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The birth of MoJo?
August 7, 2003 11:30 PM   Subscribe

The founders of Metafilter and Kuro5hin plan to launch an independent news site this fall to track the 2004 presidential campaign. Matt Haughey and Rusty Foster, the programmers behind those two collaborative media sites, will create a "smart mob-style site" to provide a place for independent reporting about next year's election.
[more inside]
posted by Vidiot (45 comments total)

 
The site, still in development, will consist of three elements, Haughey says: a section devoted to Weblog-style entries about daily campaign events; a second area for first-person campaign coverage, including digital photos, phonecam shots, audio and video clips and interview transcripts; and finally news stories building on the first two sections. Readers will be allowed to edit and rewrite stories.
Looks like MoJo's in the works. I, for one, welcome our new journalist over...errr, can't wait.
posted by Vidiot at 11:33 PM on August 7, 2003


Rock on boys.
posted by scarabic at 11:56 PM on August 7, 2003


"We're in for an interesting ride."
I love understatement.

I wonder if Matt & Co. are going to wait to launch until AFTER the California Recall circus ends...
posted by wendell at 12:11 AM on August 8, 2003


To play devils advocate.. I don't care who or where I get the news from so long as I can trust the source. The Internet doesnt change that in fact makes it more difficult to find a trusthworthy source since there is so much noise it leads to a sense that nothing can be trusted, we've been fooled so many times.. look at the incredible amount of disinformation surrounding the Iraq war. That didnt exist before the Internet made it possible will the campaign of 2004 be a repeat?
posted by stbalbach at 12:13 AM on August 8, 2003


My fear is that it turns into the kind of mudslinging flamefest that, alas, MetaFilter does all too well. But -- Matt and Rusty are smart guys, and I'm sure they've anticipated this point long ago. I'm looking forward to seeing it once it's taken shape.

and, stbalbach, the Internet has lots of noise out there, but there's lots of good signal as well. I find triangulating, I.F. Stone style, to gain a fuller and clearer picture of the news to be much easier since the advent of the Web. (I find I don't spend nearly as much time in the library staining my fingers with ink, for instance.)
posted by Vidiot at 12:27 AM on August 8, 2003


maybe the new site will get rid of the majority of the political FPP's. also, does a mob have a style? isn't that a contradiction to what a mob is?
posted by suprfli at 12:47 AM on August 8, 2003


Yay!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:54 AM on August 8, 2003


Sounds like it's going to be like www.agonist.org was for the last Iraq war, which is good!
posted by wsg at 12:59 AM on August 8, 2003


As long as it doesn't turn into the waste of bandwidth that is Indymedia.
posted by PenDevil at 1:43 AM on August 8, 2003


Agonist with the plagiary, please. Reading Stratfor reports without paying was fun, but I can't trust someone who does it. The Agonist was one man, right?. A better example, ideological differences aside, would be the work of the Command Post. The group there did an excellent job of covering news there during the Iraq war. It actually has an election section as well nowadays, so they're moving on as well.

From what the Wiki says, MoJo is far more ambitious than the standard "link to other news articles by established media, or to a blogger's take on events largely created through reading established media and some bloggers."
posted by dragoon at 2:05 AM on August 8, 2003


kickass! best of luck!
posted by dabitch at 3:36 AM on August 8, 2003


"The only thing certain is that we'll never return to the days when people are treated as passive vessels for content delivered by big media through one-way pipes -- no matter how disruptive these changes may be for traditional media.

"We're in for a fascinating ride." "

Hmmm. There seems to be a Grand Canyon sized chasm between the claims of this statement (from the linked article) and the reality that most Americans are indeed "treated as passive vessels for content delivered by big media through one-way pipes".

A small minority of questioning folks find alternative sources of info on the Net, but the majority are led to and fro like sheep. Baaaah! Baaaah! David McGowan, from the Online Journal, has some harsh words about this

I'm glad about the PoliticoWikki in the works. I hardly think it will cut through the majority trance state - but it is a step in the right direction.
posted by troutfishing at 3:46 AM on August 8, 2003


As usual, troutfishing cuts through the bullshit. Dan Gillmor usually isn't prone to overstatement or ignoring evidence, but Gillmor is guilty of both in the quote in troutfishing's post above.

