Importance


July 17, 2004

The Next Generation of Journalists Will Start as Bloggers

- Posted by

Denise Howell, of Bag and Baggage fame, went to the Always On Conference in Stanford and blogged it. Her latest post is on the bloggers vs. big media panel (AlwaysOn: Bloggers vs. "Big" Media Competition).

"Bloggers vs. Big Media." Sigh. Look, when are the people who put together these panels going to figure out that it is "Bloggers & Big Media?" They're not in competition, they're symbiotic. But that is not what I want to talk about right now. I'll leave that discussion to the most excellent Mary Hodder, who wasn't on the panel but should have been (It's a Form of Social Media: Blogging AND Journalism). And while I'm mentioning the divine Miss H, a recent article in WIRED has gotten a lot of attention recently, as it discusses why the NY Times' policy of putting content behind a subscription wall after seven days has rendered the venerable Times all but invisible to Google (Searching for The New York Times). Miss Hodder was discussing this months ago and with more insight (Why News and Technical DRM Don't Mix: Linking and Linking Expression are Key). But I digress.

Why don't we take a look at the future of journalism and blogging a few years down the road? Where will the next generation of journalists be learning their craft and filing their first stories? I think an awful lot of them will learn through the process of blogging. Often, the people who become journalists do so because they like to learn about new things, they like to find stories, and they like to write and pass those stories on. If journalism is in their blood at a young age, they're going to start blogging long before they set foot in a J-School. School newspapers are passé, school blogs are cool.

Heck, I expect that in a couple of years or so those who hire novice journalists are going to want to see what sort of blogging experience they have. Nothing says, "I'm a good, disciplined writer" better than several years of good, disciplined writing, such as on a blog.

Of course, this means that these novice journalists are going to enter the profession with habits, both good and bad, as well as certain expectations. Tyro journalists who are used to blogging are going to expect to be able to link. They're going to expect trackbacks and conversations. They're not going to want to state the same facts that everyone else has stated ad nauseum, but only those elements that they can add to the conversation. Because of this, I believe that ultimately, bloggers will change the profession of big media journalism from within to work more cooperatively with blogging.

So, one of the reasons we shouldn't be talking about bloggers vs. journalism is because, eventually, some of the bloggers of today will be the journalists of tomorrow.

Posted at 05:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) & TrackBacks (1) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

July 15, 2004

On Reporting Press Releases, Statements, Etc.

- Posted by

This week while blogging, I was frustrated a bit by my inability to get ahold of some primary documents easily. In Outfoxed Rope-a-Dope Begins? news reports referred to a statement that Fox News had distributed at a press conference for the new documentary OutFOXed. One report paraphrased parts of the statement and another had some quotes.

In The Excessively Annotated RIAA Letter on the INDUCE Act (IICA), I had some difficulty getting a copy of a letter that the RIAA had sent to all 100 senators. I called the RIAA, of course, and they promised that they would either get me a copy or call me to tell me I couldn't have one. Of course, they did neither. Unlike the coalition opposing the Inducing Infringment of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act), which made their letter to the Senators public (Letter to Senator Hatch, Re: S. 2560, the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004"), the RIAA doesn't want the public to know the arguments they are making to our representatives (Letter to Senators from Mitch Bainwol, Re: INDUCE Act).

Nevertheless, the letter was reported by some members of the press. Unfortunately, the reports were, of necessity, paraphrases and quotes from the 5-page missive. But that is what frustrates me. I couldn't read the whole letter myself. Ultimately, after sending out numerous feelers, I was able to get ahold of a copy. But why was it so difficult? Why don't news organizations post these primary documents on their website?

In the print realm, of course you usually don't have room to put every document into the publication. In any case, it is a reporters job to take information, put it in context, highlight it, get reactions, do reporting. That's usually all most people really want. They have neither the desire nor the time to read the primary documents. But not always. For most stories there is a small core of readers who want more information, who want to read the primary documents and get more from the story.

So why don't news organizations post these documents on their websites, where file size is not really an issue? Why can't you have a story about the RIAA's letter and a link to the letter if you care to read it yourself? Why shouldn't we be able to read Fox News' statement for ourselves? Why should publications passively (tacitly?) acquiesce in the RIAA's desire to obscure its communications with our representatives?

