Tag Archives: articles

#NotMyFacebook, or: Is Facebook For Political Discourse?

If you Google the question “What is Facebook for?” you come up with a short article by Mike Bantick for iTWire that bears the same name. Although it was published back in 2013 the basis for it is particularly topical, with the first paragraph relating the reason for it was written.

“Recently my brother told me he defriended a close friend of the family because of his overtly political posts on the social media website Facebook.  ‘That’s not what Facebook is for,’ he said, that got me thinking.”

Bantick then proceeds to list off a number of different answers gathered from friends and family, ultimately settling on a handful that he considers “the most truthful”:

“‘Referrals for products and services from people you trust, or know the value you place on the referrer’s knowledge of the requirements. Eg, games references, plumbers, mechanics, travel…. So useful and more personal than googling. You also then have wonderful reasons to catch up with people you may not otherwise.’

‘Stalking people and pictures of cats’

‘Annoying people with puns’

And, the one that resonated with me the most ‘Sharing sh&% for giggles…'”

The list has him implicitly agreeing with his brother. Facebook is for recommendations and, as the latter three state in various ways, for personal enjoyment. Not included among the social networking service’s uses? The dissemination of strongly held political beliefs or stances. Could’ve fooled me.
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Fame Day: The Grid

I say with complete honesty that I there are times that I feel genuine pity for those of you who don’t live in Toronto. I mean, sure, there’s the fact that it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, is home of the 3rd highest tower in the world [underneath which is brewed some pretty decent beer], and  is the setting for pretty much the entirety of the Scott Pilgrim series-

You can click the image above to check out a whole bunch more.

No, the reason for that, dear readers, is The Grid. A weekly publication, this newspaper describes itself on its website as:

…a weekly city magazine and daily website providing a fresh, accessible voice for Toronto. Our goal is to capture the vibe and energy of a city in ascendance, largely by rejecting the glossy, doggedly aspirational vision of it you see in so many other publications. Continue reading

News written by computers will make opinions matter more

For the first time, automatically generated articles are becoming practical for news sources to use – this carries interesting implications for journalism and internet writing. A variety of news sites, including The Big Ten Network, have published articles generated by a computer program written by Narrative Science, a company that uses computer algorithms to generate news articles. It saves money on writers and the public can’t really tell the difference. Here’s an excerpt from an article generated by Narrative Science [from MediaBistro]:

“Wisconsin jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a 51-17 win over UNLV on Thursday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers scored 20 points in the first quarter on a Russell Wilson touchdown pass, a Montee Ball touchdown run and a James White touchdown run. Wisconsin’s offense dominated the Rebels’ defense. The Badgers racked up 499 total yards in the game including 258 yards passing and 251 yards on the ground.”

The program, for sports articles, will even determine the MVP of the game and select a photograph to use for the article.

This is an interesting development in the “What the frick is going to happen to journalism?” question that is frequently discussed. And yeah, the fact that articles can be generated like the above, saving publishers time and money, does seem to be another pretty strong indicator of the slow and hard-to-watch decay of journalism. But I don’t think that the demand for a professional, reliable, and enjoyable source of important information is going to go away – not enough to eliminate the need for good news sources completely. I think that a story like the one above points to the fact that journalism is going to change, possibly drastically, to fill a slightly new niche in contemporary society.

One thing that might happen is the inflation of value in organic things – things clearly human, like more creative sentence structure, original metaphor, and distinct voice. I think there is a strong possibility of a reaction against cheaply written, algorithmic writing – whether computer-generated (as in the sports article quoted in the mediabistro article) or written by a sad and poorly paid writer (as in the 98% of sports articles that sound exactly like the computer generated one that are basically written by the thesaurus entries for “won” and “lost”. Not that such writing would cease to exist, but that it would fade into the background, especially amongst higher quality internet publications, the way low-quality websites do now: they contain information, but if we can tell nobody put any time into designing or laying out the website, nobody’s going to read it. I think that with the advent of more commonly computer-generated writing, readers are going to become more sensitive to what was written by a person and what is simply stark information.

As previously hard-to-get interviews and inside data (stuff stops being hard-to-get once it goes on the web) become more ubiquitous, the thing that is going to make a publication stand out in the market will be wit, voice, narrative skill, and opinion. IE, a good opinion article that you find yourself reading the whole way through will be distinctly more important to publishers and editors than an article that simply relays information that you can get from a variety of headlines.

News sources will also need to provide more background information that explains news stories. Again, the news about the latest events in Libya could be found throughout the internet, but the NYT offers topics pages on Libya (Wikipedia-esque), interactive maps of the conflicts as they unfold day-by-day, copious links to news analysis, and debates and predictions about what will happen next.

This, not cold journalism, is what is going to make or break internet news sources. Readers will be affected by how much they can interact with the information, how much they can learn in one place, and the level of trust they place in not the veracity of the information being relayed (that can be checked against any other news source instantaneously available to him/her) but the arrangement and explanation of that information.