Hate, props, and hotness: restoring journalism’s credibility

Journalism.co.uk sez:

NewsCred, a website aimed at gauging the credibility of online news, has been launched in a beta. The site, which aims to help users find ‘the highest quality and most credible news online’, has created a digital newspaper of aggregated articles, which are voted on by users.

NewsCred is some really neat shit. It ain’t breaking news that journalism’s got a bit of a credibility problem — okay, a disasterous credibility problem. When we lose our cred, we’ve got nothing! Credibility is journalism’s *only* currency. Who do you believe? Blog X or The New York Times?

Why is our credibility in the crapper?

Hotness. MSNBC, Fox News, and the 24 hour news cycle. Speculation, opinion and spectacle have ruined the news. Every time we report on flag pins, pregnant dudes or autism-causing vaccinations, god kills a kitten.

The news needs way less hotness, fast. That’s why I’m into NewsCred, it’s the Digg-shaped anti-Digg. It’s not about what’s hot. It’s about what’s good.

NewsCred\'s credit and discredit buttons

Jeff Jarvis completely disagrees:

I think these folks are attacking the problem from the wrong perspective. They’re trying to play whack-a-mole with credibility and identify all the bad stuff — just as news people, long accustomed to packaging the world in a pretty box with a bow on top, keep wanting to kill every bad comment on their sites. They’ll fail.

All social apps need to get the secret sauce just right — and most totally fail. Only time will tell if NewsCred has legs, but hell, even if it ain’t perfect, they’re at least barking up the right tree.

(For several examples of new media journalism that’s barking up the wrong tree, check out the DayLife Developer Challenge winners. They were made by lovely people I’m certain, so, sorry for being a hater, but dang — it’s just a bunch of shiny shiny.)

NewsCred is trying to solve a real problem: the disaffected news audience. Yes, this encourages readers to be haters, but they can also give props to the good stuff. Journalism has a credibility problem largely because journalists are producing lots of crap. We need to be vetted.

Zed Shaw says “The Internet needs identity, reputation, and retribution.” Readers know who we are, and rely on our reputations, but comments and letters to the editor are hardly retribution. If we publish junk, we should get buried.

Bring on the hate. No more kittens have to die.

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7 great resources for green (and seasoned) new media journalists

TreeHouse Media Project, in their words: “Teaching old scribes new tricks.” Jay Rosen sez “The tone is self help for angry journalists.”

Making a living as a publisher, however, requires entrepreneurial skills that few journalists possess. That is the reason for the TreeHouse Media Project, an effort to provide journalists with the business knowledge and technical skills to survive — even thrive — in this harsh, yet exciting new media world.

Wired Journalists is social networking for, um, wired journalists. Be sure to check out the groups section for tons of good stuff:

WiredJournalists.com was created with self-motivated, eager-to-learn reporters, editors, executives, students and faculty in mind. Our goal is to help journalists who have few resources on hand other than their own desire to make a difference and help journalism grow into its new 21st Century role.

I\'m a member of: Wired Journalists

Reporters’ Cookbook is a wiki filled with good stuff:

For reporters to share code, examples, tutorials and other bits of information related to the practice of journalism, especially computer-assisted reporting.

Current.tv’s producer training is super cool — though I wish the content wasn’t buried in a icky Flash app! (Special thanks to Kevin for the suggestion!)

Current.tv

Online Journalism Review’s ‘How-To’ Guides are super useful (but don’t expect any more):

Getting started with an online news or information website? These guides will help you learn what you need to know about reporting, writing and making money on the Internet.

Ourmedia: Learning Center has got excellent guides on audio, video and multimedia:

The Learning Center is a rich educational resource for everything you wanted to know about user-created video, audio, and other forms of citizens’ media

J-learning has lots of great stuff (most of which is hidden under their colorful menu):

J-learning

Here, you’ll find extensive, detailed training in Web site creation, HTML, page design and use of photos, audio, video, animation, surveys and databases. We also offer tips on advertising, fundraising and e-commerce to help sustain these community efforts.

Where else would you send a new media newbie?

Tell your story with data, without writing a line of code

I’ve been on the hunt for quick and dirty ways to show off data: visualization tools that are free, pretty, and easy to embed in a story.  Here are my finds so far.

Kick-ass embeddable visualizations

Upload your data set to ManyEyes, and you can turn it into all kinds of neat charts and wacky interactive stuff like word trees. They make it really easy to share. Click on the “share this” link below any visualization to get a snippet of HTML to paste into a story.

