Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wikipedia Class Action Lawsuit

I haven't seen too much else about this, but I'm fascinated that a group of unidentified people (as far as I could tell from the site) has initiated a class action lawsuit against Wikipedia. IANAL, but I don't see how you can sue when you have the power to change any comments on the site you believe to be libelous or otherwise incorrect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica

For all the Wikipedia doubters, Nature compared science entries on Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica and found them to have about the same number of errors.

Here's the best quote about the study, from Michael Twidale, an information scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica," Twidale adds. "Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one."

In other words, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

EFF launches blogger's rights campaign

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking bloggers to publicize their new blogger's rights campaign with graphical links like this one:

Clicking the button leads to a page that details blogger's rights, such as the right to blog anonymously, the right to make fair use of intellectual property, and the right to access public information.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Editors Weblog: Hyperlinking could change the writing styles of newspaper journalists

Interesting post on the Editors Weblog about the effect of hyperlinking on the style of newspaper articles.

"... if newspapers build background information pages to major stories complete with archives, infographics and video to which their journalists can link instead of having them accompany each new development with background info, it might provide all types of readers with more enjoyable reading experiences. Newcomers to stories would still have access to all the history they need, whereas those already informed would save precious seconds by not having to read background they have already gone over numerous times."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Editors Weblog: Three reasons for newspaper digital development

Editors Weblog provides three reasons newspapers should focus on digital development: growth, advertising, and journalism. In other words, survival.

Reporters Committee urges Third Circuit to recognize all citizens' rights to public records

From the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Delaware's Freedom of Information Act currently contains a "citizens only" provision that prevents people living outside the state from accessing its records. The case, Lee v. Governor of the State of Delaware, involves New York resident Matthew Lee, a freelance writer who also operates a nonprofit organization that publishes reports on business and financial matters and regulatory proceedings in Delaware. Lee successfully sued the Delaware attorney general in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, arguing that the provision is a violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it prevents him from pursuing the common calling of journalism within the state.

In my own home state, no less. I need to follow up on this.

The Library of Congress to build World Digital Library

From Wired News:

The Library of Congress is kicking off a campaign Tuesday to work with other nation's libraries to build a World Digital Library, starting with a $3 million donation from Google.

FEC says political Web log exempt from campaign law

From The Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The Federal Election Commission recognized the partisan Web log Fired Up! as a press entity that is allowed, like journalists, to cover and comment on political candidates without their positive comments being counted as campaign expenditures.

Another effort to block the democratization of journalism thwarted.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ok I'll bite: Why are the Republicans voting FOR the Murtha resolution?

UPDATE: This was a procedural vote - it just goes to show that even if you understand something about Congress, you practically have to have a degree in political science to understand what they do on a day-to-day basis.

Today I'm feeling like I'm suddenly too dumb to understand the news. First, I read several stories about the latest weirdness in the Plamegate story.

So I actually left the safe confines of my Tivo to go to live TV to see what the cable news networks were saying about it. I ended up on C-SPAN where the House was debating the Republican-modified Murtha resolution.

So what's my question, you ask? Why am I watching C-SPAN on a Friday night? No, that's not it. I don't understand why the Republicans are voting FOR the resolution that supports immediate troop withdrawal? Either there's some obvious reason I'm completely missing, or the world has tilted off its axis. Someone please explain!

Friday, November 11, 2005 - Frist concerned more about leaks than secret prisons

Saturday, November 05, 2005

ABC News: Silicon Insider: Forbes Fumbles the Blogosphere

ABC News: Silicon Insider: Forbes Fumbles the Blogosphere

Friday, October 28, 2005

Forbes' blogger-bashing cover story is a model of hypocrisy

Forbes cover story for its Nov. 14 issue is entitled Attack of the Blogs!. I'm having a hard time coming up with the best way to describe the piece without falling into the same trap that swallowed the article's writer, Daniel Lyons -- namely, that of hypocrisy. So I'm going to try my best to focus my criticism not on my former employer (as tempting as it is) but on Lyons' article.

The summary deck describes blogs thusly:

"Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective."

I can't imagine how Lyons managed to lift the amazingly broad brush he needed to paint this picture of the entire blogosphere, which reportedly includes tens of millions of blogs.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here are a few excerpt from the article (with interspersed commentary):

"Blogs started a few years ago as a simple way for people to keep online diaries. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It's not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can't even figure out who his attacker is."

Excuse me, Mr. Lyons, but could you tell us what percentage of the tens of millions of bloggers concentrate their efforts on such despicable content? And how does that number compare to journalists in the mainstream media? I'm just curious.

"Google and other services operate with government-sanctioned impunity, protected from any liability for anything posted on the blogs they host. Thus they serve up vitriolic "content" without bearing any legal responsibility for ensuring it is fair or accurate; at times they even sell ads alongside the diatribes."

Oh so the solution is prior restraint. I know -- let's also set up a system for licensing publishers before they are allowed to publish. That sounds like a capital 21st century idea.

"Dry treatises on patent law and trade policy don't drive traffic (or ad sales) for bloggers and hosts; blood sport does."

Exactly why doesn't this apply as much if not more to the mainstream media?

"Bloggers linked to one another's sites and posted on Brill's blog and elsewhere, creating an echo chamber in which, through repetition, the scandal began to seem genuine."

Because this never happens in the mainstream media....

"Microsoft's p.r. people have added blog-monitoring to their list of duties. The company also fields its own blog posse. Some 2,000 Microsofties publish individual blogs, adding a Microsoft voice to the town square."

Combatting speech with more speech... I think I've heard someone suggest this before...

"But if blogging is journalism, then some of its practitioners seem to have learned the trade from Jayson Blair."

Wait -- who did he work for again?

"Once blogger attacks begin, victims can resort to libel and defamation lawsuits, but "filing a libel lawsuit, the way you would against a newspaper, is like using 18th-century battlefield tactics to counter guerrilla warfare," says David Potts, a Toronto lawyer who is writing a book on cyberlibel. "You'll accomplish nothing and just get more ridicule." He tells clients to find a third party to bash the bloggers.

What? The law is lagging behind technological development? You want large corporations who are the target of many of the blog attacks you cite to use the legal system to fight back? How ridiculous!

"Halpern has had less luck getting anyone in Congress to listen to his (sic) plaint. He says that may change if a few politicians get a taste of what he has gone through. "Wait until the next election rolls around and these bloggers start smearing people who are up for reelection,"Halpern says. "Maybe then things will start to happen."

Of course... Because bloggers never attack politicians.

Interesting idea: Using the AOL-Weblogs Inc. deal to determine blogs' monetary value

I can't vouch for the methodology, but blogger Tristan Louis has developed a process for determining the value of a blog based on the amount paid by AOL for Weblogs Inc.

"In acquiring Weblogs Inc., AOL has now provided us with some numbers traditional media are willing to pay for a blog. Looking at the numbers above, one can try to guess at the value of a link from an external site. a single link on the weblogsinc network represents 0.002258559942180087 percent of the overall network.

Based on Louis' research, blogger Dane Carlson has developed a tool to help bloggers determine how much their blogs are worth.

According to their methodology, Insert Tech Here is worth $1,693.62 as of today. For comparison, the least valuable blog AOL acquired in the deal, Blogging E3, is worth $564.64, while the most valuable, Engadget, is worth $7.5 million.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ad exec tells publishers to maintain editorial quality

It's a sad day in journalism when an advertising executive has to scold newspaper publishers for letting editorial quality slip.

From E&P:

Bottom-line oriented publishers who chop away at their paper's news content are undermining their business, an executive with the big media planning firm Newspaper Services of America told the Inland Press Association at its annual meeting Monday.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

This is beyond insane: A patent on serving cereal


In October 2004, enterpreneur Rocco Monteleone started a cereal bar called Bowls in Gainesville, Florida. Located in a college town with no other cereal bars, Bowls appeared likely to be a successful venture.

