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The Power of Non News

I attend a lot of conferences where newsmen (yes I know it’s an outmoded, sexist term, but that’s the kind of industry we’re in) wring their hands about the future of their profession.

Or rather the lack of it.

And loyal readers of this column will know I tend to throw my hands up in the air at such discussions rather than wring them. Because these discussions never tackle the central issues of their industry.

One of them is this: What exactly is news? Or more precisely, what is the product that people are buying—even if they’re not paying for it—when they read your paper, your website, listen to your broadcast or listen to your news bulletin?

There are lots of angles to the answer to this. I’ve only got space to address one of them here.

That is: Are people looking for information, or the absence of it?

Let’s face it: Most of us don’t watch the evening news to catch up on the situation in Haiti. We don’t watch on the off-chance they’ll do something on President Obama, or a cute piece about a donkey making friends with a goldfish.

We watch because we need to know what the big brains at the BBC, or CNN, or our local news channel think are the top stories. That enough is obvious.

But why? Why is it important to us what someone else thinks are the main stories of the day?

Well, first off, it’s because if something really big has happened then we want to know about it. 9/11, tsunami, a culture-changing event, or even a big local event that we haven’t already heard about.

That’s good. Important. Significant. Editors will be happy: They spend a lot of time deciding what the main stories are and how to tell them.

But buried in that data—the data of news—is more important information: the absence of news.

We watch, read, scan and listen to news sources not only to discover information, but to discover, or confirm, the absence of information: the absence of news. Non-news.

We need to know, in other words, what isn’t happening because that way we can be sure that we’re safe. That we’re not about to be swallowed up by a tsunami, or a rate cut, or a virus.

Call it the power of non-news.

Comics like Seinfeld and George Carlin understand this. The joke usually involves the question: When would a newspaper/TV or radio station admit there’s nothing exciting happening and say: “We’re not putting out a paper/bulletin today. Nothing going on folks. Relax.”?

Not going to happen, because a) there’s space to fill next to the ads and b) journalists never think there’s nothing to say. We’ve always got plenty to say. Slow news days are great because then we get to write the pieces we want to write. Our stories. Which are usually so obscure only our mothers will remember them.

And this is the point. For those people outside the profession of news, the absence of news is actually, to them, news. Having the lead item on the news the airlifting of a donkey out of fire strewn mountains in Crete is the equivalent of saying to listeners/viewers/readers: “Nothing going on here folks. Take the rest of the day off.”

Except if you’re the donkey, of course.

In other words, non-news is good news. But it’s still news to most people.

This may sound obvious, but it’s not to most people in the profession. They are news junkies. And they think everyone else is. They think everyone wants to read news, however petty and parochial it is. Something big comes along, everyone wants to read it. Naturally. But if nothing happens, they still think everyone wants to read a second or third rate story, or some feature that’s been sitting in a drawer. That these are going to be just as compelling.

Well, they’re not. The power of news, for most people, is that it tells us what isn’t happening. No big crisis, no need to ship the kids down to the nuclear shelter, no need to line up to get shots. The power of news is, in short, the power of non news.

Understand that and we’re half way to figuring out what news people might be willing to pay for.

Remember you read it here first.

Telling the Story in the Third Dimension

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The bitter end of the Tamil Tigers has been fought away from the news crews, but not the satellites.

But did we make the most of this technology to tell the story of human suffering and the end of a 35-year guerrilla movement?

A month ago the U.S. government released satellite images apparently showing how tens of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians had been squeezed into the last tract land held by the LTTE, a story covered somewhat cursorily by the media. This three paragraph piece from The Guardian, for example:

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A week ago (May 12) Human Rights Watch issued its own report based on images it had commissioned from commercial satellites. The photos, the organisation said, “contradict Sri Lankan government claims that its armed forces are no longer using heavy weapons in the densely populated conflict area.”

The full report was available as a preliminary analysis, downloadable in PDF.