Dan Gillmor is very smart when it comes to these things. As Denise Howell, who is blogging the Always On Conference, paraphrases Gillmor (AlwaysOn: Joe Trippi And Dan Gillmor):

Dan says one thing you learn if you cover technology in Silicon Valley is that other people know way more than you do, and it's to your and your readers' benefit to capture and disseminate that knowledge. Journalism is really moving from this lecture mode of the last few decades to something closer to a conversation; a seminar or something like it.
Indeed. And part of this has to be opening up the documents that a reporter builds a story from. Disseminate the documents, don't hide them.

Ok. Rant over.

Posted at 04:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) & TrackBacks (0) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

July 13, 2004

24/7 Internet Coverage of Political Conventions

- Posted by

A little over a week ago, I noted that the broadcast networks were cutting back campaign convention coverage and that the parties were "plead[ing]" for more coverage (Major Broadcast Networks to Decrease Convention Coverage - Author Experiences Schadenfreude). However, while broadcast television cuts back on coverage, internet coverage is going to be 24/7, according to CBS Marketwatch (Web's convention plans top TV Nets):

  • AOL's broadband subscribers can get live gavel-to-gavel coverage and express opinions on convention issues via online InstaPolls, the unit of Time Warner said.
  • ABC-TV's Peter Jennings will anchor convention sessions on abcnewslive.com, the 24/7 streaming news channel operated by the Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, available through America Online and the RealNetworks content subscription service.
  • CBS plans free coverage of the sessions on CBSNews.com, plus on-demand clips and news reports. (Viacom, the parent of CBS, is an investor in MarketWatch, the publisher of this report.)
[links omitted]
Hmmm, perhaps politicians should work towards increasing the availability of broadband and broadcatching if they want Americans to actually see the conventions. Nah, pleading with networks for more coverage probably suits them better.

via Scripting News

Posted at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) & TrackBacks (0) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

July 09, 2004

FCC Chairman Powell Has a Blog - No, Seriously

- Posted by

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has launched a blog [As Dave Barry would say: I'm not making this up] (Michael Powell Joins the Blogosphere). So what does the chairman have to say in his first post? Well, he reiterates his commitment to deregulation, that is, when it doesn't upset entrenched interests too much.

Our struggle to define appropriate regulatory regimes to promote innovation is not limited to the telephone sector. The Commission's digital television transition is yet another example of how difficult the struggle can be.
Yeah, the broadcast flag is really going to promote innovation. Why, just think of the useless technology developed because television was an open platform! To borrow some concepts from Prof. Frink, "I predict that, if the FCC were in charge of developing the VCR, that within 100 years a VCR will record twice as much programming, be 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest moguls in Hollywood will own them."
For example, I need to hear from the tech community as we transition to digital television. It may be possible to deploy innovative wireless services in the unused spectrum between broadcast stations (for example, there is no channel 3 or channel 6 here in San Francisco)...Broadcasters, however, claim these unused channels as "their" spectrum. Yet a public policy that favors innovation and experimentation would seek to open these unused channels to develop new wireless services…just look at how much value has been created in the sliver of spectrum that has become Wi-Fi! If the high-tech community believes that new digital technologies will enable this kind of new thinking about and use of spectrum, then I need to know that.
*ahem* Chairman Powell, it may be possible to deploy innovative television services based upon an open television platform. Broadcasters, however, claim that they must control and direct development of a closed platform, that the platform is "theirs" and requires a "broadcast flag." Yet a public policy that favors innovation and experimentation would seek to open the platform to develop new services…just look at how much value has been created in the open analog television platform! Many in the high-tech community believe that new digital technologies will enable this kind of new thinking about and use of an open television platform. *ahem*
Regulated interests have about an 80 year head start on the entrepreneurial tech community when it comes to informing regulators what they want and need, but if anyone can make up for that, Silicon Valley can. This is important not just for Silicon Valley—it's essential to insure that America has the best, most innovate communications infrastructure.
You know, unless it upsets Hollywood. Because Hollywood will ensure that America has the best, most innovative communications infrastructure.

via JD Lasica

UPDATE
Jeff Jarvis has some harsh words for Powell's "blog" (Daily Stern - July 9, 2004).

