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In the previous post in which I introduced (some of) my readership to the new space blog over at Florida Today, I mentioned the kerfuffle going on between Todd Halvorson and NASA Watch, but it occurs to me that this is a good example of the difference between conventional journalism and blogging. Keith has a valid point when he writes:
Gee Todd, let's read my post a little more carefully, OK? And wouldn't it be useful for your readers to have a link to the actual post you are referring to - and not have them rely only on what you want them to think I wrote?
When I scroll down all of the blog posts at The Flame Trench, I see not a single link, to anything. It is all conventional "reporting" where the reporter has learned something, via whatever methods he or she has, and then broadcasts it to The Rest Of Us. The only difference is that the stories are shorter, and not put up on any kind of schedule. This is not blogging--it's journalism in a different format.
There's nothing wrong with it per se, but it's considered de rigeur in the blogosphere, when commenting on someone else's post, to provide a link to it, so that the readers can, as Keith says, go look and judge for themselves if it's being properly characterized. And over the years, I've noticed that mainstream journalists are very bad at this, because they tend to have a reluctance to reveal "source material"--a habit that carries over in many cases to their blogging, when they decide to try their hand at it. Of course, in some cases, it's because the journalist is being duplicitous, and doesn't want people to be able to easily discern that (though I'm sure that wasn't the intent here). In this case, of course, it's ridiculous, because the source material is on the web, and anyone with a little effort can go see for themselves anyway, because Todd does say that it's at NASA Watch.
Just consider this friendly advice to people who, while they may be justifiably successful journalists, are apparently still novices when it comes to blogging.
[Update on Friday morning]
Now that's a blog post. And I can see the links just fine.Posted by Rand Simberg at March 16, 2006 12:55 PM
Thanks for the support - they added a link - but only after your post taking them to task for the issue.Posted by Keith Cowing at March 16, 2006 02:01 PM
Interesting points, and worth consideration for us here. There are some differences between the way we "old" journalism dinosaurs operate and the way bloggers operate. I'm undecided about which blog-style approaches we ought to adopt and which ones we need to continue to stay away from. For example, we are trying to figure out where the line is on opinion. That's probably the reason you see what you consider straight news items, rather than what might be considered "blog posts" here. We wonder what the audience wants: do they want to hear what Todd, John, Chris and Larry think about some issue or just the straight news. There's a fine line there because we have to able to maintain some sense of objectivity and fairness. This is a test facing all "old school" media folks, who are madly racing as fast as they can to try out every "new web" thing out there. Notably, everyone seems to be trying to get blogs up on line as fast as possible on all subjects.
Certainly, we think it's a good idea to link more often to other blogs, especially when we directly refer to them. Moreover, we plan to be doing more linking to other work in areas that we might not normally cover or when someone like yourself on another space, astronomy or science blog posts something noteworthy or just interesting.
We are doing some linking to outside material. Unfortunately, on the design front (beyond my control somewhat) it is hard to see hyperlinks in our text as designed. That's something I've got to get approval from our web folks to tweak. I'm working it. Nevertheless, there are links there now and we intend for there to be more frequent links to source material, source documents, etc. (Ones you can see, lol).
Anyway, hope that addresses the issues you raised. And, as always, we're open to feedback here on what we're doing on line and in print.Posted by John Kelly at March 16, 2006 02:48 PM
John: Why didn't you give nasaspaceflight.com credit for breaking ECO issues - days ahead of when you did?
Why didn't you credit NASA Watch and SpaceRef when we broke Dawn news, Dragon News etc. before you did?Posted by Keith Cowing at March 16, 2006 04:05 PM
We are doing some linking to outside material. Unfortunately, on the design front (beyond my control somewhat) it is hard to see hyperlinks in our text as designed. That's something I've got to get approval from our web folks to tweak.
I'm sorry, but I find this funny, and a demonstration of complete cluelessness when it comes to designing a blog. Forget about a blog (that's weird enough)--you have a web site design that makes it hard to see hyperlinks, and you have to get permission from your "web site designers" to modify this "feature"? What in the world is a web page without hyperlinks? That's the whole point of the web.Posted by Rand Simberg at March 16, 2006 05:46 PM
(Sigh) Rand. I was blogging before it was even called "blogging" and coding HTML by hand. You showed up in the mix shortly thereafter - when things were still primitive. Look at the simple tools we now have - compared to way back - and yet the dinosaurs still can't master well-crafted tools that kids in grammar school use without a second thought ... oh and they have to get "approval" to do something ... yikes.
Just because they have the tools doesn't mean they have the skills - or the freedom to utilize the skills even if they had them. This is a divide that is going to persist for quite some time.