The report was carried by the BBC and others.

But I could find no one who had dug into the report to find a way to bring this remote tragedy closer to home.

For example, it could be as simple as double checking the images and coordinates given against Google Earth (easy enough; just enter the lat/long digits into Google Earth and see where they take you. HRW could have done a better job of providing the full coordinates here, to the full six decimal places–9.317999, for example—rather than the meager two they gave: 9.32.)

But a much better way of presenting the data lurks in a link on page four. Click on the link, and, if you’ve got Google Earth installed, the KML file (a KML file is a XML-based way of expressing geographic information that can be read by programs like Google Earth) will load a layer that tells the grim story in a different way.

The first is the most recent picture from Google Earth, dated 2005. As you can see, very little human habitation (click on each image to enlarge).

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The one below is from May 6. A dense city has appeared in the meantime, with its own streets:

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Four days later, most of it is gone:

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Toggling between these images in Google Earth is a sobering experience. Of course, such imagery does not explain what exactly happened to these people, but it asks tougher questions than any talking head can. And yet CNN chose to focus on that, and on familiar footage of the war.

My point is this: we’re now in a world of three dimensions. We journalists can see things our predecessors couldn’t.

If I was an editor I would have mined that HRW report until I’d found a way to use their imagery to tell the story. Buried in that single, 50 KB KML file is a wealth of detail:

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Which could have been used as time lapse, or juxtaposed over a map like the one the BBC used for its report:

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The bottom line: We as journalists need to understand this kind of thing better so we know what is possible, what is doable, and, if nothing else, to be able to know that when we see a link to a KML file, we may be on the way to a treasure trove of information to help us tell the story.

The Leopard’s Spot (On)

Just gotten back from a demo of the new version of Mac’s operating system, Mac OS X Leopard (must confess I don’t like the names. It’s slightly better than Vista, but still a bit lame in my view.) But that’s not the point. I arrived halfway through the demo and so missed a lot of the stuff, but, still. Wow. There’s something about Mac software that makes you go ‘ooo’ even when you don’t really want to.

I won’t bore you with details, but watching it unfold made me think a few things:

  • Rarely is there anything startlingly new here. It’s intuitive, obvious, like all good innovation. But it’s also “why couldn’t we already do this?” And sometimes we could, at least for a while. Like widgets that are actually just segments of a webpage — a daily cartoon, or a CNN news section. I remember we could do this in 2001 in Windows, courtesy of some company that later went bust. Wish I could remember the name.
    (It also made me think of Active Desktop, which I’ve never seen people use, probably because it was fiddly and because very few of us actually saw our desktop for all the programs we had open.) Of course, Apple made it fun, easy and the kind of thing you want to do, rather than do because you can. But it’s still something that should have been around a half decade ago.
  • Then there’s stuff that’s not new, just better. Spaces lets you have lots of desktops. We could do this on Windows years ago, and even Ubuntu has had it as a standard feature for a while, but on a Mac it just looks good, and works as you would want it to. You can drag programs, for example, between virtual desktops (one day, I hope, you will be able to drag data) and the animation is both fun and strangely helpful.
  • Then there’s stuff that looks a bit like a ripoff — data connectors, for example, that will grab addresses from emails for you. Anagram, among other programs, do this already. It’s good that Mac has recognised the usefulness of this application, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the folks who have spent so long developing a feature like this, only to see themselves being overtaken by the Leopard
  • Then there’s true innovation, based on watching how people work. Like the demo guy (who used the word “cool” about 398 times too many in the presentation) said, a lot of us use email software in a way that wasn’t intended — as a kind of word processor cum note taker cum to do list. Apple realised this, and have turned Mail into exactly that, allowing you to add to do lists with images and stuff embedded. Nothing startling, but acknowledging how we work and making it easier for us.

