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Everyone, thanks!

Okay, I've gotten a big surge of support in the last few days, like fan mail and social media stuff.

That means a lot to me.

It all relates to two different but related areas:

1. Standing up to find trustworthy news. Like I say, a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.

factcheck

The Trust Project is the pointy end of the spear on the news professional side. Unfortunately, I might fulfill that role on the news consumer side. (I don't like that.)

2. Standing up against untrustworthy reporting attacking my community. My stuff is mostly very quiet, long term, since I'm in way over my head, but I'm committed for at least a twenty year period, and to be relentless. As a nerd, it's hard to learn, and I'm not very patient.

3. People tell me I looked really good and was quite the gentleman. I guess they're right, but I really am a nerd; we don't take compliments well.

But a nerd's gotta do what a nerd's gotta do.

Tis the Season to Give Back

crowdrise

Folks, I believe that it's really important to give back to our communities. One way to do that is to participate in #GivingTuesday and CrowdRise's Holiday Challenge for nonprofits. I'm giving $50K to go toward the winner of the Challenge, and together, with the other donors, there will be $250K in prize money.

CrowdRise has been working hard to make this Challenge and #GivingTuesday bigger then past years. One way they're doing that is by creating a Giving Tower. It's going to be a hologram tower. Each time someone donates, a brick is added to the tower. You can actually download an app and point it at a dollar bill to see how the tower's growing. Here's a little more about it:

The Giving Tower Holiday Challenge is a great way for organizations to rally their supporters, raise money for their cause, drive engagement, get lots of exposure and, most importantly, raise money for their cause (note intentional repetition). The Challenge is friendly fundraising competition launched by craigconnects, Fred and Joanne Wilson, and MacAndrews & Forbes. It's designed to help you raise awareness and lots of money for your year end fundraising.

Here's more about the Challenge this year:

  • The Challenge starts on November 25th and there are going to be huge grand prizes, plus lots of Bonus Challenges. The campaign is always amazing and last year, charities rallied to raise over $2.3m for their causes.
  • There will be $250,000 in prizes this year. The organization that raises the most will receive a $100,000 donation to their cause. Second place will win $50,000, third $25,000, fourth $10,000 and fifth place will receive a $5,000 donation to their cause.
  • There will also be multiple opportunities along the way to get extra cash donations in the form of Bonus Challenges. Folks, we're talking an extra $60,000 in Bonus Challenges.
  • The good folks over at CrowdRise are hosting a webinar on November 20th at 3pm ET to walk you through everything about the Challenge, please Click Here to register.
  • So far, there's more than 500 charities signed up, and plenty of time for you to sign up, too.
  • The Toolkit will tell you everything else you need to know that I may have forgotten.
  • Use the hashtag #GivingTower to continue the conversation.

Looking forward to getting this Challenge started, more to come…

Why I Support Vets

Photo Credit: U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs

Photo Credit: U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs

Bottom line: if someone volunteers to risk taking a bullet to protect me, I should stand up and help out.

This might date back to my mid-teens, towards the end of the Vietnam war. I saw returning vets getting treated without respect. At that time, I knew that was wrong, but couldn't articulate it.

Maybe seven years ago, I was at a lunch, sitting next to a guy from the Iraq & Afghanistan Vets of America, IAVA.org. Finally, it clicked in, that this was the right way to support regular people who gave up a lot to protect us, and that includes their families.

Now, I'm on the board of IAVA, and am involved with a lot of vets and military families groups, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (I'm their official nerd-in-residence).

What are some reasons you support vets and military families?

A Trustworthy Press is the Immune System of Democracy

lincoln

I’m a news consumer. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to do their job, or how to fix the news. I’m not in the business, and will respect professional boundaries.

I just want news I can trust. I also want to help reward good, honest journalism.

Since I’m not an expert, I have to defer to those who are. I’ve spent about ten years talking to a lot of these folks, and have recently joined the boards of Poynter Institute and Columbia Journalism Review, in addition to the Center for Public Integrity and Sunlight Foundation.

