Want to solve a mystery?

The Dallas Morning News is asking its readers to help examine a pile of documents on the JFK assassination.

Especially intriguing is the documented alleged meeting between Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.

The documents were discovered by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in a little-known vault in his office and were compiled by Henry Wade, the district attorney at the time of the assassination. Mr. Wade and his successors never made them public.


Po Bronson: A cook’s story

Po Bronson’s Why do I love these people struck a chord with me. I am glad to re-discover the chapter that affected me most – The Cook’s Story – online for free:

We’ve all lost something along the way.
In Jennifer Louie’s case, what she had lost was a belief that her family was a fundamentally essential thing, a meaningful purpose worth her devotion, a principle on which to build her life. Family is like Religion: there are all kinds, but when you get right down to it, you either believe, or you’re not sure, or you think it’s a crock of hooey. Jen had lost her belief. She had it in China, and she lost it when she came to America….


Covering the stem cell story all the way to China

Twenty years ago, Hal Burrows was paralyzed in a bicycle accident. He’d fought hard and had regained some movement, only to see it slip away when he reached his 40s. In 2006, he traveled to China for stem cell injections into his badly damaged spine, one of the first Americans to do so, suddenly regaining movement in his left arm. He hoped for even greater improvement on this second trip.

Reporter Tony Bartelme logs how he covered the story for The Post and Courier, along with photographer Alan Hawes, who had his own escape tale to tell.


“Aside from exploring Burrows’ personal struggle to overcome his disability, this story held the promise of delving deep into a contemporary political controversy and societal debate.

“Stem cell treatments like those offered in China aren’t available in the United States because of governmental roadblocks and concerns in American medical circles that the treatments don’t work or aren’t safe.

“Now our newspaper had an opportunity to use a local man’s experience to educate our readers about stem cells, which some believe have the potential to be one of the more important advances in medical care since the discovery of penicillin.

“I made my pitch, which combined aspects of all these arguments, but I doubted it would work. Though editors at large daily newspapers are often willing to dispatch reporters to faraway places, many small and medium papers across the country like The Post and Courier (circ. 100,000) now march to the drumbeat of local, local, local. During the past decade, the paper closed its bureau in Washington, D.C., and reduced or eliminated other in-state bureaus. Once dominated by national wire stories, The Post and Courier’s front page looks more and more like the local section. Though some readers grumble about this change, daily circulation is up, as is our readership on the newspaper’s Web site.

“William Hawkins, the paper’s executive editor, is a vocal cheerleader for this heavier emphasis on local news. ‘Local is our future, but we’re not so local that we’re parochial,’ he told me. To make room in the newsroom’s travel budget, he canceled a trip to an industry conference and told me and staff photographer Alan Hawes, who worked with me on suggesting this story, to get our visas….

“When I pitched the China trip, I felt I was pushing the envelope in describing it as an attempt to chase ‘local’ stories. But I returned to Charleston convinced that we do a disservice to our readers when we think local reporting only happens when we stay close to home. In an increasingly interconnected world, the definition of what constitutes local news naturally must expand.

“The question editors—and publishers—at daily newspapers confront is how to balance the costs and benefits of such reporting with their local obligation to cover city hall and lots of other local stories.

“Our trip wasn’t cheap, costing about US$7,000 for the two of us. But it wasn’t expensive, either, when one considers that it equals roughly the cost of sending sports reporters and photographers to two college bowl games. ‘If you think about it, everybody is going to have the same story about that bowl game,’ Hawkins observed. ‘But nobody else had the stories we did.’ “


“Other days when I’d been at the hospital, I’d tried to be very inconspicuous, keeping my camera in my backpack. But on this day I shot some photos of Hal in the hallway outside the room where the procedure would take place.

“After the procedure, the nurse who took the photos gave me the camera back. All seemed to be going well until I saw the panic-stricken eyes of another nurse as I was photographing Hal being rolled into his room. She confronted me, and I told her we were leaving.

“We rushed out of Hal’s room and were met at the elevator by several hospital and stem cell company employees. They asked if I took pictures, and I told them I did. A long pause followed.

“As the elevator door opened, packed with passengers staring at us, I thought about escaping into the elevator and was about to when one of the stem cell company managers said, ‘Just go.’ I held my breath as we passed the guards on the way out of the hospital and chased down the first cab we saw and headed back to the hotel. I promptly sent my photos back to the newspaper.”

