Japanese wheelchair basketball player Mari Amimoto leads in scoring at world championships

Yesterday’s Wikinews challenge was to take basically a one source piece of information I wanted to write about and make it into an actual more detailed article.  This was highly problematic, because well, two English Wikinews reviewers basically said only reporting from the official table of the leading scorers for a tournament is a little problem. (un problema pocita)

At the end the day, Japanese wheelchair basketball player Mari Amimoto leads in scoring at world championships was published.  It is a nice little story about the Women’s Wheelchair World Championships currently being played in Toronto, Canada.    The reviewers did a good job at dealing with the small little problems.  In any case, the article is from a perspective I don’t think that the other news outlets would take. (Though to be fair, I wouldn’t put it past the Paralympic Press people.  They can often be really good at doing those sort of stories, precisely because they are often writing for an international audience as opposed to a purely domestic one.)

That issue of trying to do a new take on something can be a big challenge when trying to write from limited, non-news sources.  Very hard to do.  Beyond that, as a journalist writing for Wikinews, I want to name drop.  As many athletes as I can mention, I like to do because I think the little bit of attention can be very good.

Because I’ve decided to try to write more about Wikinews, and because I want to go to the Rio Games, I feel like I need to start preparing now by more consistently writing about Paralympic sport.    Lost that thought.  Ah yeah.  I’ve decided to follow a number more accounts on Facebook to see if I can keep up with the “latest” news so I can write about it more.

If you have a Paralympic story idea that I can write about for Wikinews, please get in touch.  I would be pretty much open to anything.

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“He had two knives” or when is a fact a fact?

When is a knife a knife?

“He had to knives” and “Police said he had two knives” are two separate facts. One of the problems some new journalists on English Wikinews is recognizing what is a fact, and the above is a classic example. It is really easy to write opinions or assertions as facts without intending to.

A fair amount of Wikinews writing is synthesis writing.  We may not be able to verify the facts ourselves by talking to sources, witnessing an event ourselves, or reading the original source material.  It is really important to understand the facts that the sources we have present to us. If a source says, “Police said he had two knives,” the source is asserting that it is not a fact that he had two knives.  The fact is the claim.  This is very different from a claim of “He had two knives,” where “he had two knives” is the fact.

This might seem like a minor quibble, but it has the potential to be hugely important.  Picture a court case.  All the evidence is clear: “He had two knives” which he used to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Lots of people saw him with two knives.  There were two dirty knives in the sink which had his fingerprints on them.  He admitted to having two knives, and using them to make sandwiches. There was a picture of him using two knives to make a sandwich.  His name was engraved on the  knives.  We know those knives are his.  That is a fact.

In other situations, this may not be a fact.  There was no picture of him with two knives.  They did not have his fingerprints on them.  The knives were not found in his house.  He denied that the knives belonged to him and that he used them to make a sandwich.  On the other hand, the police claim that he had two knives.  In this case, maybe the knives do belong to him.  (He could have wiped down his fingerprints, taken the knives out of the house, lied about not owning the knives and not making a sandwich.)  What we do know as a fact is the police made this claim.

These finer points do matter, and they impact how people understand the news they read.

Sochi Return on Investment Analysis

Return on investment analyses is really easy: ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) x 100. The problem with doing this for the Sochi Paralympics is I did not make money. I knew going in I was going to lose money. This is more about understanding the relative performance metrics of what I did when trying to assess the value of doing other reporting on my own dime (or with grant money on some one else’s dime) and the potential outcomes.

Based on my previous blog post exploring Sochi costs, the total was €551.05 / US$766.18.

The actual ROI becomes complicated as it is a question of what my expected return is. This is actually a difficult question, especially when it comes to measuring media impact because it isn’t just page views that matter: there are a large variety of factors that play into the effectiveness of media story telling and measuring ROI.

For the moment, let’s assume pure costs against pure page views is all I care about: 10 articles producing 14,078 views from March 1 to March 23 puts the cost per view at €0.039 a view.

