News Reporting Requires Provenance
October 18, 2008
Someone whose name I didn’t catch, from the BBC, pointed out in a session Friday that news reporting has two modes of assertion. There’s what the reporter says, which is supposed to be more or less factual and verifiable, and there are things (of unknown truth) which others are reported as saying.
We see this all the time, right?
Yesterday, while walking in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush tripped on a crack in the pavement. White House spokesperson Dana Perino explained that the crack has been caused by terrorists who were still at large. She said the White House would be submitting legislation increasing Homeland Security funding by $250B to address this problem. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disagreed, claiming the crack was a sign of our crumbling national infrastructure, and saying she would propose the $250B be spent on repairing our inner cities.
There are various statements made here, and if we formalized this kind of information, we would need to be careful to properly attribute it. The news source itself is making a claim about the president tripping, and then it’s making some claims about what other people said.
We’ve been thinking about these kind of provenance issues for many years in the Semantic Web arena, but I hadn’t thought about how thoroughly common they were in news reporting. That’s all.