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Friday, July 13, 2012

postheadericon Machines writing News Stories ....a sign of the future?

Call me technologically deterministic but I’m getting fascinated by Narrative Science's software which writes news stories.

A joint research project at Northwestern University Schools of Engineering and Journalism, Narrative Science uses their artificial intelligence platform, Quill, to turn any data into news stories without any human intervention. Their first automatically generated story was on a Northwestern Wildcats baseball game in 2010.

Narrative Science Chief Technology Officer, Kris Hammond (also a professor of computer science and journalism at Northwestern University) shed more light on their product at The Next Big Thing in Digital News Innovation - Chicago where he explained how they are creating content "in ways that were not possible before" by using raw data to get some insights, particularly in business reporting.

"From spreadsheets to stories", he said, adding, "where-ever there's data we can tell a story".

As of January 2012, more than 30 publishers, including Forbes had started using Narrative Science's Computer-Generated Stories.In 2011, their software published 370000 game stories and this year they expect to publish about 2 million stories.

Here's a paragraph of a story written by Narrative Science, published by Forbes:
While company shares have dropped 17.2% over the last three months to close at $13.72 on February 15, 2012, Barnes & Noble (BKS) is hoping it can break the slide with solid third quarter results when it releases its earnings on Tuesday, February 21, 2012.
What to Expect:
The Wall Street consensus is $1.01 per share, up 1% from a year ago when Barnes & Noble reported earnings of $1 per share.The consensus estimate is down from three months ago when it was $1.42, but is unchanged over the past month. Analysts are projecting a loss of $1.09 per share for the fiscal year.


It reads like a normal story written by a human, doesn't it!

In his 1999 speech " Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change", American cultural critic and media theorist Neil Postman said "technological change is not additive; it is ecological", adding, "a new medium does not add something; it changes everything".
While I'm fascinated by Narrative Science's new medium, I don't think it’s ready yet to "change everything."
Sunday, March 25, 2012

postheadericon New Zealand 'tea tape' verdict – a teachable moment in Journalism law and practice

A private conversation held in a public setting is still private and any journalist eaves-dropping or recording such a conversation is breaking the law
That's the conclusion from the New Zealand Police's ruling on the infamous "tea tape" saga which occurred on 11 November 2011 when a cameraman inadvertently recorded a private conversation between New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and politician John Banks at a cafe in Auckland. Before the media could publish the tape, Prime Minister John Key moved in quickly and filed a police complaint. The police then swooped on several media houses with search warrants and made it clear that any media publishing the contents of the tape was breaking the law. Dubbed the “tea tape”, the recording was posted online anonymously and has been available for several months.
The Police have however decided not to lay any charges against the cameraman. They said that although he had broken the law, he had shown remorse through a letter of regret he had written to Prime Minister John Key soon after the incident.
Friday, November 5, 2010

postheadericon Proposed media controls in South Africa necessary to protect information and national security , says government

....a threat to freedom of the press, say critics.


The proposal by the South African government to set up a media monitoring body in South Africa under the PROTECTION OF INFORMATION BILL has generated a lot of debate.Commentators are calling for wider debate on the issue, while critics say the proposed legislation is too draconian and is media censorship, apartheid-era style.


Watch comedians Corne and Twakkie from the Most Amazing Show(South Africa)take the piss out of the proposed media control body.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

postheadericon Online paywall experiment : The Times starts charging to read online content

"Welcome to The Times and The Sunday Times websites. Available exclusively by subscription. Access from only One Pound "


This is what comes up when you click on any link on The Times website to read online content.
Is this the beginning of the end of the era of free online news, I wonder, and who else is likely to start charging?

Rupert Murdoch has talked about this for some time and we knew it was coming. Charging readers for online content makes sense from a business perspective, but unless the content is exclusive, readers can simply go to other online sources.

In the meantime, there are reports that the Times' pay wall has resulted in 60 pct drop in traffic and that competitors' will benefit.



