CJ Con-Zombie

Author Archive

Zombie invasion Okotoks

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 at 3:48 am

We’re under attack! The bastard undead are wandering listlessly through Walmart, yet strangely not attac—-oh, crap, wait, that’s normal for Walmart. Nevermind! It’s All Good!

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MoJo in action

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Here’s a nifty link for anyone who wants to see what I mean by “journalism from the car.”

Cloud Journalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm

The future of reporting is just as “online” as the present is—and it is.

I’m working on wrapping up a technology story about a local game developer in Calgary, sitting in

I hear about a secret event being planned for the community I’m in that will take place in half an hour, and whizz off to where it will be. This is under another journalists jurisdiction, but I happened to be closer at the time, and have the informant. I show up to the event just as things get underway and they are surprised that I knew to arrive. The planners grant me an interview, and several people among the attendees and crowd give me their names and input on it. The event is small, but I happened to be there and got the photos and story. I have them checked by my editor, and within an hour I file the story online and my contribution to the paper is up and being read about.

This is mobile journalism. This is also apparently “cloud reporting.”

Let me Wixplain that:

Wikipedia (great source, I know…) explaines cloud computing as this: ”

This definition states that clouds have five essential characteristics: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service. Narrowly speaking, cloud computing is client-server computing that abstract the details of the server away – one requests a service (resource), not a specific server (machine).”

That can be translated easily for reporting to basically mean a collective posting site for us to use to get better and faster access to a wider range of information and stories. We see it, we get the details, we put it up on the server and BANG–local to global circulation.

Whomever is closest to something zips over, works hard and whips out a story for the online edition of whomever they work for: some are citing this new mobility as being a sign of the end of their structured, defined beats in favour of a mash of call asignments. Rather than walking just their beat, this refers to proximity.

Anyone who has ever worked for a small town paper with few-enough staff to make “beats” just categories in your filing cabinet knows that good reporting can exist without specialized beats. Personal connections to stories won’t be destroyed: just as you have a phone to be called out to a proximity scene, your beat contacts have phones to be reached at to keep in touch and keep updated. It just means we need to learn to be more flexible and work faster. Yes, this is where I was complaining about stress levels rising as more demand is placed on our work.

~Zombie

The Problem with Citizen Journalism

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2010 at 7:07 am

There is an extremely high standard of ethical guidelines in the Journalism industry to keep us in line and our reputations as news sources on individual and collective levels as good as they can be.

In journalism school, we’re taught more than format and how to dial a phone to arrange and conduct interviews: we go through semesters of various kind of diversity education and training and spend years working on building up good relations with different people of different living groups or businesses. We ally with other journalists whose reputations we feel will compliment our own, and really do make a huge effort to keep ourselves decent in the eyes of the readers, and our own selves. We work collectively towards the common goal of showing people the world they live in. We understand the interactive system between ourselves and the people we get our information from, and we understand and respect the boundaries set by each group or individual. We are disciplined and know what is alright, and what is not alright to say or ask, and what is considered appropriate to print about this family.

This is why so many of us have such a huge problem with Citizen Journalism.

Let me explain: Joe Average and Jane Reporter are on-scene at a huge traffic accident. Jane was directed to the crash from her news office, and Joe is a witness. A total family fatality: three children and their parents were killed on impact when a cement truck hit their stopped car while travelling at over 120km’s er hour. Jane stands behind the yellow tape and waits for details to start rolling out, talking with witnesses and helping out where she can, collecting information and running it by the officials and witnesses as she writes it down, making sure she got everything she needed to report on this tragedy. By the time Jane arrived on scene to find out what happened, Joe has already taken charge with putting everything he knows on the internet: there are graphic photos of the headless bodies of the victim, a shaky, pixelated cellphone video of people sceaming “Oh my god!” as the Police, EMS, and Firetrucks arrive, and Joes voice overtop of the footage is narrating what he saw. Updates on Twitter pulled together pieces of a story, and through him we learn that the driver of the concrete mixer had been seen throwing a half-empty bottle of vodka into the back of the concrete mixer after the crash, was reeling around drunkenly, and had claimed that the family got what they deserved. He’s reported what amounts to a drunken hit, and told the whole story before any official information had touched any reporter.

Jane doesn’t even have a chance to interview a witness before the Firefighting personnel at the scene recieve a call telling them that someone has photos of the bodies up online. The reporter is horrified—the privacy of the families connected to the dead has been compromised, and a non-edited blog is racing around the internet under the guise of an actual news report. The guy is calling himself a freelancer who witnessed the crash and was giving a “firsthand, real account of a murder that had just occurred.”

Police go into protection mode and gather the witnesses on their side of the yellow tape to keep them from being harrassed again before their statements can legally be taken down. One witness who’d been named and attributed to the claim about the comment on them getting what they deserved denies having told him that. He claims the other witness had said it to him speculatively (“Do you think it was a hit job…?”, then started typing away on his phone.

