A new type of fingerprint

So I got to the bottom of this BuzzFeed News story titled “Fostering Profits” about for-profit foster care homes.

(Side note — Everyone should read this story. If only to better understand a nugget like this: “When Torrey first started investigating the Alexandria Hill case, he was shocked to learn that foster care is a for-profit business. ‘Money for kids — it’s like a crop, that’s what it is,’ he said. ‘It should not be a business.'”)

But anyways. One of the more interesting parts of this story was actually the reporter’s bylines, which included something called a PGP fingerprint. Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.41.59 PM

So I saw that and I was totally confused by what a PGP fingerprint even was.

I turned to Google for an answer, where I was sent to these tweets:

I spent a few more minutes poking around Google hoping for a little more clarity.

I came across several techie-friendly posts like this and this. This site was ultimately the most helpful. It starts with a fun anecdote about Julius Caesar and ends with some semi-understandable (but still jargon heavy) explainers about these fingerprints.

But I was still pretty confused about why BuzzFeed journalists were using these codes.

Finally, I relented. I went to the Jeopardy! champion for more information. And he was nice enough to send me a very detailed response. You can read the whole exchange here.

So I followed along with the first half of everything he said. The encryption key is used so that anyone with a copy of your public key can send you information that only you can read.

I’m still not totally clear on this part: “However, you need a way to be sure that the public key you’re using *actually* belongs to the person. Publishing a fingerprint, a kind of shorthand abstraction, in a place that’s hard or impossible to otherwise publish to (or in multiple places) lets a sender verify the key before sending.”

But I’ll do some more research and get back to you on that.

I tried to hypothesize why journalists would need these in their bylines and why Jeopardy! winners are excited about this development.

Maybe the story of James Risen has journalists scared that the tips and emails they’re sent will be subpoenaed in criminal trials.

Maybe the dogged reporting on the NSA scandal and the U.S. government’s treatment of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden has journalists wanting to beef up their own security. I’m not sure.

But I suppose anything that’s done in the name of extra security is valuable and worthwhile for all news organizations to look into.


Ditching budget meetings

One of my favorite parts of The New York Times Innovation Report appears to be coming to fruition. Dean Baquet announced this week that The Times would retire its traditional system for budgeting the paper.

From Poynter‘s Benjamin Mullin:

“Under the new system, each desk at The New York Times will pitch stories to be considered for ‘Dean’s list,’ a list of stories that get ‘the very best play on all our digital platforms,’ including Web, mobile and social platforms. Under the new system, there will be two Dean’s lists — one compiled after the morning meeting, and one after the afternoon meeting. Both lists will have ‘three or four enterprise pieces.'”

This sounds like one of my favorite parts of the innovation report, which quotes a Times’ reporter from the Washington bureau.

“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy, disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive. Just think about how many points in our day are still oriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting to the summaries that reporters file in the early after-noon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30. In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom that’s thinking enough about the web.”

It sounds like The Times is beginning its departure from print into digital media.

I think it’s a great idea to treat peak social media hours and the main spot on the homepage like a print front page. I also think this new system will urge editors to come up with online-only content and develop alternative ways to tell stories that are a better fit for online.

And hopefully, this new push will help the Times better monetize its extensive digital offerings. What I guess I was also hoping to see this week was more information about how The Times will reconcile its new (and much-needed) focus on web when the legacy paper still makes most of its advertising money from print advertisements.

In October, the newspaper reported that its digital advertising revenues were $38.2 million in the third quarter, a 16.5 percent increase from the same quarter a year ago. In that same quarter, advertising revenues dropped 5.3 percent. But digital advertising still only accounts for 27 percent of the company’s total revenue from advertising.

So obviously, the Times is doing something right. But I do wonder if they’re putting the cart before the horse with this complete overhaul.

The inimitable David Carr

I guess I’ll begin with a spoiler alert: The Feb. 16 edition of The Daily Tar Heel will feature a bottom quote from the inimitable David Carr.

And as Katie Reilly, The Daily Tar Heel’s managing editor, and I tried to pick out a quote that could succinctly capture Carr’s greatness, we struggled. But as we stumbled through the thousands of lovely words Carr put together for his column and many other places, something struck me.

This man didn’t just regularly outline a dynamic framework for the future of journalism, he also shed light on how to be a good leader. A good editor.

Take The New York Times’ latest story on Carr’s syllabus:

“Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask.”

Or this from his autobiography The Night of the Gun:

“No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.”

