Monday, October 10, 2005

The Call of Strange Places

Weblogs -- or blogs -- have been a hotbed of analysis and news aggregation for some time, but their value as a primary source of news has lagged behind. The blogosphere has proved competent enough to spot faked documents on 60 Minutes, but it hasn't yet beaten the MSM at finding fact first very often. That may change. Consider the example of Wow Philippines, a site run by an American called Bob Martin who has lived in Mindanao for the last five years. He writes:

I heard an interesting rumor today. I was talking to an American fellow who has ties to the US Military and he told me that the word is flying around US Military circles that the suicide bombers in the recent Bali attack were Filipino. Of course, it is widely believed that the planners of the plot were Indonesian JI members, but this fellow says that the actual bombers were Filipinos who were recruited by the JI members when they were in Mindanao.

This report is far from established fact. Martin himself describes it as a rumor. But his post provides a lead which an interested person could follow, a lead unavailable from the regular newspapers or wire services. The idea that the Bali bombers were Filipinos sounds astounding, but you can leave comments on Martin's site and ask clarificatory questions. And who knows? it may lead to a world exclusive. But what's even more interesting is the blog infrastructure he's set up. There are the links on his page that point to English-speaking Wow blogs in locales like Ozamiz, Iligan, Davao and Cagayan de Oro; all cities in Mindanao, pretty hefty coverage of an island where even CNN and the BBC don't have many resources: a network that an area specialist can sift through to find information unobtainable anywhere else.

The concept of using open source broadcasts to find news or intelligence leads is not new. Wikipedia notes that governments routinely monitored foreign language shortwave broadcasts during the Cold War to pick up obscure news or to detect nuance changes in the policies of foreign countries. Even amateurs played the shortwave monitoring game. An article reprinted from the Disabled Americans Magazine tells the story of American shortwave listeners who tuned into Axis radio stations each night of World War 2 to list the names of American prisoners announced on enemy radio. More than a few families learned, through this method, that their son was not dead or missing, but alive. Captured, but alive.

They sat in dimly lit rooms far into the wee hours of morning. Their faces illuminated by the faint, yellow glow of a short-wave radio dial, they carefully tuned through crackling frequencies during the dark days of World War II to listen to the propaganda broadcasts from Berlin, the enemy capital nearly 4,000 miles away. They were everyday citizens who independently served as ex-officio intelligence agents, sometimes finding hope and joy for the families of American and Canadian POWs in the enemy broadcasts designed to create only despair and disillusionment.

Each night, these few Americans closely listened to the broadcasts of "Axis Sally," waiting for information about soldiers and airmen taken prisoner by the Germans. The broadcasts included names of POWs, sometimes service numbers, hometowns, and the names of family members.

Like the shortwave radio of yesterday blogs contain a mixture of information and noise which can be potentially aggregated and analyzed to find the hidden vein of gold. But unlike shortwave radio, the receiver can interact with the transmitter and routed to other transmitters in turn. Where this will lead is hard to say. But it's possible that the newsgathering revolution has only just begun.

25 Comments:

Blogger Common Cents said...

Not only should bloggers start breaking new news but talk radio hosts should also.

Rush Limbaugh should have a staff of 5 investigative reporters on the trail of stories no one else will pursue.

By the way, kudos to Baron Boddisy for the Muslims in our Midst story. But please be careful.

10/10/2005 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger Lorenz Gude said...

I agree that news gathering is just beginning. I just noticed JD and his Faces from the Front today - he is an ex Marine who has been with the Marines in Anbar. Similar to the supurb Michael Yon.

http://www.facesfromthefront.com/content/view/1/1/

Iraqi blogs are a source of news that is largely ignored. I would point out that Healing Iraq had a world exclusive with unignorable pictures of a 10,000 strong anti insurgent demonstration in Bagdhad in 2003! Not a peep in the MSM until the blogsphere embarrased the NY Times in to mentioning in thier back pages a few days later. He also reported how his cousin was badly abused by US soldiers and his American commenters told him it couldn't be true. That was before Abu Greb, but the charges were not investigated until after that. My point is that I have been better informed by reading blogs than the MSM on many occassions. I wont listen to TV news anymore - I regard doing that as a kind of emotional self abuse.

10/10/2005 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Karridine said...