However, recently cereal bar chain Cereality (which has no locations in Florida) threatened Bowls with lawsuits should Bowls tread on Cereality's turf. Cereality has patents pending to give them an exclusive right to six business methods, including "displaying and mixing competitively branded food products" and adding "a third portion of liquid." If these patents are approved by the U.S. Patent Office, Cereality would have a complete monopoly on cereal bar business--just for being the first to put together the legalese necessary to describe mixing breakfast cereal.

If you don't understand why this is awful, unacceptable, and completely insane, feel free to contact me and I'll explain.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

BBC news director admits MSM doesn't own the news

At the We Media conference, BBC news director Richard Sambrook acknowledged that the mainstream media don't own the news. Just more evidence that BBC gets it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Blog + Book = Blook

According to the BBC, Cory Doctorow has created the Blooker Prize, an annual award that will reward "the best writers of literary works that started life as online journals."

Doctorow has already pulled together a list of more than 100 potential candidates for the award.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Esquire experiment proves Wikipedia works

Esquire writer A.J. Jacobs only had to write a first draft for his latest article -- the rest of the work was done by volunteers.

The article is about Wikipedia. Jacobs posted a first draft with deliberate errors on the site, and the results show how effective Wikipedia can be. Wikipedia' volunteer editors corrected the factual errors and even clarified and punched up the writing.

A CNet article about the experiment reported Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' view of the experiment:

To Wales, the experiment was a good example of how a magazine might be able to use its readers to make for more complete journalism.

I'd settle for more accurate journalism, myself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Not even a slap on the wrist for disseminating propaganda

From the New York Times (registration required, use BugMeNot):

Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

Well Hallelujah! A win for the Fourth Estate! If only the law they broke had any provision for penalties. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Katrina blows away truth, erodes media's credibility

Well, it looks like civilization didn't break down quite as much as we thought in the aftermath of Katrina. Many of the rumors of the worst behavior are proving unfounded. At least, that's what the newspapers tell me.

Here's the problem: it's not all the media's fault. When push comes to shove, journalists will print anything as long as it can be attributed to 'officials.' When you have Mayor Ray Nagin talking about dead bodies and rapes in the Superdome on Oprah, most reporters are inclined (no matter what they say) to take his word for it. In an industry where the scoop still reigns supreme, relying on official reports is a time-honored survival technique for reporters who don't want to get bawled out by their editors for getting 'beaten' by a rival newspaper.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rare piece of good news in Apple case

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

A state Court of Appeal, in an Apple Computer trade secret case, ordered the unsealing of documents that could be essential to determining whether subpoenaed reporters must identify confidential sources.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Newspaper blog saves lives

How often can you credit journalists with saving lives? It's a great feeling. Anyone who hasn't checked out since the hurricane should do so -- it's a shining example of journalism at its best.

As a side note, notice that, in the OJR interview, NOLA editor Jon Donley explains that, when push came to shove, the most efficient way to publish was via the paper's blog, once again proving that content (not flashy layout) is king.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

AP's asap = as superficial as possible

The Associate Press is launching a "younger audience service" to targeted at readers between 18 and 34 years old, according to this NY Times piece (registration required.)

The service is called asap, which is supposed to stand for 'as soon as possible.' But as far as I can tell, asap is really the AP news wire recycled and embellished with redundant multimedia bells and whistles.

This quote from 37-year-old asap director Ted Anthony pretty much sums it up for me:

"We're pushing the envelope in terms of some of the things The A.P. has done, but we're maintaining A.P. values, not being biased, getting our facts right, being fair, giving people their say," he added. "But the fact is, some of what resonates the most with this audience is not necessarily traditional journalism, and so it will be a hybrid."

So it will be the same, but it will be different. Gotcha.

Tangentially, the NY Times article about the new service illustrates the NY Times' attitude about the current media climate:

A prototype also included a photo essay on vendors of street food in cities around the world, a piece that highlights The A.P.'s global reach. While bloggers often write about domestic events, rarely do they venture out to report firsthand on the outside world. The A.P.'s ability to do this could underscore for readers the strength of traditional news organizations that can afford to base reporters around the world. (Emphasis added)

Did I miss the attribution in that sentence? Is this the AP's opinion or the Times'?

Besides that, I guess the Times isn't aware of the worldwide network of bloggers who have been exposing themselves to arrest and attack to report on what's going on around the world. Maybe they should do some reporting themselves.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cancel your Yahoo email account or end up in a Chinese prison

While that's unlikely to happen to readers in the US or other Western countries, it has happened to Chinese journalist Shi Tao, thanks in part to information provided by Yahoo to Chinese authorities.

From the CS Monitor piece:

Shi was arrested in November, and convicted in April of "providing state secrets abroad." He had e-mailed personal notes from a staff meeting about overseas Chinese returning for the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.


"We think Yahoo's role is very sad in this case, and we hope Yahoo reexamines its policies," says Abi Wright of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has been following Shi's case for months. "But frankly, it isn't Yahoo but the Chinese authorities who are jailing this man, and we feel the focus of attention needs to remain on the authorities."

Katrina's aftermath and the administration's mistrust of the media

I signed off in July partly out of dismay following the attacks on London. Two months later, here I am, posting about another even more disturbing disaster -- the devastation in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

The interaction between the press and the government during this crisis has been (and I suspect will continue to be) fascinating. But while reading a NYT piece about Bush's slap on the wrist to his crony, FEMA Director Michael Brown, a thought occurred to me that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere (as usual please do correct me if I am wrong.)

What if the federal government's glacial reaction in the days following the disaster was caused, in some small part, by their complete mistrust of the media?

According to the story, Bush had been getting regular reports from Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (as a blackly humorous aside, see New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial cartoonist Steve Kelley's take on TweedleBrown and TweedleChertoff.) Nevertheless he didn't know about the situation in the Superdome until an aide brought him a news report on Thursday.

Let that sink in -- Thursday. Two days after Bush magnanimously cut his vacation short and returned to the Oval Office, he didn't know what the rest of America knew. Why is that? Could it be, as Paula Zahn asked Brown, that he hadn't been watching TV? Or was it that Bush and his administration have such little regard for the news media that they dismissed what they were seeing? I really wish someone would ask him this question.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Summer hiatus

If it isn't already obvious given the lack of postings lately, I've gone on summer hiatus. To be honest, I sat down at my computer on July 7 to fume about the LA Times ridiculous handling of its 'wikitorial' experiment, but the news of the day took the wind out of my sails. My heart goes out to the victims of all the terrorist attacks brought on by religious intolerance and political pigheadedness. For now, that's all I have to say.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Making reading on the web "better than on paper"

A research project at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is using artificial intelligence to identify relevant sections of text in a document based on the search terms you used to find it. provides an internetworked compendium of commentary and analysis of Shakespeare's masterwork. And the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab is using Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to enable long texts to be read on tiny cell phone screens.

The projects are all mentioned in a Christian Science Monitor piece entitled 'How the Web changes your reading habits'. But I think this headline is a misnomer. What the projects show is that reading can be enhanced by leveraging the unique aspects of the web.

News organizations need to embrace these techniques -- hyperlinking, natural language processing and other AI techniques, and the low cost of providing large archives of information -- to give readers a reason to use their websites for more than a quick scan of the top headlines. Granted, these types of sites aren't cheap to implement, so maybe they could be provided as a premium service -- readers need a reason to pay news organizations, and providing commodity news just doesn't meet the value test anymore.

Of course, given the lameness of most MSM efforts to take advantage of the web (see Wikitorial Pulled Due to Vandalism, these types of sophisticated information applications are likely out of their reach for the foreseeable future.

More on the LA Times wikitorial fiasco to come. For now, let me sum up my opinion on the subject with one word: Duh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Slashdot: LA Times Pulls Wikitorial, Blames Slashdot

From Slashdot:

"The LA Times pulled down it's "beta" wikitorial after people began inserting obscene content faster than the editors could remove it... The NY Times notes the fact that the bulk of the vandalism occurred after a posting about the wikitorial appeared on Slashdot."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Article on citizen journalism omits a key component

Steve Outing has written a wonderful overview of styles of citizen journalism. The article contains a lot of interesting tidbits to comment on, but I'll restrict myself to the two most pertinent IMHO:

1. I strongly suspect that most newspaper reporters, editors, and executives would cringe at most if not all of the ideas presented here.

