Journalism has to get one thing right for a social world

The Week has folded. The Global Mail doesn’t seem far behind, though it’s still publishing good stories. New Matilda is hanging on with crowdsourced micro-dollars.

Everyone assumes there’s a next thing for journalism, me included. Because if there isn’t, what then? What kind of democracy would we have without the fourth estate?

But while the bastions of media in this country fight to stay afloat, their upstart competitors aren’t exactly blowing up.

So how do you make a media company for a world where content is increasingly distributed through sharing and social media instead of the old print and broadcast channels? That’s the question asked by BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti in an email republished on Chris Dixon’s blog.

It’s a great, optimistic email – and I’d be interested to know how much Peretti’s vision matches up with the reality at BuzzFeed.

It’s not like the challenge is finding readers. Across the board, there are more readers than ever, or maybe more reading than ever. The challenge is sustainable business models for journalism, since the coincidence that wound up with advertisers cross-subsidising journalism seems finished.

Last year, I read a terrific manifesto of a piece from Craig Mod

On ‘Subcompact Publishing,’ it see-sawed between a very designerly aesthetic and the kind of pared back simplicity of message that I think most writers would aspire to. It stuck with me.

Referring to Clayton Christensen’s idea of the innovator’s dilemna – that “the perception of the incoming disruptors is that they’re low quality, and therefore not really worth paying attention to” – Craig talks about Honda’s N360, a light or sub-compact car. He imagines the car’s engineers looking at the sum total of cars created to that date, and asking:

What’s the simplest thing we can build with this?

In the software industry, they call it the “minimum viable product” – or MVP.

As Craig explains, newspapers or magazines are simple, generally intuitive objects. They’re easy to read. Most media apps and sites aren’t.

His ‘subcompact publishing’ manifesto is:

Subcompact Publishing tools are first and foremost straightforward.

They require few to no instructions.

They are easily understood on first blush.

The editorial and design decisions around them react to digital as a distribution and consumption space.

They are the result of dumping our publishing related technology on a table and asking ourselves — what are the core tools we can build with all this stuff?

They are, as it were, little N360s.

I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

  • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
  • Small file sizes
  • Digital-aware subscription prices
  • Fluid publishing schedule
  • Scroll (don’t paginate)
  • Clear navigation
  • HTML(ish) based
  • Touching the open web

It’s prescriptive, and great creative projects are going to make their own rules. But dumping our publishing knowledge on a table and asking what can we build with it is a good place to start.

I had a very modern moment yesterday while searching for Craig Mod’s piece

I read Craig’s piece last year, but for the past couple of months, try as I might, I couldn’t find the right combination of search terms to find it again.

So I asked my Twitter community – I had, after all, tweeted it at the time. The first time I asked, it went nowhere.

Yesterday, I asked again:

So frustrated! Super inspired by manifesto for a new mobile/online news site that popped up a few months ago. Now can’t find it! @bronwen?

This time I tagged Bronwen Clune, who tweets about media innovation and runs the excellent email list Newsgraf, and she came back asking for more clues – “Australian? US?” I replied:

@bronwen think US, seemed more conceptual than case study. Led by a tech/startup person, not a media person. Very lean. Seemed v practical.

Great links and suggestions started coming in from great people like Amy Denmeade, Gavin Heaton, Paul Wallbank and Bronwen.

I hadn’t yet found what I was looking for and Bronwen captured the frustration of the fruitless search:

@matt_levinson Gah, now I’m searching for one I loved and can’t find.

But Amy Denmeade’s mention of Marco Armente’s site had given me the clue I needed. See the first half of this post 😉

We don’t have the US’s huge media ecosystem, or the catalytic funding of organisations like the Knight Foundation and their terrific News Challenges, and our startup scene is much more focussed on data-driven projects (a rich vein to tap).

But there is a huge gene pool of creative media makers coming out of community radio, zine making, blogging and subcultural writing, as well as the mainstream of journalism schools, and there are stacks of senior, seriously experienced journalists out looking for work.

Our strongest digital media projects so far: Crikey, Mumbrella, the Spectator group (recently sold to News Limited), Mamamia, Andrew Jaspan’s The Conversation, sustainability website The Fifth Estate, News and the ABC’s opinion sites (The Punch, The Drum), CNET, ZDNet, maybe even The Monthly’s latest thing Politicoz – they’ve all started with a fine focus, and in some cases expanded.

In contrast, the sites and publications suffering… most are generalist, generally unfocussed – maybe that’s the point.

[Reading #8] Discounting, data stories and long journalism

1. Discounting

So discounting is what retailers do – at Christmas, to seize the momentum of buying ahead of Christmas, and, in June, to get cash rather than debts on the books ahead of the end of financial year.

But it’s something we all do. Think about the choice between watching TV or doing exercise. We know going for a run is better for us. Thinking for next month, maybe even next week, you probably imagine tying your laces and doing it. But faced by the decision today, we tend to choose the TV. It’s easier. We know it’s better to do exercise, but the immediate satisfaction of sitting on the couch is more attractive.

Gareth Hutchens explains, in an SMH op-ed, that’s why we use credit cards – the hit from buying something with our credit card now trumps the cost of the interest we’ll pay down the track.

We “discount” future consumption in favour of present consumption. The question is by how much, and that depends on our “discount rate”.

To find the discount rate, economists ask: How should we compare the welfare of future generations to the welfare of the current generation?

There are two ways to answer it. We can base our calculations on market interest rates (the positive approach), or we can base them on ethical judgments about the relative values of people’s lives (the normative approach).

Seems simple, but this simple idea of discounting underpins everything we think about the future, from building infrastructure to dealing with climate change.

2. The climate debate is a failure of data visualisation – can we tell data stories better?

Anyone who’s sat through a climate science talk intuitively knows this. It’s serious. Talk to climate researchers offline and they’re compelling. Go to a talk and – with notable exceptions – it’ll be a glacial drift of excel graphs.

Illustrators and other artists used to be crucial parts of research laboratories, though in most labs they’ve long since been let go. Watching Ben Hosken (from Melbourne data visualisation powerhouse Flink Labs) talk last week at #media140 in Brisbane, I couldn’t help but see it as a renaissance of the artist’s role in research.

Flink Labs did this project for #apps4nsw using real time Sydney Buses travel data (it’s not real time now though – the RTA removed public access to the data within hours of the program finishing). I love the potential of these kinds of projects for real time city governance – the sort of projects MIT’s Media Lab and Stamen have specialised in.

