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MSU cautioning athletes about Twitter use, coach doesn’t get the Twitter

I think this may be a first for the Chronicle. Twitter is the subject of a story in the paper.

Today, sports editor Colter Nuanez writes about the Montana State University Bobcat football team and its concerns about players using Twitter.

Nuanez writes that 42 of the 94 players on the team’s active roster have accounts, at last count. We included a list with the story linked above, and I created a Twitter list that you Bobcat fans can follow if you like.

The story is mostly about how head coach Rob Ash and the rest of the coaching staff urge the athletes to be careful out there, not to tweet too many personal or inappropriate things that could reflect badly on the program or on the university — or put the players at a disadvantage on the field in any way.

It’s a solid story about MSU having to talk to its players about something they’ve never really had to deal with before, but I can’t get over some of the silly things that people who lack familiarity with Twitter will say about the service.

For example:

“Every tweet is public.”

Unless it’s not, of course. Private accounts exist on Twitter, ones that only broadcast to a select group of followers. In fact, if you go through the list of Bobcat Twitter users, you’ll find that a half dozen or so are private accounts.

Of course, putting any information on the Internet is a risk. It is a public network, after all, but not everything uploaded or posted to it is automatically or easily “public.”

Then there’s this from Ash:

“What happens is they forget how public it is. Sometimes guys think it’s like a text message. They will ask each other, ‘hey, you want to go to the movie?’ Well, do you want 1,000 people to go to the movie with you? It’s just crazy.”

I’m not sure if he believes 1,000 people are going to drop what they are doing and rush out to a movie that a player is going to or if Ash thinks that a public @reply on Twitter is akin to asking 1,000 people to the movies.

Our own reporting is no less innocent about festishing Twitter. Nuanez refers to players joining the Twitter “craze” twice in his story, despite the service being around since 2007 (That’s almost six years now, people.) and the fact that Twitter is so mainstream that I would argue any “craze” over it died years ago.

To top it off, though, is Ash, being the stereotypical 61-year-old guy, saying things like “I’d rather have a guy studying his playbook or watching film that Twittering. Or is it tweeting?”

Check definitions three and four, coach.

More issues related to quoting from social networking profiles

I wrote Wednesday about a social networking issue: Should journalists quote from sources’ social media profiles?

I had a few more thoughts to share that didn’t quite fit into that post, so I thought I’d file a kind of disjointed follow-up.

The Heinous Crime Provision

First of all, media organizations already quote regularly from personal social media profiles — it just happens to occur most often, at least in my experience, when the person in question has committed some kind of horrible crime, like shooting up a crowded theater.

I’m not sure any of us watching at home really think of this kind of quoting at “not OK,” though we may think it isn’t strictly necessary. Still, in situations like that, the media-viewing public is thirsty for any information about the criminal it can get, and social media profiles provide a glimpse into the perp’s mind.

Does this kind of “mass murderer” provision filter down to the level of the average Facebook user who hasn’t committed an atrocity? These people don’t have the same weight of public scrutiny on them that high-profile criminals do, so do we treat their privacy differently? Are we treating the high profile criminal’s privacy with irresponsible recklessness? (Consider that most of this media scrutiny happens directly after the crime and before any sort of court proceedings have determined that person’s guilt.)

I don’t have answers for these questions, by the way. Sorry to disappoint.

The Integrity of Quotes

Second, I keep coming back to this thing I wrote:

Second, why would we necessarily give someone a chance to rephrase their wording for the media? If you see something interesting on a person’s Facebook profile and want to quote it but then you do decide to call the person first, what is he going to do? He’s going to reword himself, polish up the quote — make it media-pretty.

I suppose it’s up to the reporter to decide whether it’s OK for the source to present a media-savvy front or to be quoted in situ. If the quote is worth quoting and it’s public, I’d say go use it.

We do this all the time already. When I worked in public relations at the local university, before rejoining the newspaper, we did it. We let sources edit and then OK their quotes.

Sometimes in the modern newsroom, we call sources before a story runs and read quotes back to them. This is done to make sure the quotes are accurate. The ethical reporter shouldn’t change a quote at a source’s request — probably — especially not if it is simply to make the source look better.