July 07, 2004

Rosen and Hodder on Blogging, Political Conventions, and Journalism

- Posted by

I've written a couple of pieces on bloggers at the political conventions (Blogging the Political Conventions and Major Broadcast Networks to Decrease Convention Coverage - Author Experiences Schadenfreude). I still stand by my conclusion that:

Blogs at conventions might be as dull and un-newsworthy as the mainstream press at a convention, but it would be hard for them to be worse. We will have to see whether blogs can avoid the pitfalls of the mainstream media, the jury is out.
However, to really get a much deeper understanding of what the political conventions are, why they are that way, and how the mass media and political parties have gotten themselves into their current mess, you really must read Jay Rosen's definitive exploration of these issues on PressThink (Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Credentials). Here is but a taste (read the whole thing):
No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webbloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing. The blogs come at this fresh. I'm going.
Although it isn't directly about the conventions, Mary Hodder has more insightful things to say about the relationship between blogging and journalism on Napsterization (It's a Form of Social Media: Blogging AND Journalism). She's right, as usual.

Posted at 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) & TrackBacks (1) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

June 21, 2004

Blogging the Political Conventions

- Posted by

WIRED is carrying an AP wirestory on the Democrats' decision to permit bloggers at their upcoming national convention (Blogs Welcome at Dems' Convention). Only a certain number of bloggers will be credentialed and the official selection process sounds like it can hide a fair amount of subjectivity:

More than 50 bloggers met last Tuesday's deadline to apply for the Democratic National Convention credentials, of which an undetermined number will be selected based on originality, readership level and professionalism, said convention spokeswoman Lina Garcia.

But wait, Dave Winer says, this (This AP article about bloggers):
should disgust anyone who believes in the First Amendment, and by the way, it probably strongly indicates why no news ever comes from either of the major conventions. They only want bloggers who will carry the party's message.

Robert Heverly on Displacement of Concepts claims something similar if only using more temperate language (Blogs and Politics):
In other words, [Democrat Party officials will] check out the applicants, and pick the ones most likely to be nice to them. Why wouldn't the Republicans do the same?

Well, I suspect that both Heverly and Winer are right; the Democrats are likely to only select bloggers who will, more or less, blog in the party's interests. However, I can't seem to muster any surprise or interest in this story, which I wouldn't even care about except for Heverly and Winer's comments on it. Read on...

This is about a political convention. It isn't a news event as much as it is a several day-long commercial for a party and its presidential candidate. Where is the news in a political passion play that adheres closer to the script than Stanley Kubrick? In addition to the commercial aspect, a convention also serves as a celebration for the party loyalists who like to dance the Marcarena en masse and express wild exuberance when their state's nominating votes are read aloud. Wooo hooo! This sort of thing is important to the people who work hard on this stuff and care, but it isn't news.

Of course, tens of millions will be spent on hospitality suites, flag porn swag, silly hats, and all the rest of the quadrennial circus (Thank you corporate sponsorships donations!). Millions more will be wasted by the conventional news media covering this non-event.

Where will bloggers fit in all this? Not in a very important way, most likely, but I retain some limited hope. Heverly, apparently, does not:

I think the decision to allow admission by application for message-verified bloggers to attend is a testament to the political parties' understanding that citizen journalism on the Web can be manipulated, controlled, and fed in a way that "mainstream" media probably cannot.

Of course the political parties are trying to manipulate press coverage, but the bloggers aren't the only ones; the mainstream media is the main focus of the manipulation. As this will be the first convention covered by bloggers we will have to see how they do, but the evidence of manipulation of the mainstream press is overwhelming. Even treating these events as important is part of the spin the mainstream media has bought into. Press releases will merge into, simply, press.

In any case, if the bloggers being chosen are not known for their independence of thought, than their selection will most likely be a failure at what the parties are trying to accomplish and will most likely backfire as the opposing side fact checks the blind party spinners into blog ridicule (goodbye, indepedent credibility). I'd rather have the openly biased viewpoint of someone I consider to be an independent thinker than all the press release regurgitation of the mainstream media.

Blogs at conventions might be as dull and un-newsworthy as the mainstream press at a convention, but it would be hard for them to be worse. We will have to see whether blogs can avoid the pitfalls of the mainstream media, the jury is out.

