At Snopes, A Quest To Debunk Misinformation Online [NYTimes]

From the NYTimes: “The popularity of Snopes – it attracts seven million to eight million unique visitors in an average month – puts the couple in a unique position to evaluate digital society’s attitudes toward accuracy.

After 14 years, they seem to have concluded that people are rather cavalier about the facts.

In a given week, Snopes tries to set the record straight on everything from political smears to old wives’ tales.”


GateHouse Lawsuit vs. New York Times Co. has Dire Implications

GateHouse Media filed a lawsuit Monday against the New York Times Co. alleging copyright infringement after the NYT-owned Boston Globe frequently posted links containing headlines and the first sentences from articles on GateHouse’s community news sites.

View the Document: The 25-page lawsuit to stop the Globe from posting GateHouse links. [UPDATE 12/23, 10:02 p.m.: A judge]
View the Document: 35-page support document for the injunction [PDF]
View the Document: Affidavit by GateHouse Media Metro Editor-in-Chief Gregory Reibman [PDF]
Your Town Newton, one of the Boston Globe’s community sites that sparked the lawsuit. See the news links in the center content gutter.

The lawsuit, if successful, could create a monumental chilling effect for bloggers, news sites, search engines, social media sites and aggregators such as Topix and Techmeme, which link to articles, display headlines and use snippets of copyrighted text from other sites. Initiatives such as the Times Extra, which displays links to related articles from other sites, could be shut down for fear of copyright lawsuits. It could lead to a repudiation of one of the fundamental principles on which the Internet was built: the discovery and sharing of information.

In its complaint, GateHouse called the article links “deep links” because they do not link to the home page of the site. The “deep link” language in the complaint is meant to invoke cases such as the case, wherein a motorcross news site was successfully prohibited from deep linking to a competing site’s streaming video file, which bypassed the site’s advertising.

From a technological standpoint, Your Town Newton’s article links would likely be considered deep links. However, that does not necessarily mean the links are a violation of fair use principles. The links to the articles, which contain as many as six advertisement positions, are rather different in nature from the links to streaming audio and media files in the case, which were unable to contain advertising.

GateHouse’s assertion is that the Boston Globe community site’s use of the headlines cannibalizes GateHouse’s content and causes it financial harm because readers gather news from the links and snippets on the Globe’s site rather than visit GateHouse’s sites. Although not explicitly stated in the complaint, this means GateHouse likely believes the loss of readers from possible increased use of the Globe’s site will not be offset by the readers brought in by its competitor’s links.

If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.

In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.

[UPDATE 12/23]: Here’s some commentary on the lawsuit from other media bloggers:

How the GateHouse suit looks from both sides – Media Nation
GateHouseGate – Mark Potts
A danger to journalism – Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine
Gatehouse sues NYTCo over aggregation: But do they have a point? – Tish Grier
Aggregation aggravation – PaidContent
Dying Newspapers Suing Each Other For Content Theft – Silicon Valley Insider

CPJ: 45% of Jailed Media Workers are Online Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists released an eye-opening report, which says that 56 of the 125 accounted-for jailed journalists in the world are bloggers and other online workers. It is the first year that online journalists account for the largest category of journalists being imprisoned in the world — a fact that underscores how governments in countries such as China and Cuba are increasingly cracking down on online media as people use readily available online tools to report on and critique the government.

CPJ executive director sums it up well:

“The image of the solitary blogger working at home in pajamas may be appealing, but when the knock comes on the door they are alone and vulnerable,” said Simon. “All of us must stand up for their rights–from Internet companies to journalists and press freedom groups. The future of journalism is online and we are now in a battle with the enemies of press freedom who are using imprisonment to define the limits of public discourse.”

I believe it’s time for organizations such as the Online News Association and bloggers such as ourselves to raise more awareness of these people who are being jailed, many without any form of due process. We must become more aware of the dangers faced by our colleagues overseas.

[PJ’s 2008 prison census: Online and in jail – Committee to Protect Journalists]

[Thanks to Steve Yelvington via Twitter for the link]

BlogOrlando Schedule Posted, Registration Open

If you’ve been waiting to see who’s coming to BlogOrlando this year before you decide to make the trip, well wait no further! The schedule is now posted and features some of the smartest blogging minds around — all for the fabulous price of nil.

The unconference, which is now in its third year, features expert speakers who tackle blogging from various perspectives, be it community organizing, public relations or software engineering. BlogOrlando’s main day will be held Saturday, Sept. 27 at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. not far from downtown Orlando. There will be other receptions and events going on as well (see the schedule). For the higher diploma in the mechanical engineering Click here.

If you check out the attendee list, you’ll see folks are coming from all over Central Florida, Tampa/St. Pete and South Florida, as well as from the rest of the country. Last year, more than 250 people attended and got tips on how to integrate blogs in the newsroom, podcasting, blog design and how to organize community blogs. Did I mention all this doesn’t cost you a penny for registration?

I’ll see you there!

