Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes Social & Political

Dan Gillmor

<![CDATA[Interesting interview with Dan Gillmor by Korea’s OhMyNews about his plans for a citizen journalism company, which while vague are rich with the ethical and business challenges he’ll face as he steps out into the entrepreneurial world.]]>

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

Indexing is politics

<![CDATA[Books we like, a new collaborative index of book recommendations founded by the Media Venture Collective is being evangelized by Brad deGraf. Think Working Assets for book recommendations, as a share of sales generated by the site at Amazon, Google and elsehwere, goes to supporting progressive media organizations.
Here’s my feedback: I like the design and the intent; it’s a great way for people to find and share books they like. Question is, how can the recommendations be distributed back out to the rest of the world, an affiliate program? If so, and I have an affiliate program (as I do), is there a sharing program where part of the affiliate fee goes to the progressive organizations? Or, is there a way to record the affiliate fees as a charitable donation and generate the appropriate tax forms at the end of the year?
The contribution of value can flow both ways, which I think is the catalyst for wildfire adoption. Better to make it a way of tracking affiliate fees as a charitable contribution mechanism. Everyone can feel good about that.
The catalog is already interesting. I found several books that were surprising and well reviewed (in the sense that I really connected with the reviewer’s reasons for liking the book). It demonstrates how information organized from one point of view has some power and value; we may contest the point of view, but the perspective is what adds the value.]]>

Media Comment & Crimes Social & Political

eBay listing as editorial

<![CDATA[So, it seems someone listed Judge Jerald R. Klein as being for sale on eBay. The judge isn’t happy about it. The interesting question is, is this a libel in which eBay has participated?
“In today’s world, this is how people who are not celebrities can get their voice heard,” said the woman, who recently lost a case before the judge and is being evicted from her apartment. “It was satire; it was parody.”
The judge is pissed off at eBay, as though eBay makes some kind of editorial decision about what gets listed in its auctions. And eBay, for its part, pulled the listing shortly after learning about it.
I am all for parody and the freedom of expression. I hope someone saved a screen shot of the listing when it had been bid up to $127.50 by 21 people (who are they? that’s the story I want to hear). That the judge would think this may be libel—he wouldn’t say, only that he was conferring with court administrators about what steps he can take—and that eBay would remove the listing because it is a personal attack rather than parody, is just plain discouraging. eBay is a community, which means it has to bear a little conflict now and again to stay humane.
If the judge were smart, he’d have let the auction conclude and allowed the seller to be confronted with her inability to deliver the goods. That would have been real payback in a conversational marketplace.]]>

Media Comment & Crimes

Welcome to the fresh air, Dan

<![CDATA[Dan Gillmor is coming to the citizen journalism side of the fence. Congratulations, Dan, on a great decision to follow your faith in a new model!]]>

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

MSNBC's citizen journalists

<![CDATA[Interesting experiment in “democratic journalism” at MSNBC led by Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. I think the word choice in the headline is odd, but applaud the idea.
MSNBC did this during the election, when more than 4,000 people filed stories. The pieces MSNBC displays are edited—or else they were bizarrely consistent in the word count they choose to submit—and collected on a single page, which is different than the stories by MSNBC staff, which have their stories posted on individual pages and at considerable length. This reflects some value judgments about which source of words is most important or perceptive, but I am sure it can change.
At, we get a variety of story types and occasionally the coverage devolves into simple blog postings rather than attempts to report or editorialize at length based on facts and solid sourcing, but the decision was that if the writers signed on to the basic purpose of the site we can afford the space granted to anyone. It would be great, though, if we could work with some of these writers at length to help them polish their stories, dig deeper and basically help them improve their reporting, because there is already so much energy and insight there. That effort might make shorter stories, but not for consistency. Rather, we’d help people cut stories down to the absolute essence. This may result in the telegraphic style of the old TIME magazine, but it could also be the leisurely chats we read by Dave Barry.
An editorial investment in this blog genre/format will help writers become more proficient in their voice, not reduce them to quick standardized bites. The point with this whole reader-directed medium is that people will spend as much time as they want with an author; editors can help grow the dialogue. We can’t insult our citizen journalists by making them into sound bites.]]>

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

When the weird go pro….