Posted at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) & TrackBacks (3) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

June 08, 2004

BlogOn

- Posted by

BlogOn: The Business of Social Media - a conference at UC Berkeley's business school in late July. More on the conference by one of its organizers (Mary Hodder) via Napsterization (BlogOn -- A Conf I'm Organizing at UCB).

Posted at 08:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) & TrackBacks (0) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging

March 22, 2004

Copyfight - The Remix

- Posted by

Donna Wentworth has made her blog, Copyfight, a must-read since its beginning. That is why I am honored to join her and some most excellent colleagues in continuing Copyfight as a group blog. I will be posting along with Elizabeth Rader, Jason Schultz, Aaron Swartz, and Wendy Seltzer. Read the greeting message: Copyfight--the Expanded Edition. The blog description:

Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development and technological innovation that creates--and will recreate--the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

I'll continue to post here, of course, especially my longer pieces.

March 15, 2004

Republic.Press

- Posted by

The New York Times (reg. req.) reports on an amazing research finding - those who buy highly partisan books are likely to buy more highly partisan books! At least that is all I was able to get out of the article which hypes a rather pedestrian study (Study Finds a Nation of Polarized Readers). The article reports on a recent study by social networking guru Valdis Krebs. The study can be found here: Divided We Stand... Still. Would it kill the NY Times to include a link or URL? This study is a followup on an earlier report (Divided We Stand???) as well as a white paper on book networks (The Social Life of Books). From the study the NY Times is referring to:

From the New York Times Bestseller List, I selected political books as starting points for 'snowball sampling'. Two books are linked in the network if they were purchased by the same person -- "Customers who bought this book also bought: ". Many of the books have changed from last year but the overall pattern is the same. The pattern reveals two distinct clusters with dense internal ties. These political books are preaching to the converted. The extreme book titles on both sides reveal a focus on hate, instead of debate.

While interesting, just how surprising is this finding? First, the political books are selected from the New York Times Bestseller List. Not to knock bestseller lists, but what sort of books make it to the top? I doubt that audience-challenging, even-handed books of any complexity are likely to compete with simple-minded polemics that cater to existing prejudices.

Of course, if you are in market for buying partisan polemics, are you really interested in even-handed books? I would think it is sort of a self-selecting sample. That isn't the way Krebs looks at it though:

(Of course, it is always possible, he [Krebs] concedes, that undecided voters aren't reading political books at all, that they simply "can't stomach either side.")

My centrist political views may not be the norm, but I'm certainly not unique. I'm interested in real debate about issues, not simply confirmation of my own point of view. Consequently, I will no more spend money on Dude, Where's My Country? then on Deliver Us From Evil. Let's face it, most of these books are crap. All the rhetorical fallacies are there: straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, and the ever-popular argumentum ad odium (argument directed to hatred), among others. Why would someone who is interested in honest debate be interested in these books? Maybe undecided voters are reading political books that, while less popular, are not partisan polemics.

Speaking of rhetorical fallacies ...

Mr. Krebs, who got similar results when he conducted the same experiment last year, calls this pattern the "echo chamber" effect: for the most part, he found, buyers of liberal books buy only other liberal books, while buyers of conservative books buy only other conservative books. This finding appears to buttress the argument made by Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, in his influential study "Republic.com" (Princeton University Press, 2001) that contemporary media and the Internet have abetted a culture of polarization, in which people primarily seek out points of view to which they already subscribe.

Does this study really buttress the argument of Cass Sunstein in Republic.com? I don't think so. Sunstein was complaining about the potential of too much personalizing of sources of information through the internet, such as a "daily me" newspaper. His concern was with new technologies, in particular, their potential for individual customization. I don't really recall Sunstein concerned about dead tree media. Now, it may be that internet polarization (even assuming such a thing) is increasing polarization in other media, but this study provides absolutely no evidence of this fact. Call me crazy, but I rather suspect that partisan political polemics through the ages have mostly appealed to partisans and were seldom purchased by the partisans on the other side of the argument. For example, I don't think that many copies of the abolitionist The Liberator sold in the antebellum South.

Unfortunately, we don't have Amazon's databases for much of our history. If similar databases do exist it would be interesting to see if they show a similar pattern. I, for one, would be most surprised if they showed that McGovernites were frequent purchasers of Nixonian apologias.

