Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oh, great! Now everybody's a freakin' media critic!

National Journal media critic Bill Powers is interviewed in PRWeek on the state of media criticism and what PRWeek sees as the burgeoning number of media critics:

PRWeek: With the Web, now almost anybody can be a media critic. Do you think the quality of media criticism is still there?

Bill Powers: Suddenly, there are about 10 million more media critics than there were 10 years ago. I find that exciting. It's funny, there are all these bloggers and all these people who are instant media critics, and yet there are a lot of traditional news outlets that still don't have anyone doing media criticism... My philosophy is, the more, the merrier.

And I actually think there are a lot of bloggers who are so good at it that I sort of wish they would be picked up by mainstream outlets and do both. Because I just think it's a topic that's really inexhaustible. I do this weekly column and I never have a shortage of ideas. There is always so much happening. And I do find that people really are engaged by this subject and talk about it. I think the conventional wisdom in journalism is that media criticism is an inside-the-business topic and it's really just going to be read by other journalists. And I don't think that's true anymore. I think there is a broader interest. Everybody sort of becomes a media critic, and people follow the stuff. I just did a public appearance last night jointly with Dan Okrent, the former New York Times ombudsman. It was a charity thing for a public library, and they had us in a congregational church in a town up where I live. All these hundreds of people showed up! It was great. They were all interested, and they asked incredibly intelligent questions, it was just fascinating. It wasn't journalists, it was people from the public who really follow this stuff and care about journalism.

I've emailed Bill a couple of times on his column, and he's always responded. great guy who actually knows something about the blogosphere. But one thing Bill is missing is an understanding of why people do media criticism. Think of it this way, Bill: when folks grow up with tv, radio, movies, and all sorts of media, and they're not lulled into brain-deadness from the unbiquity of celebrity worship, they're going to form opinions about media. And, unlike their fathers, who spent countless hours yelling at Walter Cronkite, most folks nowadays are going to channel all that pent up frustration into some darned astute writing and are going to use that writing to talk back to the Powers that Be in media. Most of us who are doing it are smart, perceptive and even might have written on media in the past or created it at some time in our lives (yes, to blow my own horn again: I did an honors thesis that combined media and religion.)

We're a whole new level of media critic and darned proud of it.

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Can MSM Do Citizen Journalism Without Acting Like Big Momma?

Like the domineering mother of a precocious child, the MSM is implementing all sorts of plans to help The People become citizen journalists....

By now, everyone has heard thatCNN jumped on the citizen journalism bandwagon and seeks video, audio, photographic content for their newscasts.

Perhaps, though, there's a difference between citizen-generated content and citizen journalism...but to differentiate would be less of a selling point. After all citizen journalism is a really wonderful buzzword and it'll make CNN look really, really hip to include The People in its efforts.

The World Company, which publishes the Lawrenced Journal-World, along with Kansas University's William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications is launching a citizen journalism academy where they'll even teach blogging! That's kind of funny, considering the blogosphere is a mystery to many at all different levels of MSM. The J-W's efforts appear sincere, but are they looking to cultivate independent thinking in their citizen journalists? or is it more about cultivating a select group of unpaid stringers?

What gets me in all these experiments is that no one is thinking that maybe, just maybe, The People should be watchdogging the MSM on every level--from the local paper to big media outlets. I wonder how much their desire to incorporate citizens is really a desire to stop the watchdogging and get some cheap labor in the process? There's been talk of outsourcing some journalism jobs to India, but when the media can get The People to do its job for nothing by catering to their sense of civic duty, why even outsource?

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I've got an essay in the Huffington Post

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Trouble With Splog (is bigger than you think)

Update: Doc Searls has had it with splog, too, and has started using the Attributio-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 2.5 Creative Commons license. Doc's right that it's not a perfect solution, but it does stipulate that content cannont be used only to attract advertising. "Because I believe legitimate blogs don't do that. And splogs do." exactly.

