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Media transformation is inevitable—just maybe

<![CDATA[Jay Rosen notes a growing willingness to join a new journalism movement. Susan Mernit points to the way the industrial journalism industry has created the conditions for its own destruction: “Like dragons sitting on piles of treasure, publishers have built up client relationships and sub lists that fuel their businesses and keep margins high. Like the polar ice floes, that all seems to be melting away, and at a similarly alarming rate.” Oh, and BusinessWeek misspelled my name.
Nick Denton says it’s time for a committee to enforce ethics. Jason Calacanis is leading the charge to launch a blog ethics watchdog. This smacks of the preliminary professionalization of the medium by those in the position to claim they have the capital necessary to enforce ethical standards, a sure sign that the well-funded see things about to take off. That doesn’t make Nick and Jason bad guys, just shrewd businessmen who see a growing challenge to their business model, which is centralized (around an ad sales infrastructure) and cost-intensive.
Yet what we know about blogging is that it is highly decentralized and while parts of the network will certainly be organized by Nick and Jason’s companies many projects have to take root for a richly varied media to thrive. Their ethics are important examples, but they must not be the rule.
The economics of a blog-based media—though I don’t advocate a blogs-only approach at all, but for sake of the argument will use the phrase here—are susceptible to lightweight infrastructures, as well. For example, Bill Gross has introduced what, to today’s media giants, is surely a frightening level of transparency in his startup search engine company. He shows how much revenue is collected daily. A collective effort to produce civic journalism can operate in the open and everyone involved can see the economic progress they are making. If you can show individual contributors, such as editors, writers, photographers and videographers that they are helping to create something big, they will work for very little in exchange for a small share of ownership—Wired proved this, without providing any accountability whatsoever, in the mid-90s—and a significantly increased level of editorial control.
I’ve been reading Christopher Alexander’s four-volume The Nature of Order, which is about creating a living architecture (buildings, not information technology). There’s so much to his work that it would be impossible to summarize (though it is by his publisher here), but the richness of the living designs he uses as examples throughout the book are the result of real craftspeople working over long periods of time to produce structures that engage people, enhance their lives and enable their work, spirituality and pleasure through its interaction with them. As I think about the journalistic structure awaiting catalysis, it seems that the thing will begin simply and become incredibly deep or complex, even when they are simple, because they are full of life. Fractal would be the pop cultural way of describing it, but that discounts the importance of managing—architecting—what will be built.
As Jay Rosen has written, journalism is a kind of religion staffed by believers. What is wrong with a committee to oversee the entire range of blog ethics is that it immediately becomes a rigid infrastructure, a kind of theology instead of the living spiritual process that Alexander describes in living architecture. The current diverse and contentious debate is a source of liveliness that can prevent a new journalism from taking on the stultifying sameness of the mass media. Layers of journalistic experience, ethical decisions and business experiments can add up to something greater, something alive. We ought to accept that mistakes will be made and learn to live with a process that is ever-improve through debate. So, no committee, but a metalogue should be organized and we should begin to record the lessons learned, the ethical lapses and successes. If we can embrace some uncertainty, we might just pull off something extraordinary.]]>

3 replies on “Media transformation is inevitable—just maybe”

>> What is wrong with a committee to
>> oversee the entire range of blog
>> ethics is that it immediately
>> becomes a rigid infrastructure, a
>> kind of theology instead of the
>> living spiritual process that
>> Alexander describes in living
>> architecture.
Well, the idea behind the ethics group is that it would not oversee anyone. It would be *OPT IN* only. If you believe in these principles then you can signup and put this icon on your homepage. If enough folks do that, and the public likes it, then maybe it someday means something.
However, this is not the ethics police as some folks are trying to spin it as. This is the “we are a group of folks with ethics, and we want to promote that with our community” group.
I guess I should be flattered (or scared) that people think of me (and Nick) as some masters of the universe. Nick has eight blogs, Weblogs, Inc. has 65. That’s 73 blogs. There are 2-4.5 million blogs out there depending on who you believe. Nick and I represent like > The current diverse and contentious
>> debate is a source of liveliness
>> that can prevent a new journalism
>> from taking on the stultifying
>> sameness of the mass media. Layers
>> of journalistic experience, ethical
>> decisions and business experiments
>> can add up to something greater,
>> something alive. We ought to
>> accept that mistakes will be made
>> and learn to live with a process
>> that is ever-improve through debate.
>> So, no committee, but a metalogue
>> should be organized and we should
>> begin to record the lessons learned,
>> the ethical lapses and successes.
>> If we can embrace some uncertainty,
>> we might just pull off something
>> extraordinary.
You know what Mitch, that is a of fancy talk that boils down to giving people an excuse to do unethical stuff. The ethical guidelines in media have been tested for a long time and guess what? They work! I’m all for testing new things, heck Weblogs, Inc. is one big experiement to me–honestly it is, I have no idea if it will work. However, I do know that you don’t have to do experiments to figure out when something is unethical… and taking money to write about people products, and/or trying to fool the public is wrong. No amount of new age thinking will change that.
best jason

Jason said:
”However, this is not the ethics police as some folks are trying to spin it as. This is the “we are a group of folks with ethics, and we want to promote that with our community” group.”
Yes, you are trying to be the ethics police. By setting a ‘group’, you are creating a gated community where folks who do not display the badge of ethics will by default display the ‘scarlet letter’
I am on the internet specifically because it is not a gated community. there are no fences here, which is just fine.

I think it is crazy the criticism of ethical violation with the Marqui sponsorship. I think it is black and white. Mitch is doing nothing wrong and is going over the top with his disclosures. Mitch it is grand that you are willing to disclose so much about your business relationships. I just don’t think you need to do it. Most people trust you enough to read what you post and evaluate the validity of it. The only danger is if you post positive about Marqui in a major way without disclosing the sponsorship. I do have to say that it is unnatural to think that Mitch would post negative criticisms about a sponsor. I would never think to do that on my WebTalk radio show.

I think we are mixing the concept of objective product review and advertising. This is the ethical dilemma. By mixing the possible good and bad review into the advertising message you are assuming that any exposure is good exposure and that the sponsoring company gets value from the open criticism and discussion about the sponsors product or service. It is an interesting way of looking at sponsorship, but one that is driving questionable value to the sponsor.

I think that Marqui is going to get great exposure and value from the sponsorship of these blogs. But, the next advertiser will get less value from it as the buzz of it will be less.

Everyone needs to climb down from the mountain of ethical purity and Zen. What is going on with blog sponsorship is not really all that ground breaking, but an extension of an already accepted media sponsorship practice.

The combination of sponsor blog posts, banner ads and possibly audio mentions in podcasts will be the ultimate path for sponsoring and funding blogs. My show WebTalk has all those pieces right now. My WebTalk blog is not as popular as the blogs being sponsored by Marqui, but I could start mentioning sponsors in my blog. I don’t see why a double standard exists with people in relation to blogs and sponsorship. Blogs are just another content distribution method like radio, newspapers and TV. They all run biased promotional mentions all the time. Look at PaidContent.org as they are a practicing case that is walking the ethical line very well.

I think the only real change is the sponsors’ willingness to accept negative criticism of its products or services as part of the sponsorship package.