November 14, 2003

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Considering this is the brianstorms blog, there's sure been a dearth of brianstorming lately. Here's an idea:

There's an interesting new topic in the media conference on The WELL all about the crap, gossip, trivia, and nonsense that takes up so much of each broadcast news programming hour and subsequently fills out brains with so much useless information. Ever think about all the junk that the media passes on as "news", instead of news we could all use? Seems to me that society could really, really use a solid, no-nonsense news and information source. The antithesis of what's on television today.

I'm reminded of the line from the movie All the President's Men, where the Post editors are all meeting in a conference room, deciding what stories to run with in the next issue. One human interest story has to do with a strange phenomenon (some think a religious miracle) in the Phillipines that some think is causing unusually long rainstorms. The Ben Bradlee character decides it's not an important story. One editor disagrees, saying, "Laugh laugh, gentlemen, it'll be the only story anybody reads."

It seems that in thirty years the pendulum has swung such that the new Ben Bradlees of the world are much more interested in running the Philippine rain miracle stories and less interested in following big stories all the way through to their final conclusion or resolution.

Here's my current inventory of Things I Don't Care About Or Need To Know:

  • Celebrity Arrests
  • Celebrity Breakups
  • Celebrity Marriages
  • Celebrity Scandals
  • Celebrity Internet Videos
  • Sports
  • Sensational Court Hearings, Trials, etc.
  • Vacation Hot Spots
  • Who's a Liberal
  • Who's a Conservative
  • Who Thinks Who is a Liar/Traitor/Slanderer/etc
. . . well you get the idea.

On the other hand, here is a very short list of some of the stuff that I am interested in, stuff I think we've yet to reach resolution or conclusion on:

  • When is Saddam Hussein going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • When is Osama bin Laden going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • When is Ken Lay going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • Where are the answers to all the unanswered 9/11 questions?
  • Who attended Cheney's energy policy meetings and what was discussed and decided?
  • What specific corporations, organizations, and wealthy individuals are financing all of the 2004 presidential campaigns? Names, amounts, candidates, parties. Running, regularly updated tally would be nice.
  • How safe are the food and drink products I buy and consume? Should I care?
  • What things can I do today to my home/car/office to save energy?
  • What can I do to get my dog healthier in such a way that does not require daily doses of antibiotics and other prescriptions for the rest of his life?
. . . well, you get the idea.

That 9/11 site mentioned above really is remarkable, for its depth and sheer number of unanswered questions raised. Imagine if all major news stories had sites like that, with rich timelines, enormous amounts of links and references and background information, as well as a list of yet-to-be-answered questions that could be answered by "viewers like you"? (Hmm, imagine if PBS were no longer about getting money from viewers like you, but stories, facts, and eyewitness accounts from viewers like you.)

Here's an idea. We build a social network (along the lines of Ryze, Friendster, LinkedIn, Ringo, MeetUp, etc) but for news. A network that represents who knows what, who witnessed what, who's covering what, who's there now, who used to live/work there, etc. A network of not just amateurs but professional newspeople as well. Of course, the network would have reputation management. Certainly there's a good dose of Google Answers in this idea, but it's not about individuals. The point of the site would be that it's a comprehensive clearinghouse for information about news and who are the best sources for the news. There'd also be a strong dose of Snopes in a service like I'm envisioning. Perhaps one way to implement it would be using a wiki, like wikipedia, but it'd be a newswiki, where stuff that's happening right now can be written about, but also the background info, backstory, and historical context could be made available as well. A quick search around the web finds something called newswiki and timestreams but there's not much on those pages. Surely there's some discussion about these kinds of ideas out there somewhere? Would love to hear from you if you're doing something in this space already.

This is all random brainstorming at this point, but I would love to know more about social networks for news where we can go straight to all the Salam Paxes of the world and get their versions of the story, rather than the sanitized versions we're getting through the print and broadcast networks.

By the way I love how when you type in "newswiki" as a search in Google, Google responds with "Did you mean Newsweek?" No. I precisely did not mean Newsweek. That's the whole problem.

Posted by brian at November 14, 2003 09:09 PM


That sounds almost like...a blog. Only for news. Or perhaps I am missing the point. The problem with what you suggest is in the vetting. Anything that demands "alternative sources" and reporting from the street, and that is compiled by masses of people, invariably leads to a certain amount of fluffiness and inaccuracy.

But I am sure it is doable. Perhaps create a site where the visitors vote first must nominate an issue as being news worthy. And then the community can vote (maybe 1 a day per visitor) on the importance of those issues...and once a handful of some 20 newsworthy issues are found...then permit posts under each issue, that again, will be voted on, (and possibly deleated) if they prove to be lies or mere propaganda.

Hence, the visitors might decide that,"finding Saddam, healthcare reform, George Soros funding the Democrats, black on black crime, Rumsfeld's incompetence, the role of blacks in the administration, tax reform, Hillary as VP candidate for Dean"....are the most important issues for a given time period (maybe over the week or month).

One would then allow people to post under each topic any real news. But as a requirement for posting (but not for nominating issues or voting), they must register and include there real first name, last initial, and location. That way if they post pure lies or inaccuracies, it would not be wholly impossible to track them down (and, uhm, kill them?).

Anyway just a thought. For certain it could be popular. Cause you would see not only what is popular in people's minds (do I smell marketing opporunities here?), but you would create a site that is purely about real issues and news, as any unrelated post would be wiped out immediately by the administrators. Further, the administrators might reserve 3 of the 20 issue slots for themselves, just in case the bulk of the users vote over really trivial stuff, like whether Britney deserved her Hollywood star (which, of course, she does not).

Posted by: Wizard at November 19, 2003 02:36 AM

we are the world

Posted by: brian at March 1, 2004 02:46 PM

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