Ryan Kellett at the Washington Post is looking for a few people to analyze “24,000 e-mail messages to and from Sarah Palin during her tenure as Alaska’s governor”.
Here’s how to participate … We’ll be posting them here, and are inviting you to comment on the most interesting or most noteworthy sections. Please include page numbers and, where possible, a dire ct excerpt. We’ll share your comments with our reporters and may use facts or related material you suggest to annotate the documents displayed on The Post site. We may contact you for further details, by way of your registered e-mail with the Post, unless you specify otherwise in the comments. For micro-updates as tomorrow unfolds, check out our new Twitter feed .
The NYT has a similar project. Derek Willis writes in a link interestingly hrefed “http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/help-us-investigate-the-sarah-palin-e-mail-records …” — note the “help us investigate”:
On Friday, the State of Alaska will release more than 24,000 of Sarah Palin’s e-mails covering much of her tenure as governor of Alaska. Times reporters will be in Juneau, the state capital, to begin the process of reviewing the e-mails, which we will be posting on NYtimes.com starting on Friday afternoon.
We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight. Interested users can fill out a simple form to describe the nature of the e-mail, and provide a name and e-mail address so we’ll know who should get the credit. Join us here on Friday afternoon and into the weekend to participate.
One of the major sources of journalistic power lies in being able to choose what to focus on and what to ignore. The pattern of attention paid to subjects by the press itself conveys information. The academic and professional records of President were subjects fit to ignore. Without Matt Drudge, Monica Lewinsky was something to ignore too, as was, absent Andrew Breitbart, Anthony Weiner. But Sarah Palin, who is by some accounts, unimportant, uneducated and with no chance whatsoever of running for the Oval Office paradoxically rates an analytic effort that would make a criminal investigation proud.
The pattern is implied in the emphasis. Apparently some things are ignored because they are important, just as certain other things are focused upon because they are important in different way. Not looking at Bill Clinton is as important as putting Sarah Palin under a microscope, for different reasons. The pattern of emphasis would allow the reader to reverse engineer the editorial decision process and determine what relative weights it assigns to different factors.
You could probably to write a regular expression or Regex parser that accurately mimics a news outlet’s editorial choices of what is or is not to be looked at. A developer with enough time on his hands might do it, if only because the resulting software may prove itself an actual practical replacement for editorial boards. But that would only be half the story.
David Axe at Wired describes the evolution of the Boeing X-45 Phantom Ray Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle and observes that the real secret behind autonomous combat drones is the software, not the airframe. The breakthrough came when Boeing’s engineers realized that the key to effective UCAV software was to correctly understand what a “flight control system” meant. They believed the correct definition of a flight control system wasn’t software to control the flight of a single vehicle, but software to control the process of air combat. Real drone software controlled the swarm, not the just the individual wasp.
Building the robot planes themselves was relatively easy. Much tougher was writing the software needed to fly the drones. “The operating system is the part that’s hardest to deal with,” Michael Francis, Leahy’s successor, said later. Ideally, killer drones would fly in a choreographed “swarm,” swooping down to overwhelm an enemy’s defenses. But swarm behavior required a fast-reacting blend of navigation, communication, targeting and formation-flying that had never been demonstrated before.
Leahy was aware of the difficulty of pulling off what he called “multi-vehicle, coordinated control,” even using the latest data-links, GPS, sensors and algorithms. But without it, the X-45 would never match human pilots, and would go nowhere. “Demonstration of that capability will culminate in a graduation exercise” for the Boeing drone, Leahy said. He hoped that would occur sometime in 2003.
Anybody who wrote a parser to emulate editorial boards would have a further challenge. He would need to simulate the swarm, to describe how the hive mind of the political elite worked. For beyond every seemingly innocuous decision, such as an effort to analyze 24,000 emails, lies the “… and then”. The hive doesn’t care about the 24,000 emails of Governor Sarah Palin. It doesn’t even care about its individual members. It cares about the “… and then”. A wasp may die, but he hive must live.
Programming success, however, would probably lead to the disappointing conclusion that the press isn’t a largely news effort at all. It’s a spin effort whose workings can largely be simulated by machines, or perhaps, insects. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the reader knows what the effort is all about. So all you guys out of a job there, sign up and see if you can find a smoking gun that will blow Sarah Palin out of the electoral water. If it’s your thing, do it. Because that’s what it’s about. Why be shy about saying so?