Let’s make this a little more complex. In order to get to Sochi, I did a fair amount of reporting. There were 18 other articles mentioning the Winter Paralympics, including 11 from Copper Mountain, 2 right before I left for Sochi, 2 from La Molina, 3 internet based articles a few months before the Games. Let’s weight these a bit assuming the Sochi costs are born out for these articles based on the Sochi period (because they probably got page views they would not have had otherwise). The Sochi articles account for about 75% of all 2014 Winter Paralympics news coverage during that march period, and the other articles account for about 25% of all traffic. In this instance, total views Sochi value goes down to €0.029 a view and the non-Sochi value is €0.069. The bump while much smaller pays off more by having large volumes of news stories in the archives. On an average views per article, it goes from average total views per article for non-weighted for Sochi at €2.554 to €3.406 for weighted, versus non-in person Sochi €0.457 to €0.811. The €0.039 number views seems the most rationale in this case.

Let’s assume that pure production is the number that is cared about. Total cost per article is €55.105 an article for each article published while I was in Sochi.

While in Sochi, I wrote one blog post the day I left, seven while there and so far two after that excluding this one. I’ve written effectively 19 blog articles about preparing for, going and the follow up to the Sochi Paralympics. For me, this was an important part of my reporting and it complimented my reporting. It talked more about the process and the experience in a way that my pure sport reporting in a journalistic style did not. These ten articles had 8,496 views, syndicated and to my blog, between March 1 to March 23. The value of each individual view is €0.084. While I had the same number of blog entries, I had a lot fewer views.

From a pure money aspect, if only counting blog entries, it cost me €78.72 per blog post. Expensive. Let’s assume for a moment equal weighting of blogs and news articles. I produced 17 pieces of long form content. Each piece cost me €32.414 to write. If I combine the page views across both my blog and the published Wikinews articles, the average cost per total view is €0.024. Cheaper and cheaper per view. Combined views, this is not bad.

These numbers feel fine, but they are rather non-compelling. Yawn yawn.

There are other metrics to assess ROI in this case. The official English Wikinews account on Facebook linked to every article published from Sochi. These posts for the Sochi reporting combined were views 7,636 times. Seems pretty good. Of the ten articles, there were 25 times where they were linked to on Twitter. Twitter reach for these links exceeds 100,000 twitter accounts. The links were seen by a lot of people, the views were decent both to the blog and the news articles.

ROI might have been stronger had there been more Wikipedia work and Commons. Wikipedia allows no original reporting, and is thus useless in an original reporting context. (Journalists should not be going places as Wikipedians reporting for Wikipedia.) Commons was also off limits, because of two factors: The agreement as a member of the press is none of your photos can be uploaded commercially. This meant no event pictures could be uploaded to Commons. Second, Russia has no freedom of panorama. I tried to upload a photo anyway, and it got nominated for deletion. In this particular context, Commons content creation is not a factor in ROI.

So using pure page views, the answer is each view costs less than €0.10 each. The articles averaged €32.414 to write. I’m not actually sure how much more this ROI analysis adds. There really needs to be a formula to better figure this out.

Actual Sochi Paralympic budget

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Before going to Sochi, I tried to budget and discussed this more in depth than people probably cared to know.  Budgeting is very important when you’re doing citizen journalism and you want to possibly get money to support your efforts.

Transportation involved two trips on the Russian metro at 40 rubles each, airport express train at 640 rubles, and a round trip train ticket from Moscow to Sochi at AU$125.  I got zapped with 116 RUBs for the train twice for sheets. Plane tickets were bought using frequent flier miles.  Retail price is showing me US$331. Do some converting: €0.78 + €12.59 + €81.12  + €4.564 + €238.06 = €337.11.  Not bad. About €100 if you subtract the plane ticket part out.

