A Trustworthy Press is the Immune System of Democracy

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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 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), 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

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Bay Area’s Most Influential Biz-Tech Figure, Clerical Error?

Folks, it seems I’ve won the Bay Area’s Most Influential Biz-Tech Figure… (clerical error?)

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(you can see a bigger version of the image here…)
And, on that note…

craig
I thought this photo seemed appropriate. Though, it’s a bit of a joke, I’m in a pedi-cab modeled after the Iron Throne in the Game of Thrones. In the Game of Thrones, you win, or, well, you don’t win. On the other hand, Mrs Newmark suggests that in the Turkey chair I look like a Turducken… Yes, the Throne kinda looks like Turkey wings, and I guess that makes it a TurNerden, the tech Turducken. Anyway, Winter is Coming.

Everyone, thanks for the very kind words you’ve sent my way, and please remember my reference to “clerical error.”

4 Creative Women-Run Startups That Are Getting Stuff Done

Hey, women entrepreneurs run more than 8.6 million businesses in the US, generating more than $1.3 trillion in total revenues (according to nerdwallet).

Breaking down silos is a great way to get stuff done. It’s critical to take a look at what’s already being done in an effort to create real change. Too often orgs try to do their own thing without checking if it’s already being done.

creativity

My team and I have researched 5 women-run startups that are being done right now, and these are some startups that might inspire you to collaborate or come up with your own startup idea.

We think that they’re the real deal. You can also follow them, or their founder, on Twitter for some insight into their work.

4 Creative Startups That Are Getting Stuff Done:

1. Soceana is working to generate social good by creating a vibrant community of volunteers, nonprofits, philanthropists and corporations. Soceana aims to create a central hub for key data analytics, personalized skills-based matching, and an engagement platform. They say, “it’s almost like a Facebook with its employee-led event planning and photo-upload features meets LinkedIn with its messaging and professional development all tied together with data analytics to create a unique product in a thriving space.”

Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Tess Michaels:
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2. Tock is an antisocial social app. It’s both an app and game that rewards users for being away from their device. It encourages more people to talk face to face, not phone to phone. Compete against friends to see who can stay away from their phones the longest and discover what exists beyond the screen. Speaking of collaboration…

Rachel Samples is the one walking the walk behind Tock:
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3. TaskRabbit was inspired by a yellow lab. TaskRabbit allows you to live smarter by connecting you with safe and reliable help in your neighborhood. You’re able to outsource your household errands and skilled tasks to trusted folks in your community. They say it’s an old school concept – neighbors helping neighbors – reimagined for today.

Founder & Engineer turned Entrepreneur, Leah Busque:

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4. YouNoodle helps startup founders get advice, prizes, and opportunities. Having run over 400 different contests and challenges, they try to learn more about their entrepreneurs and introduce them to opportunities unavailable to most. YouNoodle connects entrepreneurs with advisors and investors, and they fast-track startups into accelerators and other programs.

Co-Founder Rebeca Hwang’s philosophy is that it’s powerful to link people and ideas, and help them connect and cultivate ideas.

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Folks, who would you like to see on this list?//

 

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (a snapshot rendition of my travels)

Just like a lot of people, I’ve been playing with photography, some using a serious camera, some using my phone camera, then applying filtering.

Here’s some stuff the Mrs and I did, hope you like it!

A bridge…

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Another bridge:

20140510_121248

A tower, with reminder:

20140517_170851

Rooftops of New York:20140604_194644~2

New York dawn:20140628_050559

 Birds of the Lower East Side: 0727141637-EFFECTS

Gum trees of Cole Valley:
0824141031-EFFECTS

A view of Aspen:0806140821-EFFECTS

New York in the rain:0916141057-EFFECTS

Fortnight Lilies:
1012141352-EFFECTS

Sunrise in Cole Valley Heights:p1000074

Another view of San Francisco:
p1000130

[super] moon over Cole Valley, recently… p1010369

Any of these places look familiar to you? And more over on my Pinterest board

Getting Real About Ethics and Trust in News Media

Let’s Fix It: Why Is It So Hard to Find Ethics and Trust in the Media?

Coupla years ago, I blurted out that “the press is the immune system of democracy.” That’s what I learned from my high school history teacher, Anton Schulzki.

That’s not working so well. We’ve had major press scandals recently, including some obvious failures to follow through with widely known information. A few, really egregious failures: WMD, the economic crash around 2008, ObamaCare, VA scandals starting in 2002 and the current badly misreported scandals, and the IRS failing to pursue fake political nonprofits.

With a track record like this, should anyone want to buy news?

I’m a news consumer, and I just want news I can trust. For around a decade, publishers, editors, journalist and ethicists have given me quite the education. I’ve never suggested how to fix the news — I just want to fix the trust and ethics part.

I see how tough the job is; people have to fill the “news hole” every day, with something sensational that might sell some soap or something.

