New New Media Replaces Old New Media But Nothing Is Dying

Cory Doctorow says that reports of blogging’s death are greatly exaggerated.Content’s just finding more appropriate mediums.

When all we had was the stage, every performance was a play. When we got films, a great lot of these stories moved to the screen, where they’d always belonged (they’d been squeezed onto a stage because there was no alternative). When TV came along, those stories that were better suited to the small screen were peeled away from the cinema and relocated to the telly. When YouTube came along, it liberated all those stories that wanted to be 3-8 minutes long, not a 22-minute sitcom or a 48-minute drama. And so on.

What’s left behind at each turn isn’t less, but more: the stories we tell on the stage today are there not because they must be, but because they’re better suited to the stage than they are to any other platform we know about. This is wonderful for all concerned – the audience numbers might be smaller, but the form is much, much better.

Blogging didn’t kill traditional websites, it just provided a new and easier way to push content quickly for those who wanted to. As Facebook and Twitter came along, some found that these services filled the need that blogging had to in the past since that was the best choice available at the time. Future services won’t kill Twitter or FB but will peel away users as these services better fit what users want for their content. Those left behind are those who find the tools best suited to what they need, and those are the people who will use them best.

Newspapers And The Hulu Model

Wesley Donehue over at TechRepublican wonders what if newspapers explored the Hulu advertising model?

Let’s look at South Carolina as an example. The State’s John O’Connor and Gina Smith pumped out “must read” material for the nation during the Mark Sanford scandal. Unfortunately the only money they got from the increased readership was a hopeful increased click-through rate on the banner ads that polluted the page.

What if those banner ads weren’t there? What if, instead, a 30 second commercial popped up and you couldn’t move on to the story until you sat through the video? Sure, it’s a little annoying, just like on Hulu. But people will sit through 30 seconds of a commercial to get to solid content

Some news sites already do this, a splash coming up showing an advertisement with a small “click here to go to the article” link in the corner. It’d be interesting to see how that has impacted ad revenue compared to readership rates and whether this model works. But to date most of these ads have been standard flash advertisements and the opt through link at the top has made them not so mandatory.

The problem with forcing a 30 second or even 15 second commitment from a reader is a difference in how the medium is consumed. We are already used to commercials when watching television or video so three 30 second ads during a 30 minute Hulu broadcast doesn’t bother us.. Websites based on text content fall into a newspaper style of advertising in that it’s a matter of placement around the content, not interrupting the flow of it with something on a completely different level of interaction.

Could this use a change? Sure. But text is usually skimmed more than read andarticles of 1200 words may only keep eyes on the site for an average of around 75 seconds. Tacking a 15 second hurdle on top of something before they’ve committed to it risks losing that reader. Interrupting their skimming after a few paragraphs with the same style of ad risks the same.

Promoting The Right Online And The Negative Value Of My Thoughts

NOTE: I have no idea why this post is suddenly current. It was originally drafted in August, 2007. Why it’s here now, I dunno. But as it’s out there, no point in pulling it down. But do keep in mind all thoughts are in the context of 2007. Then again, how much has really changed in almost three years?

James Durbin at TechRepublican laments on the lack of any real organizationlike MoveOn or DailyKos on the conservative side of the web:

The sad thing is it wouldn’t take that much to build a solid organization. There are probably 5,000 blogs nationwide that could be organized into a conservative community and propped up with a Conservative Advertisers Network where politicians could buy geo-targeted ads and in-text ad links. For say, $500,000 total, we could work with one of the existing communities and grow it into a conservative powerhouse.

Any conservative George Soros out there want to pitch in some cheddar? Think of it this way – you’ll make more in a business-friendly environment then you will under a socialist one. I’m willing to give the set of plans to the right people, if anyone is interested.

And right there we see the problem with many people trying to play catch-up on the political side of Web 2.0.

It’s all about the money.

But it shouldn’t be. As I say in the comments:

Are we really just a bunch of mercenaries willing to go out of our way to advance the Conservative cause on the internet only if it pays well? Creating the “next big thing” or even utilizing what’s already there for the cause doesn’t take a lot of money, it simply takes time and a willingness to make it happen. Yet too many people are thinking in terms of dollars and seeing this as a money making opportunity. We’ve got to get past that if we can even hope to begin to compete on the web. Once you build something, once you have a model that works, then you can ask people to invest in it.