2. Outing left out one important feature that can help mitigate many of the problems raised by citizen journalism (offensive comments, inaccuracies, filtering based on quality), namely, moderation. Slashdot has been using it for years, and frankly the site wouldn't work without it. With it, the site has remained one of the most popular technology news/discussion sites on the web.

Slashdot grants moderation points to a select group of users (not always the same ones), based on users who have logged in and created accounts, frequency of visits to the site, length of readership (how long ago you registered), and 'karma', or the number of moderation points a reader has collected on his or her postsl.

Here's an excerpt from Slashdot's FAQ:

The end result is a pool of eligible users that represent (hopefully) average, positive Slashdot contributors... It all works to make sure that everyone takes turns, and nobody can abuse the system, and that only "regular" readers become moderators (as opposed to some random newbie ;)

When moderators are given access, they are given a number of points of influence to play with. Each comment they moderate deducts a point. When they run out of points, they are done serving until next time it is their turn.

Moderation takes place by selecting an adjective from a drop down list that appears next to comments containing descriptive words like "Flamebait" or "Informative." Bad words will reduce the comment's score by a single point, and good words increase a comment's score by a single point.

Moderation points expire after 3 days if they are left unused. You then go back into the pool and might someday be given access again.

And from the FAQ question 'Moderation seems restrictive. Is it really necessary?'

In short, yes.

As you might have noticed, Slashdot gets a lot of comments. Thousands a day. Tens of thousands a month. At any given time, the database holds 50,000+ comments. A single story might have a thousand replies- and let's be realistic: Not all of the comments are that great. In fact, some are down right terrible, but others are truly gems.

The moderation system is designed to sort the gems and the crap from the steady stream of information that flows through the pipe. And wherever possible, it tries to make the readers of the site take on the responsibility. (emphasis added)

The goal is that each reader will be able to read Slashdot at a level that they find appropriate. The impatient can read nothing at all but the original stories. Some will only want to read the highest rated of comments, some will want to eliminate anonymous posts, and others will want to read every last drip of data, from the First Posts! to the spam. The system we've created here will make that happen. Or at least, it sure will try...

Lots of people complain about the system and disagree on the quality of posts, but overall the system works extremely well - I tend to read comments filtered down to the top 40 or 50, and I almost always find that one or two add valuable information and/or insight to the original story. On the other hand, I almost never see juvenile or inflammatory posts at this level of filtering.

I really wonder if people in the mainstream journalism arena aren't aware of this system (which is available free through Slashdot's open source content management system, so no one has to reinvent the wheel) or if there's something about it that they feel wouldn't work for their sites. I think I see an article in this...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Congress takes a step away from 1984

Against the Bush Administration's wishes, the House of Representatives has voted to repeal one of the more obnoxious provisions of the Big Brother is Watching... er, I mean, the US Patriot Act.

In a move that may signal a tougher battle ahead, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday to remove the Patriot Act provision that "allows federal agents to examine people's book-reading habits at public libraries and bookstores as part of terrorism investigations."

Here's my favorite quote from a Patriot Act supporter in the article:

But supporters of the Patriot Act say the vote will make libraries a "safe haven" for terrorists.

"If there are terrorists in libraries studying how to fly planes, how to put together biological weapons, how to put together chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, ... we have to have an avenue through the federal court system so that we can stop the attack before it occurs," said Rep. Tom Feeney, (R) of Florida.

Yes, that's the problem. The terrorists are going to win because they are reading books. Do these people think before they talk?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

LA Times to introduce 'wikitorials'

LA Times Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez recently wrote a letter to readers in which he announced several upcoming changes in the editorial section. There are some interesting ideas, such as allowing members of the editorial board to dissent from an editorial once a year.

But the biggest announcement has to be this:

Watch next week for the introduction of "wikitorials" — an online feature that will empower you to rewrite Los Angeles Times editorials.

Several members of a mailing list about online journalism objected strenuously to this idea. They gave several reasons, including the notion that allowing readers to edit editorials implies that the editorial board lacks the courage of their convictions.

For my part, I think it's brilliant. Newspapers will only improve their dismal public reputation by coming down off their pedestals. Involving readers in both reporting and editing is a key way to do this. Objections to the contrary signify a lack of self confidence, in my opinion. But at this point, how much do they have to lose?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No wonder people have such a poor opinion of journalists

According to a survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 40 percent of Americans consider Fox News' Bill O'Reilly a journalist. Another 27 percent think the same of Rush Limbaugh. On the other hand, only 30 percent identified Bob Woodward as a journalist (the poll was conducted before the Deep Throat identity story broke, so I'm really hoping this is just ignorance.)

The following understatement comes from an AP story about the poll:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the poll results suggest the public defines the word "journalist" far differently than those in the press define it.


'The Web can be anything, anywhere'

Neat story about services that allow you to 'hyperlink' in the real world, using coded messages and cell phones. Yellow Arrow, for example, lets you post a coded yellow arrow anywhere - on a building, street sign, or even a t-shirt. People who see the arrow can dial the code on their cell phone and get a message. One professor had students post arrows at 'overlooked historical sites.'

Yellow Arrow calls itself the 'first global art project.' But I see a potential application for journalists, particularly citizen journalists. When something happens, you can post an arrow, then send your 'report' to Yellow Arrow using your cell phone. Obviously this will work best in urban areas. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot of potential.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sign of the coming apocalypse: Abu Ghraib abuse called 'nonsense'

This isn't about online journalism, but I couldn't help raising this question - what is wrong with people? In a column entitled 'Newspapers on the front lines of today's cultural war,' (registration required) Sacramento Bee Public Editor Armando Acuna excerpts quotes from reader responses to his last column in which he puzzled about 'readers continuing to lose faith in American newspapers.' Here are two quotes from those readers:

"'Look at the media's obsession with reporting so-called prisoner abuse and desecration of the Quran. It's an unrelenting drive to discredit Bush, whom they hate and it's damaging the country immensely. Media reports exaggerate otherwise minor offenses and inflame other countries' hatred for us.' -- Jim Hudock, 57, a self-described 'Independent' who lives in Folsom, Calif. and works in the oil industry. (emphasis added)

'How many times did we hear that these conflicts [in Iraq and Afghanistan] would result in massive U.S. and civilian casualties? That we were bogged down? That there was no hope? The repetition of the Abu Ghraib nonsense, and now the same about Gitmo? Please.' -- Curt Swanson, 44, an attorney and registered Democrat who lives in Sacramento. (emphasis added)

I understand everyone is mad at Al Qaeda -- I've said many times I'd kill Osama bin Laden myself if I had the chance. I watched the Towers fall from across the Hudson River, not on television. My hometown at the time, Hoboken, reportedly lost more people per capita in the terrorist attack than any other.

I also understand that most people are mad at the media -- because of my background as a journalist, I shake my head in shame AND anger when I see the Fourth Estate tearing itself down.

But regardless of one's political, religious, or social views, I cannot fathom calling what I saw in those pictures from Abu Ghraib 'nonsense.' Nor can I imagine calling even unproven prisoner abuse a 'minor offense.'

With attitudes like these, we may win the war on terrorism, but we're going to lose our humanity. How can these people not see that?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Privileged reporter misses the point of the Internet

James Fallows calls search engines "pathetically weak" and "surprisingly ineffective." He bases these epithets on his personal experience:

Recently, for example, I was trying to track the changes in California's spending on its schools... When I finally called an education expert on a Monday morning, she gave me the answer off the top of her head... But that was only after I'd wasted what seemed like hours over the weekend with normal search tools."

Well, to put it bluntly, duh. Of course it's easier to get an answer to a complex question from an expert than by performing your own search (not that experts are always right...) But Fallows is overlooking one key fact: most people don't have the access to experts that a reporter has. Sure, you can call your local librarian, but there's a good chance he or she is going to search an online database, if not the Internet, for the information.

