Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Note: You can take 10% off all Slashdot Deals with coupon code "slashdot10off." ×
News

Feature:News in the Slashdot Decade 127

Matthew Priestley has written an excellent essay on News in the Slashdot Decade. It talks about how The Internet is changing the way that news moves about, and discusses problems and advantages related to it. Interesting its a really excellent piece.

The following was written by Slashdot Reader Matthew Priestley, who, despite his email address, is a pretty cool guy Honest News in the Slashdot Decade
In this paper, we discuss the nature of biased and unbiased news in terms of 'trust decisions', using the cryptographic sense of that phrase. We examine the biases in modern media and identify their causes. Two examples of community news services are examined: Slashdot.org, and FreeRepublic.com. (0) From this analysis we derive a model of community news.

Disclaimer: The author of this paper works for Microsoft, but his opinions may not be the opinions of Microsoft. In fact, they aren't. The author hereby declares that nobody important at Microsoft is even aware of his existence, and that he is about as significant to Bill Gates as a single bacterium in your colon is significant to the weather in France.

0 Introduction
There is a malaise of distrust among news consumers. In recent years the number of news outlets has dwindled due to mergers and attrition, leaving information consumers with a scrawny range of choice. As the global quantity of information grows at a jaw-dropping rate, individuals increasingly despair of their ability to filter the news without aid from massive corporations.

Almost half of adults have little or no trust in media agencies (1), yet almost all delegate news collection to companies they will condemn if asked. When consumers knowingly act against their own interests, a form of coercion must be in operation. In the case of news, this coercion is a stranglehold enjoyed by media companies over filtered information. If their services are not accepted, the consumer sinks in a sea of data. In a world in which no one can process all the news and still enjoy a full life, having all information is as useless as having no information at all.

1 Nature and weakness of trust decisions
The selection of a news-filtering agency resembles what is called in cryptology a 'trust decision'. Briefly, a trust decision is a choice made by the user to validate another user's digital certificate. By assigning trust to the certificate, any content signed by that certificate becomes, in a limited sense, trustworthy. (2)

It is burdensome to evaluate the trustworthiness of every certificate, and a typical user lacks the expertise to investigate each exhaustively. For this reason, most users choose to trust a Certification Authority or CA, a central agency empowered to make trust decisions on their behalf. By endowing a single node with the power to filter certificates, the user is spared this chore. (3)

This process is analogous to the decision to accept news from an established information outlet. It would require an unreasonable effort and scads of time for any individual to audit all the news. Apart from sheer volume, appraising facts often requires background familiarity. Sources must be checked, viewpoints solicited, and impact considered. It becomes clear that this is no task for a person who hopes to conduct, for example, a life on the side. Hence the necessity of the trust decision.

Due to the exhausting claims of evaluating news, authority to filter information must be delegated.

2 Sources of bias in modern media
2.1 Opinion pollution
That trust decisions are subject to predation should be apparent. The most evident form of bias is opinion pollution, in which the subjective feelings of a reporter taint the news. Such bias may either systemic, or it may be the fault of "rogue" reporters, or both.

This form of bias is trivial to establish. In a July 8th article discussing a verdict against tobacco companies, the New York Times dwells on the volume of damning evidence presented by the plaintiffs. The deformities of the smokers are described, and the article drops a helpful tip about joining the suit. (4) Covering precisely the same event, the Wall Street Journal scrupulously avoids discussing the smokers, save to describe their organizers as 'flamboyant'. The spectre of a flooded court system and billions in costs is raised multiple times, and the guilty verdict categorized as a legal 'aberration'. (5)

This form of trust violation can be characterized in two ways. If the tolerance for personal beliefs in the news is not widespread, but isolated to a few reporters, then officials of the corporation have delegated their authority unwisely. An organization that is otherwise trustworthy will eventually correct this error. If the corruption runs throughout, however, then the consumer's initial trust decision was poor. In either event, ongoing opinion pollution can only be sustained by broad organization-wide consensus on the value of certain ideas.

Opinion pollution is a trait of homogeneous groups.

2.2 Advertising revenue and corporate ownership
Often overlooked as a source of bias is the murky relationship between news providers and advertisers. The age-old subscription model has fallen by the wayside, unable to compete with advertiser-funded services that appear to offer information for free. (6)

One fallacy is that advertising flows toward high readership, rewarding popularity with success. In reality, corporations are not interested in buyers, not readers. The Daily Herald, a worker's paper in 1960's England, boasted a readership of 4.7 million the year of its demise - nearly double that of the Times, the Financial Times, and the Guardian combined. (7) But the Herald's readers were demi-socialists, and failed to support the very businesses keeping their paper alive. The advertising money melted away.

A look at subscription income and advertising income emphasizes the dwindling importance of readers. A copy of The Washington Post costs as little as 24 cents a day. By contrast, one inch of black-and-white advertisement in the paper commands $257.55. (8) Economically, it would be more prudent for the Post to alienate 1000 readers than one business buying a daily inch of print. If the lost readership were confined to non-buyers, advertising rates would not even have to drop. When profit per advertiser squashes profit per consumer, the business of advertiser-funded information outlets becomes not the sale of information, but the sale of a receptive audience.

The situation is aggravated when a large corporation owns the news-filtering outlet. Most fans of TV news are unaware ABC is owned by Disney, NBC by GE with investment from Microsoft, and CBS by Westinghouse Electric. Stories critical to these interests are treated gingerly in the news. (9)

Reliance on advertising or corporate ownership selects for news that is business-friendly. High readership is no exemption.

2.3 Feeder authority
Any reader who has attempted to wrest information from the government is aware of its inertia. Similarly, the PR departments of businesses are known for their unhelpful volubility. In the first case the problem is information deficit, in the second it is disinformation glut, but ultimately the predicament is the same.

The situation is no different in a modern newsroom. Effective reporters are those who have established personal relationships with 'sources' inside various institutions who feed them privileged information. These reporters are superior information gatherers because they may ask questions that typically are rebuffed.

Without the goodwill of their 'feeders', even competent journalists drown in a sea of flack. Should an information gatherer alienate an important feeder, the gatherer is instantly severed from a pool of developing information. Pains are taken to ensure feeders are pleased with the treatment of their comments in published accounts. (10) This creates an unhealthy environment for the analysis of news. If an information outlet were to criticize the statements of a feeder, or if fallacies or lies were exposed in the feeder's reasoning, the potential effect on the outlet would be calamitous. This allows the feeder to make use of information outlets as occasional distributors of propaganda, knowing that refusal is unlikely.

Information from a small number of feeders may be propagandized.

3 News distribution over the Internet
Slashdot.org and FreeRepublic.com are representatives of a new class of news filter. While using these sites, consumers alter the fundamental structure of their trust decision. Rather than inhabiting a descending tree, in which trust is derived from progressively higher and fewer nodes, a Slashdotter or Freeper distributes their trust. In a distributed trust model, each consumer inhabits a single node in a formless but highly connected graph. Central authority is weak, participants are anonymous, and all nodes perform small amounts of voluntary labor.

3.1 Slashdot.org
Recently thrown mainstream as a gathering spot for Linux advocates, Slashdot.org has a large and devoted following of geeks and technophiles. Interestingly, because of its adherence to transparency and peer review, Slashdot has evolved a news system that defeats several of the biases described above. Slashdot is the conceptual descendent of the Internet newsgroup and the old-timer's BBS. Members log in to the web board and select one or more current items to discuss, then post their reactions.

3.1.1 Successes of the Slashdot model Participants on Slashdot are only identifiable if they wish to be. Widespread use of aliases insulates participants from real-world reprisal - a Slashdotter may criticize the government, their employer, or other feeders with small risk. Handle-use also renders a state of meritocracy on Slashdot. Comments and topic submissions are judged by their own merits, since little is known about their real-world source. Aliases grow trusted in the forum as a result of their owner's contributions. Deprecated aliases have only themselves to blame.

Members submit topics on Slashdot, and those with promise are posted to the forum. By distributing the labor of reporting, the process of information collection becomes inexpensive, and the likelihood of discovering important news increases - much like the 'Have you seen this child?' ads on milk cartons. (11) When the system requests voluntary labor, it is limited to tasks costing only a few mouse clicks. The decision of what is 'newsworthy' is also simplified, since an audience member has provided the item. If each registered Slashdot member contributed only 1 minute per day, their efforts would sum to 1083 work-hours of labor - absolutely free.

Relinquishing trust to anonymous lurkers appears foolhardy, but as randomness grows, so does quality. The web demographic is a straw poll in the worst sense of the term (12), but there are tide pools of demographic validity if groups are narrowly defined. When a site achieves a certain level of notoriety, Slashdot for example, a cross-section of users may fairly be said to represent its supporting community, in this case idealistic geeks. An information consumer is not interested in topics useful to the average person; rather they are interested in what is useful to people like themselves.

No opinion is authoritative until it runs the Slashdot gauntlet. Members comment on topics, share experiences, and take potshots at sloppy reasoning. This is more egalitarian than the feedback model of magazines, TV, or books. In those cases, if a retort is even possible, it is run in the following issue, with no guarantee to reach the original audience. On Slashdot, user comments frequently upstage the 'official' news, and it is a testament to their quality that reading the primary source is often unnecessary. Because most topics excite a gamut of opinions, Slashdot defeats the threat of opinion pollution.

To tame dull or off-topic comments, Slashdot members are randomly empowered to moderate the 'score' of remarks. Moderators are chosen by the system with a preference towards regular but not ubiquitous readers. Comments that gain the approbation of everyday participants gradually move up through statistical effects. Pointless comments sink into oblivion. Visitors to the forum may choose their own threshold of dependence on this ratings system. On Slashdot, the uniform opinions of classic information outlets are rare.

Finally, the scripts and HTML that run Slashdot are released to the community. This ensures, within reason, that the site truly operates as billed, as well as opening the code to all the benefits of open source.

3.1.2 Failings of the Slashdot model
Among its positive effects, anonymity damages credibility. If Secretary of State Madaleine Albright posted a remark on technology export limitations, her opinion would be more significant than had 'DrDeath' typed precisely the same opinion. Validation of real-world credentials can be desirable. One solution would be to support either the S/MIME or PGP signing standards as a user option. A hash of important messages could be included with the post, thereby validating the identity of the signer. (13)

No Slashdot participant receives a handle until they submit an e-mail address to the Slashdot central authority. Those who do not may participate as 'Anonymous Cowards'. AC's suffer numerous disadvantages, not the least that their posts begin at a lower score. Though this distinction discourages meddling from non-regulars, it is risky. Regular members are no less anonymous or even cowardly than AC's, save that they have disclosed their private information to the Slashdot central authority. This makes criticism of the authority more difficult, since critical remarks are safe only as an AC post from a lab computer, which is immediately scored down.

