Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On Bloggers as Journalists and the Dilemma of Disclosure

The following was written in response to this post on RoughType concerning an incident at the recent Online Journalism Association conference and a matter of disclosure (for the best blow-by-blow of the OJA session, read Staci @ PaidContent)

Arrington excoriating Jarvis...isn't that kind of like Jimmy Olsen taking Perry White to task for allowing Clark and Lois to work together??

But seriously, I always have to wonder how, and why, Arrington's now on so many panels from journalism cons to Bloggercon to Office 2.0, and speaking with such authority on so much, when he's really just a lawyer who wrote up a good business plan for a blog and has a very nice and congenial writing style...(disclosure for this blog: yes, I read TechCrunch on occasion, and actually like it--and I've never met M.A. f2f)

Okay, now let me get serious: yes, this is definitely about disclosure, and the need to disclose--I also see conversation, and the personnas we bring to blogging vs. the personnas left out of print.

As a conversation medium, blogging doesn't necessarily demand that we disclose everything, even about business deals. Blogging can be like a fan-dance--it reveals as much as it conceals. That is, unless we plan to use our blogging as an entree into journalism--and desire to be as credible as the profession is assumed to be. If that is the case, then it is upon us as bloggers to gain credibility by following some of the basic ethical rules of journalism--disclose sources (something the Edelman Wal-mart bloggers didn't do) *and* disclose possible conflicts of interest.

In speaking about the imprisonment of videoblogger Josh Wolfe in Online Journalism Review, Christine Tatum, President of SPJ, said she supported him, but was troubled by his statments of being an "advocate" while wanting to claim free speech protection as a journalist. "I think that it's very important for online journalists to begin to understand.. that it's very, very important that you do maintain some sort of objectivity and distance" she said.

So, bloggers who decide to turn what they are doing into online journalism (slightly different than citizen journalism) walk a balance between the conventions of conversation (some, which are particular to the blogosphere) and conventions of the profession of journalism. As we do this, we also wrestle with personna. If we are too journalistic, will those who read us assume we can't converse directly with them? If we too "bloggy" will journalists think we're somehow less than?

Bloggers who aspire to online journalism can indeed learn a lot from journalists--but journalists can learn some things from bloggers too--like how we convey information *and* carry on conversation without getting bugged by it (and retaliating a'la Hiltzik and Siegle.) But I'm not sure Arrington's the right blogger to be quaterbacking all the time.

(btw, I wrote on journalists and conversation for OJR--now used as reading in some journo ethics classes. thought I'd disclose...)

And speaking of disclosure: a freelance journalist who works for the Washington Post was fired because he did not disclose the small fact that a pro-Wal-Mart special interest group was paying for the RV (and then some) he was using for the WaPo assignment. He was also blogging about it Why is it that folks who are pro-Wal-Mart often like to leave out of whatever they are into that this is their position? In this case, as a freelanger being paid by Big Media, he did indeed have a right to disclose. In my ethical world, if I'm being paid by someone to do a job, then the job comes before my blog, which, even if I had ads, wouldn't give me enough to live off of for any length of time. More importantly, I can't act like a double-agent and sleep with Jams Bond while sleeping with Goldfinger. (And you know what happened in that movie....the same thing happened to the freelancer. More or less.)

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Google buys YouTube to Tune of $1.65 billion

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion That's $0.05 billion more than originally thought the search giant would pay for the video upload giant

I wonder if Mark Cuban, who recently said something to the effect of "anyone who buys that (YouTube) is a moron" because of potential lawsuits and copywright violations is still thinking that on this fine autumn evening....

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Where do you live, citizen journalist? Flattening the Hyperlocal Concept

In many corners of the journalism establishment, hyperlocal citizen journalism blogs or placeblogs are all the rage. Some newspapers want to emulate them, others want to stomp them into the ground. But if you think about it, in an Internet Age of long tails, niches, and an increasingly flat world, the term "hyperlocal" can itself end up...well...flat...

On My Heart's in Accra, Ethan Zuckerman posted some fabulous thoughts on the idea of "being there" and citizen journalism. Ethan notes that the current perception and emphasis is on what he refers to as "being there" citizen journalism: photos of the Asian tsunami and the London bombings. Yet there's more to just "being there":
But I think there's another place where citizen's media may be at least as important - introducing citizen expertise on subjects where existing journalists may not be expert

He's got a very good point! Still, there's more to what Ethan's saying about broadening--or, perhaps flattening--the idea of "being there" citizen journalism. Some of GVO's editors, Ndesanjo Macha the Africa editor and Neha Viswanathan who covers India, do so from homes far removed from their homelands. Ethan forwards the idea that it is their expertise on these particular geographic regions that makes them qualified to edit on those regions for GVO.

