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Monday, December 31, 2007

Wikinews' overview of the year 2007

Wikinews' very first Overview of the year 2007 has been published. And to go with it is our World News Quiz for this week on the year's news.

To take the short quiz go >>here>>. To take the extended version, which contains questions about this year's news in full, go >>here>>.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wikinews interviews Christoph Bals of the NGO Germanwatch after conclusion of climate conference

With the Climate Conference in Bali having come to a successful conclusion, Sean Heron interviewed Christoph Bals from the German NGO Germanwatch on his opinion of the outcome, and an outlook on the future negotiations. Christoph is the Senior Political Executive of Germanwatch, Co-Author of the Climate protection-Index and did lobby work on Bali.

>>Full Story>>

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bits and pieces - Sean Heron at the World Climate Change Conference

Well, in my last post I had promised I'd fill in some gaps later, and though the conference is now more than a week over, and the memories are naturally fading, I still wanted to do so. When I was thinking about what might be interesting and I hadn't mentioned yet, what sprung to mind was how the media and the NGOs/Governmental representatives work like two cogs with one another when it goes to conveying news.

I guess I should start of by some broader context: Everybody at the conference got a badge/card for entry checks (barcoded even). These had your name and organisation on them, which of course is quite helpful. Most importantly though (in everyday social contacts) they had a colour and text designating them either "NGO", "Media", or "Party" (the delegates) [There were others but thats not relevant]. Now the interesting thing was, and I didn't realize this until a few days in, that carrying a "Media" card round with you, got all sorts of people to peddle information to you (not quite as intrusively as you get peddled pretty much anything as a foreigner here in Bali, but with equally keen interest :D). "I have a real story for you, mate", "... I think I might have some more information for you later, could you give me your number?" were some of the best I heard.

This leads me back to the "media machine" and its "feeding". As in Heiligendamm, the writing press got a big working area to itself. So you have a nice collection of journalists there, and plenty of organisations giving press briefings used this circumstance to do some "canvasing" for themselves. From the US State Department, to the NGO I had some contact with, Germanwatch, you'd have people going around placing sheets stating where, when and what their press conference is going to be (about).

And with the amount of stuff going on, people (including me) would follow these invites (its not as if the information weren't easy at hand either: there were "daily programmes" lying about in stacks that did include a timetable of all press briefings). I know because I gave a hand doing some canvasing myself for a youth delegation doing a "stunt", as it is called (they dressed up as sleazy corporate bosses, they were doling out monopoly money to any delegates they found), and there were quite a few people I was pressing the advertisement into the hands of, that said: "oh right, I wanted to go there, where is it happening?" or "no time, but I'll give my colleague a call".

On the press briefings themselves: You might remember me saying that there was one room where press briefings were held more or less non stop. Well, at least on the last days, there were also journalists that were their more or less all the time. How do you know, you ask. You must have been there all the time as well then! Well I guess I have to admit that yes, I was there most of the time as well, and there was not much else you could do on Friday, so I guess the case I'm making isn't a strong one. Still, it did get me thinking, at least at times, we were entirely dependent of the information we were being given in the briefings. Still, I guess its nevertheless worlds apart from Heiligendamm, were the best you got was press briefings... over TV. And a number of limited Photo opportunities.

Speaking of which what I hadn't anticipated was how various NGOs had a good number of "stunts" set up (one I already mentioned). The fossil awards, which were handed out daily to the countries the Climate action network (CAN) viewed as the most obstructive that day, even advertised: "good photo opportunities" on their flyers. I never did get round to watching one, but apparently they didn't just name which nations and why got the awards, no, they always had someone from the appropriate nation stand in to "receive" the reward, and made quite a show of it :). And this was not just anybody handing them out, but a network of the greater part of the environmental NGOs present (see also

So yes, a lot of what the NGOs were doing was centred around getting press coverage, and I had the impression that the press on the other hand, often had a hard time understanding what was going on, or getting something good to cover, if it wasn't fed us bite size (see for example my "scientists urge action on climate change" article, based entirely on the information I was given). So yes, I find the image of two cog wheels running in one another quite adequate.

What else have I missed until now ? Maybe just how accessible the delegates were. I myself didn't actually talk in much with any one of them, but tagging along with Toby Heaps on one day (a Canadian journalist I was sharing a Bungalow with), we were at a restaurant at the Canadian Delegations Hotel, and they had just finished eating together with a bunch of Canadian Press people when we got there. Toby (who later released a paper on Carbon taxing he had coauthored) took up the opportunity and presented some of the thoughts of the paper to one of the delegates.

