These are some notes on a talk by Francis Steen on news as a way to create space for us to intervene in the course of history.
Francis Steen of UCLA about causal reasoning in TV news at the MIT Media Lab (Taken with Instagram at MIT Media Lab (E-14))
The UCLA Communications Archive has 200,000 hours of programming, searchable via regular expressions (that is, full text and you can use special search expressions to find variations on words). When you search, it will not only bring up corresponding videos but cues you to the right location available. Steen claims that nothing else exists like it, even commercially, for the range of programs they capture.
They also have many campaign ads from 2012 US presidential candidates, searchable by where/when broadcast.
Visual/montage browsing shows you hundreds of thumbnails in time sequence to get you to the place you want to be.
It looks like most of the channels captured are LA area channels, but it also includes CNN, MSNBC, FOX etc.
“Why does news exist at all? It exists to change the course of history.” (Photo)
Steen shows the kind of images TV news broadcasts use to establish the scene and how they “zoom in” — first an aerial shot with the words “Lone Gunman Opens Fire,” then to a witness POV with a gurney going by, then even closer. It gives me a distinctly creepy feeling, and reminds me just how creepy most TV news reports of violence really are. Many remind me of the shots in horror movies that put us in the POV of the killer.
“Typically, interviewees are not allowed to have eye contact with the audience; they’re looking a little to the side.” (Newscasters, of course, look directly at the camera, thus having ‘eye contact’ with the audience).
“It’s not sufficient for the news to be about what happens — just the evidence.” It needs to have emotional connection that creates a kind of potential to deal with the events that are being presented. ”Presentation of evidence is a really small part of what the news is about. And part of the question is, why is that not enough? Why can’t they just tell us what happened? But there’s more to it than that — they have to create a narrative. And it’s that narrative that gives us a way to interact with the events. Narrative is the way we take control of events.” [ Rough paraphrase, he’s speaking very quickly]
“TV is public consciousness.”
The “Terrible News” paradigm: Initially, people have no idea what really happened.
(Gruesome detail: the Norway spree killer had issued his own press kit. And in fact, the photos he released himself in his press kit which contained his own explanations of why he did it were used for weeks after the attack…so it worked. )
Despite the fact that his photos were used, his explanations and manifesto were not accepted as a legitimate explanation of why he did what he did. The media started to create a narrative, along with a “tick tock” (a timeline) of the killer’s actions and used this to try to explain the process by which the killer eventually decided that shooting people was the thing to do.
“One of the reasons that his explanation was not accepted is that if your goal is to change Norwegian society, going to a gathering and shooting a lot of people doesn’t work — it’s crazy.”
Next slide: From sorrow to anger: “The explanation attempts to reconstruct what happened — to create a causal diagram.”
But that’s not enough, Steen says. He says that the people who are allowed to speak are there in part to voice the opinion that the facts “aren’t good enough.” That “we don’t want to live in a society where these are the facts — this is unacceptable, outrageous, must change.”
“The intensity of the anger provides the drive for the next stage: ‘causal surgery’.” That indentifies windows of possible intervention — things we could have done to prevent the event, or could do in the future to prevent it from happening again. (Kind of like 9/11 created new security procedures at US airports).
However, the “causal surgery” involves assignment of blame — “You could have done things differently” — and often the people or organizations being blamed reject the idea that they could have prevented the tragic event from happening. How much power a particular news story has creates leverage — without that leverage, the people who are being blamed can reject the narrative and keep doing what they were doing before the event.
“News has a deeply embedded assumption — that it’s not a deterministic universe, that we can intervene and change events.”
(Maybe that’s why some people “tune out” from the news. They don’t buy that assumption: they’re discouraged, they assume there’s nothing they can do to change things — so why bother watching the news? If you can’t change anything, why watch this depressing litany?
If that’s true, does FOX do a better job at encouraging a sense (true or false sense) of agency in viewers? Do FOX viewers feel like they can do something about what they see (even if it’s just signing a petition on Facebook) and thus tune in more regularly?
Steen: “That’s why the counterfactuals often used in disaster reporting make sense: if we could have changed what happens, that means we can go in and change the future.”
Steen uses the term “deontic,” which I’d never heard before. Wikipedia:
Deontic logic is the field of logic that is concerned with obligation, permission, and related concepts. bit.ly/Q7ONa8
EG, “You should have paid attention/found out”, etc is part of many post-disaster news narratives.
“the possible is routinely treated as a more fundamental aspect of actuality than the factual. The fact is merely a contingent outcome in the field of the possible. Human information processing routinely results in effective interventions in the course of events.