There is one departure on Slashdot from democracy. While consumers do submit the discussion topics, these are dropped into an administrative black box, unseen until a few emerge handpicked by the central authority. Inside the 'box', a small number of humans, vulnerable to self-interest, choose which of the topics will be news. In theory, the authority could even replace submitted topics with its own. A better system would be an open one, moderated in the same manner as user remarks. Along with their ration of remark-points, moderators would be given a supply of topic-points, which could be spent on proposed topics in a pool. Users could set topic thresholds in the same manner that they set thresholds for remarks. This method would be self-policing and eliminate tedious work for the central authority. (Update: 07/16 01:15 by CT : See the Slashdot FAQ for the reason that I've decided not to do this)

Slashdot is funded by banner advertisements, and on 6/29/99 announced that it had been acquired by Andover.net. (14) While there is little danger of the various Linux distros exerting pressure as yet on Slashdot, and while Andover rarely appeared on Slashdot in the past, nonetheless these developments cast a shadow on the impartiality of the community forum. Is it less likely that a story criticizing Sony will be run when an advertisement for the Sony AIBO adorns the top banner? What would become of stories damaging to Andover? Members should be alert for signs of conflicting interest.

3.2 FreeRepublic.com
Similarly evolved, although less highly automated, is FreeRepublic.com, a forum for the exchange of conservative commentary. FreeRepublic is similar to Slashdot in appearance and general design. We will focus on their differences.

3.2.1 Successes of the FreeRepublic model
FreeRepublic's most notable trait is the freedom members enjoy in topic selection. Power is so far in their hands that every member may post any topic they choose, resulting in dozens of discussed topics per day. A true distributed trust network has no single point of entry. Since the number of daily articles is finite, any given node in a sea of nodes has negligible influence. Individuals may be bought or coerced, but since the merits of each contribution are peer-reviewed and peer-diluted, successful corruption must be hugely widespread. The resources needed to influence a majority of users would be prohibitive, and only dubiously worthwhile. Once accomplished, the forum would cease to serve the needs of valid members and would naturally dissolve. Attempts to corrupt distributed news forums are by nature self-defeating.

FreeRepublic reaps no funding from advertisement or corporate ownership. The site is fed by out-of-pocket donations from participants. Though it should be noted that FreeRepublic's supporting community stereotypically has more disposable income than the average netizen, even so the site is accountable to none save its members. When the object of a news outlet is the aggregation of money, it should be unremarkable when money supersedes the pursuit of information. But in a community forum, participants have no aim other than valuable and convenient news.

Participants on FreeRepublic meet physically, organize in chapters, and crusade in the real world to accomplish their aims. There is little risk to anonymity, since there is no need to divulge onscreen handles. Provided chapters are small and independent, the inevitable discussion of principles will not even dampen diversity of opinion, which could expose the forum to opinion pollution. Participants also leave the meetings with a sense of community, which increases their voluntary labor.

3.2.2 Failings of the FreeRepublic model
Although a blessing, complete freedom of topic selection is also a curse. At times of peak activity, two successive clicks on Refresh may result in two completely different topic lists. Crackpots frequently post and their topics slide off the page untouched by regulars. There is much duplication as news breaks. Most topics receive fewer than twenty comments, reducing the effects of peer-dilution and peer-review. All these problems could be resolved if FreeRepublic were to transition to the scoring-based topic selection approach recommended previously.

FreeRepublic has no moderation method for comments, and consequently all remarks carry equal weight. In its absence, opinions win by volume or position near the top of the remark list rather than insight or appeal to the median qualities of the community. Corruption of an unmoderated forum is trivial given fifty aliases and sufficient time.

On FreeRepublic, community participants are not permitted to comment or post discussion topics unless they are logged on. This is an extreme case of Slashdot's Anonymous Coward dilemma. No contribution can be made to the forum without being noted by the FreeRepublic central authority. There is no guarantee the central authority will not terminate or diminish the accounts of those who criticize its practices.

Finally, FreeRepublic is closed source. Though the site is more static than Slashdot, what scripts it has are not disclosed to the forum. Members must take it on trust that no back doors lurk in the code.

4 Issues in Internet news distribution
4.1 The trouble with enthusiasm
One trait of both Slashdot and FreeRepublic is that their populations contain a percentage of zealots. This fact attracts the attention of non-members and ensures the continued participation of long-standing ones. While allegiance to a specific viewpoint is in no way an exclusionary criterion on Slashdot or FreeRepublic, most users share a common opinion on a few controversial issues. This may reflect the fact that contentious topics generate the most passionate interest.

Regrettably, this bond introduces a capacity for bias. Most information processed on a trust graph will lie outside the emotional boundaries, allowing peer-review and peer-dilution to ensure honest news analysis. But when discussion touches on a 'hot button' topic, rampant uniformity of opinion eliminates these safeguards.

FreeRepublic may safely be termed incapable of objective thought when the topic of President Clinton is broached. One recent post discussing Clinton's attendance at the World Cup bore the helpful keywords 'CLINTON RAPIST EVIL SLEAZY TRAITOR'. (15) Similarly, the high quality of discourse on Slashdot disintegrates when Microsoft enters the headlines. Both communities may be absolutely correct in their opinions on these topics, but the mere fact of consensus mimics the effects of corruption and degrades the community information filter. Whether it is desirable or even possible to generate a community forum without this sort of bias is a question for further debate.

4.2 Overcoming feeder bias
Although incisive analysis may overcome the flaws in a poorly written news article, community forums are ultimately limited by their feeders. These feeders are not usually primary sources, except in cases where significant documents are available online. Far more common is the linking of news articles from established information filtering corporations. The question arises whether community news efforts can surmount partiality on the part of the original reporters.

The answer appears to be yes. When CPU-maker AMD recently released comparisons between its chips and those of rival Intel, Slashdot was quick to dissect the biases in presentation and supply the necessary omitted background. (16) However, it should be noted that processors are a topic enjoying high familiarity among the technical elite who visit the site. Had the discussion been on the political condition of Nicaragua, results would be sketchy at best. Fortunately, community information forums are inherently unlikely to encounter this dilemma. Since the group as a whole selects topics, discussions lying outside the expertise of the majority are rare. A more difficult question is this: will community news replace traditional news outlets, or merely supplement them?

5 Conclusion
Community information filters are a novel approach to news. Trading on the principles of self-interest and distributed trust, they levy the expertise of thousands into producing honest, cheap daily news. In a world where command of information is rapidly becoming the root of institutional power, distributed trust graphs refocus information upon the needs of the citizen. While they remain in a state of infancy, the rise of sites such as Slashdot and FreeRepublic herald the demise of traditional information flows. We have entered the Slashdot decade, and only time will judge our success.

6 References
(0) http://www.slashdot.org, http://www.freerepublic.com
(1) http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr990108.asp
(2) http://www.rsa.com/rsalabs/faq/html/4-1-3-11.html
(3) E.g. http://www.thawte.com
(4) "Tobacco Industry Loses First Phase of Broad Lawsuit", New York Times, 6/8/99
(5) "A 'Class' Trial Finds Tobacco Firms Liable; Big Payments May Follow", Wall Street Journal, 6/8/99
(6) Cable is an exception. The means of distribution in cable are monopoly-owned, preserving cable from direct competition with TV.
(7) Herman & Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, p15, [cf.]
(8) As of July 1999, Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/guide/sub/sub.htm, http://adsite.washpost.com/rates/retail/fullrun.html
(9) http://www.fair.org/media-woes/media-woes.html
(10) E.g. http://independent.org/tii/content/events/f_macarth.html
(11) http://www.missingkids.org
(12) http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/digitaldivide
(13) http://www.rsa.com/rsalabs/faq/html/2-2-2.html
(14) "Slashdot Acquired by Andover.Net"
(15) "Clinton hopes for soccer diplomacy"
(16) "Athlon Benchmarks Out"

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Feature:News in the Slashdot Decade

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    More sublime and topical puns surely lost on the fifth-grade readers! This clever word play exchanges the correct "gantlet" with the witty and far more appropriate "gauntlet". Using the wrong word here makes sense, because to expose an opinion on slashdot is to have it continually slapped in the face by gloves, rags, wet noodles, and armoured gauntlets.
    However, it does not follow that only opinions subjected to this gauntlet slapping are valid, and more than just a bit slashdot-centric to pretend that they are. Let's not be so self-satisfied.
    Also, the point about Linux is misleading. This place is about geeks. It says so right at the top. Are you saying that only geeks use linux, and no nongeek use linux, and no geek uses nonlinux?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All of this is so.

    Remember that newspapers are in the business to sell papers. News programs are in the business of selling news.

    There has been an interesting article( http://www.msnbc.com/news/283198.asp ) that criticises the fact that whenever an interview is done with Tom Cruise, a written agreement is signed that "the interview and the program will not show the artist in a negative or derogatory manner."

    Newspapers need advertisers. Advertisers need customers. Therefore newspapers need to attract customers. This supports the general inclination for all news media to sensationalise what is going on.

    How long did the OJ trial need to continue as 'front page' news? How long did monicagate need to be there? the news does it because the more Salacious the news is, the more excessive, the better their sales, and the longer they keep their audience. Excess sells.

    Its no wonder that the Star and the National Enquirer have enough money to pay the huge fees for the slandor they produce.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    First of, let me say that I thought this was a really good article, much better than most appearing here. The writing was excellent and it was a balanced, well-thought out piece.

    I guess the ideal news source would be completely objective but have opinion pieces too - the main problem is where do you get the information from? Sure, the major news networks are corporately-controlled, but that still means that they can afford the jets and satellites to send someone over to Kosovo and report back what is really going on. For all the analysis that goes on
    here at Slashdot, for the most part people report based on things they've read or seen in other places, _not_ first hand. I know this will sound like a jonkatz-inspired new-media-friendly-and-happy idea, but I think its true that the Internet will help this problem by allowing people to communicate all over the world without needing that huge overhead. A kid in Bosnia can just as easily boot up a computer and make a web page about what is going on in his town as someone in the US. In fact, I saw one such piece during the recent bombings over there and I thought it was really effective.

    I think that allowing people to post anything they want, as much as they want, while still remaining anonymous, is a good thing (hence the reason I'm posting this AC). But, keep in mind, that makes it impossible to know if the person is telling the truth, or where they are getting there info from. If I write something like "89.3 percent of Windows users have twelve toes", and then another poster writes "No, I read it was 67.8 percent", how do readers know which to believe? I know for me, when I read an article about some technical thing that I'm not familiar with, I generally tend to side with the most clear and rational posts - these people could be completely lying or wrong but they are still believable. That's why it's easier for most people to believe a guy in a suit commenting on the drawbacks of the open source model than someone posting "micr0$oft sUx!!!" - alot has to do with presentation. All Im saying is that we posters make our own reality and decide what is true just as much as the suits in those corporations do.

    Maybe it's just all about knowing what bias is there, as a previous poster wrote. I personally know that when I read a /. article, I expect to see posts from linux-using, generally financially
    stable, young, males. Sure there are exceptions, but for the most part we all share certain characteristics. I find it a real breath of fresh air to find that one post in a million that goes against the status quo here, or is by someone that breaks the stereotype of the typical user.

    And maybe that's the best thing about a forum like this - there's something here for everyone.