<![CDATA[My posting over at Red Herring today is about the Excel hack for tracking Halo 2 play. I make the point that with this kind off RSS-based score sharing, a professional league could be created; basically, it’s an argument that when one can track people doing the same thing all over the world the kind of localized competitive play we are used to—on the models of national leagues for baseball, football and football, basketball, golf and so forth—are suddenly accessible to players everywhere. With non-physical competition, like Halo 2, groups can play competitively at any time. In physical sports, imagine RFID chips with velocity sensors built into a baseball or football that measured the speed of a pitch or kick to rank players around the world. Additional sensors could tell who had the best change-up or curveball.
The thing about all this is that there is an economic imperative behind organizing any competition that will offend the copyright activists out there and I want to address this from the perspective of someone who sees the potential for all sorts of fun to be had in a world where people can enjoy some healthy non-destructive competition and some folks can get paid for being the best at what they do (sans steroids). This scenarios requires that the compilation of data can be protected in some way, as the Professional Golf Association is able to after winning a Supreme Court battle with a newspaper company that was displaying PGA scores in real time on its sites.
The distinction here is that the record of PGA scores is freely reportable while they are timely and protected during a competition or a single day’s play. A Halo 2 player could put their scores on the Web freely and play in an score aggregator’s league or simply to compare themselves to play in the league, but in order to play for prizes they would be required to make their timely scores available only to the aggregator, who would be producing content and creating sponsorship positions that drive revenue and pay for the prizes. It’s like taking a job at a company.
Now, is this the kind of exclusivity in scores bad for the public? Well, only if you think the scores matter outside the context of the contest and, generally, historical scores carry no value and are freely available.
I think the creation of settings where value can be generated is a very good thing, it’s the heart of business in a world so interconnected as ours. In games or podcasting, for example, value will be created by counting and disseminating information about who’s playing or listening. This can be accomplished in very open ways, by sharing our scores and content we can all participate even if we don’t want to make any money but if anyone is interested in prize money or earning a living podcasting, someone has to count scores and audiences and hold that information temporarily in order to get the fees from sponsors or advertisers that cover the cost of production and a share for the players/producers.]]>

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

Correction about Nick Denton

<![CDATA[In the original version of "Media transformation is inevitable—just maybe” I wrote of Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, that “I’ve had to call him out for allowing his bloggers to travel on Microsoft’s dime and not disclose it.” In fact, his blogger was the only one to disclose the conflict, and it was from that disclosure that I determined what other bloggers who had taken the junket did not disclose. So, sorry, Nick, my mind’s going or just too much is getting crammed in there.]]>

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

With friends like this, who needs enemas?

<![CDATA[Shill or new-age delusional, I am accused of being wrong to take the Marqui deal according to two folks who have jobs at well-funded blog publishers. One, Stowe Boyd, whom I've shared conference rooms with but never talked to, still says I am a shill while hectoring about the civilities of the blogging community, and Jason Calacanis, whom I count as a friend and will continue to, says I've gone over to the dark side.
So, let's dive in and review: My points about the ethical questions these and other folks have raised are well documented in other posts, so I'm going to take the Fisking approach to this particular argument, citing what I've already written before rather than get extensively into new territory. First, let me say that this is exactly the kind of debate and discussion we need to have as bloggers embrace filthy lucre in many ways, rather than just the one old-style ethical model of traditional publishing.
I don't want to assume that anyone involved in this debate is actually aware that the publishing business model itself has evolved rather dramatically and, therefore, it's form in 1995 was only a temporary not a permanent state of affairs, but I believe Stowe and Jason know that. We should be actively engaged in this process of learning how to change. We should have bloggers set up sites to police blog ethics (how would they earn revenue, one wonders?), but we should not have bloggers descending to name-calling, which I feel Stowe's argument has fallen to when it off-handedly in the opening sentence calls Marqui-sponsored bloggers "shills."

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes Social & Political

Friday disclosures

<![CDATA[Seeing as I am now officially under attack from all quarters, and because none of my critics has really read either my disclosure page or most of the postings I've published about the ethical questions associated with taking money to place a badge and a weekly textual acknowledgment of the sponsorship, I herewith begin publishing a weekly disclosure of my business relationships. See, even though I do write for a large part of my living—a much smaller share since I started blogging, by the way, because it is perceived to be of less value to publishers than feature writing—I also perform business and media consulting functions, as well as start and operate companies.
Here are the current business relationships I have, as well as the stocks I own:

Business & Technology Media Comment & Crimes

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.]]>