Yes, they have expertise--and Ethan points that existing media outlets might be threatened by citizens with expertise. Totally agree on that one, too--even though I know that some journalists might argue that citizens with expertise make bad journalists because they *may* (in their view) lack objectivity.

However, let's take Ethan's thought one step further--into the realm of hyperlocal. Hyperlocal is a form of "being there" citizen journalism, no doubt, but in this quickly evolving online space, "being there" and "hyperlocal" can take on a meaning beyond geography. What if we find ourselves "citizens" of a particular place within the boundless boundaries of the Internet? Are we, perhaps, then "hyperlocal" citizen journalists when we are writing about the corners of the Internet that we patrol/troll regularly?

Perhaps so--but this way of thinking requires that we stretch our sense of what we mean by concepts such as "community." In social networking, "community" is sometimes defined as places such as MySpace, YouTube, or any other social networking software space we (1)keep a profile and (2)participate regularly. So, could someone not write about a particular corner of MySpace as if it is their neighborhood?

Think about it.

The concept could stretch our ideas of what, where, and how we get expertise. Can we indeed get expertise from being online, social networking, for a prolonged length of time? Absolutely! Could we know more than the individual who never participates online, in social media? Absolutely!

What are the psychological/social implications of all this--to us as individuals and as groups? Do we think of particular websites/forums/blogs/etc. or "spaces" in the same way we might think of our physical neighborhoods? Do some of us split ourselves in two--allow our unsupervised Ids to run wild in cyberspace while maintaining a buttoned-down Real Life (in that case, though, which life is truly the real one?)

Have some of us gone far enough to have developed professional as well as personal lives on the 'net? Absolutely. There are, probably, more of us than the physical world realizes...

As I participated in the NYTimes Film Forum (98-'01), my idea of what constituted a "friend" changed. I had many "friends" in that space that I would never meet IRL because of the geographic distance. As I now write for online publications, my sense of workplace has changed. I touch base with editors and such, but rarely do I sit with them over lunch, talk on the phone, or get direct feedback from them. I must be very self-disciplined and self-directed. In my life, then, there has been an evolution from online social space to online work place. The Real, or physical, world has played a role in the movement from online social to online work--a necessity because the totality of who we are does not, and cannot, be contained within the boundless boundaries of the Internet.

We are, after all, physical creatures, and on some level require face to face meeting.....we learn from all our senses, not just those we use online.

(contrary to a popular conceit, one not need to be an engineer-hardware or software--to have expertise in this space. to say that only engineers can have expertise of this space is like saying only architects or city planners can have expertise enough to write about what it is to live in a particular place. think about it. the internet is more than engineering. Some folks built it, and lots of us live in it.)

Yet my sense of the world, overall, is that it is "flat." My sense of neighborhood and of friends is one more of affinity and expertise than of geography. Therefore, I am committing an act of "hyperlocal" journalism (citizen or professional) when I am writing about the places/spaces/sensibilities on the Internet that I know just as well as I know the shortest route to the Chicopee Wal-Mart and my neighbor's first name. My "beat" as a journalist is media--it is the world online, just the way for someone else it might be Greenfield or Chicopee or Springfield.

I live here in this online space as much as I live in a physical space. It's the way many of us live today..It is our "hyperlocal"....

Think about it.

(thanx Dave Weinberger for Ethan link....)

Further Reading:

Doc's ten clues to help newspapers--let's all stop using the term "content" please!! it doesn't make y'all sound any smarter....

When hyperlocal goes wrong: The Knoxville News-Sentinel decided to give front-page coverage to a 15-year old's decadent birthday party, and the citizens gave them what-for. And they're right. This is not responsible hyperlocal coverage. If someone wanted to blog about it, that's one thing--but then it would be pretty crappy hyperlocal citizen journalism on a non-story. (thanx Bob Stepno--very cool! via Doc...)

Jay Rosen Interviewed on Slashdot-- citizen journalism, and a few other things...

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tim Westergren hangs out at Hampshire--Illuminates the Music Genome Project

It's been and incredibly beautiful day out here in Western Mass--if there's one thing we have, it's beautiful days. Pandora founder Tim Westergren noticed this too...held a meet-up out here at a Hampshire College's Red Barn...