It takes an hour before any official information gets out, and the reporter has been joined by a dozen other news people looking to get the scoop. Jane has managed to convince her contact on the other side of the tape that she was in no way connected to the person who posted that other content online, and is lucky enough to have one witness volunteer information. She witholds their name at their request, as they are traumatised and do not want to be harrassed by concerned family. Some of their names are already online, however, and they’ve already received panicked calls from distressed family members and friends.

The story she prints is like this:

Five killed in collision with concrete mixer.

Two adults, two children and an infant were killed this evening when a concrete mixer plowed into the back of their stopped car. (Details about the crash, a vague story of shock from a witness).

The story would go on to talk about the physical details of the scene: time, date, etc, and conclude on what was known for pending legal investigations. She sends this in to her editor to make sure that the information she has given them is legally safe to use (won’t compromise an investigation) and submits some photos of policemen and firefighters working on the remains of the car, carefully arranged so that you see the emergency responders, but not the corpses they’re prying out of the car. We publish a story about the dead, leaving the obvious oncoming charges to be reported as details are confirmed and witnesses make full, documented legal claims. We withold that name we happened to see over the clipboard, to be sure that it will be the correct one and to make sure we do not jeopardize any pending charges by compromising any rights he has to a fair trial.

Joe, meanwhile, has graphic photos of the crime scene up on his Twitter page, uploaded straight from his phone. Bloodied limbs are leaking blood against the cold asphalt on the street as the tiny body of the infant is carried out of the wrecked vehicle to be laid on the grass andcovered with a blanket. A firefighter breaks down into tears and vomits behind a truck—he comments on the trauma, and photographs his face for the internet. He’s in a sensational frenzy, putting up photos that whip around the internet before the reporter even arrives on scene.

The name on the list that the firefighter put up was listed in the wrong spot—that person had no connection to the scene at all. His wallet had been stolen, but his name had been conected, online, to some of the most horrific accident scenes on the internet, and he’d been blamed for it. The witness who had falsely been attributed to the claim about the hit job had their “statement” plastered all over blogs about various causes and gossip circles. He would be harrassed for nearly six months afterward to give his side of the story again.

The story that broke online, while it appeared fast and seemed credible as it had been put together by a “witness,” did huge damage to the reporters who’d published such a different first account of the events.

My point isn’t that Citizens are all basically inhuman bastards out to glorify their experiences online by having the biggest and most “shocking” newspiece available, my point is that people get overexcited and that this stuff happens. They jump up to give the deepest, most detailed account of what they saw to their friends, they’re excited about the attention that their shock and outrage recieves, and forget that embellishments they add on to make the story really fit their agenda will be taken seriously by people who see this online. The reporter knows that the name of the accused has to be confirmed by the police to protect their case and make sure that it is a legitimate, filed legal claim. The reporter knows not to name anyone before charges are laid, to make sure that the case is not jeopardized when someones right to a fair trial is compromised. The Civillian doesn’t know that, but the Civillian has the most sensational information and images, which rocket around and pulverise the credibility of the reporters and emergency responders together when a retraction of information has to be printed claiming that the “witness” was wrong. This will look like an attempt at controlling information, when it is in face damage control, but the idea that we are all hiding something is already up and out in the open like the child in the photo. The family of the dead recieve a link to the viral video and photos before the police can notify them of events, and they are traumatized and hysterical by the time the police get to them.

Joe, meanwhile, has no idea of the damage he’s done yet, and the damage he’s about to cause.

Luckily, what I just told you wasn’t real. I was referring to the Daniel Tschetter case, and made up that witness. This happens though. See the following:

We see lesser versions of this online all the time: a soldier who witnessed a shooting at their base posted photos of someone who’d allegedly been shot in the testicles online for her friends to see, and enlisted herself on the truth crusade to make sure that the “true story got out” and couldn’t be covered up. She, again, got wrong information and that is now online for anyone to see. The privacy of the soldier who had been shot is nonexistant, and he is humiliated and in pain. He’d been shot in the leg, not the groin. There is no check and balance system to keep Citizen Journalists from putting whatever they want online, which makes them beyond dangerous to our credibility as honest news sources.

They’re also annoying in media scrums, as they aren’t subtle about pushing their own agendas. Want to see more examples? Enjoy.

~Zombie.

Ye Olde Wireless Reporter

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2010 at 5:14 am

Reporting technology has come a long way since the original printing press—sheets of metal covered by row upon row of tiny words requiring hours of careful selection and spellingstamped onto rolls of low-grade paper bumped up and up through the decades. Images were added, slides became computerized, printing became as easy as a few spurts of ink and a huge automatic cutting machine. Reporters went from having to spent whole days outside of buildings waiting for politicians, from weeks of following people on-foot to uncover the deeper meaning of various activities and cover the everyday lives of the public of any area, to a world of rotary phones and desk reporters. Desk reporters still left the office to maintain friendly contact with sources, but the landlines of their phones tied them more firmly to an office for messages and leads. 1973 saw the birth of the first cell phone, and like that, the world of the reporter became entirely mobile again.

