Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My China news radar: the target (1)

News Media At The Obama Event
News Media At The Obama Event (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)
Can you set up a Twitter account for me? That is the most asked question when companies, organizations or people set up their social media operation. And you can replace Twitter with Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Weibo or whatever the person who asks the question is fascinated with at the moment.
But they often forget to ask the most important questions: what is it you want to achieve? Is it a feasible target? So, before I set off to explain how my China radar screen is working, I want to tell you what I want to achieve. 
In short, I want to set up a meaningful selection filter of news on China.

The basis of my digital radar screen was a report by some of the better US journalism schools on how those schools should prepare for their digital future. At the time, I still called myself a journalist, so I took note. The report was written five, six years ago (forgive me, no link anymore) and drew two major conclusions.
First, the number of journalists was too large, and schools had to reduce the intake of students.
Second, journalists had to focus on managing online information, rather then collecting it themselves. They had to become human filters.

I do not think many journalism schools took that advice serious. Intake of students has gone up since the report was discussed, despite a dismal job market; even the number of journalism schools has gone up. And despite a drop in media resources, when you go to major events like the Olympic Games, the Oscars or any other popular event, the number of journalists there seems to grow, despite the falling number of jobs, and the lack of real news at those events.
I looked at the time at my online operation, and saw that I had already started to behave like a human online filter, in my case regarding China. And as a human filter, what I pass on is important, but the garbage that does not pass my filter, might even be more important. This report on US journalism schools I had in mind, when I started to organize my filtering activities in a more sophisticated way.

Now, by running the China Speakers Bureau, I have transformed my human filter activities also into a support activity for this commercial venture. Where applicable, I will mention this, since I believe becoming a human filter is a useful new activity for current and former journalists, also outside the traditional media companies.

So, after looking at the report, I started to make a few drastic decisions. My key business as a foreign correspondent in Shanghai was to make sense out of China for people living outside the country. I have never been in the business of telling the Chinese how they country is working. That meant a strong focus on English-language sources. Not in my mother tongue Dutch, since there would be too little to filter. And not in Chinese, although I greatly appreciate the efforts of so-called "bridge-bloggers", who translate increasingly Chinese sources into English. I can help myself in more languages, but in my function as a human filter, displaying all my language capabilities is only confusing for my audience, certainly as long as online translations services are not perfect, to put it mildly.
Second, it had to be news. What makes any online operation better than the traditional media is that they can be faster and more comprehensive than the traditional media. So, when an event has already been reported by dozens of news media, I mostly ignore it, unless I can dig up some sources with new angles.
Third, it had to be relevant news, again, from my perspective. Strikes, accidents, floodings, mining deaths and other mass incidents - as they are called in China - are only interesting for me, if they have a mean that is larger than the incident itself. It Tibetan no 102 setting himself ablaze news? I do not think so, although it could be different if you would be working for a human rights organization.
Fourth, they have come come from trustworthy sources. While what is trustworthy might vary from case to case (and we will dive deeper into this later), but quoting just anything interesting is not what a human filter should do. I'm far from perfect, but a split-second decision on the trustworthiness of a source is always a consideration, before I pass on links.

I never counted it scientifically, but I estimate that only one percent of all the stories and links I see pass my filter. That sounds like very little, but it is rather similar to journalists at news desks scanning the incoming news from press agencies for what is relevant to them. By doing it a lot, you become more efficient.

My filter is set up into two different larger operations. To illustrate that (and they will be separate postings later on) can I take you back for a second to some of the old theories about mass media? Those theories might be losing their usefulness, together with the diminishing value of mass media, but one concept I still like.
You might remember the differences between ‘senders’ and ‘receivers’ of mass communication? The mass media were sending their information to us, suckers, the receivers of that information. Now, that rather strict divide has been eroded as we are both ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ through the same social media tools at the same time.
Still, for analyzing your own activities, that old concept is still useful, for example when you are building up your own social network, as an individual, a company, an organization, government agency or otherwise. And for me as a human filter, making that distinction is extra useful.
First, on receiving, the subject of the next posting. You have to learn how make a selection among your potential friends, followers, information and other news items. You have to ask yourself what the purpose is of accepting a friend, or looking at a certain website, or opening up a new stream of feeds.
A part of that information you receive, you decide to pass on into your own network of friends, followers, or whatever they are called. That ‘sending’ process is the subject of the third posting. receiving part.


Any thoughts, additions, questions or remarks? Let me know.
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