Monday, January 31, 2005

The elephant in the room

Good story in the New York Times today about how the federal anti-spam law passed last year has actually increased the amount of spam. However, the story has a major flaw -- it doesn't mention Microsoft's role in leaving security holes in Windows that virus writers exploit to turn personal computers into zombie networks that send out spam, thus keeping the spammer's operating costs low.

The only thing the story does mention about Microsoft is that they are suing a prolific spammer. Ok, so let me get this straight: when Microsoft is being sued, it argues that the government shouldn't get in the way of "innovation." But when Microsoft sues, it wants the government to solve a problem created by their shoddy software. To put it politely, that's chutzpah.

How is it possible that a reporter for the greatest newspaper in the country could miss that much of a story?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Citizen journalists covering Iraqi election

Most Western journalists in Iraq are understandably afraid to leave their hotels (no disrespect meant; I'd be too afraid to go at all). The restriction has left the coverage of the Iraqi election to Iraqi citizen journalists. is highlighting some of the blogs covering the election, including Friends of Democracy.

Imagine caring enough about reporting to not only be a volunteer journalist, but a volunteer journalist operating in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Hats off.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A new approach to fighting draconian IP laws

Robert Boynton, a professor at my alma mater has written one of the clearest explanations of the current copyright wars I have read.

It's a long essay, but well worth reading. In case you don't, though, let me highlight one key point:

Recent stirrings in legal theory may give some comfort to the activist wing of digital environmentalism. Taking for granted the fact that the problem is less the letter of intellectual property law than the spirit in which it is interpreted, Richard Posner, a federal appeals judge and prolific legal theorist, and others have suggested some ways to remedy this problem.

Foremost among them is the doctrine of "copyright misuse." In his California Law Review article "Fair Use and Statutory Reform in the Wake of Eldred," Posner argues that it is more valuable, and feasible, to strengthen fair-use practices than to lobby for new copyright laws. The problem with the current system, according to Posner, is that copyright owners systematically make improperly broad claims to their rights. The book, DVD, or baseball-game broadcast that comes with a notice stating that no part of the work may be copied without permission is, in fact, in violation of the doctrine of fair use (for which one doesn't need permission). Posner argues that when a copyright holder affixes a warning on copies of his work that "grossly and intentionally exaggerates the copyright holder's substantive or remedial rights, to the prejudice of publishers of public-domain works, the case for invoking the doctrine of copyright misuse" has been made.

So if nothing else, remind yourself that just because someone says you can't do something doesn't mean you legally can't do it.

Hey Washington, can you hear us?

Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) has set up a neat feature that lists the number of times Members of Congress are mentioned in the blogosphere, based on data from Technorati. They're asking bloggers who write about Members of Congress to include a link to the Member's official website in their post.

The theory is that Members of Congress can come to PDF's website to see what the blogosphere is saying about them (well, that an aide to the Member will come to the site, but you get the point.)

Friday, January 28, 2005

No one gets it right all the time

Seems even the most venerable publications could use some more factchecking. The Times Online reports that "a schoolboy with a fascination for Poland and wildlife has uncovered several significant errors in the latest — the fifteenth — edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica."

This is particularly ironic following on the heels of an article written by Robert McHenry, a former editor in chief of the encyclopedia. McHenry concludes his article thusly:

"The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him."

People who throw stones...

This bodes well for the potential of Wikipedia's news arm, Wikinews.

Everyone's a neighbor now

From BarlowFriendz: This doesn't have anything to do with online journalism per se, but it's Really Cool (tm). The Internet never ceases to delight me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Do newspaper editors read their own op-ed pages?

Chris Hedges hits the nail on the head in an opinion piece in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Balance and objectivity have become code words to propagate the insidious and cynical moral disengagement that is destroying American journalism. This moral disengagement gives equal time, and sometimes more than equal time, to those who spread falsehoods and distort information. It tacitly sanctions the dissemination of lies. It absolves us from making moral choice. It obscures and often shuts out the truth.

Why aren't the people who get it running newspapers? (Don't bother, I know the answer to that... People who get it are never in charge.)

How far we've come

I read lots of things I can't believe, but somehow this one struck me particularly hard as an ex-dotcommer. From today's New York Times:

If the demand for online advertising continued to grow, Dow Jones's Web sites, including The Wall Street Journal Online, would not provide enough page views for all the online ads the company could sell.
Link (Registration required)

What does this mean for online journalism? My optimistic side thinks it means more jobs, more content, and more sites. The pessimistic side counters that it more likely means more shovelware, more meaningless content partnerships, and more media consolidation. But hey, the Eagles just won the NFC Championship, so let's try to be optimistic, shall we?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Conquering the tyranny of choice

In Variety is not enough, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, explains how the growing availability of metadata can help consumers turn the tyranny of choice created by today's overwhelming marketplace to our advantage. Technology allows us to know what decisions others are making, and Anderson argues that we can use that information to inform our own decisions.

IMHO, Anderson's idea has profound implications for journalism. The availability of such metadata for information sources would allow media consumers to tap into a worldwide word-of-mouth network that could help them decide which sources of information are right for them.

Now here's my only concern. Which force is stronger in human nature - laziness or individuality? If it's the former, then this network will result in a small number of influencers dictating the information sources consumed by the majority, and we'll be no better off than we were before. If it's the latter, however, then this new information ecosystem could be the greatest boon to independent thinkers since the invention of the printing press.

Monday, January 17, 2005

It's the intellectual property, stupid

Dan Gilmor, author of We the Media and recently departed technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, is going to spend the next year as a Fellow at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. This highlights the importance intellectual property law plays in the media's present and future. Dan's site's tagline is "A conversation about the future of journalism 'by the people, for the people'". What most people don't seem to understand is that federal laws shape the development of the Internet far more than technology does.