Hotel expense was €33 a night for five nights.  That equals €165.  Food was… That’s a bit harder to calculate.  I took with me €200 that I converted to rubles with no commission at €1 to 40 RUB.  la la la la.  Let’s go with €160 on for food and postage, with about €25 of that at the airport on the last day, including a breakfast that was 760 RuB / €14.87 from Burger King that included lots of stuff I did not want including a disgusting breakfast roll thing with a tomato in it.  Sbarros for lunch was much cheaper at 220 RUB / €4.328 which included two slices of pizza and a very large drink. Two bottles of Pepsi each ran 70 RUB / €1.377.

IMG_5223I screwed up and converted USD to RUB and did not convert it before I left Russia.  Ooops.  Add US$75.

All told, assuming actual cost of airline tickets, going to Sochi cost me €551.05 / US$766.18.  That isn’t that much.  Going to the London Paralympics, the cost was around AUD$7,500.  Costs were lower because I did not fly to Sochi, because I did not attend the whole games, because I missed meals, because I bought fewer souvenirs.   (It was AUD$15,000 for two people. This included everything from airfare to food to internet.)

What did this get me? Page views for all 2014 Winter Paralympics articles from 1 March to 14 March 2014 on English Wikinews total 14,685 views.  To be fair, I produced only 10 articles while in Sochi.

In London, myself and my fellow report produced around 50 to 60 total articles. That’s a huge volume.  My reporting partners in Sochi were Ukrainians, who were primarily writing in Ukrainian and doing their own work.  It wasn’t so much a partnership of working together to support each other’s English Wikinews reporting.  The page views for London original reporting around the Paralympic period total 78,943 views.  That’s about 5 times as many views.  The costs for London were 17 times higher: €9734.25 / €551.05 = 17.  I think reporting wise, I got my money’s worth here.

I think, when I do a better metric analysis, some of the breakdowns will be interesting.  Where this reporting project fell down was background research and background writing for English Wikipedia… but I think the Ukrainian project will demonstrate why that matters and how useful that particular aspect can be.  I know that they had zero articles about the Paralympics before 1 March 2014 on Ukrainian Wikipedia.  They now have 53 pages with 23,803 total views from 1 March to 14 March, the fifth most visited Wikipedia for articles about the 2014 Winter Paralympics found in that category.  But that’s another analysis to look at Return of Investment for another time.

 

And then oops, I took a train through the Ukraine

Ukrainian passport stamps

Ukrainian passport stamps

Because I needed to travel this weekend, I needed to leave the 2014 Sochi Paralympics early.  Given my budget issues, I took the train from Moscow to Sochi, because it was cheaper than flying to Sochi from Madrid.  I had an enjoyable train ride from Moscow to Sochi.  It was one of those interesting experiences, and I had a grand time that involved Russian train passengers I was traveling with giving me alcohol for dinner and breakfast.  Fun times.  Great views.  Not a bad night’s sleep.

When booking my return to coincide with my flight, I opted for a slightly longer 36 hour return that involved two nights on the train.  My guess at the time was this train just made more stops.  I know on the way down that we didn’t stop at every station.  I also figured there would be less needs for express trains from Sochi to Moscow during the actual Paralympic Games.

Live and learn.  I had a lovely unexpected 12 hour train ride through the Ukraine.  Okay, not so lovely.  You know those moments where you think in blind panic, “ZOMG! I’ve fucked up! Eeek!” Yeah, it was one of those when the train car steward said something to me in Russian, then said to me in English “Passport control.”  I stared blankly at him like he lost his mind.  The other guy in my section said, “Ukraine.”  I looked out the window and sure enough, passport control.

I wasn’t avoiding the Ukraine: I just had no intention of going there.  The United States government specifically advises Americans not to go there right now, especially the eastern parts. There was no reason for me to go to the Ukraine.  Besides which, how would I get there anyway? Well, by train by not understanding things.  So while not avoiding the Ukraine but having no intention of going there, I ended up there.

