I’m honored that Keio University’s Cyber Civilization Research Center has named me a (non-resident) Senior Fellow. The center, based in Tokyo, is the brainchild of two real (in contrast to me) luminaries: Jun Murai, widely known as the person who did most to create the Japanese Internet, and David Farber, an American who has been at the top ranks of computer networking and education for decades. Keio is generally regarded as the top private university in Japan.
Dave and I have been running a weekly online gathering, in which a special guest discusses some aspect of our rapidly changing world. Our attendees are scholars, scientists, engineers, people from business and NGOs, and more. I learn something new every time.
Note: This is an exercise I assign to students in my Digital Media Literacy course at Arizona State University. I ask them to keep a record of how they use media in a 24-hour stretch.
5:30 a.m.: Wake up and (I should not do this) check emails on my phone to see if there’s anything urgent. There never is. So far, anyway.
6:30am: At breakfast, after we watch the first few minutes of a morning TV news program, I browse a number of journalism websites including the home pages of the New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Japan Times. Because I care a lot about the technology scene, I look at several of the best tech sites including ArsTechnica and ReCode. The other regular media check-in each day is the private Facebook group for my small town in Northern California; that group is the closest thing to news we’ll ever have in a town that’s too small to support a news organization and is almost never noticed by the bigger media organizations in our vicinity.
7 a.m.: At the desk after breakfast, I usually have several Zoom meetings.
9 a.m.: I launch TweetDeck in a web browser to see what’s up on Twitter. The people I follow there always send me to a variety of other sites, via links they post. Twitter isn’t a great spot for original content, but it’s superb (if you follow the right people) as a place where people will point you to articles, videos, etc. that help you understand the world.
I get more serious reading done at the desk, using my personal computer, than on my phone. Among the media organizations I’ve bookmarked are the Atlantic, which has become a must-read for coronavirus information. (It was sad to see that the billionaires who own the Atlantic felt it necessary to lay off roughly a sixth of the staff in May; if they can’t see this through, who can?)
9, 10, 11 a.m., 12, 1, 2, etc. p.m.: Like many others at this point, I spend several hours a day in my email, Slack channels, and other communications venues that are critical to my work. Those often lead me to other reading — research papers, news articles, and more. It never stops, and I will never reach the fabled “Inbox Zero.”
Several times a day I am in Zoom video meetings with colleagues, family, or friends. This is a major shift, and I suspect it may be longer-lasting than I’d originally imagined. Various family members gather each Sunday on video, and we’ve become closer than we were before. The vast improvements in these tools in recent years has made it possible, as has better Internet bandwidth that (so far) hasn’t failed during the pandemic.
3 p.m.: I write a fair amount each day, though not nearly as much as I did when I was a working journalist. Beyond emails, Slack, and other messaging applications that dominate work life, I spend way too much time posting on Twitter. I also write in my personal blog from time to time, and post about once a day — usually a photo — to Facebook.
I don’t listen to much music while I work. When I do it’s usually from my own collection of MP3s, ripped from my CD collection. I prefer instrumentals that aren’t musically challenging to accompany work, because otherwise I’d actively listen to the sounds, defeating the purpose of background music.
7 p.m.: We often watch videos in the evening — primarily films and TV programs via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. At the moment we’re in Season One of Downton Abbey, which I’d seen but holds up nicely on second viewing years later.
9 p.m.: My main book reading is in the evening, on a Kindle. Currently I’m immersed in a near-future science-fiction novel (by someone I know) that will be released in a few weeks. I read about two books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Reading gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I wish I could do more.
So an AT&T subsidiary that owns HBO is laying off “hundreds” of people there, and will focus on the new HBO Max streaming service. I want to send them money to use that service. But due to a gratuitously stupid decision someone made there recently, I just canceled my one-month-old HBO Max account.
They could not care less.
I use Ubuntu Linux on my laptop computer. I can use every other major streaming service with no problem, running in a Firefox browser.
I got a trial account for HBO Max a month ago, and all was well until three days ago, when films and shows just stopped streaming. The error message said “Can’t play title. We’re having trouble playing this video. Please try again later.” A quick check of online message boards showed that this is a universal new policy affecting most or all Linux distributions.
This happened on all browsers I tried. But streaming did work when I used an app on my phone, which has a screen far too small for watching movies in any serious way.
Here’s what “customer support” told me in an email: “We do not support usage under this operating system.”