The reader generated value of my comment? -1 points. So is the comment of Brian Edwards who uses a comment to hype GOPHub which is an actual effort to create a Digg for right of center blog content.

So a comment that talks about what is being done (and without a half a million dollar investment) and another that points out that money should not be the issue aren’t worth noting. They’re worth less than that. Good to know.

The problem is that the right is trying to create the “next big thing” right away. And while that might not come cheap, it’s a flawed approach at the issue. MoveOn had some big backing, sure, but DailyKos, ActBlue, these sites started as activist driven, grassroots organizations that have grown through the years. If DailyKos and ActBlue have made their organizers money, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t their intention and has become a delightful perk. It’s also ignoring the existance of sites like RedState which act as hubs of conservative thought without large financial backing.

Let’s look locally. Virginia Political Blogs and Richmond Sunlight are two projects from Waldo Jaquith that show what one can do if they simply have the desire and the time. While money might have been nice, Waldo didn’t need a big chunk of cash to provide a great political service. Either of these projects could have been made to target one political side or another if Waldo were so inclined, and at the same low cost and great service.

So the question becomes, are folks on the right really seeking the next big thing that will drive conservative activism or the next big thing that will make money?

Ultimately it comes down to the line that still holds true: if you build it they will come. You can’t just ask for a chunk of change upfront and promise to deliver some amazing product that will be the answer to everyone’s prayers. You have to have a product that’s already doing something, a working model that shows potential that only needs a little boost to dominate. GOPHub is a good service in its infancy. If it just had a bit more backing, not just financially but among the blogs, it could go a long way to act as a clearing house for the national conservative blogosphere. That they have a working model shows that it can be capable of and that’s a better thing to look to than so far empty promises and hype that smacks more of panhandling than actual substance.

Virtually Farming For Public Relations or How Not To Game The System

Let’s say you’re BP. You are nearly fifty days into what could be the worst environmental disaster in United States history. Ouch, that’s going to be a heck of a public relations nightmare, isn’t it? But, wait, here’s an idea! Why not invite all those connected Facebook users who live along the Gulf coast to play a game to raise awareness about the environment!

Volunteers could “check in” at locations via Foursquare and unlock badges for their volunteer efforts. Or they could earn patches of the ocean as rewards — similar to the (Lil) Green Patch game on Facebook that empowers users to fight global warming.

That’s just the kind of strategy companies and organizations need to be pursuing to win public relations battles in this social-networking era. (Source)

Yes, because while you’re looking out on the shore and see the oil on the horizon threatening your family’s future and your community’s economy and environment FarmVille will solve the problem.

I’m sorry, but if I were living in Louisiana and BP sent me an invite to “check in” and unlock badges or get myself a patch of the ocean as a reward I’d tell them where to virtually stick it.

Social gaming is pretty darn big as anyone with a Facebook account and a million invites to Mafia Wars will tell you. With applications like Foursquare and Gowalla providing virtual merit badges for physically roaming about town, there are opportunities for businesses to really turn online interest into offline activity in new and exciting ways (insert “ooohhhh” and “aaahhhh” here).

Social gaming requires a certain level of buy in and effort by the users, usually for little reward other than bragging points. It is the companies who help create real world reasons to play that capitalize best off of this.

Richmond has already experienced a few local examples of businesses utilizing Foursquare successfully. Westpark Beer & Wine hosted a Foursquare Swarm Badge party in March, filling the store with over 50 customers who enjoyed a wine tasting and received a 10% discount through the end of Spring just by showing their Swarm Badge. Many local businesses are already rewarding Foursquare users all sorts of discounts and freebies not just for Mayors but just for checking in.

National brands such as Starbucks have also started offering rewards. Pepsi has developed it’s own application, Pepsi Loot, that tells you where to find the closest delicious Pepsi and rewards you for checking into Pepsi serving establishments with free music to enjoy while partaking of your delicious cola.

What makes these attempts successful are the REAL rewards given for virtual efforts. Foursquare just gives you badges that look neat on your phone and maybe profile. Foursquare + businesses = free stuff that make you really want to play more because, hey, who doesn’t like free stuff?