Another favourite online service, Hulu has introduced a $9.99 subscription fee to access online TV.


Is this the end of the era of free online content ?
Thursday, May 20, 2010

postheadericon Internet TV on TV screens moves closer to reality

Google teams with Sony, Intel on 'smart' Web TV

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc. believes it has come up with the technology to unite Web surfing with channel surfing on televisions.










To reach the long-elusive goal, Google has joined forces with Sony Corp., Intel Corp. and Logitech International. The companies unveiled their much-anticipated plan for a "smart" TV on Thursday

Click here to read more
Sunday, May 2, 2010

postheadericon May 3, World Press Freedom Day

..... journalism and press freedom will always be under threat, not just from technology but from the mighty and the powerful


“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice” Article 19, Human Rights Charter



Back in 1948, soon after World War 2, most governments worldwide signed the United Nations Human Rights Charter and agreed to uphold its principles which guarantee freedom of the press as a basic human right, among other rights




Despite this commitment, many governments have failed to protect journalists and some have killed journalists with impunity, harassed them and tortured them and denied their citizens basic media freedoms. There are serial offenders in this regard, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.



Concerned by the increasing threats against journalists and denial of freedom of the press, a UNESCO sponsored seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” meeting in Windhoek Namibia in 1991 called for the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press. The seminar “emphasized the importance of a free press to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development”



The seminar's Windhoek Declaration moved the United Nations so much so that in 1993 the General Assembly of the United Nations set aside May 3 as a day to be celebrated each year as World Press Freedom Day. May 3rd was the date on which the Windhoek Declaration was adopted.



Since then, May 3 has served as a chilling reminder to the public that many journalists brave death each time they go out on a news assignment or brave jail to bring people their daily news. The day also serves to highlight to the public the principles of press freedom, violations of the right to freedom of expression and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while on assignment or due to the nature of their job.



Since 1992, just a year before World Press Freedom Day was adopted, 808 journalists have been killed in line of duty. So far this year more than 10 journalists have died in line of duty, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists worldwide.



Many other global organisations like the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders report similar chilling and graphic detail on violence against journalists.



According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which coordinates activities each year on May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day is:

• a day of action to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of the freedom of the press;


• a day to assess the state of press freedom worldwide;

• a day to remind governments to respect their commitments to press freedom;

• a day to alert the public and to increase awareness of the importance of freedom of the press;

• a day of reflection to encourage debate among media professionals on the issues of press freedom and professional ethics;

• a day of remembrance for journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession; and

• a day of support for media which fall victim to any measures which restrain, or seek to abolish, freedom of the press
Friday, March 26, 2010

postheadericon Future of Internet TV bright, bleak for traditional TV says Ziln Internet TV Network



Internet users surpass TV Viewers in Canada

Canadian research firm Ipsos reported this week that “for the first time ever in their tracking research, the weekly Internet usage of Canadians has moved ahead of the number of hours spent watching television”. The report says that Internet usage by Canadians is now 18 hours a week, up from 14.9 hours last year and that at the same time, the number of hours watching television has increased from 15.8 to 16.9 hours a week in the last year. 



This development will no doubt be of interest to businesses  that operate online, regardless of where in the world there are. It’s not a defining moment yet, but many will be hoping that this is beginning of a global trend.

In New Zealand, Internet TV Network Ziln, which launched in September 2009 will no doubt be monitoring Internet usage trends in New Zealand as this directly relates to the growth of their business. The network offers a number of Television channels including Aljazeera, Archives New Zealand, Bloomberg, Russia Today, Stratos and many more.




Internet TV to surpass traditional TV in 3 to 5 years
In a statement reminiscent of  Bill Gates' 2007 prediction of a radical change of TV within 5 years , the Director of  Broadcasting at Ziln, Mr Paul Brennan told us that Internet TV will surpass traditional Television in 3 to 5 years. This will mark the “reinvention of TV”, he says.


