Newswatch, the weekly Nigerian news magazine, has interviewed Bill Kovach, the former curator of the Nieman Journalism Foundation at Harvard University, and the founder of the Committee for Concerned Journalists, CCJ. Earlier in his career Kovach was chief of the New York Times Washington bureau, and executive editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Kovach answers questions about his (54 year long) career to date. Some of the best answers come near the end – on African news coverage, for example:
“[I] think the western world, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but the western world has always thought of Africa as something they had to interprete through their eyes and I always thought that was wrong.
“One of the things I love about the Nieman programme is that back in the 1960s, the Nieman programme refused to take people from South Africa because South African authorities only wanted white. But Harvard told the South African government and owners of the press that whites would be taken only if every other year, we got a black South African. And so, we began to bring into the Nieman programme white South Africans. Every other year, and soon it was every year, more whites and blacks got their chances.”
The panel included: Martin Belam (information architect, the Guardian; blogger, Currybet; John O’Donovan (chief architect, BBC News Online); Dan Brickley (Friend of a Friend project; VU University, Amsterdam; SpyPixel Ltd; ex-W3C); Leigh Dodds (Talis).
“Linked Data is about using the web to connect related data that wasn’t previously linked, or using the web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods.” (http://linkeddata.org)
I talked about how 2009 was, for me, a key year in data and journalism – largely because it has been a year of crisis in both publishing and government. The seminal point in all of this has been the MPs’ expenses story, which both demonstrated the power of data in journalism, and the need for transparency from government. For example: the government appointment of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the search for developers to suggest things to do with public data, and the imminent launch of Data.gov.uk around the same issue.
Even before then the New York Times and Guardian both launched APIs at the beginning of the year, MSN Local and the BBC have both been working with Wikipedia and we’ve seen the launch of a number of startups and mashups around data including Timetric, Verifiable, BeVocal, OpenlyLocal, MashTheState, the open source release of Everyblock, and Mapumental.
Q: What are the implications of paywalls for Linked Data?
The general view was that Linked Data – specifically standards like RDF [Resource Description Format] – would allow users and organisations to access information about content even if they couldn’t access the content itself. To give a concrete example, rather than linking to a ‘wall’ that simply requires payment, it would be clearer what the content beyond that wall related to (e.g. key people, organisations, author, etc.)
Leigh Dodds felt that using standards like RDF would allow organisations to more effectively package content in commercially attractive ways, e.g. ‘everything about this organisation’.
Q: What can bloggers do to tap into the potential of Linked Data?
This drew some blank responses, but Leigh Dodds was most forthright, arguing that the onus lay with developers to do things that would make it easier for bloggers to, for example, visualise data. He also pointed out that currently if someone does something with data it is not possible to track that back to the source and that better tools would allow, effectively, an equivalent of pingback for data included in charts (e.g. the person who created the data would know that it had been used, as could others).
Q: Given that the problem for publishing lies in advertising rather than content, how can Linked Data help solve that?
Dan Brickley suggested that OAuth technologies (where you use a single login identity for multiple sites that contains information about your social connections, rather than creating a new ‘identity’ for each) would allow users to specify more specifically how they experience content, for instance: ‘I only want to see article comments by users who are also my Facebook and Twitter friends.’
The same technology would allow for more personalised, and therefore more lucrative, advertising. John O’Donovan felt the same could be said about content itself – more accurate data about content would allow for more specific selling of advertising.
Martin Belam quoted James Cridland on radio: ‘[The different operators] agree on technology but compete on content’. The same was true of advertising but the advertising and news industries needed to be more active in defining common standards.
Leigh Dodds pointed out that semantic data was already being used by companies serving advertising.
I asked members of the audience who they felt were the heroes and villains of Linked Data in the news industry. The Guardian and BBC came out well – The Daily Mail were named as repeat offenders who would simply refer to ‘a study’ and not say which, nor link to it.
Martin Belam pointed out that the Guardian is increasingly asking itself ‘how will that look through an API?’ when producing content, representing a key shift in editorial thinking. If users of the platform are swallowing up significant bandwidth or driving significant traffic then that would probably warrant talking to them about more formal relationships (either customer-provider or partners).
A number of references were made to the problem of provenance – being able to identify where a statement came from. Dan Brickley specifically spoke of the problem with identifying the source of Twitter retweets.
Dan also felt that the problem of journalists not linking would be solved by technology. In conversation previously, he also talked of ‘subject-based linking’ and the impact of SKOS [Simple Knowledge Organisation System] and linked data style identifiers. He saw a problem in that, while new articles might link to older reports on the same issue, older reports were not updated with links to the new updates. Tagging individual articles was problematic in that you then had the equivalent of an overflowing inbox.
Finally, here’s a bit of video from the very last question addressed in the discussion (filmed with thanks by @countculture):
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“For several months we have made an independent voice heard, one that has exposed violence with concern for nothing but the truth. We have helped more than 250 endangered journalists and media all over the world, and I think we can be proud of that,” said Menard in the statement.
“But some Qatari officials never wanted an independent Centre, free to speak out without concern for politics or diplomacy, free to criticise even Qatar. How can we have any credibility if we keep quiet about problems in the country that is our host? Now the Centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work. This cannot go on. I was willing to make any necessary compromises as long as the foundations of our work – assistance grants, statements of opinion – were safeguarded. But that is no longer the case.”
In his departing statement, Menard criticised the local authorities for hampering the centre’s efforts. He claimed that staff from the centre were being prevented from leaving the country and that payment of the centre’s budget, scheduled for April 1, had been repeatedly delayed.
“Sheikh Hamad refused to sign administrative documents that would have enabled the Centre to take in journalists under threat in their own countries, as originally planned. His office told us recently that giving shelter to journalists from countries such as Iran might go against Qatar’s diplomatic interests. This confirmed that the Centre’s independence was, in his eyes, a myth,” said Menard.
“A PR message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that,” says Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm, in this piece, which looks at how US photographers, videographers and videojournalists are finding new commissions outside of traditional journalistic gigs.
“Unless you’re selling porn – especially weird porn – I would not go the subscription route,” Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, told the All Things D conference last week.
In the video below with the Washington Post’s Katharine Weymouth, Huffington also talks about the development of HuffPo: half of the site’s traffic now comes from non-political stories; the last round of funding is going into the investigative journalism fund, local verticals and expansion; the site is breaking even.