The Lord of Hosts seized power from the kingly caste and the ecclesiastics who had RULED humankind for 7,000 years, ever since writing was developed.

And He gave US the right to know on our own, to investigate the truth for ourselves: "I have given POWER to the people!"

Filipinos are people. They have a right to know the truth.

10/10/2005 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

"Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world." - G. Dead

This new capability for info capture sounds exciting, very promising, and massively subject to manipulation. The GIGO rule will hold here just as certainly as it does in any other database. Especially in single-source data that is difficult to check. I suppose we'll have to rely on other bloggers and eventually conventional sources for confirmation and background.

As for the GIGO, I suppose it can't be much worse than Dan Rather and the NYT, but at least we know their agendas. Unknown bloggers will have unknown agendas, and if they write well, they won't be immediately discernible.

10/10/2005 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

The other thing to say about the technology here. Verizon has recently introduced ubiquitious high speed wireless internet rather than the current T-Mobile "hot spot" thing--which I have until next july.

The verizon service means that you can get high speed wireless internet access anywhere in the USA. (Well, its not quite that good in the northwest and some parts of the south but its wall to wall around all the major cities and in north east and california.)

The other thing is that google and sun microsystems are getting together to enable office applications: eg, word processing/spreadsheet programming/powerpoint/ so that office computers won't need to be connected spacially by land lines AT ALL.

There are some serious implications here for the future of the office.

There

10/10/2005 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

OT: The Saudi's generally confirm Freeh's description of the Clinton-Adbullah meeting. However, they don't say that Clinton hit them up for money. Rather, they say he talked mostly about Monica and only mentioned the Khobar Towers in passing.(This contradicts Berger's account)
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1499899/posts

10/10/2005 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Eleanor © said...

Blogging will only be possible IF the U.N. or a similar institution is not allowed to take charge. Make your voices heard.

10/10/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Charles,

Thank you for that fascinating link. The idea of POTUS crying over getting caught diddling the help is the very caricature of pathos.

(I do find this line troubling: "Addullah promised Clinton that he would "talk to people on the Hill and tell them they should respect the Presidency and not wipe the floor with it" over the Lewinsky case." Huh? The Prince is going to give the US Congress direction?)

The great tragedy of the Whitewater (etc.) and Lewinsky scandals is that they became the opaque noise behind which the really damaging crimes of Chinagate disappeared. Within ten seconds of seeing him you know he's a lying adulterous con man, so why did we have to go through the national humiliation of that unseemly investigation?

We would have been much better served with Ken Starr tying together the hundreds of guilty pleas that form the penumbra around the Chinese intelligence penetration and compromise of the White House under Clinton.

We can't fix Clinton's morals, but we could have fixed and compensated for our intelligence losses. Now that persistent tragedy drifts into history an impersistent rumor.
----------

Similarly off-topic, Shield Law Sponsor Lugar: Bloggers 'Probably Not' Considered Journos .

Spot the oxymoron: "The bill is necessary to help the United States regain its status as an "exemplar" of press freedom, Lugar told the IAPA. "Even as we are advocating for free press (abroad)... we'd better clean up our own act," Lugar said."

10/10/2005 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

The Mainstream Mastadons frequently say us bloggers do not have editors and fact checkers.

This is true. But the uniformity of their views makes them just as fact-check and editor disabled as any blogger. How was it Jayson Blair got so many BS stories into the NYT? How was it the Mapes & Rather got their story on air?

As always caveat emptor.

10/10/2005 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

"The blogosphere has proved competent enough to spot faked documents on 60 Minutes, but it hasn't yet beaten the MSM at finding fact first very often. That may change." -Wretchard

Yes, there is a change occurring. I think it's going in a positive direction.

Now, to the fact checking. Although some Web Logs (blogs) now do it I would suggest these actions:

1) Establish "Press Credentials" for investigative bloggers. This could be as simple has renaming a blog to an official sounding name (i.e., The Belmont Times). Thus, a single blogger could print up a fancy business card and get into press events.

2) Fact check by simply picking up the telephone and making a calls the principals of the new event.

3) If it's a very important event and the blogger has the money, buy a ticket to the area of the news event and simply interview people (Using the above "press credential" to gain access).

4) Establish 'sources.' If a milblogger has some inside source - then use it.

