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Published on March 28th, 2013 | by -swansong-0
Digital News: Robo-Reporters
3 recent news reports have provided the impetus for this latest article which I’ll file under the heading of Digital News.
What images come to mind when you think of news reporters/journalists?
If you’re a movie fan, like me, it may conjure up images of Redford and Hoffman in All the Presidents Men, courageously and doggedly pounding the pavement in search of the truth. Or, if you’re a little older, it might call to mind Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell stopping at nothing (including lying, cheating and breaking the law) to uncover fraud and break the big story in His Girl Friday (a personal favorite).
Of all the images brought to mind when thinking about reporters the one that doesn’t come up is the one where the reporter’s story is written while said reporter is in their PJs, drooling on their pillow.
Digital News: Robo-Reporters
As if modern journalism hadn’t become detached or impersonal enough we are now presented with the concept of Robo-Reporters. A recent article by the Vancouver Sun provides the details.
Journalist Ken Schwencke has occasionally awakened in the morning to find his byline atop a news story he didn’t write.
No, it’s not that his employer, The Los Angeles Times, is accidentally putting his name atop other writers’ articles. Instead, it’s a reflection that Schwencke, digital editor at the respected U.S. newspaper, wrote an algorithm — that then wrote the story for him.
His fingers never have to touch a keyboard; he doesn’t have to look at a computer screen. He can be sleeping soundly when the story writes itself.
At this point Schwencke is using the algorithms to manufacture news stories on earthquakes and other topics heavy in data but it is not a stretch to envision a time when more and more news articles will be created using algorithms to collect and compile pertinent data.
For an industry that has shown time and again it’s willingness to abdicate it’s journalistic responsibilities, essentially turning them over to government and private interests, the idea of hands-off reporting would seem to be a perfect fit.
Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.
The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, ”In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”
But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government.
“Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.,” a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of “another success” in the Bush administration’s “drive to strengthen aviation security”; the reporter called it “one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history.” A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration’s determination to open markets for American farmers.
To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The “reporter” covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department’s office of communications.
As you can see pre-packaged reports are nothing new to modern MSM. Today’s MSM often regurgitates governmental and corporate press releases and talking points without the least bit of examination or qualification.
One wonders if MSM were to switch over to robo-reporters exclusively tomorrow…would anyone notice?
In other recent digital news…
FBI Pursuing Real-Time Gmail Spying Powers as “Top Priority” for 2013
The poor old FBI. It’s not enough that they can get their mitts on just about any piece of digital communication once sent, now they want to be able to monitor these communications in “real time”, much in the way they would when tapping your phone to capture conversations as they occur.
Despite the pervasiveness of law enforcement surveillance of digital communication, the FBI still has a difficult time monitoring Gmail, Google Voice, and Dropbox in real time. But that may change soon, because the bureau says it has made gaining more powers to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage a “top priority” this year.
Andrew Weissmann gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.
Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice. “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations,” he said.
Ahh yes, the old, “Let’s meet in Scrabble chat and discuss the overthrow of the government” ploy.
Seeing as the FBI, more often than not, get’s what it wants we can expect them to be soon following along as we drop “quixotic” on a triple word score.
A little good news to wrap up this edition of Digital News and I’m thrilled to say it emanates from North of the 49th parallel.
Canadians’ digital communications should get the same privacy protection as voice conversations during police investigations, following a new ruling from Canada’s top court.
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police need a wiretap order to seize your text messages from your wireless provider as they are sent and received.
It was a close vote amongst the Supremes but common sense ruled the day.
The issue that sparked the ruling involved a demand by police for wireless provider, Telus, to turn over copies of all the text messages sent and received by two of its customers each day over a two-week period after it was served with a general warrant.
Telus appealed the ruling, saying that if the police wanted the messages it would be considered “interception” and as such would require a wiretap warrant which is more difficult to obtain than a general warrant. The Supreme Court agreed.
We in Canada are no strangers to the ever increasing incursion by government into our private lives and communications so this ruling comes as most welcome news.