Anyway, what's wrong with getting information through one-way pipes? I'm a reporter, and I even run a blog about the subject I write about (mortgages). The blog is mostly one-way; it's two-way in the sense that I sometimes respond to readers' emails in the blog. I get too much email to respond to each one. Gillmor seems to think that there's something wrong with straight reporting because it's a one-way pipe, and he dismisses the too-much-email problem as "disruptive" but apparently unimportant.

A good reporter needs to spend a lot of time interviewing people, going through documents, and writing readable copy. There is a time and place for responding to readers' emails and defending or explaining oneself in weblogs, but those activities should take a minority of the reporter's time. Otherwise, he's a commentator, not a reporter.
posted by Holden at 5:06 AM on August 8, 2003


Hey, listen, I know MeFi isn't the place to plug our own projects but this thread, and my idea, makes me think I might not catch too much grief.

I recently registered BlogTheVote.org and wanted to build an informational site that covered news articles dealing with issues important to the 'online community' as well as keeping another area allowing a pingable submittion by other bloggers out there (Simmilar to LazyWeb). At this point though, I really need help getting the process rolling, as I admittedly have bitten off more than I can chew.

Anyone interested in this idea? Anyone interested in helping me out? More info here. (self link obviously)
posted by KnitWit at 5:10 AM on August 8, 2003


As long as it doesn't turn into the waste of bandwidth that is Drudge/Instapundit/Uss Clueless/LGF.

Congratulations Matt and Rusty! Also my personal thanks.

Holden,
Perhaps it isn't the one-way element but the pipes and the sources themselves that is the problem?
posted by nofundy at 5:15 AM on August 8, 2003


Matt, now lodging a request: If you allow editing of stories by others, wouldn't it be cool if we had some Hydra-style indications of what's been changed? Or a CVS-style snapshot system?
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:27 AM on August 8, 2003


Nofundy,
First, you have to define the problem that you refer to. If the problem is that reporters pay attention to a too-narrow spectrum of viewpoints, and don't question authority strongly enough, then, yes, the reporters (or the "pipes") and the sources whom they interview constitute a problem.

Maybe Gillmor is saying that some sort of three-way interaction among reporters, their sources and the audience can help solve this problem. You run the risk of generating more noise than signal, though, and driving the audience away. Maybe pioneers such as Matt and the founder of Kuro5hin can find a way to cut the noise. I hope so. I want to be convinced by Gillmor's arguments, but I'm skeptical. I can't wait for his book to come out.
posted by Holden at 5:32 AM on August 8, 2003


I don't care who or where I get the news from so long as I can trust the source.

But that's the issue: what such sources exist today? Better to glean truth from a wide variety of suspect sources than to be fed untruth by an authoritative source with an agenda.
posted by rushmc at 5:33 AM on August 8, 2003


This site sounds like a good idea, but I can a problem here. I'm not trying to start a flamewar or anything, but:

1. Mefi's probably 70-75% Democrat/leftist
2. K5's probably 90-95% Democrat/leftist

(please note, these are my own guesses, I haven't a clue of the real hard figures)

Anyway...If the new site has similar kinds of ratios... Will a site where most of the writers are pro-Democrat be able to provide a balanced view? To be sure, the mass media is hardly balanced...but will this be any better?
posted by unreason at 5:41 AM on August 8, 2003


I'm not a big fan of the using the term 'flash-mob style site' to describe a site devoted to political issues. Motivating a group of people to drive a transient spike of chaos/humor/whatever into the publicly visible spectrum is great fun and all.

But 'participatory journalism' wll probably require more than the equivalent of a 'BOO! Ha ha!' for there to be meaningful engagement with the public. Mind you, I don't disagree with the underlying idea.

