Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Wikileaks, Google and The Smoking Gun Change Media

By David Weir

There are three primary types of reporting — personal observation (attending meetings or events); conducting interviews; and collecting documents. As the Internet transforms the media business, it’s worth considering the new ways journalists work when building or growing your company.

Many reporters are increasingly relying on crowd-sourcing and citizen journalists as a substitute for covering events. Conducting interviews by email has become common after some early apprehension in journalism circles, because an efficient workflow includes launching multiple questions to multiple sources, while the reporter is putting together his or her story.

The greatest change for journalists comes in the form of access to documents. In years past, we often found ourselves deep in libraries, city halls, federal buildings and other sites that serve as document repositories. We used the Freedom of Information Act to pry controversial documents out of bureaucracies, and pored over microfiche until our eyes hurt.

But those days have been replaced by using a laptop to search for information, conduct VOIP calls overseas, and compose and design our posts; a cell phone to text message and conduct interviews with sources; and a vast array of personal networks to connect with hundreds of people on a regular business.

Now, what, you may be asking, does this have to do with the business side of media?

Simple. The costs involved in the production and publication of original content have been slashed dramatically, to the point all you need is a human, a computer, and a cellphone, with the latter two headed for convergence over the next few years.

When it comes to locating documents, a number of services have emerged that make this part of the process easier:

  • Wikileaks is a document-leaking site, which among other stories was responsible for bringing the U.S. military operating manual for Gitmo to light.

  • Google’s government document search service at is a useful source on the U.S. government’s massive paper footprint.

  • The Smoking Gun exposed the documents used by the Los Angeles Times for an “expose” as the work of a con man. It maintains a large collection of public documents on crimes, celebrities, politicians, and the FBI.

These are just three among many. The point is that successful media companies thrive on timeliness, originality, and efficiency, and these sites are helping reporters on all three counts.

When you’re on the business side of operations, it’s critical to know what your journalistic colleagues are up to, how their work is changing, and what’s possible to accomplish with new tools.

Which, of course, is why I wrote this post.

Reproduced with kind courtesy BNET Media


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