A questioner, Diane, points out that we have repeated mass shootings in the US with “failed news” — they produce no changes, and thus no effective interventions to prevent further mass shootings.
All this reminds me of Jay Rosen’s “Church of the Savvy.” Rosen’s analysis of the US political press is that they have a brand of realism that makes out anyone who believes in changing the system to be a kind of chump.
Is the “Church of the Savvy” essentially a press corps that has given up on the idea of creating opportunities for intervening when things go wrong?
How and why you should do data journalism [read] (via wilkinsky)
The App Explosion in Journalism
Keynote presentation by Derrick Fountain at The Mobile Show in Dubai on April 18th. Several slides containing multimedia content have been removed from this version.
You can find mine starting at 6:13 (that’s SIX HOURS and thirteen minutes — this video takes in the whole event!)
The title of my talk is “Do I Really Have To Learn To Program?” An early alternate title I considered was “Stop Whining Already.” It’s about how getting past your hangups to learn simple programming skills can give you huge advantages if you want to do good journalism or act in the public interest. It contains:
- rainbow poop,
- protest marches,
- Westboro Baptist Church,
- Pulitzer Prizes,
- melting icebergs,
- and babies.
You will love it.
What did I love about TedxPoynter?
I also loved Meredith Censullo’s talk, which was immediately before mine. She’s a traffic reporter, and she had a really funny and insightful talk about realtime media and Twitter. If you want to see something really different, hop around until you see Michelle Royal, who se hand-drawn slides were really fabulous and interesting. And the bravest talk of the day (which also had the most f-bombs) came from Jessica Hopper (In the taxi on the way to the airport, Jessica told me about this piece she wrote about pop star Lana Del Rey, and I read it and YOU MUST READ IT NOW because it’s amazing). Bill Adair gave a talk on an idea that I’ve been kicking around for awhile, namely, narrow comprehensiveness and how the web rewards sites that are “everything about something.” His contribution to helping people think about journalism outside the narrative journalism box was really useful. David Carr and Sree Sreenivasan were also funny and great. I admit, since my talk was rather late in the day I spent a lot of time fidgeting in my seat; it’s a lot easier to pay attention AFTER I’m done doing whatever public speaking I’m up for.
The one thing that I think the tech leaves out, sadly, is the audience reaction. TedxPoynter had a phenomenally engaged, interested, vocal crowd — but all you can hear of the crowd is whatever the handheld or clip-on mike that the speaker is holding manages to pick up. I remember the crowd during my talk being really loud and laughing a lot — in fact I stopped several times so I wasn’t talking over people, but that’s not evident here. Since so much of the energy of an event is the audience, that’s a little too bad, but I figure you guys can add that energy back in your head as you watch.
Organizer Ellyn Angelotti did a great job, as did many others at Poynter. Thanks guys! I look forward to coming back to teach later in the year.
There will be a livestream for TedxPoynter, so even if you’re not here in St. Petersburg, FL, you can still hear all the great talks live. Check it out here tomorrow on Friday, June 1.
(Psst! I will be talking at 3 EST!)
Learning, coding, systems of power, and Mozilla « Persona (via thoughtshrapnel)
My friend Kwan Booth asked if there was a version of my Startups for Journalists presentation that had audio. This is the one!
For the many of you who enjoyed “The Kind of Coding Journalism Needs (Is Simple)”
…there’s Learncodefor.journalismwith.me, but signups are (already?) closed.
See also: “The Kind of Programming Journalism Needs (Is Simple).”
Overview is a great tool for mining complex documents.
Indeed it is, and it’s nice to see people picking up on it.
This makes me want to create satirical News Challenge entries, and inspiring is good, right?
Also I want to buy this applicant a beer.
1. What do you propose to do? [20 words]
Richard Schiff stands at the intersection of news, media, networks and the future. He will unlock the answers, whatever they might be.
2. Is anyone doing something like this now and how is your project different? [30 words]
Richard Schiff has been underutilized as a source of information in these turbulent times. It’s time to change that.
3. Describe the network with which you intend to build or work. [50 words]
Richard Schiff, also known as Toby Zeigler on the West Wing, usually gives great advice to President Bartlett. As such, he is a proven force for good, justice, and the future of media.
4. Why will it work? [100 words]
I have no idea if it will work or not, but I am placing my blind faith that Richard Schiff will know what to do. He always has something interesting to say.
5. Who is working on it? [100 words]
Richard Schiff is not involved with this project. Yet.
6. What part of the project have you already built? [100 words]
I have called Richard Schiff, but so far he has not replied.