The #media140 talk was fairly introductory, not much new. But what I found interesting was Hosken’s broad principles had little to do with the technical side of data crunching, writing algorithms and doing graphics. Here’s a series of my tweets from the session:

Expressing data’s story in a way that doesn’t obscure the truth… also need to tell a really good story.

Data viz is telling a story you can interact with and explore, not broadcast

Tell the story, don’t just show data

& any storytelling RT @allinthemind: “not about the average”.. biggest & smallest sometimes reveal most enriching data viz stories

It’s finding the story in the data – not just processing the data unvarnished. Though as Natasha Mitchell (Radio National’s All In The Mind) said, using outliers to tell the story is ripe for misrepresentation. Take care.

Stanford’s Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer wrote a great paper on telling stories through interactive visualisation. German visual analytics researcher Enrico Bertini (from Fell In Love With Data) blogged the key points in a guest post on Andrew Vande Moere’s Infosthetics blog:

1. The table with the design space can help you during the design phase to understand what components you can use in your solution. Choose a genre, a visual narrative tactic, and a narrative structure. You can also think creatively and see if there are useful combinations of these elements that have never appeared before. Alternatively, you can think out-of-the-box, and come up with new solution altogether.

2. Be careful with the level of interactivity and messaging you provide. This is probably a choice that you have to take early in your visualization project: do you want to give lots of freedom and risk that the message is not conveyed clearly or you prefer to guide the reader but remove the thrill of exploration?

3. The hybrid models are ready-cooked solutions that you can use right away. Again, these can both serve as a way to find a model that suits your message, or just as a starting point to create new hybrid models.

The most popular software being used by designers and others who aren’t code natives is Processing, but there’s a stack of others. Computer World reviews 22 free packages including Data Wrangler, Google Refine, R Project, Google Fusion Tables, Impure, Tableau Public, IBM’s Many Eyes, VIDI, ZOHO Reports, Choosel, Exhibit, Google Chart Tools, JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit, Protovis, Quantum GIS (QGIS), OpenHeatMap, OpenLayers, OpenStreetMap, TimeFlow, Gephi and NodeXL. Get visualising.

3. Long form journalism

A big trend’s just about always complemented by its almost opposite. So while Twitter’s firing, there’s a balanced explosion in long form writing. You can see it in the thriving New Yorker magazine. Yes, Twitter is limited to 140 characters, but it’s driven by the deeper content of features, books, documentaries, conferences, movies and a hundred other things.

Annabel Crabb wrote a typically great piece for ABC’s Drum on the topic.

And the truth is, even though reading long articles on screens can be fiendish, especially when you are – as so often social media users do – breaking off every 30 seconds to check Twitter or let your intimates know that you’re up to page six and you feel a bit like a burrito, the internet is also coughing up new ways to recover, locate and enjoy longer pieces.

She mentions Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky’s site longform.org and Instapaper – both fast friends with iPad owners. There’s also The Paris Review and, one of my favourites, Longreads.

I was a music writer for ages, though I seem to be having a break. Editing Cyclic Defrost magazine, we shifted short reviews to the web and focussed the magazine around long feature length profiles and essays. With in depth music writing all but gone from the papers – most dailies get syndicated copy, and the magazines get more and more concise – we wanted to give more context, looking at creative communities and the broader culture. And that’s something you can’t approach in the usual 15-30 minute, 500 word feature.

Doesn’t need to be in print, either. Dan Hill’s great blog City of Sound is a case in point. He’s leaving Australia with this piece on planning in his wake. There are a stack of other writers doing much more interesting critical writing on blogs than anywhere – Alison Croggon, Anwyn Crawford, Linda Carroli – mostly because there isn’t the space in print publications for that depth.

4. Other good stuff

Greplin is a personal search engine that allows you to search all your online data in one easy place.

Scribble notes while you surf the web with Markup.

Fascinating Cindy Frewen Wuellner series on future cities at her Urban Verse blog.

Kate Carruthers asks if innovation actually helps.

And N+1 magazine on elites.

Catriona Menzies-Pike on crowdfunding New Matilda

When New Matilda closed its doors at the end of June, 2010, a lot of people sighed. Others shook their heads (“Someone should do something about this!”). A few people said they had a bad business model (“What, paying writers!”) and a few hard heads just thought it was part and parcel of running a media business in this day and age (“Fail fast!”).

I guess I had a bit of all those feelings.

It’s the perennial challenge of independent media. You do it because you’re passionate, but at some point you have to pay the bills, and fundamentally doing good journalism costs money.

I had written a few pieces for the website, and I really liked it. But working out a business model for online media is no easy thing. While there have been plenty of successes, few deep, considered online media outlets have survived without a backer. And New Matilda was pretty self-consciously serious – I mean half the website split off at one point to become the left-wing think tank Centre for Policy Development.

So I guess I thought that door was closing. But with the indefatigable Marni Cordell at the helm – I’d written for her in the past at Spinach7 magazine – and Catriona Menzies-Pike as associate editor, I should have known to expect more. Especially since the website had already shown its resilience bouncing through a few business models in its six years.

So with the website just about to crank into gear for an auspicious new year, I bounced a series of questions past Catri.

There was a big outcry when New Matilda folded, but we’re so used to magazines and now websites going under that I guess most people thought that was it. What was happening in the office?

Our funding was withdrawn on very short notice so we were as shocked as our readers were. We simply did not have enough time to reconfigure our business model so the site stopped publishing until October, 2010. We churned through a range of options to keep the site live without a break but weren’t able to find one that we could confidently set up on such short notice.

You must have a pretty clear idea of what the pros and cons are, having been through that process. Why have New Matilda?

I guess there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not readers are prepared to pay for online media – and how much. Although there are plenty of web wonks out there with metrics and user research tools, I think it is still very hard to predict whether or not audiences will pay for the work they enjoy. All of which is a huge con for a risky fundraising project like ours – and a potential advantage.

Not only does a project need a large constituency, that constituency needs to be persuaded that there’s a really good reason to donate – and that they will enjoy the benefits of the success of that project.

Why was it struggling?

It wasn’t – but the business model of the site relied on the very generous support of our former company owner.

There’s been a groundwell of these kinds of crowdsourced funding sites – Spot.Us, KickStarter, etc – is this a natural response to traditional funding mechanisms (particularly for journalism) breaking down?

I’m not sure whether  it’s natural or not, but it’s certainly a response to the breakdown of those traditional mechanisms – and perhaps a way of refamiliarising readers with paying for media, as they did when they bought newspapers not so long ago.