But what if the change the source requests improves the accuracy of the quote? What if changing one word is the difference between being wrong and right? Do you edit the existing quote to reflect the change or make them say it again? Is it enough for the source to say to you over the phone, “That quote you read me? Add in that one word and then consider that to be what I said.”?

Quotations are always tricky when the interview wasn’t recorded or when it was just you and the source in a one-on-one discussion. If a reporter has nothing but her notes as the record, then who is to say that when you sit down to write out that story that you got that source’s words exactly right? Add to this the fact that most people wouldn’t be able to tell you the precise words they spokes hours or days before.

With the social networking thing, you have a record of exactly what was said, and even if you call a source back and ask them about the thing they typed as a status update, all the pretty quotes they can give you over the phone doesn’t change the fact that they wrote it in the first place.

But then again…

What if the source changes the privacy settings on the post in question after a journalist has seen it? Can they pull something back out of the public sphere after it has been seen?

Privacy by Dave Pearson on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepearson/420884893/

Is it OK to quote sources from social network posts?

Privacy by Dave Pearson on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepearson/420884893/Jamee Greer, who works with the Montana Human Rights Network, put up an journalistically interesting post on his personal Facebook wall yesterday. In it, Greer says that a Missoulian guest columnist quoted him from a posting on his personal Facebook profile without directly contacting him.

(Beware, we are about to get into the deep meta-criticism world in which I discuss and quote things from Facebook in a post in which I discuss the appropriateness of quoting things from Facebook.)

Background

The column in question was by writer and activist Dave Stalling, who wrote Aug. 14 about Joseph Baken, the young man who told police he was assaulted at a Missoula bar for being gay when in reality he hurt himself trying some flip stunt that wound up on YouTube (from multiple angles even).

In his column, Stalling writes:

Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network is right on when he says bias crimes are about more than just the person who is at the end of an assailant’s fist. “They are about all of us. They are about silencing us, about intimidating us – about sending a message that we are not welcome in our own communities,” he says. “They try to send the message that we are an ‘other’ wholly undeserving of not just basic legal protections like marriage rights or non-discrimination in the workplace – but not even the right to immediate personal safety and physical security for ourselves and those we love. They are about hate and fear and terrorism.”

The thing is, that quote comes from a posting Greer made Aug. 6 to his personal Facebook account.

Greer is one of the hundreds of people I happen to be friends with on Facebook, so I was able to verify this, just as I was able to see the initial exchange about Greer seeing his words quoted in the Missoulian column. Both postings are listed right now as being shared with “Jamee’s friends,” and not as a public post, so I will not provide links. I don’t know if that ever changed or if they were limited visibility posts the whole time.

About five hours after Greer made his initial post about the column quote, Stalling responded to Greer on Facebook to explain himself. Stalling said he had earlier quoted Greer’s Facebook postings in a blog post that Greer had “liked” and commented on, so he assumed it was OK to quote him in the column.

Greer wrote in his original post that the incident has made him paranoid about what he posts on the social network, and he writes in a comment later that he will be limiting some of his Facebook postings as a result.

Enough of the details. Let’s move on to the theoretical question at the heart of all this:

Is it appropriate for a journalist or columnist to quote from someone’s Facebook page?

What others say

In January, Vince Duffy of the Radio Television Digital News Association asked a similar question. He didn’t come to any conclusions, and the three (yes, only three) reporters he spoke to about it had mixed opinions — one of which was that it was “lazy” to quote social network profiles without contacting a source.

Poynter took up the matter of social network privacy in March. In her article, Nisha Chittal addresses both Twitter and Facebook, but we’ll leave the tweeting aside for now.

Chittal rightly notes that Facebook’s privacy settings are complicated. While it is possible to limit your postings to friends or subsets of friends, general users might not know that or might not even realize their posts are being sent out into the wider world labeled “public.”

The conclusion of Chittal’s column, however, is that it’s still up in the air. There are many useful things reporters can find out in public on Facebook and many things that can lead them on to good contacts with sources and more background information about someone based on their likes and connections.

But to actually quote from a publicly available Facebook page without contacting the person first… Well, that’s a choice that seems to be made on a case-by-case basis, and Chittal lists a series of questions writers can ask themselves before quoting such material.

How I see it

Yes, you can quote people directly from their social networking profiles. No, you don’t need to make an effort to reach them directly, though that might be better in many cases.

However, the postings you quote must be publicly visible.

