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Technology + Journalism = Chaos

Last week I attended and spoke at the Computation + Journalism Symposium. This venue brought together technologists and journalists to discuss the role of technology in journalism and its impact on the future of journalism. By my count, there were four main themes that emerged from this two day event.

  1. The state of journalism is, in one word, chaos.
  2. Social media (twitter, in particular) is radically changing the face of journalism, and not all for the good.
  3. Journalists are buried in data and information, but lack good curation tools.
  4. Verification of information is essential and getting harder to obtain.

The sense of chaos in journalism is in part an economic issue. Print news used to be highly profitable primarily because of advertising and classified ads. This source of revenue has all but disappeared and even those outlets with paywalls are barely able to generate enough revenue to sustain their institution.

Besides these economic issues, technology’s impact on journalism has been both positive and negative. On the positive side, the Internet has democratized the creation and distribution of news; citizen journalists with mobile devices provide breaking news of world-wide events; and social media allows for the rapid and wide-spread dissemination of information. On the negative side, the Internet has significantly increased the pace of breaking news; journalists are buried in an unprecedented amount of information; and the average reader’s attention span has dwindled to less than 140 characters.

I spoke with many journalists about how fact checking, once a mainstay of media outlets, has all but disappeared. This is due to both the economic and time pressures imposed on today’s media outlets. At the same time, journalists express horror at the thought of making a mistake in a published story. With the world-wide explosion of mobile devices, more and more breaking news is being reported in the form of images and video from which narratives are constructed. As readers of this blog certainly know, the manipulation of images and video is becoming more common and easier to do adding a new and more complex form of fact-checking that everyone agrees must be done.

I spoke at the symposium about some of our forensic techniques. There was wide-spread pleasure at the thought that we can now equip journalists with the necessary tools to verify the authenticity of images and video. It is my hope that our forensic tools will help journalists contend with this chaotic, yet exciting, time. 


The symposium organizers will be making videos of all session available on-line.


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