Redefining the libcom news section - consultation

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Steven.
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Jul 2 2011 15:26
Redefining the libcom news section - consultation

We libcom group have been considering changing our guidelines on what goes in our news section - in part in response to feedback from users (a recent thread started by Akai, for example). So we wanted to gather users' views.

Basically, we have been getting a lot of content about current events, such as those in Egypt, Spain, etc, but a lot of this has not been meeting our news guidelines - which state that news articles should only be factual reporting. Many of these articles are very good, but are more comment, analysis or personal account pieces. This has meant that libcom news has not been updated that much, and information about current events in the library is mixed up with old articles, books and leaflets.

So we were wondering: should we redefine our news section to be content about any current events - including comment, analysis, first-hand accounts, etc. I think that probably makes more sense, and tallies more with how people would want to use the site. We could rename news "News and analysis" or something like that.

We still intend to keep doing and hosting factual reporting wherever possible and still encourage users to post up factual articles.

What do people reckon? Any thoughts and comments please!

Do you go to the news section, expecting to see articles about current events there anyway? Let us know

Samotnaf
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Jul 2 2011 15:55
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redefine our news section to be content about any current events - including comment, analysis, first-hand accounts, etc. I think that probably makes more sense, and tallies more with how people would want to use the site. We could rename news "News and analysis" or something like that.

Think that makes sense. In fact, I get confused about such finely defined guidelines: my "Riots in China" text, which I originally put in the "News" section got moved by you to my blog and it was virtually all cut and paste facts from various online papers, and virtually no analysis even (it's something I do to wake myself up along with having a cup of tea and then coffee: I go on "Newsnow uk", do a search with things like "riot" or "demonstration" or "strike" or "Syntagma Square"and it gives a list of headlines with those words; worth knowing about if you don't already).

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Jul 2 2011 16:49

Hmmm...I like the news to be factual (although I think all us regular users--myself included--should be better at submitting stories). I think we should really promote the blogs (which tend to generate much better discussions than the forums) for personal stuff.

Samotnaf
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Jul 2 2011 17:58

It's a basic banality that facts can't be separated from the ideas that made you choose those facts, and chose not to mention other facts; obviously some things are more weighted towards "objective" events, and others intertwine empirical evidence with critical theory, whilst others tend towards overabstraction in what is too often regarded as "theory". I prefer the "middle" way: at least you know where the person writing it is coming from, what ideas made him/her consider putting forward the facts. Standard bourgeois journalism pretends that they're just giving you the facts when we all know , even when the facts are true and not taken out of context, that they are made to fit into a world-view that reinforces this society, that they take up the point of view of the immediate dominant reality. So better to be explicit about our own world-view than fall into the old Dragnet TV show cliché "Just give us the facts, mam, just the facts".

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Jul 2 2011 18:21

I've never believed there was any point in pretending there was an 'objectivity' in how factual info is presented in news here. An attempt to achieve it only tries to replicate the false objectivity of the mainstream media, its artificial division of labour between data and analysis. Choosing what topics to report, which facts are relevant etc are all partly subjective. News and analysis is a much better category - and imo the more news with analysis the better. Accumulating bare data on particular struggles quickly reaches its limits - it needs to be put into context to have any lasting value, and to do that the writer (and reader) has to begin analysis of the situation the facts emerge from.

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Jul 2 2011 18:31

I concur with both Samotnaf and RedMarriott. Factual news is an impossibility that libcom is all the better for avoiding the charade. Renaming to 'News and Analysis' sounds like a good plan.

If I remember correctly the post that Akai made, it was about the English speaking-centric nature of the news on the site right? I think it left libcom in a bit of a quandary. How does a single website adequately represent 'the world'?

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Jul 2 2011 18:51
Arbeiten wrote:
I concur with both Samotnaf and RedMarriott. Factual news is an impossibility that libcom is all the better for avoiding the charade. Renaming to 'News and Analysis' sounds like a good plan.

If I remember correctly the post that Akai made, it was about the English speaking-centric nature of the news on the site right? I think it left libcom in a bit of a quandary. How does a single website adequately represent 'the world'?

Yes, I agree with Sam and red here as well - especially on Red's point about analysis being necessary to have lasting value, and making something worth reading five or 50 years down the line.

The point made by Akai (here: http://libcom.org/forums/general/whats-going-deletion-posts-26052011) was not only English-speaking centric nature of the news (I pointed out the vast majority of the news was about non-English-speaking countries), but about the impression she and some other posters had that users were less likely to respond to campaigns in non-English-speaking countries. Which I don't think we have anywhere of knowing if it is true or not, but I suspect that it is not.