    Okay, this has become a rant that really makes no sense. ..just wanted to say what I think.
  • It would be interesting to see how this model (which applies well to geeks-R-us) would work in a more broad forum. I very much enjoy the "filtered" news on /. the same way we all do -- but would like to have more of my news (in general) related this way, i.e. Commented intelligently by the "experts" interested in contributing.

    For example, I've found the InfoWorld mag http://www.infoworld.com (I have NO affiliation with them) decent but somewhat pro Microsoft, and flashy. If there was an online, moderated, more trustable (less advertisementized) version I would use it more regularly.

    If you can't trust the insiders, who can you trust? Excessive advertising revenue skews the percieved perspective, how can this be fixed?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Slashdot is not the forum for posting authoritatively. If you are Neal Stephenson, RMS, ESR, or Madelyn Albright, you post an article on your own web server (www.well.com/~neal, www.fsf.org, www.tuxedo.org/~esr, or www.state.gov respectively) and then we can link to it. There is authority in posting on official sites. Top level articles are not usually written specifically for slashdot, except maybe Jon Katz's articles. But even then he often recycles [freedomforum.org] them on other sites, like www.freedomforum.org
  • by Anonymous Coward
    One of the most insightful and humorous word-usage analysts is Jesse Sheidlower who is a senior editor at Random House. I highly recommend his "Word of the Day" web page at http://www.randomhouse.com/jesse/
    He discusses the gauntlet/gantlet controversy here:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/jesse/?date=19990621

    His primary comment is the following:
    ... gantlet was once preferred for the 'course of criticism or punishment' sense, and some conservative usage writers still recommend that run the gantlet be preferred over run the gauntlet. If you trust these writers, then run the gauntlet is incorrect. In reality, run the gauntlet is and has always been more common than run the gantlet, and there's no good reason, etymological or otherwise, to prefer gantlet.

    My comment: You might wish to use gantlet anyway to foreclose commentary from self-aggrandizing overly prescriptive language pundits, and to prove your overweening knowledgeability of spelling variants.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The story comments favorably on Slashdot's news-report-with-reader-comments model as a means to reduce bias and arrive at the truth in news reporting. While this is generally true, there are also significant limitations.

    The model certainly works where the topic of discussion is one that is familiar to a majority of Slashdot readers. Then, bogosity is quickly detected and summarily dealt with. Unfavorable or embarrassing issues that were glossed over are dragged out in the open for all to review. Some posters chime in with background data to help put the issue in context. Others post links to source documents. But it's also important to remember that most Slashdot readers bring their own knowledge and experience: Even though they may not be expert on a particular topic, they do have enough acquaintance with most "news for nerds" to make a reasonable assesment of each post's validity and authority.

    But as topics get farther away from the community's area of expertise, we get more opinions and fewer facts. I'm reminded of many of Slashdot's recent discussions of intellectual property, where, lacking detailed, specific knowledge of patent or trademark law, posters wrote things like "Well, I think ... would be the case. But remember, IMNAL." A similar problem exists when the facts are in doubt or unavailable. On reviewing the postings about Harvard's shutdown of the Packet Storm Security site [slashdot.org], I find a lot of opinion (moderate and immoderate) about the credibility and conduct of the various parties involved, a few official statements from the various parties, but little hard information. This is not the fault of Slashdot's readers. Instead, with contending parties trying to control public opinion by limiting the information that was available, there was no way for Slashdot to ask those all-important follow-up questions.

    Traditional media would deal with both of these problems in the same way: Assign reporters to do research, ask questions, and report the answers they get. Foo Company says they've patented the letter d? Get out the Rolodex and find your patent attorney- source and ask, "What's the law here? What's your opinion of the situation, in light of your specialized knowledge." Then research: Has anybody ever tried to patent a, b, or c? What happend then? How about Foo Company? Do they have a history of making extravagant claims? And, oh yes, does Foo's patent really exist, and does it really cover what they're saying it covers? (And you may need to call that lawyer back for a translation!) In the Harvard case, reporter Jane from the New York Times can always pick up the phone and say, "Mr. Harvard spokesman, your official statement [slashdot.org] says you took down Packet Storm because of 'sexually-related material and personal attacks' on it. Packet Storm's creator contradicts your statement. Can I view the files you are characterizing 'sexually-related material and personal attacks'?" (And, unsaid but always evident: "And remember, if you stonewall or try to evade me on this, the whole world will see the lead paragraph of my story that says you refused to answer my questions.")
  • This was a much needed article, to explain something we all knew: that the slashdot model works. I've had ample proof of that, helping run a slashdot inspired site gildot [gildot.org]. Although we cater for a far smaller audience (Portuguese speaking Linux fans) we've been able to gather a loyal community in a couple of months.

    This article helped me in reaching a better understanding of the forces involved.

    A word of caution: this also demonstrates that there is an element of fragility in this model. If users ever get the perception that slashdot is going too commercial, it could loose it's primary appeal. In our effort we are commited to keep it strictly non-comercial, and exploiting that fact to promote it.

  • Now, delving slightly off-topic, I am of the school of thought that feels ad filters hurt the site. If a site like Slashdot has ads, it's because it needs the money to run. Companies pay for those ads based on how many times they think the ad is going to be viewed. If, say, 75% of the viewers of a page are filtering out that ad, then companies are going to question the value of buying that ad.
    That's exactly why ad filters have the potential to be very effective. Viewers can't get ads to decrease by pleading -- pleading doesn't get anyone anywhere. They can't simply choose not to view ad-laden sites, because ads have become ubiquitous. Ad filters are the assertion of the viewers' power in a world dominated by the provider.

    People aren't going to search for alternative means of monitary support for content unless the present system stops working. If ad filters become common then the issue can be forced. I don't see any other practical way to bring the issue forward.

    Maybe then we can stop whoring out our minds.

    Junkbuster [junkbusters.com] forever!

  • One of the things this essay doesn't mention or cover is that, save for about 1 or 2 articles a week (~2%) most of the stories that /. carries are pointers to other stories on other more traditional web news sources. Thus, instead of being original material, the material is borrowed. (Mind you, I'm sure I'm not the only one to think that this way works well with /. - it's a sorta-idoit filter, prevents me from seeing a lot of the crap that, say, news.com posts about 'Yet Another NT Usage!' that I could care less about.). Thus, trying to compare slashdot to news.com, or cnn.com, or usatoday.com, is like comparing apples to oranges. A better comparison is to yahoo.com or other portal sites that summarize news from other places for you, but that don't necessarily offer commentary about it. (Heck you could also add Reader's Digest to this area; few of the articles in RD are original in terms of the RD publishers, most are personal stories sent in by readers and articles borrowed from other magazines). Additionally, slashdot can be compared on the same groups to a place like aint-it-cool-news.com which does offer user commentary, but the pics of the articles are generally limited to the whims of the site maintainers, and not to, as pointed out, the voluntary load of newshounds.

    I don't think the slashdot model is perfect yet (I *DO* strongly agree that there could be more discussion topics/news articles that are accepted, then use a priority-type system to those, so that the sumbission process is more open and reflects a larger cross section of the slashdot readership instead of just 2 or 3 people, but that's Rob's decision to run it this way). But in getting away from standard media into new ways of delievering news, slashdot has lead the pack.

  • I'm worried about the rush to fund Internet information sources from advertising---it'll end up heading the same way TV has: it's a medium to sell consumers to producers, with the content a distant second, useful only as a lure for the consumers.

    Micro-payments would be an ideal way to avoid this problem, but the mechanisms to ensure reliability and anonymity, though extant, are pitifully slow in being implemented, and are further hindered by the absence of standards. I'd gladly pay, say, USD 0.0001 (a hundredth of a cent for the math-impaired) for any web page I'm served, so long as it's totally transparent to me. There are plenty of sites out there that get much less than that (read: zero). Unfortunately that's not going to happen soon.

    So, how about those sites to whom I'd pay significantly more than that, maybe even an order of magnitude more, like Slashdot?

    Anonymous micro-payments are good for surfing, but when I've found someplace really worthwhile, why shouldn't it offer advertising-free pages to me in exchange for cash? Are you listening, Rob?

    How much do you get in advertising revenue for my presence? I bet I'd pay much more than that to rid my pages of ads. All you need to do is offer a, say USD 5.00--10.00 annual subscription (is this in the right ballpark?) to volunteers. I give you a credit-card number, you bill me annually, and when I log on, voila---no ads. If enough think this is worthwhile, you could get rid of the ads for everyone. I wouldn't mind subsidizing a few dozen ACs and free riders to get a /. which couldn't care less about the feelings of anyone other than its readers.

    Of course, this raises the specter of /. dominated by the paying customers, but keep the price down, and anybody can play. Not too bad!

    Thanks for a great article. Tell Jon Katz to reflect for a while on what makes this one so good :-).

  • FAIR may be a good idea in theory, but they have their own biases as well. Several times they have rejected statistics and studies that they don't like with studies which are equally biased.

    For more information, read Christina Hoff Summers book, "Who Stole Feminism?" There's a rebuttal by FAIR in which a statistic was picked literally out of the pages of a magazine.
  • In regards to the problem of homogenous reactions (ie, anti-microsoft/anti-clinton), I think that these sites should encourage people of all viewpoints to add to the discussion.

    I'm working on setting up a community site which discusses Anarchism (Libertarian Socialism) and modern day activism, and after it's gotten on it's feet, I think it'd be a great idea to encourage people from FreeRepublic.com to visit, and people from my site to visit there.

    Although you might think that posting a Slashdot advertisement to alt.love.bill-gates, or posting a FreeRepublic ad on EatTheState.org would be inciting a riot, I think it's the only way to provide your users with all sides of the coin.

    And there's always moderation. I absolutely love Slashdot's system, it's worked wonders. I set my threshold to 2 or 3 (sometimes 1 if I have a lot of time), and I usually get about 10-15 very thought out messages. Only problem I see is that good posts that are far down a thread seem to be lost. Maybe there could be some system for randomly injecting posts outside of your threshold at the bottom of all the comments?

    --

    Michael Chisari
    dominion@beyondtheweb.com
  • Check out http://www.fair.org/ for even scarier information about biases in our news sources. Some of the people behind FAIR have also released a book that goes into great detail about where many of the biases in the press originate, and how they perpetuate. You'll never be so disgusted with mainstream media or politics in your life.
  • by milton (5180) on Friday July 16, 1999 @06:22AM (#1799004)
    FYI

    CBS is no longer owned by Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Four or five years ago new management at Westinghouse bought CBS. Westinghosue Electric Corporation was renamed CBS a couple years back and then CBS proceeded to sell off all the industrial companies that made up Westinghouse.

    Westinghouse is no more.

    Tom
  • Section 4.2: "Overcoming Feeder Bias"
    Concludes that the distributed model of /. is likely to overcome the biases of the news sources which are linked to, if the topic is sufficiently within /. reader expertise.