Fallows misses the point of the Internet: it provides access to every conceivable type of information to everyone with a Net connection, not just New York Times reporters. But then, that seems to be what old school journalists are afraid of.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

'Published' just doesn't mean what it used to

Over at Corante, Clay Shirky is talking about the "downside of the mass amateurization of pubishing." Namely, the ease with which an amateur publisher can generate buzz. Here's an excerpt:

This is the downside of the mass amateurization of publishing. Since the threshold for exclusion from the Wikipedia is so low, there is almost no value in thinking “Hey, it’s got a Wikipedia article — must be serious.” We have the sense-memory of that way of thinking from the days where it cost money to publish something, and this class of reputation hack relies on that memory to seed the network with highly targeted ads.

I can't say I agree with Shirky's view that this type of thing is the result of the Internet. As usual, the Internet is just magnifying an existing phenomenon. Information consumers are subjected to this kind of astroturfing in many forms of media.

However, this is an important issue to keep bringing up, because many information consumers are still far too gullible (or universally skeptical, which amounts to the same thing.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Smart move by Newsweek

In a rare win-win situation for the blogosphere and the MSM, a Newsweek executive has announced that the weekly magazine will begin publishing links to relevant Technorati posts next to its articles. Newsweek gets more traffic and some virtual street cred, while some bloggers will significantly raise their profile in the blogosphere if they get mentioned.

I can't wait to see how this turns out...

The power of voice: Why blogs beat message boards

Lee LeFever of Common Craft has written an amusing little story about a hypothetical boxing match between Mean Mr. Message Board and Bad Bad Leroy blog. The gist of the story is that blogs beat out message boards because they are created and managed (usually) by a single person, while message boards rely on a group without a head for content creation and management.

This is one of the reasons why having a powerful voice is important to the success of blogs - voice personalizes a blog and makes it stand out from the blogosphere as a whole. It's also why blog journalism tends to toss objectivity out the window - it's much harder to develop a cult of personality when you're trying to repress your own opinions.

Thanks to BusinessWeek's Blogspootting for the link.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Citizen journalists investigate Gitmo

Susan Hu of the Booman Tribune is organizing volunteers to read the thousands of pages of documentation on detainees in Guantanamo Bay released during the past few months. The effort is quite disorganized (this page is the best one I could find to point to); but it's nothing short of brilliant. Even professional reporters these days don't have time to read this much documentation (one reason the government tends to release so much at one time.)

While some of the volunteers may be less qualified than the average journalist to dig through government documents, others are more so - the site lists five medical experts to whom other volunteers can direct questions.

I wish I had a class I could sic on this project.

(Thanks to Dan Gillmor for the link.)

Wired EIC explains why blogs are better than traditional journalism

I may have to stop reading Wired EIC Chris Anderson's website because I'm afraid I'm going to get whiplash from vigorously nodding my head in agreement.

This time, he elegantly sums up blog journalism's strengths, makes two points I tried to pound into my Online Newswriting students' heads, and properly scopes the domain of blogs (in short, niches).

He also admits his own publication could do a better job doing the things blogs do better.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Blog carnivals: Is this journalism?

Bora Zivkovic has posted an interesting article on his Science and Politics blog entitled Blog Carnivals And The Future Of Journalism. As he says, "A blog carnival is a blog-post that contains links to posts on other blogs." Could something like that possibly be journalism?

My answer for now: maybe. I have been arguing to my students that filtering is a primary valuable activity for online journalists to provide to their readers. But is it enough? I just don't know yet.

Bora doesn't seem to have any doubts. Toward the end of the article he makes this dramatic prediction:

I have a hunch that in the future it will be the blog carnivals that will emerge as the online equivalents of hard-copy media. Carnivals organized around strong concepts, published on rigorous schedules, well-archived, and community-run will outlive their mushy competitors and become the online equivalents of not just TIME magazine, but also GQ, Vogue, Parenting, National Geographic, People, and, why not, Science and Nature.

I'd hate to think that all journalists do, even the best, is to aggregate pointers to information produced elsewhere. But maybe I'm more biased than I think I am....

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

From JD Lasica: Top 10 assaults on digital liberties

JD Lasica has put together a great summary of the U.S. government's 1984-esque efforts to restrict digital liberties. If you're not aware of any of these, you should be. The most obviously important assault for journalism is the growing restriction of fair use, but everything on the list has the potential to limit development of online journalism, such as podcasting (as just one example.)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Sound seeing: An awesome new application of Podcasting

Hack your local museum: that's the approach of unofficial museum guides who have been releasing recordings of museum tours as Podcast files over the Internet. Instead of buying the museum's version (or in addition to) of the audio tour, you can now download audio tours that are often more irreverent and funny, and sometimes complete with soundtrack, according to this New York Times article.

Did I mention I love the Internet?

Friday, May 27, 2005

From the 'What were they thinking?' column

Detroit Newspapers recently sold full page ads on page one of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News to Marshall Field's. Yeah, this is going to help with circulation - good move, guys. I know magazines do cover wraps, but they don't give over their covers to ads, as far as I know. Ewww....

Thursday, May 26, 2005

This column gave me whiplash

Using the Media for a Magic Trick, by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, is a brilliantly-written column with which I alternately agreed and disagreed vehemently while reading. Here's an overview of the back and forth:

AGREE: "If we covered government, business, foreign affairs, sports, entertainment and the rest of modern existence as aggressively and thoroughly as we cover ourselves, we might not have to worry so much about declining newspaper circulation and anemic television ratings."

DISAGREE: "And even if the so-called mainstream media turn out to be dinosaurs, fated to suffocate in the oxygen-poor, fact-free Internet blogosphere, at least we'd go down swinging." (Emphasis added)

AGREE: "That was an awfully neat parlor trick the Bush administration performed last week, focusing attention on the reporting and editing process at Newsweek and away from more inconvenient facts."

These first three sentences followed one after the other, causing the worst of the whiplash. But it continues:

DISAGREE: "It's the job of a free press to watch the hand the magician wants everyone to ignore. Normally we do a decent job." (Comment: Not so much lately.)

DISAGREE: "[Isikoff] accurately wrote what he had been told by a person in a position to know. That's what reporters do." (Comment: This is a cop out. Argh! Two disagrees in a row.)

AGREE: "But without unnamed sources, we -- and you -- would be less well-informed. To cite just one example, Watergate would be nothing more than the name of an expensive apartment building overlooking the Potomac... this is the most secretive administration in recent memory. If you say inconvenient things out loud, with your name attached, you get frozen out. Unnamed sources are a necessity."

AGREE: "Let me get this straight: The White House makes a mistake on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, relying heavily on its own unidentified sources who turn out to have their own political agendas, and what follows is a war in which tens of thousands of Iraqis die.... And we're supposed to blame Newsweek's editorial procedures?" (Comment: There! Two agrees in a row. That balances things out.)

Gitmo Koran abuses: Everyone looks bad

Why Michael Isikoff ever acknowledged a link between his report on abuses of the Koran at Gitmo and the Afghan riots is beyond me.

Now, of course, we know that, while he was still wrong, he wasn't anywhere near as wrong as some people are making him out to be. At the very least, we know there have been allegations of Koran abuse, which is serious enough in the context of other substantiated abuses of military detainees.

And yet those who have been howling for Isikoff's head are disdainfully dismissing the extensive FBI reports of alleged prisoner abuse.

That's fine for pundits. But why aren't more people outraged by White House spokesman Scott McClellan's (and, by extension, the President's) hypocrisy? When has this administration ever admitted it was wrong, let alone apologized for it? Why does the press get slammed for every misstep, while the administration doesn't even get reprimanded for clear ethical, if not legal, violations?

I really don't want to make this a political blog. I certainly don't want to be lumped in with liberal bloggers (or any well-defined group of bloggers, for that matter). But hypocrisy is one of my serious pet peeves, and I can't stand by without calling the administration on it.

On the other hand, Newsweek's handling of the whole situation hasn't done anything to improve the media's credibility crisis. In this story, everyone comes out looking bad.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blogosphere: Half forensic lab, half tavern

Yet another pithy definition of the blogosphere, this time from Michael Cornfield, an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and the chief author of "Buzz, Blogs and Beyond," a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project and market research firm BuzzMetrics.