“What will affect  traditional TV a lot more will be the lack of advertising. In the last year alone, there has been $272 million less advertising in New Zealand



Asked how Internet TV could tackle an established ‘mass communication’ medium like traditional TV which has a wider reach, Paul Brennan said that niche Internet television like Ziln can target audiences, something that traditional TV formats struggle with.



“Niche environments like ours offer a number of niche channels which cumulatively offer a wider reach. Internet TV makes it easier for us to dice and slice markets and target  specific audiences. The “nicheability” of online channels and media like Ziln make it attractive for advertisers to target their audiences All this at a lower cost for the advertiser. And this is already happening”



Ziln Internet TV follows a global trend of new Internet TV formats being set up by new upstarts and some by traditional Television media. Most   traditional Televisions  have set up their own online Video on Demand  (VOD) service and offer replays of previously broadcast programs.



Internet TV vs traditional TV –widely contested issue
However, the notion that Internet TV is a threat to  traditional TV is widely contested. A body of research in the public domain which analyses Internet TV and traditional TV gives interesting insights. While there are many good things about Internet TV, there are still  a few teething problems most of which relate to poor user experience of watching TV on the Internet. This is mainly due to poor Broadband speeds and inferior quality hardware.  We didn’t discuss this with Paul Brennan, admittedly because we didn’t ask him; our main focus was why traditional TV dismiss Internet TV:


“They will dismiss it because they’re  shit scared. Their business models are under threat due to the incredible cost of transmission or setting up channels and the cost of maintaining channels.



Elaborating, Paul Brennan  adds :

“Legacy transmission costs for Traditional TV  are unsustainable. At Ziln we sell an Internet TV channel  for between $30  and $100 thousand. This is cheaper by a factor of  40 times or more compared to traditional TV. The quantum reduction in broadcasting costs will reduce  costs of advertising. And this is already happening”



On the recent development in Canada where Internet users have surpassed TV viewers, Paul Brennan believes this is part of a growing trend of Internet use which will also see Internet TV surpass Legacy TV in a few years. Improved availability and speed of  Broadband will drive this change, he says. He explained the several Broadband initiatives currently underway in New Zealand, including the Rural Broadband Initiative and the New Zealand Government Broadband Initiative  and the Pacific Fibre project and says this will change the future of  Broadband and ultimately online experiences like Internet Television.



What’s going well with Internet TV
Since Ziln’s launch last September, it’s been quite a smooth process and everything has gone well, according to Paul Brennan, who put that down to the well developed  knowledge and skills that “we had from the beginning”.


“The growth is great for an industry or format that had no precedent here in New Zealand….Ziln is  still on track to be the dominant TV provider in terms of overall content supply”



Paul Brennan also believes that the growth of Ziln will create a  brighter future for the Post Production Industry in New Zealand due to increased Internet TV channels which all require content.



“An overall effect on local production industry is that this creates more opportunity. More productions will be made. The architecture of Internet TV gives it huge amounts of space. Video on Demand has 12 times the amount of content than 12 times more content than realtime broadcast TV. This represents a lot of content. The upshot of this is that there’ll be a lot of demand for multi skilled content creators, creating a lot of work”


Friday, March 19, 2010

postheadericon Journalism remains unchanged despite technological pressures

From the typewriter era to the “click submit” era, the game is still the same

Anyone with access to social sites like YouTube, Facebook and Digg or blogs like Blogger, Wordpress and Twitter can write and publish their opinion, or rewrite or create ‘mashups’ of content they pick up online from any source, and re-disseminate it. Sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and the micro-blogging site Twitter and its Retweet tool are really good at this.








           Photo: Faith Daniels,South African Broadcasting Corp


This ability to easily create and publish content can in some ways create the impression that traditional journalism as we know it is now dispensable.

Just because anyone can publish themselves (and some people do publish more content than journalists)-does not render journalism skills obsolete. Technology may have changed the playing field and enabled people to publish themselves, but the practice of journalism has not changed and still has a place.

