Moblogging & Journalism
July 10th, 2003

Online Journalism Review just published my think-piece about moblogging and journalism.

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Comments
1 - Mike Reeves-McMillan

Let’s hope the Matt Drudges disappear and the Gilmores multiply? Is this simply the usual American political one-eyedness? Or is there actually a difference between what the two men are doing (not what they are saying)?

It’s a serious question, I haven’t read Matt Drudge but I have read a bit of Gilmore and find him a Cyclops. Drudge probably is too, it’s just that he has a right eye and Gilmore has a left one. But are they actually doing something different from each other in presenting information, from a position of known bias, that isn’t presented in the same way in mainstream media?

2 - Howard

There you go. An educated person who can’t tell a gossip columnist from a journalist.

3 - JD Lasica

Mike, the difference between Gillmor and Drudge is the difference between the NY Times and Page Six of the NY Post. It’s not a matter of political philosophy, or the positions they stake out on a particular issue. It’s about standards and approaches.

A journalist reports after investigating the facts of a story. Drudge passes along reports and rumors without making an effort to substantiate their veracity. He claims to be right abgout 80 percent of the time (the true figure is probably lower). The problem is the reader doesn’t know whiich 80 percent can be believed.

I think Howard’s larger point is well-taken. We need (and we’re beginning to see) more people to perform the fundamentals of grassroots journalism in the online medium. They don’t need to be trained in the tradition, they just have to report what they see, recount what they know, and tell the truth. The Drudges of the world will continue to proliferate, unfortunately, because their fans — like those who watch Fox News — prefer ideology to following the truth wherever it leads.

4 - akb

Indymedia has been doing this kind of stuff for years. Its a network of websites where people upload multimedia news content. It started off as an event based thing around protests (Seattle ’99) but has grown into a network of over 100 sites worldwide, that try to provide community news coverage on an ongoing basis.

For most of the coverage is not done live, ie people take pictures, video, etc and then go back home or to a community media center and then upload it. There have been a wide variety of live wireless strategies used including:

- internet radio stream with live callins via cellphone (most popular)

- phone cams

- sms gateway

- onsite kiosk provided via 3G phone, for picture upload, live chat

- live 802.11b video streaming

Since Seattle ’99 thousands of a/v clips, tens of thousands of photos and hundreds of thousands of text articles have been contributed to this collaborative news platform.

We’ve done some stuff with syndication of our content but the protocols don’t exist yet to fully exchange multimedia content.

One thing that I think Indymedia has that blog culture doesn’t is that its not “just a website”. The websites function to allow anyone to participate but that’s generally not thought to be sufficient. Each of the 100+ nodes in the network has a group of people that work to cultivate a liberated media space by doing things like provide training on how to do multimedia and reporting, holds film showings, provides technical support, publish newspapers, public access tv shows, local radio news, etc.

I have an Indymedia moblog anecdote that I think people will enjoy. Folllowing an antiwar protest on April 12 ’03 in DC someone contributed a photo gallery of an ugly incident during which police rode their motorcyles through a dense crowd. Numerous people who were present at the incident supplemented the author’s brief writeup with their own accounts of what they had witnessed (ie, that’s me in the red shirt, just prior to the picture …”).

One of the photos showed a rear view of an officer on a motorcyle leaning over close to a young guy hodling a digital camera. The comments develop the story around the picture in a very surprising manner. One person says they witnessed the picture and that what is actually happening is the officer is grabbing the guy by his testicles. Someone else adds that they saw it too and can identify the number on the cops’ motorcylce. Then a post from the person portrayed in the original picture, who’s digital camera was in movie mode and he posted video of the officer grabbing him.

Aside from the interesting moblogging as a news gathering vehicle, there is also the legal aspect of this. There is a legal suit being filed against the police for events on that day. When these kinds of suits happen the lawyers spend a lot of time tracking people down to figure out who say what, who has pictures, etc, its very hard to do. But in this case there’s an abusive incident, we have the victim with digital evidence and several eye witnesses none of whom know each other that found each other online and provide the basis of a legal case. ( Its not clear yet whether this incident will be part of the legal case, the victim is from out of town).