Like my classmate Tess Boyle, I didn’t religiously follow Carr. I followed him on Twitter and I usually only read those columns that went viral. I read those recommended to me by respected editors. I glanced at those he tweeted that caught my eye.

But after days spent reading some of Carr’s best words of wisdom, I know that was a grave mistake. Strong newsroom leadership begins with a firm understanding of the changing media landscape, and that’s an idea that Carr not only understood but repeated in his columns.

UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication prepares its students for the changing world of journalism. We no longer focus on print news — instead, we’ve set our sights on conquering the digital media divide.

But that goal is one I’m not quite sure I even want to achieve. I guess that’s why the words that finally made me truly appreciate Carr’s insights were those of his love for print product:

“The hierarchy of the newspaper — when somebody takes six of those stories and puts them on the front, illustrates them, plays them over section fronts — that architecture for me in a digital age is important. I view it as a daily magazine, a prism on what took place yesterday, and I miss it. We live in an age where there is a firehose of information and there is no hierarchy of what is important and what is not.”

Man. The David Carr.

How a tree with a lazy eye sold me concert tickets

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed whether sex still sells advertisements. I’m not sure our class ever came to a conclusion; however, I’ve been hyperaware of how advertisers use sex to try to sell me products ever since the discussion.

And I guess that awareness is what led me to even notice this quirky Stubhub ad that keeps playing before my Youtube videos.

I love it. It’s not a new video but one that Stubhub recently revived.

It’s not that I don’t believe sex sells — there are too many advertising scholars that tell me otherwise. It’s that I don’t believe sex can sell better than normalcy.

At this point, my peers and I have been inundated with sexual images and innuendoes throughout our lives. I’m not sure there’s any image that’s sexual enough that will shock us out of our media reverie to really notice and synthesize it.

But images of real people — like an overweight, multiracial couple seeking counseling from a tree with a lazy eye — is just normal enough to be something that I haven’t become desensitized to. It’s

I think this is a sentiment that advertisers are beginning to key into. In his analysis of Super Bowl ads for Variety magazine, editor Brian Steinberg writes:

“Perhaps Super Bowl XLIX will be remembered as the event in which Madison Avenue tried to recalibrate its tone. Gone are Budweiser’s crotch-biting dogs and Burger King’s Whopperettes. In their stead are marketers trying to appeal to the consumer’s more serious side.”

While no one in their right mind could categorize the Stubhub advertisement as serious, it did take a nice turn from Stubhub’s other, far less impactful marketing products. And it certainly didn’t rely on sex to sell.

Well. It’s only Monday.

I guess it’s actually Tuesday by now.

So I’ve received the following questions a lot in the last 24 hours. Here’s where I’ll post a semi-definitive account of how today’s Daily Tar Heel came together.

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How long did you plan for this issue?

We started planning when I woke up on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. I woke up to dozens of text messages about Dean Smith’s death and immediately told my desk editors and the senior writers from the sports desk to meet at the office at noon.

The team and I holed up in the conference room until we had this issue planned — the whole meeting took about an hour. As soon as I heard the news, I knew I wanted to bump up the paper to 10 pages so we could have a double truck and several open pages. I knew I wanted to do an entire paper dedicated to his legacy. I just had no clue how it would turn out.

Did you have stories planned in advance?

So most newspapers have obituaries prepared in advance for elderly people they cover regularly. The Daily Tar Heel is no different, but some of our obituaries are several years old and the writers no longer work for us.

We had a two-year-old obituary filled with pertinent biographical information. We ultimately didn’t use any of it.

Other than that, we had nothing before that noon meeting on Sunday. We sat around and tried to plan coverage around what students would want to read about Dean Smith’s legacy. There were the stories everyone knew — that he was a humble man with an incredible memory and a lifelong dedication to civil rights. We knew we had to have those. But we also wanted the stories very few people knew — that this man took the time to respond to most of the letters he received.

Who was the mastermind?

Ultimately, the mastermind of this issue was readers. In every stage, we tried to have our readers’ best interests in mind. We constantly revisited the question, “What can our readers learn from this (story, graphic, photo)?”

We really wanted this to be something people would keep forever.

How many papers did you end up printing?

We normally print 15,000 copies on Mondays. We really weren’t sure how demand would go with the weather forecast (it was supposed to rain all day). We printed an extra 1,100 as a cushion.

We were wrong. We ultimately needed 7,000 extra copies. We had reporters stationed at the Pit who handed out 3,000 copies to students in one hour. And that’s at one per person!