[BlogOrlando official site]

Remembering fallen journalists

In general, professionals in our industry have become obsessed with how to make our news organizations succeed in this difficult climate — and with good reason. We’re in trouble. We worry about page views-to-uniques ratios, the latest video cameras, how to cut costs, how to reach younger readers and so on.

But let’s take a moment to worry about our fellow journalists who expose themselves to deadly situations, just to get the news out. In the midst of worrying about the incoming dollars, we forget that we serve principles for which many journalists lay down their lives.

Beginning today, the BBC will begin shining a beam of light into the sky each night to remember journalists who have died to inform people and give a voice to the voiceless. See video of the dedication ceremony here. Every day, journalists are killed, imprisoned and beaten; just visit the Committee to Protect Journalists site on any given day to see. Go ahead and visit the guide for journalists working in hot areas [PDF] for tips on how to purchase body armor and suggestions on how to embed with combatants in wars.

In this trying time for our industry, don’t forget why many of us do what we do.

A cumulative glance at Romenesko

Steve Outing has took a quick look back at the last four days of journo gossip herder Romenesko’s postings to see if any pattern emerges.  The result: 26% of the postings are about personnel changes (announcements, deaths, etc.); 13% are about the death and demise of newspapers; and 10% are ethics-related (i.e., the kind of postings one references when telling a colleague “Yeah dude, do that. Can’t wait to see it on Romenesko.”)

For the complete list, check out Steve Outing’s Romenesko indicator.

An opinion on media objectivity

Steve Outing’s recent column titled “Climate Change: Get Over Objectivity, Newspapers” has resulted in a firestorm of nasty e-mails and postings, according to Outing in his blog.

An idealist would say objectivity arose from a desire to have an enlightened, rational discussion. A cynic would say it was a good business decision made to sell more newspapers by catering to partisan readers of all varieties. It’s been about a century now, but I’d guess from my own studies that the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Check out Jay Rosen’s well-worded take on objectivity:

“Part of the problem is that journalists don’t realize what objectivity was in the first place,” says Rosen. “From the beginning it was a way of limiting liability, and allowing journalists to take a pass when it’s hard to figure out who’s right and what’s really going on. From the beginning it was meant to dull the knife edge of the press. It was meant to ‘de-voice’ or defang the individual journalist, so that more people would be comfortable with the product. But the costs of that system have built up over time.”

My sense is that Outing’s column comes less from a desire to save polar bears and more from a desire to see a passionate, interesting newspaper. I also sense it comes from frustration with us journalists worshiping objectivity while many in the public shamelessly hate us and call us biased anyway.

Throwing out the expectation of objectivity in reporting isn’t the answer. The answer is not being ashamed of our editorials and of the discussion we generate.

When confronted by some random person on the street with accusations of my news organization being biased, I don’t placate him or her with cries of objectivity and drone on about the newsroom/editorial board “firewall.” Instead, I spit back that newspapers are supposed to take a stand on issues and do their best to dig up the truth — even if it pisses people off some times. I say that if you have something to say, then here’s my card and come spit fire on one of our blogs or message boards; I’d love to have ya.

The standard newspaper writing style is often stale and homogeneous. Newspapers seldom publish (in print) commentary from the blogosphere and message boards. Many newspaper Web sites bury their interesting blogs at the bottom of their home pages and don’t regularly link to local blogs. And, most poignantly, killer editorials almost never appear on the front page; they’re buried in the back of the A-section.

Let’s begin with truly respecting objective news stories and subjective opinion slinging as being partners in creating a compelling newspaper. Let’s do our best to be fair to the subjects of stories while increasingly embracing our role as discussion leaders in our respective communities.

Otherwise, I foresee many news organizations literally dying of boredom.

L.A. Times editorial board decries Google News comments

The L.A. Times editorial board on Saturday scoffed at the principles of free speech and open information with an editorial claiming that “Many publishers consider the Internet, and Google in particular, a greater threat to their livelihoods than Osama bin Laden.”

The Times is upset by the fact that Google will be allowing the people who are written about in stories to comment via their Google News service. It says that Google “isn’t journalism.”

Google is a search engine and content aggregator. This huffing about Google not being journalism is akin to lambasting the guy who drives the newspaper delivery truck for not having a journalism degree.

Nevertheless, the Times does not cite copyright issues in its editorial.

It does not discuss the difficulty in managing such a comment system.

It does not even ask how it will verify the contributors’ identities (never mind that Times editorials carry no bylines — a whole other issue).

But it does assert that “a seemingly heartfelt comment may carry the CEO’s name, but the words will probably have been typed by corporate flacks.” Fair enough, but what about the comments made by experts with thoughtful insights? What about the lady who was inaccurately reported dead telling the world she is, indeed, alive. What about the families of disaster victims who simply want to thank the world for their prayers? You can visit Mitcccny for that.

I quote from the Times’ own editorial board mission statement:

On the editorial page, the newspaper sets aside its objective news-gathering role to join its readers in a dialogue about important issues of the day.

The Times is offended by the notion that the people who contribute comments to Google News will be making them “unedited.” This means the comments will not be altered and filtered by people like the writer of the Times editorial, who has such splendid judgment as to compare a medium we use to learn about the world in unprecedented ways as being equivalent to an extremist who murdered nearly 3,000 people.