That’s a lot of pressure, lots of job insecurity, and I always want to give people a break.

Let’s do something constructive, maybe starting with an allusion to an article by danah boyd, “Rule #1, Do No Harm.” In that article, she wonders: “When did it become acceptable to make shit up?”

So, first, a generous and constructive approach starts with “do no harm.” Beyond that, I’m looking for serious good faith in conducting serious fact-checking, and serious correction of the errors that get through anyway.

Since bad info spreads fast, sometimes virally, honest correction might be challenging. It would require repeating the truth, asking other news outlets to correct the disinfo, and even some SEO work. Corrections should not reinforce the error, a common problem given human perception.

How will news orgs start to self-enforce in tough situations?

For example, how do you catch a reporter who is skilled in making up plausible but false stories, or who relies on other unchecked reports?

How can that happen if a heavily burdened editor says, “Just don’t get caught”?

That is, news orgs should be held accountable for damage they cause, just like other professionals are held responsible for malpractice.

There’s hope; both the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Online News Association (ONA) are doing good work.

With this renewal of trustworthiness via ethics, we could reestablish the immune system of democracy.

No one has the answers for the hardest challenges, but the next step is to adopt a serious ethics/trustworthiness code, and then start working on accountability.

I’m a news consumer. I won’t tell anyone how to do their job — I just want news I can trust. Through this ethics/trustworthiness effort, maybe we all can help the pros fix this huge problem.

Specifically, how can we all work together to make this happen?

This was originally posted in the LinkedIn Series, Let’s Fix It. Read all the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #FixIt in the body of your post).

Photo: Author’s Own and Juan García / Flickr

6 Women Making Waves for Social Justice in Tech

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Folks, my teams and I have been following your comments about women in the tech sector that you really admire.

We’ve researched many of the women you’ve shared, and appreciate the time you took to mention ’em. The following is a list of women who really have their boots on the ground, all suggestions from comments. Please keep ’em coming. And maybe follow these women who are doing a lot of work for social good in the tech arena.

1. Selena Deckelmann, A major contributor to PostgreSQL and a Data Architect at Mozilla. She’s been involved with free and open source software since 1995 and began running conferences for PostgreSQL in 2007. In 2012, she founded PyLadiesPDX, a Portland chapter of PyLadies. Selena also founded Open Source Bridge and Postgres Open, and speaks internationally about open source, databases, and community when she’s not keeping chickens and giving technical talks.


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2. Leslie Hawthorn, Community Manager at Elasticsearch, where she leads community relations efforts. Leslie’s spent the past decade creating, cultivating, and enabling open source communities. She created the world’s first initiative to involve pre-university students in open source software development, launched Google’s #2 Developer Blog, received an O’Reilly Open Source Award in 2010, and gave a few great talks on many things open source.


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3. Deb Nicholson, Director of Community Outreach for the Open Invention Network, works at the intersection of technology and social justice. She’s been a free speech advocate, economic justice organizer and civil liberties defender. After working in Massachusetts politics for fifteen years, Deb became involved in the free software movement.

She’s the Community Outreach Director at the Open Invention Network and the Community Manager at Media Goblin. She also serves on the board at Open Hatch, a non-profit dedicated to matching prospective free software contributors with communities, tools and education.

(We could not find a Twitter account for Deb Nicholson…)

4. Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph, Automation and Tools Engineer at Hewlett-Packard on the OpenStack Infra team. Elizabeth’s also a Community Council member for Ubuntu and a Board Member for Partimus, an organization that puts Linux hardware in schools.

5. Keila Banks, A web designer, programmer, videographer, and publisher of content making use of mostly open source software. She speaks to audiences of adults and youth alike on being raised in a family filled with technology and how she uses Linux and open source software in ways that will challenge you to ask yourself, are you smarter than a 5th grade open source user?

(We could not find a Twitter account for Keila Banks…)

6. Val Aurora, Co-Founder  and Executive Director of the Ada Initiative, a nonprofit that seeks to increase women’s participation in the free culture movement, open source technology, and open source culture. Val’s a writer, programmer, and feminist activist, and speaks about women in open technology and culture, feminism, and harassment. She also co-founded Double Union, a feminist hackerspace in San Francisco


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3 Powerful Social Media Leaders of the Past

On the Internet we continue an old tradition of social media, pioneered in the Roman Republic. I look at the social media leaders in the past who were good at doing things. They really paved the way for what’s happening today with technology. The Internet and social media have been a way to give a real voice to the voiceless and real power to the powerless. It’s created a space for citizen journalism.

If we look back, we’ll realize that there were many powerful social media leaders of the past, for example:luther

1. Julius Caesar was an early blogger, even though it was very low tech.

Looks to me that Julius Caesar was not only a blogger re: the conquest of Gaul, but he kinda invented journalism in its most literal sense.

