Thursday, October 13, 2005

Invasion riffs on sources

There's something subversive about the ABC television series Invasion, and it's not just the plotline.

As I've previously noted, the writers seem to have something to say about the condition of the fourth estate.

Last night's episode had another commentary about journalists and journalism, this time related to ethics.

Sheriff Tom Underlay -- who may be mixed up in a conspiracy -- is discussing with TV reporter Larkin Varon a secret Air Force recovery operation he showed her in the swampland outside of town. The military's public cover story is that they are helping clean-up operations after a sewage treatment plant was damaged in a hurricane -- a plant whose closing Larkin covered a month earlier. The military's "secret" cover story is that they are recovering an aircraft that crashed in the hurricane. But Underlay and Varon saw personnel in containment suits loading steel cases into a truck by a swamp in the middle of the night.

SHERIFF TOM UNDERLAY: You really want to push this thing?

LARKIN VARON: Yes! If the military is working on something secret down here, I want to know about it.

UNDERLAY: OK. But if you end up with a story, you just can't tell anyone that I helped you get it. Not even your husband.

VARON: Russell already knows you helped me.

UNDERLAY: Larkin. What I showed you was highly confidential.

VARON: Yeah, from the news! I didn't think you were talking about my family!

UNDERLAY: From everyone! I went out on a limb for you. You want to be a good wife, talk to your husband. But if you want to be a good reporter, talk to me. Just don't tell anyone you're doing it.

The timing of the exchange in relation to real-world events is odd, coming after Judith Miller has been released from prison after previously refusing to reveal a source in the Valerie Plame affair -- a source alleged to be U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Cellphone video captures Pakistan quake building collapse

Once again, the mainstream news media has been scooped by a member of the public. An employee of Sun Li Sichuan Petroleum Administration in Islamabad, identified by CNN as an executive shot cellphone camera video of an Islamabad apartment building collapsing in today's 7.6 earthquake [Windows Media streaming video @ CNN]. The video was cut into a report by CNN correspondent (former CBC Toronto reporter) Satinder Bindra.

It's conceivable that before too long, individuals with footage like this will bypass the mainstream media altogether and either self-publish -- as video bloggers are already starting to do -- or make video like this available to online outlets. That doesn't make them journalists -- but it doesn't stop them from being journalists either.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Google launches RSS feed reader

Earlier today, Google took the wraps off of Google Reader [], a Web-based RSS feed aggregator.

In a post about Reader on the Google blog software engineer Chris Wetherell writes:

We often get asked how anyone's supposed to keep up with the firehose of stuff launched from the web's spigot, so we're offering Reader as a way to help. Like the Personalized Homepage, it's a part of Google's ongoing effort to bring together personalized web content to make information more relevant to users.

I'm not sure whether the new service is getting slammed and having trouble coping with the volume of people giving it a try , or whether there are still a lot of bugs to work out, but I'm a little underwhelmed.

The first time I tried to import my feed subscriptions, Google Reader just sat there, apparently doing nothing. The second time, it imported most -- but not all -- of my RSS feeds but omitted entire categories or groupings of feeds. When I tried to refresh the subscriptions to include the missing ones, Google Reader wiped out all of them. Now, after re-importing my subscriptions from my desktop feed reader (Feedreader), Google Reader has been telling me for the last half-hour "Your subscriptions are being imported...".

Once Google irons out what I expect are temporary wrinkles, Reader will likely help entrench the company as a diversified online media giant. It's yet another sign of the shift in the distribution of media already underway and the migration to a networked information society.

Traditional media -- newspapers, radio, TV -- aren't going anywhere soon, but they will have to contend with, partner with or buy their new media (i.e. Internet) cousins if they hope to remain in the game for the long haul.

In spite of the impressions coverage of all of this might give, it's still early days for Internet media. So, although there are dozens of desktop and online RSS feed aggregators out there, Google is still getting in on the equivalent of the ground floor.