Remember that we're dinosaurs working for a large organization and large organizations are slow to change. That said, Florida Today's space site has been right on the cutting edge for a long, long time. Our space guys were doing live launch journals and other blog-like things back in the Compuserv bulletin board days. That said, we're now adapting to yet another revolution. You're right, Keith, that the tools for blogging are so much easier now than if we had to write the code ourselves. Though, I'd like to toss the tool we use out the window and hand-code the thing myself given the limitations of the tool.
Do cut us some slack though on what seems beyond reason (links you can't see is goofy). It's a lot easier to make things happen, as you know, when you are small and nimble and you call all the shots as an independent operator. In a large organization, we have get a bunch of other dinosaurs to agree. Actual, we're going to hand-code a work-around for the time being so you see the links underlined even though it's a mismatch with our site "design" rules. I hope I won't get taken to the woodshed here at the home office.Posted by John Kelly at March 16, 2006 06:41 PM
John, I work with enough large bureaucracies to understand the problem. I just thought that that particular plaint was amusing.
But you need to distinguish between the blog software (what you use to create posts, and automatically archive and rebuild the site) from site design, which in theory you should have control over, if someone there knows HTML (or perhaps CSS stylesheets).
[Taking a look at the code]
Yup, it's CSS. It's a trivial thing for someone who knows what they're doing to fix this in the blog template (you seem to be using Blogger, with which I'm not familiar--I use Moveable Type and Wordpress, but I'm sure that someone there has access to edit the template). Of course, if your IT folks think that invisible links are a feature, rather than a bug, I'm not sure how to help you...Posted by Rand Simberg at March 16, 2006 06:54 PM
I think you’re both (Rand/Keith) missing the real point. It isn’t about hyperlinks, HTML or coding skills. It’s about getting basic facts right and communicating those facts clearly and without bias. Or at least that is what should be the goal of anyone who claims to be interested in reporting the truth regardless of the subject matter.
Sure a link to NASAWatch could have and should have been provided, but I doubt there was anyone who read the post at The Flame Trench who didn’t already know about NASAWatch and how to find the post in question. So lets assume the readers of the Flame Trench post were astute enough to find Keiths’ original post in spite of John Kellys’ failure to provide a link.
That brings us to the real issue, that original “USA Layoffs Are About to Begin” post accompanied by the dreaded red “RIF WATCH” logo. What an ominous sounding headline for announcing the loss of 14 jobs out of a company of 10,000 employees. Yes the posting states that the meeting USA held was in Houston, but it did not clearly state that the announcement only affected Houston area USA employees. Given the atmosphere of job loss fear that is now prevalent in the space community, and the fact that the posting appears on a web site that is widely known for being first in announcing such job cuts, it is only natural that anxious readers could be lead to believe that USA was getting ready to cut many jobs company wide. Given the anxiety some USA employees must be feeing lately with the shuttle program coming to an end and a daily diet from the media (NASAWatch included) of doom and gloom predictions about the status of their jobs, the headline of this particular post is comparable to yelling fire in a crowded theater.
And then there was the accompanying low blow at Mike Griffin, the whacking quote as if it applied in this instance. I guess Keith thinks Mike ordered those 14 USA employees to be “whacked”. If you want to talk about professionalism in reporting, forget HTML and coding; the wording of the original NASAWatch post and the rush get it first rather than right are good examples of the lack of professionalism that pervades much of journalism today.
If you want to talk about professionalism in reporting, forget HTML and coding; the wording of the original NASAWatch post and the rush get it first rather than right are good examples of the lack of professionalism that pervades much of journalism today.
Why can't we talk about all of those issues, Cecil?Posted by Rand Simberg at March 16, 2006 07:11 PM
"Why didn't you credit NASA Watch and SpaceRef when we broke Dawn news, Dragon News etc. before you did?"
Actually, Space News had the Dragon story on the front page in their March 6 issue. Space News is hand-delivered to quite a few people in the Washington area on the Sunday before the date on the cover. So Space News was out, with the Dragon story, on March 5. The Dragon story did not appear on NASAWatch until 12:03AM on March 6. So Space News had it before NASAWatch. Why didn't NASAWatch credit Space News?
And for that matter, Spacepolitics.com had the story about Senator Hutchison's March 8 remarks on March 9, and then put an audio file of her remarks on-line on March 10, at 6:16AM. Surprisingly, NASAWatch included notes "taken/prepared by an attendee at this STA breakfast" on their site at 8:13AM on March 10. It seems awfully coincidental that NASAWatch, which is so vigorous about claiming to be "first," mysteriously did not report on Hutchison's talk until two hours _after_ some other site put the audio file up. Looks to me like NASAWatch listened to the audio file and then wrote up their own notes.
As for the issue of properly linking to material, that's a little rich coming from NASAWatch. Whenever you see something on their sister site, Spaceref, and you see "source" listed at top, that link almost never takes you to the real location of the information. It will be a story about a press release or something and the "source" will be www.nasa.gov or www.boeing.com, meaning that if the reader wants the original source, he has to go searching all over it.