One of the biggest problems being a small-time blogger with a modicum of an audience is that you can quickly become a target for sploggers. Sploggers love to skim your content and set up "blogs" that then allow them to make scads of money--it's happened to both my blogs, and I'm not alone. Last year, Steve Rubel, through vanity searches, discovered his blog was being scraped and used for splog--and following Steve's suggestion, I started doing similar searches regularly. Within months of Steve's splog discovery, I discovered that this blog was being scraped. Since then, both have been scraped and the content used regularly by sploggers

A demonstration of the chutzpah of sploggers shows up at the bottom of this post in the "links to." I got sick when I saw this.

I outed one of the sploggers of this blog, Integrity Corporation, a short time ago. They have stopped scraping this blog, but someone else has now started actively scraping my personal blog. I would not be surprised if it was Integrity again, only using a different isp and url.

Steve's been writing regularly on the splog phenomenon, and latest entry on splogs notes an upcoming article in the September Wired that reports some splog stats:

*Some 56 percent of active English-language blogs are spam, according to researchers at the University of Maryland

* A survey by Mitesh Vasa in December 2005 found that was hosting more than 100,000 sploggers

* One splogger interviewed by Wired (I'm not going to dignify him with a mention) made over $70,000 in just three months from his network of splogs

To use a colloquialism: un-fucking-believable. I am horrified that Blogger hasn't done more to stop splogs--even though I'm not shocked that so many exist, and that so many more have found ways to scam the system.

But can splogs be reported, can't we send cease and desist letters? Well, it would be nice if we could find who the sploggers are. Here's my experience: I'm vigilant on searching, but the splogs I've found usually have no contact information. I usually find them well before they put ads on. That's the first clue to a potential splog: a splogger may first load splogs with content and later on put up the ads. It's easy to tell a potential splog from an anonymous blog because not only does it consist of other people's content, but there's no contact information, nor any "about" information! One can never discover who the splogger is, and trying to search for the owner of the domain is also well nigh impossible. Even if those of us who have been splogged and keep an eye on the pre-ad stoked splog, there's nothing one can do to send a cease and desist letter, because there's no contact information.

And if we wait until the ads appear, the solutions for reporting the offender do not seem to be effective. I have reported splogs to Googel AdSense, but the splogs still exist. From reading Steve for a bit, I know he's thought alot, too, about how to get the sploggers on an economic level--unfortunately the Wired article doesn't address that issue. Here's Steve's take on it:
Unfortunately, what's absent from the piece is any accountability directed at the powers that supply these spam blogs with their funds: advertising networks. It seems to me that the splog problem needs to be attacked by not just the publishers and the search engines, but also by the contextual search ad providers who are making it easy for spam bloggers to make money. Google, Yahoo and others will need to raise the requirements for publishers who want to enroll in these lucrative programs. Publishers should have to prove they are legitimate before they can sign up for Adsense or any other contextual ad service. Perhaps a waiting period similar to the one for handguns is a model.

That's it exactly. Even if Blogger puts an entire staff on the task of deleting splog, it won't stop the problem. Blogger isn't the only blogging software sploggers use--the ones who've stolen my content are fond of Wordpress. The ad providers--who on their own, have been upset over click fraud-- should heed Steve's suggestions and start looking more closely at who's applying for their programs and stop rubber-stamping everyone who sends in a request. It wouldn't be too hard to do--all one has to do is click the url and do a quick scan of the blog that's applying to see if the content is original or stolen. It wouldn't take long (I've done it), and I'm sure there'd be a number of enthusiastic individuals who would find the job fascinating and rewarding.

Given how much Google, Yahoo, and the rest are making, is it really too much to ask them to do something that will not just help bloggers, but also help them by tracking down sites that could also be part of the click fraud problem? Seems so logical, doesn't it? But out here, logic is sometimes upside down.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Following Conversations on The Future of Journalism

Over the past week, there have been some amazing conversations on the future of journalism, the contributions of citizens to that landscape, and on blogging as its own unique contribution to journalism....follow the links:

Dave Weinbergerblogging from foocamp on the Future of News session ...lots of great discussion about leveraging social networks, but the big problem with digg-news on demand idea: If we only listen to people we trust, how do we get challenged? (Dave also recently posted a fabulous essay on anonymity and digital identity on the 'net)

Jay Rosen launches the blog for after mucho discussion with important comments on the economic model, citizen participation, and personnel ....

