Saturday, May 30, 2009

Where do you say the free speech stops?

Newspaper executives, journalists, bloggers and victims of "vitriolic and hateful comments" on newspaper Web sites got together in Knoxville recently for a face-to-face discussion of community voices, public discussions and the pros and cons of anonymity.

The News Sentinel's Jack Lail has a summary, video clips, and more. See:

Getting the mean out of comments:

In a column about the event, the News Sentinel's editor, Jack McElroy, said the paper's Web site draws 50,000 comments a month: "Some of the comments are intelligent. Many are inane. A few are downright cruel."

The Associated Press Managing Editors and the News Sentinel put together the "Online Credibility Roundtable," supported in part by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Connecticut news outsourced to Indian staff

Hartford Advocate: News - Outsource This!:
"We hired Indian freelance journalists to write the paper this week...
"Vanishing revenues have put the newspaper industry in a death spiral and many papers long ago outsourced other functions (like IT support centers and telemarketing) to India. We devised this issue as an experiment on what outsourced news might look like."
Back when I worked for The Hartford Courant, I remember delivering a bundle of copies of the first issue of The Hartford Advocate to the University of Connecticut for my next-door neighbor, one of the four people who started the paper.

As I recall, Ed, Linda and another couple launched the whole Advocate chain after Ed and the other guy got fed up with "part-time" copydesk jobs at the the now-fading but then-independent Hartford Courant... which eventually was gobbled up by a chain, which was gobbled up by another chain, which then bought the Advocate alt-weeklies.

So much for "alt." But it's good to see someone still has a sense of humor.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports on the same "outsourcing" stunt, but closes with a nice shout-out to former Advocate staffer Paul Bass's New Haven Independent, a Web-only newspaper that has concentrated on what you might call "in-sourcing" his city.

"Mr. Bass said he liked the outsourced issue, but it reminded him, alas, that so much of American journalism these days actually can be done from a desk in Mumbai, and that the threat facing most American newspapers isn’t necessarily outsourcing or even the new frontier of the Internet. It’s dull, stodgy products that have been downsized and bled dry by corporate owners. If what you do can be done, however imperfectly, from Mumbai, he said, then maybe you need to go back to Square One."

To see what I mean by "in-sourcing," which involves having your feet, head and heart in a local community, see this story and this story, including their background links. Nothing there looks "phoned in" -- not from Mumbai; not even from some office across town.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Opening tunnels for data mining

A couple of mines down the road from me in Pulaski County produce iron oxide pigments, not just the sand and gravel that are more common in local "mining" operations.

OK, that's not what the title means by "data mining," but it's something I didn't know before today, and it was easy info to dig up, thanks to a new project called -- an initiative to make more government databases easily accessible to the public. (In my case, browsing links led to a database of active mines at USGS. More interested in coal mines? That took following a few more links.)

In an interesting twist on this project, see Apps for America a contest encouraging data-miners and hackers to build applications that USE such public data.

I'll count the first entry as a "proof of concept," even if it's not particularly useful. It turns FBI most-wanted list photographs into a matching game: FBI Fugitive Concentration

Meanwhile, without entering the contest, SunlightLabs has scraped together Unofficial RSS feed that it found missing from the site itself. It also provides the source code of the Python script that creates the feed, and an analysis of the current contents of

Transparency in government, participation and opportunities for collaboration are all topics of discussion at the Open Government Dialogue site from the National Academy of Public Administration.

Here's a New York Times blog entry on
Throwing Open Uncle Sam’s Data Mine - The Caucus Blog:

"Back on Jan. 21, on President Obama’s first full day in office, he put down a marker on new standards for openness and transparency in government.
His administration has already done a few things, but on Thursday, it took a big step toward its goal and started opening up vast reservoirs of federal data to the online public at a Web site called
So far, there are 47 government data bases available there that you can rummage through, with many more to come over the next months and years. The administration hopes the public will use this information to suggest ways to make the government more efficient, responsive and innovative."

It's a beginning. Those aren't the 47 most fascinating collections of government info, unless you're heavily into geology. But it's a start. On the other hand, at least one database-oriented journalist-blogger sums it up as "lame so far."

I'm still browsing both the Open Government Dialogue and sites. So far the open-the-books attitude reminds me a lot of Carl Malamud's "Reboot .gov" project at, and his creations at -- as I keep browsing, I'll be watching for connections.