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Will citizen journalists cover City Hall?


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July 05, 2005

Will citizen journalists cover City Hall?

Stephen Baker

I'm taking my first look at Dan Gillmor's venture, Bayosphere to see how the Bay Area's citizen journalists are covering the region. For now, it looks like the blogger, Dan, is writing the most provocative posts. Small surprise there, I guess. His riff on Silicon Valley as a gated community generated lots of comments. What seems to be in short supply is local news. But it's still early days.

One discouraging point. Despite Bayosphere's policy to register commenters, spammers are teeming on the site. Of the 10 most recent comments this morning, nine are online poker promotions.

08:12 AM

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They weren't precisely comment spams, which are hard to do on Bayosphere because, as you note, we require a valid e-mail address from anyone who wants to comment.

What you saw were Trackback spams, in which the slime who create them post something (in this case it was online gambling ads) on another site, point to us from there, ping our site and then show up on our pages as if they were commenting about our comment from their own pages. Trackbacks, done honestly, are great ways to follow conversations across different sites.

When Trackbacks are misused, however, it's a problem. The spammer is looking for Google-juice (higher search rankings), and can raise rankings by having his URL show up on someone else's legitimate and/or popular site. This is what's happening to us.

Unfortunately, the content-management system we are using (Drupal) doesn't handle this very well. It shows Trackbacks as comments, forcing us to delete them individually, which I've done several times now after such attacks.

I'm hoping that for a Drupal upgrade that prevents this kind of thing. Meanwhile we're watching for these attacks and responding as soon as we notice.

Posted by: Dan Gillmor at July 5, 2005 11:34 AM

Thanks Dan. We're in the same boat. I erased some 60 trackback spams yesterday. The scary part is that it will take just a turn on the knob for the spammers to turn that 60 into 600 or 6,000.

Posted by: steve baker at July 5, 2005 11:58 AM

Your title about citizen journalists covering City Hall reminds me of a discussion we had during a Digital Cities meeting in Barcelona a couple of years ago, about e-government.

Someone threw this question "Is the Barcelona City Hall website the website of the City of Barcelona?"

Analogously, is it necessary that citizen journalists cover the City Hall? Or the city is bigger than the sum of its institutions and therefore news pop up everywhere? Which ones are closer to the interests of the citizens?

Just asking. No definite opinion yet!.

Posted by: Ramon Sang?esa at July 5, 2005 12:15 PM

Very good question, Ramon. I certainly agree that many papers cover news by rote. Instead of focusing on the lives of their readers, and the real issues that confront them, they think they can "cover" the news by sending reporters to lots of meetings. I think it is necessary to cover government, but to remember that many or, indeed, most of the important stories will be found elsewhere. And here's another point: Once you unearth the stories elsewhere, you often find that there's a government angle that's far more lively, provocative and relevant than what comes out of the meetings.

Posted by: steve baker at July 5, 2005 12:29 PM

Waah! You missed me on Bayosphere. Then again, perhaps you thought I wasn't worth a comment, which is fair enough, but I'd like to know why, so that I can improve.

I'm new to blogging and want to do something other than just have readers bounce back and forth between online news stories. That means I need to go to primary sources instead of sitting at a computer waiting for RSS feeds to come to me.

I'm currently researching a project of the Oakland City Council and Redevelopment Agency, and that requires me to go to meetings or, at the very least, view the video of them and read the minutes and reports.

Perhaps it's the large amount of work involved in doing actual city beat coverage that puts bloggers off. Especially for people like me, for whom blogging is not their day job and they don't get paid for it.

Posted by: Lea Barker at July 5, 2005 11:37 PM

Lea, sorry I missed your work. I'll check it out.

Posted by: steve baker at July 6, 2005 07:29 AM


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