Friday, April 27, 2007

Something Rotten in the State of Northampton

Note: for this post, I have decided not link to the blogs of the warring parties. This is so that none of the parties involved believes themselves to be endorsed by this blog. I will only link out to some radio podcasts, as they are interesting (as in the Chinese curse:"may you live in interesting times") conversations on the topic of bloggers/journalists. Overall, I am simply trying to figure out how the blogger/journalist issue breaks down on the geographic local level. I find it sad, discouraging and frightening.end

Normally I don't do much commentary on poltiical issues--and prefere my teapot tempests to be things that are pretty bloody obvious--but this a.m. I tried to unravel the war that's been brewing between NoPornNorthampton, MoPornNorthampton, and several folks over at, and how all this got pulled into some radio broadcasts on the issue of bloggers and jouranlists...

From what I gather, there have been personal attacks from one side to the other. Who started the attacks, I can't really say--it's hard to tell in all the mess and I don't know if posts have been deleted (I know comments have been deleted and persons have been banned) When posts/comments are deleted, the train of thought and consequence can't be clearly delineated.

What I can say is that the rhetoric is super-hot on all sides.

Then again, the idea of a porn shop on King Street does raise an eyebrow or two.

But from what I see, one issue is the nature and purpose of a blog. Are all blogs journalism and should all blogs be held to the same standard? Well, that's as thorny a question as the placing of certain businesses. Blogs are, as has been said by Jay Rosen, little First Amendment Machines.

So, as often happens with the First Amendment, some folks will go overboard, push boundaries, make lots of others unhappy...

And maybe some blogs aren't journalism. Maybe they shouldn't be.

A local radio personality Bill Dwight's produced a few podcasts to bring up the blogger/journalist issue: you can scroll through this site to find them....they're interesting in many respects, as they're bringing something that's taken place mostly in the blogosphere--and perhaps might have been solved in the blogosphere--into the broadcast media realm.

Yet I worry about who's presenting the arguments, and who's controlling the conversation. Where are the conversations about blogging and journalism happening in the W. Mass media landscape--print or broadcast? Are they happening only in pockets where rhetroic--right or left--reigns? Does one side--right, left, activist, citizen, journalist, blogger--have the better understanding of the First Amendment and free speech than another? Is it appropriate to bring a blogospheric argument into broadcast?

I'm listening to the podcasts, and I wonder if any of the guys involved are reading stuff on, if they're reading Jarvis or Rosen or any of the people that are having the larger discussions on the topic of bloggers/journalists. Those national discussions are important to the local discussion.

Another aspect that's a little frightening in these dialogues is that there is nary a woman in the argument. Perhaps a little estrogen in the testosterone contest might help? ;-)

Then again, perhaps the women don't want to be involved. Perhaps they don't want to be steamrolled by the testosterone. I can't blame them, really.

One thing, though, that I've concluded in listening to the podcasts, and having read some of the mess that's going on, is that I don't think there's room for any independent citizen journalism out here in W. Mass. No room for an H2oTown, no room for a WestportNow, no room for The Forum (Deerfield, NH) a The msm outlets--from the main paper, to the alternative paper, and now a radio outlet coupled with, I think, some activists--seem to have created this super-heated atmosphere and struggle for control over who's entitled/qualified/sanctioned to publish online that to steep one's toe in the citizen journalism pool might cause one to get it bit off by a Great White shark.

And that, in its own strange and peer-pressure-y way, feels like a kind of censorship.

Think about it.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Blogger Magazine Heralds Our Moment of Entropy

When I read on Debra Ng's "Weblogs" page about this new blogger's magazine, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or throw up....and the reaction had nothing to do with Scoble on the cover....

Rather, it had to do with the tagline for Blogger & Podcaster magazine: "For Aspiring New Media Titans."

So, that's what this has all come down to--one giant aspiration to be a New Media titan.... Editor Larry Gelkin's podcast statement drastically understates (almost to the point of hyperbole) what it might take to become a blogger or podcaster who actually makes money from what he/she does. I know. I make money from what I do--not fromt his blog, but from my other projects. It takes networking and making connections. Stuff just doesn't fall into your lap because you think you're cool...