I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

There're good reasons to hope for the restoration of "the immune system of democracy," but here's a little of what gives me bad nights:

      • Dean Starkman shows us that the press fully knew that the economy was a mess during the last decade, but never told the American public about it. (Have the problems really been fixed?)
      • There was a fake IRS scandal, where the press was alerted to the problem by CREW.org, but this received little or no coverage.
      • Six billion in cash was "lost" in Iraq, but the only real coverage was in Vanity Fair (I've asked, they tell me that article is fully fact checked).
      • There's what Jon Stewart calls the “CNN leaves it there” problem, where a news outlet knowingly airs clear-cut lying and then repeats it.
      • It’s also not uncommon for the press to – deliberately or not – assist in the creation of propaganda or hoaxes – things like the so-called Obamacare “death panels” which had no basis in reality but were presented by the press as though they did. In fact, the press has never consistently and relentlessly set the record straight on Obamacare.
      • danah boyd succinctly reports of the most fundamental problem, in "First: Do No Harm" where she notes the journalistic tendency to accept survey results, even if a little looking would reveal them to be fake. The bottom line:

But since when did the practice of journalism allow for uncritically making shit up? ::shaking head:: Where’s the fine line between poor journalism and fabrication?

Old school, editors expected reporters to get stuff right, they prized their credibility, weren't so concerned about selling ads. That message: "get it right." Plausible fake news could get through the editors, but it was considered wrong.

New school, of recent years, seems to send the message: "don't get caught." Editors don't seem to care as long as the fakeness is good enough, and sensationalist enough to sell ads.

Nowadays a lie gets everywhere before a good actor can even respond.

Please remember that I do feel that most journalists perform admirably, but it takes very little to compromise trust in a news publication.

That is, it looks to me like the vast majority of people in news try really hard, and perform admirably under intense pressure.

However, often the requirement is only that a story must be plausible, and under pressure, that replaces due diligence and accountability, except in black and white situations, like plagiarism.

So, we see a lot of "stenography," particularly in politics, the acceptance of received or conventional wisdom, per the story subjects described earlier. Jon Stewart illustrated this when he showed the visible reaction of a reporter, responding to an obvious political lie, who had to "leave it there"…repeated every half hour.

Good news, everyone!

There are hardass press organizations insisting on stricter ethics and accountability, like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Online News Association (ONA).

Me, I’m not looking to be a hardass. I know the news business is brutally tough. I’m not looking for perfection. As a news consumer, I’m happy with a good faith effort.

Do your best to get it right. If you do, great. If you don’t, admit you got it wrong, fix it, even if hard, and try harder next time.

And we should reward journalists and press outlets that are practicing good, honest journalism.

Recently, I heard about the Trust Project at the factcheckMarkkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in cooperation with Richard Gingras, a longtime advocate of innovation in journalism, who happens to oversee Google News.

Jeff Jarvis built on this work. He suggested that Google News give higher rankings to news reports that are probably more trustworthy, rewarding ethical practice in maybe the best way possible.

(I don't think I present Jeff's ideas well here, but he seems to be the pointy end of the spear regarding news ethics, on the professional side.)

"More trustworthy" is a really difficult problem, it involves figuring out ways that articles propagate signals regarding their trustworthiness.

      • The publisher should have a code of ethics/trust comparable to that of the SPJ or ONA.
      • The publisher should hold itself accountable, not only prominently correcting errors, but propagating those corrections where they've flowed to other publishers.
      • Google News could uprank articles which have strong codes of ethics with accountability, and maybe downrank articles which don't show corrections.
      • I'd like to think crowdsourcing could help, but disinformation professionals may be really too good to overcome.

That's just the beginning of conversation, which is mission-critical for the survival of American democracy. How do we refine these signals into something useful? What other signals are useful? What can you add?

Remember, I’m just a news consumer like most people, unfortunately the pointy end of the spear from that perspective.

I just want news I can trust.

Note: After a reader called to our attention that the quote, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on," was not said by Winston Churchill, we knew we had to do the same thing we think the media should do when someone calls out an error – admit it and fix it. Currently the author is unknown, and the quote was removed from the post.

