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Why I’m not jumping on the WikiLeaks bandwagon

Last month I wanted to write a news feature about Jewish soldiers in Australia’s military. Naturally I wanted to interview some of those soldiers to add colour to the piece. I didn’t want to know military secrets or tactical information. I merely wanted to speak to them about their feelings as Australian soldiers and why they were inspired to enlist. Even though I was not seeking information that could be considered sensitive, I still had to follow proper procedure with the ADF.

As a journalist I was happy to do so. This involved contacting the public affairs department of the Defence Force to gain permission. I was required to tell them what kind of piece I was writing and the kinds of questions I planned to ask. Again, no problem. I accept that as a journalist there are procedures to follow and responsibilities to uphold.

All of a sudden however, with WikiLeaks journalistic professionalism seems to have gone out the window overnight. And scarily too, the very people who are training the next generation of journalists seem to be lining up behind it, as are many well-known journalists that this generation aspires to.

Procedures such as the one I had to follow with the ADF appear to be meaningless, now that anything and everything seems ripe for the public domain.

I’m not blanket anti-WikiLeaks. I agree some things should be known to the public. After all one of the pillars of democracy is transparency and a free press. But there are some things, such as national security matters, that are confidential for a reason. I don’t want to know them.

Furthermore the idea of a free press is meant to help, and not hinder, our society. Publishing leaks that harms relationships between nations or puts people in danger is in my view most definitely a hindrance.

The WikiLeaks fan club seems to hail Julian Assange as a hero. This is another thing I disagree with. Assange is ego-driven and clearly sympathetic to a particular viewpoint. Even if some of his leaks are useful, his motivation in releasing them has not been honourable. He has a clear agenda, as outlined in this article that tells of former colleagues who grew disillusioned with his direction.

It is not up to me to decide if WikiLeaks has broken any laws or not. It is not up to me to decide whether the Swedish rape charges against Assange are legitimate or not. And it’s not up to me to tell anyone what they should think.

But it’s not up to Assange and WikiLeaks to tell people what they should think, either.

(See previous post about WikiLeaks here)

Confidentiality a privilege for professional journalists

You don’t need me to tell you that a free press is essential to the functioning of our democracy. To this end, the Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2010 sponsored by Andrew Wilkie MP is certainly worthy of vigorous debate by parliament.

However, Adam Bandt’s suggestion that the scope of the bill be widened to include bloggers and in particular, citizen journalists is a bad idea.

Greens MP Adam Bandt

Professional journalists work to a code; I’m not saying every individual journalist displays 100 percent ethical behaviour according to this code, but for the most part we accept that we have a function to inform the public, to do so as objectively as possible and to facilitate informed debate in the wider community.

There are times when journalists happen across important information, and up till now there has been no protection for journalists who want to keep their sources a secret in the publicising of this information. In some circumstances such protection would certainly be useful.

But extending any such protection to citizen journalists would be akin to anarchy. One only needs to google just a few different blogs to see that there are zero checks and balances on the blogosphere as it is.

Wild opinions are presented as fact, media is used willy-nilly in breach of copyright and defamation is rife. My apologies go out to those bloggers and citizen journalists who do ensure their work conforms to legal and ethical standards, but for the most part the blogosphere does not.

To add to that chaos the freedom to say anything or accuse anyone with legal protection against accountability is a dangerous road indeed. Professional journalists learn as part of their training the responsibilities that go along with their position of influence. Bloggers do not.

We should be tightening the laws around blogging and citizen journalism, not relaxing them.

“The Social Network” arrives in Australia

It’s been the talk of the internet since the project was announced, and now the “Facebook movie”, a.k.a. “The Social Network” has finally been released in Australian cinemas.

I have to say when I first heard the film was being made I was skeptical. Yeah, like most people I use Facebook. But did I want to watch a movie about its creation? The big question was whether a two-hour film on the topic could be engaging. After all, I use my toothbrush every day but I wouldn’t go to a movie about the early days of Oral B.