This is not to detract from Apple’s achievement. Leopard looks hot, and makes Vista look impoverished and, I suspect, somewhat irrelevant, like someone trying to sell aluminum siding to people who realise that while people still have it on their houses, no one really wants it anymore. Apple see what people want and give it to them.

Not once did the guy mention speed, or having lots of applications open, or ‘experience’. I find that telling. Maybe he forgot to, but I always shiver when I hear these words. I know that users don’t think like that; they want to know what they can do, not whether screen redraws are quicker or the edges of windows bend like willow. (They’re happy if they do, but that’s not why they buy an OS.) Neither do they want an “experience” — they want to do stuff. Leopard, it seems will, let them to do that.

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The Future of News

This is the latest despatch from Loose Wire Service, a sister service to this blog that provides newspapers and other print publications with a weekly column by yours truly. Rates are reasonable: Email me if you’re interested.

Jeremy Wagstaff discusses how the Internet has redefined journalism and the emergence of “hyperlocal” news

The Jakarta Post
Sunday, September 30, 2007

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I was asked the other day to address a room full of media types about changes in consumer behavior; where, they wanted to know, are people looking for news in this new digital world?

It’s always a bad idea to get me to talk in public, especially on this subject, since I think it’s the wrong one. Or at least, the wrong way of looking at the subject. I gave them two reasons:

First, there are no consumers of news anymore. In fact, you’ve probably heard this said a lot, here and elsewhere that, in the era of MySpace, Wikipedia, OhmyNews and citizen journalism, everyone is a journalist, and therefore a producer, of news. No one is just a consumer.

Second, there is no news. Or at least there is no longer a traditional, established and establishment definition of what is news. Instead we have information. Some of it moving very fast, so it looks like news. But still information.

A commuter taking a photo of a policeman extracting bribes from drivers and then posting the picture on his blog? It’s not news, but it’s not just information either. It could be news to the policeman, and if he’s busted because of it could be good news to drivers in that town.

We journalists have been schooled in a kind of journalism that goes back to the days when a German called Paul Julius Reuter was delivering it by pigeon. His problem was a simple one: getting new information quickly from A to B. It could be stock prices; it could be the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

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That definition of news has remained with us until today.

A lot of the time it remains a good one. When terrorists hit, we’d rather know sooner than later. If stocks in our portfolio are losing their value in a crash, we’d prefer to get that information now.

When Buddhist monks hit the streets of towns in Myanmar we look to AFP, Reuters and AP to get the news out.

But the Internet has changed a lot of this. First off, everyone is connected. By connected I mean they can look up anything they like so long as they’re near an Internet-connected computer. Which for a lot of people now means a 3G phone.

Even if you don’t have one, the chances are you’ll be in spitting range of a computer that is connected to the Internet. Or you could get you information by SMS — from news sites, from colleagues, from family members. It’s not that we’re not far from a gadget. We’re not far from information.

This has a critical impact on the idea of news.

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Because we’re informed, news doesn’t hit us in the same way it used to when we didn’t.

True, if someone hits a tall building with an airliner, that’s news to all of us. The U.S. invades or leaves Iraq; that’s news.

But the rest of the time, news is a slippery beast that means different things to different people.

That’s because there’s another kind of news we’re all interested in. It’s hyperlocal news. It’s what is around us. In our neighborhood. Since moving house I’m much less interested in gubernatorial elections and much more in anything that anybody says about en bloc sales and house prices.

That is hyperlocal news, and it’s where most people spend their day. No nuclear weapons being fired? No terrorist attacks? No meltdown in the financial markets? OK, so tell me more about en bloc sales. Actually, this is just part of hyperlocal news.

If you’ve used Facebook, you’ll know there’s another kind of addictive local news: your friends’ status updates. A status update, for those of you who haven’t tried Facebook, is basically a short message that accompanies your profile indicating what you’re up to at that point.