"The magic of the Internet is you can be looking at evidence, at direct documentation, while you're talking," Mr. Cornfield was quoted as saying in a New York Times article about the study. "It would be as if the Nixon tapes were available in MP3 format during Watergate."

The Times article about the study didn't contain anything fascinating other than Cornfield's quote, but here's a link anyway.

Rocketboom: An interesting experiment raises questions

There's a very interesting discussion going on at videoblogging site Rocketboom. The exchange was engendered by a May 20 special report posted on the site about an alleged incident of police brutality. (Warning: the page launches right into the report, so turn down your speakers first.) The comments vacillate wildly between 'excellent stuff' and 'disappointing'. IMHO, the debate comes down to Rocketboom's intention - are they producing entertainment or reporting truth?

An excerpt from my comments:

If the intent, as Quirky suggests, was pure entertainment and the desire to satsify people's desire "to hear tales of victimization. Others' pain." then so be it. That's not a goal I'm personally interested in, but I strongly support the right of anyone to say anything they want for any reason (I even have my doubts about the whole crying fire in a crowded theater thing.)

However, if the intent was to present these people's story as truth, then I think the report falls significantly short. I am skeptical by nature; I'm sorry to admit I do not take people at their word. People have to earn my trust, as I expect to earn theirs. That goes doubly when the matter is as serious as this one.

So my question to Amanda and the producers of Rocketboom is, if you were intending to present this report as truth, what evidence do you have other than these people's word that it is so?

UPDATE: Another thought, prompted by this article about investigative blogging from Steve Outing - if Rocketboom was trying to present the truth and/or trying to help this family, it would have behooved them to provide more identifying information so that viewers could follow up on the story for themselves. To anticipate one objection, if the family is telling the truth and are willing to go on camera, they shouldn't be concerned about providing their full names for the record.

Sidenote: it's amazing how much blogging I can do when I can't sleep! :)

Congress mandates Constitution Day programs at colleges

I don't agree with how it was done (rider on a spending bill) and I think it's a disturbing precedent (Congress dictating curriculum), but I can't help but agree with Sen. Robert Byrd's mandate that schools that receive federal money must teach students about the Constitution on Constitution Day (Sept. 17, in case you didn't know.) As I've mentioned before, the lack of knowledge among high school students about the First Amendment is appalling, despite the wailing in the post article by the National School Boards Association rep that public schools already cover the Constitution.

If I can get my act together I'm going to propose the Rowan Journalism department sponsor a First Amendment symposium on that day.

Praise for pop culture: Could this include the blogosphere?

I've just gotten around to reading an excerpt from the latest fascinating book by my current favorite nonfiction author, Steven Johnson, entitled Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. I'll leave you to read the excerpt (the title gives enough away for my purpose).

What I'm wondering is whether Johnson's premise can be applied to the current news environment in general and the blogosphere in particular. When Walter Cronkite told us that was the way it was, we believed him straight away. But even if we didn't, we didn't have too many other sources to examine for alternative explanations (I'm exaggerating a bit, but compared to today my statement might as well be true.) Now, each news consumer has no choice but to evaluate the tidbits of information they collect from a wide variety of sources. Is it possible that there's a good side to the current crisis in journalism?

In any case, I'm heading out to buy Johnson's new book today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bill O'Reilly goes way too far

I know what those of you who aren't O'Reilly fans are thinking - doesn't he go too far every day? But this time, it's disgusting. Here's the first sentence of an editorial from the May 24 LA Times:

In a May 17 radio broadcast, telephilosopher Bill O'Reilly fantasized unpleasantly that terrorists might "grab" the Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor "out of his little house and … cut his head off." O'Reilly went on, "And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.' "

That's not journalism. That's not punditry. It sure as hell isn't fair and balanced. If he really said that (I tried to find a transcript but the archives on O'Reilly's site require a paid subscription) Bill O'Reilly has proven he is a thug, a bully, an unfit to be on television (or radio.)

In case you're wondering, the LA Times says O'Reilly was upset with Michael Kinsley, the editorial and opinion editor, because of a thoroughly reasonable May 17 editorial about the Newsweek fiasco.

Whether you agree or disagree with the editorial, you should see that O'Reilly's comment was shameful. If you don't, then shame on you too.

Monday, May 23, 2005

If one more person blames the riots on Newsweek, I'm going to scream

I go on vacation for a week and return to find out that the world's tilted slightly more towards complete insanity while I was gone. How in the world can anyone blame Newsweek for 17 deaths during anti-American riots in Afghanistan? Evidently it's true that guns don't kill people; magazines do. Arrggh!

I'm dumbfounded. Thankfully, Frank Rich managed to capture my thoughts exactly.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The blogosphere's long tail

Wired EiC Chris Anderson once again elegantly summarizes a complex issue - what is the blogosphere? As he says:

The first rule of the blogosphere is not to generalize about the blogosphere... In short, blogs are a Long Tail, and it is always a mistake to generalize about the quality or nature of content in the Long Tail--it is, by definition, variable and diverse.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

CNN president calls news judgment 'elitist'

During an interview on the May 6 edition of WNYC's On the Media, Brooke Gladstone repeatedly asked CNN President Jonathan Klein to justify the network's overwhelming coverage of the so-called 'runaway bride' incident. The conversation included the following exchange:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It seems to me that, for the purposes of our discussion, you keep equating stories like Lebanon, which need no justification, with a weird little blip of a story like the runaway bride, which actually does need some justification.

JONATHAN KLEIN: Well, and yet, that's possibly a pretty elitist thing to say, because I don't know that you can say that one story needs justification, one doesn't. Who are you to argue with "the people" who flock to watch one story and not the other?

I guess that tells us how CNN makes coverage decision these days, huh?

BBC Backstage: Brilliant!

The BBC has launched Backstage, a service that allows anyone to 'remix' BBC content. I can't endorse this announcement strongly enough - instead of fighting progress, the BBC has found a brilliant way of working with it. It's hard to understand the significance without concrete examples, so check out the prototypes page.

One developer has already created "a social bookmarking tool just for BBC News that allows logged in users to tag/bookmark stories and view related stories that other users have tagged using similar terms."

Another protoype turns the BBC World News Feed into a podcast. Thank God - now I won't have to listen to the pledge drive on NPR on the way to graduation tomorrow!

Seriously though, any news organization that doesn't seriously consider following the BBC's lead may as well accept the inevitability of its impending extinction.

Monday, May 09, 2005

You say tomato....

I was surprised to read Dan Gillmor's take on the CNN comment spam story making the rounds in the blogosphere. Gillmor is focusing on what is, IMHO, a minor point in Nick Lewis' post suggesting that CNN is trying to decrease his Google page rank.

As I said before, I'm not convinced CNN had anything to do with this, but that's not what's interesting about Lewis' post. In addition to his evidently sincere effort to ferret out the source of the spam comments, here are the sentences I found interesting:

Regarless (sic) of whether this was CNN or a smear artist, allowing these guerrilla marketing campaigns to continue could result in our blogs -- leftwing and rightwing alike -- to become the battlefield in ratings war between two of the largest media giants.


Some people feel that the comment spams were mere PR, and nothing to worry about. Others, like myself, believe that we must do our best to avoid a world where we constantly have to second guess whether or not we are talking to PR spam, or a human being. In the end it’s up to each of us to decide how far we're willing to go to defend the blogosphere from marketing imposters.
(emphasis added)

I hate to indulge in nostalgia, but in the 21st century it seems every message we encounter has been co-opted by PR or marketing efforts to sell us something. While it may or may not be happening yet, I do believe the scenario Lewis suggests is possible -- I can absolutely see marketers attempting to latch onto the coattails of popular blogs through whatever means necessary.

One final point: I found the title for Gillmor's post rather disingenuous -- "Pure Speculation Makes 'News'". As if this were an unusual occurrence. Pure speculation makes news every day. I can't see calling Lewis out on this point at all.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Good example of 'expert editing'

Matt Vance's May 4 article in Playlist surveys ways to find new music online (not how to get it, mind you; just how to identify which new bands you might like.)