Remember, however, they did support it. It worked fine until someone made a decision to make it fail.
This is all some kind of corporate copyright control-freakery at work, no doubt. DRM is involved, and HBO/AT&T have made a choice. I’ve made mine.
Looks like I’ll never watch “Game of Thrones” after all…
(UPDATE: This post originally contained an error. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, not The Kansas City Star, published the errant column I referred to below. If you spotted it and let me know, congratulations — and thanks for helping us with this project.)
The ASU News Co/Lab is deploying a “corrections tool” — a way to help journalistic corrections and major updates travel the same social media pathways as the original errors — into several newsrooms soon. This post is part of that process, as I’ll explain here.
The News Co/Lab’s Corrections Project is based on several notions: First, we believe that forthright corrections are a fundamental, essential part of journalistic transparency. Second, we can help automate the process of sending them down those social media pathways — to alert people who’d shared the original articles that there was a correction or significant update. Finally, we hope to help the news industry (and others who believe in the best journalistic principles) come up with a standard for creating and publishing corrections.
Our software developer, Ted Han, has been building the web-based corrections tool. It has two main parts:
Discovery — finding who shared the original.
Response — alerting sharers to the update, with the goal of getting them to share the update.
We’re using data generated by social media and analytics companies, bringing it into the tool to show journalists the reach of what they’ve published, and then decide which sharers of that content should get alerts when a correction is published.
How is this possible? Last year, we devised a methodology with our partners at McClatchy, a major news company. We described our approach in a blog post— our example was a column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in which the columnist quoted from a news article that was based on incorrect information a government agency had provided — and how we planned to use technology to automate the hands-on process of sending out updates we used in that case.
As I said in the headline above, this post has a mistake in it. We’re asking a few of our friends to tweet about the post or retweet our own tweets. Once we’ve been informed — maybe by you? — of the mistake, I’ll correct this post here. Then I’ll use the tool to find out who shared it, and will further use it to alert several of those people who tweeted about the original.
This is a test to see how it all works, and to generate screen shots for a Users Guide we’ll give newsrooms as they test the tool.
So, if you can find the error, let me know (and include your Twitter handle so I can credit you there).
More than a decade ago I begged journalists and sharers of breaking news to employ a “slow news” approach. The Kobe Bryant story demonstrates that need more than ever.
What’s slow news? It’s the notion that we should slow down before publishing information we can’t absolutely verify, and before believing what we’ve seen published.
I’m sorry to say that we haven’t made enough progress. Slowing down before publishing is the duty (I believe it should be viewed that way) of journalists and social media sharers. Yesterday’s barrage of misinformation, incomplete information, and guesses demonstrated that we’re not close.
Since we can’t expect journalists to do it, and social media’s vastness guarantees that incomplete or wrong information will spread fast, it’s really up to the rest of us — the “consumers” of information — to adopt a slow-news philosophy.
In our digital media literacy course at the Cronkite School, Kristy Roschke and I ask students to pause before believing or sharing pretty much anything, especially when it’s breaking news or a fast-developing story. We use examples like this to show why that’s needed.It comes down to this:
The faster the news accelerates, the slower I am inclined to believe anything I hear — and the harder I look for the coverage that pulls together the most facts with the most clarity about what’s known and what’s speculation.
Meanwhile, if journalists won’t stop spraying out the latest speculation, the least they can do is to find ways to get updates and corrections to as many of the people who’ve read the early “news” as quickly and broadly as possible.
At the ASU News Co/Lab, which I co-founded a couple of years ago, we’re working on ways to help journalists and prominent sharers do just that. A tool, now under development, can partially automate the process of sending corrections down the same social pathways that the original errors traveled.
We’re in “pre-alpha” testing of the tool, which Ted Han is developing, and it looks promising. More on this work here.
(If you’re in a newsroom and want to get a look at this, let us know!
While the tool is aimed first at corrections of major errors, we see updates in these kinds of situations as an important use case. Sometimes the original information isn’t “wrong” in a traditional journalistic sense — example: the police give out an incorrect death toll.
But the public doesn’t care where the misinformation came from, and a journalistic duty is to get the correct information out there, pronto. So when the news is “developing” — if you see that word on a story, it’s probably changing fast — we may be able to help.
I’m under no illusions that slow news will become the norm for creators of information, certainly not for newsrooms or people who use social media as an attention-getter. But I hope we can make progress and reduce at least some of the rumor-mongering.