Chilli, on things being "factual" or not, at the moment somebody's personal account of an event is factual, but it should still be going in the library by our guidelines, but we think now that doesn't really make sense.

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Jul 2 2011 22:15

No-one's ever claimed objectivity in the sense of facts just being facts, even the mainstream press. But there's a difference between giving people a clear writeup of what's happened and a writeup on what you think about it. Articles interspersed with "and these counterrevolutionary SCUM did such and such" are a massive turnoff to anyone who doesn't already agree with you. Which is why news operates the way it does and why professional journalists bang on about the difference between news and comment so much.

If the bias is muted within the selection of information and the prominence of how certain facts are placed within an article it's far more likely to get through to people because you're not condescending to them or telling them how to think about what's going on.

Then there's the issue of mass expectation - what people expect when they hear the word news, and what they expect when they hear the word anarchist. And how when anarchists write opinion under the heading "news" it's an instant "oh mental lefties writing rubbish agit-prop" moment for anyone not already sympathetic. This is stuff which the mainstream media has drummed into people for years and which personally, I'd rather not fall into the trap of.

Anyway, that's an argument we've had ad nauseam, frankly it doesn't bear repeating too much here. In practice, if there's not enough people contributing to the libcom newswire to keep it regularly updated, maybe it should just fold into the blog a bit or hitch itself to a few other news sources via an aggregator or something?

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Jul 3 2011 00:55

I am in favor of this change. It will make current events easier to follow, and time-critical networking much more straightforward.

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Jul 3 2011 01:05

I think this is all really useful feedback, and I agree with the points about attempts at objectivity that have been raised. I think it makes much more sense to have the news section about any current-events related stuff, after all we can't really realistically aim to be a news source to rival other more mainstream ones (such as facebook, which has become my daily news digest, dear god... wink )

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Jul 3 2011 01:23

There are a lot of good points here. There was some talk before of lowering the prominene of News and raising that of the the blogs on the front page, which is a good idea.
I think Rob is right that writing for news should appear objective if it is to draw people in, although to be honest I've no idea if that is succesful as I don't know if libcom has or did/could have the capacity to analyse that. I agree with Red and Samotnaf that lower more analytical pieces give you a bit more space and are ultimately more engaging.

I think libcom needs a bit of both. I think having an objective-looking tone in news articles is useful and does avoid the trap of sounding like every other leftist. I used to translate a few bits and bobs for a french and their writing style was a bit over the top and I always toned down the rhetoric to make it more readable. If someone agrees with you then don't ram it down their throat,* if they don't then is that likely to change their minds.

With regard to analysis I think that it is worth allowing analysis pieces where that is justified, although I think they already get in. The key is not to have small pieces overwhelmed by analysis and comment. They have a place, but in longer and more in-depth pieces.

*On Thursday I had some kind of stalinist talking to me about the strikes, he simultaneously talked as if I knew nothing about the strikes and the issues, and also expected me to understand him being a leftist. I ended up having to say to him "You do realise I've come to support a picket line because I know why they're on strike" He ended up walking off when I asked who had written the newspaper he was trying to sell.

redsdisease
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Jul 3 2011 07:04

I wish there was a way to increase the prominence of certain news threads from the forum. A lot of them (particularly this year) have been incredibly helpful. I'm pretty sure that a few people that I know, who don't normally frequent this website, were following the Egypt thread pretty closely. That said, I have no idea how this would actually be accomplished. Perhaps certain really active, relevant news threads could go somewhere on front page?

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Jul 3 2011 10:27

We are planning a site redesign in the background, what I was thinking we could do is put a block containing the 10 most recently active news forum threads on the news page. (Although TBH we could just do that now, and I think it would be worthwhile)

thanks for the comments everyone

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Jul 3 2011 12:08

I think the 'objective factual news' vs 'subjective analysis' is a bit of a false dichotomy. Yes, selection of facts is ideological, any teenage chomsky fan will tell you that! wink

Thus far, the style guide has been to write news articles with any comment clearly distinguished or included as a quote. That's not because of a niave belief in objectivity, but for stylistic reasons. Obviously the ideological bias in selecting facts and quotes is libertarian communist. But generally ideology works better between the lines than being explicitly stated, something much far-left writing seems completely ignorant of (which is why every BBC article doesn't say 'and once again we see the merits of a liberal democratic capitalist system').