    Really, though, /. isn't so different from primary news sources like news.com and cnn.com. Many times a news story on these sites is little more than a repetition of an official statement made by some authority, or a link to a press release, or a brief summary -- much like on slashdot. These media outlets have writters that generate origional articles for them, but the content of the articles is often received from another source. The only thing the authors contribute is their own personal (or corporate) biases.

    So really, cnn.com is a news portal as well. The difference is that /. draws its news from a wide variety of news outlets, and allows reader review. This way it attempts to overcome the bias that might be inherant in, say, a cnn.com news summary.

    But I'm beginning to repeat the editorial, so I'll stop now.
  • by tilly (7530) on Friday July 16, 1999 @08:04AM (#1799006)
    The first is that you say that peer review is no better than the peers. It is true that the effectiveness of peer review depends upon the abilities of the peers, but the net result can in fact be better than any one of the peers. (It can also be much worse - that strongly depends on the dynamics of the interaction.)

    I believe that the place this has been most completely explored is in the study of financial markets. A good introductory book is, A Random Walk Down Wall Street. The long and the short of it is that the average consistently does better than the participants. Which is why very few managed funds manage to match, let alone exceed, the performance of dumb indexed ones. (The portion that do is explainable by dumb luck.) Of course this fact depends strongly on the nature of what a market is, but still

    Eric Raymond's thesis that "All bugs are shallow" with OSS development is another example of the same phenomena. He has documented that it works in software development. But does it work in news? Well that is another question.

    My belief is that with open discussion between relatively rational people, the initial response is meaningless but the follow up over the next several days can get into a positive feedback cycle resulting in a broad agreement on the events which are beyond the abilities of all but (possibly) a few participants. How? When it works right it is just like the OSS model! The fact is that what practically anyone notices gets communicated. Significant facts get reinforced. Insignificant facts get rebutted and disappear. Then "prominent people" come up with (and refine) statements distilling the best of the ideas. Those get communicated out, circulate, and a consensus is arrived at and generally communicated that is beyond the ability of any one person in the group to have generated.

    Don't believe me? Well let me consider an important news event. Mindcraft. (Ick.) If you go back and look the initial response was disbelief, flames, the usual. However within a few days of the original tests there were official rebuttals to the tests floating around with detailed breakdowns of the things that were done wrong. Then as more tests were done, the same pattern was followed. Stop and think for a moment about everything you know about what was wrong with the final public Microsoft tests. OK, perhaps you personally could tell that the networks and servers were crazy for the need. Everybody knows that stability and uptime were ignored. But how many of us knew, or even had the resources to figure out, that Windows NT had changed their TCP-IP stack to be multi-threaded? Which of us could, as Jeremy Allison did, point out the tremendous difference for SAMBA between NT and Win9x clients? How many of us are in a position to do as ct did and run tests varying the parameters ever so slightly and really demonstrate that NT was only a clear win for serving static pages out of RAM. And so on and so forth.

    In short many of us, myself certainly included, now know a summary analysis of what was wrong with the Mindcraft tests that is beyond the abilities of any individual to produce or easily verify. I call that pretty darned impressive.

    Of course, that takes time and feedback, which the short life-time of posts on /. discourages. But still.



    Oh, yeah. I promised two corrections. The other? A straight line from a to b is a path of minial distance from the one to the other, which by definition must be a geodesic. So non-Euclidean geometries don't change the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, they merely change a lot of things that we thought we knew about straight lines. :-)

    Cheers,
    Ben
  • I agree with you wholeheartedly about the fact that follow ups get better and better. Presumably, the better postings shine through and the follow up distills itself to more "factual" quality.

    I also lament that there is such high article turnover, because it doesnt allow your hypothetical follow up session to take effect.

    Oh yeah, and uh (tongue-in-cheek) s/geodesic/curve :-P
  • Good point, I agree.

    However, trust can be built in someone who makes appealing assertions, but not necessarily the "best" (by the standards of those who believe him/her) assertions.

    Remember the hype behind Cold Fusion?

    What about the Jonestown Massacre?

  • >The best government is a benevolent dictatorship

    "Best" for whom? In terms of sheer numbers?

    Kudos to the author for tying cryptographic concepts in with practical, real-world ones. Wouldn't take too much to summarize and explain this to my non-techie relatives. Thank you, Mr. Priestley.

  • Traditional information flows will change, but traditional information sources will not disappear.

    Not so fast.

    You're absolutely right that ./ and FR are filtering mechanisms and do not begin to encompass the whole process of journalism, which is built on a great deal of generally unappreciated shoe leather and sweat. The community filters don't do the grunt work of uncovering, investigating, reporting the news. They're getting a free ride on the sweat equity created by the traditional news sources. Taken apart, they don't really threaten traditional news sources.

    But the traditional news sources -- particularly local newspapers, where a great deal of wire news really originates -- are in serious economic jeopardy due to the macro effects of the Internet on commerce, vicious new competitors in key market segments (such as classified advertising), and major shifts in audience attention.

    There's a good piece on this in the Economist [economist.com] this week.

    By the way, I think Matthew Priestley's analysis of the relative economic value of readers and advertisers is flawed and shortsighted, but the piece raises some serious issues and I'm passing the URL along to some colleagues.

  • I haven't heard any media talk about objectivity since the BBC on short-wave years ago.

    Used to be newspapers openly admitted their editorial political leanings, with names like "The Webster County Republican" or the "Heater Democrat".

    Chuck

  • Prospero wrote:
    This article initially impressed me as conservative claptrap, yearning for a day when the traditional media was less liberal and more representative. The hapless Matthew Priestley guises this fundamental complaint in a haphazard analysis of Slashdot.

    Slashdot is anything but traditional--something that should be apparent to everyone reading it. Making comparisons between the New York Times and Slashdot turn Priestley's criticisms to non sequtors. Slashdot is not the New York Times. It does not suffer from "rogue" reporters in the same sense. Further, it does not claim to be a heterogenous group. Slashdot's homogeniality is emblazoned for all to see on the top of the page, "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters."

    I have to suspect that your response has more to do with the fact that the other example Priestly cited happened to be a conservative news filter site.

    Since both /. and the New York Times are news sites, it's perfectly legitimate to compare them. And the bias in the New York Times, like that in the Wall Street Journal or any of the major media, is unlikely to be primarily due to rogue reporters. It's clearly systematic. If one is not willing to see that in the cases where the systematic bias favors one's personal political views, it's unfortunate.

    I'm also not clear that your contrast between "liberal" and "representative" media is a useful one. It hardly seems more "liberal" to be willing to slant the news in order to push your personal agenda, which is certainly a very prevalent problem in the mainstream media. I would love to see more "liberal" (i.e., more free) mainstream media. I hardly think it matters if the media is more "representative", a word that, in context, seems to imply that we will get better news if we get it slanted by the viewpoint we ask for. News should represent reality, not the readership, if it's going to be useful to that self-same readership.

  • Many moons ago when I suffered under the illusion that I knew something I took a course on comparative political systems wherein our class had to determine the best one. As our class, and many other people, have discovered, the best government is a benevolent dictatorship. The problem with this model is that there are so damn few benevolent dictators.

    According to the Kingdomality Test [careermanagement.net], I am a benevolent ruler. [careermanagement.net]

    It'll be a difficult job, running everything for the benefit of my fellow man, but I am willing to shoulder the burden. Just let me know when I can start. :)

    Jay (=
  • I don't think it's possible to entirely escape problems like reporter bias and the influence of feeders, not to mention simple incompetence. What I like about Slashdot, however, is that there is no attempt on the part of CT or Hemos (or most topic posters) to appear authoritative; furthermore, just about every post has its opinion challenged by another poster.

    Sure it's difficult to know who to believe, but it encourages us to make up our own minds rather than blindly believing some "authoritative" source who, in the end, is only human. Here at Slashdot, anyone presuming to be anything but merely human is flamed into oblivion... and that's the way it should be.

  • Pigdog Journal [pigdog.org]

    Net Flotsam

    Stop the Decade, I Want to Get Off
    Reported 1999-07-16 11:35:42

    by Mr. Bad

    Man, I just don't know what to say. The megalomaniacs of the Dumb-Down Bundt have declared this "The Slashdot Decade." Christ!
    ( More ... [pigdog.org])

  • The Slashdot model has clearly weaknesses, among which is
    a total lack of reliability of the posted information.
    News posted on Slashdot have mostly appeared on other
    media outlets, and Slashdot webmasters just add the link
    with maybe some editorial comment, without making some
    special effort to check whether the information is reliable
    or not.

    This scheme sometimes goes wrong: for instance, the BBC
    ran some nonsense story about the French government
    contesting the Greenwich meridian and organizing some
    big party along the Paris meridian. This was bullshit.
    Yet Slashdot posted the message, and there were
    about 200 comments taking the information as genuine.

    This leads to the next problem: the total lack of
    responsability of Slashdot. In serious paper media,
    readers or people involved in the printed story can
    get some rebuttals printed. In Slashdot, it is impossible.
    Ok, you can send some additional comment, but it'll
    be drowned at the end of the list of comments, and
    won't cancel the possible bad effects of the story.
  • Yes, that and his comment about the NYT.

    Further -- you can compare the NYT and slashdot, but not in any meaningful fashion. Slashdot has a paragraph at most of news -- the NYT has paragraph upon paragraph. Opinion pollution (or whatever he called it) probably has a less pervasive effect on slashdot since people are reading it for the superficial news and not anything further.

    Also -- the NYT claims to be very objective -- whereas I don't think slashdot would make the same claim. What with the picture of bill gates and the fairly clear pro-opensource/anti-monopoly slant.. etc..

    Also -- the manner in which news items are submitted should ensure that opinion pollution -- if it occurs -- represents the views of the readers and not the owners.
  • by Prospero (12678) on Friday July 16, 1999 @06:57AM (#1799019)

    This article initially impressed me as conservative claptrap, yearning for a day when the traditional media was less liberal and more representative. The hapless Matthew Priestley guises this fundamental complaint in a haphazard analysis of Slashdot.

    Slashdot is anything but traditional--something that should be apparent to everyone reading it. Making comparisons between the New York Times and Slashdot turn Priestley's criticisms to non sequtors. Slashdot is not the New York Times. It does not suffer from "rogue" reporters in the same sense. Further, it does not claim to be a heterogenous group. Slashdot's homogeniality is emblazoned for all to see on the top of the page, "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters."

    Another striking feature of the article is its confusion of "authority" with "credibility." Priestley notes that "no opinion is authoritative until it runs the Slashdot gauntlet." Yet, in the next section, he criticizes the anonymous and user submitted comments -- which he argues are the same thing, as DrDeath is just as anonymous as Anonymous Coward -- for destroying possible credibility. He contends that it would be a good thing to have Madeline Albright's comments receive a higher score than DrDeath or some AC.

    John Katz, the celebrated columnist of Slashdot, is popular because of what he writes, not because of who he is. The same should be and is true for Slashdot's users. If Madeline Albright has something to say, it should be judged on the content.