Professional Journalism training still popular
Every year thousands still attend journalism colleges to learn journalism skills.
Recently, I caught up with first year and returning Journalism graduate and postgraduate students at AUT University in Auckland just as the 2010 New Zealand University academic calendar started.
I wanted to hear their opinions on journalism and why they had decided to become journalists.
I asked these aspiring journalists just two questions; Why do you want to be a journalist?" and “What is your understanding of journalism?"

What I got out of their answers was that their aspirant tendencies were no different from those of their predecessors from the old school journalism of the pre-Internet era. The playing field has changed from the old one of Remington typewriters and pubs to the digital online one of click and ‘submit’ and online forums, but the game is still the same. That’s the message I got.

Why do you want to be a journalist?
In response to the question "Why do you want to be a journalist?" most said it was the desire, almost a clarion call, to be, among other things, “the voice of the voiceless “. The impression I got from most of them was that journalism was a childhood dream which they were now fulfilling. Most were quite aware that their newly chosen profession was not going to bring them riches or fame

Here are the actual responses:

  • I was in the military, seeing situations like Iraq and Afghanistan and realized I could be seeing the same situations as a journalist, but being able to be more involved with the people, and less restricted by my bosses. Samuel Blackmer, 32, American, senior, studying abroad at AUT University


I worked for a time as a solicitor, a profession which I found stifled all my creativity. I see journalism as a challenging, intelligent profession which will serve to promote and encourage creativity among other things. Dominique Fourie, 26, BA/LLB (Otago), Pg Dip Comm Studies (Journalism)student, AUT

  • I wanted to be able to represent individual's voices who may otherwise get overlooked or silenced Courtney Wilson , AUT Journalism

  • Its simple, I love sport. What first prompted me to become a journalist was the rugby world cup in Australia, 2003. I was glued to the Television for a week and then began to think how I could get more involved in something like this. How could I make sport into a living? I was never going to be an All Black so the obvious answer was to write about it. Olivia Caldwell, 20, Post graduate journalism student, AUT

  • I have a love for the English language mixed with a curiosity for how everyone goes about their lives, so it made sense that journalism was a career that I would follow. I enjoy every process of writing a story - the research, interviewing and getting to know people, figuring out the angle, completing a story and finally seeing it in print - to me it's just gratifying. Leigh Stockton, 24, AUT Journalism student, Third year Bachelor of Communications.

 
What’s your understanding of journalism?
In response to the question "What’s your understanding of journalism?"
most of them said or alluded to the fact that journalism as the “Fourth Estate” was vital for any democracy and necessary in holding the wealthy and powerful to account, among other things.

  • I believe that it is our job as journalists to inform the general public on all events, issues and persons that directly affect our lives. We are to act as a fourth estate on government issues by providing checks and balances on their parliamentarians’ actions, to report overseas news accurately and write objectively. We are a democratic tool, and so it is not our job to put our opinion on stories that do not require it. Fairness, accuracy and balance are the three pillars that a journalist should live by and hold dear to their heart. Olivia Caldwell, 20, Post graduate journalism student, AUT
To me, journalism should be there to give the little guy a voice and hold people responsible for their actions. I think it should be an outlet to celebrate the good things people do in the world, while also bringing awareness to the bad things people do, therefore give a fair and balanced world view.  Leigh Stockton, 24, AUT Journalism student, Third year Bachelor of Communications



  • To me journalism is telling stories and informing people of what is going on in the world. We can't make people care about what is going on in Darfur, but we can show them what is going on, then it is on them to care or not care. Samuel Blackmer, 32, American, senior, studying abroad at AUT

  • I think that journalism is about making sure that those in power are held accountable by the public. The public has a right to know if they're being ripped off, or if someone is abusing their power. Journalism is a job that a lot of people find annoying and invasive but without it we would find it very difficult to "watch the watchmen" - this is why I think it is an important job. Siobhan Keogh, 22, Post grad journalism student at AUT

  • I've always thought there's a lot of justice in exposing "the bad side" of society/the community. I think the best journalism is when the wider public is informed of something dodgy going on. If doing this makes me rich and famous, that's a bonus. Celeste Gorrell, 3rd year journalism student.