And this didn't seem too uncommon. One of the young Europeans I met up with, a woman from Norway, said they (the members of their/the Norwegian NGO(s), not sure) had regular meetings with the delegates, where they would of course lobby for their position. A young woman from Belgium had actually been invited onto the delegation, and was thus even more involved in the whole process (she once bemoaned that it was difficult to lobby if your government was already getting things pretty right. She stated that the Belgians position inside the EU was a progressive one, but that they had to tone it down outwards, as the EU was presenting one common position).

I was of course previously aware that lobby work happened, but I guess I had never thought about how it worked in detail, and so it was quite interesting and somewhat surprising for me to see and hear about the process. Anything else? Their's certainly still plenty I could tell, but to sum it up I'll just say that I realized time and again that all those attending, NGOs, press, security or delegates, are just humans in the end and, of course, act that way as well and not just in the roles they have been given,

Sean Heron.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Wikinews - You choose the best: 2007 in review

It's that time of year again. We at Wikinews are trying something new.

We write articles everyday over a wide variety of subjects and events. Now it is time for you to pick the articles that affected you most in 2007.

Was it the Madeline McCann story? Or maybe it was the shooting at Virginia Tech. School. Maybe it was Ahmadinejad's speech.

Whatever the story may be, we want you to choose your favorite story of 2007.

Please add suggestions here. And please help by writing briefs for the chosen articles.

David Shankbone and Shimon Peres covered in Yedioth Aharonoth

Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel's largest daily newspaper, recently did an article in their Friday edition about David Shankbone's interview with Shimon Peres, recording this historic Wiki meeting (Peres is the first world leader to meet with Wikinews to discuss politics). The interview lasted for over an hour, with many issues discussed. A translation of the Hebrew article is found on the Israeli government's blog:

Peres first leader interviewed by WikiNews

Although there are some inaccuracies in the article, it is generally excellent coverage for Wikimedia and should be a boost for the Hebrew Wikipedia/Wikinews projects.

Haaretz covers David Shankbone's Israel trip

The English and Hebrew language daily newspaper Haaretz covered David Shankbone's trip to Israel, giving good coverage of Wikipedia and Wikinews:

Your wiki entry counts

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lakota activists declare secession from US

>>Full Story.

A delegation from the Lakota Indian Tribe, an Indian nation on United States soil, have signed a document stating that their tribe withdraws and or cancels all treaties with the U.S. and formally establish independence from the country. The letter was hand delivered by activists for the tribe to Deputy to the Public Liaison at the State Department, Daniel Turner.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us. This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically article six of the constitution. It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the US and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent," said Russell Means, an activist for Native American rights to reporters at a press conference on Wednesday in Washington, D.C..

The delegation wrote a formal letter to the Department of State which was hand-delivered by activists of the tribe announcing their secession. So far, the U.S. has not issued a public response regarding their decision. Wikinews attempted to contact the State Department, but in an e-mail Director of the Office of Media Affairs Kirsten Petree stated that "this is not an issue for the State Department" and referred us to the Department of the Interior.

Wikinew writer in Israel: Is Yossi Vardi a good father to his entrepreneurial children?

>>Full Story.

Wikinews reporter David Shankbone is currently, courtesy of the Israeli government and friends, visiting Israel. This is a first-hand account of his experiences and may — as a result — not fully comply with Wikinews' neutrality policy. Please note this is a journalism experiment for Wikinews.

Dr. Yossi Vardi is known as Israel's 'Father of the Entrepreneur', and he has many children in the form of technology companies he has helped to incubate in Tel Aviv's booming Internet sector. At the offices of Superna, one such company, he introduced a whirlwind of presentations from his baby incubators to a group of journalists. What stuck most in my head was when Vardi said, "What is important is not the technology, but the talent." Perhaps because he repeated this after each young Internet entrepreneur showed us his or her latest creation under Vardi's tutelage. I had a sense of déjà vu from this mantra. A casual reader of the newspapers during the boom will remember a glut of stories that could be called "The Rise of the Failure"; people whose technology companies had collapsed were suddenly hot commodities to start up new companies. This seemingly paradoxical thinking was talked about as new back then; but even Thomas Edison—the Father of Invention—is oft-quoted for saying, "I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work."