(You used to be able to search public Facebook posts via YourOpenBook, but Wikipedia tells me the site was shut down in July for legal reasons. You can still limit search results inside Facebook to only public posts, though.)

Now, Greer’s postings are currently set to be visible only to his Facebook friends. I don’t believe a social network friend should take advantage of that relationship to quote things openly. In this particular case, Stalling should have spoken to Greer first.

Back to why I think it’s OK to quote from social media without contacting a person.

First, and call me cold-hearted, but if you haven’t managed to figure out the privacy settings in Facebook, you need to learn them.

Second, why would we necessarily give someone a chance to rephrase their wording for the media? If you see something interesting on a person’s Facebook profile and want to quote it but then you do decide to call the person first, what is he going to do? He’s going to reword himself, polish up the quote — make it media-pretty.

I suppose it’s up to the reporter to decide whether it’s OK for the source to present a media-savvy front or to be quoted in situ. If the quote is worth quoting and it’s public, I’d say go use it.

That’s not to say I think you should use Facebook posts lightly. In fact, I’d be inclined to use the postings only as a last resort, unless the quote itself is the impetus for the story. And if a newspaper is basing a story on a social media post, then it had better be a public figure flubbing up or a fluffy feature — both cases in which you’d contact the person involved for more information or a response.

Finally: Don’t post things on the Internet unless you want them to be public. No matter what security or privacy settings you have in place, you are transferring information to another computer on a worldwide network. Don’t expect privacy.

General Guideline

I’m going to pass the buck and say it’s got to be a case-by-case analysis. There’s no way to make a single rule for something this fluid.

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Poring over the meaning of “pore over”

You learn something new every day. For example, quite by accident, I learned last night that when you are going through loads of something looking for information you are actually “poring” through that stuff.

That’s right, you’re not “pouring” over it or “pouring” through it. So stop typing it that way. (I shall endeavor to keep the newspaper from typing it that way too.)

The verb “pore,” according to our Associated Press-sanctioned Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition, means “to gaze intently” or “to read through carefuly” or “to think deeply and thoroughly.”

It is often paired with the preposition “over,” though “through” is also acceptable.

It comes from the Middle English “poren,” according to that dictionary, though the OED lists “poore,” “poure,” “pouri,” “power” as its Middle English forms.

The word’s true origins are unknown, though it could be related to the verb “pire,” which means the same thing and is comparable to the Low German “piren.”

The word is not, however, related to the noun “pore,” which comes to English from Middle French at the end of the 13th century, which in turn comes from the Latin “porus.”

The verb “pour,” for its part, is completely unreleated any of these. It comes from, maybe, Middle French’s “purer,” meaning to decant.

And let’s not forget the adjective and noun “poor.” That comes from the Middle English “pawre” and various other forms. The word’s origins are Anglo-Norman in “pover,” “pore,” “povere,” “poevere” and “puvre” and Old French in “povre.”

As to our original purpose, DailyWritingTips offers this memory device to pore over:

Lore is learning, knowledge, doctrine. To become well-versed in computer lore or the lore of magic, or the lore of religion, one must pore over learned tomes.

Contrails from Wikipedia via NOAA

The ‘conspiracy theory’ call

Occasionally, we get phone calls in the newsroom from people whose grasp on reality has slipped. Today was one of those days.

I’m not going to go into details, other than to say the call involved a person who honestly believed in chemtrails and HARP controlling the weather.

How you handle the calls, of course, depends on the kind of person you are. Some people will blatantly tell the caller that they think he or she is off the rails. Others, like me, prefer to listen as much as possible — without letting the caller go on for an hour.

I try to respond to them as genuinely as I can, even if I think their theories are crazy. I have done this on numerous chemtrail calls, calls alleging conspiracies at the highest levels of government, sasquatch calls and even supervolcano calls.

From time to time, this means my coworkers hear me say things that they feel are hilarious in a deadpan while on the phone.

Today:

“What would we need to do an article on chemtrails? Well if you know someone who has been personally involved in loading chemicals onto an airplane for aerial dispersal and who is willing to talk, that would be a good start.”

And:

“Isn’t that supposed to be in Alaska? That’s a bit out of our coverage area. Unless there’s a HARP installation in the tri-county area, we’re probably not interested.”