Of course, if the study does support Sunstein's argument, perhaps we should extend his call to have links to dissenting viewpoints not only the internet, but in books. Perhaps Michael Moore's publisher could include blurbs for Bill O'Reilly's books in Moore's latest. Or perhaps Sunstein's publisher's page of reviews for Republic.com could include some reviews that might have disagreed with Sunstein's conclusions? Now that would be an unplanned encounter.

via Furdlog (but don't read him, because he and I agree frequently)

March 10, 2004

BitTorrent, RSS and Broadcatching, Catching On

- Posted by

Bad pun, I know. So sue me.

Today I've come across a couple of posts relating to the revolutionary idea of Broadcatching, that is, using RSS and BitTorrent as a new distribution channel.

A new blog, Outside the System, authored by an indie media producer, discusses in detail how broadcatching could be an alternate distribution channel for movies (BitTorrent + RSS = Broadcatching):

These margins and the edges of cost and value are a hamper on the real blossoming of video distribution on the Web, and can only be aggregated so far out of the way. P2P swarming technology is the only current viable route to break that stalemate by spreading at least part of the costs away from your own bandwidth pipe, but under a system like BitTorrent that's only really useful if there are a lot of people with fully download copies to swarm from (so you have a classic tipping point model of efficiency.) Promotion preceeds adoption preceeds efficiency.
The brilliance of an RSS approach, though, is that it builds in at least two important features that BitTorrent alone doesn't address. First, it provides a method of propogation through editorial filters -- a successful editor picking new BitTorrent works could help create an instant rush to the tipping point, in the process decreasing the cost of bandwidth on each copy. Second, it turns BitTorrent into a subscription system, one where your system automatically collects new content of a large size overnight (for example.)

Read the post for a concrete example of how expensive traditional internet distribution is and how broadcatching can alleviate this problem.

The film used as an example, because the author of the post executive produced it, is Nothing So Strange , which documents the aftermath of the assassination of Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates on December 2, 1999. Bonus cool factor: Bill Gates Assassination Film Goes "Open Source," Releases "Evidence" DVD:

"Nothing So Strange" will be released under a license that allows all of the "source" footage of the movie to be used without restriction, in personal or commercial projects, but keeps the actual film as created by the filmmaker under copyright. "You have free access to all the parts of the movie," said Flemming. "But you can't just copy our version of it--you have to make your own original work with the various parts."

Waxy.org pointed me to a collection of links to blogs that post MP3 files (mp3 blogs/rotation etc.). For example:

Could it be more obvious that MP3 blogs would benefit from broadcatching?

For more information on Broadcatching, see also:
BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast
Broadcatching - Not Broadcasting
Broadcatching - The Early Days
RSS + BitTorrent Announcement Soon?

March 04, 2004

New Hacking Blog

- Posted by

Ed Felten writes about the Freedom to Tinker, "the right of technologists and citizens to tinker with technological devices." Anyone who has ever pulled something apart and tried, successfully or not, to put it back together understands the freedom Felten is talking about. While Felten focuses mainly on the legal and policy issues, there is now a blog (not associated with Felten) dedicated to practical examples of the "Freedom to Tinker," though Felten might not like the name too much.

mehack describes itself thus:

extend, personalise, break, poke, peek, learn. hacking hacking hacking. ever had that desire to pop open your tivo, your xbox, cell phone, or your car? ever wanted to know what the hardware and software hackers are up to? this is what mehack is all about.
we all know the frustration in discovering that there isn't something out there that does exactly what you want it to do. we've all fantasized about doing it ourselves, or taking something off the shelf and modding it. we're going to be tracking people, projects that are doing both -- we're interested in those that take the "hell with it, i'll just build it" attitude, and we're interested in those that buy those things off the shelf and pop them open to coerce them into doing what they want. and we're interested in the tools they use too.
our agenda is simple -- we want to learn from others. we're not interested in doing anything destructive. and we're not interested in piracy. we just want things that we can hack on. and most of all, we want to make it simple for people like you to start building.

There are already some good posts on the hecklebot, audiotron api, and playing with linksys access points upping the firmware.