Vardi's focus on encouraging his brood of talent regardless of the practicalities stuck out to me because of a recent pair of "dueling studies" The New York Times has printed. These are the sort of studies that confuse parents on how to raise their kids. The first, by Carol Dweck at Stanford University, came to the conclusion that children who are not praised for their efforts, regardless of the outcome's success, rarely attempt more challenging and complex pursuits. According to Dweck's study, when a child knows that they will receive praise for being right instead of for tackling difficult problems, even if they fail, they will simply elect to take on easy tasks in which they are assured of finding the solution.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Israel Journal: The Holy Land has an image problem

>>Full Story.

Wikinews reporter David Shankbone is currently, courtesy of the Israeli government and friends, visiting Israel. This is a first-hand account of his experiences about when he arrived to the country, what happend, and some interesting discussions that took place. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Over - Sean Heron at the World Climate Change Conference

The following is copied from his user page at his request. It has not been edited.

Yes, its over. After a day of limbo (at least thats how I felt) the Climate conference (finally) ended yesterday. And how crazy was that last day. Some of you might have seen comments I was making on Wikinews, and I just have to say again that I was really relieved when the US so unexpectedly agreed to the amended text (I was up there on the press gallery giving them standing ovations together with the rest of the plenary :D). I really saw everything coming apart beforehand, and from the worried expressions of fellow journalists, I saw that others were thinking the same (those that I spoke only confirmed this). I was glad I didn't see the guys from Germanwatch I did the translation for till after it was over though, cause their policy guy (who does the lobby work), told me that he had also been afraid it might fail at the last minute, and I would have given quite something on his opinion! But I guess this might all be a bit of detail overload (I reckon it shows you were my heart is).

So what happened/what have I been doing in the second week here on Bali? One quite nice thing that springs to mind was being invited by the Canadian Journalist I'm sharing a bungalow with (Toby Heaps) to have Dinner with some guys from TV. Afraid I can't recall their names, but these two, both based in Beijing had some real interesting stories to tell, from the US base in Kabul till how to get around paying Bagshish (bribe, have absolutely no idea how its usually spelt) when travelling in Indonesia or elsewhere.

Oh right, I did the aforementioned translation for the German NGO Germanwatch. They released their climate risk index on Monday or Tuesday, and I translated the press release into english (that being one of a number of things that kept me up till late during that week, SVTCobra :D).

Otherwise I've been connecting up to some young people from Europe with a view to the next two conferences on Monday and Tuesday (when there wasn't too much happening to be reported on, as all the action was behind closed doors in small groups then; hmm, not that this changed too much towards later really...). But I guess I should stay more focused on the news side of things :).

The high level segment was a blessing for me: there were no parallel events and the speeches weren't contributing to the ongoing negotiations in any meaningful manner, so I actually haven't seen one of them :D. I was guessing that as this (to me) non event went on there were sure to be some delegates available to interview, so I sent out some requests. Unfortunately most remained unreplied, the only ones to really get back to me were the Brazilians, but he told me something I hadn't fully realized previously: That everybody was pretty engaged in negotiations within smaller groups, and that he therefore did not believe that I'd be able to get to talk with anyone (which is what happened).

I have the impression I'm not really in storyteller mode at the moment, so thats all for now, and I hope it wasn't too boring. I hope to add a bit more over the next few days!

Regards, Sean Heron.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chief Operating Officer of Wikimedia Foundation was convicted felon

>>Full Story.

The Register, a British technology and satirical website, reports that a former Wikimedia Foundation Chief Operating Officer (COO) has a criminal record in at least four U.S. states: Texas, Maryland, Virginia and Florida.

Carolyn Bothwell Doran was the COO for six months from January to July 2007. The site lists known convictions as four counts of driving under the influence, two of check fraud and petty larceny, and one hit and run car accident which killed an unnamed individual. She also pleaded guilty to shooting a former boyfriend in the chest.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Interview with Reggie Bibbs on his life with neurofibromatosis

>>Full Story

Reggie Bibbs is a 42-year-old-man living in Houston, Texas. Mr Bibbs was born with a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis (NF), which causes him to develop tumours on his body. NF can be a subtle disease, but in Bibbs' case it has left him with a disfigured face. But he is happy with the way he looks, and doesn't want to change his appearance to please other people. He has launched a succesful campaign entitled "Just Ask", and that's just what Wikinews did in a video-interview.

The interview was prepared by Wikinews reporter Michaël Laurent with the help of Bertalan Meskó (who has a popular genetics and web 2.0 blog). Their questions were sent to a close friend of Mr. Bibbs, Lou Congelio, who conducted the interview.

First week almost over! - Sean Heron at the World Climate Change Conference

The following is copied from his user page at his request. It has not been edited.