There are tons of stories like this from Indymedia-land, I was surprised not to see any mention of Indymedia in your article.

5 - Howard

Thanks for the astute comments. I really have no argument with the political bias of a journalist, as long as they check facts, double and triple source controversial assertions, get the story right, and aim to inform rather than just titillate.

6 - Thomas

First off Howard I loved the book, great read and made me ponder new issues.

That said and this is not meant as an attack, but a question of what was the real casuality? In the article you state “The moblogging conference is evidence that the culture of street bloggers I anticipated has sprouted in the real world.”

Maybe, maybe not.

I tend to think that because you wrote the book and have a lot of supporters they took the issue and created the conference. Would that conference had existed had you not written the book, maybe yes eventually and maybe no. You cite in the article and the book Justin’s work, but anyone who reads his site knows you are a big influence for him.

I want to be clear that I don’t mean any offense, I just wonder if the causality is really there.

Just a little food for thought.

7 - Mike Reeves-McMillan

Thanks for your comments on my original comment, Howard and JD. To respond:

As I said, I hadn’t read the Drudge Report, which accounts for my inability to tell the two men’s work apart. I went and had a look just now. Most of Drudge’s front page is links to articles in newspapers (ironically, given JD’s comment, several of them are to the NY Times). And as I also said, the question wasn’t rhetorical – I wanted to know if Howard was just automatically dissing people who didn’t share his political bias, which even highly intelligent and very well-educated Americans seem to do routinely. I’m not American, but my wife is (disclosure of bias: she’s Republican), so I have an interest in how US political discussion is carried on. Mostly, it seems, it isn’t – there’s an exchange of insults rather than an exchange of views. As someone who isn’t very political myself, I find both sides have their good points, but neither shows any respect for the other. Frankly, I don’t see very many people anywhere in the US, particularly in the media, “following the truth wherever it leads”; there is always a strong, and to me clearly recognisable, bias present. The Spinsanity website seems to be a notable exception in that it points out instances of “spin” regardless of who is perpetrating them.

I also went and had a look at Dan Gillmor (whose name I misspelled in my earlier comment). The language is very clearly the language of opinion, and the opinion is very clearly liberal (or perhaps “anti-republican” would be a clearer description).

Perhaps the difference between the two, then, is that Dan Gillmor is openly opinionated and formats his reporting as opinion (“This is another scandal. If the Democrats ever recover their spines, it’s also a campaign issue.”). Whereas Drudge reports everything as if it is fact, not opinion, even when it isn’t fact but rumour (he uses the phrase “sources say” quite freely)?

Bear with me here, I am still trying to clear away the distorting effect of political allegiance from the discussion and determine what the real difference is between what the two men are doing. I don’t doubt that there is one. And taking the time and effort to research the background may be it, though I wouldn’t necessarily hold the NYT up as a shining example of this given recent events.

Let me put it another way: OhMyNews in Korea is setting out to present a citizen-reported alternative to the conservative “establishment” news in that country. Is what Matt Drudge is doing perhaps more comparable to that – except that the polarities are reversed when it comes to political allegiance?

8 - Howard

Mike, I like to think that I am willing to listen to and consider the arguments of any reasonable person, whatever their political persuasion. William Safire, former Nixon speechwriter, is, for example, a Republican commentator whose work I respect even if I don’t always agree with it. With regard to journalism, I think the real issue is not he political bias of the reporter — and yes, Dan Gillmor makes his biases obvious — but whether they are going for sensation or trying to cover a story (get multiple points of view, primary sources, check facts). Whatever you think of Dan’s politics, he tends to not publish hearsay, and concentrates on important (rather than merely titillating) issues.

Thomas, you have a point. It’s not possible to really untangle the real causality. Whether or not the phenomenon is evidence that my prediction was accurate, the real point of the story had to do with the enabling technologies — and the necessary methodologies — for a more populist kind of journalism.