Style: When Taking A Side Is An Audition

Style Weekly’s Scott Bass has a little ditty this week that cherry picks from River City Rapids as an example of Jon Baliles readiness and presumed eagerness to take a job with Mayor Wilder’s press office. Because, clearly, if you support something you must be looking to get a job with that thing as well.

Where to begin…

Let’s start with the cherry picking. You grab four posts out of three and a half years of blogging and he’s begging for a job? You find four instances where Jon is supportive of the Mayor, one from Jan. 2005, the most recent from Oct. 2007, and this is supposed to be a feeler for employment?

Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Scott’s onto something here. I mean, I wrote an awful lot about IHOP’s Free Pancake Day. Who wouldn’t want to be the spokesman for Free Pancake Day? I could be IHOP’s Jared, only instead of losing a ton of weight by eating their food I’d be the fat guy that became large and in charge thanks to IHOP and their all you can eat pancake special!

Second, minor, but Scott Bass wrote the article and the first quoted post happens to mention, wait for it… a Scott Bass article! Dear Scott, now that I have cited you and an article you wrote, can I expect a piece to be written about me quoting the time I wrote about you? Please? Maybe I can hook you up with free pancakes. (I jest.)

Third, I think Jon’s being honest when he says the offer surprised him and he really had to think about accepting it.

While there certainly are bloggers out there who blog hoping and praying that someone will see their work and hire them on the spot to do what they’ve been doing, many bloggers simply write because they care about something. Jon cares about Richmond and at times he has found himself in agreement with Mayor Wilder on how to exactly “care about Richmond”. But I’m pretty sure there’s more to Jon than just his blog. Just as there is more to any number of bloggers who have been offered professional jobs in fields they blogged about (Conaway HaskinsJohn Henke, and Shaun Kenney to name a few).

Style and Scott have a right to pick on Jon a bit. That’s fine. But it’d have been nice if they provided the full URL to River City Rapids in the article and provided Style readers an opportunity to visit RCR and see for themselves how much Jon cares not for Doug Wilder but for the City of Richmond and its people.

Long Tail Talk

Dave Rogers ruminates on last week’s Long Tail conversation and about how none of the Technorati folks have responded to his questions. He also takes on the Cluetrain Manifesto. Read the whole thing, its actually a good post if you’ve been following the topic (and links to previous posts to get you up to speed if you haven’t). One part in particular stood out to me, though:

Technorati, again, as near as I can tell, is held in positive regard, at least by the members of the “A-List.” I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if this was an act of inspired genius to create a list that simultaneously flatters the egos of the people most in a position to criticize the company, draws attention to itself, and exploits the attention-directing “authority” of high attention-earning webloggers (the A-List) to draw even more attention to itself. I’d say probably not, since it’s been done before; but it’s still a pretty effective way to garner attention and achieve a measure of insulation from criticism.

Which is a good (and very correct) observation.

Jason Come Lately

A Bloggers’ Bill Of Rights?

We, the inhabitants of the Blogosphere, do hereby proclaim that bloggers everywhere are entitled to the following basic rights:

FREEDOM TO BLOG.

FREEDOM FROM PERSECUTION AND RETALIATION BECAUSE OF OUR BLOGS:

1.) If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.
2.) Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.
3.) NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

Blogophobic companies, who violate the Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, will be blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over.

Whatever happened to responsible blogging on the part of the blogger? I’m sorry, but most jobs I’ve had in the past have 1) required me to not discuss company politics or inner workings outside of the company as per a contract and 2) been “at will”, being Virginia and all. If I divulge company secrets, I’m a goner. And that’s fair, because I should know better. There are competitors out there that thrive off of this kind of information, and if I’m just going to give this stuff away then I shouldn’t expect any sort of job security. Whether or not they explicitly tell me not to share it. Common sense has to kick in at some point, folks.

A Blogging Code of Ethics?

The Conglomerate has some thoughts:

[I]f Gordon and I came up with a code of ethics (and surely we could come up with a better list than Mr. Cohen’s check sources/note conflicts/post corrections list), I don’t think that anything additional would happen to me if an unethical action of mine breached the code. Right now, if it came to light that W.R. Hambrecht was paying me to argue night and day about online IPO auctions (I wish), I think I would feel the heat whether or not I had a code conspicuously posted on my blog.