It's just that, to me, flash mobs (right now) have an undercurrent of political exhaustion, i.e. 'this is what we are currently doing to avoid politics'. Obviously, I hope that changes.
posted by attackthetaxi at 5:42 AM on August 8, 2003


1. Mefi's probably 70-75% Democrat/leftist
2. K5's probably 90-95% Democrat/leftist


ARGH! The fucking liberal indymedia strikes again!
posted by crunchland at 5:56 AM on August 8, 2003


crunchland, I'm not saying this is a bad thing, and I'm not calling this thing the "fucking liberal indymedia", nor am I a Rush Limbaugh mouth-breather. I'm merely saying that when you're running a political site that relies on contributions from the readership, and that readership is mostly in favor of one candidate over the other, there may be a problem. It doesn't matter whether the bias is liberal or conservative, it's still a bias. My question is, how will the site ensure that this bias doesn't occur?
posted by unreason at 6:25 AM on August 8, 2003


Sounds like Cam's WatchBlog
posted by misterioso at 7:18 AM on August 8, 2003


1. Mefi's probably 70-75% Democrat/leftist
2. K5's probably 90-95% Democrat/leftist


I think there's a huge disconnection between the people that post and the people that lurk. Sure, the people that post can be somewhat radicalized, but doesn't that make sense? They're the ones that care enough to type and post and get huffy about an issue.

I noticed that phenomenon on the last Nader thread. Many of the people posting, and IIRC there were close to 100 posts, were fully Nader loving fire-eating bolshevik greenies (not that there's anything wrong with that) unwilling to stomach the idea that the Nader campaign delivered Bush into the White House. These people were lefty even by MeFi standards and I wouldn't think that they were representative of the community.
posted by norm at 7:19 AM on August 8, 2003


My question is, how will the site ensure that this bias doesn't occur?

Bias is not something that grows organically. If it did, it wouldn't be bias.

I don't think there's any onus whatsoever on the builders of such a site to monitor which political direction the collaborative users of that site end up leaning as a result of their interactions with each other and the content they create. Matt's policy here, finetuned over years, of using as light a touch as possible, and exercising editorial privilege only when loose guidelines have been crossed, is one that I am sure will inform the way the nameless new neo-Mojo site will be moderated.

It will be a different sort of site than MeFi, naturally - more like kuro5hin I'd think - but if I trusted anyone to make informed decisions about how to keep the playing field level for people of all political stripes, it'd be Matt (and Rusty).

[/sycophant]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:22 AM on August 8, 2003


unreason makes a good point.

My observation is that though sites sometimes start out with roughly even numbers, one side/clique rapidly becomes dominant. That alienates the others, who tend to disappear to other fora that are more to their liking. That's what happened when K5 became a politics site... you hardly ever sight a libertarian there these days.

There might be a way to maintain minority groups by having independent boards for different candidates... a Dean board, a Lieberman board, a Bush board etc, together with a "neutral zone" patrolled by heavily armed moderators.

I suspect that otherwise it will just become KurobotsAndMefitesForDean.com
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2003


Maybe this is not a good idea, but here's my idea for dealing with slant or bias: Have registered users fill out some sort of a poll that determines how liberal/conservative they are. Give them a ranking on a scale from, say, ultra leftist hippie to evil Ayn Rand clone. Put the ranking above their posts. That way, people will still have their own ideas and viewpoints, but when they post, you'll know what they are.

How about it, matt?
posted by unreason at 7:34 AM on August 8, 2003


look at the incredible amount of disinformation surrounding the Iraq war. That didnt exist before the Internet made it possible

Actually, disinformation has always been around. The Internet just makes debunking easier.
posted by whatnot at 7:38 AM on August 8, 2003


My question is, how will the site ensure that this bias doesn't occur?

Bias is not a problem. As a matter of fact, bias is expected and encouraged by contributors.

Balance may be the word you were searching for and is something is sorely lacking in corporate media today.