7. How would you sustain the project after the funding expires? [50 words]
Will move to other sources of information, starting with John Corbett.
Requested amount from Knight News Challenge: $783
Expected amount of time required to complete project: One Week
Total Project Cost: $784
This is indeed, good news.
The Kind of Programming Journalism Needs (Is Simple)
Computer programing is a vast domain, stretching from embedded systems that end up being the brain of your refrigerator to vastly sophisticated algorithms that let Wall Street traders
defraud the public detect and capitalize on trends.
The good news for people who want to learn how to program for journalistic or civic purposes is this: A lot of what we need to do to create code in the public interest is not rocket science.
Now, there are notable exceptions; Jonathan Stray’s Overview project at AP takes the massive document dumps that are rapidly becoming a feature of the journalism in our time and turns them into sophisticated topical maps that give us a near instant sense of what the connections represented by those documents are. In the process of making the data catalog system and “newsroom data appliance” PANDA, Brian Boyer and his team at the Chicago Tribune make acute design decisions that shape how data is stored and shared. Aron Pilhofer and many others at the New York Times design APIs that let data from the Times flow across the web (check out the Times team’s code on Github). Most of the people I just listed have years if not decades of experience as programmers, and many (all?) have computer science degrees.
But allow me to get back to the good news: there are tons of things you can do to code in the public interest that you can achieve as a relative novice. But where should you start? Here are a few ideas for areas of focus that can prove particularly fruitful for you if you want to hack news or cities:
- Scrape it. Lo, gaze ye upon the many data points…and sigh when you realize they’re in crappy PDFs or secreted away on horrible, difficult-to-navigate websites. What’s an aspiring newshacker to do? Learn to scrape! Scraping is the process of writing scripts that look at an electronic document or web page, extract the data you want to use, and deliver it in a format that you can use. Start by checking out Scraperwiki and Michelle Minkoff’s NICAR “Scraping without programming” tutorials.
- Map it. MapBox, TileMill, OpenStreetMap, Grassroots Mapping, and the venerable (if aging and soon to be for-pay) Google Maps — mapping is at the center of a kind of developmental wildfire that’s only getting hotter. Learning how to leverage these tools with relatively simple scripts can result in powerful output. Not to mention the cool eye candy.
- Grab it. Mashable now has thousands of APIs in its catalogue — that’s thousands of sites with everything from voting data to restaurant reviews waiting for you to write a fairly simple script to do something clever with it.
So if you want to make an impact, don’t be discouraged — you’re closer than you think.
Life and Code covers data journalism and publishes how-to resources about programming for journalism and the civic good. Follow us at http://lifeandcode.tumblr.com.
Reminds me of the SparkCamp haiku by way of Jonathan Stray:
Do not guess; count it
And if you cannot count it
Say you are guessing.
Local news sites fold. But is that a problem?
Susan Mernit of Oakland local cites a study by J-Lab showing that 50% of the local sites they tracked have folded.
My question: is that actually a problem?
Many of the institutions that journalists revere are over a century old. But that doesn’t mean that perpetual existence for its own sake should be a goal for any startup, including a news startup.
“Of some 1,200 sites in J-Lab’s database of community news sites, about half are now inactive. Most often, sites fold as a result of their founders’ life circumstances – new jobs, new responsibilities – rather than failed business plans. Still, there is growth: Steady producers like West Seattle Blog and Davidson News have launched affiliated sites. Small networks like Main Street Connect and Hamlet Hub have added sites. And, of course, Patch, for now, is still in the picture. There are some clear-cut indy models: Sites run by solo entrepreneurs or mom-and-pop operators that are generally hyperlocal in focus with tiny staffs. Statewide watchdog sites, often focused on state capitol issues. There are several newcomers in this cluster: Oklahoma Watch, Iowa Watch, Nebraska Watch, Maine Center for Investigative Reporting; they join more mature sites such as iNews, VTDigger and Texas Tribune. University-led news startups. These include the likes of Neon Tommy and Intersections SouthLA, both at USC-Annenberg, or GrandAveNews at the University of Miami. Niche sites. Coming on strong are topic-centric sites that focus on such things as: Public education, such as the Public School Notebook in Philadelphia. Health, such as C-Hit, Fair Warning, or Health News Florida. Arts and culture, such as Nola Vie, Oregon Arts Watch, theartblog. The local tech community: Technically Philly, Silicon Hills News. While there is much talk of a “business model” for these entrepreneurial news sites, the best models seem to involve multiple, micro streams of funding.”