And it does indeed take MONEY to make it big--ask Mike Arrington and Arianna Huffington.

Another irony is the print edition, which at a hefty $79 a year, kind of proves my point about having money in order to make money in new media. Sorry. Low-rent losers get very little free content--right now, just blog posts by "Larry" "shelly" and "Anne."(Note: Larry sez we can dowload the digital and pod versions for free.) And maybe I'm not "bloggery" enough, or A-list-y enough, but I don't recognize any of the folks on staff as bloggers (then again, there are bloggers who don't know who Tim O'Reilly is either...)

Makes me wonder though if the staff really know anything about the community and culture of blogging, or if they're just a bunch of people who know a bunch of other people who blog....

They definitley made sure they had their media kit ready before they launched! Odd, I don't remember seeing a question in Blogger's FAQ about putting together a "media kit."

I can't say I wish them luck. I can't say I wish them anything. I feel kind of the same way I felt when I saw "punk outfits" in Macy's Junior section at the local mall. Kinda sick. Kinda hysterical. Not in the mood for an Orange Julius.

Guess I'll have to take a trot down to the old Barnes & Noble and pick up my copy today! (yeah, right...)

More on the Moment: Scoble blogs it--but maybe he can't see the entropy....I sure hope Business Blog Consulting's got it right....but are the "publishers" bloggers or journalists???? Perhaps we should all be reading Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur instead....

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Friday, April 20, 2007

A Journalist by Any Other Name

Some curious conversations going on this week on the journalist/citizen journalist/blogger conundrum...a frightening turn of events at The Chicago Tribune....and some truly wise words on how newspapers can become hubs for all this new media without having to define who's a journalist and who isn't....

Let's first look at the old "Who's a journalist?" debate (it's getting almost to be a "Who's your daddy?" kinda's so absurd at times) Jeff Jarvis was at the RTNDA this week and blogged about a particular panel--where both Zadi Diaz and Amanda Congdon stated that they did not consider themselves journalists. Yet Terry Heaton (who was also on the panel) and Jeff like to insist that they are. What stuck out to me in Jeff's post was so very little about how the younger generation is teaching us what the news is supposed to be (which I believe is Jeff's argument) but the paternalistic tone Jarvis takes in his insistence that Diaz and Congdon are journalists. Why is it so important that someone *else* make up both Diaz and Congdon's minds for them on the matter? There is something horribly lopsided in this equation--the younger females being very clear on what they are doing, while the older men wanting to muddy the waters and tell the young women who they are (and, in effect, what they are doing in their respective jobs...)

Note 4/22/07Because Jeff has inisisted that he is insulted by my use of the word "paternalistic" in ref. to his post, I've gone back and re-read the post From Jeff's post regarding A &D's refusal of the term "journalist": "We’ve made it exclusive. We’ve weighed it down with pretense and presumptions and rules. We’ve made these women assume that being a journalists stops you from doing what they do. Beware." I still disagree with Jeff and believe he's not considering that the resason A & D eschew the word has nothing to do with his assumption. Perhaps the reason they eschew the term "journalist" isn't that it stops them from doing this or that. From many of the folks I know, it's not the term, but the idea that they know their own minds, and know why they are doing what they are doing more than any hem-and-haw over the term "journalist" Maybe it's that they know their minds pretty darned well and it's not any indimidation by any journalism elite--or preconceived notion of journalism--that makes them think otherwise.

Yet it's this kind of nonsense--that there is one older, more wizened group out there who can define for us what we're doing with our blogs, vlogs and pods, why we're doing it, and who we should be doing it for--that may be part of what's behind the Chicago Tribune's latest boneheadded move to launch a hyperlocal citizen journalism website. Why on earth does the management at the Chicago Tribune believe that they need something like Triblocal

All I see are people becoming unpaid pawns in a much larger war over what is and is not journalism. TV stations will ply us with come-ons to "harvest" our content....newspapers will trot out fancy "your news" sites so that we'll feel all responsible for feeding them our content....and what do we get out of the whole thing...

A giant nothing.