Online media don’t face the print and distribution costs of traditional media, but having journalists and doing serious stories still costs a lot of money. Can you give me a sense of the scale and makeup of the costs New Matilda has to manage annually?

For many reasons, we’re not quite ready to open our books up! Here’s a quote from an article we published on the fundraising:

We’ve set a budget target of $175,000. This figure represents the bare minimum that we need to run the business for a year. This is an all or nothing fundraising drive and if we don’t reach this target, we’ll cease publishing at the end of December.

Where will all this cash go? After all, it doesn’t cost anything to set up a blog, does it? This will cover wages for two part-time staff members, fees for writers, administrative overheads, insurance — regular business expenses. It will be a bare bones operation but we’re confident that we can bring you regular content that meets our high editorial standards.

Were you brainstorming ideas to get the site back up the entire time?

Yep.

How did the FundBreak idea come up? Did someone suggest it? Did they come to you?

We were discussing the logistics of payment devices on the site and it arose as part of that discussion.

Were you aware of these sort of sites developing?

Yes –  they’re particularly visible in the US.

Did you link up with someone at FundBreak, or do it remotely?

Directly – they’re Sydney based.

How did it work – can you talk me through the experience from thinking of using FundBreak through to loading up a campaign on the site?

Pretty much as explained on Fundbreak.

What worked well? What didn’t work?

Well – in an all or nothing campaign – it all worked!

It got very close to the wire – what actually happened with that last lump sum?

It went pretty much as we wrote on the site:

Those of you who were watching our budget target soar on Wednesday morning might have an idea. We raised a whopping $15,000 in the last day of our campaign. Before the surge of the last few days we were hopeful — but we also knew we were on shaky ground. It wasn’t until we had received a critical mass of donations that we could even consider accepting a loan. Thank you to everybody who donated to our campaign.

Is there an issue with that kind of last minute loan undercutting confidence in the model?

I don’t think so.

Do you think it’s a model that could be used to fund large scale art projects or research funding? I guess I’m interested in the role of marketing in driving up a project like this, does it need to have a clear audience/market?

I think it’s not just about having a clear market, but having an established relationship with an audience. What this means for large projects/organisations which haven’t had a chance to prove their credentials, I don’t know.

What role did marketing play – I know you had a very active social campaign going?

Although we kept the campaign very visible on social media, the direct contact we had with our readers via the website was just as important.

Have you heard about those kinds of projects – people using FundBreak for large projects? Can you see reasons why they would/wouldn’t work?

NM’s fundraising was the biggest project Fundbreak had undertaken. As I understand it, in the US quite a few film projects have been crowd-funded. (I think David Lynch may have been involved in one of these.) Donors get a credit in the film and sometimes free tickets. Not only does a project need a large constituency, that constituency needs to be persuaded that there’s a really good reason to donate – and that they will enjoy the benefits of the success of that project.

What happens next year for New Matilda?

We’ll be spending a great deal of time in 2011 trying to consolidate a sustainable business model. But in the foreseeable future, we’ll be relying on our readers to keep the site online.

Caught in an information rip?

There’s so much information out there that journalists are starting to code in languages like R or Python to weed out patterns and spikes in data sets. I’m not sure how many of these data journalists there are, yet. But there’s no question there are stories to be found (search ‘data journalist’ and you’ll find pages of guides to the emerging field).

And more and more we’re actually obsessed by information. Think about the flow of stories and observations and thoughts on Twitter. The number of blogs covering data visualisation and infographics (though that trend seems to have peaked). The way we use spatial apps in a crisis like the Queensland floods. And in the world of science, we’re building up massive troves of data.

It turns out searching is one of our primary drives.

In 1954, psychologist James Olds put electrodes in rats’ brains for an experiment. By accident, he discovered that if the probe was put in the lateral hypothalamus of the brain, and the rat was allowed to press a lever and stimulate its own electrodes, it would press the lever until it collapsed. Ever since, people have assumed that the lateral hypothalamus is the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’.

But that didn’t make sense to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp.

The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were “excessively excited, even crazed.” The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn’t experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, “where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy”.

It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, “Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems.” It is the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. It’s why, as animal scientist Temple Grandin writes in Animals Make Us Human, experiments show that animals in captivity would prefer to have to search for their food than to have it delivered to them.

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

That’s from an Emily Yoffe piece in Slate on why our brains are hard-wired to love Google, Twitter and all those other things.

So that’s why I wade through writers’ blogs and scan feeds and pore through books and magazines. It’s powerful, very useful, and probably not particularly healthy. But is it just the way things are?

Maybe. Kristin Alford blogged yesterday about her search for ‘flow’ amids the interruptions.

Attaining flow requires sustained thinking and the creative application of our skills and knowledge to solve new and difficult problems – mastering a difficult turn for an ice skater, finding the right phrase for a poet. But when we reach a state of flow, we barely notice the time pass and gain great satisfaction.

How do we create opportunities for sustained thinking and flow in our connected world with the rush of Twitter, status updates on Facebook, hitting receive on emails and the incessant ping ping of messages on our devices? How do break old unproductive habits associated with connection?

Kristin’s solution, via Jack Cheng at the excellent A List Apart, was to think about the habit fields surrounding your work environment:

On the one hand it should be a place of quiet contemplation and flow. On the other hand it is also where we check messages, talk on the phone, pay bills, research on the internet. If you check Twitter first thing in the morning and then regularly during the day, it becomes a habit associated with that space.

Cheng noted that he deleted a certain Twitter client because he would find himself absent-mindedly clicking the shortcut key without realising. I do this regularly when I switch between applications, finding myself on Tweetdeck with no previous intention of viewing it. It has become an instinctive habit, muscle memory.

Cheng now sits in a different chair for Twitter and email, saving his desk for actual work – in his case writing, designing and coding. Physically changing the space has reduced the social media habit field at his desk.

I’m not sure sitting at a different desk, using a different computer,  is really practical for me. But the issue of ‘habit fields’ forming around these heavily used locations really chimes. As I mentioned in the comments of Kristin’s post, I think this is something we’re all struggling to get right. Twitter and whatever’s next are so good at taking us to good things, but the by-product is a Pavlovian response in our reward centres, constant refreshing, scanning and instinctively interacting. I take time out to read books, long articles and papers, and write thoughts, observations and ideas ever day, but I’m going to have to think more about those habit fields.

It definitely puts a different slant on neuroscientist David Eagleman’s prediction in The Guardian that within the next 20 years we’ll be jacking information streams directly into our brains with William Gibson-esque machine interfaces.

