Friday, April 09, 2010

What Were All Those Other Reporters Doing?

Interesting stuff from Jonathan Stray of the Nieman Journalism Lab. These are the people who gave us that nifty research on "The Meme Tracker", which revealed the "shape" of the news cycle and the back-&-forth between between blogs and MSM:

Jonathan Stray did a very smart analysis for Nieman Journalism Lab, looking at a universe of 800 stories about the alleged involvement of two Chinese universities in hacking attacks on Google. His findings were striking: 800 stories = 121 non-identical stories = 13 stories with original quotes = 7 fully independent stories.

Stray coded the 121 non-identical stories that had been clustered together by Google (the clustering algorithms are good, but not perfect – nine stories were unrelated to the specific case of these two universities) and looked for the appearance of novel quotes, which he considered the “bare minimum” standard for original reporting. (Interesting – it’s the same logic that led Jure Leskovec to track quotes to track media flow in MemeTracker.) Only 13 of the stories contained quotes not taken from another media source’s report. The essence of Stray’s piece is the question, “What were those other 100 reporters doing?” The answer, unfortunately, is that they were rewriting everyone else’s stories.

Stray's actual study can be found here.


Ti-Guy said...

Stories like this make me want to give myself little cuts on my legs.

It shouldn't be that hard a principle in journalism to grasp: if everything a reporter knows about a story is something he or she learned from news media elsewhere, it's probably pointless to write about it unless he/she has uncovered some additional information gleaned from a non-news media source.

If all one is doing is regurgitating what others have written, it should be sufficient to just provide the links. And frankly, automated aggregators do that job well enough.

It bothers me because this behaviour is seriously skewing the real measure of popular interest in particular news items. It's bad enough that popularity has too much influence on what we are to understand is news; it's even worse when that popularity might simply be the result of this herd behaviour among journalists.

Tof KW said...

It's bad enough that popularity has too much influence on what we are to understand is news...

Tell me about this as our media have become a non-stop Tiger Woods-athon today. The market is obviously oversaturated and troubled media outlets need to die. The ones that survive will re-discover good journalism and begin to make profits again. Come on media it's called Capitalism - your editorials used to support it - let it follow it's natural course.

Ti-Guy said...

Tell me about this as our media have become a non-stop Tiger Woods-athon today.

It's literally sociopathic. The latest of course being the discussion about the Nike ad that features his father's voice and ostensibly invites the consumer into an intimate relationship with Tiger in which we are asked to decide just how forgiving we are going to be. Two more news cycles, right there: the supposed innovation in advertising itself *and* the reporting on what all of that says about consumer culture.

And all over what? A boring, elitist sport you can play drunk and some overpriced running shoes made in a sweatshop in the 3rd World for pennies?

Tof KW said...

And all over what? A boring, elitist sport...

Golf is a passtime, not a sport. Anything that you can have a beer and a smoke while doing it is definitely not a sport.

And that makes this even more bizarre, as big name athletes from actual sports (hockey, football, tennis, etc) have had affairs in the past and it never hits the news cycle like this.