Wednesday, December 1

Wiki-Assisted Humint in the News

Mitch Ratcliffe of Correspondences has a sensible take on the launch of Wikinews, a stab at replicating the successes--and problems--of Wikipedia in newsgathering.
Reporting, like writing history, is a subjective experience even under the best of conditions. A reader depending on a single source of news never gets all the facts, they must explore many sources to assemble even part of the picture. There is, too often these days, a tendency among news outlets to quote one another so that there is a perception conveyed that there is a single version of events, when such a thing seldom exists. If you look at the transcript of an event, even a government transcript, they may be edited differently. For example, the "record" of a Bush campaign speech posted at WhiteHouse.gov, with applause and "boos" aimed at the opponent inserted, will read very differently than an "objective" transcript without those audience reactions noted; moreover, if the opposition releases a transcript of the same event, it may insert different reactions, such as the interruption by a heckler. Which is the correct or full record? None of them.

That's absolutely true, and it holds true at the editorial level as well: selecting and prioritizing stories has a subjective component, too. Editors are just fallible people trying to figure out what other people need and want to know and would be willing to pay for, and filtering raw data accordingly. We strive to give as full a picture as possible so you'll turn to our rag first, but it's an ideal, not really an achievable goal--even though we do use some advanced techniques and a lot of elbow grease to try to get to know our readers. Really, in the fifteen minutes you have to absorb news, you don't want everything, you want the important part. And some parts will be more important to some people than they will to others. Still, the more input into the system, the closer we can get to all the news that's fit to print.

That's why I set up a del.icio.us blog as a model for collective brainstorming for our little operation. No one uses, it of course: We are small enough to just yell things across the room, and journos are a bunch of Luddites, but I find it very useful and try to leverage it to expand my own consciousness of what's going on, anyhow.

It's interesting to compare the Wikinews model to the fabulously successful Ohmynews of Korea, where a small staff of professional editors assemble and collate reporting from citizen-reporters with the help of some nifty technology. See also the Pegasus project ...

This must be a hot topic: E&P is weighing in on it. On the other hand, what's the difference between a "source" and a "citizen journalist," really? In one case, the newspaper tries to report accurately what the source says. In the other, the C-J writes it herself and makes it available. The same knowledge transfer takes place, it's just that in the latter case, the C-J can't complain they've misquoted themselves ... Then again, a skilled interviewer can help a source report things they don't know that they know ...

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