Wow, yes, I´ve been here for a week now, but it doesn´t seem it! There tonnes of stuff going on, and its not easy to choose where to go and what to do: Monday and Tuesday there were two plenary sessions running in parallel most of the time, then there is a room that press conferences are being held more or less non stop by various organizations and nations, and lastly there are commonly four to six so called "side events" going on in a neighbouring hotel, which are usually informative presentations (one of the last I saw was on how deforestation and degredation can be measured by various satellite imaging methods). At the same time your making friendly and business connections with people here, astonishingly easy as well.. And in between all that I try to get to do some of the stuff I originally came here for, which is writing news :D. Under these conditions it easily turns 4 in the morning before you get home. On one occasion, noting that there was a market just opening, me and a befriended journalist from Canada (Toby Heaps) popped in between the dead chickens and piles of vegetables to grab some tuck, as he hadn´t eaten that evening.

But back to the event: I was very amazed at how accesable everything is, its in stark contrast to the way things were in Heiligendamm: At least this first week before the ministers arrived you could walk around the plenary while the sessions were being held, just approach the delegates in breaks, get up on stage after a Press Conference and ask Yvo de Boer this and that, basicly do more or less anything you please. The limits are the closed sessions, though I know some people that have slipped in those as well...

So all very open, but the flip side of the coin is that what your told informally is generally considered off the record. That means although I may be plenty in the know, there is nothing I can source that information to. So why have I done no interviews you ask? Well, no easy answer to that, I guess it comes down to me having set my priorities differently. One problem still is that, as I haven´t planned things out, the day rushes by, which one event racing after the next, hardly leaving a breather to think about what I could be doing instead of listening to the Umbrella group and the G77+ China argue about whether or not technology transfer is on the agenda or not for a good two hours. I must also admit that I´ve been contacting some enviromental NGO´s asking them if I can give them a hand in any way. I didn´t have much any luck with that at first, but I yesterday met with a German organisation, and might help them with a presentation and the entailing press release. I hope I don´t offend my colleagues here when I say that lending my support to these organisations is more important to me personally than doing reporting :/ .

Well, its been very interesting so far, and I want to thank those of you at home who have given me a hand with the articles, that was definitely much appreciated :D , as well as the feedback I´ve recieved. I reckon you might not be hearing from me here before the end of the conference, so till then I suppose.

P.S. for any German speakers: I´ve been blogged elsewhere. Oh, and you can see me asking a question at minute 19 + 30 secs here (can you say vanity :D ?).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jerusalem Post covers David Shankbone's Israel Trip

On Sunday The Jerusalem Post wrote an article about David Shankbone's upcoming trip to Israel for Wikimedia work, citing it as an "acknowledgement of the importance that the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia has in shaping opinion..."

The story is found here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

9 killed in Omaha, Nebraska mall shooting

>>Full Story

At least 9 people were killed and five were injured during a shooting at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska with the gunman committing suicide. Of the injured, two are still in critical condition.

"The shooter is male, and has died from a self inflicted gunshot wound," said a Omaha Police spokesman during a live press conference.

"We are setting up a station at the Hampton Inn for families and the victims," added the spokesman.

Police are not releasing names until all family members can be notified.

US military confirms authenticity of Standard Operating Procedures for Guantanamo Bay

>>Full Story.

In an exclusive report, the United States military has confirmed to Wikinews, in an e-mail, the authenticity of the 2004 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval base in Guantánamo Bay, which was leaked by Wikileaks on December 3, and first reported on by Wikinews.

"The document appears to be a valid 2004 Camp Delta SOP," said Rick Haupt, Commander, United States Navy Director of Public Affairs, Joint Task Force (JTF), Guantanamo Bay.

"While the document is 'Unclassified,' it is designated 'For Official Use Only' and for many reasons (to include the safety and security of U.S. service members) was not intended for mass distribution," added Haupt.

Click here for the exclusive report.

Former 'Top Model' contestant Whitney Cunningham defends plus size models, celebrates the "regular woman"

Once you get a chance to talk to West Palm Beach, Florida native Whitney Cunningham, who placed seventh on the eighth cycle of the popular reality TV series America's Next Top Model, you begin to understand what host Tyra Banks meant when she described her as the "full package."

First of all, she is confident and headstrong, which is a must on these kinds of shows, almost as much as it is to take a beautiful modelesque picture. Second, she turns that confidence into drive. She has been receiving steady work as a model since leaving the show, and still believes that her goal of being the first woman to wear a size ten dress on the cover of Vogue is in reach. Third, and probably most important to television viewers, she obliterates the age-old model stereotype that to be pretty and photograph well, one must also be vapid and without a thought. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Cunningham also dreams of becoming a writer, and is working toward dual goals: a model who can express herself like no other model before her.