I think Samotnaf's point that this is a continuum is pertinent. On the one hand you've got bare factual stuff where the ideology is between the lines, at the other end explicit comment where it's in your face. Up til now, those have been treated as two discrete kinds of writing and put in two separate places: news and blogs/library. There's various reasons why the former type isn't going to disappear (foremost, we often simply don't know enough about a strike in a docks in Chile or whatever to say anything beyond 'it's happening, this many people are involved, stated reasons for the dispute are this'), but the consultation is whether news should be restricted to such things.

Personally I think 'news and analysis' makes more sense, but i'd still advocate a style guide. Far too much far-left writing consists of Dave Spart-esque 'and that's why we need *insert ideological shibboleth of choice*', and while the regular contributors may be better writers than that i think we'd need still clear guidelines for style and content since any registered user can submit news (and we want people to!).

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Jul 3 2011 12:26

Yeah, we're not saying we're going to chuck out our style guide, just some stuff currently in the library about current events into the news section. We are not proposing lowering our standard for accepting content in general (as Indymedia shows what happens when you do that)

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 3 2011 13:29

On a related note, it's quite difficult to distinguish between comments on News articles. They're the same colour, font, etc and there's barely even a gap between them. Could the comments style be the same as on the Forum?

Boris Badenov
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Jul 3 2011 14:52

On the one hand, I think having the "news" section as a stand-alone makes some sense, because Libcom the website has always been (at least for me) more than a tedious propaganda "organ". It's an encyclopedia of revolutionary history, an archive of important theoretical writings, a place of discussion, and yes, a source of labor-related news.
On the other hand, none of us are investigative journalists (except in cases where people post their personal impressions of certain events like protests, demos, picket lines etc.), and so a lot of the stuff in the news section tends to be reproduced from liberal media sources. In other words, since Libcom can't afford to become a "professional" media source (and I'm not sure if that would even be a good thing, assuming you'd have the funds to do it), it would actually make sense to keep those eye-witness accounts in the news section, because that is the stuff that is not just copy-pasted (not that linking to liberal news sources is a bad thing per se).
So yes, I think a "News & Analysis" section is a good idea.

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Jul 3 2011 14:52
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
On a related note, it's quite difficult to distinguish between comments on News articles. They're the same colour, font, etc and there's barely even a gap between them. Could the comments style be the same as on the Forum?

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 3 2011 14:52

Eh? Have i missed something?

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Jul 3 2011 15:04
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
On a related note, it's quite difficult to distinguish between comments on News articles. They're the same colour, font, etc and there's barely even a gap between them. Could the comments style be the same as on the Forum?

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

yeah, they used to be but this is a problem since we upgraded the forums a month or two ago. Fixing it will be a very big bit of work, and it was thought that we should devote the time to properly finishing the upgrade as a whole which will improve everything. There is another thread about this already in the feedback forum if you had any more comments

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 3 2011 15:07

Oh right, fair enough.

Oddly enough Chili, I don't have the time nor the inclination to read every Libcom thread. It's natural to expect a bit of duplication no? smile

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Jul 3 2011 15:09

Caiman: that's a known bug from when we upgraded the comments module, which wasn't picked up on the test site before we went live. Mike Harmann's on the case.

Boris: more ambitiously, we could look to sign up a load of 'libcom correspondents' from around the world and maybe feature that content more prominently in the site redesign. Professional investigative journalism? No. But a worldwide network of volunteers, each doing an update maybe once a month could be viable. I'm thinking out loud here, but something like that doesn's seem too unrealistic. And if such stuff was prominently featured rather than getting pushed down the page rapidly by everything else, 'correspondents' would have an incentive to actually write stuff regularly knowing it will be widely read.

We already know people covering asia, eastern europe, and anglophone countries, we know various people with some knowledge of other regions or competent in spanish and french... would just be a case of doing it as a joined up project rather than an ad hoc thing which can feel like a thankless task. if done systematically, we could identify regions we're weak on and actively seek out sympathetic people, and offer them support in writing stuff etc. it could even function something like a libertarian communist Reuters on a shoestring budget, with print papers, newsletters etc picking stuff up (as happens already on an ad hoc basis).

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Jul 3 2011 16:06
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Oh right, fair enough.

Oddly enough Chili, I don't have the time nor the inclination to read every Libcom thread. It's natural to expect a bit of duplication no? :)

Umm....? I was just agreeing dude. Next time, I'll do this:

Quote:
^^^^^^^^^!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In any case, good luck to the admins, that sounds like a bastard. We do appreciate the hard work (except for Ed, he's a wasteman).