2. It got a little better with Martin Luther, who decided to use an evolved form of the same network. He got pretty good, blogging on a church blog. Luther blogged his way to major religious and social change.

Of course Luther was assisted by this printing press thing – and this evolved in the Twitter revolution of 1688. He used the efforts of a nerd, a guy Johannes Gutenberg, to great effect. (Gutenberg got great stuff done, but it was Luther who got big stuff done.)

3. John Locke, the one who lived in 1688, not the John Locke in Lost. Good show, but you could only understand it if you knew a lot about quantum physics. I know a lot of you want to hear it more about quantum physics, but more later… Just be glad I’m not going on a Game of Thrones rant.

(I’d like to credit two books for much of this: Tom Standage’s The Writing on the Wall and Jeff Jarvis’ Gutenberg the Geek.)

You can’t make change from the top down. The president’s the most powerful person in the world, but not that powerful. What’s powerful is when people in the trenches work together to get things done, and that’s what makes a difference.

My deal is to try to get folks to work together. It’s important to give a voice to people who never had one, and then to share their work. My stuff to date gives me a bit of a bully pulpit that I don’t need for myself. However, I use it on a daily basis to get the word out on behalf other others.

My joke, occasionally tweeted, is that I retweet a lot because 1) it’s good to share, and 2) it spares me the burden of original thought. Well, #2 has some truth to it, but #1 is the big deal for me.

Women doing STEM right

Hey, it’s important to me to recognize folks doing really good work, especially those who don’t usually get the recognition they deserve. My team and I have generated quite a few lists of women doing good work:

Recently, I asked my networks to contribute the women who impressed them, the folks in the STEM field who really have their boots on the ground. We got great responses, verified the women suggested, and have compiled a list (in no particular order) here:

1. Natasha Mohanty, Co-Founder, CTO, & VP of Technology at FEM inc.
Natasha joined FEM inc. from Google, where she was a lead engineer working on content recommendations and personalization for Google+ and Google News with a special emphasis on meeting the needs of women. Their efforts increased female engagement with Google+ by over 30%.

She has extensive experience in large-scale data mining to build user profiles through data. She received her A.B. from Mount Holyoke and M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. When not hacking for FEM inc., she works on projects to get more women and girls interested in tech.

2. Limor Fried, Founder of Adafruit Industries
Adafruit was founded in 2005 by MIT engineer, Limor “Ladyada” Fried. Her goal was to create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels. Adafruit has grown to over 50 employees in the heart of NYC with a 15,000+ sq ft. factory.

Adafruit has expanded offerings to include tools, equipment and electronics that Limor personally selects, tests and approves before going in to the Adafruit store. Limor was the first female engineer on the cover of WIRED magazine and was awarded Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of the year.

3. Marianne Marck, Senior Vice President of Consumer Facing Technology at Starbucks
At Starbucks, Marianne leads the global retail and digital technology teams, the solution architecture and enterprise integration functions, and the technology teams for the China-Asia-Pacific region.

She joined Starbucks in 2011 as Vice President of Software Engineering, and led the enterprise software and application engineering function, including efforts for ERP, HRIS, web, mobile, enterprise QA, enterprise integration, and solution architecture. Prior to joining Starbucks, Marianne earned 22 years of tech experience developing solutions and platforms and building teams. Most recently at Blue Nile, she held the role of Senior Vice President of technology.

4. Bindu Reddy, CEO and Co-Founder of MyLikes
Before starting MyLikes, Bindu was at Google and oversaw product management for several products including Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video and Blogger. When she first started at Google, Bindu was a Product Manager for AdWords, where she improved the AdWords bidding model by introducing Quality Based Bidding and Quality Score for keywords. She was also in charge of Google’s shopping engine – Google Product Search and designed and launched Google Base.

Before Google, Bindu founded AiYo – a shopping recommendations service. Earlier in her career, Bindu was the Director of Product Management at eLance and a Computational Biologist at Exelixis.

5. Edie Stern, a distinguished Engineer and Inventor at IBM
Edie has more than 100 patents to her name, and has been awarded the Kate Gleason Award for lifetime achievement. She received the award for the development of novel applications of new technologies. The 100 patents to her name represent her work in the worlds of telephony and the Internet, remote health monitoring, and digital media.

 6. Ellen Spertus, Research Scientist at Google & Computer Science Professor at Mills University

Ellen’s areas of focus are in structured information retrieval, online communities, gender in computer science, and social effects of computing. She was a core engineer of App Inventor for Android, which enables computing novices to create mobile apps. and she co-authored a book on App Inventor.

Ellen has been working to bring more women into computing for decades now. In 1991, while studying computer science at MIT, she published a paper titled, “Why are there so few Female Computer Scientists.” And Ellen tells girls: “I’m sorry to tell you that Hogwarts isn’t real — but MIT is.”

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Thanks to everyone who contributed, and please, keep ’em coming!

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