investigating the nature of fact in the digital age

Posts Tagged ‘journalism practice’

I, robot reporter

In Facts and opinion, Journalism practice on March 29, 2014 at 2:22 pm


The BBC reported recently that the LA Times became the first newspaper to use a robot to write an article.

The piece, about an earthquake in California, was a report generated by an automated algorithm that collated data from the US Geological Survey and inserted it into a template.

This is a good development for journalism. Algorithms might be able to pull together information from trusted sources and spit out simple reports. But until it can  understand the context and background of an issue, identify and interview the key voices in a debate, weigh competing claims and tell the difference between fact-based claims and opinion, robo reporting won’t replace journalists. If anything, automated reporting will free journalists to concentrate on producing more long-form quality journalism with deeper, more valuable insights.

In a world awash with information and attitude masquerading as fact, that has to be a good thing.


Robo journalism is not as new as the BBC report suggests. For more on this subject:

The Media Report (ABC Radio National podcast plus transcript)

The Washington Post (opens to video)

Wired  (article)

The Guardian (article plus video)

Slate (article)

Knight Lab (article) (article)


We care whether it’s true

In Facts and opinion, Journalism practice, Misinformation on March 24, 2014 at 9:53 am

The “old media” mantra of “if in doubt, leave it out” has been replaced in the online journalism age by “if it’s wrong, it won’t be for long”.

But despite the promise that the internet delivers a kind of self-correcting crowd-sourced “truth” that can match the efforts of traditional media, even some pop culture newsrooms such as BuzzFeed are finding that it makes business sense to get your facts right.

This piece, from the Columbia Journalism Review, suggests that authority, credibility and the trustworthiness of information still have currency. The question “Who cares if it’s true?” has been answered. We all care.

Journalists still decide what matters

In Facts and opinion, Journalism practice, Misinformation on March 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Social media and citizen journalism might mean that the public gets there first with “the news” but trained journalists are increasingly crucial as gatekeepers of what is worth knowing and what is accurate, and to highlight issues that might otherwise evade scrutiny. Time, judgement and the skills to report accurately will never go out of fashion.

Vincent Hendricks from the University of Copenhagen put it well in a recent piece for The Conversation:

True information and false information travel at the same speed online. That means there is still a vital role to be played by the more traditional press and media even if they stand to lose the race for breaking and short-lived spectacular news tsunamis and #infostorms, like when a giraffe named #marius is killed at a Danish zoo.

Read the original article by Vincent F Hendricks at The Conversation.


Social media – the Johnny-on-the-spot of news reporting

In Journalism practice on March 11, 2014 at 4:27 pm

More and more, social media is reporting from the frontline of news events, taking us faster and closer to what’s happening around us, often before traditional media has realised there’s something going on. How trustworthy is such a scattergun approach to reporting?

The Guardian‘s Ellie Mae O’Hagan has some thoughts on the matter, here.

Bad grammar? Sorry, don’t believe you.

In Journalism practice on March 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

For some people the misuse of apostrophes by a business affects how they think about that business. (See here.)
Maybe I’m old school, but badly edited content – poorly written copy, copy with obvious mistakes in it – affects how much I trust a news source.
The screen grab below comes from the iPad edition of The Age‘s report on the series-deciding Third Test between Australia and South Africa. The game ended just before 3am Australian Eastern Standard Time (and what a thrilling finish it was), so the paper did well to get the report out to local readers in time for breakfast. Unfortunately, the need for speed overran attention to detail.
This is an extreme example, but errors like these have become common even in reputable news outlets. Addiction to speed, cost-cutting production processes and a lack of care factor mean readers see mistakes made every day by organisations that want us to believe that their content can be trusted.
Do readers care? I do.

Speed of news should not come at the cost of accuracy or clarity.
Speed of news should not come at the cost of accuracy or clarity.

Political reporters fail to tell the whole story

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Interesting piece on the media’s complicity – unwitting? intentional? – in the downfall of Julia Gillard. By Sally Young, Melbourne University

Thesis mud map: the rise of fact-checking as a response to changes in media aucretrus

In Academic reflection, Mind map, Thesis progress on June 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm

So this is what’s in my head. Rather than keep it there and try to wrangle its growing tendrils I thought I’d put the whole mess on paper, hoping I can deal with it more easily in physical form. It’s version 1, so please forgive gaps, omissions, double-ups, rough edges. It’s yet to be shaped and properly polished. But it gives an idea of the early scope of my research.

To see detail, double-click the image then enlarge.