Not the small, convenient and sleek item we use today, is it?

Briefly, the first handset was first displayed and used by Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola, who made a cheeky call to the head developer of Bell Mobile. It weighed two-and-a-half pounds, was ten inches tall and five inches deep with 30 circuit boards, 35 minutes of talk time, and ten hours of recharge time.

It was certainly a start, and it made it possible to leave the office for much longer periods of time. Now we could take our work with us.

But for a little while, this sadly impractical piece of technology wasn’t really the most desired thing on the market.

1989 saw the development of the next notable cell phone that was nearly pocket sized, and sported an antena that could be compressed and hidden away when not in use. Still huge and chunky, this was a big new step in making cellular phones affordable for the general public. They changed and evolved over time, gaining different features and slimming down, developing interactive screens and integrating camera and other multi-function tools over time, then expanding out as keyboards were added. For a list of different phones and the order they appeared in, check this out.

The story of my academic life.

You know it will.

Since then, cellphones have gained smarter technology, which can’t really be defined as anything other than a series of concepts revolving around its internal computer power—standardized technology, camera functions, and with the internet came the ability to actually use ones phone (more like handheld computer really) to move, mail and store a variety of files from images to music to movies to blueprints——or write and send stories. Phones connect wirelessly to the internet, or can be wired to ones computer to give a computer internet access.

Laptop technology went wireless over the years as well, with gadgets like “internet on a stick” making it possible to pick up a signal even outside of WiFi range by connecting to the signal from a cell tower.

We’ve all seen the recent equipment developed, and because I don’t wish to encroach on my partners sections to speak on, I’ll end my very brief tech timeline now.

Now, what does all of this mean for us as Journalists?

Physical freedom of movement: if I can find a signal, I can send in a story. I never have to sit at a tiny cubicle desk again, smelling that stale coffee, old socks, forgotten meals, old ink, and hot electrical stink that is typical of an enclosed office in the winter. I can live out of my car, or whatever mode of transportation I use, filing stories and photos with my editor from whereve I may be, simply through email or messaging. We are entirely accountable unto ourselves for what we do in the day, so long as our stories get in while still fresh.

It means I’m sitting in a hay bale in a small rural farm as I write this. It’s nothing new for my twenty-something-year-old generation, this wireless freedom of physical movement. It’s just fast becoming the most useful tool for us as journalists when we don’t want to spend our lives back and forth from an office. I like to think of this as a healthy alternative to the office life if one spends time outside of ones car.

The downside to this? I’m literally on-call and available around the clock. That will, if not moderated and limited by individual reporters, add more stress to our already stressful lives as we can’t get away from our office. Ever. It is exhausting to spend half of your day cancelling plans to go to events. It is profitable, but we can’t get away, and that takes a toll on our personal feelings of wellbeing after a while. While interning, I made calls for stories from half a province (for scale: Alberta is larger than most European countries) away, while on physical leave from the office (I refuse to call that a vacation) to complete a story. I typed my story up on a friends blackberry and sent it in for editing and the photographer who lived in the town made his own arrangements for photo opportunities.

More on Future Clouds and Citizen Journalism in my next posts.

~Zombie.

CJ Zombie

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2010 at 2:25 am

This is a tester page from one of the two students contributing to this blog—the laptop-using one who will be studying current and historical progressions (or rather, regressions?) of Mobile Journalists (MoJo’s), and the current and possible future of cloud computing.

My partner will be focused on the current trends leading into a logical progressive future: Smartphones, “Teleputers” and the future of us MoJo’s.

Mobile Journalism refers to a new wave of reporters who operate entirely from wherever they’re sitting—they do not have an office space or desk like the traditional reporter does. They go to a scene, do interviews, snap photos, make videos, and write up their stories for instant online uploading. The content is printed online the following day, without them ever seeing an editor in person. On-call and supposed to be ready to go anywhere at a moments notice, we’re acquiring all sorts of gadgetry to make us more capable of giving our readers and viewers the news they want, that we see, as fast as possible.

Before anyone asks, yes, we have noticed “a bit of added stress” as a result of never being able to turn our phones off or disconnect our laptops.

Both of us will discuss the Pro’s and Con’s of the increasingly popular phenomena of “Citizen Journalism”—where non-Journalists put out the scoop on new and exciting events before any of us can arrive to sniff around.

Why? Partly interest, and partly because it’s an assignment. Either way, we’re looking to educate ourselves and our peers (and you!) on what we find on this subject.

Cheers,

CJ Zombie