Today, I gave this caller my email address and asked the person to forward information to me, including any peer-reviewed scientific studies denoting the existence and harmful effects of chemtrails.

I’m not being disingenuous to these people. If they can honestly provide me verifiable evidence of their theories, I’ll be the first to volunteer to do the story and accept the Pulizer for it.

Until such proof surfaces, however, call me skeptical.

Photo Lost and Found Box by gorbould on Flickr

Online lost and found

Photo Lost and Found Box by gorbould on FlickrNot too long ago, a man from Wyoming posted a photo on the Chronicle’s Facebook timeline, asking if anyone in town could identify the people in it.

The photo had been found on a digital camera that, in turn, had been found buried under several inches of sand at the bottom of a drained Wyoming lake. The original poster was hoping that someone in Bozeman would be able to help him find the camera’s owner.

It took about 40 minutes.

Impressive as that was (we wrote a story about it that hit the regional AP wires), it has seemingly inspired others to reach out to the Chronicle, and for most of the morning, I thought we had a repeat performance. Alas, we didn’t, but I think it’s worth telling the story anyhow.

Today, a reader named Natasha posted this to the Chronicle’s timeline:

“I accepted a ride from a kind mechanical engineering student named Joe around 4:30 am this morning, from the greyhound/rimrock bus station to south black street. Joe was dropping off his brother at the bus station when he offered me a ride. I left a small bag inside his vehicle and inside is my ID, my cash and bank cards, and my DSLR camera, inside of which is the most important thing missing: pictures from my best friend’s wedding this past Saturday. Joe is from Washington. This, and his major, is all I know about him, and that he drives a big truck (I think it runs on diesel). Joe dropped me off at the corner closest to my home, but not directly in front of it. I am trying many different ways to find him and thought I would post here. These photos are incredibly important to many people, and any information leading to their retrieval would be appreciated. My phone number is (406) XXX-XXXX. Thank you for reading!!”

About 10 minutes, later, Natasha informed us and the rest of our fans:

Joe just called me!!! Kathy in the MSU engineering office found him :]

Now, coming off our success with the lake camera, I thought we were looking at another mystery solved thanks to our lovely Facebook fans. I was all ready to write a triumphant blog post proclaiming things like: “Lost something? Let the BDC and its legions of sleuthing fans help you find it!”

However, I called Kathy at the Montana State University mechanical engineering office to follow up on the story. She burst my bubble, telling me that Natasha had called their office in the morning and that had begun the search for Joe the Student. It had nothing to do with social media.

Foiled.

Still, I think the fact that people are willing to turn to their local newspaper’s Facebook page — one of the largest groups of Bozeman locals (and non-locals) who actively particpate in discussions online — shows that we are a valuable service to the community. After all, people have been putting lost and found classified ads into newspapers for years. Why shouldn’t we fill some of the same public need online?

Business answer: because we charge for classifieds and not for Facebook postings.

Well, there is that. But I still think it’s neat anyhow.

Newspaper rack-a-geddon

In case you missed it earlier this week, several Bay-area newspapers in California are in an uproar over the case of the missing newspaper racks.

It seems that racks belonging to several papers, including the Palo Alto Daily Post, Metro Silicon Valley and Palo Alto Weekly went missing from their regular spots. They were found, at least some of them, in a garbage bin belonging to a competitor, the San Jose Mercury News.

The Mercury News claims that it removed its own racks and competitors’ racks that were in violation of local ordinances. They claim it is “standard practice” for the major newspaper in the area to remove other papers’ racks and keep them for later pickup.

The situation is written up with far more detail on San Jose Inside.

At first, the Mercury News claimed it had called the other publishers to let them know their property had been rounded up. However, on Friday the Mercury News acknowledged that it had “failed to follow its longtime practice of calling the other newspapers.”

San Jose Inside is, to put it bluntly, calling BS.

In a post today, headlined “The Mercury News is Lying,” San Jose Inside writer Dan Pulcrano writes:

There are two kinds of thieves: ones who own up to their actions when caught and those who make up facts to justify their thievery. The Mercury News executive team has chosen to go the route of lying thieves. Luckily, no one is really fooled, and the ethical character of the group running the Bay Area’s daily newspapers is now on display for all to see. The emperor has no clothes.

Please read the whole post. It is perhaps the most entertaining thing you’ll read this weekend, as Pulcrano goes line-by-line through the Mercury News’ response to a Romenesko item about the flap.