Who should learn to code? Everyone.

I believe that everyone deserves the chance to learn how to code, if that's what they want. And maybe that desire for equality's based in my nerdly values, but it's something that's important. I've been supporting Girls Who Code for some time now, and they do real good work closing the gender gap in the tech and engineering sectors. Women in tech is an effort I've been supporting pretty frequently.

Speaking of coding, a coupla weeks ago Tim Heaton, who's involved in Morristown community service, sent me an email about what's going on with tech in Morristown, NJ. Tim's email inspired me to ask  him to write a blog post for craigconnects…

Who should learn to code? Everyone.

Bill Gates :“Everyone in this country should learn to program a computer.”

Cube jockey: “The Everyone Should Learn to Program” movement is wrong because it falsely equates programming with essential skills like reading, writing, and math. In my 30- year programming career…… ”

Thirty years?

Thirty years ago there was one phone company. Michael Jordan was a freshman at NC. President Ronald Reagan made GPS available for civilian use. The McNugget was born. And the Apple IIe was introduced — one of its amazing features was that it could display lower- and upper-case letters!

Thirty years ago it was really difficult to learn a computer language. Running a program often meant getting up in the middle of the night for your allotted run time. Programs were boxes of punch cards. Machines talking to machines was sci-fi. A phone was something shared with neighbors. To this day a computer to my dad (an ex-IBM programmer) is a room-sized monster, nothing else qualifies. A PC is just a typewriter. A mobile phone is just a phone.

Career programmers don’t think just anyone can do it.

They will tell you that you need 10 years of coding experience to know enough to be “worthy.” And this was certainly true 30 years ago. Then it took a whole day to run a program, now it happens every time you turn on your phone. Most importantly, the open source community and free online learning sites is a true paradigm shift that has broken down the knowledge barrier.

In medieval times, the Guilds were founded to stifle competition by restricting knowledge. Today it is the same. Fortifying this false barrier in technology is the notion that jobs requiring even minimal skill need certification (with apologies to some of my favorite professions): Bar-Tending, Physical Trainer, Project Management or Database Administrator. The Guilds during the Middle Ages protected their members for the same reason as today's: Job security. However, developing your ideas into a product doesn't mean being chained in a cubicle for 10 years or lugging around a stack of cards in the middle of the night. Coding is no longer difficult. The open source movement has seen to that.

To the modern programming Guilds, I agree that it takes years to understand what others have written in the millions of lines of enterprise code. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be a programmer anymore than I would suggest that anyone could be a concert pianist. The difference is that developing useful applications with code is much, much easier than learning to play the piano.

So, if anyone could code, why is learning to code important?handel

Because being creative is not enough in today’s workplace. To be successful you must be able execute your ideas. And you have a far better idea of what is useful than the tradition-bound, 30-year career programmer – or some dude in Chennai for that matter .

A modern analogy may be found in music. Is the artist Pitbull a musician? If we could ask Friedrich Handel's opinion – maybe not, and if we could shoot him back to Handel's time – definitely not. Today however, Pitbull is a multi-platinum artist. Same thing with technology. One doesn't need to be a computer prodigy to be a successful technologist, one needs to know how the technology works well enough to write a song or build an mobile application.

A note to Handel: I don't think much of Pitbull's music either.

It’s more important to understand the market and communicate with people, in both music and technology, than to write beautiful composition or code. Most of the successful people in technology are not great coders, but they understand enough to execute their ideas. To the career programmers – the cubicles are yours. To the executors of ideas – the world is ours.

Rosetta Stone or Code.org? – One final note.

The most amazing thing about computer languages is that, like music, they are universal. Whatever I create in computer code is understood by everyone else in the world, immediately and simultaneously. Multilingual education forgot to include the universal language: Computer languages.

Who should learn to code? Everyone who has a problem that needs solving.

Teach yourself and join the effort to teach kids how to solve problems: Code.org

 

Guest Blog Post by Tim Heaton

heaton