Posts from September 2003

Blogging the Don’t-Bee way

Blogging the Don’t-Bee way
Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune blogger, has excellent advice for any major media organization itching to join the revolution:

To edit a blog almost instantly and whenever the blogger wants to post would require an expenditure of resources from the sponsoring publication that dwarfs the income — right now, essentially zero in the free-access info-market of the web.

Yet to edit a blog conventionally — putting it into a comparatively slow, one-way pipeline toward publication — robs it of its essential blogness. It takes a potentially fresh new medium that, as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, is a hybrid of talk radio and print, and turns it back into just more old medium….

In reality, what needs to emerge here if the j-blog isn’t going to die at birth, is an understanding on the part of editors and readers that, procedurally, a blog is much more like an appearance on a TV panel program or talk-radio show than it is a fully sanctioned, completely vetted declaration in cold type.

My fellow columnists and I frequently appear on radio and television and offer live (and in many cases broadcast on the internet), unedited statements under the color of our publications. Several Tribune staffers even have their own radio shows. We give speeches. We respond to e-mail and letters in writing. We give interviews to the New York Times.

And almost never is the substance and wording of such communication approved in advance by minders or editors.

Very, very rarely — never in my case — this freedom causes real problems.

Pretenders to populism

Pretenders to populism
: Folks are piling on Jason Calacanis for his opening act in blogs and this inspired Tony Perkins, who was also piled on at a recent blog conference for his faux blog Always On, to write a what-I’ve-learned piece. The answer is not much.

I have finally learned what a blog is. (Thank you Dave Winer!) It is an amateur author who posts a regular diary on his own site that is unedited, spontaneous, and generally comments on and links to other blog sites. I think the key attribute is the establishment of an individual voice that provides an alternative to traditional media.

Well, actually, I could contest that definition but it’s not worth the effort. Perkins admits that his magazine-that-couldn’t-afford-paper is really not a blog and so he has learned something.

Now the last thing we need in this new world is an instant orthodoxy of what is and what isn’t a blog, a new us-vs.-them wall down the world. That serves no one.

But what does matter is that the weblog revolution not be mischaracterized — co-opted, that is — to audiences that matter, namely: the audience itself; and advertisers (who, if they think they’re paying for a blog when they’re not won’t then pay for what is really a blog); and media (who, if they think they’re writing about blogs when they’re not won’t end up writing about what is really a blog).

: Perkins continues to try to get revolutionary ruboff from the blogging community and his alleged proximity to it:

The bottom line as I see it is the original blogging community represents the early-adopters of a movement that will eventually radicalize the entire media industry. Some time off in the future, if major media brands do not open up their content to more participation, readers will just not trust them, and they will go elsewhere.

Perhaps AO is one of the first commercial brands to borrow on the blogging tradition in this regard. So on one hand, we appreciate our founding fathers, but on the other hand we need to massage and build upon what you have shown us to make it more commercially viable.

Well, first, pardon me for playing PC PC (that is, personal computering politically correct) but “early adopter” is just another condescending way to say “loser geek.” It’s another way to say, “thanks, kids, now let the grownups take over.” It’s another way for Perkins to come off like a pompous ass. But fine; no news there.

And, second, I disagree with his assumption that blogging will somehow grow up to be a part of all major media. No, it won’t necessarily and neither should it necessarily. The internet is the first medium owned by its audience and weblogging is the means that is giving that audience its voice. What’s important about weblogging is not that big media may do it but that the people are doing it.

I’m a big-media guy and I’m a blogger and the reason that I keep them separate is that when I blog, I’m little media — nanomedia — and proud. That’s what this is all about.

The success of this medium — artistically, functionally, commercially, politically — will come not from big guys taking it over and not from little guys trying to become big guys but instead from the congregation of all the little guys ending up with a voice louder than the big guys’.

Whitey, dead

Whitey, dead
: Whitey, from Leave it to Beaver, is dead, leaving a heckuva story behind:

Demons chased Stanley Fafara from Hollywood to Portland, tormenting him while he spiraled into a hand-to-mouth existence on the street. Over time, he lost everything — family, money, dignity — to heroin, pills and booze. But friends said that Fafara — a child actor who had a continuing role as “Whitey” on the “Leave It to Beaver” television show — was at peace with himself Saturday when he died.

