of the Public.

At Matt Thompson’s lead, we even went so far as to imagine what a layer of 106 & Park-like hashtag trappings might look like when draped over a civic issue, as a tool to teach modern media literacy. Maybe even a local debate framed as an American Idol-style tournament of viewpoints, complete with SMS voting.

And then, there was Cody Brown’s media literacy in the classroom recommendation:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/CodyBrown/status/60382812557152256″]

2. Increase the number of news sources

This is one that was subject to a great deal of interpretation during the pre-conference Carnival of Journalism. At my table, we had the benefit of insight from #expertmode crowdsourcer Amanda Michel of Propublica, so we took the word “source” literally.

I walked away from the table with at least two excellent (you might even call them actionable) product development ideas:

  • Add a tip form to your 404 and/or empty search results pages. “Didn’t find what you were after? Tell us what we should be reporting on.”
  • Build yourself a source dashboard behind the scenes where you can connect a commenter or contributor to their Twitter and Facebook accounts (and blogs, etc.) even if they haven’t connected them to their public accounts, so that you get a holistic view of reliability, expertise, and behavior.

3. Expand local media initiatives to reflect the communities they represent

This was one I felt strongly about, as evidenced in part by my open Carnival letter to new Knight Foundation VP Michael Maness. I think our host might have remembered that, as I was denoted as one of two presenters on the topic for our table, along with Nieman Journalism Lab reporter Megan Garber.

I’ve posted the full notes from our group’s recommendations, but here are a few highlights of our three point plan to connect Knight journalism grant technology with community nonprofits and ethnic media organizations that are already providing community information needs, but could use a little push to expand their reach and build capacity:

  • Outreach: A recurring theme in recommendations on this topic: Find the existing community information providers that are already thriving, but need support for capacity building in order to expand their reach.
  • Pilot Grants: Having identified the key community information providers with a lot of upside, show up at their doorstep with small grants (preferably with quick turnaround times on approval, having already taken steps to establish criteria and identify potential grantees). The goal of these grants? Build their capacity, expand their reach.
  • Apply a generous layer of News Challenge technology: Given the community, the focus of each organization, and the pilot project, connect these new community information grantees with News Challenge (and other Knight journalism program) grantees. Apply KNC technology (and programmer/journalist resources) to the new grantee problems and challenges.

4. A local information hub for every community

The group I was in had a great deal of trouble finding a niche to work with here. The technology to make this available already exists, and in many communities, local news sources get this job in some form, too.

One successful model we weren’t alone in identifying? Local wikis, like Davis Wiki, and my personal favorite, RocWiki in Rochester, NY. The Davis Wiki team, matter of fact, is a Knight News Challenge winner, currently building out tools for building local wikis.

And my other favorite implementation idea, intended to bring Web access, literacy, and skills to areas where broadband coverage is still sparse, the Web-a-bago.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/moniguzman/status/60373160259891200″]

Hardly Strictly More to Read

Content asteroid belts

Cameron Koczon on how publishers and readers manage satellites like Instapaper, Readability, and other unbundled flying objects: A List Apart: Orbital Content.

“Many publishers will ask—and it is a fair and familiar question—why should users have the right to carbon copy my content and share it in other contexts? It is a question that belies a concern about something slightly different: compensation. If publishers were compensated $10 every time content was shared and $1 every time it was read on their site, they would do everything in their power to get their content shared. Copying is not the problem—compensation is. Today’s web environment makes it nothing less than a struggle to support content creators. We have unlimited tools for sharing and virtually none for payment.”

It seems safe to add News.Me, Summify, and Trove to the list of satellites — or rather, to the list of, say, content asteroid belts that circle readers and publishers.

On the deaths of two photojournalists in Libya

“Chris and Tim are at sea now, heading toward Benghazi, which means, in the indirect but solemn ways that the fallen travel from battlefields, that they are heading home.”

via THE GUN by C.J. Chivers.


As for me, I don’t have a lot of grief in me for this, just anger. Undirected, unfocused anger.

If you have any ideas about who I should be angry at about this, please let me know.

Thanks in advance.