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December 30, 2012

[2b2k] My world leader can beat up your world leader

There’s a knowingly ridiculous thread at Reddit at the moment: Which world leader would win if pitted against other leaders in a fight to the death.

The title is a straightline begging for punchlines. And it is a funny thread. Yet, I found it shockingly informative. The shock comes from realizing just how poorly informed I am.

My first reaction to the title was “Putin, duh!” That just shows you what I know. From the thread I learned that Joseph Kabila (Congo) and Boyko Borisov (Bulgaria) would kick Putin’s ass. Not to mention that Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (Bhutan), who would win on good looks.

Now, when I say that this thread is “shockingly informative,” I don’t mean that it gives sufficient or even relevant information about the leaders it discusses. After all, it focuses on their personal combat skills. Rather, it is an interesting example of the haphazard way information spreads when that spreading is participatory. So, we are unlikely to have sent around the Wikipedia article on Kabila or Borisov simply because we all should know about the people leading the nations of the world. Further, while there is more information about world leaders available than ever in human history, it is distributed across a huge mass of content from which we are free to pick and choose. That’s disappointing at the least and disastrous at its worst.

On the other hand, information is now passed around if it is made interesting, sometimes in jokey, demeaning ways, like an article that steers us toward beefcake (although the president of Ireland does make it up quite high in the Reddit thread). The information that gets propagated through this system is thus spotty and incomplete. It only becomes an occasion for serendipity if it is interesting, not simply because it’s worthwhile. But even jokey, demeaning posts can and should have links for those whose interest is piqued.

So, two unspectacular conclusions.

First, in our despair over the diminishing of a shared knowledge-base of important information, we should not ignore the off-kilter ways in which some worthwhile information does actually propagate through the system. Indeed, it is a system designed to propagate that which is off-kilter enough to be interesting. Not all of that “news,” however, is about water-skiing cats. Just most.

Second, we need to continue to have the discussion about whether there is in fact a shared news/knowledge-base that can be gathered and disseminated, whether there ever was, whether our populations ever actually came close to living up to that ideal, the price we paid for having a canon of news and knowledge, and whether the networking of knowledge opens up any positive possibilities for dealing with news and knowledge at scale. For example, perhaps a network is well-informed if it has experts on hand who can explain events at depth (and in interesting ways) on demand, rather than assuming that everyone has to be a little bit expert at everything.

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February 23, 2012

[2b2k] Ethanz on linguistic isolation

Ethan Zuckerman asks a simple question — is there a correlation between how many outside news sources the people in a country consult and whether those people’s language is spoken mainly in their own country? — and leads us through the quantifiable maze looking for an answer.

Ethan defines “linguistic isolation” as “how well does the dominant language of your nation affect your ability to engage with information produced in other countries?” Using data from Worldmapper, and after some careful discussion of the limitations of that data (e.g., he only considers first languages, which obviously skews results for countries where many residents speak a second language, especially since one would expect (note: I am data-free!) that in many linguistically isolated countries there is a premium on learning a second, more globally popular language), he concludes:

…looking at data from 31 countries, there’s some correlation (R2=0.38) between linguistic isolation and low international readership. But there are exceptions – Argentina and Chile both have very low isolation scores, but they don’t read a lot of Mexican or Spanish news… or even each other’s news. South Africans show high linguistic isolation (languages like Zulu and Afrikaans aren’t widely spoken outside South Africa), but read a lot of international media in English, though it’s a minority language. I’m looking forward to examining a larger set of media consumption data and trying this linguistic isolation score alongside other factors, like total population (small nations might read larger nations’ news) and migrant population (the desire to read news from home.)

I’m not a quant (obviously), but I like watching people who are when they are asking fascinating questions, and when they teach as clearly as Ethan does.

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February 7, 2012

Cable remains the main source of political news

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has released the results of a new survey that shows that cable TV news is remaining the main source of political news. The Internet is climbing as a political news source, although social media are not yet major sources of political news. Local news, network news, and local newspapers are plummeting.

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September 12, 2011

Other news

Hanan Cohen has created a neat little world-expander, called Other News. Bookmark this link and click on it a few times. Each time it loads a random country’s version of Google News. Nice!

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July 30, 2011

News unboxed

I just read the NY Times. In print. Cover to cover, so to speak, although I skipped the parts that didn’t interest me, which were most of the parts at least beyond the second paragraph. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience. I then put my coffee cup in the sink, declared that unit of the day over, and opened my laptop to begin the next.

In a hyperlinked world, boxing off content is unlikely to be a winning strategy. “Here is your morning box of world news, sir. By reading every item in this box, you will be Well Informed, No, sir, for that distinction you need read nothing outside of this box.” Nah.

But, even though my usual morning news reading does not come in a box, it does occur within a stretch of time: Over breakfast on most days I read through feeds I’ve aggregated via Netvibes.com, straying as far out onto the Web as my interests lead me. I stop not when I reach the end of the news, but when I reach the end of coffee.