The big thing this film has going for it and one of the things that ultimately swayed me was David Fincher in the director’s chair. And while I’ve heard mixed reports from other cinema goers on whether they liked it, I found “The Social Network” to be engaging, hip, thought-provoking and thoroughly satisfying.

“You’re going to go through life believing that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd, and I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that’s not true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” – Erica Albright, Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend

It is largely a dialogue-driven film, with the dialogue snappy, intense and real. The movie is nicely bookended with two fantastic pieces of linked dialogue. Quick camera work, angles and scene changes add to the urgency of the narrative while the music of Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) gives the piece a dimension of youth and rebellion.

I was surprised at how much humour the film contained – several lines had the entire cinema erupting with laughter. But there’s also drama aplenty, a healthy serving of intensity, betrayal and longing. Jesse Eisenberg in a fantastic portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg (and while I’m at it, Justin Timberlake is excellent as Napster’s Sean Parker) spends the whole film searching for something, and while he ends up with an empire and a whole pile of money, one gets the sense that he still hasn’t found that something when the credits roll.

“You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying really hard to be.” – Marylin Delpy, Law office intern

The real Mark Zuckerberg

As for the amount of truth in the film? It’s hard to know. Several things are fact. Zuckerberg was sued by Eduardo Saverin after reducing his stake in the company. He was also sued by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who claimed he had stolen the idea for Facebook from them. And according to what I’ve read, Sean Parker did suggest dropping “the” from the site’s name.

As with any biographical piece when the subject isn’t involved in the production, naturally the makers had to take artistic license to fill the gaps around what they knew. Does it paint Zuckerberg in a bad light? Perhaps. He is certainly not portrayed as a hero, but nor in my view is he a classic villain. He is certainly flawed, and while not a protagonist in a classic sense, it is his film.

As with any cinema it is to be enjoyed for what it is, and if it inspires debate among audiences that’s great. No doubt they’ll continue discussing it for a while yet. … On Facebook.

MySpace fights for survival

Before Facebook took over the world, there was this little social media site called MySpace. It was uber-cool, attracting those who were hip, connected and expressive. It was arguably the first large-scale social network.

Trendy bands and celebrities all had a MySpace page, through which Gen Y was able to get that little bit closer to their idols. Above all though, it provided the first real way for people to connect with each other online, launching social media into the connected world’s consciousness.

Then Facebook came along, followed by Twitter and a host of other social networking tools and kick-started MySpace’s decline.

One area where it remained strong however, was in the music and entertainment arena, where it still provided a platform for artists to engage with fans in a dynamic environment. Then in July this year, Mashable reported that even this aspect of MySpace was losing ground.

MySpace’s reaction to this has been a complete rebrand and relaunch. Changes include a new logo, a focus on entertainment only, and the facility to share on Facebook and Twitter, the very sites that caused its decline.

The new site will hit Australian shores next month, with a mobile site and apps to follow for iPhone and Android thereafter. In the meantime, MySpace has released this video as a teaser:

Features of the new MySpace will include content hubs which combine programmed editorial with trending articles that feature news, videos and photos, a personalised content stream based on user preferences and providing recommendations and, seemingly inspired by Foursquare, badges that reward user activity.

Time will tell if these changes will save the once flourishing site. Positioning MySpace as a complement to rather than a competitor of Facebook is certainly a good start, and may well result in former users giving it a second look. However, don’t expect to see MySpace back on top any time soon.

And certainly don’t hold your breath for any movies to be made about its founders.

Two interesting Mashable stories

Today on Mashable there are two stories that anyone interested in journalism should read. I’ve harped on relentlessly in this blog about the implications of technology and the social media revolution on journalism. These two stories cover both bases.

Story 1: Washington Post tells journalists not to engage on Twitter

Maintaining a perception of journalistic objectivity has been one of the key problems for news organisations on Twitter. You may recall this blog discussing Reuters bringing in new rules for its twitterers back in March. Now the Washington Post is the latest company to put its foot down.

In a memo to staff, managing editor Raju Narisetti said:

“Once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor–and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It’s something we don’t do.”

Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik in his analysis rightly argues that the Washington Post doesn’t get social media. In an era where journalism is becoming increasingly about engaging with readers and encouraging a debate, Narisetti has put a clear roadblock between his organisation and the future. Yes, the Post needs to monitor and regulate how Twitter is used, but to put a blanket ban on this kind of interaction is not the solution.

Story 2: Is the iPad really the saviour of the newspaper industry?

The newspaper industry's saviour?

Now here’s an interesting one. Technology is widely credited with causing the decline in the newspaper industry, but here is a suggestion it will also be its saviour.

The article explores the popularity of the iPad and subsequent rise of apps for consuming newspapers. It suggests that the tablet revolution may be helping publishers tap into new digital markets. With this uptake new revenue models are being created that may just make publishing viable again.

It does point out that there is a way to go – newspapers are still not designing apps that take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. These comments about the Sydney Morning Herald iPad app seem to bolster this view.

I think it’s great that newspaper publishers may have found a way to stay viable (as it helps my chances of making a living!) but I think there is no doubt that if they expect consumers to pay, publishers will have to produce a product that’s worth the money.

Oh no! Twitter spam!

We’ve all received those emails, be it a poorly-English worded “Hello, my friend. How are you recently. I write tell you of big electrical bargains, reliable company” or the infamous “I write because you have good reputation. I wish to use your bank account to transfer $1,000,000 and you get give $10,000 for assistance”. Let’s face it, email spam is annoying and for the poor souls that fall for it, dangerous.

But what about Twitter spam?

I had never been spammed on Twitter before, so it never even occurred to me that such a thing existed. In hindsight I guess it was too good to be true. For yesterday morning when I logged in to the world’s favourite microblogging service, there it was:

Spam was already becoming an increasing problem on Twitter in mid-2009, according to this article from TechCrunch. Then in June this year itnews.com.au reported on a malicious spam attack, involving tweets containing a link to a website that self-installs rogue software on the user’s computer.

This video talks about what constitute Twitter spam:

Twitter itself is well-aware of the spam problem and says it is working hard to fight it. The service has strict rules to try prevent spammers. This graph, sourced from Twitter, shows the amount of spam as a percentage in the 12 months to February 2010 (although with the exponential increase in Twitter users, the actual number of spammers may have increased even if the percentage has decreased):

Computerworld questions whether Twitter is doing enough, and has itself demonstrated that identifying spammers can be done. The problem however is you find and block one spammer, then another takes its place.

The other battleground against spam is through third party clients. TweetDeck, for example has introduced a spam button which deletes the message, blocks the user and reports them to Twitter. Hootsuite also allows a spammer to be reported, but popular mobile client Echofon appears to be yet to follow suit.

Time will tell of the effectiveness of these measures – in the meantime, it looks like this annoyance will be with us for the foreseeable future.

A blog post entirely from my iPhone

Last week I wrote about how the rise of mobile apps is changing the way we access the Internet. But what about how we create content for it? That too is changing, and to demonstrate how, this entire post comes from the WordPress app on my iPhone.

A variety of apps exist for creating web content via mobile platforms. Mobile technology allows us to shoot photos and have them online in seconds. And as I mentioned in my last post, content on the Twittersphere is increasingly being generated from tablets and smartphones.

WordPress has an app. Tumblr has an app. Smartphones have the ability to record video and post directly to YouTube. A number of generic blogging apps are also available which talk to the various platforms.

There are limitations however. The app I’m typing this on doesn’t have a function to add links. The picture I uploaded can only appear at the bottom of the post. I can still however add tags.

Due to the limitations discussed, an interface such as this one won’t become my sole tool for writing to WordPress. But it is very useful if I’m out and about and an idea comes to me which I need to get into words while it’s still fresh. I can always log in via the web later to beautify and add links.

For journalists the ability to get content up instantaneously cannot be underestimated. Media outlets vying to be the first with an exclusive now work in a new wireless battleground. Reporters will need to adapt accordingly.

And if there’s one thing that’s beyond doubt, it’s that with the speed of technological advancement, methods of creating content like this will definitely improve and limitations will be swept away.

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