As creators and consumers, we all need to reflect on what we’re doing. Please consider adopting a slow news approach.
Whistleblowers are essential players in uncovering wrongdoing committed by the powerful and in strengthening our democracies. As headlines remind us everyday, we owe our knowledge of the truth to many known and unknown whistleblowers all over the world. However, whistleblowers often face legal, physical, psychological, and economic consequences as a result of their actions. Those who risk their lives and livelihoods to bring us the truth deserve our support.
I’m a Board Member of the The Signals Network, an innovative non-profit (501c3) organization that protects whistleblowers who reveal major wrongdoing.
The Signals Network’s Whistleblower Protection Programaffords customized support services to a selected number of people who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing:
1. Legal Support/Representation: to help a whistleblower locate and obtain legal representation.
2. Information Security: to work with the whistleblower and online security specialists to build an environment that enhances his/her digital and real privacy.
3. Media Relations Management: to manage media relations for whistleblowers, helping to develop his/her public message.
4. Advocacy: to advocate for better protection of the whistleblower in different countries.
5. Psychological Support: to provide access to individualized support services, including psychological support and counseling.
6. Safe-Housing: in appropriate circumstances, to provide safe-housing and temporary retreat services to minimize a whistleblower’s exposure to potential intrusion, harassment, and threat.
The Whistleblower Protection Program is now operational in 10 countries with networks of local lawyers, psychological counselors, online security experts, civil society partner organizations, media partners,…
The Signals Network has partnered with major media committed to investigate collaboratively and to reveal major wrongdoing and potential threats to democracy, freedom and justice. Media partners to date include The Miami Herald/McClatchy, The Intercept, Die Zeit, El Mundo, The Daily Telegraph, Mediapart and Republik.
Thanks to the dedication of many experts to the mission, like top lawyers working pro-bono or at super discounted rate, we are able to provide a maximum level of support to whistleblowers at the lowest cost possible. However, real support still comes at a cost.
TSN receives requests of support from major whistleblowers who have contributed to the biggest stories of our time, from massive corruption to the biggest #Metoo revelations.
So I would like to ask you to make a charitable contribution to The Signals Network before the end of the year.
By donating to The Signals Network, you will directly support the next generation of whistleblowers.
The whistleblowers we support are selected by the Board Engagement Committee who decide the level and duration of support we will provide, taking into consideration the global, human, financial and public interest impact of the information provided to a media organization.
Your support is crucial. Every dollar counts.
Below, you’ll find information on the ways you can donate. Your gift is fully tax-deductible in the US.
If you would like to mail a check, please send it here:
The Signals Network
268 Bush Street, #4216
San Francisco, CA 94104
I can’t remember exactly when I met Craig Newmark, but I distinctly remember what happened when I discovered craigslist. It was in the late 1990s, and I was a columnist at Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, where I focused on technology and its impact. The minute I used craigslist in a transaction, I knew that this supremely functional website, and services like it, would be enormously consequential.
In those days classified ads were by far the most profitable revenue stream for local papers, a function of newspapers having created near-monopolies on print advertising in their markets. I showed craigslist to the Mercury News’ classified ad folks and said something like, “I think we’re screwed,” because craigslist was obviously better for advertisers than what we were selling: There was no limit on space; advertisers could include photos of what they were selling; and the service was vastly cheaper, i.e. free, than what we charged for our inferior, pricey product. The response from my fellow Mercury News employee was something like, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
Craig Newmark, who later became a friend, did not set out to undermine daily newspapers’ business model, and while craigslist (and the many other classified-like sites, especially eBay) played a role in what has happened, it was one among a collection of events and shifts that coalesced into what we have today. Secular market changes, like the rise of ad-supported broadcasting and, much later, the demise of department stores that had been major display advertisers, played an enormous role. So did the 2008 economic meltdown, Wall Street’s (more recently, private equity’s) greed, and the rise of the now all-powerful Google-Facebook advertising duopoly. But it’s fair to say in key ways, the monopoly undermined itself, because the monopolists couldn’t figure out how to adjust once advertisers — who paid bulk of the bills to run news organizations — had reasonable options.
