Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On the Internet, someone knows you’re a dog…

The Internet is a wonderful forum, a great place to go if you want to get something off of you’re chest. And one of the most common things to see on the internet, especially on news sites, is people posting their (very) opinionated thoughts on stories, thoughts so opinionated that the poster will sometimes choose to protect their identity. But the fact of the matter is that no one is ever completely anonymous on the internet, whether you are exposed by your name, e-mail, even your IP address. Knowing this, most of us are wary of what we post and say in public forums.

But to what extent should people be allowed to post anonymously? Is it the case that everyone should be required to post their real name? Writers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer would definitely say yes, in light of their recent struggle with Judge Saffold.

I am of the belief that if you have something legitimate and of worth to say, there should be no reason that you should need to post anonymously (besides, it is often the case that when you do something anonymously, you are usually doing something “wrong”).

But the fact of the matter is that some people take their anonymity very seriously and work very hard to maintain it. Should these people be shunned from the Internet community? I say no. I think there should simply be a forum for these anonymous people to congregate and share their thoughts, a place where it is understood that everything here is 100% anonymous, with a disclaimer for readers to ‘take it as you will’.

If newspapers are going to have a problem with what anonymous posters are going to say about a subject, then take away the option. Don’t back people like Saffold into a corner when she believed that she was safe. Whether she was wrong in her postings is besides the point; the fact of the matter is that she was misled to believe that her identity was guaranteed to be anonymous, and in any other case I’m sure she would have kept her mouth shut, so to speak.

I believe that the Saffold case is simply a step in the evolution of online posting. It should be realized that certain people need to be able to post in certain environments depending on the nature of their comments. Let all those that wish to post intelligent and well spoken comments with their names post freely, a privilege acquired by divulging your name. But for those who wish to remain anonymous, which many people have a legitimate reason to do so, allow them a space where they can be guaranteed to be shielded behind a silicon screen.

Categories: Uncategorized

NewsTrust: putting the news in the people’s hands

NewsTrust is a tool which our Reinventing the News class had the privilege of being introduced to on Monday by Mike Labonte, a member of NewsTrust’s creating team.

NewsTrust is a site that allows readers of the news to review news articles of their choice. While users are encouraged to sign up with the service they are also given the option of posting anonymously. The rating is based on a series of questions concerned with the facticity, fairness, sourcing and how well written the article is, also asking readers if they recommend the article and how much they trust its source. Users also have the option of posting comments and opinions on the article, as well as being able to choose between short reviews and more in-depth reviews that simply ask more questions.

The reviews are then compiled and aggregated to make an overall review based on every users comments. You are also allowed to look at users individual reviews to break it down person by person. The result is a great aggregation of news articles that can direct you towards the best of the best of news articles.

NewsTrust is a great concept. I love the fact that the public is taking the initiative to think about the news they are reading, rather than just taking it for what it is. It is about time that people took responsibility for the news that they read.

But while NewsTrust is a great concept, there are still technical issues to be worked out. When I first signed up for NewsTrust, I took advantage of their option to link to your Facebook account. I felt that this was a very convenient option considering I didn’t have to fill out any forms or anything like that: it was basically instant.

However, this convenience proved to be disastrous. For one reason or another, the NewsTrust page, when linked with my Facebook, would continually refresh the page to the point that it rendered the site unusable. It was so bad to the point that I could not even log out of my account linked to Facebook, it would continually reload and I could not move forward. I even created a new account on another computer, but when I would try to log into my new account, it would automatically sign me back into the Facebook linked account, making my reviews in the other account inaccessible and making the use of the site a real pain. And don’t even dare have Facebook open in this case: again, it will automatically link to your Facebook account if it is open. Not to mention, my virus scan alerted me to a security threat from the site when I ws trying to fix the Facebook account issue.

Again, NewsTrust is a great site and a great concept, and I understand the use of Facebook links to for convenience. But honestly, if something doesn’t work (and I know that they are aware of the issue), stop offering the option until you’ve fixed it.

There are three stories that I posted and reviewed. You can find the rest of my reviews here. Also be sure to check out our class’ wiki.

Categories: Uncategorized

Video of Back Bay Fens Fire

Firefighters put the finishing touches on extinguishing the Back Bay blaze

Northeastern Public Safety Officers reflect on the day's notorious blaze while overlooking the Fens

I finally have my video footage of the Back Bay Fens fire uploaded onto YouTube, take a look and send me your comments!

Categories: Uncategorized

Finding “the smoking gun”

Last week, I made a presentation to my Reinventing the News class about the website, a website that, in their own words, “brings you exclusive documents–cool, confidential, quirky–that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web”. Using the Freedom of Information act to the extreme, brings readers a daily collection of unusual and interesting legal occurrences, be it arrests, court cases, investigations by the FBI, etc. It also features a copious collection of mug shots that include not only famous figures like actors and crime bosses, but also shots that are just downright hilarious.

The Smoking Gun features crime logs and mug shots that are interesting, creative and sometimes downright hilarious

The Smoking Gun, originally a private site, was acquired by CourtTV (now known as TruTV) a few years ago. It is featured in a TV show on TruTV  called “The Smoking Gun presents: World’s Dumbest Criminals”, a series that features, of course, downright dumb criminals, something that is often found featured on the site.