It's not for every blogger, but those with the time, money and energy could become an "investigative reporter." If any of you have some other good ideas - speak up.

10/10/2005 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

ledger is getting closer.

I prefer to leave it informal, with the onus on the holism rather than granting any "reporter" some sort of "official" or "credentialed" status;

because the nature of this medium IS 'caveat emptor', where nobody CARES who you are, and examines WHAT YOU REPORT.

Your POST is scrutinized and dissected, analyzed and inspected. No skin color, no sex, no age and no cultural bias: If you can write in a postable language, it will be open to ALL other readers of that language and subject to rational review.

10/11/2005 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

Hands down, the PRIMARY source for developing breaking news anywhere in the modern world is information garnered as "tips" whilst monitoring emergency radio service 'scanners'. The local newsrooms are replete with them, and mobile versions are installed in all their vehicles. An experienced listener can come up with more story material in an hour than a media can disseminate in a day.

It is probably too difficult for most serious news or view generating bloggers to multi-task beyond their current level of involvement.

They can, however, with advantage invest a little time with local "scanning" clubs or amatuer radio enthusiast organizations, and develop source contacts with a few "scanning buffs" that when used with discretion could probably enable them to be among the leading local news sources in their own neck of the woods.

From that, a network could be developed. One caveat; ensure precise compliance with applicable legal restrictions.

10/11/2005 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger diabeticfriendly said...

off topic....

How many innocent people have died in Pakistan because their "government" refused Zionist Entity-Aid?

Personally I'd like to see, after any crisis in the Islamic world, a post listing the additional islamic dead that could have been saved if only those pesky Zionist were allowed to have help save lives. The Islamic peoples of the world need to learn that their leaders would rather have people die than have "zion-aid" help.

Funny, a country like Pakistan (or iran last year in Bam) has the cash to spend on excessive military adventures/nuke programs and yet has no urban zoning codes for homes, schools, businesses and hospitals.

I think a public news report as to the amount of people allowed to additionally die due to their leaders refusal to accept certain aid is in order...

10/11/2005 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

There is NO central "Press Credentialing" source in US. Each agency credentials the Press idividually.
In the Federal Government the White House grants credentialling on a different basis than does Congress. There WAS a blooger acreditted at the White House. He was "outed" after lofting a softball question to the President at a news conference.
I forget the bloggers name, but remember the incident.
Anyone can become a "reporter" and ask for credntialling for what ever press conferences & releases the agency generates.

10/11/2005 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/11/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Ledger,

You usually need to show a publication with your name in the masthead, or at least your name at the top of a couple of published columns to be accepted as "Press." Then these 'credentials' will be judged based on the relevance of the publication to the news source you are trying to get to. You can't just print yourself business cards, in my experience.

10/11/2005 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

"49er" When I lived in Okla I participated an organization set up between local amateur radio operators and one of the local TV stations. The TV station had a amateur station there, and procedures were established so that when there was a tornado outbreak, we would deploy to various locations, fixed and mobile, using a special map with grid locations marked on it. The meteorologist at the TV station would look at the radar and ask for reports from a specific grid location. When the radar and the observers confirmed a tornado the info went right out on broadcast, and was of use not only to the general populace but the local authorities as well.
This was a remarkable degree of cooperation between on-site volunteers, the local media, and the authorities. I have never seen a simliar system anywhere else that worked nearly as well. Most places don't seem to have anything even remotely similar.
So, it can be done.
And the first media outfit that puts it all together in a similar way via the internet will clean house.

10/11/2005 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

The blogosphere has proved competent enough to spot faked documents on 60 Minutes, but it hasn't yet beaten the MSM at finding fact first very often.

Correct. I deem it unhealthy to proffer purely punditry, so I try, on occasion, to provide "reporting" as well. But my reporting is quite different from that of an MSM journalist; at the very least, it takes far more time to write. Judge for yourself: are my AEI pieces drivel, or do they put you there, right at the edge of the conference table?

10/11/2005 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Semi-Off Thread, but look at this:

In a letter captured in Iraq, Al-Zawahri said:

"More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media," he wrote. "We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our umma," or community of Muslims, he wrote.

10/11/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Rwe,

Did he say "umma" or Coca-Cola? The worldwide Disney?