Add it to your RSS feed when adding the new gadget blog, engadget.

via PVR Blog

Posted at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) & TrackBacks (0) | Email this entry | Category: Blogging | News | Tools

February 11, 2004

RSS for TV, Music

- Posted by

Andrew Grumet is developing a very interesting TiVo hack (RSSTV: Syndication for your PVR). Basically the idea is to share PVR program recording information via RSS. So, when you subscribed to an RSSTV feed, your PVR would record the shows in the feed. Friends and bloggers could easily suggest shows to each other and even create their own virtual networks. Channels would no longer manner; we would watch Mary TV, or the Felten tech channel, based off these RSSTV feeds. Goodbye NBC, CBS, and ABC. Hello, Balkin's Pop Culture for Constitutional Scholars TV.

Of course, another thing I would really be interested in is a nice RSS feed for music. Programming playlists is too much work, and I like the structured serendipity of a good radio show. Why not RSS feeds for music that my MP3 player would synch with? It would be great if it would download stuff I didn't already have, but even without that, it would be pretty darn nice.


via David Galbraith

January 27, 2004

Balkin on Sunstein, Blogging and Democracy

- Posted by

Prof. Jack Balkin has made a couple of good posts about freedom of speech, democracy and blogging (What I learned about blogging in a year and Political Organization and Political Discussion on the Internet). The posts are mostly in response to Cass Sunstein's wildly overblown fears of internet-facilitated cultural isolation in Republic.com and a recent article in the New York Times that has a similar thesis (Politics of the Web: Meet, Greet, Segregate, Meet Again).

Frankly, I've never really understood Sunstein's fears. It seems to me that we have far more to fear from the mass media, whether that mass media was the Catholic Church prior to the 95 Thesis or that mass media epitomized in The Triumph of the Will. I think the major conceptual problem with Sunstein's thesis is that he seems to assume that people are mostly passive consumers of information. This is one of the critical elements of the traditional mass media model. In the past, mass media has generally been dependent on top-down control of the means of production and distribution to fill the minds of passive consumers. Today's internet media doesn't eliminate the traditional model directly, but provides a competing means for bottom-up production and distribution that assumes active participation and production by people who aren't merely passive consumers.

In many ways, actually, the top-down and bottom-up means of production and distribution are complimentary, which is why Sunstein's calls for some sort of top-down control over the bottom-up internet strike me as so odd. Sunstein's thesis makes sense only to the extent that the public cannot be trusted (whether for social, technical, economic or legal reasons) to be both consumer and producer, recipient and distributer. If there are problems, the solution seems to be to give more capability to consumers to produce and distribute, rather than attempt to replicate mass media controls.

December 18, 2003

Napsterization: The Blog, Debuts

- Posted by

Nap·ster·i·za·tion n. The disruption by new technologies and digital media of old economy institutions and analog frameworks.

Mary Hodder, of the bIPlog, has started a new blog dedicated to the process of Napsterization. The mission of the blog is described as follows:

Napsterization.org blog focuses on positive, fair-use and legal examples of peer-to-peer file sharing of works approved by their creators for sharing, helpful in learning about works that are then lawfully purchased, or otherwise considered fair use under the "fair use doctrine" in American copyright law or the copyright laws of other countries.

The blog also gives examples of digital expresssions of disruptive technologies effects and old analog systems and institutions, as well as analysis and opinion of the effects of distruption.

November 07, 2003

Who is John Simpson? Journalism, Lawyers and Blogging

- Posted by

There has been an interesting discussion on the bIPlog regarding Mary Hodder's posting of news regarding the status of the Online Policy Group v. Diebold, Inc. case. The original post is here: Diebold Case Gets Accelerated by Judge. The comments are here: Comments: Diebold Case Gets Accelerated by Judge.

The interesting discussion starts with a "John Simpson" pointing out that while the case was accelerated, the request for a temporary restraining order was denied:

You, like everyone else in the "blogosphere" that I've seen, fails to note that the judge DENIED THE TRO!!!! That's the story, certainly more than the fact that the case was "accelerated."

A valid and worthwhile point. Probably all would have been fine if John had stopped there. Unfortunately, John begins to go off the track when he continues:

So much for Berkeley's journalism school.

First, let me note that Hodder's post was factually correct. However, it was rather short and didn't note what some would consider the more important aspect of the ruling (though you likely would have to be a lawyer to know this). Still, a blog doesn't get a news posting the way John prefers and suddenly an entire institution is called into question? Get a grip, John.