More Russian passport stamps.  One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps.  They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

More Russian passport stamps. One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps. They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

The Russians appeared just as confused as me as to why I was there.  There were five of them I dealt with.  Journalists are not high on their list of people they love at the border, and I tried to make clear: I was not in Russia to write about politics but about sport.   Sport.  Sport.  Also, I was leaving Moscow the day my train arrived in Moscow.  Also, the train ticket SEE! LOOK! does not say UKRAINE! anywhere on it.  Also, when I went Moscow to Sochi, I did not not go through the Ukraine! I was there for the Paralympics!  It was hard to babble when they spoke no English and I spoke no Russian.  I showed them my papers.  They photographed everything, including my return ticket.  They used special glasses to look closely at my accreditation. They radioed a guy, who spoke English, who talked to me.  Apparently, foreigners do what I do occasionally and it was not a big issue.

The Ukrainians were not that fussed because I was not getting off the train.  They were more concerned about the guy in my compartment bringing camera equipment and a television.  Besides which, there were only two. And unlike the Russian side, the border guys had few guns and less overall personnel.

So onwards intrepid reporter who plans poorly. Did I mention I was a bit hungry? When going through security in at the Olympic Park Train Station in Sochi, they took my fuet. They also took my can of corn. I bought ramen in the train station, which was fortunate on my part. Unlike my trip to Sochi via train, this train had pretty much no food for sale. My bottle of coke I had leftover from lunch, a bottle of water from my bag, and tea made on the train was all I had to drink. Food was ramen, Oreo cookies and store band Starburst candies. woot woot. 36 hours on the train.

Anyway, while in the Ukraine, I kept looking for Russian flags.  My perception from the news was this area had become defacto Russia.  Russian nationalism should be on display.  There should be a feeling of tenseness in the Ukraine that I should feel having accidentally wandered through it.

Except there was none of that. Ukraine along the eastern rail line I took felt poorer than the Russian parts I had traveled on. The trains on the Ukrainian side appeared to be older, and more rusted. People appeared to be going about their business, riding bicycles here and there, carrying bags of what looked like groceries and other supplies. The towns felt empty, but no emptier than other small towns in the USA I have taken the rail through. There were no Russian flags, but at the same time, there were very few Ukrainian flags. I saw them occasionally at what appeared to be government buildings. Sometimes, I saw blue and yellow painted poles that looked more like store advertising (and no real Russian colour equivalent). No one on the train seemed overly concerned. The Russian Railways staff seemed not that concerned. There were people of all ages and genders trying to sell stuff on the train in the Ukraine, which did not happen on the Russian side. There were fewer passengers, a lot fewer, than in Russia but that was it. A bad part of me wondered, “Why does Russia want this part of the Ukraine that feels so poor compared to the Russian side?”

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Near as I can tell, the train entered Ukraine close to Donetsk and left around Kharkiv.

Going back into Russia, again a repeat of accidentally leaving Russia. This time, no English speaker at all and this time, every single page of my passport was photographed.  No problems getting through customs, but a bit scary nonetheless when your government is telling you not to go there and the news says they are on the brink of war there.

By the way, did you know that Russia is amassing troops on the border with Ukraine? Before hitting immigration control, I saw a train with at least 15 tanks and at least 15 troop carrier trucks. If I had to make a stupid mistake, I am glad I made it Wednesday and not later.

Welcome to some of the surreal and weird experiences I have had thanks to my involvement with Wikimedia.  I think this tops what I have gotten myself into on my own.

Thoughts before leaving Sochi Paralympics: Reporting issues and Paralympic news

Look! I'm media! So cool!

Look! I’m media! So cool!

I leave the Sochi Paralympics today. As a reporter, I met my publishing goals that I set before I left. I need to remember that: 1 article a day is a lot on many levels, and anything else was just bonus. Also, I’m not getting paid to be here, I’m a citizen journalist writing articles for a Wikimedia project. I do not have to answer to an editor “back home” or justify the expense of going to Sochi.

But at the same time, I would have liked to have done more. One of the inherent problems with not being able to dedicate yourself to the craft of journalism is there is a lack of contacts, sometimes a lack of knowledge, and a lack of practice. Reporting relies on contacts. Reporting also relies on boldness. Be bold. Ask the questions. Go where things are. I do not have the contacts, and I can get only 2/3rds of the way there on boldness. (I might have gotten more had I done more research.)