Expressing a viewpoint is good. Expressing many different viewpoints is great. Stripping the bullshit from each viewpoint is ideal. Refer to Al Gore's recent speech for background.
posted by nofundy at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2003


For those who are neither Dem/Rep or Left/Right or whatever, the idea of Balance is the Holy Grail, often spoken of but never really found. Cam's WatchBlog is an interesting idea, but each sub-blog (is that a good word for them?) is independent, so you don't always see multiple views of the same topic which would make comparisons easier. But then, forcing each one to the same set of topics sounds too coercive, so perhaps this is a good thing as is.
posted by tommasz at 7:57 AM on August 8, 2003


It's worth pointing out that MoJo, as described at the wiki, and Matt and Rusty's site are two very different things. MoJo, as a website or test system, hasn't seen any activity for months and no one person can be blamed for that. As far as I know, Matt or Rusty never directly participated in MoJo although it's certain that they followed the discussions and had a look at the ideas. I hope their website does very well - it should do, judging by their track records.

I was a little disappointed, if not unsurprised, that there was no mention of reputation systems or the like at M&R's site. From my point of view, the problem of trust is the most pressing issue for any idea of grassroots/distributed/buzzword online journalism. There's been some progress made towards this on other sites but nothing that seems sufficient, yet. Of course, it's possible that M&R have a solution to this and there wasn't space in Gillmor's article for it.
posted by adrianhon at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2003


"I think there's a huge disconnection between the people that post and the people that lurk"

Sounds like primary voters. The idealogues are, for the majority of the time, going to control the issues because they have motivation, or rather, more motivation.

But hey, I consider myself one of the lukers and you got me to comment. Now if I could only motivate myself for my first FPP.
posted by Be'lal at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2003


To address some of the questions of balance and bias, the point of this site is to present raw, unedited source material. This isn't going to look like a newspaper -- hopefully it will look like a reporter's filing cabinet. The majority of content (and the reason for the site in the first place) will simply be video, audio, notes, and unedited interviews. We don't want people to report so much as simply gather data and upload it.

So maybe the reporters will personally have a bias. That bias might well inform the events they choose to cover. But we're hoping that with enough participants, person A's choice of events to cover will balance out person B's choices. And the format (as well as our very clear upfront ban on it) should discourage any kind of op-ed material. We just want the facts of what happened.

I don't think it's possible to eliminate bias. If the person behind the camera has a bias, that will always affect where they point the camera. A campaign speech filmed from behind the podium might look very different than one filmed from the audience. A liberal cameraperson might point the camera toward the lines of protesters at a Bush rally, while a conservative one might show the President looking calm and unruffled instead. I think the fact that any single piece of source material will always have this bias of angle and choice is inescapable. But the hope is that by opening up the media in this way, you can go somewhere and see a film of the same event from many angles and make up your own mind. And by requiring original source materal only, we hope to cut out the biggest and easiest route to adding bias, which is the framing and editing that reporters spend most of their time and skill doing.
posted by rusty at 9:12 AM on August 8, 2003


I'll echo what rusty said above and add that when questions of bias or political slant came up, we kept coming back to a simple key theme of the site. It's not about ax grinding or pimping your favorite candidate (though members may try doing that), it's about the most basic, high ideals of journalism: the search for truth.

Ideally, we want people that never had a stake in anything, that never had a voice nor a place to share their experiences, to finally have a place to contribute. We have the technology to do this, to provide a space for all the output from still and video cameras regular folks have, it's just that most people don't know where to put stuff or how to do it. A big central repository for regular citizens of all stripes, covering every aspect of the race could be a very valuable thing.

The "write a story" part of the site will likely get the least amount of activity since it's going to require the most work, combining aspects of the other site parts. We'll have some cool annotation functionality so people can help edit articles by suggesting changes as they see fit, and since articles will be closely tied to the site, any bias can be tracked from the source material. Think "Kevin, I couldn't help but notice you quoted the campaign spokesperson saying X, but neglected to include her followup point Y in your article" as comments, with hyperlinks to the sources.