Cunningham recently sat down with Wikinews reporter Mike Halterman in an impassioned interview, taking hours to field questions from the reporter as well as from fans of America's Next Top Model. Always in high spirits, Cunningham shows that she is a distinct personality who has carved her own niche in the Top Model history books. At the same time, she exhibits a joie de vivre that is oddly reminiscent of earlier Top Model fan favorite Toccara Jones, who showed America just how to be "big, black, beautiful and loving it." However, Cunningham is quick to remind everyone that she isn't big at all; she is simply a regular woman.

This is the first in a series of interviews with America's Next Top Model contestants. Interviews will be published sporadically.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Standard Operating Procedures change for Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay

>>Full Story

The wiki-based site Wikileaks today revealed another chapter in the story of the Standard Operations Procedure manual for the Camp Delta facility at Guantanamo Bay. The latest documents they have received are the details of the 2004 copy of the manual signed off by Major General Geoffrey D. Miller of the U.S. Southern Command. This is following on from the earlier leaking of the 2003 version. Wikileaks passed this document to people they consider experts in the field to carry out an analysis trying to validate it. Following this, they set out to assess what had changed between 2003 and 2004; including attempts to link publicly known incidents with changes to the manual.

Read the exclusive report, see the entire document, changes and Wikileaks investigation.

Wikinews interviews Al Sharpton

"People call me because they know I will come.  If nothing else you write, I have never fought a case where they didn’t ask me to come.  People have this picture like I’m sitting up in bed at night with a walkie-talkie.  'You hear anything?  Oh, let’s run!  It’s Virginia today!'"Image: David Shankbone.
"People call me because they know I will come. If nothing else you write, I have never fought a case where they didn’t ask me to come. People have this picture like I’m sitting up in bed at night with a walkie-talkie. 'You hear anything? Oh, let’s run! It’s Virginia today!'"
Image: David Shankbone.

At Thanksgiving dinner David Shankbone told his white middle class family that he was to interview Reverend Al Sharpton that Saturday. The announcement caused an impassioned discussion about the civil rights leader's work, the problems facing the black community and whether Sharpton helps or hurts his cause. Opinion was divided. "He's an opportunist." "He only stirs things up." "Why do I always see his face when there's a problem?"

Shankbone went to the National Action Network's headquarters in Harlem with this Thanksgiving discussion to inform the conversation. Below is his interview with Al Sharpton on everything from Tawana Brawley, his purported feud with Barack Obama, criticism by influential African Americans such as Clarence Page, his experience running for President, to how he never expected he would see fifty (he is now 53). "People would say to me, 'Now that I hear you, even if I disagree with you I don’t think you’re as bad as I thought,'" said Sharpton. "I would say, 'Let me ask you a question: what was "bad as you thought"?' And they couldn’t say. They don’t know why they think you’re bad, they just know you’re supposed to be bad because the right wing tells them you’re bad."

Go here to read the interview.

David Shankbone to go to Israel for Wikimedia

Commons photographer, Wikipedia editor and Wikinews reporter David Shankbone has been invited by the Israeli government to tour the holy land. He will be accompanying other journalists on a review of the technology industry (aerospace, defense, Internet, medical and industrial); review Arab-Jewish partnerships in the region; meet with business leaders to discuss some of their current projects; and take guided tours of many of Israel's holiest sites. The trip is completely financed by the Israeli government. Keep an eye out for new GFDL photographs of the Temple Mount, the Sea of Galilee, Tel Aviv and some of the companies and people he meets. Shankbone has requested interviews with the Prime Minster and the Defense Minister, but no confirmation has been received yet.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ten 'America's Next Top Model' contestants take your questions tomorrow!

Our next interview will be ten times as informative and fun, as we interview ten contestants from past cycles of America's Next Top Model. If you'd like to get some final questions in for:

Jennipher (C3)
Lluvy (C4)
Michelle (C4)
Keenyah (C4)
Furonda (C6)
Brooke (C7)
Jaeda (C7)
Samantha (C8)
Diana (C8)
Whitney (C8)

...then please go to this page. We encourage anyone and any agencies to ask a question.

The interview will be held in the chat room #wikinews-interviews at 4 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow (Sunday, December 2). Considering the volume of questions received, the interview probably will not end until 5:30, or 6:00 at the very latest.

For assistance in using IRC and logging onto the freenode network, please see this page.