I’d like to imagine we’ll have robots to do our bidding. But I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy leaving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. So I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem.

Will we have reached the singularity – the point at which computers surpass human intelligence and perhaps give us our comeuppance? We’ll probably be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex for those who want it badly enough to risk the surgery.

That idea of the rewiring our ideas of humanity with sentient computers and the singularity appears to be crystallising.  Tim Flannery’s fascinating interview with Robyn Williams on ABC’s Science Show laid out the Internet, the flow of information around the planet and the increased interdependence of all of us as steps towards the development of a superorganism – he calls it Gaia – and as he describes it, it definitely calls to mind the ant colonies described by entomologist EO Wilson.

It’s a debate that’s picked up a lot of steam. Flannery’s comments were editorialised by Tim Blair in the Daily Telegraph and anonymously in The Australian.

Come on down, Gaia!

Hey, if the big guy can take out Australian citizenship by this morning and hold a cricket bat, we’ve got a job for him at the SCG.

It’s obviously speculative, but there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye – and it really taps into what we’re increasingly understanding about how complex systems work, and how Earth’s system works. Here’s a response from three scientists on the role of what’s increasingly being called Earth Systems Science.

A critical feature of Earth System Science is to recognise that human activities now form a major interactive part of the functioning and evolution of the entire planet. This is a significant departure from the past where humans have been studied separately from the environment around us. We have been regarded as villains impacting the planet’s natural systems, and victims suffering from the way the planet reacts, for example through changing climate.

This new approach means that the natural science of global environmental change must be linked with social science, economics and the humanities, that is, “global environmental change” must become “global change”.

There are real risks when we become so interconnected and tapped into the global flow of data. Personal risks, that stop us from being creative and able to deliver on our promise. Global risks, where crises like the financial meltdown brought on by sub-prime lending can cascade around the world due to our interconnected financial systems. And fundamental challenges to Earth’s inhabitants, like mass extinction of Australia’s biodiversity.

But there’s also the very real chance of good – the ability to understand each other, to have richer, far more fulfilling experiences, to come up with new ideas, to solve some of these big problems. Finding the balance is crucial.

Proving ideas in a crisis

It seems careless to think about creativity when friends and family in Brisbane are being evacuated in the face of rising floodwaters. Creeks are turning into raging torrents. Mobile phone networks have been going down. It looks like topping the disastrous 1974 floods. The scenes have been awful, and at times kind of ridiculous.

(Cyclists at New Farm Park, thanks Taezer)

(Food panic setting in, thanks to photographer Sam Hegarty)

It’s a crisis. But it’s also a showcase for good ideas.

Like wearing dive boots.

Or the ABC’s development of digital radio, and special event stations, which means it can roll out a dedicated station to keep people updated. Or the fact that it’s been toying with Ushahidi‘s Crowdmap for a month of tracking feral animals, which means it can do crowdsourced mapping of the flooded areas.

Online community manager Greg Williams (aka @lexiphanic) posted Brisbane City Council’s full collection of flood maps when the council’s site collapsed under the strain – update: Greg wrote about the process for today’s Crikey.

To help others, I put up a web page on my server on late Tuesday night with the handful of files I was able to find. I then told people on Twitter and Facebook where to find the page and went to bed.

Early on Tuesday morning, others contributed some more of the maps and I was able to pry some more from the Brisbane City Council’s flailing servers. I posted them on my page and reminded people they could access them there.

It spread like wildfire. Thousands of people shared the website address with their friends, who shared it with their friends, and so on. Google’s search engine had picked it up, too. By midnight on Tuesday night my humble page had helped 199,833 people.

Our ability to use data, particularly spatial data, has really matured in the past couple of years. And events like this are when you see its value. Contributors to the many new curation/journalism sites, including Storify and Storyful, have also swung into gear.

These and a stack of other great and prosaic ideas circulated quickly on Twitter, using the hashtags #qldfloods and #thebigwet (though they have been largely swamped by retweeted rumours and other redundant comments, hinting at the limits of the hashtag filter). We’re far from the end of this, when the floods subside there will be a huge reconstruction project to come, and there’s talk of floods in five states by the end of the week. But it’s moving to see how people pull together and help each other in a crisis like this, and how the often flippant world of social media rallies when times are straitened.

Science blogging, a rethink

In science media circles, everyone knew about NASA’s press conference last month. Alien life? A second branch of life on Earth? Unusually hyped, even for NASA, it was published in the premier journal Science.

(lead researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon, and Mary Voytek, Steven Benner and Pamela Conrada in a Paul E. Alers/NASA photo from the press conference)

But as UK science writer Ed Yong wrote in a post-mortem it:

turned out to be nothing more than bacteria that can thrive on arsenic, using it in place of phosphorus in their DNA and other molecules. But after the initial layers of hype were peeled away, even this extraordinary claim started falling under suspicious glances.

Despite the issues, most of the mainstream media went for it (the story was barely covered in Australia, although the Science Show had a report from a partner of one of the scientists and Stuart Gary wrote a piece for ABC Science).

Did having Science and NASA on the stand draw everyone’s guards down? Probably. And once upon a time, that’s where it would have ended.

But in the past few years, an ecology of science blogs and blogging platforms has emerged: Seed’s ScienceBlogs, ResearchBlogging, Wired’s Science Blogs, Nature BlogsDiscover‘s blogs, Science Blogging, PLoS Blogs, Scientific American Blogs, Guardian Science Blogs, Lab Spaces, SciBlogs NZScience 3.0, Scientopia, Field of Science, Occam’s Typewriter, Science Magazine Blogs, and here’s geophysicist Cian Dawson on geoscientists blogging. (There’s a smattering of science blogs in Australia, some linked to radio shows, some to international platforms. As part of the Federal Government’s gov2.0 drive, they’ve set up a government blogging platform.)

Between live tweeting of the press conference, and rapid-fire analysis from key bloggers, particularly Rosie Redfield, the issues with the Wolfe-Simon et al. paper quickly emerged.

I don’t know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they’re unscrupulously pushing NASA’s ‘There’s life in outer space!’ agenda.  I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science’s editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.

NASA and many other mainstream science communicators and journalists were quick to dismiss these criticisms as being outside the peer review process.

