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February 26, 2010 8:06 AM   Subscribe

The Google/China hacking case, or "How many news outlets do the original reporting on a big story?"
posted by flatluigi (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The number of newspapers regurgitating the NYT coverage is especially disheartening when you consider things like this:

Despite the [New York] Times' repeatedly misreporting that O'Keefe was dressed or posed as a "pimp" while meeting with ACORN employees in those videos, and even after being shown in no uncertain terms that he did not, the Times' Public Editor has declined to recommend the paper retract its reporting on this story. ...

[NYT Senior Editor of Standards Greg] Brock wrote, in a remarkable email exchange posted by The BRAD BLOG on February 8th, that "If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

posted by Joe Beese at 8:30 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've had vague concerns about the "new media" for a while, but this gives a bit of a face to the concerns. While "new media" may be responsible for various scoops and stories, actual feet-on-the-ground reporting is still necessary for lots of stories. Part of the fear is seeing the number of sources for this sort of reporting dry up, forcing us to rely on fewer sources for information.

A counter to this fear would be the expansion of freelance and citizen journalism as sources for these types of stories, but credibility is a big issue. While the big newsrooms may not have as much credibility as they used to, it is still more than some lone guy with a Macbook that you've never heard of. And then there's the economics of it - how does that lone guy get paid for submitting stories to new media outlets and how will that scale to support the number of sources we will need?

I'm curious to see how it all shakes out.
posted by charred husk at 8:41 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised he doesn't include Wired's Threat Level, which is where I've been following the story. They seem to be doing some great independent reporting, especially on the technical details of the attacks and the response from the computer security community.

On preview: Is that new enough media for you?
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 8:47 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


China's a bit of an odd case to make the traditional versus social media argument, as often what will constitute 'original reporting' will in fact be the correspondent picking up stories that are on the Chinese-language web. Not all and not always of course, and a couple of the major newspapers have some very good reporters, but given the nature of society and the press here, I would suspect that stories broken first by Chinese social media - blogs and message boards - account for a larger proportion of news output than they would in many other countries. Interesting analysis all the same though, and thanks for the post.
posted by Abiezer at 8:49 AM on February 26, 2010


On preview: Is that new enough media for you?

Sure! I'm not familiar with Threat Level so I'll take a look.
A cursory glance looks like most of the original reporting deals with contacts in the tech industry (Google in this case). That makes sense, considering this is Wired. The question I have and want to take a look at is how Wired would be able to do if no one else had reported on the issue.
posted by charred husk at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010


That’s a huge amount of journalistic effort that could have gone into reporting other deserving stories. Why are we doing this?

Pageviews.
posted by mattbucher at 9:02 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised that there were that many journalists (13) working on original reporting for the story.

On preview: Pageviews. Seriously. Duh.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2010


China Widens Net Censorship; Google Exile Looms
posted by homunculus at 9:10 AM on February 26, 2010


I dunno. First off, some of his reasoning is ... odd. For example:
Meanwhile, many newsrooms diligently called up the Chinese schools to hear exactly the same denial, which may not be adding much value.. Maybe not. But that is them actually doing their job; what are they supposed to do, wait for others to do the job and copy? Isn't that what he is complaining about?

Other things seem to be based on an interpretation of "news outlet" which seems to be interpreted as "one who writes news" instead of "one who reports news"; the latter can be limited to a news aggregation service (which is what most newspapers, etc. do). Once does not have to write original articles to fulfill their duty of covering news. Most outlets don't pretend to, and even the dullest person can usually spot the fact that most news is word for word what someone else carried.

There is his "What were those other 100 reporters doing?". What 100 reporters? Do articles state that a reporter was working on it? I'll bet not. There were not 100 reporters wasting their time doing anything; there are no 100 reporters. There was some editors picking up syndicated content and editing it a little (or not).

His point about "Qilu Evening News" is good, but perhaps the source is not trusted. Or perhaps the question is whether hackers were trained there, but if they were being hosted there (or perhaps just well known to be a place where the authorities looked away). Still, some should have indeed followed up on it.

The lack of chinese located reporting is likely related to the apparent extreme difficulty of doing journalism in China.

Then he wanders off about googles algorithm, which is unrelated to the originality of reporting.

The article is OK, but seems a bit limited.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:27 AM on February 26, 2010


I wish I had a breakdown like this for every news story.

