Category Archives: Class Assignments

Wired.com Review

Disclosure: My father, David Dobbs, blogs on wired.com’s Wired Science section. For that reason, I’m not going to cover that section in this review, but focus on the site as a whole for the most part.

A screenshot of wired.com's main page.

Wired is one of the best-known news sources for technology and science news content. In both its magazine and online, Wired produces content covering an amazingly wide range of subjects, from diamond heists to hand-built cocaine submarines to  the science of happiness. Because of this breadth, Wired has become my one-stop-shop for interesting features and all sorts of tech news. Relating to WikiLeaks, Wired’s Threat Level blog has done a great job of covering WikiLeaks and many other privacy issues on the web.

An interesting aspect of Wired’s operations is the divide between the magazine and the website. Wired.com has its own editor-in-chief and produces the vast majority of its own original content. The magazine and the website staff also occupy separate newsrooms within the same building. Content from the magazine is confined to a single sub-section of wired.com (though some of the magazine’s headlines do end up on the front page.)

If the website was formatted differently, the divide between the magazine content and the web-only content would be a big problem, but since the site’s main page consists of a mix of the most popular or notable content from all sub-sections of the site, web users still get exposure to the bigger stories in the magazine. Magazine content goes up two weeks after the magazine is released, presumably to provide an incentive for people to buy the magazine, but once it is online it is totally free.

The best part of wired.com – and what makes it unlike nearly every other site on the internet – is the sheer breadth and depth of content on it. There are 13 blogs, more than there were a year ago (the “Playbook” sports blog is a new edition), all covering different things from serious news about net neutrality and WikiLeaks to more playful coverage of awesome tennis-playing quadricopters. This variety of coverage makes the site appealing to a very broad audience and also makes it a go-to news source for all sorts of coverage.

One aspect of wired.com that could be improved is their videos section. The videos in that section are so rarely advertised on the front page that it’s hard to find reason to even click on the section’s tab. The best videos on wired.com also tend to be embedded within a larger post, not stand-alone pieces. This is fine, but if the site has a video section, the quality and context of the videos should be better.

Overall, though, wired.com provides an exceptionally high level of content – both in quality and quantity – in an easily navigable and well-designed format. I definitely recommend the site, even to people who don’t consider themselves nerdy enough for Wired.

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CAMD Interactions

At the Northeastern College of Arts, Media, and Design “interactions” event, professors spoke about their projects, past and present. While I am not a visual artist myself, I appreciated the brilliance of many of the professors’ works.

The presentation that struck me the most – likely because it was on a subject I know some of already – was that of Walter Robinson, a professor of journalism at Northeastern. Robinson works with students in a small, high-level investigative journalism class. As Robinson presented, I was struck by the great depth and scope of the work Robinson’s students are doing.

While many professors spoke about work they personally were doing (this was perfectly acceptable at such an event, especially within the visual studies), Robinson was sure to mention that it was his students doing the reporting for stories that were landing on the front page of The Boston Globe and prompting policy reform.

I got into journalism with the hope that I could show people aspects of the world they don’t see, either by choice or because they are being obscured,  so that they can make more informed decisions. Ultimately, I want to change the world. I realize that I probably won’t break the next Watergate or expose war crimes (that won’t keep me from trying), but I realized in watching Robinson’s presentation that I could make some serious progress towards these goals before graduation.

College, my father always told me, is a place where the whole world opens up and things that before seemed distant come within reach. Obnoxiously corny sentences aside, I felt like that was the case today while I looked at the projected images of Boston Globe front pages on the wall behind Professor Robinson.

NewsTrust: A New Way to Read the News

Our class began exploring a news aggregation site called NewsTrust last week. The site essentially crowdsources media criticism. Users can grade articles based on a number of criteria, eventually giving the better articles better ratings, causing them to rise to “the top.”

The idea of a site that takes aggregation seriously (unlike Digg or Reddit, which provide more entertainment than informative information) is a good one. The majority of news readers lack background knowledge about articles, causing mistakes to go unnoticed and allowing misinformation to be spread (not intentionally, but because of a reporting mistake). A system that allows everyone to provide input and encourages fact-checking is a great tool in weeding out the bad news and providing a platform in which good news can be recognized for its merits and not its origins.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a critical mass of traffic on the site to allow it to serve this purpose with great effect. Not enough stories are posted and rated on a daily basis to provide a snapshot of all of the big stories of a given day in their best form. By this I mean that not every big event of the day has enough stories about it rated on the site for the best one to float to the top.

Though NewsTrust isn’t generating the traffic I feel it needs to effectively serve its intended purpose, I plan to keep reviewing and posting stories to the site. I really like the interface and the concept put forth here, and I hope to see the community grow and the traffic grow until NewsTrust can properly filter the day’s stories.

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle on Digital Reporting

Reinventing the News alumna Firuzeh Shokooh Valle spoke to the class on Tuesday about the impact the class and the lessons she took from it changed her career. Valle, now spanish-language editor at the Cambridge-based project Global Voices, was stuck in the print mindset, she said. Dan Kennedy’s class, Reinventing the News (for which this blog is an ongoing assignment), changed that attitude.

Valle has now completely abandoned the print mindset, instead participating in a project that exploits the power of the internet to redefine the term “world news.” Global Voices is challenging the large newspaper mindset in which the media’s gatekeepers tell us what is happening overseas and bringing forward the “voices” of bloggers and citizen journalists all over the world.

At Global Voices, Valle first got involved covering her home, Puerto Rico. She followed the island’s “blogosphere” and kept track of goings-on that way. Aggregating information that was already available and giving it to english-speaking followers on a centralized site gives news consumers an alternative to the mainstream media.