Companies aren’t just getting on board with location based games. Zynga, the folks you should blame for FarmVille and Mafia Wars, have teamed up with 7-11to provide packaging for your hot dogs that include codes to get you stuff for Zynga games. Not only that, but 10% of the United States spends their time playing FarmVille. Yes, that’s right, your grandmother and at least two of your cousins are playing FarmVille.

There’s gold in them there virtual hills for businesses and organizations who can wisely invest in the medium.

It’s a matter of finding your niche and utilizing it properly. But also working the measure into your already existing Public Relations strategy (or nightmare depending on what’s happening).

If you’re, say, Roundup and you want to spread your brand’s name, latching onto something like FarmVille might be a smart play:

But Roundup isn’t faced with an environmental disaster that will take years to measure the full results of.

If you’re BP, is this a wise investment? Do you really take your money and personnel and image and buy into a game when public opinion right now is that you aren’t doing enough to stop the spill? That you aren’t taking it seriously?

That’s thousands of dollars BP could and should be putting into clean-up costs, measures to help small businesses in the effected area, local charities that will be directly impacted by the catastrophe. Real world investments that are the kind of public relations BP needs to be “buying” right now.

Look at Nestle, a small chocolate company you may have heard of. They got into a bit of bad publicity that they handled very poorly on Facebook when an organized Greenpeace effort to give them grief over its use of palm oil succeeded mainly because Nestle’s social media presence acted like jerks. What did Nestle do to help their image? They didn’t invite folks to plant virtual trees in their farm. They didn’t ask people to volunteer to go to the rain forest and replant trees they had a hand in cutting down in exchange for virtual badges or plots of forest to claim as their own. No. They partnered with The Forest Trust and began work on changing the way they do business to be more environmentally conscious in the future. They developed a strategy that created real world results for their efforts.

BP’s trying to buy forgiveness. And you don’t get that with virtual rewards that rely upon the efforts of those you are trying to win over. You get that by actually investing in the physical things that play directly into the results you want to see. You spend your time and money focusing on the communities directly impacted by the disaster. Because no matter how bad this spill gets, Facebook, FarmVille, Foursquare? They’ll still be there. But will the Gulf Coast?

Sensationalist Headlines And Chicken/Egg Arguments

Today’s Richmond Times Dispatch front page screams about how that evil devil music is leading kids to kill people left and right. Or, rather, how one kid may have been influenced by violent rap lyrics to murder four individuals:

Police: Lyrics may have played role in Farmville slayings

Investigators are trying to determine whether a suspect’s fascination with violent rap lyrics fueled the killings of four people found dead Friday in a Longwood University professor’s home.

Richard Samuel Alden McCroskey III (which is a pretty hoity name, if you ask me) was arrested at Richmond International Airport in connection with the killings. McCroskey was a big fan and singer/rapper or Horrorcore, which is different from regular rap in that it’s about doing awful things like killing people. Wait…

Anyways, the gem in the article is this:

One song attributed to McCroskey on one of his MySpace pages discusses committing murder in a rage, trying to get rid of the remains and driving a stolen vehicle.

So here’s what the RTD wants you to think.

McCroskey’s fascination with music, rap music in particular, horrorcore rap music specifically, may have led this guy to kill four people. Just look at the lyrics.

THAT HE WROTE!

Anyone else see a problem with that “logic”?

It’s like saying bad literature may have led Charles Manson to be crazy. JUST LOOK AT HIS OWN ATTEMPTS AT LITERATURE!

It’s an attempt at sensationalizing the story in a matter that appeals to base emotions.

Books lead to violence.

Movies lead to violence.

Video games lead to violence.

Music leads to sex, drugs, and more violence. It’s like a hat trick for the Devil!

OR.

Really messed up crazy kid’s violent writings showed a mind that could comprehend doing horrific acts.

Now, this is certainly a slipperly slope because it’s hard to say the lyrics showed a troubled youth who needed an intervention. I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly sane folks who are into horrorcore rap, so saying the lyrics are a sign of madness and anyone involved needs help is a bit of a leap.

Over the next few days and weeks I’m sure we’ll find out more about McCrosky and a lot more red flags will pop up aside from his facination with writing violent lyrics.

But, really, Richmond Times Dispatch? Really?

No wonder no one buys your rag.

UPDATE: Ryan Nobles at NBC12 discusses the chicken and the egg argument with VCU’s Robin Diehl.