Maybe someday there will be a mandated label to be put on news stories, like the Nutritional Information tag on food. The label would clearly identify the provenance of information in the story, and a minimum standard would have to be met to be labelled "original reporting", similar to "organic" produce.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:38 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Google's algorithm is relevant in the context provided, which is old media vs. new media. The traditional paradigm is that a limited number of outlets each provide their well-researched, painstakingly crafted article produced by their own sources. What is important here is the quality of your outlets and of their sources. What is commonly suggested as the thing that will replace that is an army of poorly researched, mostly copied articles, the details built up from the cloud as a whole, with the best aggregators forming the best articles at the end. What is important in this scenario is not the quality of your outlet, but the quality of your filter: Google in this case.
posted by Bobicus at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2010


The traditional paradigm is that a limited number of outlets each provide their well-researched, painstakingly crafted article produced by their own sources.

That hasn't been true for decades and certainly isn't an issue that is new to "new media". For a long time now, most regional media has been depending on syndicated content, with a new talking head /editor/whatever to re-iterate it. UPI and AP were at the beginnings of that "revolution". We used those regional aggregators for a while, and now we use google news. His evidence is not convincing that quality has suffered, since he did not compare it to the reality of pre-web news, he compared it to concept he of what a news outlet purports to provide. That assumption is not at all evident in the article.

I don't disagree that the quality of your outlet matters, and that googles ability to bubble up original content is of interest, it just seems to me that the quality of outlets and the quality of aggregators should largely be studied separately, and if they are to be conflated, it should be done somewhat more rigorously. Ya can't claim to be a computer scientist (as he does) and not expect to get a more rigorous and pedantic analysis of your article :)

I do very much appreciate the list at the end; the kind of data often sadly missing in such articles.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:57 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But is this any different than the use of wire services back in the good ol' days? Very few newspapers had sufficient staff to send someone across the country to cover a story, wire services gave them the national and international news they couldn't get themselves.
posted by tommasz at 11:21 AM on February 26, 2010


Last week I listened to a months-old Intelligence Squared podcast debate about the death of mainstream news. One of the big complaints of David Carr and those representing MSM was that all new media outlets did was crib stories from established newspapers. And that just frustrates the hell out of me, because that's all that most old-school newspapers have been doing for decades anyway.

Did it surprise anyone that the only papers that did original reporting on the China Google attack were the NYTimes, Washington Post, WSJ etc.? At this point, they're pretty much ALWAYS the only American papers that do original reporting of international stories. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but we already live in a world where the vast majority of news is coming from a handful of sources.

When the NYTimes talks about charging for content, I think "good. They make a product, it's okay to make people pay for that." I hope they're successful at it. When the Tulsa World wants to charge, I wonder why in the hell would anybody pay for a paper that is 80% AP stuff, 15% lifestyle crap that I can get free from local blogs, and maybe 5% local news. I would be willing to pay for local news, but the mainstream media that isn't one of the big big papers needs to realize that the only value they have left is in local reporting.
posted by nushustu at 11:40 AM on February 26, 2010


Google's algorithm is relevant in the context provided, which is old media vs. new media

True, but it implies I think more power than Google News actually has. Yahoo News has far more users (3x as of a year ago), and I believe works in a quite different way (although I'm probably out of date on how it actually works now).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:57 PM on February 26, 2010


This is a huge reason why news has become a "commodity" They all print the same stuff!
posted by delmoi at 4:55 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've had vague concerns about the "new media" for a while, but this gives a bit of a face to the concerns. While "new media" may be responsible for various scoops and stories, actual feet-on-the-ground reporting is still necessary for lots of stories. Part of the fear is seeing the number of sources for this sort of reporting dry up, forcing us to rely on fewer sources for information.
Except "old media" is just as bad at reprinting other people's stuff.
posted by delmoi at 4:56 PM on February 26, 2010


Cool, I feel justified!

I was a bit worried my recent AskMeFi Google/China question would get flamed or deleted for being something I easily could find out for myself.

I did notice a lot of identical stories from a wide variety of sources.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:55 PM on February 26, 2010


That is not a bad percentage.
posted by parmanparman at 7:03 PM on February 26, 2010


This is a huge reason why news has become a "commodity" They all print the same stuff!

I wouldn't have a problem with news being a commodity so long as its assessed value takes into account the uniqueness of its reporting. I.e. an article done by a reporter whose work hasn't been copied around much yet should be worth more money than a NYT article on the same subject, due to rarity and uniqueness. That is, every time this commodity is copied, its per-unit price should drop accordingly.
posted by Xezlec at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2010


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