#jcarn: Video as a form of verification

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project, where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft.


The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

Of the elements enumerated by Kovach and Rosenstiel in their seminal book, I believe verification is the most central to what we do as journalists. What sets us apart from the legions of content creators is the ethic of verify, verify, verify.

To that end, online video is a vital component of that puzzle.

In a previous Carnival of Journalism entry, I recounted my own tale of online video gone awry and noted that it’s dangerous to dedicate too many newsroom resources to video when my research has found that what’s most critical to people who choose the Internet as their primary source for news is frequency of updating.

Despite my doomsday assertion, I didn’t mean to convey that video has no place on a news site. On the contrary: It’s complementary content that provides another layer of verifiable evidence for users. It builds trust and credibility. And it includes users in the journalistic process.

For breaking news, that means raw video from the scene, the bits and pieces that are typically fashioned into a video story. On a churn-and-burn news site, with regularly updated headlines, people want the information quickly. It’s much easier to scan headlines and lists than sit through a 2- to 3-minute video story, especially if they’re at work or standing in line scanning their smartphone.

Video strips users of control. They’re held captive by a linear narrative determined by the journalist. An unedited video, however, allows them a glimpse of the raw dough of journalism. It makes them part of the process; they can evaluate the evidence on their own, much as a database permits them to crunch the numbers themselves.

And the unfettered roll from news sources can be more compelling than that of journalists.

Take this sample from the May 22 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. Shortly after the disaster, the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader took a video camera along with other equipment and included video coverage to complement its copious print coverage. It’s a good sample of images that gives the viewers a sense of being there.

Still, I wonder about the amount of time to shoot, edit, and create an online-only video, although this video is straightforward and free of the usual time-intensive broadcast cuts and overlays. I also hate having to sit through an ad (even a 20-second one) before I get the details.

I found the first-person account of a survivor far more compelling and worth my while online:

I could get the core facts (number of dead and missing, efforts of rescue workers, etc.) more quickly from the written news story and photos.

And the raw survivor video was the one I linked to on Twitter and watched repeatedly.

Jay Rosen: A lesson in transparent humility

NYU professor and blogger Jay Rosen is well-known and recognized in journalistic circles for his work and thoughts on public journalism, new media, and democracy.

He is also a prolific Twitterer (@jayrosen_nyu) with more than 35,000 followers.

Today, he showcased one of the primary — and these days, underappreciated — journalistic virtues on Twitter: humility.

In this age of punditry, the assertion has become the rhetorical tool of choice. No longer is discussion prized; instead, it’s whether you “win” by talking over the other panelists. If you admit ignorance, you lose.

So color me surprised when Rosen posted a simple query about the World Cup:

Jay Rosen World Cup tweet

My guess is many non-soccer fans have asked this same question (full disclosure: I have wondered about this issue myself). In this case, Rosen did as great journalists past have done.

He asked the question without fear.

From many corners came raised eyebrows and howls. And instead of cowering, he again did what any self-respecting journalist should do: He shared the comments with his followers.

Here’s the full rundown from his stream:

  • Okay, who wants to hear the top answers from my Twitter subscribers to my question about why there are so few goals in international soccer?
  • Okay, here we go… top answers from my subscribers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 1.) The teams haven’t played together (me: and the defense has?)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 2.) At higher levels of skill, the defenses are WAY better. (Me: uh, this just re-states the question.)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 3.) Because scoring goals is HARD, you soccer moron. (Me: whereas preventing goals is easier? But why?)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 4.) Why do you need an article? Just watch the game and you will see (Unstated: you moron!)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 5.) “OMG, the Americans are trying to understand football. Don’t, just… don’t.” (You morons!)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 6.) Because goals basically come from screw-ups and at this level there are fewer screw-ups. (Me: hmmm.)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 7.) Tactical decision to play a certain (cautious) style, popularized by Italy. (Me: okay, makes sense.)
  • Top answers to http://bit.ly/aGC0s5 8.) You are insulting the beauty of the game by asking that question, and no I don’t have a URL for you.
  • Okay, the storm has passed. That concludes my review of the answers I received to my (sincere!) question about goal scoring in int’l soccer.

That exchange is a model more journalists should emulate. Be humble. Be transparent. And for God’s sake, ask the question without fear.

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Communicators, unite! Write clearly, and fight the bull

Although some hegemonic forces tout the synergy one yields from interweaving multiple lexical categories and argot, methinks such linkages merely obfuscate and should be excised from our discourse.

In other words, cut the crap.

Or as authors Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky put it: “Fight the bull.”

My friend and former colleague Michelle Rose recently introduced me to the “Fight the Bull” site, which raises the clarity axe to hack through pompous prose.

You can download the free software (if you have a Windows PC), or you can run up to 20,000 words through the Mystery Matador to discover the Bull Index of a piece of writing. It will compute the Flesch Reading Ease Index, a readability scale used in many educational corners, and then inform you how full of it you are.

As a test, I decide to submit my recent blog post about the iPad — just to make sure I hadn’t spiraled into the corporatespeak abyss.

My results?

Whew. Guess I better watch those occasional detours down Obfuscation Lane.

Obama’s speech: Watching the new journalism in action

Obama’s State of the Union address
(Word size indicates how often Obama said it)

Today, journalists have to do more than merely chronicle what was said.

The multimedia tools at their disposal allow stories to be told creatively, interactively. In today’s environment, the best news organizations are allowing readers and viewers to discover “stories” in innovative ways.

Take President Obama’s State of the Union address. Instead of a standard story recap, reaction, and analysis, the “story” unfolds in layers today:

  • You can watch the speech unfiltered, without the chatter of network anchors, either at C-SPAN (the nonprofit cooperative of cable companies) or direct from the White House.
  • You can use Wordle.net to see at a glance the keywords of the speech. The Guardian took such an approach to compare Obama’s speech to those of previous presidents.
  • You can search the transcript at the New York Times and see what people were saying in real time, as the speech was unfolding.
  • You can check the BS meter through several fact-checking sites such as Politifact and FactCheck.org to determine whether the president or the Republican respondent was bending the truth more.

It is no longer enough to recount the story. Those organizations that understand how to cultivate the sense of discovery will be the ones to survive.

Premature obit for narrative journalism?

No one reads anymore.

It is a refrain heard often in discussions about the future of journalism, especially since it’s younger readers who aren’t reading newspapers and magazines. Give ‘em short bites. Lots of photos. Q&As. Breakout boxes.

The advice makes intuitive sense. Online, we have become scanners and skimmers, with our eyes darting quickly from headline to blurb to hypertext link.

But there is another truism we should not forget: Everyone appreciates a well-told story.

It is why Garrison Keillor captivates millions standing at a microphone with his news from Lake Wobegon. It is why we sit in our car and listen to final seconds of an NPR story that has pulled us in during the drive home.

It is why the New York Times grabbed me this morning with the story of two Nepali immigrants who followed seemingly similar tracks to the United States but diverged greatly once reaching these shores.

Follow the link. Glance at the photo. Scan the headline. See if you can resist reading the narrative.

Everyone appreciates a well-told story. Let us not completely abandon this form of the craft.

Creating stories with data

With the rise of the Web, journalists have been creating new ways to tell stories.

In fact, they are allowing users to create their own stories with interactive tools. And it’s not just the giants like the New York Times and CNN. Local news sites are jumping into the game.

This week, KY-3 launched an interactive data tool showing day-care violators in the Ozarks. Is this the future of journalism?