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Tiananmen At Twenty

James Fallows at The Atlantic:

I am guessing that you will see no real-time TV reports from the Tiananmen Square area today, and little or no photography. This is based on personal experience there last night, China time, which also leads to personal advice for anyone in Beijing thinking of going there today.

During my time in Beijing over the past year and a half, I’ve often seen the square itself totally closed off to visitors, as it is at the moment. There are always plenty of security forces around — soldiers in green uniforms, various kinds of police in blue uniforms, and “plainclothes” forces who are pretty easy to pick out, like strapping young men in buzz cuts all wearing similar-looking “leisure” clothes. But I have not seen before anything like the situation at the moment.

Yesterday, Wu’er Kaixi, a former student leader during the Tiananmen Square Protests, tried to turn himself in to Chinese authorities after twenty years in exile.  He was detailed by immigration officials at the airport in China’s Macao territory.

The history of China as a nation is hard to nail down.  As dynasties changed through the years, each new emperor brought a rewriting of the nation’s history to best fit their familiy or their own legacy.  And the people went along or didn’t know better, being largely rural.

As a steeply traditional nation, even while under Communism China has found its historical roots hard to leave behind.  Some argue that Confucianism and its hierarchical system ingrained in the Chinese people a mindset that Communism was able to adapt to and co-opt as Maoism – a distinctly different form of Communism than found in the Soviet Union or even Cuba.

History is malleable in Chinese tradition.  “Barbarian” Manchu became “Chinese” when they took control of the country – something that not only allowed them to rule but gave the Han justification to claim Manchuria as Chinese when the Qing Dynasty came to an end.  Tibet is part of China now, thus has always been part of China.  The Chinese Communist Party was able to not only embody Mao but also hold up Sun Yat-Sen, a Democratic reformer, as a hero.

Historically China has been able to change its past to define its present.

It allows China to recognize the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement as a pivitol moment when Chinese stood up against foreign imperialsm in the wake of World War I.  But now they take actions to ensure it doesn’t lead to another incident like the one twenty years ago.  Part of those actions are to ignore Tiananmen.

It never happened.

China is able to forget Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward and the millions who lost their lives either through outright slaughter or starvation.  They remove it from history books.  They don’t discuss it.  It never happened.

Tiananmen is the same.  Twenty years ago China was still emerging from under the shadow of Mao.  Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms were turning China from a Communist economy to a more Westernized one, but still with restrictions and certainly with none of the political reforms that a free market invites.  Some within the CCP wanted farther changes.  They were purged.

Deng Xiaoping himself had faced purging from the CCP twice.  Deng was aLong Marcher who had fought with Mao to help bring the CCP to power.  In the late 60s during Mao’s Cultural Revolution Deng was sent to work in a factory in the Jiangxi province but was brought back into power in 1974 at the urging of then Premier Zhou Enlai.  Zhou was a reformer, regularly running at odds to leaders within the CCP, including Mao himself.  When Zhou passed away in 1976, public displays of mourning were brutally put down in the Tiananmen Incident.  Deng would again be removed, put under house arrest. But with Mao’s death in 1976, Deng was able to solidify his backing within the CCP and rise once again within the party and China.

With Deng’s rise came economic reforms that pulled China out of the economic gutter and led to it becoming what it is today, an powerhouse on the world stage.  Deng’s reforms were able to tap into the nation’s natural resources in ways Mao had never been able to.  But with the loosening of economic restrictions came pushing from both sides.

Hardliners saw a weakening of the central authority of the CCP.  Reformists saw an opportunity for political change in Beijing.

Deng proposed Four Modernizations: Agriculture, Industry, Technology, Defense.  In 1978 Wei Jingsheng tacked The Fifth Modernization to a wall in Beijing calling for greater individual freedoms.  Democracy Wall lasted a year before the CCP felt individual expression had gone too far in criticizing the Party.

But not everyone within party leadership was cracking down on demonstrations and individual expression.  Hu Yaobang was another Long Marcher but also one who believed in Deng’s reforms.  He was made Party Chairman in 1981 but was forced to resign in 1987 after being considered too tolerant of student demonstrations by leaders within the CCP.  It would be his death on April 15, 1989 that would lead to Tiananmen.

