An Agency for the Citizen Reporter

My friend Saigon-based Graham Holliday has helped launch a words version of Scoopt, the world’s first commercial citizen journalism photography agency. With Scoopt Words :

[w]e believe that your blog writing can be every bit as valuable as professional journalism. It’s the same idea that lies behind Scoopt the picture agency: in the right circumstances, amateur photography is just as valuable as professional photography… as we have proven again and again.

So if your content is valuable, why shouldn’t you be paid for it? Why is it OK for a newspaper to lift your words or publish your writing for free just because you’re an ‘amateur’? If it’s good enough to print, it’s good enough to pay for.

Great idea, a bit like BlogBurst, I guess, a syndication service that places your blog content on top-tier online destinations, though BlogBurst doesn’t pay you, so perhaps closer in spirit to OhmyNews, which ScooptWords quotes approvingly. Rightly so; OhmyNews helped to overturn South Korean media and throw a few people out of office. (OhmyNews has recently teamed up with the International Herald Tribune to swap headline links on each others’ websites.)

I like the ScooptWords idea, but I have my reservations. ScooptWords’ FAQ quotes an essay by Betty Medsger, former Washington Post reporter and Professor of Journalism, “about the knowledge and experience of many professional journalists”, suggesting that one shouldn’t feel intimidated by the power of the traditional press. But Medsger’s message wasn’t quite that. She did point out that most journalists who have won awards and fellowships never studied journalism, but her conclusion was not that experience wasn’t necessary, in fact, it may be, she says, quite the opposite:

Journalists put information and ideas from other disciplines into public vessels of various kinds — breaking news stories, investigative pieces, analytical work, cultural criticism. These non-journalism graduates clearly know how to think journalistically, and they are adept at filling various vessels with quality work. But their thinking and learning did not originate in journalism education programs. Mentors in newsrooms apparently have been their teachers. Or perhaps it was experience itself, which again is not surprising.

I never studied journalism either, and I don’t know many folk outside the U.S. (and a couple in Australia) who did. But the newsroom experience sure has helped. Those mentors are pretty useful people, even if they drive you nuts eventually.

I’m not opposed to citizen journalism, or bloggers selling their work to traditional media outlets. I think it’s an important step to dismantle some of the walls around the ivory tower that is many journalists’ citadel. Many have important things to say, and an eyewitness report of a significant event is always going to be the best journalism anybody will ever write or read. But what I think will happen, should happen, is that this new influx should help improve and better define journalism, to refine the standards journalists allegedly abide by, rather than ignore or belittle those standards. Journalists should understand bloggers. But bloggers and citizen reporters also need to understand journalists.

Hopefully Scoopt Words will help do just that. More strength to you, Graham.

Any Place For The Wise, Wizened Hack In The Brave New Citizen Journalist World?

I was chatting with a journalist friend last night, real old-school wire service guy. We were talking about about blogging, about the decline of journalistic standards, and I was trying to make the point about the continuing misperception that bloggers are inherently unreliable and the traditional media aren’t. Nothing new there, but he told me a story about the BBC World TV channel falling for the Union Carbide/Bhopal story last December.

But it wasn’t just the BBC. Other news agencies picked up the story. But not all of them. My friend, who works for a prominent news service, says he was on duty that day and smelt something fishy. (He’s a modest guy so credited his boss with the decision. But I know how hard it must have been.) His agency didn’t run the story, and soon the retractions and backpedalling began.

Now it’s easy to be smart about these things. I’ve worked for a wire service, and I know the tremendous pressure there is to run with something if your rivals are. You’ve got to have a cool head, and most importantly, a good news sense, to hold off as the clock ticks down. My friend knew that there had been hoaxes before (this is not exceptional knowledge, as others have pointed out; these hoaxes tend to come around every Bhopal anniversary). But he also sensed the spokesman’s name was weird, and there was just something not right about it.