A code without a governing body to enforce it is useless. And I think you’d be hesitant to see any bloggers willing to submit themselves to a body should one be formed. It’d change what blogs are, commentary on news and events with some reporting, into straight forward news outlets of which we have many. When’s the last time a columnist was held to any real code of ethics for making outlandish comments? Does Ted Rall submit to a code of ethics? Sean Hannity?

Update: Though I do have to admit that the idea of creating a Blogs Code Authority stamp like the old Comic Code Authority one and slapping it on my site is running through my mind…

Somewhat Relevant To This Weekend’s Blogging

Mike Sanders over at Keep Trying discusses the Long Tail:

The long tail is a blogging myth in which the heavy-traffic bloggers try to convince the little guys, like you and me, that we are really the important ones in the blogosphere. And we should keep on blogging and linking to the big guys, since collectively the bottom 99% has much more viewership than the top 1% – or something like that.

Keep in mind that the blogosphere pie has been mostly carved out. If you are not munching on a big piece, and the relatively small fame and fortune that goes with it, make sure your blogging is satisfying some other basic human need.

Note: Whether the long tail is a valid hypothesis in other endeavors besides blogging is beyond the scope of this blog entry.

How is this relevant? Well, it could be applied to the talk of “elitism” and such and perhaps why certain coverage should happen. Or maybe I was just hurting for a title for this entry. Who knows.

Either way, man, I’ve been out of blogging for a while if I missed this stuff. Though it is good to be visiting Mike’s site again.

Even More On That Blog Article

Man, this is going to go on all week.

Norman over at One Man’s Trash points out that Save Richmond was interviewed but none of their responses were used in the article. But they’ve posted their response to the initial e-mail (it’s at the top right now, but scroll down to see it if you go later today):

Is blogging a valid source of news in the community, or just a place to let off steam?

Other thoughts?

Well, take the performing arts center story. We first reported Brad Armstrong’s high salary, which the T-D picked up the next day last June. (Ask Jeff Kelly to verify.) Since then we’ve consistently done a better job than the T-D at combing through the details of the Virginia Performing Arts Center’s planning. We’ve hammered at the fact that, for instance, there has never been a feasibility study for the proposed music hall and that any projections about it are unfounded. I think you’re seeing the effects of that planning now. But the story’s been there all along; your reporters have been perfectly happy to accept VAPAF CEO Brad Armstrong’s assurances that all is well in response. So yeah, people who read Save Richmond know more about this project than people who read the T-D.

And sure, it’s important to have a place to let off steam, to have some fun with Richmond news as well, like when we suggested casting for a movie about Richmond politics (Paul Giamatti as Bill Pantele, for instance). I think we balance fun stuff with serious analysis nicely.

Unlike your publisher, for instance, neither Don nor I owns vast swaths of downtown real estate, nor do we want jobs with VAPAF. So we don’t have anything to gain by doing this–and since I’m a senior contributing writer at Spin, a regular contributor to the Washington Post and am working on a book that’ll be published by Da Capo/Perseus next year, the thrill of seeing my name in print has dulled a bit! We just care a whole lot about what happens downtown, and we think we provide a real public service by keeping an eye on the details. If your paper ever steps up to the plate, we’ll probably stop.

All of which makes valid points about the poential objectivity of bloggers over some news sources, the ability of a blog to scoop the MSM, and the overall aspect that blogs can be supplemental to the news and provide greater insight into what you may read in the paper.

Was Save Richmond purposefully omitted from the article because of their stance on blogging as journalism? The whole thing did seem to highlight the opinions of bloggers like myself, that blogs are not going to replace the media in any way but can still provide information you might not get elsewhere (though I may not have come across that way in my response). Maybe the goal was to just get the general opinion of the man on the street or your general bloggers. I don’t know. Because when you look ONLY at the political blogs, I don’t think you sell blogging to anyone. It seems intimidating when you’re coming into the medium and surrounded by the “big blogs” that take what they do seriously and view what they’re doing as a legitimate service. Blogs can be used for so much more than that, and maybe that’s what the RTD article was trying to highlight.

Blog Elitism

The Jaded JD chimes in on yesterdays RTD blogging article and takes a different view than many:

After yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch story, I’ve noticed a rise in the level of blog elitism on many of the political blogs I read. It’s as though, because the story shunned the political blogs, it simply didn’t do blogs justice. Rather than visit the James River plantations of blogs, the political blogs, the story focused on trailer park blogs, the personal web log qua e-diary or journal. It’s the same phenomenon underlying the claim that bloggers should have just as much “journalistic privilege” (whatever that is) about their sources as print, television, and radio reporters–because bloggers are a “force.”

