Chocolate and Gold Coins

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Google Journalism

The recent IIPM brouhaha has revealed an interesting possibility: that people with little more than Internet access and maybe inexpensive calling cards can do some serious investigative reporting. Here are some examples:

  1. Arzan investigates IIPM’s bogus Toronto office.

  2. Arzan calls up some people at IMI, IIPM’s European partner.

  3. Curious Gawker further investigates IMI.

  4. Transmogrifier follows up on the IMI trail.

  5. Thalassa_Mikra investigates the educational claims of the IIPM founder Malay Chaudhuri.

  6. 42510 (Zip Code U of KY) follows up on the background on IIPM founder Malay Chaudhuri.

  7. In an excellent example of blog journalism Thalassa_Mikra emails several people named on the IIPM website as people with high credentials who are connected to IIPM and finds out that the IIPM claims are grossly inflated. This is a great piece (must read).



There could be several takeaways from these examples of “blog journalism.” The obvious conclusion that many bloggers are making, including Instapundit, is that many little bloggers working independently can take down the mighty.

But I don’t think this is the most important implication. I believe paid reporters working for newspapers will always be the primary source of serious journalism. The point is that people can do much of the work necessary to do a story in their own homes using simply the Internet, Google, email, and calling cards. There is enough serious information on-line for some journalists to specialize in “Google journalism,” to coin a phrase.

The “Google journalist” can work from anywhere there is Internet access. Well-educated people in India can do serious investigative “Google journalism” in the United States and in Europe. This was the idea I suggested several months ago in my post “Earning in Dollars, Spending in Rupees.”

At that time, Amit Varma wrote to me that he doubted that this kind of partnership between journalists in India and America could work. He is a journalist and he felt that there needed to be the close cooperation that can only occur if the co-workers physically work in the same office and meet face-to-face.

I agree that there are logistical problems associated with working with people remotely, but the difference in salaries between workers in the U.S. and workers in India makes it just too tempting not to try to outsource the “Google journalism” to India. People can call, email, and even talk face-to-face remotely using technology. Everyone is in the next office on the Internet.

So what do you think? Do you think "Google journalism" will be the next wave of "outsourcing" (or "insourcing" depending on your point of view)?

20 Comments:

  • I think using Google to hunt information is just one part of investigative journalism. To that extent it might work. So journalists in US may outsource the task of hunting information (which may be time consuming) to people in India. Thus freeing them to do more field work in US. That is a neat idea!

    I know that some Indian bloggers had set up blogs to facilitate communication between AID agencies and victims during Tsunami and recently during Katrina disaster. There was an India Together article about the role of bloggers that mentioned this. Such a role may also be outsourced in future. With available internet telephony technology (like Skype etc) it is a real possibility.

    Also my take on why journalists may not have enough incentive to dig a little deeper.

    By Blogger Transmogrifier, at 8:37 PM  

  • interesting premise, michael. the more i mull over it, seems a fascinating idea. may be you should bounce this idea off to reuters or rss. as an aside, look what the much maligned IIPM has given birth to - a brand new form of news management :-)

    By Blogger anantha, at 10:07 PM  

  • Hi Tranmogrifier and Anantha

    Transmo: I read about Dina Mehta's experience using Skype to help the people in New Orleans. I thought that was remarkable, but in the future we will see that as ordinary. People need not be geographically close to be to do such tasks.

    Thanks for the links.

    Anantha: I think it will happen over time, but there are a lot of things that might be outsourced and maybe "Google journalism" isn't highest on the list. Amit was of the opinion that lower level jobs would be outsourced first. "Google journalism" might be lower but maybe not low enough, but he might be wrong too.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 10:41 PM  

  • I feel that the idea of "Google journalist" will work, but it will take quite some time to be effective and excepted in India.

    The reason being, that the ordinary person(with internet knowledge), does not take what is written by bloggers seriously. There are many who consider 'blogging' just a time-pass hobby.

    Now if a journalist does research on the net, comes up with an excellant and valid article but most of the references are of internet sites and other bloggers....i doubt people will take that info seriously.

    For example, I was talking about the whole IIPM issue with my product manager, a very well-educated man in his late 30s. Though he believed the fact that IIPM is nothing more than a scam, but this opinion formed on the bases of what he had read about IIPM and PONYTAIL, in the papers over the years. Though he did acknowledge the fact that some bloggers may be pin-point right in their posts about the institute, however it cannot be regarded as a credible source of information.

    Don't know if i off track here...but anyways letting you know my bit.

    By Anonymous Sakshi, at 1:18 AM  

  • I think the idea of "remote journalism" is fascinating - agree with your point about anyone with internet access being able to do good investigation journalism. but the problem here is that these online journalists are depending on other sources - basicaly all secondary data - as opposed to "real life" journalism where the dependence is on primary sources of information - directly talking to people and seeing things on their own as opposed to depending on things that others have already put up on the net (I am not very articulate here am at work now - will come back later)

    By Anonymous charu, at 2:48 AM  

  • and mike here the issue was wider, three bloggers were targeted by a institute with the advertising power to gag MSM which is what spurred these bloggers to investigate IIPM.

    One blogger investigated one piece and others picked up the thread... but this won't happen very frequently...