To me, the article is a perfect example of what Bob Benz and Mike Phillips recently called 'expert editing.' The article is a true timesaver -- Vance has scoured the net looking for sites that provide music recommendations. Vance has saved me hours by not only separating the wheat from the chaff, but also explaining why he chose each site. From there, I can pick the three or four sites that interest me.

I'm sure not all journalists would agree, but I would argue this is a valid form of online journalism, certainly of the 'news you can use' variety. It sure beats some of the useless, self-serving, and unethical rubbish that passes for journalism on major networks and in major newspapers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

South Asia: Where journalism is much more than a joke

Thousands of Asian journalists rallied this week on World Press Freedom Day to protest media censorship. It's easy for us in America to forget that while many of our journalists waste their time (and ours) on rehashing press releases and chasing celebrities, many reporters still don't have anything remotely resembling First Amendment protections.

Paul Graham: 'PR diving', authentic writing, and the decline of the MSM

Paul Graham, author of one of my favorite essays of all time, has published another brilliant essay on his website, entitled The Submarine.

The article addresses the tawdry, symbiotic relationship between public relations firms and the MSM. He goes on to explain why the web in general and blogs in particular are bringing the sordid details of this relationship to light.

My favorite quotes:

Most people who publish online write what they write for the simple reason that they want to. You can't see the fingerprints of PR firms all over the articles, as you can in so many print publications-- which is one of the reasons, though they may not consciously realize it, that readers trust bloggers more than Business Week.


Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It's not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It's people writing what they think.

This essay should be required reading for all members of the MSM. And I'm considering including 'PR diving' in my next Online Newswriting class.

Interesting theory on Apple's anti-blogger lawsuit

Robert Cringely has an interesting theory in the last few paragraphs of his April 28th column on why Apple is taking legal action against three blogs to uncover the source of unreleased product information the bloggers published on their sites. (See my earlier post.)

I'm torn as to how to feel about this. On one hand, I'd be relieved to know that Apple felt obligated to talk tough on intellectual property to look good in the eyes of the music and movie moneygrubbers. On the other hand, I'd be pretty repulsed if it were true because it would mean that a multi-billion dollar company in one of the best phases of its history has to rattle its own user base just to keep the moneygrubbers happy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Riddle me this, blogosphere

Nick Lewis suspects CNN may have engaged in a guerrila marketing campaign by posting blog comments to 'promote' some of their new shows.

The responses to Lewis' research fall largely into three groups:
* Great work!
* Interesting, but I'm not convinced
* You've been scammed, Lewis!

I myself fall into the second category - there's no smoking gun. But I strongly praise Lewis for doing research, something many professional journalists seem to have forgotten how to do (if they ever knew at all.)

As is most often the case, the truth may remain unknown. But journalists are always fighting this uphill battle. The best any journalist has ever been able to do is to do the research (as Lewis did) and see where it leads. Anyone who doesn't want to call that journalism is fooling themselves.

Sidenote: what would be really ironic is if Lewis cooked the whole thing up to generate buzz about his blog. Not that I think it's true, but considering all the possibilities is like playing a game of mental Twister.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Insightful piece advocating 'Napsterized news'

Bob Benz and Mike Phillips from Scripps have written an insightful proposal for creating a new news cooperative in the wake of the Associated Press' decision to charge clients an additional fee for publishing AP content on their websites.

Even more interesting than their proposal, IMHO, is their analysis of current trends in the news business, which contains this point:

As content loses value, expert editing and customer-driven bundling are becoming the tools for building audience. And audience -- not content -- is the news industry’s value proposition.

I've been telling my students all semester that synthesis, filtering, and context are the keys to a journalist's success in the new news environment. Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Knight Ridder reporter credits Counterterrorism Blog for scoop

In his April 15th article, Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Lindsay credits Counterterrorism Blog writer Larry Johnson for exposing the State Department's decision not to publish a 19-year-old international terrorist report.

But not everyone's giving Johnson, a former CIA analyst who also worked in the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism, the credit he deserves. WNYC's On the Media gave the story top billing in its April 22 edition (where I heard the news, incidentally.) In their piece, they credit Landay with breaking the story. Landay does mention Johnson during the interview, but why didn't On the Media give Johnson the credit for the scoop?

The show's disregard for Johnson is all the more ironic because On the Media publishes its show each week via podcast, indicating they are on top of the new media revolution. However, it seems some habits, such as waiting for the MSM to report before considering a story published, are harder than others to break.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Another journalist weighs in on objectivity

The LA Times has published a column entitled "Objectivity Is Highly Overrated" by Victor Navasky, the publisher of The Nation and a professor of journalism at Columbia University.

The column contains a fabulous quote that, in my opinion, could help set the direction for journalism in the 21st century:

But suppose the purpose of opinion journalism is less to develop the facts (unless they are missing from the mass media) than to ask the right questions? Suppose the information that democracy requires can be generated not by "the facts" but only by the rigorous and vigorous policy debate and moral argument that journals of opinion were founded to provide?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Carnegie reports on the future of the news business

A new study from the Carnegie Corporation entitled Abandoning the News confirms many of the trends I've talked about on this blog: the rise of the Internet as the primary source of news for younger people, the backlash against objectivity, and the rise of participatory journalism.

Regardless of whether you see these trends as positive developments (as I do) or signs of the coming apocalypse (as many in the MSM do), I think it's important for anyone involved in journalism or mass media to read Merrill Brown's outstanding discussion of the report in the Spring issue of the Carnegie Reporter.

I've extracted a number of the most interesting comments in Brown's article and interspersed them with my commentary. Read on...

The daily audiences of national news web sites dwarf those of their print counterparts.

Brown doesn't provide specifics, but this is a startling bit of information, even to me.

CBS News President Andrew Heyward says that young people are “information impressionists." News is gathered by the impressions they receive from many sources around them.

'Information impressionists' has got to be one of the most elegant descriptions I've seen in a long time. It certainly describes my own news gathering habits.

There is a broader, new definition of news that we will need to develop for this next generation. - Heyward

This is one of the hardest facts for the MSM to digest, but one of the most important for them to internalize if they want to survive. My journalism students are barely interested in the types of news most newspapers cover. At least, that's what they think, until they watch The Daily Show. Speaking of which...

A study of 18-to-29-year-olds carried out as part of “Declare Yourself, ” a national nonpartisan effort to register voters for last year's election, reported that 25 percent of young voters named the Internet as the first or second most important source for news compared to just 15 percent for newspapers. In that same study, Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on the Comedy Central network was identified as the most trusted of the TV anchors among the group that chose the Internet as their top news source, while among the entire group, Stewart tied with then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and came in ahead of ABC's Peter Jennings and former CBS anchor Dan Rather when asked about who they “trust the most” to provide “information about politics and politicians.” (Emphasis added)

If this doesn't wake up the MSM, I don't know what will...

... [Jeff] Jarvis observes that today's young people want to understand — on an entirely different level from previous generations — the politics and attitudes of those who write and deliver the news.

This is so true, and presages the final nail in the coffin of objectivity as the primary measure of news.

Jarvis says that rather than be alarmed about Stewart's popularity and credibility as a “news source,” news professionals ought to view Stewart's ascent as “as an endorsement of a new honesty in the news, of the importance of bringing news down off its pedestal and presenting it at eye-level.” (Emphasis added)

Can you say amen!

In other words, even if the daily newspaper industry's advertising revenue dwarfs its Internet business, the future of the American newspaper will be defined online from both a future readership point of view and perhaps in terms of future revenue streams as well. It is time for print industry investments in Internet products to match the online audience size and the extraordinary magnitude of the migration to digital news delivery. (Emphasis added)

To those of you who shuddered when reading the emphasized portion of the previous paragraph, you'd better get used to it.

A reason to go back to Yahoo

Google has been eating Yahoo's lunch for quite some time now, but Yahoo has finally released something extremely cool that 1. Google doesn't have and 2. isn't exclusively available on IE.