I am not some anti-elitism anarchist; my “blue-blood” credentials can compete with the best of them, a fact I’m alternatively proud and ashamed of, flaunt and supress, cherish and loath. It’s unique, because relatively few [non-indigenous] people [in America] can say their family has lived continuously for 380 years within 50 miles of where it lives now. But the point here is this: Christ on the cross! Blogging isn’t about forming some high school clique of political nerds who go around and pat each other on the back for being political nerds. It’s not about forming some clique of law nerds who go around and pat each other on the back for being law nerds. The quality of a blog doesn’t come from its subject or how many people read it. The quality of a blog, in my opinion, comes from the literacy with which it is written and the value it holds for its author.

There are many blogs, and I read and blogroll the best of them, that deal with specific areas. But I believe those specific areas are important to the authors of those blogs. And I read them because I have an overlapping interest in those areas. But to say that someone else’s blog isn’t as good as one’s own because of the subject matter it addresses–especially where the subject matter it addresses is determined by the author’s interests and not some artificially fabricated content designed to impress others–is the worst kind of elitism. It says, “I’m better than you because I like better things than you do.” How very puerile.

It’s time, I think, to remember that not all blogs are intended by their authors to “break the hot story” or “debunk the latest myth” or “spout the latest spin.” Some blog are intended by their authors to be representations of themselves. And if that intention has any effect on their value at all, it is to increase it, not diminish it.

And Will from Bacon’s Rebellion responds in the comments:

I think the article was flawed because it tossed political blogs in with personal weblogs without doing justice to either. Putting such a cursory overview on the front page, above the fold, was a bad decision in my view, even on a slow news day.

It’s probably natural for the Virginia bloggers who spend a lot of time reading and researching their subject matter to feel “superior” to a blogger who chronicles the life of his cat, but the catblogger probably feels superior to the dogblogger, and so on. It’s “UVA is better than VT” kind of pride, not malice or elitism.

Eh, honestly, I don’t think the UVA/VT comparrison holds up because, well, that is elitism. A UVA education is not, by default, leagues better than what you could get at VT or VCU for that matter. It’s the clique you’re automatically in by attending such a school that makes you “better”. And that’s elitism. Says the guy who tried to get into UVA twice to no avail.

With that said, I think that folks were right to criticize the article as not being as thorough as it could have been, but it was good for what it ended up being, a story about personal blogs that happened to touch on the news a bit. And, really, it provided what I think is the view of a vocal minority of bloggers in that blogging IS NOT replacing the MSM.

RTD Blogging Follow-Up

RiverCity Rapids, a good blog on all things Richmond, has a few thoughts on yesterday’s Times Dispatch article on blogging.

First:

I am as disappointed as Norm at One Man’s Trash on the somewhat vague and incomplete T-D story about blogs today. Not for excluding us or some of the other area blogs I read, but for the mere fact that they mentioned 4 blogs directly, and inferred the existence of a few more, and only gave the links to two of them! Hello?

Why not list just the scores to the ball games but make the reader guess which team was which?

Norm is worried that they may not catch up to what blogs really are and write a good follow up until blogs are as outdated as rotary phones. He may be right with the onset of videoblogging, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And a good point. While I don’t mind having been mentioned in an article (which made the front page), I’d would have liked something a bit more thorough, or at least a few more blogs to send people to so anyone new to the medium could get a better feel for what blogs are.

Then again, given the way blogs work, Matt and I are probably providing plenty of information to would be blog readers with these follow up posts. Thus validating my stance that blogs are good supplemental material to the MSM (wow, I actually used that term).

Snoopy at RiverCity then wrote about bloggers reporting, particularaly VCU Professor Jeff Smith’s comments about it:

“VCU professor Jeff South, who teaches classes in media ethics and in communications technology, said most blogs don’t contain any original reporting; rather, bloggers rely on mainstream media for fodder.”

This is generally true, but I’ll give an example of when it is not true: SaveRichmond.com, agree or disagree with them, was all over the Performing Arts Center story like a tick on a hound.

After the story broke that the financing was not there et al, SaveRichmond analyzed and published and linked to the arts group’s IRS 990 statement on April 27th. That was followed with a story on Richmond.com the next day using the same IRS form and interviews. Any reference to the arts center and the IRS filing has yet to appear in the T-D. It was available for two months just by asking, and it reveals that the group has less on hand then they claimed.