No, wait...maybe we'll actually get a "great job" pat on the butt for getting that scoop that they could no longer pay reporters and videographers to get.

But there's some wisdom out there...and it's coming from some really great people who understand that the people using media isn't about people becoming journalists on the fly. Rich Gordon writes that newspapers should try to build the best network, not the best destination. Rich has taken the whole "who's a journalist?" question and blown it apart. It's not about the journalism. The journalism call still be done by the paper. It's about how the paper becomes a hub for all the other smaller forms of "citizen journalism" that may be happening around it. Rich's post is a wealth of insight on the matter and must be read in full to really get what he's saying--and how it can be done.

Howard Owens (a guy who really *does* get both journalism and community) sums up Gordon this way: Newspaper managers have traditionally believed they needed to build “sticky” sites and try to capture people and pretend the rest of the web doesn’t exist. That is a strategy doomed to fail. Only by being part of the clickstream can you hope to succeed.

Exactly right. By tussling over who's a journalist and who isn't, both Newspapers and the Rabble get distracted and pulled into a useless argument that ends only in "I know what you are but what am I?" Newspapers should view the new media landscape like bloggers--choose who you want to link to, but don't insist they write the blogs *for* you. That's utter nonsense and to echo Owens' assessment, doomed to fail.

Further newspapers might want to consider what John Wilpers is doing with BostonNOW a new newspaper and website that will combine traditional and citizen journalism--but not the way it's been done. Rather, Wilpers plans to aggregate the feeds of blogs, not pay people to blog for them nor provide bloggers with a new blogging platform. Speaking with John last week at the New England News Forum he explained that they will be aggregating the short feeds of bloggers. If someone's interested they'll be able to click right over to the person's blog--not use the paper's site as a proxy nor as a full-feed reader. This is great! It keeps citizens autonomous and drives traffic to them. Likewise, the citizens can link to BostonNOW and drive some of their traffic back over to BN. This is a win-win social and news situation. The professional journalists won't be compromised (their articles will be in the paper and on the site too)and the citizen/non-professional "journalists"/bloggers/compulsive conversationalists will have their say too. You, the reader, will get to make the choice which one you want to read at what time.

Now, if this financial model can work, perhaps it will make monkeys out of those who feel they have to keep defining who the journalists are/aren't for the rest of us.

Update Howard Owens makes some important points relative to this conversation at his blog. A few questions were raised there that may end up blogged about again.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Local News Doesn't Get Reported: My Easthampton, MA Evacuation

The failure of local MSM to help me stay informed about the flood in Easthampton from this April nor'easter started at 9:30 yesterday morning....Carl, the guy who runs the Sunset Bakery downstairs from where I live on Cottage St, knocked on my door to tell me that water was backing up downstairs and that they were going to have to shut off the water in the whole building.

Great. Just peachy. Without water in our building, I decided the best course of action was to pack up and evacuate myself to my boyfriend's in Belchertown....where there was water. And things were a bit drier...

But we didn't hear much about Easthampton all day. In fact, there was barely a mention on or the local broadcast tv outlets WGGB, WWLP, or Channel 3. There seemed to be some information online in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, but that was all locked up safely behind a pay wall (as if they're the Wall Street Journal or something..)

The best report I got was from my friend Briana, who I called sometime in the early afternoon, who told me the Manhan River was starting to flood some of the houses on its banks (near Rt. 5), that the Oxbow in Northampton was flooded (no surprise there. a good normal spring rain can flood the Oxbow) and that she wasn't sure how she was going to get home. We figured the best way would be over Mt. Tom. Long, but not flooded.

Since I couldn't get any info about what was going on in Easthampton, I later drove from my appointment in Amherst to Easthampton by taking the Long Way through Holyoke and over Mt. Tom. While on the road, I tried various radio stations hoping to hear something, but you'd think nothing was going on--same old bland playlists and nothing-newscasts. Even our local NPR affiliate just kept on playing whatever it had queue'd up. Then again, NPR doesn't really have reporters it can send out to find out what's going while I was a tad purturbed, I really couldn't blame them. It's just not their job...

