Archive for the ‘Newscounter’ tag

An experiment in citizen journalism

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Amongst the many challenges facing budding citizen journalists two stand out – access and audience.

Most current ‘citizen journalism’ is based on luck (or more often bad luck) and circumstance. You’re driving by the Buncefield oil depot just after it’s blown up. Or you happen to live in Tewkesbury and suddenly find yourself under water.

But what if you actually want to do some ‘journalism’? Like talking to public figures, asking them questions, or challenging them about something they’ve done? Tricky to do without a news organisation behind you and the corresponding resources and access.

Which is why I’ll be interested to see how Yoosk fares (www.yoosk.com). Yoosk is an experiment in citizen journalism being run in collaboration with City University’s journalism school (whose Neil Thurman told me about the site).

The idea’s pretty straightforward. You put a question to a public figure, people vote on whether they think the question deserves to be answered and, if enough people vote, Yoosk puts the question to the person in the hope that people power will convince them to respond.

Like all social media sites its success is reliant on scale – so it doesn’t skimp on its ambition: “Our vision” it says “is for Yoosk to become the world’s biggest interactive global citizens’ news and gossip co-zine- collaborative magazine” (whatever a co-zine- collaborative magazine is).

But even if the site gathers lots of questioners it faces another, equally tough challenge – audience. As Matt Cain found out while running www.newscounter.com – a right-to-reply service that relied on a similar voting mechanism to elicit responses from public figures and organisations – it’s awfully hard to gain an audience when your news agenda is so disparate and so lacking in context and editorial voice.

People want news stories to be timely, and to have both a narrative of their own and to fit within a larger narrative. Unless Yoosk can connect questions and answers with current news stories and link them to a bigger picture, it’s hard to see how it will build up a regular audience.

But, by focusing on people, and allowing users to navigate by people’s pictures and names, it’s already considerably ahead of other efforts at citizen journalism. I wish it luck.

Written by Martin Moore

November 12th, 2007 at 11:51 am

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Alzheimer's campaign and the nation's health

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The Daily Mail’s attacks on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) continue. Today’s campaign to end restrictions on Alzheimer’s drugs comes after similar pressure on Herceptin, Avastin, Erbitux, Accomplia and others. Each time the paper positions itself as the people’s champion against a money-pinching government and its heartless partner-in-crime, NICE. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were this simple? But what we don’t learn from the coverage – particularly when the campaigns are successful – are the treatments that have to be cut back and the palliative care that has to be cancelled to pay for the new drugs. Herceptin, for example, which works in under 20% of cases of early breast cancer and can have serious side effects, costs £30,000 per year. Incredibly important though this is for some women, the money does not come out of a bottomless pot, it has to be diverted from elsewhere.
In the case of the Alzheimer’s drugs NICE – which was not given a right to reply in the Mail’s article – has since responded on NewsCounter. NICE states that the efficacy of the drugs is in doubt and emphasises the importance of non-drug interventions for many cases of Alzheimers. Its decision has been challenged by Eisai Ltd and Pfizer Ltd, the manufacturers of the drug in question. The Alzheimer society’s support for this challenge (through a separate legal action) means NICE will have to pay significant legal costs which it says would otherwise be spent on supporting healthcare.
This is not to understate the importance of providing drug and health care to Alzheimers’ sufferers, but to suggest that more balanced coverage – though lacking the emotional punch – could make for better healthcare in the long run.

Written by Martin Moore

February 27th, 2007 at 1:17 pm

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Coverage of NHS IT programme lacks balance

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Does coverage of the NHS IT programme seem a little one-sided? In The Telegraph today we read the ‘£20bn NHS computer system “doomed to fail”‘. In The Times, David Rose writes about how the ‘£6.2bn IT scheme for NHS “is not working and is not going to work”‘. Both are quoting Andrew Rollerson, an executive with Fujitsu, one of the companies developing the IT programme (NPfIT). But Rollerson’s criticisms (you can see his whole presentation linked to The Telegraph article) are not balanced by comments from others. The Times simply notes at the end of its article that ‘Connecting for Health declined to comment’. But just in case you were unsure about how serious the problem is a second Times article, beside the first, tells us that ‘Faulty software puts child health at risk’. The Telegraph quotes the Department of Health saying how important the programme is, but has no quotes or information from anyone who can speak directly to Rollerson’s criticisms.
Fujitsu has now issued a response – which can be seen on the Newscounter website – saying that Rollerson is not working on the NHS IT project and that ‘His comments have been taken out of context and abridged to misrepresent what was actually said’.
We have yet to hear from the head of the programme, Richard Granger. Granger did, however, write a piece last November – not reported in the general press, for the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article titled ‘Information Technology in the English National Health Service’ (requires registration), quotes the National Audit Office as saying that ‘substantial progress had been made but significant challenges remain’, and reasserts this in the conclusion. But it also concludes that the greatest challenge is ‘the human processes that need to change to accomodate the IT revolution’ and that the programme has to ‘win the support of staff’ to be successful. It won’t win that support if everyone believes it’s ‘doomed to fail’.

Written by Martin Moore

February 13th, 2007 at 8:12 am

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