    If content and source are intertwined, this approach becomes problematic. Clearly if Madeline Albright said that we had just bombed the Balkans that should be different from if DrDeath said we just bombed the Balkans. Slashdot has no method of dealing with this. But come the day when the Secretary of State wants to post a comment, CmdrTaco will find a way to verify his or her identity.

  • On FR, the "major media" outlets are routinely crucified for the liberal bias evident in their reporting (note, all news reporting has bias -- the major American media is generally liberal) ...

    This is a popular but overly simplistic notion. While there is some truth to it in that most reporters have been shown to have more "liberal" leanings than "conservative" ones, it's less well known (gee, I wonder why) that most editors and nearly all publishers have "conservative" leanings. If you control what stories will be covered, you can worry less about how they're covered.


  • That depends on the definition of terms. I'm using the terms as they are typically applied in American politics (which is a horrible corruption of the true meanings of the words, I know).

    I put the terms in quotes because I was using them as they are typically applied in American politics.

    Editors and publishers are more likely to be pro-government and establishment, which means they are (perversely in terms of language) liberal.

    You are contradicting yourself. The current US gov't/establishment is not by any stretch of the imagination "liberal" as the term is used in current US politics (nor in the classical definition, either). So being supportive of them would not make someone "liberal".
  • Wow somebody who can so brilliantly analyze a current situation will probably be overrun with job offers from now on

    Well, I happen to think Matthew would be a great journalist, but I wonder if traditional media outlets are even looking for great journalists these days.

    Perhaps I'm just cynical, but --from the outside-- it appears as though news outlets are hiring "pawns" that are willing to give news the Official Company Slant rather than objective thinkers.

    Matthew would make a very bad pawn--too many original thoughts.
  • by kinesis (13238) on Friday July 16, 1999 @06:19AM (#1799023)
    What's also true is that in the discussion of a topic like encryption, intellectual property, etc. the minority view almost always gets scored up.

    There may be 50 posts articulating more-or-less the same arguments against software patents. Only one or two of these makes it above three. A single dissident will make a well-written post for The Other Side and--almost invariably--it gets moderated up three or four times.

    Inspite of the fact that we are a (fairly) homogenous group, I think the combination of open discussion and moderation keeps us honest about our biases and exposes us to other schools of thought.
  • I've heard that there are magazines out there that do reviews, and such.. but accept no advertising. Of course, the subscriptions cost in the hundreds...
  • Actually, besides Slashdot, The BBC World Service is the only other news service I listen to daily. I'm really impressed sometimes on their objectivity.

    Perhaps there is hope for shortwave after all.
  • One of the things this essay doesn't mention or cover is that, save for about 1 or 2 articles a week (~2%) most of the stories that /. carries are pointers to other stories on other more traditional web news sources.

    Umm, take another look at section 4.2 Overcoming feeder bias:

    ...community forums are ultimately limited by their feeders. These feeders are not usually primary sources, except in cases where significant documents are available online. Far more common is the linking of news articles from established information filtering corporations.

    -matt
  • ...exchanges the correct "gantlet" with the witty and far more appropriate "gauntlet". Using the wrong word here...

    Err, how is 'gauntlet' the wrong word?

    -matt
  • What a silly test. Kneel before Prime Minister [careermanagement.net] Sloppy!

  • At some point, ISPs will be able to bill Internet usage the way that phone companies bill phone usage: the amount that each user pays will be more or less proportional to the load that he or she puts on the network.

    As long as networking companies are building the infrastructure for this, I hope they will also provide the analog of "800" (freephone) and "900" (premium-rate) service.

    In this dream world, to get an ad-free Slashdot, we could simply go to http://slashdot.org.900; our ISPs would charge us a few milli-cents extra for each page view, and pass the surplus along to the Slashdot administration.

  • by sethg (15187) on Friday July 16, 1999 @08:19AM (#1799030) Homepage
    all news reporting has bias -- the major American media is generally liberal
    One left-wing writer (I can't recall the name, but I think the person was affiliated with F.A.I.R.) suggested that the media have a centrist bias.

    That is: They are happy to point out instances where our major institutions cause harm (a politician is corrupt, a corporation dumps toxic waste, a doctor sexually abuses a patient, and so on). However, these are almost always treated as crimes done by aberrant individuals, as special-case failures of the system, or as signs that the institution needs some minor adjustment. The media are extremely reluctant to suggest that any of these institutions (government, corporations, health care) causes so much harm that it needs to be reorganized in a significant way.

  • Woo!! An article from everybody's favorite Pinhead, Zippy!! (Check out the use of all-caps words)

    Just adding to "the drooling gabber of thousands of Internet newbies re-hashing the same arguments that have been raging on Usenet since 1985."

  • Looks like my attempt to include the WSJ editorial URL did not work. My apologies. Please disregard. It was:

    http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi? id=SB931991332620916955.djm&template=paste d-1999-07-15.tmpl
  • There are certainly difficulties in the current state of journalism, especially when journalists fail to uphold the ideals of traditional journalism: balance, accuracy, objectivity, detachment and the like. When the status quo is defective, we have every right to protest. That is what I see happening on the web as a whole. This may have the effect of causing some soul-searching among the media, as the WSJ editorial demonstrates.

    Nevertheless, the protest is not the solution. As I asked before, is peer review really useful when you have 200 opinionated replies spewed in a matter of hours, and quickly forgotten the next day? /. demonstrates the usual difficulty with the Internet: information overload or more accurately, opinion overload. Much that is posted is opinion or speculation that is not any more verifiable than the original article. Worse, their value is zero in situations where indepth investigation or insider information is needed, or when few readers have competence to comment. The result is a "consensus" that is hopelessly subjective. More importantly, the opinions are only useful if you care enough about the issue to dig through the posts. Most of the time, I ignore the responses due to their sheer volume.

    Let me suggest this: /. still gives useful news because the traditional news media still does a passeable job. As most of /.'s articles are links to articles from traditional media, its content's value builds on the editing and self-policing of traditional media. If the traditional media goes further down the tubes, so too would /.'s content. The factual content would be worthless, and all we have left is a lot of the usual open-source-is-good type of opinion.

    The only viable solution are news sources -- traditional or otherwise -- that can gain public trust by exercising editorial oversight over original content with an eye towards accuracy, objectivity and balance. /. has little original content. It generates too much noise, hiding a tree in a forest. This is not to say that it is not valuable. When I seek geek-news, I look up Slashdot. I read with the assumption that the sources it links to have exercised reasonable editorial oversight.
  • by ChrisWong (17493) on Friday July 16, 1999 @07:23AM (#1799034) Homepage

    How about truth: something objective, verifiable and valuable? The loss of the ideal -- even if not completely attainable -- of objective reporting in favor of advocacy does a disservice to both journalism and truth. When traditional news media loses its desire to be objective, they lose trust and someone else takes over. This article is only a snapshot of something that has been going on for ages. The WSJ on July 15 had an excellent editorial on the New New Journalism that gives a good historical perspective.

    In the 1830s, "staid newspapers" in NYC were attached to political parties. Enter the "penny newspapers": raw, colorful and independent. They settled down and became less sensational, but retained their nonpartisanship. In the 1890s, it was the "former pennies" that were being upstaged by newer papers, but the ensuing debate strengthened restraint and accuracy.

    Today the poor state of the press calls for alternatives. The Internet models now, alas, poorly serves the cause of truth. Internet journalist Matt Drudge only claims an accuracy rate of 80%, for example. Peer review only works if all facts are in front of the peers, as in source code. Poorly informed peers make for poor reviews, as has already been pointed out. An orchestrated herd of anonymous cowards can easily bias the atmosphere. And how useful is having 200 comments to a casual browser?

    The simple fact is that nothing substitutes a good editor. Slashdot's articles are useful, as another poster pointed out, because they care largely links to other news sources. Slashdot is already benefitting from traditional editorial control. Its only original content -- the Slashdot Effect and followup comments -- are rather lacking in quality. We still rely on traditional journalists for much of Slashdot's useful content. What do we want to see? As the Mindich's WSJ editorial puts it,

    they are less partisan, more detached, more accurate. They understand the uses and misuses of balance. They appreciate the difference between opinion--their own in particular--and truth. Unlike self-styled Web journalists, with no distance between their thumb and the "enter" key, responsible journalists have publishers, editors, ethics and professional reputations built over time. In short, responsible journalists have better filters.

    It is regrettable that many journalists fall short. Nevertheless, this is something that the new Internet models do not address. They only allow us to hear what we want to hear.

    An aside: I am puzzled by what the article considers bias. Is the WSJ really biased in raising the issue of legal costs and a "legal aberration"? The NYT too said that the case is unusual and that Florida courts would be flooded.

  • I've always wanted a random comments/questions section

    where registered users could ask questions that weren't massive enough to require an ask slashdot

  • As this kind of forum gets more popular, will clusters of people like Slashdot fall prey to the idiots, trolls, spammers, etc. that ruined usenet? Are the few moderation mechanisms in the system good enough to keep such garbage out?

    There is a big difference between news sites such as Slashdot and Usenet newsgroups: each news site is controled by a small group of people (sometimes only one webmaster) that can change and adjust the moderation software whenever necessary. This is not possible with the newsgroups: changing the moderation policy on a newsgroup is a nightmare because it is driven by a process (RFD/CFV) prevents any quick changes in case of emergency. This is due to some architectural differences between the WWW and Usenet (one WWW server versus thousands of NNTP servers replicating each other) as well as some political differences (guidelines for creating Usenet newsgroups).

    Another difference is that all news sites have their own interface for submitting new comments, and they implement their own moderation policies. This diversity makes it very difficult for spammers and trolls to ruin many news sites in a short time, as they can do with the newsgroups. It is trivial to write some software that can post the same spam to thousands of newsgroups.

    Today I find it pretty much useless, save for a very few highly technical groups.

    In this respect, news sites such as Slashdot may be similar to Usenet newsgroups. You will probably find hundreds or thousands of news sites on the Internet, but only a handful of them are relevant for you. So from your (or my) point of view, the WWW-based news sites will be 99% crap and 1% interesting (note that others may choose a 1% that is different from yours). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you can find the 1% that suits you.

  • While they remain in a state of infancy, the rise of sites such as Slashdot and FreeRepublic herald the demise of traditional information flows.

    Traditional information flows will change, but traditional information sources will not disappear. The community information filters would be slower and less efficient without theses sources. For example, most of the news posted on Slashdot are links to some of the traditional news sources. Calling Slashdot a "community information filter" implies that it is usually a filter, not a source.

    But to some extent, the community-driven sites are also a source of information (the comments are often more informative than the original article). They could eventually become the dominant source of information, although the transition will be slow and there are some pitfalls on the way. One of the dangers is that the communities may be disconnected from other sources of information. Sometimes, important news come from places that are outside the community's focus, yet they have an impact on the community. Having some members subscribed to some "generalist" sources of information (that may be biased) ensures that the important news will eventually reach the community.

    That model could be extended to a world in which most of the information comes from community-driven sources, as long as each community has enough members participating in other communities or collecting the information on their own. But without the traditional news flows, that model is only viable for (very) large communities. Or small ones that are mostly spin-offs from larger ones (thus relying on larger communities as their source of information).