That is digging and that is original reporting.

The great thing about blogs is that they are in a prime position to report events quicker than the media because they always update. They’re closer to 24-hour news networks than newspapers in that they can be on the ball about things. Some papers update their websites when their new issues come out, not as the new breaks throughout the day, which not only hurts their readership but potentially boosts that of blogs.

That aside, it’s true that MOST blogs don’t contain original reporting. There are the handful that do and even then they only do it maybe 10% of the time. The rest of the content is commentary and links. There is still a reliability on the MSM for “fodder”.

And thought number three from Snoopy is about the quote on blogs being “so anti-establishment and anti-mainstream media, and yet they really need the mainstream media to feed off of”:

Sort of true, but not completely. I am not anti-mainstream media, but when the local paper and TV stations cover a story like the Braves rally and lead off talking about the protestors and giving them as much time as the rally (even though outnumbered) is that fair and accurate? The funniest part of the rally was the guy on the Harley revving his engine when the protestors chanted – even they were laughing b/c the Hog was so loud – and it did not get mentioned at all.

Papers and TV have space and time limitations. Blogs do not and can provide you with a link to a referred to article or document and the like and you can go and read and make up your own mind (see IRS story below). They usually are more like op-ed pieces, as Prof. South notes, but not always.

I was at the Braves rally, and wrote about it. I saw things that the papers and TV did but they chose not to report it. They wanted to report on the conflict because it sells. I had a friend who works for a station and they said they were mortified at the coverage, too.

If a reporter gets something wrong or leaves something out, and a blogger corrects him on it or adds to it because they were there too, is that a bad thing? If a blogger can add something substantial and vital to the story and can substantiate it, isn’t that a good thing?

To borrow from a classic old campaign ad, “You can’t be a watchdog if you’re not there watching.”

And they’re right. To say blogs are anti-establishment or anti-mainstream media isn’t entirely true. They’re critical of the way the MSM works but it’s because the MSM is limiting itself to old means of reporting the story. Like I said above, some newspapers run their websites like the front page of their newspaper and only update it when a new issue comes out. This not only limits their ability to tell a story in a timely manner but also limits their ability to elaborate on a story as it develops. Blogs and the internet are a perfect means for newspapers to go deeper into their stories than a column or a few paragraphs and until they utilize that, they’re going to be hounded and probably keep seeing their readership drop as people go elsewhere for their news, whether it be television or blogs that start to give more to the story.

The coming crackdown on blogging

Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.

In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign’s Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate’s press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

Smith should know. He’s one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet.

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. “The commission’s exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines” the campaign finance law’s purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Now, I was doing my usual “cut and paste” of the article and realized I was just about to pretty much post the whole thing, so go check it out yourself, very interesting stuff and certainly things that anyone that writes online needs to be aware of. But before your blood boils too much, keep in mind this part of the article (towards the end):

Then this is a partisan issue?
Yes, it is at this time. But I always point out that partisan splits tend to reflect ideology rather than party. I don’t think the Democratic commissioners are sitting around saying that the Internet is working to the advantage of the Republicans.

One of the reasons it’s a good time to (fix this) now is you don’t know who’s benefiting. Both the Democrats and Republicans used the Internet very effectively in the last campaign.

What would you like to see happen?
I’d like someone to say that unpaid activity over the Internet is not an expenditure or contribution, or at least activity done by regular Internet journals, to cover sites like CNET, Slate and Salon. Otherwise, it’s very likely that the Internet is going to be regulated, and the FEC and Congress will be inundated with e-mails saying, “How dare you do this!”

What happens next?
It’s going to be a battle, and if nobody in Congress is willing to stand up and say, “Keep your hands off of this, and we’ll change the statute to make it clear,” then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger.

If Congress doesn’t change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?
We’re talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.

First, I give the guy a lot of credit for calling this partisan outright. He’s not hiding it and that’s good, that makes me think he’s trying to be honest with us about the issue and that’s what we need. It’s also probably him covering his ass, he knows there’ll be heat for this and he can limit this by not shrouding it as something else.

Second, he tells us outright a proper solution to the issue, get Congress to clear up the statute. So grassroots Internet activity has a means of keeping themselves in the clear, petition your representatives in Congress.

In the end, this is simply the FEC having to enforce laws given to them based on a judicial interpretation. They are simply doing their jobs. It’s just bad law.