The part I like best pertains to the city of San Jose, which told Pulcrano on Friday:

“We do not have any records pertaining to this issue. We would not ask the Mercury News to confiscate a competitor’s property. If there were a violation, we would contact the owner directly to correct the issue or we would confiscate the news rack.”

Long term? Papers in San Jose, which apparently already don’t like each other very much will continue with their hard feelings. Circulation directors scheming across the country will rethink a few ethically questionable ideas. Romenesko will get quite a few tips about copycat situations going on around the country — no doubt they exist.

Short term? My wife, a former circulation department worker, and I got plenty of giggles from following the situation. I hope you do too.

date

Do news sites need dates at the top of them?

It’s a question our publisher settled for the Chronicle when she asked me Wednesday to return the date to the top of our site. I had removed it during the slight redesign we did back in June to launch our metered paywall. In its place, I had put links that our readers now use, once logged in, to take themselves to our e-edition, the e-Chronicle.

I protested slightly the idea of putting the date at the top of our site, but I bow of course to the publisher’s decision. Still, I think the question can be asked here on the blog philosophically: Why would we need the date up there?

First, some context. The Chronicle, as faithful readers will know, is part of the Big Sky Publishing Group, which comprises us, the Belgrade News, the West Yellowstone News and the Lonepeak Lookout. Big Sky Publishing is part of Pioneer Newspapers, which owns quite a few papers around the Northwest.

I checked the websites of our sister papers to see if they had dates at the top of their sites:

That’s a pretty fair split. Out of the 11 papers I looked at in our chain, five have dates at the top of them and six don’t.

For the record, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Minnesota Star-Tribune, Seattle PI and Seattle Times have dates.

The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Denver Post and CNN do not have a date.

That’s just a few names around the country I could think up on the spot. I’m not conducting a rigorous survey here.

So…

Why have a date atop the site?

Newspapers always have dates at the top. It’s part of what we do to let readers know that they have the most recent news in their hands. It’s what we do to refer to individual issues of the paper — making it easier to refer to stories in them.

So on one hand, it’s a tradition carried over from print.

Another possible benefit of having the date atop sites is to make it easier to determine when a printout of the site was made. I can see this being of use with advertisers, who sometimes need visual proof that their ads ran online. A printout of the site showing the date of that day would be useful for that.

Thirdly, having the date at the top of every page on the site would give readers information at a glance if they are on our site. What’s the date today? Oh, there is it!

Why not?

My biggest argument against putting the date at the top is that the date doesn’t reflect the “edition” of the Website. The site currently tells me that it is Aug. 3, 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s the “Aug. 3, 2012″ edition of the site. We don’t refer back to a specific day’s edition of the site because each article has it’s own publication date and time, as well as update dates and times (if appropriate). The date atop the site is merely a query to the server, asking it to echo the current month, day and year, regardless of context.

Plus, people’s computers, smartphones, desk calendars and innumerable other devices already tell them what day it is. So why do they need to get that information from us?

Make it useful

We’re going to have a date atop our site. That much is clear, and I’m OK with that. Really. However, I am going to work today to make that date slightly more useful by adding a “last updated” date and time next to it.

Unfortunately, our software doesn’t really make this easy, so it’ll take some figuring to make it work. However, I think it’ll be worth it.

I welcome your thoughts on the matter. Do newspaper websites need a date at the top? Let me know in the comments.

BigSkyDevCon logo

Bozeman hosting conference for Web types: BigSkyDevCon

BigSkyDevCon logoHere’s a new thing to add to your list of things you must do this weekend — right alongside attending the Sweet Pea and S.L.A.M. festivals: Go and sit in windowless rooms at MSU with a bunch of computer programmers.

OK, that makes it sound far worse than it will be. Bozeman is actually hosting BigSkyDevCon, a conference for software developers, Web designers and tech business leaders. The Chronicle’s article is here, you can get all the event details you want there, or you can visit the conference’s website at bigskydevcon.org.

The organizers, Rob Irizarry and Rob Lund, are members of Bozeman’s Montana Programmers group. The statewide group boasts more than 400 members who have held more than 150 meetings. It’s biggest chapters are in Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

Follow the conference on Twitter at @bigskydevcon and on Facebook.