Also, the bulk of the site will run on K5's code, which provides ample scoring/filtering and reputation management, so if someone is a problem, there will be ways to avoid them.

Now we just have to sit down and finish it.
posted by mathowie at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2003


Put the ranking above their posts.

Shall we tattoo it on their arms, too?
posted by rushmc at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2003


Thanks Matt and Rusty. I'm looking forward to the site. (Could you call it WeHaveCameras.com?)
posted by Vidiot at 9:56 AM on August 8, 2003


Now we just have to sit down and finish it.

vaporware!
posted by crunchland at 10:01 AM on August 8, 2003


vaporware!

We've been talking about it since March or so, and it was the big todo we planned to launch around July 1st that never happened. I knew sending info about the project to OJR when they asked would put the fire under our asses to finish it.

Look on the bright side, the Ticketstubs site came out eventually, right? Hopefully my turnaround from idea to site can be faster this time around.
posted by mathowie at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2003


I talked to mathowie a few weeks before launching WatchBlog, after I had heard through the grapevine that he and Rusty were working on a collaborative political blog.

The ideas have some similarities but different approaches. WatchBlog aims to provide news, commentary and opinion based around intelligent discussion and debate. There are are no plans to expand this into other areas like live news reporting, moblogging, photo repositories, etc. It's purely a text-based medium.
posted by camworld at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2003


Thanks for the comments, M&R - it's good to hear from the source. Clearly things like campaign speeches, answers to questions, videos, photos, etc, are not things that be said to have any particular bias (well, they could be faked but that's another matter).

From what I understand, there's the Filter part of the site, there's the 'individual campaign coverage repository' and there's the K5-enhanced part of the site for articles. Exactly how much will these different parts be connected? Can you make comments on a photo someone took, without having to make a Filter post? Presumably you can comment on both the Filter and the articles, but does the article become something like an extended post on the Filter or does it stay in a completely different part of the site? I guess what I'm trying to ask is whether these three parts of the site are functionally or structurally distinct.

[adrianhon goes back to thinking this would be a good idea for the next UK general election and ponders raising the issue at next month's MeFiUK meetup]
posted by adrianhon at 10:21 AM on August 8, 2003


Clearly things like campaign speeches, answers to questions, videos, photos, etc, are not things that be said to have any particular bias

Actually, the J-school answer to that would be similar to what Rusty said above. Any kind of representation of an event, from a photo or video, or even a transcript, is going through a person's head and is thus being filtered, if only a little bit. Essentially, there is no true "objective" representation of what happened, because representations are by their nature not objective.

Even things like camera framing affect how something is viewed. Journalists with professional attitudes (I'm trying not to fall into the "professional journalists do it better" trap; you can have a professional attitude whether or not you get paid for journalism) try with the best of their abilities to fairly represent what happened.

Primary sources are indeed representations, but I applaud Matt and Rusty for their efforts toward this, because I can't think of any other project involving a public, real-time archive of primary source material about such an important story.
posted by Vidiot at 10:45 AM on August 8, 2003


wow. this is excellent. I am most intrigued by the potential collection of interviews. Credentials are often necessary to get decent one-on-ones. Are we going to bank on name recognition or shall we issue cards?

And who wouldn't love to see a transcript of a thomcatspike/clavdivs/quonsar interview with dubya?
posted by whatnot at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2003


Thanks Matt and Rusty. It sounds like you've thought alot about the issue of balance. It looks like it'll be a great site!
posted by unreason at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2003


Well, good luck. May I interpret this upcoming news site as a subtle "please do not flood MeFi with heavily partisan election news and articles" or am I being too optimistic?
I also fully trust you to be fair at all times at all costs.

ps: Looking at Kuro5hin gives me a splitting headache, so I do hope the site looks like MetaFilter or something similar.
posted by 111 at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2003


I also fully trust you to be fair at all times at all costs.

When will YOU be adopting this policy?
posted by jca at 3:31 PM on August 8, 2003


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