Craig is an exceedingly smart person and happily calls himself a nerd, but he didn’t have a master-of-the-Internet plan to become an information mogul. He started a simple mail list to provide a service, first for his friends and later, when it moved to the web, for anyone who wanted to use it. He was careful not to extract maximum cash from the service that he and his small, talented team nurtured from its beginnings into what it became. Most listings remained free, with charges in only a couple of categories. And as craigslist became the place to start when you were looking for something to buy or sell (or make connections of other kinds) online, he ended up making lots of money anyway. From the beginning, he gave back to his community, in meaningful but not self-aggrandizing ways. From my perspective he is a gentle soul and has true humility. He is the antithesis of many (though thankfully not all) Silicon Valley founders I’ve met over the years.
Craig has become a celebrity in some ways. He’s definitely well known today in the news world, which is a change. In the middle of the last decade, after craigslist had become the default classifieds site in most big cities and a bunch of smaller ones, I gave a talk to some of America’s top editors at their annual national trade-group meeting in Washington. I put a photo of Craig on the big screen and asked, “How many of you recognize this person?” Only a few hands went up. I then asked, “How many of you recognize the name Craig Newmark?” Closer to half of the hands went up.
In the time I’ve known him, Craig has consistently cared about quality information, and by extension journalism. He made it his business to learn about the craft. For several years more than a decade ago, I taught a “new media” course at UC-Berkeley’s graduate journalism school, and he always dropped by to speak with the students. In recent years, as he greatly boosted his philanthropy with a focus on improving our information ecosystem, he’s made it part of his business to help journalists do the best possible job they can. When he calls journalism “the immune system of democracy,” he’s not just coining a clever phrase. He plainly means it.
(I’ve updated this post to reflect a broader context of changes in the media industry, notably that the erosion of newspapers’ dominance in the news and advertising industries began with the rise of broadcasting, and the most recent shift of ad dollars toward Google and Facebook.)
(Note: This is adapted from a Thanksgiving Day editorial I wrote many years ago at the Detroit Free Press and later updated in my San Jose Mercury News column.)
Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, invites us to pause and remember our blessings. It’s also an annual reminder that, as a friend once reminded me, the world needs more pilgrims and fewer turkeys.
The pilgrims I admire take risks. They embark on journeys to new, unfamiliar, and often unfriendly places, with vision transcending fear. But that isn’t all. Their staying power and moral convictions take them far beyond the self-obsessed hunger for wealth and power–and willingness to poison our public discourse–that infects our nation at the highest levels and threatens to bring down the republic.
Because people are complicated, we can be turkeys one moment and pilgrims the next. History tells us that America’s colonial pilgrims weren’t uniformly admirable (to put it mildly) in their deeds or motives. And human nature hasn’t changed.
So as the more fortunate among us give thanks for our bounty this week — as Thanksgiving Day’s culinary surplus gives way to the holiday season’s commercial excess — let’s honor our own good fortune by reminding ourselves of the best in others.
I revere my small town’s teachers and librarians, who spread knowledge through the community. They believe in the power of words, of learning, of discovery. They are pilgrims.
I am humbled by the people who work for relatively low pay, and sometimes at great personal risk, to bring the truth to their communities via a craft–journalism–that we have never needed more. They, too, are pilgrims.
I admire the activists who see a better America, and work every day to create it, than the cruel nation so many of our leaders have fostered over the years. They are guiding us on a national pilgrimage toward real justice.
A friend who died several decades ago built a successful business and then went into public service. Early in his political career he pretty much insisted that if you were poor it was your own fault, period. Holding power helped him understand otherwise. A conservative Republican–back before “conservative” had been twisted into its current status of right-wing extremist–he never stopped trusting that the free market would erase poverty in the long term. But he realized that the rest of us, as volunteers and through our government, had to help in the meantime. He was a pilgrim.
In the Bay Area, where I live, the behavior of some famous technology people might lead you to believe that the tech world has vastly more turkeys than pilgrims. No question, the field has attracted more than its share of both — reflecting its intense, creative style. Silicon Valley does everything in excess, so why not this? But our tech companies’ worst behavior is now intertwined with our national turmoil, and their leaders have barely begun to recognize their culpability. Some of them are in desperate need of pilgrimages of their own.
At times I fear that America, awash in anger, pettiness, greed, smugness, and deceit, has all but lost its sense of exploration, wonder, and justice. But I always come back to the pilgrims who refuse to accept the way things are, who reject pure grasping and complacence, and who are leading us to better places.
My table will overflow with bounty this Thursday. I’m grateful beyond words for my life of relative comfort, for my opportunity to constantly explore and learn.
I hope to sustain this pilgrimage for life, for justice. And as America celebrates Thanksgiving Day, 2018, I wish the same for you.