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was the persistent feeling that we could never capture this man’s greatness in one issue.

And, on a personal level, Sunday was an extremely long leadership exercise. I had to give our incredible sports writers, designers and photographers the freedom to do what they wanted and hope that they would achieve my ultimate vision — an entire paper dedicated to one of North Carolina’s finest.

They sure did it.

One day, I really hope I have the chance to work at a newspaper with all of these people again. I want us to have more than a year. Then we could really show you what this team is capable of.


The ephemeral World Wide Web

This week, Jill Lepore enthralled New Yorker readers with a lengthy story about the permanence of the web.

The entire article is set around destroying the prominent idea that the Web is forever. Or, in Lepore’s own words:

No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.

Lepore hits on a notion we’ve talked a lot about in class. Many times, I have heard my classmates say “once it’s out there, it stays out there.”

I just sit there shaking my head because I know how easy it is for the companies and organizations I cover as a journalist to write over old data. And I know the ease with which my sources can delete inflammatory (but juicy) Tweets and Facebook posts.

Lepore goes through several ways websites are deleted and how it’s tough for scholars and legal experts to maintain any semblance of organization in the footnotes of academic articles and court opinions. You can sense Lepore’s frustration as she exposes the different types of deletions.

In my (albeit, brief) time as a reporter, I, too, have grown to hate the way people, companies and organizations can manipulate the web’s storage to their own liking.

Link rot: This happens when links no longer bring you to the right web page. Lepore references the “Four oh Four” error message websites often return.

In reporting, this is what I’ll get when an organization deletes web pages. I almost always know I’m on the right track if a web page that was there has suddenly gone missing.

Sometimes, you can get these pages back if they’re available on the Wayback Machine (which Lepore spends a lot of time talking about in fascinating detail in her article).

Content drift: Lepore also talks about how some organizations will just overwrite data by storing new data in the old data’s place.

This is what organizations do with staff pages. Especially if the group isn’t particularly keen on talking about a recently departed staff member. Really important scholarship programs love this tactic.

Again, the Wayback Machine can sometimes help. It all depends on how high an organization’s turnover rate is. If someone came to an organization, was listed on the staff webpage and left before the Wayback Machine got around to archiving it, then that person’s time will go undocumented.

So whether its for scholarly research or old fashioned snooping, the web’s impermanence is actually an annoying thing.

I guess all of this is really to say that my classmates might fear the Internet’s permanence, but unless they have someone screenshotting all of their online activity, they are probably safe to delete Friday’s ugly bar photos for eternity.

NY Times transfers only race reporter on national desk

The New York Times scuttled its race beat last month — drawing ire from many of its readers who appreciated Tanzina Vega’s nuanced look at issues related to race and ethnicity in America.

The move came at a particularly awkward time for the paper, which has dedicated a lot of time and ink to covering the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y., and Tamir Rice of Cleveland.

Vega will now cover the Bronx courthouse for the Times’ metro desk. The race beat was created at Vega’s own suggestion, and she gave the following quote to the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan:

“While I was saddened to see the race and ethnicity beat discontinued, I’m very proud of what we were able to do, and I plan to bring that same energy to the Bronx.”

Twitter users were largely against the Times’ decision to move Vega. Some seemed to look forward to the energy she would bring to the new beat. Dean Baquet, for his part, hasn’t publicly committed to what he’s going to do about replacing Vega.

Instead, Baquet offered the following:

“I haven’t decided what to do about the beat, but I know that it has to be covered paper-wide.”

In many ways, I can appreciate Baquet’s desire to have the “race beat” extend beyond just one reporter at one desk at this massive, largely traditional newspaper. Race has been at the center of many different story lines this year — from police bias to school punishments to prison reform.

Instead of moving Vega entirely, I think Baquet should have considered giving her her own team within the national desk. A team dedicated to producing both the smart, quirky content Vega is known for along with the powerful, poignant pieces the Times is capable of. Over the better part of 2014, Vega has proven herself as a leader on this beat. She is widely respected for her nuanced approach to covering race in America. She seems to be perfectly capable of managing a team of reporters.

I hope Baquet keeps his promise and makes a concerted effort toward incorporating more reporters covering race on many different desks. Ultimately, I think that decision will give Times’ readers a broader selection of race coverage. However, I worry that, without a single reporter dedicated to the topic, the Times’ will abandon its commitment to doing strong enterprise reporting on the beat.

It’ll just be something to watch out for.