Going to China by Tony Bartelme
Showing China—With a Local Thread by Alan Hawes
Miracle or Mirage? (fast)
Miracle or Mirage? (slow)

Kevin Kelly’s Better than free

Intriguing perspective by Kevin Kelly on Copyland, and finding value in free:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

This super-distribution system has become the foundation of our economy and wealth. The instant reduplication of data, ideas, and media underpins all the major economic sectors in our economy, particularly those involved with exports — that is, those industries where the US has a competitive advantage. Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copies promiscuously and constantly.

Yet the previous round of wealth in this economy was built on selling precious copies, so the free flow of free copies tends to undermine the established order. If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?

I have an answer. The simplest way I can put it is thus:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Well, what can’t be copied?


Holovaty’s Everyblock

Adrian Holovaty speaks to OJR about Everyblock:

OJR: What’s EveryBlock providing that the average Web reader could not get before?

Holovaty: First, fundamentally, we offer a way to browse news at the block level, with a news page for every block — hence the name EveryBlock. We’ve done a fair amount of due diligence and are pretty confident this hasn’t been done before — and in three of the densest cities in America, at that.

Second, we’re providing some information that didn’t previously exist online. Two examples are film locations in Chicago and restaurant inspections in San Francisco. The former is provided to us by the Chicago Film Office, and the latter is provided to us by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which has its own website but doesn’t include some of the data we publish.

Third, we make it easy to browse information that already existed online but was buried in deep government sites, either in “deep Web” search forms or non-Web-friendly formats such as PDFs. Two examples are landmark building permits in New York City and crime reports in New York City, but there are many other examples across our three city sites. This has been an interest of mine for a number of years, and it’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to do it at this scale.

Fourth, we’re detecting geography in narratives — “blobs,” so to speak — and making it easy for people to find relevant news articles and government documents that refer to specific places near them. Some examples are New York City news articles, San Francisco zoning agenda items and Chicago city press releases. Another (geeky) way to phrase this is that we’re harvesting geographic metadata from unstructured text.

Fifth, we’re providing some light trending and aggregate reports for *each* type of information on our site. For example, see the Chicago crime data.

OJR: What has kept, or is still keeping, newspapers from having functionality like EveryBlock’s on their websites?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot. In the general case (and “general” means this excludes the newspapers out there who are doing great things online) —

* A lack of technical competence
* A culture so obsessed with daily deadlines that little thought/resources are put into paradigm changes
* A culture that disdains technology and science, particularly math, and, worse, actually takes pride in that
* Red tape
* Legacy systems
* Legacy attitudes
* People who ask “Is this journalism?” ;-)


For/against hyperlocal journalism

Will Bunch on “Forgetting Why Reporters Choose the Work They Do” asks:

‘Will journalists cover local news for life, with no chance of parole?’

“…At each conference the participants fixate on the same point: With the Internet in play, a small group of players—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC—will dominate the big stories on the world stage and in our nation’s capital.

For the rest of us, journalism will die if it does not become more local, or even something called “hyperlocal.” The theory goes like this: readers seeking out world or national news on the Web won’t bother with local sites or their city’s daily newspaper when they can go directly to global sites on the Internet. What is missing—and what nytimes.com can’t offer—is intensive reporting of local news about what’s happening, for example, in Philadelphia’s schools or with Spokane’s city council or with the eight-car pileup that just took place on a heavily traveled commuter highway.

In more sprawling, faceless exurban communities, especially in the Sunbelt, the move is for hyperlocal reporting, akin to what a leading pioneer in the field—Kate Marymont, executive editor of The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida—acknowledged can be “cat stuck in a tree” journalism at times. This kind of reporting—short bursts of neighborhood-type stories, frequently updated—is being carried out by a new breed known as “mojos,” young, not exorbitantly paid reporters who file words and pictures and sound more often than not from their car using a laptop and mobile phone. With its promised quickness and reduced cost, it resembles more a pizza delivery strategy than the shoe-leather model of reporting we grew up with.

To say that I have mixed feelings about this movement to save the newspaper industry would be an understatement, even though the goal here is to save my ever-endangered job. Intellectually, I agree fully that the only thing that makes sense in the Internet age for a newspaper like The Philadelphia Daily News is to cover the living daylights out of new streetlights for the Platt Bridge or applications to open neighborhood charter schools.