The problem seems to be that John, in a common error, expects too much from blog postings:

With all your [Hodder's] talk about "creating discussion" and "evolving the discussion" and "foster[ing] the iteration of what we know about something," you seem to have forgotten the basic rules of journalism, i.e., don't publish before you know the relevant facts.

If blogs always waited to post until they had all the relevant facts, there would be many fewer blogs. There would be much less journalism in general. This is not to denigrate the gathering of all relevant facts, but simply to note that publishing on a timely basis sometimes prevents one from gathering every relevant fact.

In any case, unlike much traditional journalism, blogs provide something better than waiting for all the relevant facts ... they provide links that let readers do their own research and investigation to verify what the blog is saying. Let's remember that Hodder's post was factual and provided a link to EFF's document archive, where (as soon as it was posted) one could read the order itself (Order to Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction and Denying Temporary Restraining Order [PDF]). Hodder may not have seen all the relevance of the accelerated schedule re the TRO, but she pointed interested parties to the sources where one could get more information.

So, in fact, John's argument is not particularly on point. Hodder had the facts right. What she didn't have was the subjective interpretation of the facts. If you are going to condemn journalists for getting subjective interpretation of facts wrong, then instead of saying "So much for Berkeley's journalism school" you should say "So much for journalism itself."

Of course, blogs have advantages when it comes to interpretation error. You get the meaning of the facts wrong (or even the facts themselves), you can update a blog and respond much quicker, just as this discussion has developed over the past 24 hours. A letter to the editor for a newspaper story would still be in the post office while this conversation has already developed quite substantially. As Hodder notes, blogs are iterative; they're not the "first draft of history," they are the "rough scribbled notes of history." Blogs are quick to err and quick to correct. Anyone who reads my blog postings knows that I often provide caveats based on a "quick reading" or "as the facts are currently known." If you are reading blogs for the definitive story, you've got the wrong medium.

The fact that you blame your ignorance on the EFF's web site is really telling (and so is the fact that your headline nearly mirrors theirs); they are a zealous, biased interest group whose statements should be subject to a high degree of skepticism, as should the statements of all such partisan groups. Or do such rules of fairness and accuracy not apply in the "blogosphere"?

John makes a big point about EFF being a "zealous, biased interest group." Interestingly, we know nothing about John's biases. We know he claims to be a lawyer, but that is all. For all we know, John represents Diebold. Who is John Simpson and what are his biases?

Moreover, Hodder wasn't hiding where she got her information from. It is sad that Diebold is not hosting a similar resource to EFF's or releasing alternative press releases, but I'm sure if they did Hodder would have linked to them as well.

In any case, bIPlog doesn't claim to be "objective." The mission of bIPlog is "to advance the debate over intellectual property by aggregating noteworthy, factual information with thought-provoking commentary." I know that bIPlog tries to be fair and accurate, but that doesn't mean unbiased. Of course, being opinionated means that sometimes you are wrong. It isn't the end of the world when that happens.

You are at a journalism school! Practice some journalism! Call the lawyers -- on BOTH sides. Call the court -- try to get a copy of the order. Ever heard of "shoe leather"? "Pounding the pavement"? Or is that considered old-fashioned in the blessed "blogosphere"? If this is what they teach at journalism schools these days, Lord help us all.

John's complaint is that a blog at a journalism school doesn't practice traditional journalism. It is a blog, John, not a newspaper. The rules haven't yet been set in concrete, but they probably don't include treating posts the same way one would treat an article in the newspaper. Blogs are quick and dirty, with lots of links. This doesn't mean that you won't sometimes practice traditional journalism (I've been known to make a few phone calls myself and go to courthouses), but most people I know expect blogs to rely more on secondary sources then primary ones.

This doesn't justify "inaccuracy, unfairness, or, frankly, laziness," but one has different expectations for a blog than one has for a newspaper, just as one has different expectations for a law journal article as opposed to a legal newspaper.

Anyway, John's problem with Hodder's post wasn't that she had the facts wrong, but that she didn't interpret them in a way that John thought proper. Memo to John: Non-lawyer journalists frequently misinterpret legal holdings (that is why they are journalists, not lawyers). It isn't a good thing, but it is hardly cause to cry "Lord help us all." The polite way of responding to journalists who lawyers believe have misinterpreted a legal holding is to simply point out a better interpretation - without essentially calling the blogger an embarrassment to journalism or denigrate the "blogosphere."