Do critics of the blogosphere’s reaction realise how much of the best science writing is happening on blogs? These aren’t (all) undergrads or hobbyists – when they talk about “bloggers”, they’re talking about top flight science writers and scientists. Rosie Redfield, for example, is “The Boss” of the Redfield Lab at University of British Columbia. Long time science bloggers Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders blogged about this, of course, at Science of Blogging.

In this case, it quickly spun out of control for NASA – despite their great record with blogging and social media – seems like they messed up the PR,  then got a hint of what a lot of politicians and businesses have seen in the past year or two when the social media world senses it’s being taken for a ride.

It’s a great story, but it’s not the most important story.

The real story is how much the very practice of doing science is changing. Several recent controversies have shown how conflicted the peer review process has become. It’s closed and therefore open to (perceptions of) conflict. And that closed process means there’s nothing to be learned from the interactions of peer review, which can be hilarious:

The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about,

but could inspire new ideas and avenues too.

The reverse chronology blog feed is a style of writing that is just really well suited to science. Instead of the story beginning and ending with the latest published paper, it’s ongoing, updated as new facts come to light – in many cases by writers (scientists or not) that are following the journals (often in their own discipline).

In that sense, it’s becoming part of being a scientist. Being part of a larger conversation of ideas, being able to publish thoughts in process and comments on other work. It’s communicating science, but also about doing science, and fostering innovation. It’s not for everyone, but for the right people, blogging science and talking openly about science is powerful.

In some ways, the way we think about science blogging needs a rethink. The science community tends to think of blogging as amateur or DIY media, which it can be. But I reckon it would help if scientists started to think about blogging as an extension to what they do at conferences.

So conferences are a chance to present ideas (which may not be quite ready for the breaking paper), hear them critiqued or questioned, and do the same for others. It’s good for connecting with people.

And as well as just being interesting, that conversation is where science blogging really works too.

Do things #2

  1. The more we do more things, the more important good project management gets, and that is something I struggle with. Fortunately a string of start ups are here to help. Better Means is for enterprise projects, i.e the ones with a few people involved. For the first time in a little while, I’m not running any of those, so I haven’t tested it out yet – looks good, though. What I am doing, is running a bunch of individual projects. And Workflowy seems perfect. Simple, effective.
  2. It’s about this time of year people start coming out with best of lists. Don’t worry, this blog’s too new for that kind of thing. But Abraham Hyatt has a list of the top eight journalism apps that we’ll all be using next year, including Rapportive, SimpleNote, Document Cloud, and various Photoshop, police and government and scanner phone apps. Rapportive is new to me, and sounds good – it’s supposed to “replace the ads in your Gmail account with publicly available information about the person who sent you the email: links to their social networking accounts, their photo and biographical info, even a live feed of their tweets”  – but for the moment, it really slows down my Gmail, and doesn’t actually produce any info on my contacts.
  3. WikiLeaks is everywhere right now. Its revelations dominating the news, the attacks on Assange and WikiLeaks itself becoming the news too. Following old school denial of service to WikiLeaks by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others, 4chan has become the nerve centre for a wave of attacks on those companies – Bernard Keane calls it “the internet wars” in Crikey. And Twitter has been shutting down organisers of those counterattacks, leading to concerns Twitter might become a target. Prime time to back up your tweets. I’m using TweetBackup and Sparrw.
  4. As everyone gets more comfortable with social media, people are asking tougher questions about the how, what and why of these things. One solution is keeping a closer eye on what’s happening (whether on an individual level or broader organisation level), and that’s what Ken Burbary’s incredible treasure trove of social media monitoring tools should help do. The other thing is simply making your own, or going somewhere you believe in. Jumo is styled as a social justice Facebook: “connecting individuals and organisations who want to change the world.” The challenge remains getting a critical mass of people into the network.
  5. Ending with a question, should I use Disqus for comments on this site? Do you?

Reading #5

  1. Sometimes all it takes to be creative is a different perspective. Matthew Engel’s Financial Times report on Australian politics captures something:

    The insecurity of power is reinforced by the layout of the parliamentary chamber. Instead of nestling alongside their colleagues on the front bench, the leaders sit alone at the despatch box, on swivel chairs, unable to glimpse the darts being aimed from behind.

    Unless they swing round, which Tony Abbott does all the time, turning his back on the PM to confer with his colleagues – especially when she is speaking, a gesture of contempt that would be recognised among primates. There is indeed something rather simian about Abbott: he is a hulking fitness fetishist-cum-exhibitionist, often photographed in the skimpy swimming trunks that Aussies call “budgie-smugglers”. The other week he was spotted running through the parliamentary corridors, past the coffee shop, in his tight black shorts: “It was like watching evolution in reverse,” said one latte drinker.

    Abbott’s attitude to Gillard is understandable. She enters the House with a strange waddle, as though she were a stringed puppet (perhaps with one of the faction leaders doing the pulling). Her accent is the least euphonious variant of whining Strine, and the content of her answers mind-numbingly repetitive. I heard her accuse Abbott of opposing with “three-word slogans” at least six times, which in itself constitutes a three-word slogan

  2. Radiolab, on WNYC (I get it on podcast), is one of the best of a new breed of radio. Intensely creative, captivated by the trade of ideas, informed by truckloads of radio and science experience. This great New York Oberver piece says it shows scientists haven’t simply replaced the theologians, the metaphysicians and the social critics as posers and answerers of the biggest questions:

    They’ve also become, in a time of gene-splicing and hadron-colliding and psychopharmacology, our true avatars of creative expression, the last radical artists left.

    This show is a conversation between science and mystery. You’re right at the edge of what the science can tell you. Which to me is as much about, like, magical thinking and weirdness and poetry as the science itself.

  3. Lee Fleming, at Harvard, collected data on all US patents since 1975, and looked at the network structures around them. It’s detailed in a fascinating Harvard Magazine piece on network analysis (I got this from a piece about network analysis on Arie Goldschlager‘s blog by the way):

    Comparing the models of the “broker”—an influential person connected to many others who don’t know each other—and the “connector”—an influential individual with a habit of introducing his collaborators to each other—he found that brokers are more likely to come up with new ideas, because they are situated at the center of a group and communication goes through them.

    But brokers have a harder time getting their ideas publicized, relative to connectors. Fleming found that brokers whose ideas became influential most often were connected to a “gatekeeper” who was part of a more highly integrated network and could disseminate the idea there.