On an emotional level, I’m going on 49 years old, and I have a lot of friends around my age who have survived the surge in newsroom layoffs and are still working in an ink-stained newsroom somewhere. Not one of us wanted to be covering local news at our age (or, for that matter, at any age.)

…There’s a very real problem here, a serious disconnect. For the past couple of years, a number of change-minded journalists, academics and engaged citizens have been discussing a lot of great ideas for saving the news business: Teaching reporters how to wield video cameras on assignment, to file breaking news for the Web, to use a blog to cover a local beat like mass transit, or work as moderators with engaged citizen journalists.

What’s almost never mentioned in these discussions is the human factor. After all, one of the underlying tenets of saving newspapers is supposed to be rescuing the livelihood of working journalists. But do the rank-and-file of most metro newspapers in 2007, people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, actually want to do these things—cover local news for life, with no chance of parole?

Some, perhaps. Most, no. Definitely not me.”


In Newspapers’ Niche: Dig Deeply Into Local Matters, Brett J. Blackledge argues for hyperlocal journalism: “…the purpose of local reporting is to cover what others can’t, won’t or haven’t.”

“…That is the value of that type of local, intense reporting. I tried to make that point recently at a meeting in Washington, D.C., at a gathering of newspaper editors from across the country. But my message couldn’t penetrate the discussions among them about the cuts in staff, the drops in circulation, the loss of revenue at their papers. How can you afford this type of reporting? My response is, how can you afford not to do it?

First, I reminded them, it’s what readers expect and love. I’ve been a reporter for 22 years and, at no point, with no other story, have I received more reader feedback. It was really accidental, but seemingly brilliant, the way we ultimately published the articles in the two-year college series. We had every intent to package related articles in a traditional Sunday presentation, complete with photographs, graphics, pullout boxes, the works. But erupting daily news events, resulting from our initial articles and efforts by the college system’s leadership to sabotage some of our enterprise, meant we had to publish material as fast as we could to stay ahead of our own story. Readers, however, gave us far more credit, thinking we intentionally structured our work as an ongoing serial for release on a Tuesday, a Thursday, maybe a Monday, just to keep them guessing. “It’s like a novel,” one reader told me. “I can’t wait to pick up the paper the next day to see what’s coming.”

Of course, I played along. I didn’t explain how we intended to make the sausage. I just liked the fact they enjoyed it. But isn’t this proof that readers devour this type of material? Each article is pretty much a traditional news story, not hard to get your head around as a reader. But each is rich with news, details, the type of things that people call their friends about, wondering if they’ve seen the latest bit. Our genuine interest to do our journalism job better turned out to be just what the reader wanted, and it made us relevant, a must-read. How can we not afford to do this?

The second message I tried to convey was this: Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do as newspapers? Something about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, right? Newspapers have one place among the increasingly crowding media as the ever-vigilant watchdog, and it’s what we do best for local audiences. Broadcasters can’t do it; there’s no video. And radio can’t do it; there’s no time. Bloggers won’t do it; there’s no agenda. And national media can’t do it; there’s no interest.

That leaves us, with a very significant niche. We continued reporting and writing this story this year. Truth is the Pulitzer folks gave me a $10,000 check, but they also gave me the argument to make to my bosses about why this matters. We can’t drop this, as we often have to do, because we believe the next bright, shiny light is where we should head…”


Microsoft bid for Yahoo: Saving Live?

Preston Gralla speculates that it needs the online leverage:

Yahoo shareholders won’t be the only winners in the proposed Microsoft buyout of the Internet portal. It’s a chance for Microsoft to save its ailing “Live” brand of online products and finally succeed online.

There are too many “Live” products to count — Windows Live (which has nothing to do with Windows), and Microsoft Office Live Small Business (which has nothing to do with Microsoft Office) among them. As a group, they’re entirely underwhelming. But an infusion of a massive audience, as well as Yahoo expertise, can certainly fix the problems. And the Microsoft offer makes clear that Yahoo, after the buy, won’t operate independently, but instead will be folded into Microsoft. And Live and Yahoo will most certainly combine.

Steve Ballmer’s offer to the Yahoo board spells that out. He lists four areas of synergies…


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