As far as the substantive aspects of John's arguments, I agree that EFF is stretching their legal arguments (EFF, Stanford Support Diebold Countersuit). However, I also have to disagree with John's prediction:

I am fairly confident that the judge will NOT issue the order requested by the EFF, i.e., one forbidding Diebold from issuing C&D letters. I predict that the judge will find that such an order would be clearly barred by the First Amendment.

I predict that the judge will NOT have to reach constitutional issues to deny EFF their requested relief. I predict that the judge will be able to deny the order on grounds other than the First Amendment.

October 29, 2003

Blogger Fired for Security Violation

- Posted by

According to his blog, until this past Monday, Michael Hanscom was a temporary employee in Microsoft's Copy/Print shop, reporting to a Xerox supervisor. Michael worked there until he was fired for a security violation for a blog post (Of blogging and unemployment). The original blog post that resulted in the firing contains a photo of a number of Power Mac G5s being unloaded from a truck at the receiving dock on the Microsoft facility in Redmond (Even Microsoft wants G5s).

I've only had the chance to read one side of the story (and I doubt MS Security will comment), but it seems to me that Microsoft has overreacted (though it is within their rights to fire). Couldn't this have been handled with a discussion and some more training about security issues? Is the employee manual so clear on security issues? I'm also sort of curious as to how this came to Microsoft's attention. Do they monitor employee's private websites?

What this does show, however, is that companies probably should add an "acceptable blogging policy" regarding company-related posts to their employee manuals.


via Metafilter

October 28, 2003

Swarthmore's Professor Burke on the Diebold/Swarthmore Scandal

- Posted by

Prof. Timothy Burke of Swarthmore's History Department has a thoughtful post on the Swarthmore/Diebold scandal (Caveat Emptor). While appalled by Diebold's actions and proud of the students who have revealed the mendacity of Diebold, he finds fault with some of the students' tactics and defends Swarthmore's response. Much of his argument is well-taken and provides good guidance for civil protests on college campuses (such as, don't ask /. readers to email the Dean en masse).

However, I do take exception to the claim that I and others "[repeat] what they’re finding at the Why War? website as if it’s the absolute gospel truth, and [exhibit] zero curiosity about the totality of the story." I do not believe that accurately characterizes my following of the story. For example, in this post (Swarthmore Crackdown on Protesting Students Reaches New Low), I am clearly skeptical of the claims of the Why War? website:

Now, Swarthmore is allegedly terminating the internet connection of any student who links to the Why War? website .... If the allegations are true, this is a tremendous violation of freedom of expression and academic freedom. [emphasis added]

In accordance with my skepticism, I actually tracked down, telephoned, and spoke with two principles of the story, a student whose website was shut down and a member of Swarthmore's IT department. I hardly think making phone calls to confirm the posting is "exhibiting zero curiosity."

I'll also note that as a followup, I spoke with a member of Swarthmore's IT department again yesterday. The linking policy is, as of last night and according to this individual, unchanged. Students may have a text-based link to the Why War? site, but not an active HTML link to the site.

Volokh on Blogging and Libel

- Posted by

Eugene Volokh of the eponymous Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting and brief comments on the differences in liability for libel between bloggers and other forms of journalism (Mickey Kaus on blogging, writing, speaking, and editing).

October 22, 2003

Camera Phone Backlash

- Posted by

CNETAsia has an interesting artice on the backlash towards camera phones (Ban camera-phones in workplaces: Analyst). The analyst in question is Jack Gold, of the META Group, and he seems to be a bit reactionary. Certainly banning all camera phones is going to become difficult when all phones will soon have cameras (see, Nokia's All Seeing Eye(s)).

The article does point out some other interesting news as well. For example, Iceberg Systems is testing technology ("Safe Haven") that will disable camera phones in particular locations. Also, Korea's legislature is considering requiring camera phones to make a loud noise when a photo is taken. Perhaps the two aspects could be combined ... cameras would have to emit a loud noise when a photo is taken in a particular location.

via Techdirt

UPDATE 0715 PT

On the other hand Jeff Jarvis is celebrating The all-in-one, super-duper, deluxe everything citizens' reporting machine.