That's kind of the job of the papers and the tv outlets. But no one had anything to say about Easthampton. Lots about Northampton and Westfield, where some folks were evacuated. But nothing about Easthampton, where a bunch of us had to "evacuate" also because there was no water in our buildings....

I got a smattering of news later that night. A couple of pictures on Channel 3 and that was it.

This morning, I got a call from my landlady, who told me that everybody up and down Cottage St. was flooded out, including Town Hall on Payson Ave....

The infrastructure's pretty old in Easthampton, and we're kind of low-lying, so these things happen....

The weather guys have been telling us that the water's going to recede today...but it's been raining all day....and will rain until at least Thursday. So it doesn't feel like the water's going away any time soon....

But the media should at least let us know more than just whether or not it's going to keep raining.

I guess it's easier to cover the VaTech story, hundreds of miles away and generating hundreds of wire stories, than it is to call up Easthampton's public works or fire chief and find out what's going on just a short hop from Northampton...

It's as if we don't exist....

So, while I've been something of a defender of local media--after all, where else can you hear all the high school sports you want and nary a bit of the pros--I have to say that I am sorely let down this time. The TV stations just keep yammering on about VA Tech, which is the same yammering I'm hearing all over the media--and isn't even bothering to give any flooding updates. I can't imagine why no one at (whose "bloggers" seem to be all over local media and in the colleges lately--some casting aspersions on who's a blogger and who isn't...) bothered to post about what's going on....and why the Gazette is keeping every scrap of info behind a pay-per-view wall, when it would be in the best interest of the community to at least make info about the flooding free for the moment...

I guess it's back to talking to the landlady, and talking to my friends. Because it's only by keeping my ears to the ground that I'm going to find out when my "evacuation" will be over....

Thanks for nothing, MSM....

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Why is Tim O'Reilly so Upset About Incivility Right Now?

Hadn't been over to Buzzmachine for awhile, but this afternoon, I went over there and found Jeff blasting Tim O'Reilly for O'Reilly's Draft Blogger's Code of Conduct.

All I can say is: Oh. give. me. a. break. Tim.

Is this only coming up now in the hallowed halls of O'Reilly-dom because someone he knows well got very hurt?

Where was O'Reilly last year when myself, Jimmy Bice, Grace Davis, Nancy White, and Bill Anderson were trying to have a discussion on blog civility at SXSW Interactive? At that time, all we got were a bunch of folks who ran message boards wanting to talk about their experiences and what to do about them. Where was O'Reilly when Peggy Phillip got bounced from the blogosphere? Where has O'Reilly been when any of us have got hurt by the weirdness of the blogosphere?

Ironically, Jimmy Wales is working with him on this. Now, I think Jimmy's got some great ideas (esp. his search engine), but might Jimmy want to take a gander at what's going on in some corners of Wikipedia first (asMatt Ingram suggests)?

Thing is, whether it's a blog or a message board or some other kind of online community forum, WE the administrators of that forum make our own policies. If we refuse to make any kind of policy, then shite will happen.

And because we are masters (and mistresses) of our own domains, we can disallow anonymous comments, we can moderate comments, we can even turn off comments. We can go out and blast idiots who attack us--and we can ignore idiots who attack us.

We are not obliged to protect hate speech. And we are not obliged to make blanket rules for the rest of the blogosphere based on something that happened to us. But if hate speech appears, we have the power to do something about it...that doesn't involve externally imposed rules.

Rex Hammock makes the point that suggestions regarding how to handle crapola are great. And yes, suggestions are. Dictums from On High aren't.

And just because I don't support O'Reilly doesn't mean I don't care. I do. I was massively offended by the crap on But I think bloggers handled it the best, using the tools we know how to use--our own blogs--to get our voices heard.

Another issue in the Kathy Sierra story that will not be helped by blog civility policies was emailed death threats. Emailed death threats have happened online just the way mailed death threats have happened in the visceral world. Even when the visceral world had more stringent codes of conduct, mailed death threats happened.

The only thing I can see happening with O'Reilly's code is a censoring of some bloggers for real or imagined slights. I see this kind of thing spiralling out of control to the point where there's a hard, firm line between Us and Them in the blogosphere....