Crowds gathered and the Party got nervous.  Deng Xiaopeng, thought to be sympathetic to the student protesters, had his hand forced and on May 4th the CCP cracked down on demonstrators.  The rest, as they say, is history.

But not in China.

The Chinese government viewed the Tiananmen Protest as anti-revolutionary and a threat to their power.  While some attempts have been made to rehabilitate Hu’s image, at no point has the Party ever entertained reevaluating what happened at Tiananmen.  Chinese youth are not taught what happened, it’s passed over in favor of lessons on economy and globalization.

Yet in this era of the Internet and access to information world wide in an instant, China is having a hard time rewriting its history as it used to.  Now it is not just a simple matter of burning all old histories in the Forbidden City and writing new ones.  Information is now in the hands of everyone, no matter how big the Great Firewall of China may get.

But does it matter?

Bao Tong worked for Zhou Ziyang, reform minded CCP General Secretary who was forced to resign in the wake of Tiananmen:

Mr. Bao believes that an official reassessment of Tiananmen is crucial for China’s long-term stability. “You have to say it clearly: It’s not a good system, it’s a bad system. It has to be stated that the people who were killed [on June 4] were good people, and they shouldn’t have been killed. . . . We must announce that Tiananmen was a criminal action. That soldiers, from now on and forever, cannot oppose the common people. This gun cannot be pointed at the people.” He holds his fingers up in the shape of a gun and takes aim at the coffee table.

So is there a potential for another student uprising? Mr. Bao doesn’t think so. Although today’s economic turmoil is much more painful for China than the inflation of 1988-89, he believes the threat to the government’s stability is much less.

He first cites China’s tight grip on political discourse today, compared to 1989: “At that time, people could say Mao Zedong was wrong. Today, they can’t say Deng Xiaoping was wrong.” Although Chinese citizens have more ways to communicate today — especially via the Internet — these technologies won’t necessarily lead to calls for change. “The spread of the Internet is a good thing, but it is also a bad thing. Because in the hands of the government, it becomes a tool for brainwashing.” He sees government meddling behind online flare-ups of antiforeign sentiment.

Mr. Bao thinks the real key to Beijing’s control over its citizenry, however, is economic leverage.

As long as the CCP provides for its people, or allows its people to provide for themselves, it is in good standing.  Deng’s policies were ten years old in 1989 and China was still just emerging economically. Now it is the second largest economy in the world.  Its people are arguably much better off now than they were twenty years ago, certainly compared to thirty years ago before Deng’s policies began.

The next protests China sees may not be political but economic.  And they may be in the countrysides more than in the cities.  Because it’s easy to be concerned about politics when you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.  Rural China may be disproportionately impacted by a global recession.  This is something the CCP can’t block by firewall or by rewriting their history books.

By hiding Tiananmen from the people the CCP can hope to avoid the tough questions behind the events that led to the massacre.  But they feel they can not afford to allow protest and criticism for fear of losing control over the country.

“Every four minutes there is a protest with more than 100 people.” Mr. Bao cites a report that estimates China sees 100,000 protests per year, up from 80,000 three years ago.

Bao calls these “Little Tiananmens”.  And they impress upon the people exatly what the government wants them to forget.

The only freedom they have is what the Chinese Communist Party allows them to have.

Tiananmen may have never happened in the eyes of the CCP.  But every day, every four minutes they have another one, somewhere else.  And the Chinese people see it, feel it, know it first hand.

The CCP is holding onto the idea that history can be written by those in power.  But the people are starting to write their own histories and, with that, they are clamoring to have a hand in their own futures.  And without reevaluation of Tiananmen and the policies and events that led to the massacre, the Chinese Communist Party may find itself written out of history.

The Buzz Bin: Newspapers Are Like Department Stores

Geoff Livingston over at The Buzz Bin makes a great analogy – Newspapers Are Like Department Stores:

For department stores, many chains found their death in a trojan horse — the mall. With the rise of the mall, department stores were asked to anchor these megaplexes. But inside the smaller stores were more nimble, better competitors who specialized in deeper lines of products. Electronics, women’s shoes, hardware, whatever it was, from big box to pretzels chains took shoppers away from many department stores.

Ironically, like the mall, the Internet was supposed to be the future of newspapers. But for some reason the 90s passed and the opportunity was never realized. Perhaps that crack known as print advertising was just too good to give up. Or maybe, change was really that hard.

