National party conventions, graphic photos, social media's bull$#!t, open data, and a world stream

Here’s a quick roundup of stories and conversations that caught our attention in the past week, the first in what will gradually become a regular series.

Convention City: For the next two weeks, we’ll be barraged with reportage from the Republican and Democratic national conventions. As MediaShift points out, a lot of attention among media observers will be paid to how a variety of digital tools are deployed, much like it was during the Summer Olympics. The media industry blog has already put together a helpful list of resources for following the conventions. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has launched a new feature it’s calling The Grid, which is an interesting way to scan through all their various social media and reporting channels and get the latest on the RNC (and next week the DNC).

Instagraphic: In case you missed it (which seems impossible), Instagram moved to the center of a century-old debate this weekend following the shootings at the Empire State Building. When user @ryanstryin posted a graphic photo showing one of the victims lying in the street, it prompted a lot of reflection from both the mainstream media and the public over whether it’s appropriate to publish or share such images. We’ve had these arguments since the advent of photography – in times of war, in times of peace – on whether to publish photos of the dead and wounded or withhold them out of respect for the victims and their families. But this was a special kind of wake-up call. The media no longer makes these decisions, now that witnesses have a publishing platform in their pocket. New media commentator and J-school prof Jeff Jarvis got a little hot under the collar defending his own decision to share the photo on his Twitter stream and offers a compelling argument on the side of keeping the news unfiltered. The point is, if you click this hyperlink showing a victim with blood streaming down the sidewalk (republished here by Slate), you’ve already been forewarned by the linked words. Since mainstream media still have the broadest reach, they will continue to find themselves at the center of this debate, but the audience is going to find it increasingly difficult to avoid such material. The decision will be not one for the “broadcaster” on whether to share, but a personal one on whether to click.

Streaming the world 60 seconds at a time. The Wall Street Journal is now asking its reporters to file microvideo reports using the social media video platform Tout. They’re calling it WorldStream. From Tampa to Syria, you can see snippets of life, the news, and everything else a reporter can capture with a mobile phone camera. A first dive leaves me with the impression that much, much work has yet to be done before WSJ’s WorldStream can be called a mature product. Rebels relaxing in a mosque in Syria might have been portrayed better with a photo, for instance. Thirty seconds watching a pan of the empty delegate center in Tampa would have been better spent reading an actual story about the convention. And I can’t help but wonder what you can expect to get out of a 60-second interview with a pol – the format seems more suited to TMZ celeb shots and gotcha journalism. It will be interesting to see how the service evolves. For now, my main impression is that we’re looking at the news equivalent of Romantic fragment poems – Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn” or Keats’ “Hyperion.” They may work artistically, but are story fragments really the best approach for an industry devoted to informing and enlightening its audience?

Social media is bull$#!t. Or so says B.J. Mendelson in the title of his new book. The former social media marketer and contributor to Mashable boosts his own contrarian view after serving the industry for years. Among some of the more common precepts of online journalism Mendelson disputes: the all-importance of pageviews, that Facebook really has 800 million users, and that we’ve learned much new about Internet marketing since Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” He tells journalist Ernie Smith that the biggest BS thing about social media is “the concept that what’s happening on these very different platforms, with their comparatively small and different audiences, has resonance with what’s happening with the rest of us. This false hope we’re giving people, which not coincidentally popped up around the same time the economy cratered. People needed something to believe in, and selfish and greedy marketers were ready to give that to them in the package of the myth of social media.” Incidentally, the interview is a nice display of what you can do with Jux, yet another platform for quick blogging.

The problem with open data. Is there one? Some interesting conversations on the topic this week. One started when the White House announced the selection of its “Innovation Fellows,” members of the private and nonprofit sectors and academia whose job it will be to help develop five government programs, including one on open data. That announcement sparked some backlash from conservative commentators, including Michelle Malkin, who wondered whether this isn’t really just a waste of taxpayer money. Open government reporter Alex Howard captured some of that debate, which unfolded in the social media sphere. Meanwhile, techPresident’s David Eaves reported on how a government spending scandal uncovered in the U.K. with the help of an open data project raises as many questions about how government collects and reports its data as it does about the suspect spending. So, what do you do if the government’s databases are poorly coded or managed – how do we get the government to change? And even if you discover these remarkable stories with the aid of open data sources, does it make it any easier to act? More questions like these are sure to present themselves as data journalism flowers into a discipline in its own right.

Another decade of the Internet. I leave you with a fun look back at how much the Internet has changed in the past 10 years, courtesy of this Mashable infographic. Enjoy.

About webtech