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Journalism By Game: Bringing The Community Into The Process

from the one-future-for-journalism? dept

Back in college, I took a lot of statistics classes -- and I did pretty well in them, but it wasn't until I was well into a pretty high level stats class that I finally started to understand statistics, and it had nothing to do with the class or the teacher. It had to do with the job I'd taken as a stats tutor for six different intro stats classes (and, eventually, that resulted in teaching a full class on stats to incoming freshmen). What I realized is that as useful as the book learning and problem sets and everything was, it wasn't until I had to actually explain something back to someone who really didn't understand it, that I finally started to really understand the more important aspects of statistics. I couldn't get away with "well, I understand this because it works." I had to so fully understand statistics that I could actually understand questions that came from way out in left field, and try to figure out how to fit them back into the framework that was being taught. It was a valuable lesson.

In talking about the future of journalism, one point I've made repeatedly, is that news organizations need to realize that their community is their best asset, and they need to cater to them more and involve them a lot more in the process. Today's news "consumer" isn't really a consumer, but a participant. I've talked about how they want to share the news, write the news and comment on the news, but what about actually experiencing the news in some manner?

Whether on purpose or not, it seems like that's what Wired just accomplished with its ambitious Vanish project. If you haven't paid attention to it, it started with an article last month in Wired, called Gone Forever: What Does It Take to Really Disappear?, written by reporter Evan Ratliff. The article itself was quite an enjoyable read, about people who have simply tried to disappear and start a new life (and the difficulty of actually vanishing from your old life). Despite the topic (and the fact that I love such stories), I probably would have skipped the article over. There's only so much time and so many things you can read in a daily basis -- and (as you might have guessed) I already read a lot.

But, Wired combined this with a contest. The reporter on the story, Evan Ratliff agreed to "vanish" himself for a month, and the contest was to see if anyone could find him. If someone found him and said the word "fluke" to him, Evan would respond with a codeword that would allow the "winner" to alert Wired's Nicholas Thompson and claim a $5,000 prize (including, I believe, Ratliff's own $3,000 for writing the article). That certainly made the story a lot more compelling. I have to admit that I didn't participate much in the "chase" which was tracked in a variety of places online from Facebook to Twitter to the Vanish blog on Wired, which dropped clues and tied together some of the findings.

On Tuesday, however, Ratliff was caught, down in New Orleans, by the operator of a pizza shop, who had been alerted to the whole thing just a day before by someone who had been very closely tracking Ratliff, and used some rather creative means to track him down -- including befriending some people who were alerted to Evan's whereabouts without even realizing it. You can read the full explanation from Jeff Reifman as to how he tracked down Ratliff, or Wired's shorter summary of the story. In the end, Ratliff left a lot of clues, but he did so purposely, to help illustrate typical mistakes made by those who do try to "vanish" for real.

However, what struck me, was just how involved the community got in this story. It reminded me of the revelation of learning statistics by teaching it -- and has me thinking more about "experiential" reporting on "reporting by game" to better involve a community in various projects. I am not suggesting that "this is the future of journalism." But I am saying it may be one potentially useful way that some stories could be told. For many people involved in this project, I'll bet they learned a hell of a lot more about this issue than they ever expected. And even those of use who were "casual observers" picked up a ton of interesting knowledge about how people try to vanish -- and (perhaps much more interesting) how others track them down. If I were looking to make journalism more interesting, I'd start looking at ways to more creatively involve a community, and Wired's Vanish experiment is one to keep in mind as an example.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 3:01pm

    I suppose one can always resort to "remote viewing" to track someone down :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    fogbugzd, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 3:33pm

    Involve the community

    >>news organizations need to realize that their community is their best asset, and they need to cater to them more and involve them a lot more in the process.

    This applies to a lot more than news organizations. Too many industries see the consumer as the enemy. The consumer is someone who must be coerced into buying the product, either by trickery, market manipulation, or government regulation. In the eyes of too many businesses it is the RESPONSIBILITY of consumers to send money. Panic ensues in the board rooms when the consumer fails to live up to that obligation.

    Why are so many jobs created in small companies? Small companies don't have that traditional base of customers, and they have to work at getting them. Small businesses tend to recognize the value of their customers individually and as a group.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 4:02pm

    You're all being gamed.

    Poor, poor, ridiculous old Mike Masnick.

    He's confused. He honestly believes that the devoted fan base he amassed with his wonderfully creative and genius longtime running blog will now run over to mainstream media and fall in love with his batshitcrazy copyright/current events talk.

    Not many of us liked it the first time, back when he'd spend entire segments licking the asses of Glenn Beck and the Repub party and pretending to be smarter than the rest of us.

    Whatta a loon.

    So yeah, he's going to sell out soon and sign some deal with that insane Mike Arrington's talk-and-blog network (home to TechCrunch, CrunchBase, VentureBeat and comedians like MG Siegler...snicker snicker) and now Mike can pretend that he's doing something really innovative, alongside those geniuses.

    Jesus, what a pussy you are, Mike.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 4:56pm

    Re: You're all being gamed.

    Don't forget about Robin "The Retard Censor" Wauters. I hate that fucker.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Thomas (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 7:12pm

    Sigh ..

    Another coherent, relevant, incisive AC post ..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 8:51pm

    Re: You're all being gamed.

    and to further the "let's game these stupid fucks" trick they're clearly playing, they made a game called "vanish" which they claimed was supposed to exemplify how hard it is to actually vanish... yet the douchebag leaves shit all over twitter and other places telling people where he is. if i wanted to actually vanish, no one would ever find me.

    besides, twitter is for attention whores.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 8:56pm

    Palm Pre Statistics Program

    I couldn't get away with "well, I understand this because it works." I had to so fully understand statistics that I could actually understand questions that came from way out in left field, and try to figure out how to fit them back into the framework that was being taught. It was a valuable lesson.

    Sounds like Mike's mad again. Maybe it's because one of his co-workers told him that his favorite app went on sale, and he's coming to the sad realization that it will never never, ever ever be available on the Palm Pre.

    But if you have a iPhone, you can have the free statistical manipulation application Mike wishes he could have. Get it while it's still on sale! Click here:

    http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=320476717&mt=8

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Richard, Sep 10th, 2009 @ 3:06am

    You are Mr Lobby Ludd

    and I claim the News Chronicle prize.

    Plus ca change....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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