  • The reason many Old Media sources act so hurt when compared with community news sites is that they've forgotten who to be accountable too. Slashdot has essentially no fact checking, no source verifying, no journalistic standards - but because I'm open to say things like this here, the value of these services is reduced, since anyone who's really in the know can put the story right.

    In the final analysis, I feel Slashdot's advantage over Old Media is that it lets people exercise their critical judgement when news gathering; news isn't spoonfed to them and expected to be accepted at face value. And that can only be a good thing.

    (PS. Anyone interested in the musings of a Linux newbie can read http://chrisworth.com/oddments/the_microsoft.matri x.html)
  • Sorry, the correct link is
    http://chrisworth.com/oddments/the_microsoft_mat rix.html
  • That is a very interesting conclusion. Some of the most successful kings of the past came to the same conclusion--that the best governments are ruled by a single person who has a genuine interest in the prosperity of the people. But they also realized that there was no way they could guarantee that their successors would have their same values. The problem was worsened by the fact that the trust bestowed by the people on the first king was often transferred to the successor, making it much easier for a corrupt dictator to take advantage of his/her position.

    Our current situation in the United States and other nations, with a constitution, checks and balances, and other forms of regulation keeps any one person from destroying the prosperity we have earned. However, it can only last as long as we have a sufficiently benevolent leadership. The leadership in our country is a sample of our people, so if there comes a time when the people would consistently choose war, crime, murder, etc., our government will similarly fail.

    That's not entirely related to this topic, but I think it's an interesting subject and maybe one or two people would like to comment on it.
  • Sites such as ./ and FR are "filters" of news rather than news generation sites. Not as indiscriminate as portals, they take existing content and try to emphasize topics of interest to their respective communities.

    Having been active on both sites, they both also have one extremely important feature in common -- they provide the news consumer with a means to discuss content (and implications) of stories, but also to critique the way the stories are written and presented.

    The examples on ./ are easy to find. On FR, the "major media" outlets are routinely crucified for the liberal bias evident in their reporting (note, all news reporting has bias -- the major American media is generally liberal) since FR is a conservative/libertarian site.

    That is the real distinction -- not just the ability to discuss news topics, but to see just how much information is filtered even before reaching the average person.

  • That depends on the definition of terms. I'm using the terms as they are typically applied in American politics (which is a horrible corruption of the true meanings of the words, I know). Editors and publishers are more likely to be pro-government and establishment, which means they are (perversely in terms of language) liberal.

    Reporters are slightly more balanced than their editors, but it's still an overwhelming majority with a liberal bias. Personally, I think this is a result of reporters ceasing to be journalistic watchdogs and instead becoming activists for government involvement in [insert fashionable cause here], which is typically a "liberal" position in American politics.

    Note that just under 90% of reporters voted Democratic in the 1994 elections where the Republicans won the US House for the first time in 50 years... they are clearly not a representative sample of the entire population. (I don't want to get into a discussion of whether or not they're right and wrong [and why], just explaining the use of the term "liberal bias" in the media.)

    Note also that there are reporters with conservative baises, libertarian biases, "green" biases, et. al. Also note that many of these can overlap on certain issues (both liberals and conservatives want government control of the Internet, but for different reasons).

    Let me repeat myself: all reporting has the reporter's bias built-in to it. Smart news consumers will identify the bias and try to focus on the objective part of the story. Sadly, some stories never make it out of the newsroom because of the collective biases of the reporters, their editiors, and the publishers -- to be fair, there's only a limited set of resources to allocate to news (number of reportes, space/time in the paper/magazine/show, whatever) and these people are paid to make those decisions, though it does at times come down to politics.

    Fortunately, with the internet, some of the "spiked" or non-stories do get out. Of course the channels that do this don't always have the same trust levels (correctly or not) of the major media. As always, it's about having more options but that means doing more research into those options...

  • Damn it, I meant to hit "preview", not "submit". Another casualty in the struggle to get relevant information out in a timely fashion...

    :)

  • he is about as significant to Bill Gates as a single bacterium in your colon is significant to the weather in France.

    Rule #61 of comedy: mentioning France automatically makes it funnier.

    At least that's what I've been told.

    -eldamitri


    "there once was a big guy named lou

  • Most news media I see tries to cover everything from both sides as if it were equal. This makes sense since we are supposed to try listening to both sides before making up our mind.

    The thing is, you can appear to be presenting both sides of the story, and still have bias. The person writing or presenting the news item gets to pick which quotes/clips they use, as well as the order in which the sides are presented ( which i think might be significant in how a story is recieved, although it's just a hunch, i have no data to back that up. ) In certain stories on shows like 20/20 or Dateline, i've seen the emphasis placed on one side of the story ( IMHO )
  • Your assumption that any comment pointing out a benefit of open-source software distribution can be dismissed as "ridiculous open source activism" is just as ludicrous as the assumption that open source==good software. Prejudice and stereotyping are unreliable crutches for people who try to think for themseves. The article pointed out a feature that the author felt was valuable, and that feature derived from the software's open source distribution model. Should they have NOT mentioned this to avoid offending your sensibilities?

    As far as CmdrTaco furthering his arch-evil agenda by secretly replacing PERL scripts with devious filters that CONTROL YOUR BRAIN, well, this seems far less credible than the Trilateral Commission.

    No, I don't work for the Trilateral Commission, and I don't spend my days disavowing their existence, and I promise that they don't really control the universe. Really! I promise!
  • Matthew points to the open-sourcing of the scripts that slashdot runs on, claiming this defends slashdot from a backdoor method of biasing postings.

    I don't think it offers anything of the sort : we've no way of determining whether the sources provided are, in fact, the ones that run.

    I'm not suggesting that slashdot actually performs any obscure filtering, or that the scripts provided aren't the ones that run. But I don't think providing those sources offer any guarantee of impartiality : I just see them as a friendly and idealistic gesture that's welcomed by the community that slashdot serves.
  • No matter how partial our 2 head geeks are, they will undoubtedly have second thoughts about making disparaging comments about their new bosses. Something to watch for...

    Not necessarily. David Letterman made a LOT of anti-GE jokes. Even before he was itching to leave.

    Skippy
  • I can't remember the last time a /. article stimulated this many interesting comments. Also, your writing style is among the best I've ever seen here (simmer down, Katz, you're pretty darned good, too!). I get frustrated at the Noise of the Masses, sometimes, but discussions like this are the reason I keep coming back. Thanks again!
  • very cute...
  • Unlike self-styled Web journalists, with no distance between their thumb and the "enter" key...

    This reminds me of a quote from Frank Herbert, in Dune:

    "The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called
    spannungsbogen -- which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing."

    Deciding what not to say in an article is definitely the more difficult task.

    (Of course, the ironic act of actually composing this comment - deciding what to say, or even whether or not I should submit - is not lost on me.)

  • by KevinRemhof (29738) on Friday July 16, 1999 @05:47AM (#1799052)
    I think that the major revelations in this article are bias and target audiences. Slashdot is a community-based news-forum. The target audience is Geeks. No one comes to the site expecting to discuss "political conditions of Nicaragua". That is part of the reason why Slashdot is so popular and active.

    News outlets like Slashdot will continue to grow. It's like a book club. People get together to discuss a common topic which they all understand to a certain degree. We can dissagree about key points and voice our opinions in a productive manner.

    The other key point in this article that is not well fleshed out is bias. To most, bias seems to be something that is negative. It is not. The key to understand news from a particular source is to identify its' bias. Penn Jillette wrote an article about this in PC Computing a few years ago. He wrote about how important it is to identify what the bias in a story is. Once you figure that out, the true meaning of the story is revealed.

    Take Slashdot for example. The community that reads and participates is pro-Linux. Therefore, a fair amount of anti-Microsoft news will appear. I'm not saying that is bad. It's just part of the bias of Slashdot and its' readers. No one would expect to find a detailed analasis of why Microsoft is great here.

    Bias is a useful tool. It helps to explain why an article or comment is written rather than just the facts. By doing so, it is easier to identify what the true facts are.
  • Wow somebody who can so brilliantly analyze a current situation will probably be overrun with job offers from now on. Usually it takes historians to grasp what happened at a certain time. This document is very important since it describes an aspect of the revolution we are going through. Will it be called the "Information Revoultin" aka the "Industrial Revolution"? It is wonderful to live in a time where Information Interchange, communication is gaining a more prominent place in ppls lives.

    Thanx again, and if Billy throws u out look at our page. But I am not a stoopid headhunter
  • If I have enough money I will pay ppl for being creative. I will not want anything back but will be happy that the global information stock has risen a wee bit.
  • Even if the article is not presenting any real ew insights, it still summarised the problems with news very well. Another site about journalism and ethics is the Online Journalism Review [ojr.org]. The have often articles on subjects like this.

    What I really hated about the article is this stupid and ridiculous open-source activism.

    Yes, it is nice that CmdrTaco publishes the code for Slashdot, but for the matter of transparency of the news selection mechanism it doesn't really help. It may increase the stability of the system and is a great help for people wanting to start similar sites, but, even with the source code, there is no way of checking what scrips CmdrTaco is really running. Nobody can stop CmdrTaco from adding a message filters. And if he tried, no matter if the code is available or not, sooner or
    later discrepancies would crop up and people would become suspicious.

    The whole issue is about trust, and the source code does not help (or hinder). Saying Slashdot is better than freerepublic because one is open-source and the other not, is only ridiculous.
  • The Internet Junkbuster [junkbuster.com]

    will do what you want for every site you go to.