Obviously, I continue poking around the news (i.e., what is happening in the world) all day long. Nevertheless, I do have a morning news box, defined by time, not by the edges of content.

I suspect that’s because I grew up with morning newspapers and the evening news. I assume that The Kids These Days generally don’t have any sort of box for news. Amiwrong?

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June 22, 2011

Cultivating New Voices – An event to remember Persephone Miel by

The Berkman Center is hosting what should be a fantastic discussion on July 11 at 5pm.

The participants (from an email announcement): Colin Maclay (Berkman Center), Ivan Sigal (executive director of Global Voices), Fatima Tlisova of Voice of America, Dele Olojede of Nigerian newspaper 234Next that focuses on connecting Persephone’s Media Re:public work with cutting-edge projects in journalism around the world, and Ethan Zuckerman (Berkman, Global Voices.)

The topic: “In an age of shrinking news budgets, American newspapers and broadcasters are producing less original reporting of international stories. And while gripping events like the Arab Spring capture the attention of the public, many important international stories fail to capture widespread attention. The challenges for international reporting are both ones of supply (who reports the news from around the world?) and demand (who pays attention?)”

Inspired by, in honor of, remembering: Persephone Miel, an open-hearted, tireless, worker for the dignity of all, who is so deeply missed.

RSVP here.

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May 6, 2011

News is a wave

By coincidence, here are two related posts.

Gilad and Devin at Social Flow track the enormous kinetic energy of a single twitterer who figured out shortly before President Obama’s announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. But my way of putting this — kinetic energy — is entirely wrong, since it was the energy stored within the Net that propelled that single tweet, from a person with about a thousand followers, across the webiverse. And the energy stored within the Net is actually the power of interest, the power of what we care about.

Meanwhile, The Berkman Center today announced the public availability of Media Cloud, a project Ethan Zuckerman and Hal Roberts led. Ethan explains it in a blog post that begins:

Today, the Berkman Center is relaunching Media Cloud, a platform designed to let scholars, journalists and anyone interested in the world of media ask and answer quantitative questions about media attention. For more than a year, we’ve been collecting roughly 50,000 English-language stories a day from 17,000 media sources, including major mainstream media outlets, left and right-leaning American political blogs, as well as from 1000 popular general interest blogs. (For much more about what Media Cloud does and how it does it, please see this post on the system from our lead architect, Hal Roberts.)

We’ve used what we’ve discovered from this data to analyze the differences in coverage of international crises in professional and citizen media and to study the rapid shifts in media attention that have accompanied the flood of breaking news that’s characterized early 2011. In the next weeks, we’ll be publishing some new research that uses Media Cloud to help us understand the structure of professional and citizen media in Russia and in Egypt.

Now Media Cloud is going to be a very useful tool. And it was not trivial to build. Congratulations to the team. And thank you.

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April 21, 2010

Mediabugs: Keeping the media honest since today!

Mediabugs has a live beta up for reporting errors in media reports, initially in San Francisco. The site hopes that media will eventually put “Report an error” links into their online articles, as Scott Rosenberg (one of the folks behind Mediabugs) has started doing at his Wordyard blog.

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March 15, 2010

Americans wants news, not newspapers (from sheep to bees)

Pew Internet has released its contribution to Pew’s annual report on the state of the news media.

My take on the results: Online users generally want news, but we don’t much care where it comes from. 71% of us get our news online, but only 35% of us have a favorite site. Of those 35%, only 65% check it every day. And only 18% of us are willing to pay for online news (a percentage that includes those of us who already do pay). Most of us which would switch sites if they began charging.

The report casually describes our activity as “grazing,” which I’d push back on. My guess is that often we’re going to news sites because someone we know or someone we read has linked to the site. We’re more like bees than like sheep, darting out of the hive when one of our co-bees does an interesting enough little dance.

Anyway, it’s the usual great work by Pew. Thanks, and thanks for posting it for free.

And while were on the semi-subject, here’s a status report from Google about what it’s been doing with DoubleClick and display ads.

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March 1, 2010

Pew on how we get our news these days

Pew Internet has published the results of an important survey on how we’re getting our news today.

I haven’t read the whole thing but one little point leaps out already:

Among those who get news online, 75% get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% share links to news with others via those means.

Note that this breaks the usual rule that 1% of the online population does the work that the other 99% “consume,” which applies (extremely roughly) to Wikipedia edits, tagging, etc.

[LATER that day:] In fact, it’s fun watching tidbits from the report surfacing on Twitter.E.g. Jay Rosen @(jayrosen_nyu) points to Micah Sifry‘s writeup (@Mlsif). Scott Rosenberg (@scottros) reminds the Pew folks that “participatory news consumer” is an oxymoron. Meanwhile, Steve Rubel (@steverubel) points to Mike Melanson’s post at ReadWriteWeb about a report that says that Facebook drives three times as much traffic to broadcast media websites than Google News does.

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