    By Blogger Gautam Ghosh, at 3:34 AM  

  • I think journalism everywhere is suffering because of the high level of infiltration by armchair journalists ... who rely on nothing else but Google ...

    why are you advocating for more?!!!?

    By Blogger Bonatellis, at 3:37 AM  

  • I agree with charu and sakshi. Primary information gathering will still have to be done by career journalists (like those working for newspapers). But there could arise a secondary class of journalists who could be outsourced, those who, for want of a better word, could feed parasitically on work already done by primary journalists (for example those who work for magazines). Basically, primary journalism, where people focus on one issue and dig up information pertaining to that issue alone. Secondary journalists who kind of gather pre-existing information to write an article about an "overall picture".

    By Blogger gawker, at 7:28 AM  

  • As an MBA from an authentic institute called IMI in New Delhi, I feel saddened that this 'so-called' sister institute of IIPM might tarnish the reputation of our wonderful institute.

    IMI is @ www.imi.edu/imi; I hope someone bothers to mention that it's the real thing and nothing to do with IIPM!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:35 AM  

  • Speaking of outsourcing the news, I do not see the reason why we have to send a US reporter to Iraq to report something. Can some Iraqis start up a company in Iraq which offer service to news agencies around the world?

    Let say the Washington Post place an order with Al-Rafedin News Service (fictious company) in Baghdad on the trial of Saddam Hussein. The Washington Post would have specific things it want Al-Rafedin to find out. Al-Rafedin would go do it and send the raw information to Washington Post (like a private detective). Washington Post would compile the raw data into a investigative report.

    The benefit is obvious. An Iraqi company has local knowledge that a reporter from DC would not have. They can be more efficient and effective, and lastly it is more cost effective.

    By Blogger Minh-Duc, at 2:50 PM  

  • Hi Sakshi Gautam and Charu
    Sakshi: I agree that this is a problem with the angle that bloggers are supplanting the MSM. Reputation is the key. Some bloggers like Amit have a very good reputation but most are just people with a blog.

    Charu: I agree with what you are saying that "google journalism" cannot be viewed as a pure substitute for traditional journalism. I think of it as a compliment: as a way of prepping a story for a traditional journalist located in the source of the news. It is just another way of getting tips and researching a story.

    Gautam: Indeed, the circumstances of the IIPM episode are unique and I doubt ordinary bloggers will expend much energy doing independent research on other newsworthy topics. Serious work requires remuneration, which is why the MSM will always have the primary role of gathering information.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:53 AM  

  • Hi Bonatellis, Gawker, Anon, and Mihn-Duc

    Bonatellis: The Internet is a rich source of information that may be easier to mine than other traditional sources. As I said before, "Google journalism" shouldn't be viewed as a substitute but as a partner to traditional journalism.

    Gawker: As I wrote above, the "Google journalist" can do a lot of the work of prepping a story. But, yes, the final story will need the work of a traditional journalist.

    Hi Anon
    The IMI mentioned above is some shady International Management Institute in Belgium, not the Indian Management Institute. I don't think anyone has confused these places despite their similar initials.

    Mihn-Duc:
    Indeed, it does make sense to use locals more. And I do see some of that happening in other areas. A story in the Washington Post about India will usually be written by an Indian journalist. This journalist will have some sort of aggrement with the Washington Post.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:03 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    I agree with Charu. I think Google journalism is a nice compliment to traditional journalism. The first hand experience that reporters can have is what makes traditional reporting more reliable for now. Google journalism can be compared to writing a research paper by only using Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a lot very good stuff, but since the content is so open to editing, it is difficult to know whether all the information is truly as reliable as traditional enyclopedias.

    Vikram

    By Blogger Vikram A., at 1:03 PM  

  • The IMI in Delhi is 'International Management Institute' So it has the same initials and the same name as the one abroad that IIPM is linking itself to. Check it out at www.imi.edu.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:03 PM  

  • Interesting thought..
    However, most journalism pieces would require first hand information sources and google would prove to be inadequete.This is especially true in developing countries like India, where the level of internet penetration is very low. The way i see it, googling can only be an aid to journalistic research, and not a substitute.
    Ravi
    P.S :Have blogrolled you.Hope it is ok

    By Blogger Ravi, at 3:15 PM  

  • Guys ,

    finally the national media has taken note of the IIPM issue in a big way...

    Try the following links >

    http://www.businessworldindia.com/issue/indepth04.asp

    http://www.outlookindia.com

    By Anonymous Raj Mehta, at 5:05 PM  

  • Hi Vikram Anon Ravi and Raj
    Vikram: I agree. I don't think anyone think that serious journalism can be done only by researching the 'net. But it is the obvious starting point.

    Anon: I was not aware of this. That is an unfortnate coincidence. I would think that the real IMI of Delhi would want to protect it's good name by preventing this other institution from using it. It could also insist that IIPM disclaim any association with IMI Delhi.

    Ravi: Thanks for blogrolling me.

    Raj: A lot of bloggers took issue with some parts of the Outlook piece. But the Business World piece was probably the best article yet.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:44 PM  

  • Christopher Ojumah.
    However, most journalism pieces would require first hand information sources and google would prove to be inadequete.This is especially true in developing countries like India, where the level of internet penetration is very low. The way i see it, googling can only be an aid to journalistic research, and not a substitute.
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