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

This is why at times I am frustrated by my reporting here: For a few things I wrote, I feel like 70% of what I wrote came from information sheets journalist are given, 25% from pictures I took on a journalist (not photography) accreditation. The color feels hard to come through when my knowledge of things like curling fails me. Plus, I feel like I should write about all four curling sheets, all four matches… not just one. One well placed rock in one end that does not appear like it had a result on the outcome. How do you write that well?

In the afternoon match of wheelchair curling, the United States threw some really bad rocks, weren’t playing aggressively to win initially against the Russians. They went to an 8th end down by three rocks. My understanding is after the 7th end, if you do not think you can win, no 8th end required. The United States wheelchair curlers played the final end much more aggressively. They were assisted in the 8th end by some bad Russian stones which shot the gap between US stones and left the scoring area. This could only be banked on so much, and the Russians did not always misplace rocks. Despite much better playing and having three stones in the scoring area with 2 rocks to go, Russia managed to place a stone the USA could not get out. The United States ended up short, scoring only two of the three points they needed in the 8th end. Unlike the game Canada was playing against Norway on the sheet next to them, there was no forcing an extra end.

Having done so much writing for Wikipedia at times, I struggle with how to write neutrally. I second guess and end up neuturing things. That felt like the case here.

When I get back somewhere (Spain or the USA), I will write more on some of

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

the issues involved with Sochi, better planning thoughts, how to be more successful at this sort of thing, and the metrics at the end of the day.

Let’s move on to other news agencies coverage of the Paralympics. In London during the Paralympics, the Associated Press was not to be found. I read the news often, and I rarely if ever any coverage of the Paralympics. I did not see any reporters on the ground. Here in Sochi, it is a different case. There are USA journalists, several of whom are based up in the mountains. There is media coverage. There is television coverage. (Though I have been told NBC has few people here, with most of the NBC people using OBS feeds and as a consequence being based in the USA.)

I’m not entirely certain I am happy with other United States coverage that I have seen. It appears to take three forms: 1) Ukraine. 2) Oscar Pistorious. 3) Crashes.

I feel tremendous sympathy for the Ukraine. That situation has to a degree impacted my ability to do my reporting here. It is horrible what is going on in the Ukraine, and I cannot imagine the additional stress on the Ukrainian athletes and officials. But some of the reporting appears to hugely political. Craig Spence and Philip Craven were right about things being about sport. So when journalists appear to use the Paralympics as a throwaway line to make a political point about Putin while ignoring the broader issues of inclusion and the elite sport going on, it gets annoying. This is especially annoying when the Paralympics are not contextualized and most USAians have no idea what the Paralympics are about. Many of these sportspeople here get little news coverage outside the Paralympic period, so taking away their moment in the sun by making their participation part of some political disalogue gets annoying. Did I mention annoying? Perhaps I would find this news coverage about the Ukraine aspect less annoying if for every mention of the Ukraine in a Paralympic context, there was a sports articles about the performance of sportspeople… you know, like the Olympics.

The other thing that is annoying is the Oscar Pistorious thing. I don’t know whether I should be blaming the IPC here or the media. Everything is fundamentally political on some level in decision making. The IPC embracing of Vladmir Putin was political. The IPC embracing Oscar Pistorious and chosing to highlight his accomplishments on the big screen was a political decision of sorts. The IPC is chosing to align itself with a man who killed a woman (murdered is to be determined, killed is not disputed), who allegedly cheated on another woman and who liked to play with guns. The IPC chose to align with some one who, after winning silver in the London Paralympics, protested that the person who won gold had an unfair competitive advantage because of his blade. This was a guy who went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to say his own blades did not give a competitive advantage. Hypocrisy, thy name is…