The Society of Professional Journalists'has posted great info on their annual convention. Not only did htye have great workshops (really peeved I missed it)all listed on the site, but also there's a fabulous interview with Bob Cox, pres of the MediaBloggers Association from the interview: “There are forces out there who want to mute the bloggers, but we want the right to speak our piece without fear,” Cox said. “Just like the newspaper industry has to contend with the Globe or the Star, the bloggers face the same thing.”

Christine Tatum, the new SPJ President " says the rift between mainstream media and bloggers is unnecessary and she would like to see more training for bloggers" which is fine and dandy....but I wonder what she means by "training"....and with the latest round of "citizen journalist" training programs--notably the Citizen Journalism Academy being offered this semester by the University of Kansas--I'm beginning to wonder if there's just not one too many movements in the direction to control the citizens rather than simply giving them good sense too is that all the "training" will simply strangle people's ability to communicate in this strange space.

and Len Witt defends "citizen journalism" after Jeff Jarvis does his best to try to have it subsumed under the rubric of "networked journalism." I have no problem with the idea of networked journalism. It's an interesting concept that could work well for some kinds of journalistic projects. However the citizens have a right, and with blogging software, the power to do their own journalism for their own reasons--and that the ability to do this is amazingly important to the democratic process. why is it so difficult for some folks to understand this?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Has Madonna Finally Done It? Or Will the Torture Continue for Another (metaphorical) Thousand Years?

Update: The Danes Think Madonna's Concert's Blasphemous, too but not for religious reason. Here's why the Danes are pissed
The Danish media overnight slammed US pop diva Madonna for giving an open-air concert that was nothing more than a "music video", saying it was a "scandal" that many of the 85,000 spectators could not see their idol.

Imagine that! Apparently someone forgot to inform the Danes that when one attends a 700 kroner ($150)a seat conference, they shouldn't *expect* to see much more than "figures as small as matchsticks singing and dancing on a distant stage." Sheesh! If they *really* want to *see* someone like Madonna, they're going to have to spend a heck of a lot more than they did. Do they think she's a philanthropist or something?

Well, the World's bowels are in an uproar over the latest bid for attention from that great media whore, Madonna...

Seems that for her new tour, she's had cross constructed of mirrored panels, which she then hangs herself from and sings cheezy-assed "Live to Tell"...

How Danceteria/Studio 54 of her...

Rob Harvilla in the Village Voice aptly labelled this latest act of a pathetic Middle-Aged Material Girl a "sequence unparalleled in its combination of blasphemy, absurdity, melodrama, humanitarian grandstanding, and preposterous narcissism. . ." (yet Harvilla later backpedals on this one)

or are we just a bit nostalgic for Spinal Tap?

Catholic spokesman Manfred Becker-Huberti (in Germany) pointed out a seriously ugly irony to this stunt: "If someone had tried to portray Mohammed this way, there would
have been a revolt."

Correction: it would have started another war, possibly outside of the Middle East.

But Catholics aren't allowed to say anything about this because, if they do, they're being "poor sports" who can't take a joke. We should *love* the material girl for giving because she's so daring....and aren't all those Catholics just a bunch of pedophile Papists anyway??

Heck, even sweet little religion professor Donna Freitas boldly went on NPR and told everyone she thinks the Pathetic Old Broad's latest media vulgarity is a truly "feminist" statement about Christianity. "she's opening our eyes!" cries Freitas....

ah, the future is now so bright for feminism *and* biblical scholarship that I'm gonna have to wear shades!

Christians, though, are going in the wrong direction to evaluate this latest publicity stunt as "blasphemous." The "B" word only ends up making all those lovely capitalists, who will gladly sell sex as a recreational activity to pre-pubescent kids, laugh at anyone of faith. They revel in making us all look like a bunch of bible-thumping reactionaries.

Blasphemy! How 15th century! Get into the 20th century guys! Blasphemy is good! It's enlightening!