I'm only about 20 minutes could I *not* go....and like everybody else who was there, I was incredibly interested to see what Tim would say about Pandora and the Music Genome Project (Tim was at SXSW Interactive this past March, too--but our paths didn't cross. I did sit in on his panel, which is where I got more interested in Pandora.)

It was great to have Tim out here--scanning his blog tonight, it's easy to see why he'd go to places like L.A. and New York. And he'll be out in Providence, RI on 10/4 for BIF-2, so it would make sense to hold a meetup there.

But out here in what's--technically, and in comparison to Boston--The Middle of Nowhere??

There were about 30 of us Pandora enthusiasts at the Red Barn, and by the questions people asked, everyone had a keen interest in music and a desire to know more about the genesis of the Music Genome Project....a mix of musicians, bloggers, student djs, a couple of reporters, and some curious folks. A good group.

Tim explained that Pandora's main focus is to help independent musicians, and he noted how Pandora takes submissions from "unsigned" bands and weaves them into the Genome--if the music passes a determination that it's of "quality." Now, quality might be a subjective judgment, but Pandora staff doesn't simply judge a piece of music after listening to it for three minutes. Rather, the staff of trained analysts who understand the various elements of music (folks *with* music degrees, who also go thru 150 hours of training by Pandora) listen to a piece of music for between 15 and 40 mins, to determine a piece of music's unique elements. It seemed that Tim was trying to explain that by considering these unique elements, one could determine that a piece of music had a certain kind of "quality."

Listening to Pandora, though, really isn't about tracking down the latest and greatest in Top 40, or the perfect tune; nor is it about being assaulted by all emo-and-garage all the time (that is, unless you program a station for that kind of music.) It's more about discovering new music that fits with music you already like...

Mostly everyone was interested to find out how the Genome works. As Tim explained, there are 400 unique music criteria. Voice alone can be described by over 30 different attributes! As mentioned, people with some expertise and training, listen to the music and mark it for the various criteria, which is then fed into the database. (it was explained how Surowiecki's "wisdom of crowds" idea doesn't quite work for the type of service they wanted to produce--music tastes are too broad to use that particular approach effectively.)

Every song has its own unique mathematical formula--it's own "genes."

Now, when a song or artist is picked out, the magic little computers search out other songs that reflect similarities in this mathematical formula....but it's not always going to pick the exact, perfect song. It needs feedback from us. Then, it becomes very necessary that we give the Genome a bit of feedback by rating a song "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." This way, the Genome can find more music that fits our particular likes and dislikes, not just what it scans and picks for us.

So, two "stations" of the same artist or song can be started at the same time, and each one end up totally different because of the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" ranking process.

My Led Zeppelin and Ursula 1000 stations are, then, totally different from someone else's Led Zeppelin and Ursula 1000 stations....that is, if there's someone as particular in his/her tastes to also have Led Zep and Ursula 100 as their stations. (as I'm writing this, though, I've been listening to my White Stripes station...)

A funny thing, though, that some of us told Tim about, is that occasionally Pandora hiccups--basically, it can't find the next song in the Genome to play. While they're working on that *not* happeneing, Tim encouraged us to email them when it does. Feedback, after all, is super-important to the whole process.

Two very interesting factoids about Pandora: it grew by word-of-mouth and some props from Slashdot and other tech blogs. And they will never "play a song because someone paid us to." (gee, that beats ClearChannel all to hell...)

I often like to put Pandora to the test. I tend to have some very ecclectic music interests, which sometime befuddle the genome (I think). So, tonight, I entered "Vitas", that weird Russian tenor that looks like a baby Falco and sounds like the spawn of Klaus Nomi. Didn't come up with anything for "Vitas." Wasn't surprised there. So, I entered "Style Council"--Paul Weller's project *after* The Jam. I've come across few folks over the years--other than those who have been into music for as long as I have and were "punks" at one point or another--who know of Style Council. Yet, there they were, in Pandora (Mari Wilson, however, wasn't--but she's a contemporary of Style Council, seriously obscure and British and *very* retro in music style.) Although I'm finding with bands like Style Council, who were a bit tough to classify, that music that corresponds to its "genome" is stuff I really don't enjoy--like "Sweet Spot" from Captain Harry(?!?!eek!). It wasn't a very good fit with Style Council...

I was, though, very pleased with my Erasure station--just perfect for those "Oh! L'Amour!" moments ;-)

Come to think of it, Vitas might fit pretty well with Erasure...