Yahoo's Creative Commons search allows you to search for content published under less restrictive licenses than traditional copyright law. If you don't know what I'm talking about, learn something new and exciting.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Fool's joke? Who can tell?

I'm going to try my best to stay off the Net today. I've spent the last half hour surveying news sites to see who had enough of a sense of humor to run an April Fool's joke news story. (This after I had a good chuckle over Google's April Fool's joke contribution.)

The problem is, I'm having a hard time telling which stories are April Fool's jokes, and that disturbs me. I'm pretty sure this one isn't becuase it would be so politically incorrect, but it took me a while to decide that....

Then there's this one, which I'm really hoping is an April Fool's joke, but I suspect isn't either...

I really can't decide about this story, and I really don't care either way...

After searching and searching and becoming more and more disturbed I finally realized, why bother? The Onion does April Fool's joke-style news every week, and it's almost always funny. Sometimes I wonder why I read the 'real' news at all.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Rocky Mountain News sides with the bloggers

An editorial in Saturday's Rocky Mountain News begins thusly:

Count us among the growing legions who embrace the notion that Web bloggers deserve the same shield-law protections accorded to other journalists.

Color me thrilled to see the MSM supporting bloggers in this way, unlike some newspapers.

The only depressing thing about the editorial is this:

Unfortunately, Colorado's law appears to exclude Internet journalists. It defines "mass media" as "any publisher of a newspaper or periodical; wire service; radio or television station or network; news or feature syndicate; or cable television system." So the need for a tech-savvy update is acute, preferably before an Internet-related case lands in a Colorado court.

I wonder though - does this really restrict bloggers from invoking Colorado's shield law? The Rocky Mountain News' interpretation of Colorado's shield law uses a "strict interpretation" of its definition of mass media.

But there's another commonly used standard for interpreting laws -- original intent, or originalism. To quote Wikipedia:

Originalism in constitutional interpretation is the view that the meaning of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with the meaning as it was originally understood by those who drafted and/or ratified the constitution. Originalism is especially prominent in connection with controversies over the interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Of course IANAL, but it seems to me that the law's intent is to protect journalists, not to protect the ennumerated forms of media. A looser interpretation of the definition of mass media in the law could include blogs under the category of periodical or even news or feature syndicate.

This is clearly an important issue that needs to be resolved. The interesting thing is that we're likely to end up with many different interpretations and laws that address an issue that is undeniably global in nature, that is, any issue that involves the Internet. Maybe someday the laws will catch up. For now, I just want to see as many state courts (and maybe even the Supreme Court) interpret these shield laws as I believe their authors intended.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

And we wonder why journalism is in decline

Much of the commentary about the Bush administration' production of prepackaged 'news reports' has focused on whether the administration is guilty of disseminating propaganda.

Honestly, though, why wouldn't they do everything they can to control the news as long as the media and the public are letting them get away with it? For my part, I'm more pissed off at the media for distributing this crap than I am with the administration for producing it.

I love the way Dan Gilmor described his feelings about this in a recent post:

I reserve special contempt for the TV stations that used this rancid material...

Gilmor's post also pointed me to a damning statement in NY Times' columnist Frank Rich's recent column, Enron: Patron Saint of Bush's Fake News:

At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up. (emphasis added)

And we wonder why journalism is in decline. Come on, guys, how can we expect the public to respect us if we don't even respect ourselves?

Collaborative book (re)writing, or why Lessig rules

Lawrence Lessig decided to update his 1999 book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Did he hole himself up in his office like a typical author? Of course not. He created a wiki so everyone could contribute to the update. He calls Code v.2 "a book by Lawrence Lessig and You."

This is a perfect example of how the Internet can be used to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts without devolving into chaos. The structure here (an author who coordinates a self-motivating group of contributors) is similar to the way open source software is created (I'm particularly thinking of Linux.)

I don't see why news can't be created the same way -- a journalist coordinating a self-motivating group of contributors. It's a system that encourages community, makes readers invested in the process (and hopefully less attitudinal about journalists), and gathers more information than one journalist could ever hope to amass. If we're lucky, this is what the future of journalism will look like.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

BBC News incorporates citizen journalists

It's hard to tell if this is really a blog, but BBC News is running what it calls the Harare election blog, written by a 22-year-old receptionist in Zimbabwe.

The contents are refreshingly honest and clearly written (I wonder if they're edited). Here's an excerpt:

I've heard there are political meetings for both Zanu-PF and MDC going on and the state-run Herald newspaper says there have been plenty of Zanu-PF rallies outside Harare - some taking place in schools - where large donations are given.

A friend of mine phoned to say she'd tracked down a cleaning product similar to the one I usually use - which I had been fruitlessly searching for - in a shopping centre near where she works.

So instead of going to church this Sunday, I spent the day washing, ironing... and cleaning the stove.

I think there are two significant things about this snippet:

1. People all across the world are ready, willing, and able to express themselves when given the opportunity.

2. Most people's political lives are tangled up with their daily lives -- in other words, politics are important, but so are cleaning products.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Phew! Crisis averted in Apple/blogger ruling

The First Amendment took a bit of a hit in a judge's ruling related to Apple's case against bloggers who published trade secrets.

From CNET's coverage of the ruling:
"The bottom line is there is no exception or exemption in either the (Uniform Trade Secrets Act) or the Penal Code for journalists--however defined--or anyone else," wrote Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg.

Compared to what he could have said, I'm actually okay with that. Not that I'm not a staunch defender of the First Amendment, but there's a hell of a lot more case history defending the First Amendment than there is classifying bloggers as journalists.

In CNET's interpretation, the judge "avoided the question of whether the enthusiast sites qualified for the same legal protections as traditional journalists." But a comment in the article from Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, makes me even more confident that, while Kleinberg may not have explicitly identified bloggers as journalists, he certainly implied that they should be treated similarly:

"It's a thoughtful but seriously wrong decision," Scheer said. "Under this logic, if the Wall Street Journal ran a story about these documents, it could be prosecuted criminally. That's an absurd result."

Maybe so, but a ruling that bloggers can't qualify as journalists would have been even more absurd.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Are they soldiers or journalists?

Army Times is reporting on the growing use of blogs among soldiers deployed to Iraq.

This is the kind of real-time, insider look at war the folks back home have not had in previous conflicts, and it’s catching on quick.
For some, blogging is a rebellion against mainstream media, which, they say, leave out of their newscasts and publications important stories about the war.

So I ask, are these bloggers journalists? They have an extremely valuable perspective and are in a better position to report on the war than most MSM journalists.

One thing they are clearly lacking is objectivity. But I've argued against the overemphasis on objectivity for judging any journalist before. One could argue that the direct effect war has on their lives irreparably skews their perspective on events. But reporters have regularly put themselves in harm's way to get the story.

Truly, how are soldiers who blog any different? And even if they are different, why does that make their contribution to our knowledge any less important than what we get from 'journalists'?

Bloggers at risk from more than governments

Following up on my earlier post on the Committee to Protect Bloggers comes this gem from Reason magazine. (It's from the February issue but I just happened across it; evidently after seeing the cover I wasn't as inclined to read that particular issue.

It seems that a group called Islamic Army has threatened to murder a number of Iranian bloggers because of 'insults to Allah' on their blogs.

I hate to contribute to stereotypes, but does anyone know of any other non-governmental groups who go around threatening bloggers?

John Perry Barlow blogs from a conference closed to MSM

Barlow has a lot of interesting things to say in this post, which he wrote at The International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism, and Security. The most amazing thing about the post, however, is that he was able to post it at all:

The security is intense and the press is excluded.( Though, interestingly, I am posting these words from inside a session, along with the many other bloggers.)

Friday, March 11, 2005

So-so SPJ article on blogging and journalism (with one great line)

An article in the Society for Professional Journalists' Quill magazine on blogging covers well-known territory for anyone who has been paying attention for the last couple of years. But writer Patrick Beeson did distill the relationship between blogging and journalism rather accurately and succintly:

A blog still amounts to a form, in this case a Web site, rather than a discipline, as journalism is.