However, from a media as well as progressive christian perspective, here are some very good reasons why faux Jew Madonna deserves to vanish in a ball of celluloid flame:

First, let's look at Freitas' claim that so many laugh when asked to depict a woman on the cross--and that Madonna doing this is good because it challenges those folks assumptions. Wrong way to do with this argument, my fishing feminist friend: mostly because of what Madonna, in particular, represents--capitalism run amock, and a particular psychological condition that makes her ferrit out publicity by Any Means Necessary.

Do any women who own their sexualities and their spiritualities really want this particular woman representing All women? Think about it...

And think about this: perhaps her Act is, after all, that of a desperate woman whose over-priced tour tickets have been selling outside of NYC at a pace that could be called somewhat less-than-hotcakes. Or at least less than the kind of hotcakes Herself prefers...

Now, from the sidelines, I can hear the pop culturati, so hiply a-theistic and smart on all things religion, say "but wasn't Jesus's crucifixtion also a publicity stunt of some kind? wasn't he also committing blasphemy?"

In the eyes of the Sadducees, he was a blasphemer by not keeping the sabbath nor keeping kosher. However, he also perfomed a number of very generous, and noble acts that set him apart from others. He was a tireless defender of women (the story of the widow's mite, his advice to the Samaritan woman), healed people without ever asking for a dime in return (wow, how un-Madonna of him), didn't push children from the table, didn't think the rich were all that blessed....and didn't make any money for preaching in public.

He also died an ignominious death, that was only a footnote in Roman historian Pliny's writings--the Entertainment Weekly of its day. It wasn't front-page news to Rome.

Still I'm sure Madonna, in some delusion of grandure, would like to us to view her charity work and AIDS activisim along the lines of Christ-like acts. And I'm sure her Hollywood Kaballa mentor (a man more concerned with selling a profound mystical tradition to a bunch of poseures than in following Maimonides' advice on the matter) would gladly support her delusion...

Yet consider this: Madonna's generosity has always been amply offset by the bazillions of bucks she's made by selling herself.

If Jesus had sat back and thought about whether or not it would make people love him and give him money if he healed the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, he never would have done it.

And nobody ever paid him for the Sermon on the Mount. There were no tickets to that event. In fact, it was he who ended up having to pull a miracle and feed the people who showed up.

With Madonna, there is never any sacrifice remotly reflective of Christ's acts on her part. Never any true sacrifice of money nor of self.

Many believe Jesus sought to reconcile the world. But whatever he did, he certainly did not reconcile his bank account.

So, let's get some historical and pop cultural perspective here: Madonna's acts of charity are more like those of Madams of Medieval Germany--who funded hospitals and orphan aslyumns with their earnings, while also hoping word of their good Acts would compel the scions of the bourgeoisie to continue to support their particular establishments over a competitors'. Is Madonna, like the Madams, also assuaging her guilt through her charitable acts? Does she believe there will be an Indulgence at the end of the line for her?

It's all business, baby.

One final thought: have we in Western society sunk so low as to accept a middle-aged, overly-horny (please, give the woman some saltpeter!) rapacious capitalist portraying herself as the Redeemer?

Then again, maybe those pasty-faced eschatologists on CNN are right. and if so, will my cell phone work after the Rapture?

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Duck and Cover!"--DOPA Passes House, CNN Redefines Irony

Last Thursday (7/26) the Delete Online Predators Act (DOPA) passed the in the House of Representatives by a margin of 410-15.....kind of had an inkling this might happen when I first read about the aptly-acronymed legislation in May.

DOPA was designed to block social software sites from libraries and schools, thus protecting "our kids" from sexual predators. "Social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids," said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and co-founder of the Congressional Victim's Rights Caucus. "This bill requires schools and libraries to establish (important) protections."

Yet as is noted in CNet's write-up of the vote, the legislation so broadly defines social networking sites as to include everything from Slashdot to to any site that allows us to post profiles (including personal information) as well as facilitate "communication among users" in the form of messages, comments, chats, etc.

Therefore, even political sites, sites defending free speech, freedom of religion, etc.--any site that would allow public profiles in order to engage in civic discourse--would be inaccessible from a school or public library anywhere in the U.S.

The only other country that so broadly blocks access to "offensive" websites is China. Although India, another democracy, recently banned/blocked some websites in the name of "national security."

Oddly, no mainstream media outlet--no paper of record covered the railroading of DOPA through the House.

