MSFT and Yahoo: Nom nom nom

Kara Swisher at All Things Digital always gives me grief when I do this, but I’m going to do it anyway: Namely, point to a rumour — in this case, a rumour in the Times of London about Microsoft making some kind of convoluted deal to proceed with what amounts to a creeping takeover of Yahoo (Update: Kara says that sources tell her it is “total fiction”). According to the report, the deal would involve Ross Levinsohn (formerly of Fox Interactive Media) and Jonathan Miller (formerly of Yahoo) raising $5-billion and Microsoft putting in another $5-billion, and the two groups acquiring a 30-per-cent stake in the troubled Web giant, which Levinsohn and Miller would run. Microsoft would manage the search business and would have a call option on buying the whole enchilada for $20-billion.

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Journalism, data and community

I apologize in advance — this post is really just some links that I came across that have to do with the media, the “data-fication” of journalism, and community. Maybe when I have more time I will try to find the connections that pull these things together, but until then I will just present them as they are, in part to help myself remember and think about them:

— The Los Angeles Times has a “data desk,” which includes links to all of their data-driven projects (link via, who found it via Ben Fry’s blog, who got it from Casey). Some interesting stuff in there, including a database of fatalities from a train crash in September, along with personal information about the deceased, and a list of L.A.’s dirtiest pools.

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Yes, Twitter is a source of journalism

Like a lot of other people, I’ve been following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) throughout the day, using Twitter and blog search and Wikipedia and Flickr and YouTube and pretty much any other tool I can get my hands on. Sites like Global Voices — the excellent blog network set up by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society — and NowPublic have a lot of content, and Amy Gahran of Poynter has a pretty good roundup as well. Searching Twitter for mentions of the word “Mumbai” also produced a steady stream of messages, some of them from people close to the scene.

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Irony alert: Facebook Catch-22

It’s a small thing, but it made me laugh out loud when I read it: the government of Ontario (the province I live in, for those of you outside Canada) has been confronted by a grassroots protest against legislation for young drivers. More than 110,000 people have signed up for a Facebook group that was set up in opposition to the proposed law, which would (among other things) restrict drivers who have a G1 or intermediate licence from carrying more than one other passenger under the age of 21. The law emerged at least in part because of a horrible accident in which a car full of twenty-somethings heading home from a party wound up going off the road and killing three of the four passengers.

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mesh ’09 student tickets are sold out

As it has in past years, this didn’t take long — the 30 student tickets that we had set aside for mesh09 have all been snapped up.

For those who bought tickets, we ask that you provide a student ID that proves you are enrolled in a secondary school or post-secondary (undergrad or graduate) program at a recognized institution of some kind in order to pick up your ticket.

Meanwhile, regular tickets for mesh ’09 have been selling quickly since we opened the ticket office last week. You can get your mesh ticket right here. Register early and register often 🙂

If the NYT is broken, can it be fixed?

Seth Godin, marketing guru extraordinaire, has an interesting post about how the New York Times has missed the boat and is fighting the wrong war (to mix a couple of metaphors). In it, he puts his finger on one of the biggest factors that make it hard for newspapers in general — the one I work for included — to make the transition from paper to digital. It’s not a technical issue, or at least not solely a technical issue, but more of a conceptual shift. There are no limits any more, or at least not the usual ones that have worked for the past century or so, and that’s a difficult thing to grasp.

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Who’s inside that Mechanical Turk?

Andy Baio, otherwise known as Waxy (I don’t know why) is an independent journalist and programmer who lives in Oregon, and in addition to maintaining one of the most interesting link blogs on the planet he periodically takes on research projects — including an exhaustive investigation of all 300 or so samples used in the new Girl Talk album. In order to compile that data, he used Amazon’s “crowd-sourcing” engine known as the Mechanical Turk, and became fascinated by the idea that hundreds of people were spending their time doing small research jobs for him anonymously through the service. So he posted a request that Turkers take a photo of themselves holding a piece of paper, with the reason why they like to Turk. The results? Photos of 30 people, 10 women and 20 men, mostly young and white. Some Turk for the money, some for the “lulz” (or laughs), some just because they are bored. Thanks, Waxy.

Your life — and death — online

There are so many people spending their lives in front of video cameras — not just on sites like YouTube but on thousands of discussion forums and chat rooms across the Internet — that the surprising thing isn’t how many people choose to die in front of their webcams, it’s how few. Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee has the story of a young man who was talking to other members of a chat-room on a bodybuilding forum and said he had taken an overdose of medication, posted a suicide note and then collapsed on his bed. Several concerned viewers called police, who broke down the door and found the young man, and friends later confirmed that he was dead. A tragic end to a young life, all captured on film. It used to be that killing yourself on camera meant doing it on the evening news — when I was in journalism school, I remember a state official in Pennsylvania putting a gun to his head during a press conference and pulling the trigger, and our class debating whether TV shows should have run the film. Now anyone can have a camera, and broadcast their death to as many people as choose to watch.

Comments: Messy and flawed, but valuable

I’m cross-posting this from my blog at the Globe and Mail, as part of my ongoing attempt to talk about what we’re trying to do at the newspaper when it comes to comments, blogs, forums and other ways that we interact with readers. Feel free to respond here or at the Globe blog — where (naturally) I encourage you to read the comments 🙂

In my new role as the Globe’s “communities editor” (you can find more details on that in this post), I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about comments — that is, reader comments on news stories, columns, blog posts, etc. The Globe and Mail was the first major newspaper in North America to allow comments on every news story when it launched the feature in 2005, and judging by the ever-increasing numbers of people who use them, they are hugely popular. On some major news stories, we can sometimes get as many as 500 comments.

Comments aren’t popular with everyone, however. Some readers (and even some Globe and Mail staffers, to be honest) complain that too often our comment threads are filled with what might charitably be called “noise” — everything from bad spelling and grammar all the way up to partisan political in-fighting, ad hominem attacks and all-around rude and boorish behaviour. Some say they don’t really care what most people think about a topic, and don’t see the value in having public comments on stories at all.

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Journalism: Filtering, interpretation, context

It’s a long read, but there’s a thoughtful piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about what newspapers should be doing to not just survive but prosper in the current media environment, and if you’re interested in that kind of thing I highly recommend it. It isn’t the usual obituary, with details about newspaper layoffs and so on — instead, it makes the argument that the essential duty of any kind of quality media publication right now is to help people filter the vast amounts of information that they are exposed to every day, and to interpret it, provide context, etc.

The central thesis, as I see it, is that there are already enough sources of instantaneous information, whether it’s Perez Hilton and TMZ or the Drudge Report (which 37signals recently posted a nice analysis of). Competing on that basis, the author says, isn’t the way to add long-term value or to create a successful new media industry, nor is simply scrambling for as many eyeballs as possible in order to sell them to advertisers. Instead, media outlets should be trying to find ways of adding more context, analysis and tools that help readers make sense of the information around them.

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