Amy Gahran loves word trees too:

You specify a word or phrase, and ManyEyes shows you all the different contexts in which that string appears in a tree-like branching structure. This helps reveal recurring themes in the document, and shows how topics and subtopics are related.

The other hot ManyEyes demo is the government expenses visualization. Use the menu on the left to drill down into spending categories. (Can you find the S&L bailout?)

There are so many kick-ass things you can make with ManyEyes: tree maps, tag clouds, and bubble charts, to name just a few. Here’s a map!

Timelines get sexy

It’s easy to make sweet, interactive timelines with circaVie. Like, really easy. Sign up, click “start a timeline” and add events. Like ManyEyes, they also make it simple to embed a widget, just paste in the provided snippet.

http://www.circavie.com/flash/timeline.swf
Text message scandal timeline by DFP Graphics

Words are pretty

Wordle makes pretty text visualizations by shuffling words from a file, web page, etc., and sizing the words based on how frequently they occur. Much simpler than a word tree, but sometimes simple is just what you need.

Sixth W on Wordle

Need a map, fast?

Google’s Charts API is suuuper cool.  It can make you bar charts, maps, venn diagrams, even sparklines.  But it’s a tool for web developers, so it’s a bit chewy to use if you’re not familiar with a few things.

Lucky for us, lots of folks have built tools to make it easier. The Google Chart Creator is one of the better ones.  I made this map in under a minute.

Google chart map of the Middle East

What else?

It feels like I give the NYT props every day for their data viz skillz. Their stuff is pretty and awesome, but they’ve got a team of developers, designers and whiz-bang specialists.

What other tools are out there that make it simple to create embeddable news visuals, sans a staff of flash savants?

Flash just got better, but it’s still (usually) very, very bad

From Slashdot:

Adobe systems made an announcement that it has provided technology and information to Google and Yahoo! to help the two search engine rivals index Shockwave Flash (SWF) file formats. …this will provide more relevant search rankings of the millions pieces of flash content.

This is good news

Flash is a terribly popular platform for interactive news, and it’s opacity to search engines was a serious problem. Content in Flash applications was not findable in the same way that regular web content is, effectively hiding large areas of the web from searches.

But it ain’t great news

Ace of Cake\'s has a terrible web site
The navigation at Ace of Cakes is so mysterious, it has its own guided tutorial.  Let’s consider this: You need to study a tutorial. To read about a television program. About cakes.

Eight years ago, usability guru Jakob Nielsen called Flash “99% bad.” Everything he said then is still true now. But there are waaay more Flash apps now.

The problem is that it’s frequently used to present text in a prettier fashion. Add music and some magical menus, and paragraphs get better, right? Wrong. Adobe says that the text will now be searchable, but that fixes only one of Flash’s many problems.

Among many other reasons, Flash sucks because:

  1. You can’t link to content within a Flash app.
  2. Flash apps usually don’t work like the web, so a reader has to learn how to use it.
  3. It usually stinks for people with disabilities.

The above aren’t always true, but the exceptions are few and far between.

When it works

When Flash is at its hottest, it presents information to the user in a way that text never could. The New York Times has been putting out excellent apps that do this, like their Obama-Clinton support visualizer, and their map of the impact of the cyclone that hit Myanmar.

The Spiderman analogy applies: With great power comes great responsibility. Flash lets you jam practically anything into a web site, but the temptation to do so must be resisted.

New York Times reader out for Mac, still a bad idea

From Gizmodo:

Not so hot on the heels of its Microsoft-built Windows-based counterpart, the Times Reader beta has been made available for all members of NYTimes.com. Although a Silverlight install is required, it’s relatively painless and a small price to pay for Reader’s efficient news presentation and olde timey typefaces. There are no subscription fees for now, but Mac users can expect to join the $14.95 a month party when the software goes final.

New York Times reader for Mac

I’m not sold. People are going to pay fifteen bucks a month for this? Are they planning on taking away the normal web site? Also, it’s built in Silverlight??? Seriously? The only thing worse than Flash is a Microsoft clone of Flash.

NYT: please, just make the web experience better. Don’t be tempted by proprietary interfaces that give you more control over your users. You seem to understand that net neutrality is about transparency. The technologies you use should be transparent too. Support open source. Support open standards. This is a step in the wrong direction.

(Thanks to Adam for the tip.)

UPDATE: Fixed a tiny typo.