M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Posts Tagged ‘technology

Reporting: For some churches, the Internet clicks; for others it doesn’t

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Over at msnbc.com, I have a long piece examining how religious institutions regard the Internet and especially social media:

[T]he Catholic Church has a long history of being an early adopter of new forms of media, going back to the 1920s, when Catholic priests pioneered radio evangelism, Campbell said.

At the same time, other religious institutions, especially traditional U.S. Protestant denominations, are still sorting through the challenges as well as the opportunities posed by the Internet, and particularly social media, according to church leaders and administrators.

“I think there’s a lot of groups trying to figure it out,” said John Davidson, a fundraising and ministry consultant for churchextension.org, which supports the ministry of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ.

I talked to the Rev. Bobby Gruenewald, the “innovation leader” at LifeChurch.tv, a very sophisticated worldwide online ministry. He pinpoints the divide this way:

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Written by Alex

November 23, 2011 at 9:21 am

Why machines won’t replace live editors any time soon

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From an article that obviously was run through editing software in a shop that had no one to review the output:

However, if one is wearing a little african american dress, a fun concept is to pair that with any different color of shoe, such as red flats, blue sends, or any other style that fits one’s fancy.


Written by Alex

November 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Journalism, Language

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U.S. bars the public from seeing its data on doctors

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Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog.

The Obama administration has closed public access to its database of disciplinary action against doctors and other medical professionals, basically because reporters were getting too good at using it.

The Department of Health and Human Services compiles a National Practitioner Data Bank to centralize reports on malpractice cases and licensing board actions against individual doctors and health care companies. The idea is to make it harder for practitioners who’ve been hit with disciplinary actions or malpractice judgments to move to other states and get new licenses.

Four times a year, HHS has published a version of the database to the public. Because the database is supposed to be confidential, it’s scrubbed of names, addresses and other information that patients, lawyers and reporters could use to identify who’s in it. Still, because it provides a wealth of aggregate information, the NPDB quarterly summary has been a regular source of medical stories for a quarter-century. (As recently as June, the database was generating stories like this one, reporting that half of U.S. malpractice payments involve patients seen outside a hospital.)

Or at least it did until this month, when HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration added this sentence to the databank’s Web page:

The NPDB Public Use Data File is not available until further notice.

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Written by Alex

September 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Reporting: U.S. aims to track ‘untraceable’ prepaid cash cards

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Steve Streit, chief executive of prepaid access card firm Green Dot, told CNBC last year how the cards work.

Update: The Network Branded Prepaid Card Association responds here.

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel blog, where it originally appeared. To read it in context, click here.

Right: Steve Streit, chief executive of prepaid access card firm Green Dot, told CNBC last year how the cards work.

By M. Alex Johnson
msnbc.com reporter

As the federal government tells it, the money men behind the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers would never have been identified had they not been lousy bankers:

“The 9/11 hijackers opened U.S. bank accounts, had face-to-face dealings with bank employees, signed signature cards and received wire transfers, all of which left financial footprints. Law enforcement was able to follow the trail, identify the hijackers and trace them back to their terror cells and confederates abroad.”

That’s from a Treasury Department assessment of financial security threats in 2005. It went on to warn that the terrorists could have quietly moved large sums of money into or out of the U.S.:

“Had the 9/11 terrorists used prepaid … cards to cover their expenses, none of these financial footprints would have been available.”

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Written by Alex

September 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

Police Blotter of the Day: Cops graciously accommodate crook

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“A fugitive fool who taunted cops on his Facebook page, ‘Catch me if you can, I’m in Brooklyn’ — has been captured by U.S. marshals.

“And guess where.

“Victor Burgos was sitting at a computer with his Facebook page open when a task force of marshals and NYPD detectives tracked him down in an apartment on Jefferson St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. …

“‘He told us via Facebook to come and get him and we did,’ Utica police Sgt. Steve Hauck told the Daily News yesterday.”

Full story (New York Daily News)

Written by Alex

July 29, 2011 at 6:22 am

Reporting: Porn piracy wars get personal

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Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Technolog blog, where it originally appeared. To read it in context, with all information boxes and art, click here.

Ron Jeremy is one of more than a dozen adult video stars who talked about the damage piracy can cause in public service announcements published last year by the Free Speech Coalition, the industry’s trade association.

It’s not fun, but all things considered, John Steele is OK with being a villain.

In recent months, Steele’s Chicago law firm has filed almost 100 federal lawsuits seeking to identify thousands of “John Does” who downloaded pornographic videos in violation of their producers’ copyright. Federal court records indicate that none of Steele’s cases — in fact, no case of this type ever — has ended with a verdict at trial.

Sometimes, the cases run into roadblocks from skeptical judges over jurisdiction or whether the defendants have been appropriately identified. Others end in settlements for a few thousand dollars from defendants who are relieved that they get to remain anonymous.

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Human editors matter

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Google News picks up a grisly story from Reuters and gets bitten by its computerized presentation:

Here’s the headline:
Body of missing Brooklyn boy found in freezer, trash

Here’s the caption Google News automatically generated, because Reuters includes a picture-of-the-day feature on its story pages:
A host of new surveys don’t paint a pretty picture for many small businesses. Uncertainty about the economy, slow retail sales and high commodity prices have small business owners in the dumps this summer.

There’s no one to blame for this, really. But it does illustrate, tastelessly and uncomfortably, that it will be a long time — perhaps not in my lifetime — before human editors are totally dispensable.

Agree or disagree? Will computers some day be able to completely replace us? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Alex

July 13, 2011 at 10:25 am