Fascinating to see how Arabic and English news service Al Jazeera is approaching the innovation imperative with its Al Jazeera Labs project.
In the first couple of months of this year the company has rolled out many deals and pilots in interesting areas, according to a great report on Journalism.co.uk. I’m especially intrigued by things like its experiments with Creative Commons licensing of content and use of data visualisation in news stories like the recent war in Gaza.
The map is using both mainstream media reports and what people are saying in social media, via Usahidi, a “platform for crowdsourcing crisis information”. It is designed to help build up a picture of what is happening in a crisis situation – be it a natural disaster or a military conflict – based on what people are saying (by text, blog, Twitter etc.) on the ground.
Image: Al Jazeera's Gaza map on the Ushahidi platform
It’s a very interesting concept, and interesting to see serious attempts to make sense of and filter the rich information – with all the sensible caveats about reliability – that personal content from people involved or near to a crisis situation create.
You’ll doubtless have heard the story of the journalist and comedian, Ariane Sherine, who was irritated by a Christian ad campaign on buses declaring that non-believers “will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell … Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire prepared for the devil”.
Writing a series of articles on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, she suggested that atheists club together to pay for a some ads with a more reassuring atheist messsage (“There’s probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”) the campaign gathered momentum and raised far more money than was needed. It also became a meme that spread around the world.
Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the ad. The ads, or the process of getting them there, became a social object.
The effect of the advertising itself is almost peripheral to the effect of the debate, the bringing together of atheists – a group usually less adept at organising itself than anarchists – with the focus of getting these ads made and the space on the buses bought.
So, some online debate plus a donation website (with a fund that is still growing) and there you have it… a potent piece of activism.
: : Finally, as a riposte to the inevitable complaints to the ASA, Richard Dawkins, a devise proponent of atheism gives a choice quote in this video: “They have to take offence – it’s the only weapon they’ve got.” Got to remember that one, right?
Image: A police line forms toward the end of yesterday's Gaza protest in London (credit: Rich Lewis)
When I was a student in 1994 I was on the front cover of The Indpendent the morning after a riot outside the Houses of Parliament.
The image was of a grimacing, dreadlocked fellow’s grimacing face lunging over the line of police shields.
(No, that wasn’t me…)
The picture spoke a thousand words. It told the whole story. The whole story of a photographer standing the other side of police barricade.
The image looked as if it was taken in the heat of the disturbance. In fact it was a while before anything had happened, when what would become a riot was still a peaceful protest against the Criminal Justice Bill. The man was drunk and on his own. I saw him have a tussle with the cordon of police and – rightly so – being arrested and taken away.
Far from being part of an angry mob there was no one behind him. Well, I was – a few metres back and hence I was in the shot.
Being *in* the protest was a very different experience to being the safer side of the police lines.
No doubt that in part reflects the priorities of people caught up in the violence (taking part / trying to get away rather than documenting the moment) but perhaps also gives a more proportional balanced view of how the day unfolded. The creativity and passion of the protesters, the diversity of people taking part, the scale of the event are there in the hundreds of photos people have uploaded.
Image: A family on the protest march (credit: Tyron Francis)
The truth is more prosaic, less dramatic, slower than the news cycle. But at a time when churnalism and misinformation is decaying the media’s usefulness as a truthful recorder of events, sometimes social media is where we need to turn for the facts.
: : I went back to the Flickr search as I finished this article and there were many more images of the violence at the end of the day being posted…
There are of course,
For a protester’s-eye view of being on the the march have a look at this:
This one follows the news media’s format a little more closely, with the most of it being of the rioting at the end of the day. In big protests like this one, there are often people who are really there with the hop of provoking and tkaing part in trouble, masking their hooliganism as political activism.
As NowPublic’s Rachel Nixon puts it on their blog:
The relationship between producers and consumers of news is changing. What used to be known as “the story” is evolving into something different: fragments of information that don’t come pre-assembled or filtered. With such a rich array of information from so many different sources, it can be confusing without the mechanisms to make sense of it all. We’re in it together to make sense of the story.
Alfred Hermida at Reportr.net says of the list:
Top [...] are the Mumbai attacks, a tragic event that demonstrated the value of raw and unfiltered information. It ends with the false report on Steve Jobs heart attack, a salutary tale of the perils of not checking this raw information.
Journalists and the public alike are learning fast about how to get information in raw and filtered forms. Looking forward to seeing how the relationships and processes around gathering and making sense of news evolve in 2009.
Aggregators were my first love, when it comes to news and social media – I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of Digg, lover of Techmeme and I basically see most of the world through my personal aggregator, the ever flexible and accesible Google Reader.
So it’s nice to see some fervent discussion among bloggers about the best combination. Some love Twitter for the links it brings their way (so do I, sometimes), others eschew the RSS reader for a combo of automated aggregators like Techmeme and Hacker News.
What’s sparked the discussion is Techmeme (which has sister aggregator sites Memeorandum (web / tech news), Ballbug (baseball news) and the auto-scurrilacious We Smirch (celeb gossip)) announcing that it will be introducing moe human editorial interventions to keep its list fresh.
In part this is a response to people trying to game the Techmeme algorithm to give their posts prominence (shame on you). But, as Gabe Riviera, creator of Techmeme explains, it’s also because in lots of other ways “Guess what? Automated news doesn’t quite work“.
Humans have always edited Techmeme of course, just implicitly. For instance, when a blogger links to a story, the headline might move higher on Techmeme. What’s different now is that an additional human editor will carry out changes explicitly to directly improve the mix of headlines on Techmeme.
I really like the explicit / implicit way of explaining this. Even the great technical marvel that is the Google search engine algorithm is implicitly affected by humans – it is trying to read the clues (links, traffic, words, reputation) that people leave as to which are the best websites on any given keyword.
As Riviera points out – by way of a link to VentureBeat – even Google News has problems in adapting to the mercurial and unpredictable shapes of breaking news.
Alan Patrick at Broadstuff has an interesting slant on this topic too. Taking a historical analogy, he says that it is early days still for news aggregation:
Long term we suspect bit by bit the human bits of curation will be replaced by better and more intelligent automation. We are in the spinning jenny phase of automated aggregation…. just starting to pick up the threads, as it were
: : Just read this post by Adam Tinworth, who heads up blogs for Reed Business Information – his take on Techmeme is about the significance for news sites:
“This is a high traffic tech news site – run by one editorial person.”