I think of it a wire feed by real people. Of course it’s not news as we’d think of it, but news as in an answer to the questions “What’s up?” “What’s new?””What’s happening?” “What’s new with you?”

In that sense it’s news. I call it hyper-hyperlocal news. Even though those people are spread all over the world, they’re all part of my friends network, and that means for me they’re local.

So news isn’t always what we think of as news. News has always meant something slightly different to the nonmedia person; our obsession with prioritizing stories in a summary, the most important item first (How many dead? What color was their skin? Any Americans involved?) has been exposed as something only we tend to obsess over.

Don’t believe me? Look at the BBC website. While the editors were putting up stories about Musharraf, North Korea and Japan, the users were swapping stories about Britney Spears splitting with her manager, the dangers of spotty face, and the admittedly important news that the Sex Pistols might be getting back together.

Of course, I’m not saying journalists are from Mars and readers are from Venus. It just looks that way.

What we’re really seeing is that now that people have access to information, they are showing us what they’re interested in. Unsurprisingly, they’re interested in different stuff. What we call audience fragmentation — niche audiences for specialized interests — is actually what things have always been about.

If we’re a geek we go for our news to Slashdot. We want gossip? We go to Gawker. We want to change the world? We go to WorldChangingOnline.org The Internet makes the Long Tail of all those niche audiences and interests possible, and possibly profitable.

What we’re seeing with the Internet is not a revolution against the values of old media; a revolution against the notion that it’s only us who can dictate what is news.

What we’re seeing is that people get their news from whoever can help them answer the question they’re asking. We want the headlines, we go to CNN. But the rest of the time, “news” is for us just part of a much bigger search for information, to stay informed.

AsiaMedia :: Oh my! The future of news

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Journalists Should Bite the Bullet

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screenshot from CNN’s website

It’s the one area where old-style journalism hasn’t really made the strides it could. I can understand why: Journalism is a very, very conservative profession. But The Journalism Iconoclast, written by Patrick Thornton, makes a telling point when he points to a nice new feature of CNN.com’s website — the bullet point:

One of the features many people may have noticed with the relaunch of CNN.com earlier this year is that CNN offers succinct bullet points above articles about the key points of the story. Most people skim stories anyway, so why not give them the ultimate way to skim an article? Maybe they will read the whole thing, but use the bullet points to help them remember key points.

Patrick suggests newspapers adopt this for their online offerings; I would actually be in favor of their doing it for their offline offerings too. Buzzmachine, for example, is not the only one bemoaning a buried lede. Indeed, I often find the inverted pyramid approach outdated and less useful for the sort of rapid scanning we do now we’re so webcentric.

One commenter to the story, Marc Matteo, points to one of the key problems with newspapers introducing this kind of bullet-point approach: Shrinking budgets and harried editors. In which case I would farm the bullet pointing out to people who aren’t even journalists. As Marc himself points out, non-journalism websites don’t seem to have this problem. How about allowing readers to add the bullet points themselves? Indeed, it may even be possible to automate the process.

The nasty truth is that a lot of what we take to be good sound journalistic writing was designed for an earlier, slower time. Now we want to catch the gist of something in a few seconds, and we’re looking for reasons not to read them, rather than feeling we should, we have to, or (God forbid) we want to.

Bottom line: Newspapers and all traditional media should not just be looking for new ways to deliver their news, but new ways to write it too. An example of good, pithy writing is actually Techdirt, which rarely strays (unlike this blog) over 250 words, including story, background and (usually quite tart) analysis.  

The Journalism Iconoclast

Does It Matter Where News Comes From?

Thoughtprovoking stuff from John Lloyd of Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, who thinks news is a universal thing, like human rights. I know I do stuff for the BBC World Service but I’m with Daya Thussu on this: news reflects the values of the people who report it. They may be good values, and they may be my values, but you don’t need to live very long in other parts of the world to see that a London-centric view of the world (and reporting) is going to be different to that of someone living in a flood-prone slum. It’s not so much about values as perspective. 