And he’s right.  Department stores for decades was the jack of all trades families turned to for one-stop-shopping.  But then malls came along, inviting specialist stores who then competed within feet of one another for foot traffic and business.  Department stores couldn’t compete – sure J.C. Penney’s has a shoe department, but it’s no Foot Locker when it comes to selection, brands and sometimes price (well, maybe not price, but still).

Specialization and one-stop-shopping met at the mall.

For over ten years now that’s been happening with the news on the internet: newspapers have come to anchor media coverage online but other operations have set up that specialize and do some things better than those aiming to do all things.  Sure the New York Times has a sports section, but ESPN is just a dot-com away.

So it’s adapt or die.  But how to do that?

Cover what you do best. Link to the rest. “

This changes the dynamic of editorial decisions. Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” That is, “what is our unique value?” It means that when you sit down to see a story that others have worked on, you should ask, “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better.

As I linked to in March (Newspapers: Adapt Or Die), Newsweek is already doing this

:

Newsweek is about to begin a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership, and some shifts in content. The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all, executives say.

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

If you can’t make it your own, focus on what you can make your own and hat tip others for the rest of it.

For some that may not be enough.  Sarah Lacy has advice at TechCrunch that’s a bit more aggressive but sounds like a perfect business model for succeeding online and off:

There’s an obvious option for these magazines, and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about it: Ruthlessly collapse the print and online staffs, run everything online as soon as they write it, except one or two cover-length, long-form glossy pieces. Those will anchor the print issue, rounded out by the best stories from online. Then cut the money spent on trying to court new subscribers, shifting the entire marketing budget to promote the Web or real-life conferences and branded events. You could even use reader comments to flesh the online pieces out more for the print edition, driving more engagement in both the print and online versions. Voila! One publication, not two pretending to be one. And guess what? One publication is a hell of a lot cheaper, even if it’s printed on dead trees.

Give them something online many times a day, save the meat for the print and utilize your audience for filler when the magazine/paper comes out.  Now a reader can participate and have a vested interest in the success and invest in the media accordingly.

Not only does this allow media to remain relevant but also supports newspapers and magazines doing what they can do better than most any other blogger out there: WRITE ACTUAL ARTICLES.  Real meat, investigative pieces that take up 5-10 pages and really involves some journalism the reporting that they are better trained, equipped and financed to do.  Get a handful of kids fresh outta college to do your online content for $25-30k a year a starting, pay a couple veterans the bigger bucks to deliver the meat, groom the kids to eventually be able to do the same, and suddenly you have yourself a working paper on the relatively cheap.

This isn’t the way newspapers have worked, nor is it how they’re adapting.  Instead they’re cutting the bigger bucks veterans, stocking up on prospects on the cheap, and leaving them with no one to learn the real ins and outs of journalism from.  At some point its unsustainable, the kids don’t know how to provide any real meat and the hemorrhaging of money continues without anyone with the know how to stick their thumb in the dike.

Papers are going to keep failing.  Even if some make the harsh adjustments, it may be too little too late.  Just as many department store chains are now long and gone, so will many papers.  Others will survive, linger on as a shell of their former selves, or maybe convert and become something different, something better.

1:00pm UPDATE:

David Simon, creator of The Wire, gets it wrong:

Simon told the Senate Commerce Committee today bloggers don’t go to city council meetings, or know what the hell is going on if they do — a clichéd, out of touch refrain common among newspapermen who can’t be bothered to do any reporting on the assertion. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from a Newark Star-Ledger columnist to this effect:

Don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings… a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.

I found this argument odd, because as a newspaper reporter who spent a few years covering a town much like Baltimore — Oakland, California — I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residents newspapermen often refer to as “gadflies” — deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived.

The whole Gawker piece by Ryan Tate is good and has some fine examples of citizen journalism.

Do Journalists Add Value?

Jeff Jarvis challenges Journalists to ask themselves a tough question:

Journalism can’t afford repetition and production anymore.

Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.

The question every journalist must ask is: Am I adding value?

It’s a hard thing for a journalist or a media outlet to face.  In this age of infotainment presentation has become everything while the actual meat of the story takes a backstage for the sake of flash and bang and ratings.  But if you’re not adding anything of merit to the conversation it won’t spread, it won’t go very far and it’s hardly news.