  • Journalism documents and thus provides witness to the goings on in a community. That community could be local, regional, national or global. Kim Bowden, 29, Postgraduate journalism student, AUT

Mantra of Journalism is still the same
To further demonstrate the argument that the journalism mantra hasn’t changed with technology, I also sought the opinion of seasoned journalists. Faith Daniels, a journalist and news anchor at the South African Broadcasting Corporation has been a journalist since the early days of the internet. I asked her the same questions I asked the student journalists.

What’s your understanding of journalism
I view Journalism definitely as the public watchdog that is necessary in society- to reflect people back to themselves, to hold those in positions of power accountable, to scrutinise what is in the public interest.Faith Daniels, Journalist, SABC, Johannesburg


Why did you want to be a journalist?
  • Definitely not for the money. I suppose Journalism is in the category of the professions you enter because you have a passion, drive and I suppose natural talent for it. Depending on which sphere you enter, it allows you to be creative in so many ways – whether it be the words, pictures, sound you use or whether it is seeing the end product of what could sometimes be days of hard slogging. It almost gives you the sense that it’s many professions in one- you never do the same thing everyday- different people, different setting, different deadlines. Faith Daniels, Journalist, SABC, Johannesburg
Conclusion
My point in this discussion was to demonstrate that the mantra of journalism has not changed with technology. The aspirations of the student journalists I spoke with are no different from those of their predecessors of the pre-internet era. Most importantly, all the people I interviewed could have very well attempted to achieve their journalistic aspirations through any of the many new online and social networking platforms. But they chose professional journalism I’m sure because they know that journalism as a profession still has some currency. Professional journalism is not yet obsolete and has not been substituted by the new forms of online communication on social networking sites.


Related: Definition of a journalist




Friday, March 5, 2010

postheadericon Wired Magazine Goes Digital with the Wired Tablet App

Wired Magazine has unveiled the Wired Tablet App, an application which works on touch screens on a tablet. The Wired Tablet App enables readers to flick through pages and browse through photos (like a magazine) and view video and  interactive content and represents a new era of media. Release dates are yet to be announced. This could be a  useful app for  Apple's iPAD, set for commercial launch on an date yet to be announced. Remember the launch, and the media reviews which mostly wondered if it had any use.
Wired Magazine's Wired Tablet App joins a growing list of magazine flip page templates and formats and these promise to make reading magazine and newspapers online all the more interesting, particularly for those who find their iPhone touch screens too small or those who are tired using their mouse.
Thursday, February 18, 2010

postheadericon Ubiquitous broadband in Africa-What are the benefits and effects on the media ?

How will ubiquitous broadband in underdeveloped and developing countries affect life? Will high speed, satellite Internet revolutionise access to information and information sharing in the fields of health, commerce and media as envisioned by O3B Networks? see previous post



Drastic changes in media inevitable
Judging by trends in countries that have advanced Internet infrastructure, drastic changes in the media will be inevitable. Many good changes for readers and audiences will occur, and sadly, some bad ones for publishers and media houses will happen. While many newspapers in Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have already set up online versions, hard copy editions have been the only options for the vast majority of their readers. The ubiquitous availability of low cost Internet will change that.

The employed and educated people who buy newspapers will stop buying newspapers and use the Internet as a source of free news.This has been happening in many parts of the world in the past decade and a half. Such a shift in media consumption poses a threat to the future of newspapers.

Media consumption in most countries in Africa, Middle East and Latin America is primarily comprised of radio, newspapers and TV. Radio has a wider reach, followed by newspapers. Television comes third (due to poor transmission and coverage & cost of TV sets), and again due to infrastructure and cost, the Internet comes last.


