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