This comes back to the continuing argument I make about newspapers as they continue to hemmorage subscriptions: specialization is key.  Do what you do well, leave the rest to the experts.  If you are able to cover something better than everyone else, if you’re really able to add value to the conversation, people will pay and reward you for it.

As Jarvis points out:

Bloggers have had to learn that, too. Just linking to and commenting on others’ reporting won’t get you much attention. Every blogger who does original reporting and tells the world something it doesn’t know but wants to know learns that this is how to get links and audience. Arianna Huffington told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London months ago that she was hiring reporters because their stories get more traffic; it’s enlightened economic self-interest. This is a lesson we teach our journalism students at CUNY, when we have them add reporting to the conversations that are going on online.

Whether you’re a blogger or a new form of news organization, you’re going to have to ask with every move whether it will add value to the news ecosystem. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t do it.

Metablogging (feeding links left and right) will only get you so far.  If you can bring something to the table, a take, some information, something that adds to the story, you’re in.  If you’re just passing folks along you’re nothing but a tollbooth on the way to something worthwhile.

Also see Jarvis’s “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.

Fair Use, Fair Game

Checking out NRO articles this morning I found an interesting disclaimer at the top of the article Planned Parenthood Matters:

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

134406718_b31d61b62d_mThe article is an interesting read but I kept coming back to this disclaimer and the inherent threat of who knows what should I decide to quote any part of this article without first reaching out to United Media.  Admittedly it’s not hard to ask for permission, just e-mail and see what happens.  And for all I know Ms. Puello will say sure and just remind me of what I’m about to remind everyone else of.  But that step isn’t needed, the permission to excerpt because of the glorious rules of Fair Use. How does that apply here?  Comment and criticism:

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work–for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:

  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.

You don’t need permission to excerpt if you’re trying to provide context for your argument.  Just don’t cut and paste the entire article and give credit where it’s due.  Not only is this fair use but it’s Citation 101 – selectively quote your sources, cite your sources, don’t steal anything that’s not yours.

There are plenty of questions as to what constitutes fair use – whether there are limits to the number of characters or words one can reproduce before they are outright thieving.  This is especially relevant on a large scale given AP’s threat last week to take “all actions necessary” against content piracy.

On a local scale, though, there is a micro-battle brewing about fair use working the other way around.  Last week, Media General’s Richmond.com rebranded, tore down it’s old looks, threw up it’s new Richmond MySpace-esque site*, and said that part of its content would be aggregated from local blogs. So Richmond.com, as part of this new, hip, social media thing was going to be providing content not only generated by users and a paid staff but by bloggers who aren’t necessarily opting into RDC.  And making money off of it.  Which leads to the question:

@richmonddotcom Any plans on revenue sharing with content providers on #richmonddotcom?

rdc2

The response is a little glib, but that they responded at all is to be commended.

A Twitter debate followed among some bloggers where fair use was brought up as well as folks either saying they really didn’t mind or they particularly minded because it infringed on their content rights.

One of the biggest arguments with the Richmond.com model is that there isn’t enough done to show where the meat is coming from.  It’s a matter of attribution and affiliation and that also had a flare up on a larger scale last week when AllThingsD, a site owned by Dow Jones, posted a link to Joshua Schachter’sarticle about URL shorteners.  Josh’s response was short and to the point:

what the hell is this?

He wasn’t impressed.

Andy Baio at Waxy.org has a good write up of the whole thing, as well as reactions and explanations.  One that stands out and hits my point home is from43Folders‘ Merlin Mann:

Republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called "feed scraping." At AllThingsD, it's called "a compliment."

Andy Baio gets to the real heart of the matter when he says “the presentation makes it very hard to distinguish between original contributions“. And that’s the key – properly attributing the work not just in name but in looks as to distinguish what is being borrowed from what is truly original content.  If you start mixing the two together, you start confusing the audience, whether purposefully and maliciously or merely out of laziness.

The other problem with Richmond.com is they’re unapologetic about it.  “For aggregated content, we share by directing traffic to your site and ads.“  That is assuming that the site RDC is redirecting to has advertising or a structure to take advantage of any traffic.

That leads to the argument of the difference between professional media and independent media.

