FCW Insider


Horrible Bosses in Atlantis: How Google governs the news

Coming soon to FCW: An article about how Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers won't have opportunity to defend his home run contest record, in which he sent balls nearly the size of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches into orbit like a shuttle launch, to be lost in the abyss like horrible bosses drowned in Atlantis near Aruba -- where Warren Buffett vacations -- but far from south Sudan.

OK, not really. But this is what headline writers and editors have to think about these days, as search engine optimization becomes an increasingly important aspect of online journalism.

The lead paragraph of this entry weaves together the top trending terms on Google for today. The terms change daily, and every morning editors check them to see if there are any they can incorporate into the day's coverage. Some publications have more flexibility than others -- the Washington Post can justify writing an article about the movie "Horrible Bosses" more easily than FCW can -- but, candidly, we're all concerned about it.

Of course, journalism has always had an element of crowd-pleasing to it. Celebrity magazines and tabloid TV existed long before IT made it easier to measure the degree of interest in various topics. But ideally, journalism is more directly driven by editorial judgment about the information that people actually need, information that's important and relevant.

It's an ideal that too often seems very far from reality, especially when purportedly serious news outlets such as CNN are preoccupied with a sensational trial or the peccadilloes of a drug-addled actor. The nightly partisan shouting matches that dominate some of the cable "news" channels are theater, not journalism. And yet it's an ideal that most of us in the profession still strive to fulfill.

Our reality dictates that we must pay attention to Google's trending topics, while at the same time, we try to stay true to our mission of delivering news that's important and relevant to our audience -- the federal IT community and, more broadly, the federal workforce. We're interested in your thoughts on how we're doing and where we could improve, or any other comments you have on journalism as it's practiced today. Tell us what you think.

Posted on Jul 08, 2011 at 7:26 PM4 comments


Are you ready to give up your desktop computer?

A guest entry by FCW Editor-in-Chief John Monroe

In recent months, we’ve heard several people beating the drum for a mobile-first computing strategy. The laptop, the tablet, the smart phone — according to some visionaries, these and similar products are slowly overtaking the desktop computer as the preferred personal computing platform.

Case in point: The Defense Contract Management Agency plans to save $5 million by 2014 by ditching all but 1,000 of its 13,000 desktop computers, according to a recent report by the Federal Times. And in a recent request for information, officials at the General Services Administration said they envision creating an “anytime, anywhere, any device” IT infrastructure, capable of supporting its teleworking employees.

Personally, I haven’t worked on a desktop PC for quite a few years. I don’t even bother with a flat-screen hookup in the office anymore, having adapted to the laptop screen. So it’s a seamless transition when I work at home or go on the road.

People equipped with tablet PCs or smart phones have an even easier time of it, being able to check their e-mail and work with documents (and even stream Netflix videos) without hauling out the laptop. More and more, the expectation is that people will be readily accessible no matter where they might be working at any given moment.

Understandably, organizations looking to cut costs are bound to wonder if it is necessary to fork out money for desktop PCs in addition to all the mobile devices. Making the switch is not a viable option for some employees, but perhaps it is for many.

But is there a catch here? If you work on a PC now, what would you miss if forced to trade it for a laptop? And then there’s the cost. Laptop computers cost considerably more than many desktop systems, which might make organizations think twice where mobility is not a high priority.

What do you think?

Posted on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:26 PM33 comments


Reporting rumors

After news broke that a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives operation had gone south -- literally -- speculation emerged that Acting Director Kenneth Melson would be resigning over it.

Now the bureau's head spokesman is quashing the speculation. "Acting Director Kenneth Melson continues to be focused on leading ATF in its efforts to reduce violent crime and to stem the flow of firearms to criminals and criminal organizations," Scot Thomasson, the bureau's chief of public affairs, told Government Executive.

The speculation arose because an ATF operation dubbed "Fast and Furious" had funneled weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and one of the weapons was used to murder an ATF special agent.

The situation is a good example of a common cause for consternation in newsrooms. Clearly the ATF operation didn't work out as planned, with tragic consequences. The idea that Melson might resign over it was completely plausible. When news organizations hear rumors like that, they have to decide whether to report them or wait for something more definitive.

Federal Computer Week has not been covering this story closely because apart from the involvement an electronic tracking system, it lacks a strong IT angle. We did publish a brief aggregated item on June 20, but have otherwise left it alone. But we also often have cases where some ad hoc news judgemnt is called for. In particular, whenever a key figure in the federal IT scene leaves, such as Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, speculation abounds about the next person to take the office.

For now, it's purely guesswork as people float various names of people they think would be good or likely to get President Barack Obama's call. But a time will probably come when we will here that a specific person has been offered the post, or is in talks with the administration. At that time, lacking any official confirmation, we'll have to decide whether to report it as a rumor and risk being wrong, or wait for certainty and risk being beaten by a competitor.

So don't be too hard on those outlets that reported Melson's imminent resignation. It can be a tough call.

Posted on Jun 23, 2011 at 7:26 PM0 comments


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