To Valle, the online newsgathering skills acquired in Reinventing the News provided a new viewpoint in how computers can be used in news production. Weaving together a narrative from hundreds of foreign bloggers and journalists covering an event can give a perspective of it that would be otherwise impossible to have.

Jeff Howe on Crowdsourcing

Jeff Howe started his career as an art reviewer at the Village voice before moving to Wired and most recently started teaching at Northeastern University. Howe literally wrote the book on crowdsourcing, coining the word and explaining in-depth what crowdsourcing is and what it means for the way we operate in the world.

Howe said the crowdsourcing is essentially the fading of the line between producer and consumer, “enabling the audience to create the media itself.”

Technology is a vital part of crowdsourcing. Particularly, the internet.

“With the internet, we were able to create a virtual crowd,” Howe explains in a promotional video for his book Crowdsourcing. The internet allowed “people to get together through intent, through shared interest” and not just location, Howe explained. This technological advance laid the groundwork for crowdsourcing as we know it today.

On a journalistic level, crowdsourcing is immensely powerful and at the same time slightly threatening, Howe said. The threat is that as the crowd begins to do the work of journalists, there are fewer jobs available for journalists.

Howe said, though, that the benefit outweighs the threats. Using the example of TalkingPointsMemo’s exposure of corruption in the Department of Justice, Howe talked about how crowdsourcing allowed a small blog to beat The New York Times, Washington Post, and all other major media outlets on one of the biggest stories of the year. How’d they do it? Crowdsoucing.

TPM began receiving emails about district attorneys being fired on what seemed like political grounds, posted about these few cases, and then heard from even more readers who saw the same thing happening near them. Eventually, the story blew up and ended up on the front page of all the big papers in the county.

Without crowdsourcing, TalkingPointsMemo would not have known to look for instances of politically-based firings in the Justice Department. While TPM’s writers may have written up the story, its readers created it. After that, when the Department of Justice released all emails related to the district attorneys in question, TPM’s staff was overwhelmed. Thousands of pages of data needed to be checked for foul play, and TPM simply didn’t have the resources to do it. But they had the readers. They released the data publicly to their readers, who pored over it searching for a story. They found it, and TPM beat the mainstream media on a huge story.

This value, Howe said, brings more benefit to the table – both for readers of the news and for journalists – than journalists stand to lose in a world where crowdsourcing allows small outlets like TPM to beat The New York Times to a story.

Moby Dick: A wallet-friendly taste of another culture

Finding cheap eats – or cheap anything, for that matter – in Boston is no easy task. Four-dollar coffees and fifteen-dollar movies don’t make Beantown easy on the wallet, but Moby Dick House of Kabobs at 269 Huntington Ave. is the perfect place to get a good meal for a good price.

The walls are lined with collages of foreign currency, adding to the international feel.

Once they work their way through the frustratingly awkward set of front doors (handicap accessible, despite the hassle), diners find themselves in a simple, comfortable space. At the back of the seating area is a counter, and on it a menu with refreshingly small numbers; dishes range from $5.95 to $22.95 (swordfish isn’t cheap).

Anything from simple rice or garden salad to Gheimeh Bademjan – which I might order if I had the slightest clue how to pronounce – can be cooked up to order in around 10 minutes.

I kept it simple (and cheap) and got the lamb kabob sandwich (tender pieces of lamb marinated in saffron and our homemade spices wrapped in pita with hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and house dressing) and a root beer. For $10.70 (cash only – they don’t take cards), I had a refreshingly tasty meal. I advise against any sandwiches there if you happen to be dining and a nice suit as the house dressing can end up shooting out of the pita wrap in just about any direction. But my T-shirt took the blow and I enjoyed my sandwich too much to worry about it.

Information

Address:

269 Huntington Ave.

Boston, Ma 02115

Phone: (617)-236-5511

Hours:

  • Monday – Wednesday: 11:00 am – 10:30 pm
  • Thursday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 12:00 am
  • Sunday: 11:00 am – 9:30 pm

Maps as Journalism

Online journalism gives journalists and news consumers an unprecedented opportunity to see the news develop in ways far beyond static text or video. While much of digital journalism is yet to be discovered, one extremely valuable capability it has is the use of maps to give context to stories.

There are many ways of doing this. I will explore three.

Click for map page (at guardian.co.uk)

First, The Guardian offers what I think is the best single presentation of WikiLeaks’ massive dump of diplomatic cables. Users can explore a world map and read cables based on the location of origin or locations mentioned in the cable (i.e. American and French diplomats discussing Iran). This can help users find cables, say, about middle eastern countries or those between Russia and the United States, a view into how the fragile relationship is maintained.

Click for map page (at boston.com)

Another great use of mapping (with nothing to do with WikiLeaks) is a boston.com feature about the war in Afghanistan, The Long War. The map is marked with interactive numbers, marking a reporter’s progression through the region. As users click on the numbers, multimedia presentations emerge and allow the reader to see what was happening in that location. The map does a great job of providing context to the stories that are coming out of the region as well as helping them to understand the situation that American troops are in.

Click for map page (at usgs.gov)

Finally, a map with disappointing execution but amazing potential is the USGS map of earthquakes near Japan. The site allows users to see squares on a map, their size denoting their magnitude) where earthquakes have occurred and when. The map illustrates a fact that I certainly didn’t know and I feel many people have failed to see: there have been 482 earthquakes near Japan in that last seven days (users can click on the squares to get detailed information about the earthquake). Obviously most didn’t even come close to the power of the one that devastated northeast Japan, killing into the tens of thousands (along with the tsunami that followed it), but the map paints a picture. Instead of an isolated incident, the earthquake was part of a massive amount of seismic activity. I would really love to see a major news organization pick this information up and make a better-designed map with all of the information available. Better execution could make this into a wonderful presentation.