Elucidata: the New Canary
6 years ago
Urgency is Currency
"The horizontal flow changes the situation for speakers and producers in any communication setting that retains the trappings of one-to-many."Recently I've come across an unexpectedly fascinating manifestation of the backchannel: beat bloggers and reporters tweeting during live broadcasts of the baseball games they are covering.
The big problem I have with the idea of doing away with journalists is the inherent conflict of interest in scientists writing about own work. This is an immense problem with the increasing prevalence of churnalism on the web. Actually, it's not really churnalism, but pure PR. That is, an increasing number of science stories I see on the web are not stories (in the journalistic sense) but university press releases.
And if you want to see misrepresentation of the worst kind, you could barely find worse than that of scientists writing about their work for a popular audience.
Yes, science news is more difficult to get to grips with than, say, entertainment news. But I utterly disagree that it's that much more difficult than say, financial news. Or legal news.
Should we do away with financial journalists as well, so that bankers can put a clearer case for banking reform? Or legal journalists so that litigators can put a clearer case for, say, libel reform?
Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.
When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.
When we email a link to a friend, that act creates content. When we comment on content, we create content. When we mention a movie in Twitter — that’s just useless chatter, right? — our tweets add up to valuable content: a predictor of movie box office that’s 97.3% accurate. When we take a picture and load it up to Flickr — 4 billion times — that’s content. When we say something about those photos — tagging them or captioning them or saying where they were taken — that’s content. When we do these things on Facebook, which can see our social graph, that creates a meta layer that adds more value to our content. On Foursquare, our actions become content (the fact that this bar is more popular than that bar is information worth having). When we file a health complaint about a restaurant, that’s content. Our movements on highways, tracked through our cellphones, creates content: traffic reports. Our search queries are content (that awareness — that new ability to listen to the public’s questions — led Demand Media to a big business).
Yesterday’s newspaper lines birdcages, but yesterday’s web stories will be showing up on Google five years from now. An editor selecting stories needs to be thinking about not only tomorrow’s page views but next year’s as well, and also, crucially, how the story will function in combination with stories from other outlets. There are close ties here to the concept of stock and flow in journalism, and the new-media notions of topic pages and context.
The web demands that we put more online than we would publish on paper, and provides a place for information of all grades. In this new medium, amateur journalists (such as bloggers and thoughtful commenters) are often much more adept at creating value from information by-products than their professional peers. News organizations will have to find forms for publishing unpolished information, such as the beat blog.
"If you wanted to be a pop musician in 1963, you probably went to Liverpool," Bell told me in a leaving interview. "If you're in digital journalism at the moment, the east coast is a really exciting place to be - it's where a lot of the conversation and action is taking place."
"I sat in rooms in 2002/03, when we were having exactly the same debate about digital - online ads being dead, full stop. None of us anticipated Google (NSDQ: GOOG) correctly or the growth in digital display, but now there's a much more sophisticated display ad market. Advertisers are still going to pay for an audience. Immediate evidence suggests the ad model will prove to be more robust than people have said."
"The free model has worked for us. The apps market has worked quite well. The conference model has worked quite well." Will the paid mobile app switch to recurring subscriptions? "It's far too early to say. We look at all of these things all of the time. It would be wrong to say we definitely will do that and that we have a solid plan to do that because we don't. But this is an emerging market and we've got to look at what our opportunities are."
“Twitter is too hard to use,” he said while speaking at Chirp, Twitter’s developer conference in San Francisco. He later added, “We’ve known this for a long time, but it was growing too fast for us to address these issues.”
For example, he showed a Google search where he started typing in “I don’t get” — the second suggested search (after “I don’t get drunk I get awesome”) was “I don’t get Twitter.” And Twitter was the only product on that list.
For me, the past week’s events resonated most strongly with a study from Sergey Buldyrev and colleagues that was published in Nature the day before Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption. The researchers investigated catastrophic failures in complex networked systems—systems like the closely coupled infrastructures underlying modern transportation, electricity distribution, telecommunications, and financial transactions. These systems are constructed from many interdependent nodes, which gives them greater stability and resilience: If one node fails, material, money, energy, or people are routed through other nodes, and functionality is maintained. But past a certain critical threshold of node failures, the system fragments and cannot function.
Buldyrev’s team modeled how disruptions percolate through a tightly linked pair of idealized interdependent networks, and found a counter-intuitive result: The failure of even a small number of nodes in one network can cause additional failures in the second. These failures can then feed back into the first network and cause yet more node failures. In other words, the greatest strength of an interdependent network in isolation is also the greatest weakness of interdependent networks as a whole. Two closely linked, highly resilient systems can suffer catastrophic failure through initially small disruptions that would have been essentially harmless to either network individually. What’s true for two linked networks presumably holds for larger assemblages.
I agree that science journalism, and journalism in general, could benefit from much more integration of raw data - especially when that data appears as an engaging infographic and when the reader is provided with the original source of data.
But scientific data is collected by people using tools made by people. It certainly isn't infallible.
Quotes and characters bring a lot to journalism that data cannot offer: emotion, personality, narrative, an articulated perspective based on years worth of experience. Quotes and characters are vital to helping readers relate to a story and engage with the science. If science journalism was pure data and analysis, people wouldn't read it for the same reason they don't read through research journals: it's too boring for most people.
Invariably someone always pops into a discussion like this and brings up some analogy with television advertising, radio, or somesuch. It is not in any way the same; advertisers in those mediums are paying for potential to reach audiences, and not for results. They have complex models which tell them if X number are watching, Y will likely see the ad (and it even varies by ad position, show type, etc!). But they really have no true idea who sees what ad, and that's why it's a medium based on potential and not provable results. On the Internet everything is 100% trackable and is billed and sold as such. Comparing a website to TiVo is comparing apples to asparagus. And anyway, my point still stands: if you like this site you shouldn't block ads. Invariably someone else will pop in and tell me that it's not their fault that our business model sucks. My response is simple: you either care about the site's well-being, or you don't. As for our business model sucking, we've been here for 12 years, online-only. Not many sites can say that.
"I couldn't see a way in. A subject so weighted with moral and political value is not helpful to a novel. I couldn't see a way of making it come alive."McEwan's idea-bulb finally lit up while he was in the arctic for a meeting between artists and scientists. He says he was inspired by the juxtaposition of the idealistic evening discussion and the "chaos of the equipment room."
"We just don't have anything else that can run our cities on a windless night in February." Better nuclear energy than coal, he said. "It is rare that virtue and necessity collide. Sooner or later we're going to have to find a new energy source for mankind."Preferably sooner. Stay tuned.