Last time I was in Manila, I was struck by the billboards advertising Bruce Willis' latest flick. It had just come out at home, from where I took off just yesterday. Hollywood rules.

We wake up to find out that there's only one world.

10/11/2005 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger ex-democrat said...

wretchard - as i noted earlier today over on Roger Simon's blog, both the legacy media and the left - including the left blogosphere - has a role in mind for you guys and it doesn't include fact-finding. instead, blogs will be framed as places where everything written must be taken with a large grain of salt.
In short, while we may see a role for blogs as a potential alternative source of hard news, the left sees blogs as solely a place to drum up ideological support.
The example i mentioned over at Roger's are arguments being made in various blog-related law suits here in the US, such as those alleging online defamation. These arguments generally support the free-flow of expression in the blogs, but do so by suggesting they should be free from liability because 'everyone knows blogs contain only opinion not fact.'
This line of argument promotes free expression but only by undermining the gravitas of blogs as a whole.

10/11/2005 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

So... the pseudonym falls, and we are allowed kudos to the Richard behind the Wretchard the Cat...

Mabuhay, Richard!

Most of your military analysis (from open sources) is EXCEPTIONALLY WELL REASONED, and well thought through!

10/11/2005 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

RWE - "More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media," he wrote. "We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our umma," or community of Muslims, he (al-Zawahiri) wrote.

THIS is why I repeatedly turn our attention toward the Advent of Baha'u'llah: His coming, in accordance with Jesus' predictions and Muhammad's predictions and Buddha's predictions, as well as Ezekiel's, Micah's and Isaiah's (among others), GUTS the CLERGY; gives the ummah of every divinely-ordained Faith HOPE; gives us tools and attitudes with which to inform and empower ourselves; and brings an enlightened solution to the conflict by REDUCING the INFLUENCE of firebrand imams and mullahs, while enCOURAGING individuals to be honest, trustworthy, and industrious.

10/11/2005 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Carridine:

I prefer to leave it informal, with the onus on the holism rather than granting any "reporter" some sort of "official" or "credentialed" status; because the nature of this medium IS 'caveat emptor', where nobody CARES who you are, and examines WHAT YOU REPORT.

Duly noted. But, sometime someone must come out and speak his mind - as Wretchard has done by becoming a 'pajama media' man.

[Picture of Wretchard by train]

Known on the Web as Wretchard the Cat, Richard is a Sydney software developer. He has been named Australian Editor for Pajamas Media and is on the Editorial Board. Richard holds a degree in applied mathematics from Case Western Reserve University and a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard.

See: Wretchard's profile


49erDweet:

It is probably too difficult for most serious news or view generating bloggers to multi-task beyond their current level of involvement. They can, however, with advantage invest a little time with local "scanning" clubs or amatuer radio enthusiast organizations, and develop source contacts with a few "scanning buffs" that when used with discretion could probably enable them to be among the leading local news sources in their own neck of the woods.

I agree with that. But, there are some well known bloggers who have resources. They can do what you suggest and maybe at a higher level.

Rat:

There is NO central "Press Credentialing" source in US. Each agency credentials the Press idividually.

Yes, that is my whole point. I used to be a big AIM (Accuracy In Media) fan (when Reid Irvine sp? ran the thing). We discussed the supbject of press credintials - there are very few. Btw, I still go to AIM for some ideas.

Tony:

Ledger,

You usually need to show a publication with your name in the masthead, or at least your name at the top of a couple of published columns to be accepted as "Press." Then these 'credentials' will be judged based on the relevance of the publication to the news source you are trying to get to. You can't just print yourself business cards, in my experience
.

That is somewhat true. But, I remember reading recently how a conservative blogger got to question Galloway on his US tour by simply describing himself as a "press man." He may have also printed up a small badge on a computer or Xerox machine (and flashed it to get in). He got in to a "press" event and grilled Galloway on his antiwar stance [Black Five has the links].

RWE, Solomon2 and ex-democrat makes great points also. All of them are helpful.

10/11/2005 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger Craig H said...

Great post!

I'm curious as to why this rumor only speaks to JI. The Filipinos have their own extremist splinter group- the Abu Sayaff, yet there is no mention of them. I would think the Abu Sayaff would have a hand in this as well, if not entirely.

10/12/2005 07:05:00 AM  

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