A new public sphere, by-passing repressive media laws & alternative views
The availability of the Internet to many people will create a public sphere-the new village square- where people can discuss and debate issues online. Most of the countries set to benefit from O3B’s Internet initiative have poor human rights records and repressive media laws. For example, news that is not favourable to governments never gets to see the light of the day. The Internet will enable people to bypass such controls, and give an alternative voice. This is healthy for democracy and will mark a new era of access to a lot of alternative views.


Controversy over Ubiquitous Internet in Africa
O3B’s idea of bringing wireless satellite broadband available to more than 3 billion people in developing and underdeveloped countries has been controversial from the start.

“Well at least now Nigeria won't be the only ones to send all those Nigerian scam emails to everyone”, posted user evilnewbie on ABCNews.com on 9/12/08

“Thanks Google... perhaps fixing the problems in Africa like hunger, poverty, corruption, and diseases is not as important the availability as the Internet!” added evilnewbie.

An isolated opinion, but nevertheless one that raises the issue of priorities


Google-is it good corporate social responsibility or marketing wizardry?
Although Google is backing O3B Networks’ to provide Internet access, Google’s involvement and intentions have come under a bit of debate. “Is Google’s colonizing of a new digital frontier a part of global corporate social responsibility or is it a clever marketing and branding exercise?” Well, you choose.

The answers to this may partly lie in what Google has been up to in the last few years. Apart from being a giant in the Internet space, Google has steadily ventured into the mobile market (think of Google’s Android OS, think of Nexus One). I’m sure Google know that the regions where O3B is set to offer the Internet are growth areas for mobile phones. In the last fifteen years, growth of mobile phones has been phenomenal; in Africa for example, growth now stands at 35% of the almost 1 billion people. This defies logic as Africa has most of the poorest countries in the world, people with very little spending money or credit cards.

“If [Google is] going to dominate the Internet, they want as many people on it as possible,” says Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the founder of GeekCorps.


Thinking long term, targeting ‘digital natives’
Globally, technological futurists see a boom in internet enabled wireless handheld devices. Google is in both camps-that of the Internet and of handheld devices. It’s certainly not lost on the Google marketing wizardry that young Kwesi in Ghana, or Odinga in Kenya, or Thulani in South Africa or Ahmed in the Middle East or Silva in Latin America will grow up in a world where mobile phones are the norm and one day buy a mobile phone. Google knows all these facts ..In fact, Google knows everything, which is why it’s the world’s best search engine. Google is not thinking short term-it’s thinking very long term

In the interim, what will determine the success of the availability of affordable Internet access is the availability of Internet-enabled devices like netbooks or laptops.


O3B Networks capacity to outweigh several existing optic fibre options
In the last couple of years, several optic fibre networks linking Africa, the Middle East and Europe have been set up or are in progress. However, O3B Networks will have the largest reach and impact. A new undersea fibre optic cable called Seacom linking Africa to Europe started service in mid-2009, so did the The East Africa Marine Cable System (TEAMS ), which links Kenya to the United Arab Emirates, and thus to the rest of the world. A 3rd cable called Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY) is scheduled to start operations in mid 2010. In landlocked Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless is developing a $500 million optical fibre network linking to Seacom


Internet recipients not interested in academic debate on intentions
Given the opportunity and access to affordable Internet access, most recipients in the targeted countries will probably not question Google’s motive. I doubt if they’ll care if it’s a branding exercise, or flexing of its muscles as the king of cyberspace or good social responsibility. What they will care for is benefit of Internet access and the chance to join the World’s Information Superhighway albeit a decade late.

What is clear though is that full-fledged ubiquitous internet will change information sharing and change the media dramatically.

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theopennewsroom
this is Vincent Murwira's blog, part of his research site www.theopennewsroom.com Skype: theopennewsroom Twitter: @theopennewsroom Mail:theopennewsroom@gmail.com
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" In the real world, the right thing never happens in the right place and the
right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to make it appear that
it has." Mark Twain