Sometimes, robots just aren’t enough

TechMeme adds a human editor to make adjustments when the algorithm fails:

“Any competent developer who tries to automate the selection of news headlines will inevitably discover that this approach always comes up a bit short. Automation does indeed bring a lot to the table — humans can’t possibly discover and organize news as fast as computers can. But too often the lack of real intelligence leads to really unintelligent results. Only an algorithm would feature news about Anna Nicole Smith’s hospitalization after she’s already been declared dead, as our automated celeb news site WeSmirch did last year

Would Google News add humans to the mix to craft a more up-to-date, relevant news site?  I doubt it.

But I’d be interested to see further variations of the algorithms that run Google News, TechMeme, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Digg or Reddit, to see what else is possible when it comes to translating the logic of linking behavior into actual prioritization of “importance,” if that’s still a relevant metric.

via @jayrosen_nyu


Steve Yelvington, on the consequences of removing copy editors from the newspaper equation:

“The dirty little secret of newspaper journalists is that a lot of them can’t write very well. That’s by no means universally true, but it’s true enough.”

Zac Echola, on his vision of a distributed and loosely joined newsroom:

“The Internet is my platform. Not a Web site. Not twitter. Not mobile devices. The entire Internet.”

Don’t even try to get that story on A1

Pullquote from a bit of morning reading at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog:

“I once consulted at a well-respected metro newspaper where several writers told me they tried to avoid pitching their stories for the front page because the ‘serial editing’ of these stories was such a hassle for them and damaging to their stories.”

That’s Michele McLellan writing about Rupert Murdoch’s claim that the average Wall Street Journal story passes across the desks of 8.3 editors.

How often have you heard from reporters who hold on to a solid story idea because they’re afraid their editors will “just ruin it” ?

8.3 is a big number, too many pairs of eyes for even the WSJ, but in many cases, I think even the three or four editors that a story at a small paper might run through are too many.  To be honest, sometimes one editor can get the job done — if it’s the right editor.

A note to my fellow graduate students: Agenda-setting is real, and it matters who edits a story last and who looks over the copy editor’s shoulder while they put together headlines, but inefficiency outweighs bias most of the time.

Unrelated bonus link:, a fun little database-powered Sunlight-type project that lets you guess  which political party a quotee belongs to.

Carnival folo

Some of the best posts I see coming out of this past weekend’s Carnival of Journalism are drifting into the blogosphere after the fact, as folks not on deadline analyze what we prattled on about for a few grafs each, who did the prattling, and how to muster up some real temporal freedom in newsrooms.

Doug Fisher, a contributor to the carnival, circles back around to take a closer look at the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina, a newsroom Jack Lail mentioned in his own carnival entry.

Anderson editor Don Kausler Jr. said this in Lail’s post:

“In our shrinking newsroom, we no longer have enough reporters to cover traditional beats such as government, education, business, health, etc. Now all of the reporters on our content staff are general assignment reporters. They are assigned to geographic regions, and they cover government, education, business, etc., in that region (or they wrangle content from freelancers).”

Fisher responds:

“I find myself wondering who is going to keep an eye out so that things that might be seemingly isolated or random among geographic areas don’t get overlooked as pointing to a larger pattern. This, it seems to be, puts additional pressure on the editors to see that 10,000-foot view. But even if they do, will the GA reporter thrown in to do the story have the time to develop the expertise.”

This is a hard one for understaffed newsrooms. When the shrinking-profit-margin layoff virus hit the paper I worked at in California, we cut both specialists and GA reporters working a geographic beat. They weren’t replaced, and the newsroom wasn’t re-organized to cover the losses.

And if a newsroom does give up its specialists and re-organize around geography, does it need to keep one body working on investigative, or enterprise, or education, or business — something where they can go in-depth and anchor the front page a few times a week?

Probably, but that one extra body doesn’t exist in most newsrooms.

“So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”

Which brings me back around to time.

My original question for the carnival bloggers was meant to find ways for newsrooms to take back some time from the print edition.

Print edition workflow is a huge timesink, as files get passed back and forth, budget lines are floated, edited, mulled over in meetings, questions are posed, and the actual process of writing gets jammed into a small space on deadline.

Michelle McLellan, writing at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, says it’s hard to let go of the newsroom culture of perfectionism:

“The research tells us that traditional print news organizations tend to reinforce perfectionism to a fault. People focus on details at the expense of big-picture thinking. Perfectionists are afraid to leave anything out, much less stop doing something. This is why stories get longer, workloads get heavier and to-do lists grow to discouraging proportions. These newsrooms also are risk-averse. So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”

McLellan goes on to list 10 steps to getting an individual journalist to adopt a new practice, whether it’s online or off — well worth a read, especially for those of us saddled with the task of actually talking to reporters and editors every day, trying to get them to pick up some new tricks — if they can find the time.