I find this whole little tete-a-tete amusing. NASAWatch was totally in the tank during the O'Keefe administration and while Cowing got airplane rides and drinks with the administrator and worked on a book for NASA he didn't write anything critical of Sean O'Keefe. Then O'Keefe leaves and suddenly NASAWatch is back to criticizing the NASA Administrator. Coincidence? Nobody in Washington thinks it's a coincidence. Everybody knows that O'Keefe very brilliantly managed a critic.
But I think that the one new thing we can add to this whole episode is that nobody who sends an e-mail to NASAWatch should ever be surprised when their name and e-mail message are posted to the website. Why would anybody at all trust NASAWatch to keep their identity confidential?
"...we are trying to figure out where the line is on opinion. That's probably the reason you see what you consider straight news items, rather than what might be considered "blog posts" here."
Beyond format, which is extremely important for people wanting to get something out of a blog, this comment seems to me to directly relate to the cluelessness of journalists regarding blogs.
Everything is an opinion (in that it's filtered through the writers perceptions and prejudices.) The idea that there is such a thing as 'straight news' is part of the problem and why journalist feel so defensive of their work. Everything written on a blog is presumed opinion (with whatever facts sprinkled in) and subject to critical analysis by anyone inclined to do so. There's often a good chance that the fact checker has expertise that improves the original post.
Blogging is a process where a few facts go in and and better set of facts come out. The problem with journalists is they assume they can get all the facts right going in; which is a ridiculous assumption for most things in life.
BTW, is it 14 or 41? There seems to be a discrepancy?Posted by ken anthony at March 16, 2006 08:01 PM
1. STA did not inform me of the event. Someone who was there saw my complaint and sent me their notes. I did not use anything from space politics.com. I am too busy to transcribe tapes. Hate to burst your conspiracy. Nice try.
2. SpaceRef links to homepages - that is what companies have requested. If we link elsewhere they ask us to move it to the home page. They like having press releases on SpaceRef because it is free distribution and we always cite the source. That's why they send them to us.
3. I had an embargo to honor on the Dragoin story. Note the 12:03 am posting time. Deliberately withholding copies from some subscribers and delivering to others (like me) is not publishing - it is withholding information/selective distribution. My story was published for anyone in the world to see hours before space.com/Space News - period. Now that you claim that Space News broke the embargo I will pass that on - and give you the credit for that scoop.
4. NASA One - I note you did not mention USA Today, NY Times etc. who had multiple flights on the plane. I did not get free drinks, bought all my own food, paid my hotel etc.
Cecil: you are a broken record.Posted by Keith Cowing at March 16, 2006 09:02 PM
Rand: "Why can't we talk about all of those issues, Cecil?"
We can, but I see this focus on coding etc. to be like worrying about an injured mans scrapped elbow while ignoring his broken leg. The sloppy, slanted reporting is the bigger issue, IMHO.
Ken: “BTW, is it 14 or 41? There seems to be a discrepancy?”
Fourteen at USA, 41 at Boeing.
Keith: "you are a broken record."
Maybe it seems that way to you because you never learn and I have to keep complaining about you making the same errors over and over again.Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 17, 2006 05:04 AM
Ken makes some excellent points on opinions. He's right, to some degree, I think that most people reading a "blog" are looking at it as opinion. Certainly, in our old Compuserv space bulletin boards our guys were more opinionated from time to time, but there is a balance there.
As for Ken's contention that "blogs" are where facts go in and better facts come out, well, we like to start at the highest possible level of accuracy. We understand that we never have the whoe story when we publish and that the story can change when additional facts to come to life. This can lead to an admittedly more cautious approach to publishing than you see in "blogs," where the assumption that the material is opinion protects the author against inaccuracies or even unwarranted criticism or allegations. It can always be protected as opinion and free speech. If we do that too often in our newspaper or on Internet sites owned and operated by our newspaper, we run the risk of losing credibility. I'm not saying this is the case with yours or any other specific blog, but I think in general there is as much a credibility problem with blogs as in mainstream journalism. Wouldn't you agree?
As for the 14 vs. 41, it's two different stories. Keith wrote about 14 jobs at United Space Alliance in Houston. We reported about 41 different jobs lost on the space station project at Kennedy Space Center. Unfortunately the close proximity of the stories probably caused confusion.
And, Rand, yep. It's CSS. I know enough CSS to fix the blogger template permanently. It's a planned feature rather than a bug unfortunately. We're working around it for now.Posted by John Kelly at March 17, 2006 05:04 AM
I've replied to your question about the respective credibility of bloggers and journalists in a new post, John.
It's a planned feature rather than a bug unfortunately.
OK, now I'm dying to know. In what way, in anyone's mind, is making links invisible a "feature"?Posted by Rand Simberg at March 17, 2006 05:29 AM
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