Tag Archives: new media

Trustworthy News.

Mike LaBonte, editor and reviewer for NewsTrust, gets what people are saying: people don’t trust the news anymore. Sure there are reliable outlets, but even the big boys put out a less-than-perfect piece from time to time.

NewsTrust’s plan for filtering the news: let the readers be the judge.

It’s really quite simple. NewsTrust provides stories from a variety of news outlets, and readers are invited to rate them journalistic quality– facts, bias, sourcing, writing style, etc.– they can then comment specifically on the story. As a result, every pice of news gets an average rating, along with a strand of comments which can help other readers sift through the expanse of options to scrounge up the news that other readers have deemed ‘reliable.’

Sounds pretty simple, so this morning I gave it a whirl. I kept things simple, selecting three of today’s headline stories: Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash, from the BBC; George W. Bush ‘knew Guantanamo prisoners were innocent, from The Times and CIA Assigned to Kill US Citizen from consortiumnews.com. Each of which I reviewed.

What I liked about the reviewing experience was it forced me to really analyze my news on its journalistic value, which, as bad as it sounds, is often something that slips my mind. I browse the headlines of nyt.com, read what looks important, and accept it as fact, rarely stopping to count sources or assess context. The process of reviewing though, forced me to think through all the elements of each piece, and consider what, as a journalist, should ultimately be there.

However, I do find a few flaws with this model. First off, when I go to read the news, I generally don’t have the time to heavily analyze each article and think through each article analytically and post a review of it. I simply want to skim through headlines to gather a sense of what’s going on. And I imagine that many others approach the news with a similar mentality– they’re not reading the news to do a service to others, they’re simply looking to find the quickest way to gather a sense of what’s happening in the world.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I imagine most people go to a news source for the most up-to-the minute headlines. And what I noticed by reviewing the front-page headlines, was that they had very few reviews. To me, this defeats the whole purpose of the site– if a story is only rated by three people, that hardly gives a sense of its journalistic integrity.

It’s certainly a fresh take on a current problem, but without adequate participation, NewsTrust can’t ultimately function in an effective way.

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Mapping things out.

It’s no secret: Web journalism is all about the visuals. Whether it’s a photograph, a video or just a silly graphic, we humans don’t seem to like the read-and-interpret approach too much these days. We prefer our information packaged up tightly into the perfect visual.

Thus is born: the map as a journalistic tool. These maps are hardly restricted to the geographic, but are constructed in a way that departs some statistical information in a way that is intended to be simply grasped and easily understood.

Specimen A:

This map is quite simple. Red states voted for John McCain in 2008. Blue states voted for Barak Obama. However, there’s a fatal flaw to this illustration: in looking at this map it appears that John McCain won the election, when in fact, Obama won by a significant margin. This map doesn’t account for population distribution (like the fact that New York is home to almost 20 million, while Montana, almost triple in size, only has a population of roughly 1 million)

So the mapmakers get a little crafty. Bringing us Specimen B:

Here, states are stretched and squashed in an attempt to make their size proportional to their population (while still making a minimal effort to keep the basic U.S. shape in tact. Blue is now, the visible majority.

I would argue that these two variations of the election map are quite informative. They make their point simply, in an easy-to-grasp way. I think they could be made even more so with the addition of a few features:  Say if you held your mouse over the state it would reveal some further facts like the actual population as well as race, gender and income distribution. And even perhaps how many counties voted red vs. blue.

However, I don’t think incorporating these more detailed variables into the map itself is very effective, take Specimen C, for example, which is a cartogram of votes by county with different shades of red, blue and purple representing varying percentages of votes:

To me, interpreting a map of this nature is simply not intuitive. I think a more effective route to expressing more complex statistic would be spelling them out in a box to the side or that pops up with a click on any individual state. I would argue that only the most simple concepts should be represented in the actual physical map.

In other news: I can’t wait for this patriotic tie-dye pattern to hit the runway. I think it’s going to be huge for Spring 2011.

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