Remember all bloggers are created equal, but some Bloggers are more equal than others.....

O'Reilly's code--and pressure to conform to that code--would serve only to make it clear who the Bloggers are.

Is that what we really want out here?

Think about it...

Additional good reading:Mike Arrington won't agree to it and Webomatica rounds up good links on the discussion
Update 4/11/07: Hugh McLeod posts a comment from Kathy Sierra whereby she says: For the record, I had nothing to do with the Code of Conduct (except for the obvious -- that I made that-post-I-now-regret), was never part of any discussions or "efforts" as a result of my post, and I don't think the Code of Conduct makes any sense (or would ever work). She also mentioned this in O'Reilly's comments section. Kathy is very reasoned on this--and even notes the importance of anonymity in spite of what happened to her. She knows this big bad blogosphere is about more than just her and that token gestures like O'Reilly's are silly.

Which makes me think, isn't O'Reilly being just as disrespectful by not asking Kathy to be part of the code of conduct?

Update: Finally read the NYTimes article on the situation and all I can think of is that it is a gross misrepresentation of what's been going on. And it goes to show that the msm doesn't get the blogosphere and doesn't care to. How it an quote Jory, Lisa, and Elisa and then say "many Internet veterans believe that blogs are part of a larger public sphere, and that deleting a visitor’s comment amounts to an assault on their right to free speech. " is beyond me. Further, that quote is a total misrepresentation of the reasons many "Internet veterans" aren't supporting O'Reilly's call. It's not about an assault on free speech, but about being responsible for one's own space and not wanting outsiders to interfere with the rules we want to make governing our own space. The Times makes bloggers who don't support O'Reilly into folks who'd be happy yelling "fire!" in crowded movie theaters. The Times needs a reality check. Or something.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is Online Journalism Ethically Unique?

Some strange arguments are surfacing these days re the ethics of journalism...Editor's Weblog posts on MarketWatch's decision to allow Bambi Francisco to to accept stake in a matchmaker for startups and venture capitalists.

In the case of individuals who are identified as journalists (separating from "citizen journalists"), who are working with known news agencie, there doesn't seem to be a reason to allow them a different set of ethical standards than their print counterparts.

How would MarketwWatch feel if a tech reporter for the New York Times took money from the same company as Francisco--and then wrote articles about them afterward?

Yet, it's not just journalistic ethics at play here--there's some overlap into the realm of unidentified paid endorsements on the Internet. The FTC set up a guideline for Word of Mouth Marketing
"The FTC said it would investigate cases where there is a relationship between the endorser of a product and the seller that is not disclosed and could affect the endorsement. The FTC staff said it would go after violators on a case-by-case basis. Consequences could include a cease-and-desist order, fines and civil penalties ranging from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Engle said the agency had not brought any cases against word-of-mouth marketers."

So, even if Francisco is seen as a word of mouth marketer, she would have to disclose that she had a relationship with the company that she was writing about.

It seems that, even if she claims to be not a journalist as Amanda Congdon recently claimed re her relationship with DuPont and ABC News there is some violation of FTC guidelines re paid endorsements and word of mouth marketing...

Because when a celebrity starts to talk about a product in public, it is, tacitly, an endorsement. That's how it's perceived by the public anyway...

So, should Francisco disclose? Well, even if she wants to use the not-a-journalist argument, she might still have to deal with the FTC. If she wants to use the not-a-paid-marketer claim, on top of the not-a-journalist claim, then I'd question what her role online is in general...

Either way--as a journalist or marketer--Francisco's relationship to Vator (the company that's paid her) should be disclosed.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Crowdsourcing Journalism, Wikipedia seeking contributors

From time to time, I'm going to be blogging here about some of the stuff going on at Assignment where we could use some contributors....