It's clear to me that all four combinations of blogs and journalism are valid:
1. Bloggers who practice journalism
2. Bloggers who don't practice journalism
3. Journalists with a blog
4. Journalists without a blog

I believe that bloggers who practice journalism can signal their intent by adopting's Bloggers' Code of Ethics. I'm not saying that all journalists abide by a code of ethics, but I am saying that good ones do. To establish credibility, bloggers should hold themselves to the highest standards they can find. The code is a step down that road.

Peering through the gates, courtesy of the MSM

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today (available, at least for now, without subscription) about the growing accessibility of White House pool reporters transcripts online.

For many years, these reports have been available only to the White House reporting corps. But now that they're distributed by email instead of in hard copy, they're available on the Internet.

The irony is palpable. A highly select group of reporters are invited to follow the President in exchange for reporting on his every move to the rest of the White House press corps. Knowing their audience, the reporters sometimes make flippant remarks, which, as the article says, don't make it into the reporters stories. Until the Internet, the White House press corps was able to keep the gates to the President closed to the rest of us, letting out only the information they thought appropriate.

Now that the transcripts are available online, they are available for perusal and interpretation to allcomers. The gates have been opened. The MSM is caught between a rock and a hard place - they have to have the pool reports to do their jobs, but the existence of the pool reports is making their jobs, at least as they perceive them, obsolete.

Note: After searching for a while, it seems Wonkette is by far the most reliable source of White House pool report transcripts. Lots of people quote bits and pieces, though. If anyone knows of an equally reliable or better source, I'd like to know about it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Why Apple, why?

I'm writing this on a Macintosh Powerbook. It is one of my two most prized possessions. At the moment, looking at it is making me nauseous.

I had read that Apple was suing three websites for releasing product information before it had been officially announced (see MacDailyNews for more background.)

What I just became aware of are the following facts reported by InformationWeek:

Apple maintains that California's Shield Law, which protects journalists from being forced to reveal sources, should not apply to Internet sites. In addition, the firm stated in court filings that free speech protections likewise should not apply to the three Internet sites. (Quote from InformationWeek.)

To be more specific about what Apple is claiming, let's look at an excerpt from a document Apple filed with the court that the EFF has posted on its website entitled Opposition to Motion for Protective Order:

Consistent with its limited purposes and scope, the Shield can be invoked only by certain enumerated newspersons... The choice of certain enumerated newspersons reflects the professional standards that define those classes.... Although the law has been repeatedly amended to include new forms of media, it has never been enlarged to cover posting information on a website. Persons who post such information, moreover, are not members of any professional community defined by standards and common practices. Indeed, anyone with a computer and Internet access could claim the Shield if O'Grady's arguments were accepted.

According to my grad school media law textbook, The First Amendment and the Fourth Estate (copyright 1997), the question of whether the 'institutitional press' has any greater rights than that of the public as a whole is still very much in question. One of the clearest reasons for not giving the institutional press greater protection was articulated by Chief Justice Warren Burger:

Burger foresaw difficulty in defining what was and was not included in the 'institutional press' if it were to be accorded special status. Including some entities while excluding others would be 'reminiscent of the abhorred licensing system' of England, which the First Amendment was meant, in part, to prevent. He noted that the Court had not, in related matters, allowed officials 'to distinguish the protected from the unprotected on the basis of such variables as content of expression, frequency or fervor of expression, or ownership of the technological means of dissemination.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if the Supreme Court doesn't make distinctions between the press and the public when applying First Amendment protections, it might be worth considering that they have a good reason (not that I'm uncategorically defending the Supreme Court, mind you.)

I always thought that one of the biggest threats to free speech on the net was that Microsoft controlled the user interface because of the overwhelming use of Internet Explorer. It seemed to me that gave them more power than I was comfortable with any company having over the Internet.

But what Apple is arguing in this case is reprehensible. How any technology company could suggest that free speech protections should not apply to the Internet is beyond me.

What in the world am I going to do with my Powerbook (let alone my iPod)?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

In support of's Bloggers' Code of Ethics has proposed a bloggers' code of ethics based on the Society for Professional Journalists ethics code. I think bloggers agree with and commit to following the code should post a link or graphic to that effect on their site. I'm not saying all bloggers have to follow this code, but it is a good starting poing for bloggers interested in establishing credibility.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

More brave bloggers

I just came across a great blog: Committee to Protect Bloggers. It reports on bloggers all over the world who have been arrested or threatened by governments because of their blogs.

Many of the jailed bloggers are from Muslim countries, including Iran, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Malaysia. The site also reports on the plight of Chinese bloggers. No surprise, you might say - people in these countries have never been free to speak their minds.

But what about Christophe Grebert, who's being sued for defamation by the mayor of Puteaux, France? Or Jani Uusitalo, who's being investigated for defamation by the police in Oulu, Finland after writing about a local school?

To say the least, Committee to Protect Bloggers is an extremely important website. It is reporting on the frontier of the battle for freedom of speech. Kudos to its founders, and best wishes to the bloggers whose bravery is covered on the site.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Another dinosaur bellows

Yesterday, I called the editors in the MSM who sneer at citizen journalism 'dinosaurs.' I have just discovered that the term is more widely applicable than I first thought. It seems that librarians, or at least the president-elect of the American Library Association, also fall into that category.

As evidence, let me present a poorly written and illogical 'essay' recently scrawled by said president-elect, one Michael Gorman. It has got to be one of the most arrogant, condescending, and wrong-headed bits of scribbled flotsam I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

I tried to pick out a few quotes to illustrate the inanity of the piece, but the whole thing reeks of holier-than-thouness. Lest you doubt my analysis, here's one tidbit:

Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts.

To borrow a phrase from Monty Python, say no more, say no more.

Here's what really bothers me about Mr. Gorman. He seems to believe that anyone who does not have a degree in Library Science is incapable of conducting any sort of research on their own. He seems to see librarians as the keepers of all knowledge who need to protect the rest of the world from their own ignorance. Sound like anyone else you know?

What really frightens me is that, his protests to the contrary, I think Mr. Gorman would really like to see Web access restricted to an info-priestly class for the good of humanity. Thankfully, he doesn't have much say in the matter.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Brave bloggers of Nepal

In some cases, citizen journalism is the only journalism. Bloggers in Nepal have become the only source of information for the rest of the world since King Gyandendra took power Feb. 1 from the country's prime minister and began censoring the press.

Hmmm, I wonder if Steve Lovelady thinks these bloggers are 'salivating morons?'

OJR: Nepalese bloggers, journalists defy media clampdown by king

Speaking to the dinosaurs

Steve Outing has written a wonderfully clear and comprehensive explanation of why citizen journalism is "where journalism is heading." Even better, he's published it on Editor & Publisher's website, the venue where it's most likely to be seen by editors in the MSM (I only wish it was being included in the print edition.)

Unfortunately, his desire for MSM to "Go fast (this time)" is unlikely to be heeded by 80% of his audience. The mainstream media is simply too entrenched to see beyond their established customs and norms. I've seen this too often in newsrooms, corporations, and academic settings. If you need proof, look at the RIAA and MPAA's approach to 'piracy.' While some media organizations will adapt, many will go the way of the dinosaur. Luckily, that doesn't mean anything for the future of journalism except that the next generation of news leaders will have different names than the ones we've known for the past 50 years.

Monday, February 21, 2005

RIP -- Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005

Hunter S. Thompson has apparently committed suicide. Although many have expressed surprise, I am not. It seems to me that someone who could live as independently and with apparent disregard for convention might want to control the moment of his death. Maybe he was tired of coping with age-related illnesses. Maybe he couldn't stomach reading the news anymore. Maybe he just figured he had done everything he wanted to do.

In any case, the world has lost a great writer. If you haven't read them, run, don't walk to the nearest bookstore or library and get Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diaries. I haven't read all of this books, but those are two of the best books I have ever read.

There have been hundreds of stories written about his death already, but here's one with my favorite headline so far: Hunter S. Thompson writes his own ending.