In the midst of doom and gloom scenarios about the future of news organizations, it was delightful to attend an upbeat session yesterday at ALA on news literacy. The Education & Behavioral Sciences Section’s program was titled “News Literacy and Preservation: Finding, Using, and Losing the News.”
Hannah Sommers talked about NPR’s archiving of its broadcasts. Given that NPR has been on the air for decades, it was not surprising to hear that much of their material is stored on those old, large tape reels (hey, NPR, if you ever run out of reel to reel players, I’ve got several in my basement). The plan is to digitize these. Even more ambitious is the possibility of preserving entire interviews, not just the bits that make it to air time. Metadata plays an important role. I was interested to learn that NPR has some special codes for audio, so they can tell who’s talking to whom. I also didn’t know they’ve got an open API.
Bernard Reilly, President of the Center for Research Libraries, talked about the challenges facing news archives when secondary distribution channels move from simply aggregating news sources (think LexisNexis, Factiva, ProQuest) to analyzing them and assigning sentiment ratings. He mentioned Factiva Insight and LexisNexis Analytics as examples. Then there’s the introduction of social networking. The Berkman Center at Harvard is using Morningside for sentiment analysis. Another form of analyzing news is to look at blog coverage of a topic. Implications for libraries: We’re paying for databases, but actually we’re only renting them. Librarians should become monitors of news content. News must be structured so that it can be migrated, otherwise it won’t survive.
Debora Cheney, from Penn State, began her talk by quoting Ken Doctor, “Blogs are the rough draft of history.” She then talked about students as news readers who rely on recommendations, not searching, to find news. When they search, they enter proper names, only a few words, phrases, and dates in a search box. Boolean advanced search they don’t use. She urged that libraries re-establish themselves as *the* place for news content.
Most impressive was the first speaker in this session, Washington Post researcher Meg Smith. Her innovative use of new media to research stories was eye-opening. Not only does she look at social media sites such as Facebook (I didn’t know that dead crime victims sometimes still have live FB pages that serve a memorial purpose for their friends and family), MySpace (popular with younger kids, the military, and those living in more rural areas), eBay (a woman who killed her kids was doing online shopping at about the same time) and Twitter, but she once tracked edits in Wikipedia (under a non-obvious email address) to find a neighbor for a reporter to interview in the anthrax poisoning incident. She cautioned, however, that journalistic ethics can preclude use of social media sources in a story.
Smith had great stories to tell. Her ability to use social media in unexpected ways should inspire researchers not only in news organizations but also in other types of work settings.