Anyway, back to Oscar and the media. The Associated Press was asking sportspeople about that. You’re a Ukrainian Paralympian. Your race ends. You have won a medal. A United States journalist asks you about… OSCAR PISTRIOUS! You are an American Paralympic medalist and your race ends and a United States journalist asks you about OSCAR PISTORIOUS! ZOMG. So awesome. Where was this during the Olympics? During the Olympics, I did not see a single Associated Press article where, following a person winning their medal in Sochi, the winner was asked, “Are you following the Oscar Pistrious situation? How does his actions impact your Olympic experience? How do you feel as an Olympian being connected to Oscar?” This feels like lazy journalism. Bold to be sure, but lazy. Maybe I have been too inside the movement, but I think the key to Paralympic success and disability access being improve is to focus on the sports. These are elite athletes. They train really hard. They give up a lot to be where they are. When their moment in the sun comes, when they become the best in their field, they get asked about Oscar. Their own accomplishments are ignored.

The last thing I have seen involves crashes and hospitalizations. That make news. I have a harder time faulting this one, though I would like to see more emphasis on success. Great Bitain can do that. Why can’t the USA media?

The reality of reporting from the Olympic and Paralympic Games

I have seen a fair amount of criticism lobbed at the media for their failure to cover a number of Russian related topics during the Olympic Games.  The LGBT topic should have gotten more attention.  Orphan children should have gotten more attention.  The deplorable situation regarding the environmental impact and the unhappiness of the locals in Sochi over the Games should have gotten more attention.

All of these are likely true, but ignore certain reporting constraints that take place during a major event like this.  I write for Wikinews, a Wikimedia Foundation project. I feel lucky to be able to attend the Paralympics because I am not part of a major newspaper, am not a broadcast rights holder, write for a volunteer driven project.  In order to get media accreditation, my news organization has to do a lot of work to demonstrate that we cover winter sports.  This involves going to world championships or other events, interviewing people, and otherwise demonstrating that we know something about the Paralympics.  We’re basically on some level showing we can promote the Paralympics.  For the Olympics, this process is particularly competitive and readership plays a huge part.  Freelancers are just not able to get media accreditation.  You have to be part of a media organization.  Most media organizations going are going to report on The Games.  Full stop.

My visa to get to Russia for the Games arrived February 14.  I could have probably left immediately and tried to do some reporting on those issues for Wikinews.  Several problems though: 1) Lack of funding.  I could not afford to do that if I wanted to.  If you look on Kickstarter and other funding projects for journalism, there isn’t much money being given to that. 2) I do not speak Russian.  This is a huge hurdle.  It makes it very difficult to do reporting. 3) I do not have the contact base to do reporting from Russia on these issues.  Contacts matter in reporting.  It means people talk to you, know you, trust you.  They are key to getting things done. 4) I wanted media accreditation to primarily cover sports and provide attention to disability sport.  I did not come to Sochi primarily to cover these other topics, which would mean spending time and energy away from The Games.

I have not been inside other news organizations, so I can only guess what is going on but I would think their issues would be similar.  It costs money to do that sort of reporting.  Newsrooms across the globe have been shedding global staff, and shuttering their international correspondences desks.  Instead, they have opted for freelancers and stringers.  The economics of this reporting then are not great.  (In my case, I am a volunteer so the economics are what can I afford? And the sister project to Wikinews is Wikipedia, which allows no original reporting.  They just repeat the main stream media.) Many of the people going to the Paralympics and Olympics are sport reporters. They are here to report on sports.  That is what they know how to do.  That is what they are paid to do.  Would you go to a neurosurgeon for knee reconstruction?  Probably not.  Larger news organizations with more media accreditations may be able to afford to do that.  They may also be able to be better placed to hire stringers who can report on these issues because visas are not an issue if a person is a local reporter already inside Russia.  In London, a lot of these questions got asked at press conferences because the local media asked them.  The local media here is unlikely to be asking those questions. But by and large, it just isn’t very feasible here.

There are ways to report on these issues from inside the Games in Sochi.  They just take work, and editorial people back at home base approving of this.  I’ll try to do my bit, but please do not be hugely disappointed if I cannot deliver a lot on Putin, the Ukraine and lastly the Paralympics.  Not what I am here for though I am really going to make the effort to try.