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 3 2011 16:10

Oh sorry, i tend to read a bunch of exclamation marks as expressing, well, exclamation. wink

Boris Badenov
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Jul 3 2011 16:12
Joseph Kay wrote:

Boris: more ambitiously, we could look to sign up a load of 'libcom correspondents' from around the world and maybe feature that content more prominently in the site redesign. Professional investigative journalism? No. But a worldwide network of volunteers, each doing an update maybe once a month could be viable. I'm thinking out loud here, but something like that doesn's seem too unrealistic. And if such stuff was prominently featured rather than getting pushed down the page rapidly by everything else, 'correspondents' would have an incentive to actually write stuff regularly knowing it will be widely read.

We already know people covering asia, eastern europe, and anglophone countries, we know various people with some knowledge of other regions or competent in spanish and french... would just be a case of doing it as a joined up project rather than an ad hoc thing which can feel like a thankless task. if done systematically, we could identify regions we're weak on and actively seek out sympathetic people, and offer them support in writing stuff etc. it could even function something like a libertarian communist Reuters on a shoestring budget, with print papers, newsletters etc picking stuff up (as happens already on an ad hoc basis).

This is actually a great idea, and I'd love to see something like a "libertarian communist Reuters" spring up.

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Jul 3 2011 18:04
JK wrote:
we could look to sign up a load of 'libcom correspondents' from around the world and maybe feature that content more prominently in the site redesign.

From 3 yrs ago;
http://libcom.org/forums/feedback-content/libcom-news-adopt-area-12022008

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Jul 3 2011 18:26
Red Marriott wrote:
JK wrote:
we could look to sign up a load of 'libcom correspondents' from around the world and maybe feature that content more prominently in the site redesign.

From 3 yrs ago;
http://libcom.org/forums/feedback-content/libcom-news-adopt-area-12022008

yeah, i think it needs to be done properly, fully thought through and integrated into the site design, or not at all. there's a lot of good and knowledgeable writers around libcom, and presumably more out there somewhere, but so far it's been an ad hoc thing. certainly speaking for myself i'm more likely to write regularly if it's part of a bigger project. i think a lot of people could easily write 400 words a month, ranging from a bulletpoint list of strikes in a region to analysis of something of interest, but would only do so on a regular basis if it was part of something to be proud of (we've had much less problem finding much more content for Catalyst since it became a 'proper' paper for example, so i'm thinking of a similar effect).

so e.g. Red, you write a lot of decent stuff from time to time on Bangladesh and Nepal. At the moment we can feature it, promote it to the front page etc, but it still drops down the site fairly quickly. what i'm suggesting is, as part of the site redesign we'd have a group of people whose stuff would get tagged with 'correspondent' or whatever and be featured in a block that ticks over less quickly, perhaps also each region index having the same ('latest from libcom correspondent' or something). it would only work with a critical mass of correspondents, integrated into the site redesign and then properly promoted. we'd also have to think about how it was run (since libcom's run collectively by its admins, would the newswire be run collectively by correspondents? etc).

When it was floated before it was a bit half arsed - it wasn't integrated into the site, and was basically just the admins asking people to commit to write lots of stuff with little in return. Whereas like i say, i've found it a lot easier to motivate myself to write when i know it's going to be read, have due prominence etc. Not as an ego thing, just in terms of justifying the time that could be spent doing other things. So i think it has to be done properly or not at all, and has to be a bit of quid pro quo. That could just mean a prominent feature in the site design, it could include collective control of the editorial/style guide for that content.

Like i say, thinking out loud here, but imho we need to make it worthwhile people writing regular, quality original content, or it will just carry on as it is, on an ad hoc basis.

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Jul 16 2011 11:36

Right, so we're going to do this. I'm going to rewrite the content guidelines to reflect the change

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Jul 16 2011 21:59

Fwiw- I like the idea of having a central place for reports worldwide (though I notice in the discussion that there's been very little mentioned about central/eastern europe - might have missed it!). I also like having analysis from the areas as well - and YES, there will be overlap, no help for it (We humans CREATE categories, after all, for OUR use, not the other way 'round!).
We'll muddle through, and I think this will make us 'muddle through' more efficiently!

It would be good if we could also sharpen up the profile of Event Announcements, to the same, collaborative ends, to everyone's benefit.

And for all categories, including news AND analysis, an indication of date would be helpful, especially for noting the shelf life of what we might want to pass on.

My tuppence for the mo'...

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Jul 17 2011 08:28

I guess this is as good a place as any to ask, but how beneficial do the admins feel the 'map locator' bit is on the news posts?

Personally, I find it a huge hassle to drop that damn pin whenever I contribute to the news section. If that brings a lot of traffic and is used regularly, keep it of course, but if not...