Andrew's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Dispatch from the Online News Association conference

A quick note pecked on my phone from the ONA conference in San Francisco...

At the end of this morning's "Business of Collaboration" session, I had the chance to ask a panel of editors, "Why have you only talked about how you collaborate with other news outlets? Are there particular ethical concerns about generating stories and data with non-profits, local governments, advocacy groups?"

I thought it would be a tricky question to answer, but it wasn't: "Yes, there are ethical concerns and they're not ones we can compromise on" (I'm paraphrasing ProPublica's editor).

I followed up: "So if a mayor in upstate New York asked Abrahm Lustgarten to analyze the fracking data the town couldn't, ProPublica wouldn't collaborate with the mayor?" His answer was accommodating but clear, that a journalistic outfit still has to remain removed to ensure impartiality, but they could cite the data and would still need to compare it to what the company doing the fracking would provide.

"Enhanced Delegation" Model for Participation in Local Governance

What if residents could allocate their town's spending like some people do their 401(k)'s?

I've been a homeowner for a little over a year, so for the first time I'm tracking town expenditures and, as important, listening to other residents' town-solvable needs and frustrations.

Arlington's issues can feel piddly. (The divisive issue this year was a leaf blower ban.) But dissatisfaction can grow faster than my crabgrass, and my own dissatisfaction doesn't have to do with present issues as much as the process we'll have to use when things really do get serious.

How to Game the System? Voting-Rules Tweaks for Better Representation

What geeked-out little changes to our voting system would you make to result in huge benefits to representative government?

On Becky's recommendation, I've been reading Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons. The extraordinarily fun part of the book is how quickly it gets you out of the "government is either the solution or the problem" debate. Now, Ostrom tightly circumscribes her research, limiting it to common-pool resources (fisheries, grazing land, and the like), excluding common goods (which is what I focus on below, in terms of voting), and suggesting the self-governing, self-regulating structures she studies can't be broadened to the largest organizational national governments.

But that doesn't mean I'm not tempted to do it anyway.

To Supreme Court, MIT defends using race in admissions

Today MIT and 13 other major universities submitted an amicus brief (PDF attached below) to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of using race as a consideration in the admissions process.

The case is Fisher v. University of Texas. Oral arguments will be heard on Oct. 10, with a decision expected in early 2013.

The core of the schools' brief is summed up on page 2:

Michigan Ballot Initiative Could Be Decided By...the Width of a Dime?

Type Gauge showing 14 point type

As a type geek, I find this Michigan court battle inspiring. As a citizen, it's uglier than Comic Sans:

At issue is whether a summary of the question, used on a petition to gather signatures to get the question on the ballot, was written in a type size specified by state law: 14-point boldface. The typeface used on the petition was 14-point Calibri produced by Microsoft Corp.'s Word software, but a dispute has arisen over whether the font renders the type at the full 14-point size.

The difference in size, as pointed out to the Michigan Supreme court, is the width of a dime.

Why Flawed Infographics Are Better Than Perfect Ones

This infographic from Floor Gem blasts the Transportation Security Administration's prodigious terribleness (prodigious in the sense that the TSA is a terribleness prodigy, on the level of Bobby Fischer and chess). There's nothing that inherently lends this data to the infographic form. It's flawed. There's nothing that its graphicality adds to its data, except that it's just so good-looking, its imperfections don't matter. It affects you. You remember it. And that's really what counts when it comes to communicating data.

Political cookies, toward private politics

The MIT Technology Review just posted Campaigns to Track Voters with "Political Cookies". It freaks me out for a reason I'll get to below...

The technology involves matching a person's Web identity with information gathered about that person offline, including his or her party registration, voting history, charitable donations, address, age, and even hobbies.

Companies selling political targeting services say "microtargeting" of campaign advertising will make it less expensive, more up to the minute, and possibly less intrusive. But critics say there's a downside to political ads that combine offline and online data. "These are not your mom and pop TV ads.

MBTA's budget paradox: an empty feeling in pockets and guts

(This post stretches in different directions, but the question I'd like your thoughts on is: what would a civic media tool look like that helps people make decisions in their community's long-term interest?)

The front page of yesterday was filled with articles -- both new and re-promoted -- about Boston's transit agency's budget paradox.

The MBTA's debt has many fathers: from the too-young dads who didn't plan for the future, which every city seems have, to absentee fathers, like agencies outside the MBTA who thought it was a great idea to cover any cost overruns of the Big Dig by dumping that debt on the MBTA. (Perversely, environmentalists and fans of interstates were on the same side of this...balance the environmental impact of constructing a highway by, in turn, expanding the mass transit system, yet have no real plan to pay for either.)

Podcast, "Adapting Journalism to the Web" with Jay Rosen and Ethan Zuckerman

Read a detailed run-down on our blog:

Co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Media; Comparative Media Studies; Science, Technology, and Society; and the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies

New communications technologies are revolutionizing our experience of news and information. The avalanche of news, gossip, and citizen reporting available on the web is immensely valuable but also often deeply unreliable. How can professional reporters and editors help to assure that quality journalism will be recognized and valued in our brave new digital world?

The pain of posting podcasts

In my nearly four years here, I've seen the rise of some great solutions to communications challenges.

MailChimp and other email marketing platforms have made signing up and emailing friends and followers dead simple while avoiding the worst practices that lead to spamhood.

Twitter not only works as a broadcast medium but also makes rebroadcasting more respectable than it had been. (You think I'm kidding, but older professional communications folks still reflexively hesitate, wondering if featuring others' news weakens one's own brand or, worse, constitutes a copyright violation.)

Eventbrite helps manage ticketing and major event promotion without ever having to print out a spreadsheet, set up a cost object, or beg a former cop to help guard a cash box.