  4. Google has been one of the past decade’s most fiercely innovative companies. From my experiences and reading, it seems that innovation stems from a mix of connectedness and disconnectedness. Their work is online, so there’s obviously connectivity. But they work in small teams that find their way to each other when they do. Several people I know went to ‘Google Under The Hood’ days in Sydney and Melbourne over the past few weeks.  I reckon the best insights come from failures, not successes, because you can see things in a cool, dispassionate way – the obvious recent example would be Wave, and I’d love to hear more about that. There’s nothing about Wave in this short review, but it does go into Google’s guidelines for innovation (it’s by Alex Roberts from the Federal Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research’s Innovation blog – which I hadn’t seen before, but am glad to have found):

    One of the other things mentioned was Google’s guiding principles ‘10 things we know to be true’. These principles include: that if you focus on the user, all else will follow; that great just isn’t good enough; and you can be serious without a suit.

    On looking at these principles I also came across their 10 design principles. These include ‘Dare to innovate’ – “Google encourages innovative, risk-taking designs whenever they serve the needs of users. Our teams encourage new ideas to come out and play. Instead of just matching the features of existing products, Google wants to change the game.”

    The APS has its Values which articulates our philosophy for the public service. But I was wondering – what could an APS philosophy for innovation look like? What should it look like?

  5. Gary Hamel’s business management blog at the Wall Street Journal is annoyed by lists of ‘most innovative companies’, which he says fail to distinguish between the five types of innovative businesses: young tyros like Spotify and Hulu; Nobel laureates like Intel and Cisco; artistes like IDEO and Grey New York; cyborgs like Google, Amazon and Apple; and born again innovators like Proctor & Gamble and Ford. He says the difference isn’t abstract, it’s structural (and it’s just as relevant to, say, a research institution or government):

    What limits innovation in established companies isn’t a lack of resources or a shortage of human creativity, but a dearth of pro-innovation processes. In too many organizations one finds that . . .

    1. Few, if any, employees trained as business innovators
    2. Few employees have access to the sort of customer and industry insights that can help spur innovation
    3. Would-be innovators face a bureaucratic gauntlet that makes it difficult for them to get the time and resources they need to test their ideas
    4. Line managers aren’t held accountable for mentoring new business initiatives or lack explicit innovation goals
    5. Innovation performance isn’t directly tied to top management compensation
    6. The metrics for tracking innovation (inputs, throughputs and outputs) are patchy and poorly constructed
    7. There’s no commonly agreed-upon definition of innovation and hence no way of comparing innovation performance across teams and divisions.
  6. I love this… taking the hack day concept and putting it to work in science. Science Hack Day happened earlier this month at San Francisco’s Institute for the Future:

    About 100 people gathered to learn from each other, tinker, form collaborative teams, and build projects that combined ideas from particle physics, molecular biology and bioinformatics, data science, astronomy and space science, robotics, geography, microscopy, software hacking, and web design. NASA was there, with an exuberance of marketing schwag and an eagerness to make their stores of data more accessible to citizen scientists; Mendeley was there to raise awareness of their open API, which grants access to Mendeley’s academic research data and web of scholarly relationships; YDN was there to show YQL, the query language that makes it easy to manipulate and mashup data from all over the web. There were Arduinos, LEDs, double helix legos, duct tape of course, a DNA tie, a $512 Polymerase Chain Reaction machine to enable DNA amplification for biohackers everywhere, plenty of cameras, plenty of refreshments, and a superabundance of smart, friendly people. Here’s the complete list of projects built.

Do things #1

  1. Journalists waste a lot of time in multiple Freedom of Information requests for the same reports, or getting access to material that’s in the public interest. A couple of new sites aim to help. MuckRock files, tracks and shares FOI documents. DocumentCloud helps journalists, particularly investigative journalists, share their source documents. I reckon both would be just as useful for a much wider group of people, it’s not just journos dealing with FOI requests and source documents – they could be equally useful for community activists and urbanists, educators and researchers.
  2. I’ve been using GoogleDocs, Google’s cloud take on Office, for lots of collaborative projects, particularly when I was editing Cyclic Defrost magazine and putting together my FBi Radio program every week – but particularly for the magazine, one of the perennial issues was porting the formatted docs back to Earth. TechCrunch says Cloud Connect (just on signup at the moment) will fix it all.
  3. View stats on your bit.ly pages: add a ‘+’ to any bit.ly URL to see stats on it and others pointing to same e.g. http://bit.ly/ea8t3s+
  4. Draw all over the web with ShiftSpace, and use Curated.by to craft the Smithsonian of the web – which sounds grand, but really means filtering a stream of tweets at this stage.

Steampunk Blogging, meet Ross Floate

You can’t escape the death of print media talk. Newspapers may not be folding at quite the same rate as they were earlier this year or last, and there are plenty of exciting projects getting up, but print newsrooms are still clearing out – the latest is Fairfax cutting some $10 million in costs with a new restructure.

Still, there’s always someone doing things differently.

I first heard about a British group called The Newspaper Club on Dan Hill‘s blog – and a new scene or creative community or maybe even genre called ‘the papernet.’ And Ross Floate, Ned Dwyer and James Noble‘s new Melbourne-based paper And Now It’s In Print is definitely part of it.

(the first edition – well, really, the pilot edition)

It’s small: indie publishers find stories online, and print them. But with giants like Hewlett-Packard getting involved with their MagCloud project, and The Newspaper Club expanding, it has the potential to be something quite different.

So when Ross was in Sydney a little while ago, we met up.

What is it exactly?

What we tried to do is create a newspaper out of the best pieces of material we had on the web. As you say, most things have been going the other way. What we did was try to find things we thought were great, and bring them to an audience that was kind of offline.

Did you grow up with papers?

I used to read an extraordinary number of papers growing up. My parents are massive newshounds, my father especially. So I always read a lot and I studied journalism, so I was always around writing and reading and so forth.

What sparked the idea?

I went to South By Southwest earlier this year, which is a big festival in Austin, Texas, and one component of that is the Interactive Festival. I saw this newspaper called Things Our Friends Sent Us For Printing, which was basically a small, I think a 12 page newspaper put out by a group called the Newspaper Club. And it was material that was written specifically for that newspaper, but it was by people who were better known as bloggers or online writers. And out of all the things that I was inspired by when I was there, it was this one thing that I thought that’s a really cool idea, why couldn’t we do something like that, a little bit more localised?

What struck you about it? What grabbed your attention?