It is one thing for blogs to use mainstream media for meat and to feed readers to an outlet that is built and structured around a for-profit model that is designed to take advantage of any traffic that comes their way.  They are ready to make the sale, push an advertisement, any number of avenues for revenue.

When mainstream media outlets do the reverse, using the content of blogs for meat, if they properly link and attribute (which is rare, even on media websites), they are feeding readers to a site that is not set up to take advantage of the traffic and thereby help the original author.  There is no structure in place to take advantage of such a referral for personal or financial gain.

Both ways the mainstream media wins.

RDC tries to win many times over.  When linking to community blogs they don’t make it easy to actually GET to the community blogs. You know, actually direct traffic to their sites and ads.

Visit RDC’s News & Views.  Just this once.  Scroll down past the advertisements and get to the actual list of News & Views.  Pick any one of those articles.  Click on it.  Guess what?  You’re not done yet!  No, you now have another page of RDC ads to scroll through, the title, the first few words, THEN there’s a link you get to click on to finally get to the community blog that provided this meat.

Whatever they can do to keep you on their site is good for them.  The appearance of meat, of community news and involvement furthers this business model.

This issue is only going to grow as more and more newspapers switch to online models to save their failing business plans.  They’re going to seek “community content” which usually equals “free content” and laugh all the way to the bank while the content providers are left working for someone and seeing no reward for their efforts.

Attribution is key.  Affiliation is key.  There has got to be something to thoroughly distinguish original content from aggregated content and not only that but reward accordingly.  If Richmond.com has three restaurant reviews written in house by paid staff but then links to ten written on EatingRichmond.com, well, who does that serve?  RDC, who can charge higher ad rates, show greater traffic and utilize other people’s content to inflate their own size?  Or EatingRichmond.com, which is run part time by a handful of people, is a blog that has no marketing team or structure to sell advertising and can at best rely upon Google Ads that pays pennies on the click?

This is not to say that most folks blog for money.  I certainly don’t.  There are very few that truly profit off of blogging.

The point is, not only do I not blog to make myself money, I certainly don’t blog to make anyone else money.

Other posts worth reading on the subject are Anil Dash’s “Fair Use For Fair People” and Jason Kottke’s “Extreme Borrowing In The Blogosphere”

*There is a whole blog post waiting to be written about the marketing thoughts behind destroying one already established brand in the effort to create a hip, “new” brand that merely provides yet another social network to an audience that has had plenty of social networks to choose from for five years now but one that also directly competes with community created and driven website likeRVANews, community blogs like CHPN and others, but that’s for another day.

How Not To Use Twitter

Person gets a job at Cisco.  Person tweets that they’re not all that excited about job.  Person gets tweeted back at by Cisco employee.  Person does not get job.

Person then learns a lesson and shares it with others:

Should Tim Levad have backed off? Not necessarily; it was crass of me to say what I did and I take full responsibility for the stupidity of my action. Instead of blaming him, let me use him to illustrate what I have learned: Tim Levad and @timmylevad are two different people. @timmylevad is defined entirely by the number of people listening to it. But whatever @timmylevad says is backed up by the subtle persuasive knowledge that somewhere back there, Tim Levad the person is pulling the strings.

I don’t really mean to use Tim specifically in this allegory, but the point is that people with many Twitter followers can’t afford to be real people on Twitter. Tim Levad would probably never use Twitter to make a flippantly negative remark about his career, because he understands that @timmylevad is more of a mass-media channel than a human being.

It’s important to think about these things as you go about your daily life. How am I using Twitter, really? Do I have the service set up in the right way to support that? Am @I more of a mass-media channel than a human being? Do @I act as such?

I don’t entirely agree with the first point.  Too much about how someone acts when observed or unobserved and assuming that Levad acts differently on his Twitter feed because of his audience.  It’s a big assumption to make and one that exists more because the author is soul searching and excusing the content of their twitter feed after these events.

That said, the rest is valid in that Twitter or other social networks or even any place where you plop your name and reputation on the web is what you make of it.  How you use it is a direct reflection of you and you can either define it or let it define you.

A good portion is also public, and so you are going to have to keep that in mind as you go about and use the services accordingly.  But that doesn’t mean you have to change who you are to fit the public nature.  You can be selective or say, screw it, I’m going to be me, consequences be damned.  And maybe that’ll cost you a job.