  • I agree and disagree with your sentiments. I agree that there is a lot of noise within the /. system. But I also find the comment uniquely useful when they are related to topics I'm willing to investigate. It seems to me that a lot of reader/repliers do have a fairly high level of in-depth knowledge of the issues. They are geeks of various sorts, and by definition, they are as well-trained as anyone in the topics that /. tends to report. I would not characterize /. as a protest: on the contrary, I think it's something very different: a protest is an action which usually has more symbolic meaning than actual meaning. It is usually a criticism of some negative part of the social system at large. But /. is an attempt in good faith to create, and be involved in the evolution, of a new media. It is not fundamentally a criticism, although it has the capability to criticize. I see /. as a young phenomenon which will undergo significant revision, but has a bright and positive future.
    I also agree with the importance of editorial responsibility: but what is important here is the relationship of the editorial structure to user comments. I think that this is the part of the medium which requires the most development. There is undoubtedly much of value within the comments: what we need is to find the most valuable information and make that the most readily available. This is difficult. But I think in ten years, most media will be two-direction communication which is very efficient in both directions. And I see /. as an important innovator, which is laying the groundwork for a radical future.
  • I think it's important to realize that the natures of 'truth' in these media are somewhat different. In traditional media, it's simple: one opinion is expressed, and it has some accountability to empirical fact. The opinion can be verifiably 'wrong,' and if it is, the journalism is pretty much worthless.
    The /. model is a bit different, however. An opinion that is 'wrong' is examined by the community. For example, there was recently a story on 'solid-state hard drives' by American Computing, I believe, which was denounced as a hoax almost immediately. Even though the reporting was suspect, the discourse was of some interest to the community. The slashdot model has a method for dealing with '80%' accuracy, which is one of the most important differences.
    What is happening is that the public is developing a defense system against bad reporting and bad opinion. Perhaps that 80% accuracy may sound low, but is traditional media really more than 80% 'true,' when it's obviously biased by the support of mega-corporations who manipulate the news? I would argue no. What is going on in this evolution is that we who have been forced to accept the meager helpings of truth we've had to settle with are now finding ways to defend ourselves against misinformation in the public media. This is not only a positive step; it is essential for our development as an information-dependent species.
  • Hello All,

    anyone remember Noam Chomsky? I thought it rather peculiar, that the connection wasn't remarked earlier, so here it goes (IMHO, as always):

    As I understand it, Priestley's ananlysis of the \.-model is a spitting image of self-governing information pools, envisioned some twenty years ago. They are coming with built-in credibility and -most important- are promising an impressive ratio between (theoretical) reach and economical independence.
    Enter NC: He proposed an approach to the mass media and politics called "propaganda model", which is (very) basically about two rules:
    1. The media is systematically dependent of a manufactured social consent. This practically means, that being in control of information it and it's allies start building a public consent and move on to merely nourishing it, after that.
    They do not (and can not) leave information unfiltered.
    2. This does not give way to speculations like all sorts of stupid conspirational mumbo-jumbo, the mass media is simply too much a part of society and too dependent of an economy of scale to ever escape this.

    In this sense .\ is one example of how (virtual and social) communities could build their own information sources. And a good sign too.

    There is a nice movie and lots of very different books, but I would still like to recommend his untimely thoughts.

    cheers,

    dpool
  • Granted that the Internet is more powerful/speedy, but there's nothing here for group-consciousness building that couldn't be accomplished in pre-Net by spending $20/mo. on Xeroxed snailmail and flyers on phone poles for advertising local groups and rallies.

    Check out the history of intellectual movements sometime -- I'm thinking particularly of Barbara Tuchman's analysis of Zionism in _Bible and Sword_, or Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie's history of Catharism in _Montaillou; Promised Land of Errors_. I think you'll find that a postal system and printing press are required equipment for national or global dispersion, but that phones and computers aren't.

    I agree with a previous poster that suggested bias is good. I know the leaning of /., and because of it I'm not going to waste time/bandwidth posting positive opinions of hated icons or questions about Nicaragua's economy. By the same token, I'm not going to take anti-MS sentiment too seriously unless it's clearly reasoned and discusses technical issues.

    My .02 worth of O2


  • And because they were truly benevolent, they always stepped down after the crisis was over and returned power to a senate or council... Cincinnatus is the Roman version ( Li vy's Early History on project gutenberg [cmu.edu]), but I can't remember the name of the Greek original. Any other liberal arts students?


  • I think this is an accurate statement. Most major news providers may leen a little to the left or a little to the right in their bias; however, they do seem to paint individuals and causes as aberrent behavior.

    This may be a remnant of the "Pleasantville" approach to broadcasting. Try to offend as little people as possible to maintain an audience. Interestingly enough, I think this trend is decreasing. Before the '80s, any news provider that stated a platform was considered an underground source. Their journalists sometimes were even considered unethical. Into the late '80s and '90s more news providers seemed to cater to demographics. Talk radio began to boom, and the internet provided a perfect outlet to choose your filter/provider/editor, etc. Traditional media outlets have tried to catch up a little. You see far more news magazine shows, and many times they will dip down to do features on both sides of the story.
    Non-comedic talk show hosts increasing dip into the news. They will develop a whole show talking extempereonously about a topic to their political slant. Most of this is still relegated to cable, or radio, but since this generates ratings in valued demographics, the big guys may follow.

    Per the essay, /. can improve on these models since the moderation is not relegated to a point of view. I don't know of many places where I can get called a clueless anarchist and a raving right wing republican all within a weeks time.

  • I agree with your premise. A beneviolent dictator can at best only serve during the duration of his lifetime. Since part of the political system is determining succession rights, you must ensure that the system in place guarentees you with a person capable of the same level of efficiency as a leader and beneviolence toward their subjects. Inherently, this policy of succession can be corrupted in the exact same means as other political systems. If we could make the assumption that their would always be the Platonic ideal for a leader; why couldn't we make this assumption with any political system. Could we not have a legislative/parlimentary and judiciary branch filled with platonic ideals for the position. Could we not also have platonically perfect five year plans.

    Even with a platonically ideal dictator, they would still have to setup an administration. For their system to work, it would seem that all their subordinates would also have to be platonic ideals. If not, they surely would be vested with enough power to corrupt the system at lower levels. These corruptions could go undiscovered unless they reached a high enough level to gain the dictators view. To prevent this you would have to set up a system of checks and balances underneath the dictator which could be subject to additional corruption.
  • I think you make a valid point; however at the risk of being subjective, I wanted make offer one thought about your assertion, "the only way to support a claim is to check out the references that support that claim." Some epistemology, the philosophical discipline that studies how we gain knowledge, texts state that knowledge can be gained in one of three ways: (1) Faith (2) Logical Deduction (3) Epiphany. Many people will debate about epiphany, but most agree to the first two. Your statement would generally support the logical deduction category. However, at some point we all gain knowledge through faith. Every piece of knowledge we have is not always transversed back to a set of Universal Scientific laws and theories (which, as you state, are based on a certain amount of faith in some cases).
    I think this where the article makes the analogy to cryptosystems. I think the same level of faith you attribute to the Old Media, can be applied to the individual posters on slashdot. Some Ids have a track record of providing useful and informative information on a consistent basis. When we develop that trust in a poster, we are less likely to follow up on their claims or inferences. As stated in the article, we are more likely to distrust AC postings.
  • My only regret is that we do not prepare and preserve summaries of the conclusions of these open debates. For example, there is no single document that one can point to that clearly summarizes all that we learned about the MindCraft debate. Why? Our distribution rules for words are much more stringent than our rules for code. I do not feel entitled to grab ESR's "Response to the MindCraft fiasco" and revise until it incorporates all information I think he might have overlooked. That would be "plagiarism," and I should be ashamed. Nevertheless, I immediately feel entitled to do the same with his code. Words are at a disadvantage. Yet, summaries and overviews are very important to persuading those who do not have time to be regular slashdot readers. Imagine what we could do with thousands of authors. FAQ's are written this way. Why not news stories and analyses? Do we need a copyleft for words?
  • I think the quality of the media has degraded in the last 10 years. When the equaltime policy was mandated under Regan, all third party opinions were compleetly shut out. The media (mostly) has been reduced to lots of little two sided battles of little significance.
  • I never said anything about malice. Just that the attempt to eliminate bias furthered bias. This is stupidity at it's greatest.
  • Having arrived at this conclusion (a benevolent dictatorship is best) independantly (read as: I have no real credentials, just the results of my own pondering), I think he means "best for everyone".

    Someone who has ultimate and complete power (a "dictator"; I believe in ancient Athens they were "tyrants"?) could make any change he/she/they so desired. If they always made decisions with no motivation but the good (both in terms of rights and in terms of actual well-being) of the people, then they would be the best possible government.

    Now we just have to find people who don't follow the model of "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and who are omniscient enough to realize what is the "good" thing to do in any situation.
  • It won't do "what he wants" in the least, assuming it to be an ad filter. (I admit I didn't check the page)

    He doesn't care about seeing the ads themselves so much as he cares about the very existance of the ads. He's worried about the advertisements jeopardizing the impartiality of the website.

    What if Microsoft said, "Rob...We'll give you [insane amount of money] if you delete any post that bashes Microsoft or praises Linux." If Slashdot is dependant upon advertising dollars for its existance, and Rob needs that money, then he has a choice. He can either accept it -- and the strings attached to it -- or he can let Slashdot die. Neither of those are very appealing options to me. But if Slashdot *wasn't* dependant upon ad revenue, and in fact didn't even *need* ad revenue, then companies couldn't bribe Rob into slanting things their way. Whether or not you see the ads has absolutely no bearing on whether or not their presence affects impartiality of the site.

    Now, delving slightly off-topic, I am of the school of thought that feels ad filters hurt the site. If a site like Slashdot has ads, it's because it needs the money to run. Companies pay for those ads based on how many times they think the ad is going to be viewed. If, say, 75% of the viewers of a page are filtering out that ad, then companies are going to question the value of buying that ad. I've only got a 26.4k connection at home (absolutely abysmal phone lines in my area), yet I don't use ad filters, and I even clickthrough ads once in a while, even if I have no real interest what they're advertising, in order to support the site. I value Slashdot enough to spare a minute of my time encouraging the purchasers of ads that it's a worthwhile endeavor.

    Overall, though, I agree with the original poster in this thread, who said that he would be willing to pay a small subscription fee, and would be willing to allow free-riders, in exchange for releasing Slashdot from a need to carry ads. I suppose it would be more of a donation than a subscription fee, but $5-10 annually would be a small price to pay for a trusted source of "news for nerds".
  • by speek (53416) on Friday July 16, 1999 @08:18AM (#1799070)
    I've always found the comments posted to be more helpful than the original source article pointed to. Usually, I read the comments posted first, and if interested, I will go to the source article. I also like to read the older stuff, cause it's "matured" - ie. more posts that rank 2 and up.

    Public moderation is a great thing, and I believe it would be improved by having more of it. The original posts themselves could be moderated (scored based on number of quality posts? scored directly by readers?). Slashdot would benefit from letting everyone moderate all the time, with the exception of their own posts and follow-ups.

    But, we will always want bias. Slashdot would not be slashdot if it weren't Rob picking the posts. The NYTimes would not be....etc
    One point to remember in considering bias - I can read both newspapers, read multiple web sites, and I think that is often overlooked.
  • very interesting article. I think one of the points the author is trying to make is similar to what other people have said, do one thing well, leave the rest well enough alone. I'd rather get my news from /. for techie stuff, some other website for political views, and a third site for sports. Going to one website that gives me only a little bit about each topic isn't very useful. Even more than the news stories, I truly enjoy the commentary... I've learned a great deal in the past month and a half by reading other people's experiences.
  • I think you've brought up a valid point that deserves a bit of consideration. Remember the account from a few weeks ago in which someone wondered whether content might not become merely a vehicle for advertising?

    The question is to what extent you get in bed with advertisers. Is all money good money? Is money from Microsoft ok? What about the Tobacco Barons? What about the KKK? Where do you draw the line? Can you turn one away? Could you be sued for doing so?

    What if they want to pay you a lot of money? What if they wouldn't pay you a lot of money if your stories put a bad light on them? Remember what happened with the MSNBC reporter who was covering the MS-DOJ trial. He was fired.

    Can you survive without advertising? Is it better to do so? If going without advertising has an impact on the quality of your publication, where do you draw the line?

    Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, wrote that ``Contempt, rather than celebration, is the proper response to advertising and the system that makes it possible.'' Pervasive advertising to captive audiences has certainly gone from bad to worse in the last few years, not just in this medium but everywhere. Yet those who sip from the teat of money, especiall free spamvert money, are addicted far worse than any cocaine user ever was.

    I regret that I offer no solution.

  • I realize that text mode browsers aren't for everyone but by using
    lynx, I never see the ads. The pages also load quite a bit
    faster than with netscape. I'm sure I must be missing out
    on a certain amount of nifty stuff but I'm really only here
    for the information.
  • An article has appeared in this weeks copy of
    the Economist online. It is mostly concerned
    with the impact of internet as a successor technology to
    the newspaper.

    Quote:"Get rid of the need for physical inputs, however, and the economics of the business changes completely. Once the barriers to entry disappear, so does the rationale for the package of content and revenue that makes up a newspaper. Now that being a publisher costs so little, niche publishers can pick off speciality areas of content-the weather, say, or the stockmarket-and build a business around them. Classified advertisers can set up their own sites where prices to advertisers are likely to be lower because they do not have to pay for the physical inputs or subsidise the content. The newspaper, it turns out, was a hundred different businesses rolled into one; and, now that the economic glue that held them together has dissolved, they could fall apart."

    The article is available at www.economist.com [economist.com]
  • You were thinking of Hanlon's Razor: "Do not ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity."

    As far as news today being an improvement over Hearst's time, I think that's a dubious statement. Hearst probably held tighter control over a smaller information pool, but today active censorous control has been replaced by spin, which is more widespread and perhaps more pernicious, as it's less immediately noticeable.

    Also, bias doesn't have to be malicious to be bias. It's quite probable that most news reporters are either quite unconscious in their bias or feel they're acting out of perfectly ethical impulses when they spin stories.

    gomi
  • I found his point about the majority of Americans not realizing who owns the major TV stations interesting. I am somewhat aware of who owns each one, and so it was blatantly obvious a while ago when some lawsuits were filed against Disney and ABC did not report on the matter that something was up. Both NBC and CBS had stories on this lawsuit, but ABC did not. Not a good sign. One of the reason I get my news from /. is that the news is culled from all over. Granted everything has a definite pro-Linux flavor to it, but the mere fact that the majority of people have heard of or use Linux indicates above average intelligence. This generally leads towards more open and free discussions. We should watch for Andover.net stories however. No matter how partial our 2 head geeks are, they will undoubtedly have second thoughts about making disparaging comments about their new bosses. Something to watch for...
  • Let's take a look at the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution (Yeah I'm from the US)

    These were great documents written by a bunch of guys who mostly meant well. Statements like "all men are created equal" and "we the People" were put forth as law from guys who "owned" slaves.

    The constitution was written with as much forethought as possible in an attempt to keep the new country from falling into the same traps that they believed Britain had fallen into.

    Now take a look at the US.

    This is cycle that is as old as humanity and doesn't seem to be getting any better IMHO.

    /. is great! It's new, fresh, and honest (unless you like Microsoft products), not too much unlike the US in the 1700's. Eventually, however, /. - like sites will get corrupted just like everything else. New ones will replace them and they'll be wonderful for awhile then they'll go the way of big business or close-mindedness and begin chipping away at our "rights". It's happened to just about every organized group of humans in history. I remember seeing a post here on /. About a Perl book review. People were posting prices of various book-selling websites and one of the prices was snipped.

    You can't blame someone for not wanting to advertise the fact that they or their friend sells the same product at a higher price than a competitor's can you? I wouldn't and I would have snipped the post too. But hey, I'm a capitalist pig, and darn proud of it. These little things creep in and pretty soon we've got cops pulling us over and taking our lunch money ......err fining us for a seatbelt violation.

    I believe /. is one of the all-time great sites and I hope it will remain so for as long as possible but unfortunately all good things must eventually come to an end. Now we'll see how much of this gets posted.


  • Wow. This guy reminds me of some people I know, who think that inventive uses of swear words ("Yippity FUCK") make the point more credible.

    (pause as Bob wanders around the site)

    Okay, I just went to look at more of that site. The whole site is like that. It's kind of like the Onion [theonion.com], except it's not funny. Hmm.
    --
  • In the old days (pre 1910's), no newspaper pretended to be unbiased. Every one pushed an agenda and pushed it strongly. The techniques used were the standard ones: selective omission of fact, vituperative language, slander, belittlement, extreme statements, and the total denial that any other point of view had any validity.

    Yet I feel that the quality of news was higher then, and that quality was a direct result of this bias. How can that be? The enthusiasm each reporter brought to his job, doing his best to hunt up facts that validate his world-view, enabled him to ferret out facts that a more laid-back, unbiased reporter or paper would miss.

    The fact that every paper was biased didn't pollute the public mind, since every town had a wide variety of papers,large and small, general-purpose or narrow focused, to choose from. It wasn't uncommon for the businessman to buy several papers on his way to work, and buy a few more on his way back home. Thus the interested reader, who wanted a true accounting of the facts, could easily discover what the truth was merely by reading differing accounts of events.

    Sort of like Slashdot.

    Joe
  • While I do agree with your point about Microsoft not wanting anything that praises Linux or bashes Microsoft, how likely is it that Microsoft is going to get any decent amount of business out of the spectrum of people who read this page? In my humble opinion, not very likely. The slogan of /. is "News for nerds" not "News for the masses." It is dedicated to those dedicated to the Open Source. Microsoft is going to have a very hard sell obtaining business in an environment like that.

    "When it comes to the choice of the lesser of two evils, I pick the one I haven't tried before."
  • I'm also noticing a huge trend toward segmented news pages on the internet...no longer is it normal to have one "newspaper" to have 15 or 20 different section, everything from Arts & Lifestyles to Workplace. Rather, places like Slashdot (and self-promotionally, GeekRights [geekrights.org] are picking a specfic segment of newsworthy items under a single broad (and not-so-broad) topic and delivering all the news they can find regarding it.

    On one hand it allows those interested to really have all the news they can on this one topic, on the other, it tends to specialize people, which can be a deathwish in conversations and situations outside of the topic.

    Haven't we all seen those people who will talk of nothing other than their one favorite thing?

    TheGeek
    http://www.geekrights.org [geekrights.org]
  • > Of course, that takes time and feedback, which the short life-time of posts on /. discourages. But still.

    Yep, on Slashdot, there doesn't seem to BE a multi-day follow-up. Threads pretty much die when the story scrolls off the front page. That's ok for items like "XYZ Corp. upgrades whizzbang to 400 mhz", but is less than ideal for stories with a more philosophical bent. It's a little unfortunate, because topics that could stimulate thought and reflection lose some of that potential because of the perceived need to rush when posting a comment. On the other hand, the stories are still there after they scroll -- just takes an extra click, if people want to.

  • Firstly, let me say that I love the /. style of information distribution. I wish I only knew of other sites, with other narrow focuses, of the same quality.

    I've pretty much given up on traditional news media. My exposure to current events is 95% from National Public Radio during my drive to/from work. But even NPR goes astray. The excessive Clinton trial coverage really irritated me, for example.

    When I bumped into /. a few weeks ago, I was instantly hooked. Every morning I had to get my fix while drinking my first cup of coffee at the office. I still do. I get a heads-up on news and events (usually) much faster than "official" online news sources, and certainly TV news sources.

    ZDTV recently became available on my cable service. While much is Wired-like fluff, I do enjoy some of the shows, like the often tounge-and-cheek The Screen Savers (no flames, please). The only problem is now that I read Slashdot, almost everything is old news to me. I don't know whether this is a blessing or a curse.

    Anyhow, this thirst for current information and community debate reminds me of my similar taste for usenet. Though I'm not sure if I missed the official Golden Age when I was most involved (1990-1993), I felt usenet was still of sufficient quality back then. I could even appreciate the Usenet Olympics.

    However, as most of us know, usenet went to hell in a handbasket very quickly. (Some may feel it had already gone to hell even before the years I was involved, but nevermind...) Today I find it pretty much useless, save for a very few highly technical groups.

    As this kind of forum gets more popular, will clusters of people like Slashdot fall prey to the idiots, trolls, spammers, etc. that ruined usenet? Are the few moderation mechanisms in the system good enough to keep such garbage out?
  • by JJMcC (69658) on Friday July 16, 1999 @09:11AM (#1799085)
    (Seems to be a problem with my registration and non-acceptance of cookies...)

    While the /. model of news-gathering certainly works for me, there is an insidious danger to these 'topical screeners' that leaves me uncomfortable. One of the effects of the Internet has been to allow geographically disparate soulmates to find each other. The flip side of the coin is that it has allowed geographically disparate cranks to find each other, and freed them to incestuously recycle hateful/misguided/plain wrong ideas without being subject to the scrutiny of contrary opinions.

    /. is an encouraging model of open discourse, and even so its partisan leanings (in aggregate) are clear for all to see.

    More troubling are nakedly political sites ie the Consertive site mentioned in the article. The explosion of the Internet has allowed rabid dogmas to flourish, freed from critical analysis that restricted fora of the pre-wired age required. News gatherers take the step one further, as they allow and encourage 'real-world' events that support a particular ideology to be sampled, discussed and internalized in isolation without context in the greater culture. This allows us all to build unreconcilable 'true' pictures of culture that clash when rubbed against those outside that filtered embrace.

    I posit that the internet, and specifically this agregation of limited world-views can ultimately lead to a more contentious, less consentual and increasingly isolated society.

    For all their inherent biases and corporate corruption, traditional news services were more successful in keeping a cultural perspective alive through reporting diversity. Or at least the majority culture, which, while in some ways despicable still encourages a common touchstone over segregated enclaves of unassailable thought.

    But anyway, I like geek stuff, so I'll still read /. I'll just fidget while I do. ;]

    JJMcC
  • There is no such thing as "the media". That smacks of some grand conspiracy to hide the truth. Sure companies strive to put a positive spin on their information, just as all of us do.

    And what's this crap about the quality going down? What the hell do you expect with the number of new news organizations going online every day? It's like a pro sport expanding from 12 to 24 teams. The pool of top-notch talent is only so deep, so diluting it by 50%/team is only going to bring more inexperienced folks on board.

    That and the push to be first has done more than any bias to undermine the quality of the news. I love the old saying "don't attribute to malice what simple incompetence will explain" or something like that.

    I'll take today's news organizations over what passed as news when Hearst ran his empire!
  • A discussion on this topic without a mention of Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. would be analagous to considering operating systems without mentioning M$ and Bill Gates. Murdoch, arriving in the US about 20 years ago with training on Fleet Street, has almost single-handedly taught the US press how to integrate commercial interests with "journalism". Take, for example, TV Guide - since Rupert's takeover, TV Guide has featuring a disproportionate number of stars of Fox series on its cover. Why? Murdoch owns Fox as well.

    Yes, journalism is pretty wretched these days, but let's not lose sight of how it got there.

Related Links Top of the: day, week, month.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.

Working...