We've recently brought on a bunch of editors to start to wrangle the 12-headded hydra's-worth of topics we'er germinating. Which has helped us get a clue as to where we could use some contributors.... (better site design would have helped too--but we all know about that, it's pretty much a "yeah-yeah-yeah-I know-I know" topic among the team)

Crowdsourced Journalism is being handled/wrangled by Vivian Martin, who was with the Hartford Courant and is now a prof at Central CT State U. She's posted, on her AZ blog, some thoughts about the topic. If you think you'd like to add a bit, contribute something to what Vivian's doing, I'd suggest emailing her at vivian.newassignment at gmail dot com

We could also use some contribs on the Wikipedia stuff. We've got a person covering Jimmy Wales (man, that sounds funny!) but the ed over there, Maurreen Skowran who's got a bit of history with Wikipedia, could use some contribs. She'sposted a few thoughts that might help y'all decide if the project is something you want to work on. email her at maurreen.newassignment at gmail dot com.

So, that's it for the moment. I'm sure there are more places where people are needed...oh, and big shout out to Chris Mfor finding his way over to the BarCamp stuff and making himself known :-)

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Monday, April 02, 2007

My New Role at Assignment Zero

Last Monday, I started my first day as Deputy Director of Participation for Assignment Zero

In case you don't know/haven't heard what Assignment Zero is, it's Jay Rosen's project that hopes to find a good working model for how to combine citizens and journalists to create a new paradigm for investigative journalism.

It isn't without its bumps in the road, though.

There are conflicts between how things are done online and in journalism--the worlds are different (vast vs. limited), the mores are different (consensus vs. control), and the organizational structures are different(flow and self-imposed boundaries vs. direction and outside-imposed boundaries).

There are differences in understanding in three areas: how to work with volunteers, how to work with online folk, and how newsroom folk do things. There are ways of understanding transparency and ways in which the blogosphere bites back when one transgresses one of the Unwritten Laws of Transparency and Hierarchy (yes, we have hierarchy. remember: all bloggers are created equal, but some bloggers are more equal than others. and I'm not necessarily talking the A-list...)

I am, though, very excited to be part of Assignment Zero, and I've had the chance to define what I'm to do in my position contingent on the needs of the Team. Part of what I do is keep an eye on what's being said in the blogosphere. Another part is following the blogs of the Editors and Contributors (when I can find them) Another is giving input on new site design--coming into the project, I've found navigation confusing and it's not easy to follow what's going on. We've put our heads together, given David Cohn lots of good input and have a re-design that will launch later this week.

Along with this, I'm keeping an eye on how tech stuff is used by various projects in AZ--if I can get the Editors to give me input on what's going on and what they're employing vs. me chasing down what they're doing. I want to know how some of the new tools, like Twitter, might work for journalists in this space. Can they help or do they become a distraction? Is it too much to ask people to use new tools and can they adapt to not just the tools but to the world that has spawned those tools.

When I talk to journalists in general, I often find that many have a reluctance to understand online as a particular world with its own mores and, for lack of a better word, quirks. There is much emphasis on how to graft the process of journalism onto This World. But This World spins in a way that, in many cases, doesn't care about journalism--because it is not journalism. It is conversation. Perhaps there are ways in which those who want to make a section of the Internet, and blogging, into journalism can do that--but the entirety of it is not journalism. To know that parts of This Space are not journalism requires thinking of This Space in physical terms--as a place vs. a publication, and that written word in this space is really more like people yapping at the diner than it is people printing out pamphlets.

The people who want to be Pamphleteers will let you know that's what they're doing. People are conscious of what they are doing--and don't need others to define it for them.

Maybe that's part of the problem--that it takes time to understand what a person is doing out here, if it's conversation or journalism. If it's Yapping or Pamphleting. To know the difference requires Reading and Understanding--and corporations often want a bot to do the work of a person.

After all, bots are cheaper.

But I digress...

So, this starts my second week at Assignment Zero. I have my own blog there, and will be blogging daily over there on the blogosphere, the editor's blogs, and the progress of things within the site. It's an Outside/Inside blog, and my role, hopefully, will help folks involved in AZ understand how to merge two vastly different worlds.

Should be interesting, to say the least :-)

In other news: I will be on a panel at the New England News Forum this saturday (4/7) and on OJR an interview with Luke Beatty of Associated Content (who I utterly adore.)

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