This is exactly the kind of idiotic hubris that causes the public to hate journalists and, by extension, the journalism they produce. It is also the sort of attitude that could throttle the life out of newspapers online and make the prophecies of out-of-touch opinion mongers come true.

I can only pray that today’s newspaper leaders do not have the same lowly opinion of the Internet and public forums as do the Times‘ editorial board. If so, we journalists are in worst trouble than I thought.


More responses from Robert Niles at Online Journalism Review, Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine and Amy Webb at MyDigiMedia.

And a reminder of exactly to what the editorial board has compared Google:


Journalism ethics in an understandable nutshell

The world of journalism ethics can be a complicated, scary place. The New York Times’ code of ethics [PDF] is almost thick enough at 57 pages to qualify as a textbook. Even some of the shorter ones, such as that of The Washington Post, serve more as references as opposed to simple guidelines one can follow in a heartbeat.

That’s why I liked the list presented at a workshop yesterday by Orlando Sentinel public editor Manning Pynn. Manning, in an act that might make George Carlin proud, has drilled down on ethics codes in an attempt to capture the essence of them into something more understandable — especially for folks new to journalism who haven’t sat through semester-long ethics classes in college. So here’s Manning’s list, which any cub reporter can easily keep in his pocket and use to stay out of trouble:

* Don’t accept free stuff.
* Don’t cover family, friends — or enemies.
* Don’t use your position for personal benefit.
* Don’t make stuff up.
* Don’t steal other people’s work.
* Don’t alter photographs.

Now clearly, journalism ethics can become more complex than this small list. The Poynter Institute has a Geek Squad of experts ready at a moment’s notice to help you solve tough ethical conundrums, and they produce plenty of excellent, valuable content to hammer out these issues.

But when I’m spotted at a venue by a friendly press agent who wants to slip me some tempting tickets for a hot concert next week, the first thing I’m going to fall back on is simply “don’t accept free stuff.”


More Ethical Links:

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

American Society of Newspaper Editors list of newspapers’ codes of ethics

Poynter Institute Ethics section

Daily Telegraph takes heat for Virginia Tech article

Daily Telegraph logoThe Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia is taking heat from U.S. readers for publishing the photo of one of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre and characterizing her as having “sparked” the killings.

The Telegraph published a note inside the online article in question, indicating the strong reaction to the piece. Firstly, let me commend the Telegraph for continuing the discussion openly online.

That aside, I found the tone of their article revolting. This line is particularly offensive: “THIS is the face of the girl who may have sparked the worst school shooting in US history.” [Bolded in original story.] Then, to make the matter worse, an editor at the Daily Telegraph then attempted to explain away the criticism as perhaps being “cultural confusion between the US and Australia.”

This is not the same situation as when a Daily Telegraph columnist derided a black athlete as being a “baboon.” Distateful as that column’s implications are, I just maybe, possibly might swallow that there is a difference in racial tensions and language between Australia and the United States.

This may have been a case of sloppy editing, or of not having enough sensitivity to an event because it happened in a faraway place. But plastering an innocent dead girl’s face on the Web and implying that she is somehow partially responsible for the massacre of more than 30 of her peers is no cultural confusion.

It is grossly irresponsible.

Legal advice for bloggers, citizen journalists

The Online Journalism Review has an excellent article with some practical legal advice for bloggers. The article discusses the case of videoblogger Josh Wolf, as well as some of the legal implications of a blogger code of conduct.

But here’s what may be the best tidbit: “Bottom line: choosing to publish online is an enormous responsibility, and it carries risks. But a professional attitude, self-education and a few proactive steps can go a long way.” Right on.

[Thanks Angela]

How the bad call on John Edwards’ campaign decision spread

Columbia Journalism Review’s Gal Beckerman has a thorough write-up on how the media’s prediction of John Edwards  closing down his campaign turned out to be astronomically wrong yesterday.

The culprit, as it so often is, was a reporter relying on a single source. The secondary culprits were nearly every other major news outlet who cited that report. Elizabeth Edwards even took a small jab at the media with her comment, “You haven’t turned out to be so reliable in the last 24 hours.”

Of course, it was all made possible thanks to the speed of Internet reporting. From CJR’s assessment of the debacle:

The problem, as we see it, is twofold. In spite of claiming to realize the power of the Internet – that’s why, presumably, Politico was able to lure big time political reporters like Smith away from newspapers – the reporters and editors who run the site still don’t realize how far their voice carries. We imagine Smith probably thought that a blog post couldn’t possibly make it farther than his own beltway readership. He should know better, and be just as careful about announcing such news as he would be in any other medium.But the bigger problem has to do with the Internet itself. By giving the impression that everything is immediately correctible, it lowers accountability, making it seem okay to take risks – like basing a story on one source. If a Web site like Politico wants to be taken seriously, it has to live be the same rigorous standards that most news organizations live and die by.

Lesson hopefully learned by all of us. Here’s the original post from the Politico blog, and here’s his apology.