The only outlets where information on DOPA was available was CNet, a couple of tech blogs and a couple of media blogs (Rex Hammock's great comment "You might as well ban oxygen as a means to rid the world of sexual predators" --I'm sure they would if they could. And find a way to sell it back to us. Free Market, you know...)

This isn't a tech or media issue. This isn't a "keeping our kids safe" issue. This is an access to information issue. This is an issue of our ability to have meaningful public discourse, from a public place, over what has become our digital Town Square. Supposedly DOPA will allow libraries to grant adults access to these sites if they ask permission--which could then easily become another way in which Big Brother can monitor where we are going, what we are saying, and to whom we might be saying it.

From Library "This unnecessary and overly broad legislation will hinder students' ability to engage in distance learning and block library computer users from accessing a wide array of essential Internet applications including instant messaging, email, wikis and blogs," said ALA president Leslie Burger. "Under DOPA, people who use library and school computers as their primary conduits to the Internet will be unfairly blocked from accessing some of the web's most powerful emerging technologies and learning applications. As libraries are already required to block content that is "harmful to minors" under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), DOPA is redundant and unnecessary legislation."

Irony Alert: Yet Free Speech is quite liberally granted to those who want to discuss whether or not the sky is falling...On the same day DOPA is passed, CNN broadcasts a discussion with Jerry Jenkins and Joel Rosenberg on whether or not we're living in apocalyptic times. Quoting Rosenberg: "What's interesting is, I was just at the Iraqi prime minister's speech today. You know, the Bible talks, in Jewish theology and Christian, that Iraq will be reborn as a country and be phenomenally peaceful and prosperous. And then a huge dictator, known as the Antichrist, will arrive. "

Ohyeah...the Antichrist's arrived...he's just not in Iraq.

(BTW, for those of you who are wondering, the Bible doesn't speak of one antichrist, but of many antichrists--see 1Jn 2:18, 1Jn 2:22, 1JN 4:3, 2Jn7. "Satan" is Hebrew for "adversary" which is different from "antichrist." Evangelicals like to fudge it on these two terms, but in biblical scholarship, they're not really *that* fudgeable.)

(thnx to Christine for finding that CNN bit.)

troutfishing picks up the story on DailyKos and elaborates

ePluribus Media covers DOPA

Further Thought: Has anyone bothered to look at whether or not kids have met predators on school or library computers? From media stories on the phenomenon, the problem more than likely starts in the home not at the library or at school.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

If We Put A Naked Girl On Page 2, Will it Boost Our Circulation?

Our local Springfield, MA paper, The Republican, is a typical small-town publication. Its "A" section is full of wire-service news, and wire-service editorials, and wire-service gossip--occasionally a big scandal story about Springfield or a "human interest" story makes it above the fold. The "B" section consists of Local news for Chicopee and Holyoke--whatever's happening on the school board, who got busted for drugs, who got pulled over for going 100 mph on rt. 391, what the town fathers are deciding at the city council meetings, and quick reports on little town festivals (forget about any state coverage--we have to read the Boston Globe for that.) I rarely read The Republican's online counterpart because it's unattractive and difficult to navigate, even for movie listings.

So, when I flipped the front page, and glanced the gossip column on Page 2, just to get the latest drunken celebrity stories, I got quite an eyeful:

Yes, that's a naked Kate Moss on the cover of September's Vanity Fair. Due out on Aug. 8. Guess I'm going to have to camp out at the Barnes & Noble for that one.

Guess there weren't enough words in today's drunken escapades of Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson (even with his supposed anti-Semitic remarks) and the editorial staff decided to flesh out the column with this tidbit from AP.

Is it really news that there's another naked celebrity on the cover of some glossy magazine?

But seriously, what does the Republican think it's doing by putting a pic like this on its second page? Are we trying to be hip and European out here? Or was it truly a lack of words on the two big drunken celebrity stories of the day that forced the Republican's editorial staff to fill its column space with the naked Moss?

The Republican is looking less and less relavent to life out here in Western Massachusetts. At least with the Sunday paper we get those nice glossy circulars and an occasional decent investigative piece. During the week, we just get insulted.

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