Well for a start, everything else was online material. It was all, what’s the latest technology, what is the greatest new website, what is the greatest new cool thing. And the idea that these people were saying, ‘No it’s worth doing something in paper’ really struck a chord with me. There’s something we get from newspapers that people don’t realise. What people think they’re buying when they buy a newspaper is the news that’s in it. In fact, the value of a newspaper is what’s left out. Because you’ve got a limited amount of space, having an editor or a curator saying, ‘Well here’s actually the only important stuff, it’s all we’ve got room for, so we’ve given you the best stuff of that space’ is of tremendous value. So what we wanted to do was say, ‘Well here is 12 or 24 pages of the Internet, and here’s the stuff that we think you should know about now.’ So the scarcity was important.

Is that something that came to you while you were looking at this thing at South By Southwest, or was it as you were on the plane home filtering through what you’d got out of the festival, you started to come to that idea, to realise this might be something?

The idea of scarcity being important is something I’ve always kind of realised. That the editor and the curator was important, and that was one of the things that wasn’t really around on the web. But the idea that a small group of people, which the Newspaper Club people are, would just go out and have a crack at it and do it themselves, was really interesting to me. I went to SXSW to see what was going on, and be inspired by things there, and I thought well there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen here, and we couldn’t do something that was interesting and largely local. So I came back and spoke to some people about doing it, and we got started pretty quickly.

Why do this now and here?

Australia is an interesting case in cultures worldwide. We constantly look overseas and we have forever. One of the things we hoped out of the Internet is that it would bring us closer to the rest of the world, instead it’s made it very easy for us to look overseas even quicker which makes us even less likely to create our own things. There’s always something better overseas, people have bigger budgets there, why not just get the thing from elsewhere. I think it’s important people realise things can be done locally. We can do things that are looked at internationally as interesting, and we’ve sold a lot of copies of this overseas, we’ve had a lot of international interest.

(fan photo in Chicago)

Was there an article you read on a blog or somewhere else that you thought online’s just not doing that justice?

There’s one piece in there that’s actually from overseas, called ‘Better’ by Merlin Mann, which is kind of a call to arms to be good at whatever you do, and to always give everything your best shot. It was something I first read online some years ago and it didn’t really grab me at the time, and then I kept going back to it, thinking this is an important piece, this is something more people should read, and people who aren’t online all the time, people who aren’t aware of this person from their fame on the web should be aware of this.

And Now It’s In Print opens with a story by Andy Ramadge about the closing of The Tote, a classic Melbourne rock venue, and towards the other end of the paper, you’ve got another article by Dan Hill, a really ambitious piece that envisions Australia’s future as a kind of southern Nordic hub, focussing on innovative design. Andy’s piece was published in Mess + Noise, Dan Hill’s was published on his City of Sound blog. Does it make it easier, as an editor, focussing on stories like these that already exist?

Absolutely, it’s tremendous to be able to access this material that’s already been written. And the people who were gracious enough to let us run their material, let us run it free of charge. It was a fantastic thing, people wanted to be involved. There were challenges involved with that, too. If you’ve ever worked in a newspaper or in the press, one of the best things you can do is being able to edit things to length. We couldn’t do that, we had these really long pieces that had been written for online, and trying to fit those into a newspaper was very difficult. We discovered that people write in a really unusual way for the web. Really, really unusual. It’s not stream of consciousness, but if it’s like anything it’s like talking to a PowerPoint or making a presentation, rather than the more formal writing structure of soft or hard news. That was an interesting thing to deal with and it informed the way we had to design the newspaper.

You’ve been a designer for BRW in the past, how different was this as a designer?

Starting off with no template, nothing to work with, and not really having an idea how this was going to be, it was a difficult design challenge. We wanted to make sure this was an interesting thing to look at. When we first started it, we thought we’d be able to make it look like a 12 page newspaper, with large articles, small articles, five columns, photograph over to the right, the standard newspaper format. We discovered quickly that we couldn’t do that, and so we ended up making each article pretty much its own design. There are some design cues that are common, but pretty much each article is separate.

Why couldn’t you do that?

Because we couldn’t edit. We got permission to run the articles, but not to edit. Beyond that, say if you look at a piece like Dan Hill’s, that is a really difficult piece to lay out. When you read it on his blog, he talks to images that are in the copy. You don’t do that when you write for print, if you have an illustration you want to talk to, you mention it, but you don’t talk about it like it’s right in front of you. So to be able to design that, we needed to find ways of making the images go inside the run of the copy, which you just don’t do in newspapers. So it was very challenging.

(Ross Floate at work on a page layout)

Was it harder than you expected?

Absolutely. From a design perspective, it was a much bigger challenge than I thought it was going to be. And that might seem odd, but those challenges kind of made it worth doing. They made it really interesting.

Is it more design intensive than you’d want something regular to be?

No… I think now we know what the challenges are, we wouldn’t approach it in the same way. We wouldn’t spend days and days on a layout, which commercially you could never do.

Why go to the effort of printing and publishing something like this?

We wanted to do something interesting and something that was fun. We kept saying, we want to do something awesome, just for the sake of it. You don’t do enough of that these days, and certainly when you get later in your career, you do less and less of that sort of work. One of the other things we wanted to do was expose people, who have an opportunity to become much better known. Like for example, Ellie Won who wrote the food story at the end (‘Digging For Rubies’), should be better known, and if she was better known, would probably get a better audience, and if she had a better audience, would be able to not have to shoot the photographs herself, come up with the recipes, and everything else. She’s a real talent waiting to be discovered.

On the other hand, these articles were originally published on Mess + Noise, Fairfax’s The Vine, Dan Hill’s City of Sound blog – these have big audiences themselves, probably far more than the print run of the newspaper.

Yes, certainly more than the print run of this newspaper. But we wanted to recontextualise things, and put some people in a context that they otherwise wouldn’t be in. Like I said, Ellie Won’s blog is fantastic, but she’s not getting a massive readership, and so to put people who are lesser known in a context with people who are better known is worth doing.

Everyone’s got a story about print media dying at the moment, and everyone’s looking for an alternative business model for journalism. This project is definitely one of those exploratory models, is that part of the attraction?

It’s trying to even work out the question as much as the solution. There is something going on, there needs to be a model for writing, new journalism, for people who are doing creative things to get better known, and also to get remunerated. This product is our first kind of attempt at trying to work out what the question is and hopefully to work out the solution.

You’ve said you were looking for inspiration, for something to really latch on to. Is this a polished take on DIY culture, zine making?

Back in the olden days, I was the editor of the student newspaper at my university. And there’s no other project I’ve worked on that was as close to that as And Now It’s In Print has been. It’s effectively a very polished university student newspaper. It’s about finding some things that we think are very interesting and printing them.

