Implementing hNews on a blog - what does 'Value Added News' mean for a blogger?

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 12 February 2010

I was at the #newsinnovation unconference last year when the Media Standards Trust and AP announced their hNews microformat for providing better news metadata on the web. I generally approve of anything that approaches richer semantic data, and so had vague intentions of applying it to the blog here. I never got round to it at the time, but, as part of the recent currybetdotnet rebuild, refocus and redesign, I also got a nudge to again have a go at hNews. As an exercise in discovering how hard or easy it would be for a newspaper to implement the code in their CMS, I thought it worthwhile doing. However, what I thought would be a technical implementation task, turned out to actually generate a lot of questions addressing the fundamentals of what the site is about.

One of the key parts of hNews is the rel="principles" element. Martin Moore at the Media Standards Trust has argued that one of the ways to distinguish 'news' content from non-news content on the web is that news is gathered and published under a set of ethics and principles. These include the fundamental ethics of journalism, and regulatory codes of practice. It meant that for the first time I had to articulate my blogging principles.

Some of those were easy to write down. I strive to be accurate. I always correct mistakes that are pointed out with a visible edit rather than a 'stealth' correction. It is easy to find my contact details on every page of the site. It is a personal blog and doesn't reflect the views of my current or previous clients or employers.

But, as a 'personal blogger', writing some of this out, and publishing it, made me feel uncomfortable.

Shouldn't it be obvious if you read the blog regularly that it has integrity? In seven years I've only ever had two people seriously upset with what I've written to the point of threatening to involve lawyers - and one of those was a journalist by the way! - so why am I putting on record a complaints procedure as if I'm the PCC, Ofcom or the BBC Trust? Doesn't that make it look as if I have to frequently deal with complaints about what I write?

In my principles I have stated that I pre-moderate comments, but should I have gone further and included the way that I moderate comments? Should I explain that your likelihood of having a comment published is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of crappy 'I want a dofollow link' spam that I've had that day?

And adding hNews to the site also posed a much bigger overall philosophical question - is currybetdotnet 'news'?

I'm loathe to open the blogger-vs-journalist pro-am can of worms again. My academic training is as a historian, which is all about gathering, selecting and interpreting sources. That isn't a million miles from 'journalism' - it is just that the events I used to analyse and write about tended to be somewhat less recent.

Some of what I write on here is at least 'reporting', even if it doesn't meet the necessary union card carrying kitemark standards of professional journalism. I review things. Journalists do that. I write 'comment' or 'opinion' on things. Journalists do that. I 'cover' conferences and events. Journalists do that. I sometimes even investigate things by visiting somewhere and gathering my own primary material. And I get to choose when that happens and what I cover, which is why I'm currently much happier being a blogger and an information architect than being a journalist.

I think that 'some of what I write' is the key phrase there though. Certainly I don't feel that the linklog entries that aggregate 24 hours worth of my Delicious bookmarks are 'news' or in a 'news' format. So that meant putting some conditional clauses in my templates to not add the hNews microformat on those pages.

But if I'm conditionally applying hNews to some entries and not others, shouldn't that condition be based on something less arbitrary than a binary "it is text" / "it is links" decision? Should I be going back through the 2,500+ posts on the site separating the sheep from the goats? This is 'news', this is 'blogging', this is an 'announcement', this is 'citizen history'? I'm happy that for the foreseeable future I'll be writing content that adheres to my newly articulated principles and will be 'news' more often than 'not news', so maybe the condition I need to put into the templates is 'if published after the date I implemented hNews'?

In the end, in going through this process, I don't know that I actually learnt that much about the technical implementation of hNews. But I did learn quite a lot about my own website.

9 Comments

I think your content is good, you write well and it is informative which is what the news basically is and it is important to remember that people will search for something newsworthy and if you are the most recent and appropriate then surely you are providing them with the information they were looking for. I think you may be being harsh on your content - you are adding value.

To me value added means that you are adding to that reader/visitor something that they do not already know. You are providing them a service and not simply regurgitating things you have heard or read, possibly taking a popular topic in a new direction, or offering additional insight.

news vs. blog, that is a good debate, but I am quite sure that currybet is more of a blog.

I think this pretty much depends on the readers. The author will put hNews because of their perspective. The readers decide the "News", "Blog", etc

It's your blog...you can do whatever you like. Critics be damned! You take the site in the direction you'd like it to flow because you can't please everyone all the time. That's why blogs are great...they are a creative outlet for the writer. They are NOT a newspaper, therefore you do not have adhere to their rules. Keep on Blogging!

When you compare yourself to journalists by stating:

[Some of what I write on here is at least 'reporting', even if it doesn't meet the necessary union card carrying kitemark standards of professional journalism.]

I think that you are putting card carrying journalists on a pedestal.

I would argue that only some of what appears in the press is true journalism and reporting of the news much of what we now get is shallow opinionated editorial on subjects that are not newsworthy. The broadsheets are better in this regard and the tabloids have completely lost the plot, more interested in shallow reporting of celebrity than in real journalism

Right, I don't think many people care if someone is following some written set of abstract rules; they are able to judge the integrity of the source in the same way they just the integrity of anything. You learn how to read a blogger the way you learn how to read any source. I don't care if there is an ethics document in the background or not.

News, not news.. why constrain yourself? It's your blog, you write what ever you want. That's why you're not a journalist.

If you are hosting your own site, then that means you own it and you can say what ever you very well please. The only thing that I would be concerned about, would be defaming someone, other then that, let the ball bounce where it may.

Joseph

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