I still think I’m right. I want news which tells me what’s going on, as truthfully as possible. I would, I think, share that view with many people of the south (I think Thussu would share that view, too). Another northerner, say an American republican, would want a news service from Fox which reflected more closely his views. I would have a different taste from my fellow northerner, but the same taste as many southerners. Thussu has a point if he means that people from, say, India want more news from India than they presently get on BBC, or CNN, or other “northern” channels: and they might like to see it presented by fellow Indians. But that’s a point about content and presentation, not about the way news is presented, or its purpose. The classic case for news is that it’s meant to inform, fully and fairly. Isn’t that a universal ideal, like human rights? What’s the difference, in this sense, between southern and northern news?

The Privacy Myth

If there’s one myth that endures in this age of online participation, blogs, shared photo albums and Web 2.0, it’s that we’ve overcome our concerns about privacy. It sounds on the surface, logical: We must have gotten over this weird paranoia, or else why would we share so much online? Why would we bother about privacy issues when there’s no real evidence that people, companies, governments and the NSA are out to get us? This, for example, from Web 2.0 blog TechCrunch guest contributor Steve Poland:

I’m sure there’s data to back me up on this, but today compared to 10 years ago — people are way more comfortable with the Internet and have less privacy concerns. Or at least the younger generations that have grown up with the Internet aren’t as concerned with privacy — and spew what’s on their mind to the entire world via the web.

I can’t speak for the younger generation, having been kicked out of it some years ago. But if we’re talking more generally about folk who have embraced the Net in the past 10 years, I’d have to say I don’t think it’s that we don’t care about privacy. We just don’t understand it. In that sense nothing has changed. I think what is happening is the same as before: People don’t really understand the privacy issues of what they’re doing, because the technology, and its liberating sensuality, are moving faster than we can assimilate to our culture. This is not new: Technology has always outpaced our intellectual grasp. If you don’t believe me think radio, TV, cars and cellphones. We were lousy at predicting the impact of any of these technologies on our environment. Lousy.

Usually, it’s because we just don’t stop to think about the privacy implications, or we don’t stop to ask deeper questions about the sacrifices we may be making when we buy something, give information to a stranger, register for something, accept something, invite someone in to our digital lives, install software, sign up for a service, or simply accept an email or click on a link. The speed of communication – click here! register here! — makes all this easier. But I don’t really blame the reader. Often it’s us journalists who are to blame for not digging enough.

Take, for example, a new service called reQall from QTech Inc in India. On the surface, it sounds like a great service: phone in a message to yourself and it will appear in your email inbox transcribed with 100% accuracy. Great if you’re on the road, on the john or at a party and don’t want to start jabbing away or scrawling the note on the back of your spouse’s neck.

Rafe Needham of Webware initially enthuses about it on his blog. But then he later finds out that

Update: I’m told that ReQall’s speech-to-text engine isn’t wholly automated. “We use a combination of automated speech recognition technology and human transcription,” a company co-founder told me. Which means there may be someone listening to your notes and to-do items. Yikes!

Yikes indeed. Who would record a message knowing that a stranger is going to be transcribing it, and a company storing it on their servers? To be fair to Rafe he’s not the only one not to initially notice this privacy angle. And at least he bothers to write it up. Dean Takahashi didn’t mention it in his (admittedly) brief Mercury News piece, for example. The company’s press release makes no mention of it either, saying only that

reQall is patent-pending software technology that uses a combination of voice interface and speech-recognition technology to record, log and retrieve your tasks, meetings and voice notes.

(The same press release appears on Forbes’ own website, which I always think looks a bit odd, as if there’s no real difference between a story and a press release. But that’s another rant for another day.) That, frankly, would leave me thinking there was no human interaction either.