To me this is a skill that translates well to blogging, but needs to be carefully thought through. Bloggers tend to know their stuff; that’s why we read them. They are, or can be, a repository of wisdom about a subject, and know when something’s not right. Indeed, they not only report, but analyze, all on the fly. But we should also acknowledge that they are specialists, and their area of expertise may be quite narrow. My friend, meanwhile, is a generalist, knowing a little about a lot, enough to be able to make a call based pretty much on a gut feeling born of 30–odd years in the business. Where does this kind of experience fit into the new media world of citizen journalism?

When I visited OhmyNews, there was one guy with this level of experience, handling dozens of enthusiastic, but not professionally trained, reporters and editors. Chief editor Jeong Wooh Hyeon is a nice guy, committed, enthusiastic, and carrying the weight of that role that my friend plays in his newsroom. I like the way that OhmyNews has acknowledged the need for that kind of role, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether one was enough. It’s such an important part to play: the skeptic, the experienced eye, the balance, the nose for bias, a planted story, a hoax. But where do they fit, exactly, in the new media world?

Wikipedia Takes On News

The guys at Wikipedia, the collaborative encylcopedia, have taken on news, Wired reports. Wikinews is still in beta, but fully functioning.

For those familiar with South Korean news site OhmyNews (an English version is here), the idea is similar: Authors are able to add their content irrrespective of who they are. Unlike OhmyNews, however, other people are able to alter what you write. This is how Wikipedia works, and far from being messy, anarchic or unreliable, it has proven an excellent form of peer review. But will it work for news?

A New Kind Of Blogging?

A new blogging website was launched yesterday which includes one or two interesting features that might catch on elsewhere., launched by Stardock Corp, is basically a free blog service. But it also:

  • Automatically posts the newests articles on any site on every other page;
  • Has a ‘SlashDot-style’ Peer review function. Readers can give particularly well written article bonus points by rating it as “insightful”. High scoring articles automatically receive additional coverage and syndication on the site;
  • Has a band of editors cross-posting some of the best postings onto the site’s home page: This allows “the home page itself to act as an on-line magazine complete with multiple categories of stories on virtually any topic”;
  • Audience Control. Bloggers have control over who can see their articles (just themselves, everyone, or selected users and groups such as friend and family only).
  • Blog Groups. Users can band together and form blog groups in which the combined articles of individual members form the content of a new blog site within
  • Popular blog site and article tracking. The top blog sites, top articles and top bloggers are automatically listed on every page so that as users gain popularity through their articles, they continually gain additional coverage.

Some of this is quite interesting, and almost sounds like an OhmyNews approach, whereby postings compete for attention through quality and timeliness. But while I can see their intention is to leverage the power of individual blogs to build up, and draw traffic from, other blogs on the network, its success will rest on critical mass. If you don’t get the quantity and quality, everything will end up looking a little dank.

Tracking People With A Cellphone

Can services which allow you to track another person’s whereabouts be abused to monitor the movements of loved ones, employees etc without their knowledge?

David Brake of cites an article on Korea’s site that says yes. As he points out, there are plenty of services that offer this service with built-in safeguards to ensure the person being tracked has given his/her permission. In the UK there’s Verilocation and Where RU, for example.

But the OhmyNews article would seem to confirm that such safeguards are easily bypassed. The article, written by Jennifer Park, an OhmyNews intern about to begin her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University, points to two cases in Korea she says illustrate the relative ease with which folk can monitor people without their knowledge.

One involves a woman subscribing to a location-based service without his knowledge, finding and entering the correct PIN code to register for the ‘search friend’ service. She was then able to “trace her boyfriend block by block” to an accuracy of 10 metres. That, Jennifer says, was enough to be to tell the woman’s boyfriend was at a specific bar.

Jennifer Park also points to a recent case at Samsung, the Korean conglomerate, where civic groups allege that nine employees of Samsung SDI who were trying to set up a labor union were placed under surveillance by their managers by hacking into their cell phones. According to their attorney, Jennifer writes, the hacking was done by finding the cell phone’s identification number and using it to duplicate it. Then the hacker was able to subscribe to the service.

According to the Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, prosecutors began investigations in July into the case. Korea also prosecuted a group earlier this year which had “illegally copied the phones of the female employees of an entertainment establishment and put them under surveillance after secretly installing location-tracking systems”, the newspaper said.