It’s clearly marked issue zero, is it a pilot?

Yes, we wanted to see if it was something people would be interested in. It was a bit of a gamble, in as much as it was an idea that I had and then I got a couple of other people interested in, and we thought, great let’s do this. But there’s an extent to which you can fall in love with your own idea and not know whether it’s going to work or not. So we didn’t want to say this is definitely going to take place all the time. But we wanted to do it anyway, and so one of the things we did was set ourselves a short timeframe. We created some artificial deadlines to create a product that was… a fast prototype.

In the UK, the Newspaper Club has spiralled this out into an online space that can underpin or support people who want to make their own. Do you imagine going in that kind of direction?

We’re certainly going to continue on an individual level. We have plans to do an issue one. We hoped it might inspire others to do something cool themselves as well, in the same way I had been inspired by Things Our Friends Sent Us For Printing. What the Newspaper Club people have done, which is fantastic, is turned that into a business model, in a not dissimilar fashion to what Hewlett Packard have done with MagCloud – a really interesting product where you can create a magazine, upload it to their website, and make it available for sale, so people can buy one of a printed magazine that then gets sent out. That’s a similar, if substantially larger business model to what the guys at the Newspaper Club are doing.

When should we expect issue one?

Hopefully by the end of the year, December-January. This was a product that we paid for out of our own pockets, and it was not inexpensive for something like that. We’d be hoping to get people involved in sponsoring it. So it depends on that, and finding the right material again, that was a really important thing.

This idea of the papernet: Things Our Friends Sent Us For Printing, And Now It’s In Print, MagCloud, it seems to have come from nowhere, but seems to be coalescing into something?

There’s an extent to which people want to interact with something that is real. They want to touch things that aren’t necessarily perfect. One of the great things about newspapers is that it’s serendipitous, you don’t realise what you’re going to get, and you don’t get to choose what you’re getting. I don’t know about you, but most people’s RSS feeds are an echo chamber of their own thought processes and I don’t think that’s great. Something like a newspaper is a way of throwing something into somebody’s lap and saying I know what you think you want, but here are some things that might be interesting that you don’t necessarily know that you want. I think it’s tremendously important. There’s an extent to which, as much as this is not something that really works for me, but there’s an extent to which this is a retro thing in the same way that people are buying Holgas and Lomos and people are using Hipstamatic on their iPhones to get an aged effect, there’s certainly an extent to which this taps into that idea of wanting to touch something old and real.

Collecting records, swapping tapes…

I mean, the way this was described by Ned, who was one of the people who did it with me, was that this is a kind of steampunk collection of blogposts effectively. I mean this is going backwards technology wise that shows people some new things.

Read up at And Now It’s In Print, and follow the links to the original articles.

Jay Rosen

It’s been a busy week.

Captivating talks by Intel’s Genevieve Bell and NYU’s Jay Rosen (in the pic above) – more here on Jay’s talk, here’s how it looked in my tweet stream.

Off to see @jayrosren_nyu talk

“news is arbitrary, improvised due to drive of production routines”

“what happens when production revolutionised by web?”

“what if your laptop got updates for software you don’t have installed? This is what news does every day”

“Stories like This American Life’s Giant Pool of Money ‘install the software’ to fire that interest”

Need understanding of big picture before you’ll be interested in incremental news

“journalists should be producing public understanding, not just incremental updates”

@jayrosen_nyu calls for ABC to create backgrounder for topical areas of news – extension to Background Brief?

Puts hand up RT @matt_levinson: @jayrosen_nyu calls ABC to create backgrounder for topical areas of news – extension to Background Brief?

“do things like NYT’s Topics pages and Google’s Living Stories actually help improve understanding?”

Someone just commented on “anthopomorphic” climate change. Obviously a mistake, but ironically encapsulates the issue.

To go see another @jayrosen_nyu talk or get lunch?

@isabel_lo I think it’s going to be a late lunch!

@tmgrimson yes, giving several talks today. on journalists as explainers, citizen journalism, and business models. just the little stuff.

RT: @girlinblack From the Accidental Art file: @matt_levinson’s twitpic from a @jayrosen_nyu talk he’s sitting in right now: http://twitpic.com/2e6wxy

“NYT introduced ‘geek squad’ of 50 to newsroom – clever way of changing to more collaborative culture”

“The Guardian able to be nimble because it’s a trust – needs to ensure sustainable future, despite mid term risks”

Lots of questions about Assange and WikiLeaks – “first global media org”? Anarchist? Hacker? Adaptive to say the least.

“have to find places where closed systems (media – verification) and open (accessible, participatory) work best”

“a journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen”

20 questions

The editor at New Matilda emailed asking for max 140 character answers for a piece. Not sure it’s really crowdsourcing when you get contributors for contribs, but NM’s one of the original online magazines in a rapidly expanding field. Here’s what I sent in.

Where are the best fish and chips near you?

Fishface serves up fish+chips for a pricey $15 on Darlinghurst Road, but it’s totally worth it.

Will this be your first tweeted festive season?

I’m tweeting my way through the ham, pudding and prawns season for the third time on Friday. But it’s friends/fam/eating/drinking, not tweeting.

What’s the best Christmas present Twitter could give you?

An easy way of managing multiple accounts?

Followers: quantity or quality?

Talking followers at xmas seems oddly appropriate – I’m happy both ways, if someone decides to follow my tweets, they’re quality in my book.

What is your favourite season-appropriate song?

I love doing xmas specials on my radio shows and have songs well and truly stockpiled. @wayneandwax’s heavy remix-mas is a fave.

It’s Christmas Night. You turn on the TV. What movie should be broadcast?

Flying High, Spinal Tap, Weekend at Bernie’s? Short attention span, a little stupid and definitely no xmas theme.

What is your attitude to office Christmas parties?

Office party a la Mad Men, with loads of booze, good looking colleagues and maybe a small fork lift? Yes, keen on those.

In 140 characters or less, what is the future of journalism?

“The future’s already here, it’s just unevenly distributed” (from @williamgibson)

If the Walkleys had a best tweeter category, who would you nominate?

The best tweeters are disarmingly frank, insightful, entertaining; @vasilikaliman is all that and deliciously bitchy about the art world.

Who is your favourite tweep?

It’s not so much the specific tweeters, but the back and forth collective flow of ideas. It’s all about scenes/community, you know?

Read the final cut, Twitter For World Governor 2010: 20 Questions, and now The Twitterati Speaks: 20 Questions at New Matilda. BTW I’m @fortunegrey.