But then again, there are clues here and if we (by which I mean us hacks) were doing our job we should probably follow them. Any Google search for reqall and privacy throws up an interesting trail. A CNN report on memory quoted Sunil Vemuri talking about reQall but says issues about privacy and keeping such records free from subpoena have yet to be worked out. When a blogger called Nikhil Pahwa quoted CNN on ContentSutra someone from QTech wrote in:

Please note that there is an inaccuracy in the post. QTech is not “currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed.” Can you correct this?

The text was duly crossed out, so now it reads:

According to the report, they’re currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed are still to be worked out.

So we’re none the wiser. Are there issues? Are QTech working on those issues? Or are there issues that other people are working on, not QTech? Their website sheds little light. There’s nothing about human transcription on any of the pages I could find, nor in the site search. Their privacy policy (like all privacy policies) doesn’t really reassure us, but neither does it explicitly scare our pants off. A brief jaunt through it (I’m not a lawyer, although I sometimes wish I was, and I think John Travolta in “A Civil Action” makes a good one) raises these yellow flags:

  • QTech can use your location, contact details etc to “send you information related to your account or other QTech Service offerings and other promotional offerings.” I.e. the company knows where you are, your phone number and home address and could spam you.
  • QTech may “include relevant advertising and related links based on Your location, Your call history and other information related to Your use of the Services.” I.e. The company could send you stuff based on what information you’ve given in your messages, and any other information you carelessly handed over during the course of using the service.
  • QTech can use the content of your audio messages (and your contact information) for, among other things, “providing our products and services to other users, including the display of customized content and advertising,  auditing, research and analysis in order to maintain, protect and improve our services … [and] developing new services.” I.e. the company can mine the contents of your messages and other stuff and spam other customers. Somehow this seems more scary than actually spamming you.
  • QTech will hold onto those messages “for as long as it is necessary to perform the Services, carry out marketing activities or comply with applicable legislation.” I.e. don’t think your messages are going to be deleted just because you don’t need them anymore.

Privacy documents are written by lawyers, so they’re about as weaselly as they can be. And QTech’s is no different. But there is some cause for concern here, and we journalists should at least try to explore some of these issues. I looked for any acknowledgement that there’s a human involved in the transcription, and some reassurance that the content of those messages is not going to be mined for advertising purposes, and that it would be possible for customers to insist their messages are deleted. I couldn’t find anything, although to their credit QTech do say they won’t “sell, rent or otherwise share Your Contact Information or Audio Communications with any third parties except in the limited circumstance of when we are compelled to do so by a valid, binding court order or subpoena”. But if QTech are doing their own advertising then does that really make any difference?

I’m seeking comment from QTech on this and will update the post when I hear it. And this isn’t really about QTech; it’s about us — citizens, readers, bloggers, journalists — thinking a little harder about our privacy before we throw it away for a great sounding service. Do you want, for example, your personal memos (“Calling from the pub. God I really need a holiday. I think I’m cracking up”) mined for advertising (“Hi! Can I interest you in Caribbean cruise? I hear you’re cracking up!” “Hi, need psychological counselling? I’m told you do” “Hi! Need Viagra? I hear from that last message you left you probably do”)?

An Unlikely Blogger Expelled

Although it’s not good for Sudan, I think it’s good for blogging: CNN reports that 

The government of Sudan on Sunday gave the top U.N. official in the country three days to leave, marking the latest hurdle in international efforts to bring peace to the nation torn apart by civil war.

Sudan expelled Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, who has openly criticized Khartoum as well as rebel groups on his Web log.

Pronk has been running a blog for nearly a year and while it doesn’t look like your average blog (really long posts, no external links, no comments, blogs numbered as if they were official UN documents) it’s an impressively direct account of the Sudanese conflict. His third post started as follows: 

This week the seventh round of the Abuja talks between the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements will start. Will it be the last one, producing a peace agreement before the end of the year? The chances are diminishing.