The Smoking Gun is mainly for the entertainment of the reader. However, it is not always fun and games: they have been a major part of some renowned stories. For instance, the site was the first to run an intensive feature story exposing James Frey, the author phony who wrote A Million Little Pieces and appeared on Oprah as one of her recommended authors. Writers for The Smoking Gun exposed the fact that Frey fabricated accounts in his memoirs about his drug related arrests when they could not find accounts of his arrest or mug shots in police files, something that they are pros at.

I commented in class that the one thing I thought that The Smoking Gun was missing was involvement in the web. One is often hard pressed to find articles that link to outside sites, such as news sites or other resources when referencing news articles. Often times if one clicks a link on a page, it will simply bring you to another section of the site.

I also noticed that there is not a great amount of reader involvement in the site, either. There are weekly contests that the site holds every so often that typically plays “mugshot games”. An example of this is a contest they held that challenged readers to match the blood alcohol content of arrestees with their respective mugshots. However, there is no comments section or a section for reader submitted content: what appears on the site is totally the product of its administrators.

However, this aside, The Smoking Gun is a great way to see how ridiculous (and sometimes scary) the legal world can become. Be sure to check out their weekly mugshot roundup: it is sure to both shock and amuse.

Categories: Uncategorized

Fire in the Fenway

A seemingly random fire broke out today in the Boston Back Bay Fens today around 6pm today, engulfing a major part of the park. While the source of the fire is unclear (I tried to talk to a few firefighters about it), they speculate that it could have been a stray cigarette or other unintentional act that set off the gigantic blaze. Another bloggers post does provide a little more insight (and some great pictures)!  I have a few pictures that I took myself posted below, as well as a few short videos that I will have up soon.

Categories: Uncategorized

April 2, 2010 Comments off

Matt Carroll

Matt Carroll is not your typical journalist. He seems like any other regional reporter at the Boston Globe, covering state politics, special interest stories, local buisiness, all the typical stuff. But don’t let this fool you. In the newsroom, he is  the equivilent of a cat who likes taking baths. How? He is a journalist with a passion for numbers.

Now today’s typical math-phobic journalism student (a.k.a. wordies) might wonder how a zeal for numbers and expertise in compiling and interpreting statistics might serve as useful in a field saturated by English and history buffs. But to Carroll, these numbers are like any public record, interview or government document: they are just another tool to dig up stories.

Carroll believes that compiled statistics are as important to journalism as anything else.

Carroll has compiled numerous statistical charts and stats concerning Massachusetts, including a report he built concerning where the highest concentrations of licesed gun ownvers reside. He makes these documents public via wesites such as many-eyes, a document sharing site Carroll showed our reinventing the news class. This site allows users to not only post docs and statistics but also comment on the works of others.

Numbers cannot always be trusted: people manipulate numbers. It’s done all the time with graphs, maps and flimsy interpretations. Even numbers themselves can sometimes be unintentionally misleading. One particular case of this that Carroll cited was a time when he was compiling stats on automobile accidents in Massachusettes and couldn’t figure out why there were so many incidents at midnight…before he realized that the data read 12PM, not AM.

But it is the goal of reporters like Carroll to break down these statistics to their bare forms. And when these numbers are correctly examined, interpreted and processed, one is presented with something that, I believe, is as close to the unbiased truth as it comes.

Matt Carroll may not be your typical journalist. But it seems, and I think Carroll whould agree, that in today’s increasingly digital world, the future of journalism will depend on this new generation of journalists like Carroll: journalists who don’t fear the numbers, but embrace and utilize them.

Categories: Uncategorized

Maps…read between the grids.

March 26, 2010 1 comment

Of the three maps that we were shown in class on Wednesday, one of them particularly interested me: the political affiliation map. The reason it interested me so much is because it reinforced a thought that I’ve had for years: statistics are what you make them. Looking at this map, there is just one phrase that comes to mind: appearances can be deceiving.

I had always realized that when looking at political affiliation maps such as this one that population sizes have a considerable and essential role in interpreting the real meaning of these maps. However it is not until you see the map distorted (or undistorted, rather) that you realize how much this information can be lost in translation. This map, for instance, shows by color coding which states had a majority vote democratic and which voted mostly republican. It seems that republicans took the cake according to the first map. But take a look at this one that takes population size into account when generating this map. By shrinking the size of lower population states, it shows that the democrats clearly took the lead on this one. There are a few more maps like this on this site as well.

So what does this teach us? Well, the most obvious thing it shows is that the republican voting midwest, while appearing larger on a normal map, do have a much lower population that democratic coastal states, something that is not demonstrated in the first map but clearly shown the second time around.

But the next lesson, which I think is the most important, has to do with how maps are used in not just journalism, but in all forms of communications, be it marketing, campaigning, etc. For instance, if a republican group wanted to falsely convince a potential voter that the majority of people voted republican last year, they would show you the first map that does not reflect population size rather than the “true” map.

Now I’m not saying that the creator of this map meant to be malicious, but it brings up an important issue about not just maps like this, but statistics in general. The lesson is that what you see is not always what you get; more so, when looking at a map such as this (which can be so deceiving), one must always double check the facts. In addition, there are a number of questions one must ask themselves when a group presents information in a form such as a map like this: Who is this group? What are they trying to say? What are their goals? Do they have a reason to alter the facts? And if they do, make sure you take nothing for granted, whether it be a map like this, graphs, charts, etc.

I believe that maps such as these are a great way to convey information and has an indispensable role  in the world of communications; we should be grateful that we can have statistics like these readily available to us. However, it is up to the reader to always be aware of the cold hard facts to avoid being duped by the stats.

Speaking of maps, Google has a new little map project that they are currently working on.

Categories: Uncategorized