Not the sort of mealy-mouthed stuff we’re used to from senior UN officials. And it’s probably upset the UN as much as it’s upset the Sudanese government. But if so why had the UN not closed him down earlier? Pronk, according to UPI, did not offer any disclaimers, but the UN has since made clear he was writing in a personal capacity. The UN has “no rules barring blogging specifically, though employees face restrictions when publishing articles and participating in interviews.” It seems Pronk was probably senior enough, and his comments uncontroversial enough, for no one to mind too much. Until last week.

What I like about it is that reporters tend to meet these kind of people in the field, and it’s great to hear them sounding off about the situation, but rarely are their words captured in sufficient quantity for their great background knowledge and high level involvement in such diplomatic processes to be read by a wider audience. I’ve not followed the tragedy in Darfur much beyond what I read in the papers, but Pronk’s year-long posts are a diary of immense and satisfying detail about the process, peppered by great photos, that are worthy of more than the word blog. 

Take this one, for example, from June 28

There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse. The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. On the contrary, on the ground, especially amongst the displaced persons, it meets more and more resistance. In my view it is a good text, an honest compromise between the extreme positions taken by the parties during the negotiations in Abuja. That is why the UN, like all international partners, has endorsed the agreement. However, in politics objective rational calculations will always be confuted by subjective emotional perceptions and aspirations. And those perceptions are that the agreement does not meet the expectations of the people in Darfur, has been forced upon them and, rather than meeting the interests of all parties somewhere halfway, only strengthens the position of the government and a minority tribe, the Zaghawa.

That too me is very clear writing, reflecting his knowledge of the situation on many levels. Not every situation could allow a senior figure involved deeply in the political process to write so frankly and openly, but wouldn’t it be great if they could? This to me is the real potential of blogs and citizen reporting. Someone who really knows what is going on telling us about it.

PS: Jan Pronk has a reputation of sorts in Indonesia, my current abode. He earned the lasting enmity of then president Suharto by

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The Thai Coup – Another Blogger Scoop?

Daniel Cuthbert, a blogger/photographer at MetroBlogging, writes in the aftermath of the Thai coup about how bloggers again apparently beat the pros to the mark:

I myself noticed how few traditional news networks were a the scene at 11pm on the 19th, and it seemed that the news reports that were being delivered were being done by people in news studio’s and not ones physically there.

Blogging has changed the way the public now receives information. Gone are the days of waiting for the big guns (CNN/BBC/Reuters) arriving at the scene to give the report, now local residents take it upon themselves to write up what’s happening and post it on their blogs. In recent events it’s these personal accounts that lead to the news agencies referencing.

The London bombings on 7/7 saw the first initial reports coming from local bloggers who lived near to the blasts. In India, local bloggers were the first to react to the terrorist attack on the Mumbai train attacks and the public found these blogs more up to date with information than local TV channels.

Interesting stuff, and, if true, not a little scary for us old hacks. I was there for the last coup, which dates me considerably, but I do recall how we covered it: We heard about it from our local reporters who used to walk around with a radio in each earplug, even at weekends. We were out on the streets pretty quickly, armed with cellphones the size of wellington boots, but sometimes that isn’t the place to cover coups. Offices need manning, stories need writing, and those journalists who are on the street may not necessarily look like them. That said, I’ve read some glorious stuff about the Thai coup from bloggers, including from Daniel himself, and this extraordinary, and speculative, analysis from Scott Rosenberg at Monsters & Critics. Early on there was good stuff at Global Voices Online, too. And 19sep, Gonzo Journal, Bangkok Recorder, etc.

I don’t know what the long term implications of all this are. I think bloggers can outwit journalists easily, especially in the early hours of a big (partly) visible news story like this. But what happens when the story starts to run longer than a couple of days? Perhaps the answer lies with Reuters, which is investing in efforts like NewsAssignment.net, a sort of publicly sponsored investigative journalism project. Oddly enough, it was Reuters I was working for back then during the 1991 coup.