Sprint sucks

Sprint sucks
: My Sprint mobile phone with the dying battery rang yesterday and who’s calling but Sprint.

It’s an f’ing spam call.

Damn them. I spewed every obscenity my feeble, uncivilized brain could come up with and this bozo wouldn’t get off MY line. I said if they ever called again, I would cancel. He asked whether he should just cancel the next day. Now that’s a way to get me to spend money with you!

I call the number that came up on my phone and it’s the “Sprint loyalty group.” Oh, yeah, good way to build loyalty.

F’ers. How dare they?

The rage at intrusion has reached fever pitch in this country.

They call it reverse publishing

They call it reverse publishing
: I wouldn’t call it that, but I heard an executive call online-to-print “reverse publishing” the other day. And Harry tells us that’s what an Italian paper is going to do in a most inventive way: Bloggers there will be able to mark posts to submit to the paper for possible publication. Now that’s listening to the audience. That shows you care what the audience has to say. That gives you compelling and fresh content. And, by the way, it’s free content! Everybody wins.

Blog bubble boy II

Blog bubble boy II
: Nick Denton pounds a few more nails into Jason Calacanis and his plans for a blog empire.

: The topic for one of the first Calacanis blogs is socialsoftware (that’ll goose a competitive response from others I know). Try to go there now and you get a registration stop sign. I wonder whether they’re going to require registration to read their blogs. That would not be wise.

I also note that Calacanis appears to be putting a registration wall

Meeting of the minds

Meeting of the minds

: Just last week I finally got to meet Jay Rosen, head of the journalism department at NYU, patron saint of blogging with his students, and now a blogger himself with PressThink. We met over blogs, then over lunch. And we found journalist kismet because we both have aggressive respect for the audience and its power and potential in both media and politics. Jay comes at this via civic journalism; I come at it from pop cultural criticism and the web; we landed at the same public square.

So Jay thought it would be fun to interview each other via email — call it a New York interview, for every question was met with a question. We’ve each posted the results of Part I:

Rosen: In your career as a writer and editor and journalist, pre-Web, did you ever think about empowering the audience? Indeed, did you think deeply, searchingly about the audience at all? And in your Net life, when did it occur to you that the people “out there” are gaining power relative to the journalist?

Jarvis: I’ve always liked the mass audience but I didn’t come to fully respect them until I became a TV critic and found that I was defending their taste and intelligence as I defended the shows they — no, we — liked to watch. Even so, I still didn’t much want to talk to the audience (their letters often came in Crayon script) until I went online. That is what made me a rabid populist. The Internet is the first medium to give its audience a voice. And when I started to listen, I was amazed. In forums, users have compelling opinions; they share news and information; they are eager to help each other. In weblogs, they put their names behind what they write and their links bring the cream to the top. So now the audience has a printing press — history’s easiest publishing tool connected to history’s best distribution network — and the power that goes with it. They are using this to influence and judge media (reporters now read and quote them), government (there’s a reason Howard Dean is blogging), and each other. I believe that audience content is the most important, the most revolutionary development in media since broadcast. The foolish journalist will dismiss it; the wise one will embrace it.

Rosen: Now the audience has a printing press is a good way to put it. But my guess is that you thought you were in touch with the audience before the Net started changing things around, that you had a feel, kinda knew what people wanted, etc. This tells us that in journalism what counts as knowledge of the people “out there” reflects available technology for reaching those people — and for being reached by them. But equally critical is the available vocabulary for picturing those people, the words we use for them. I note that even you, Jeff, the populist, used the term “mass audience” in talking about earlier eras in your editorial life. It’s an accurate way of putting the attitudes that reigned then. But today online, the image of “masses” out there has gone into anti-existence; it’s melting away. Why? Because now the audience has a printing press.

Jarvis: Busted. You’re right: “mass audience” is essentially a “we-they” way to see this when it should be all “we” But then, “audience” and “populist” carry their own baggage of disconnection. So what do we call this new relationship? That’s for the next Q&A exchange, First, let me ask you: What is the impact of audience content on journalism education? If the audience can report, write commentary, and exhibit their news judgment (via their links), does that diminish the priesthood of the journalist? Or is there a greater need to set standards and to learn fundamental skills (and which skills are they)?

Rosen: Well, it makes me wonder about J-schools: who needs them? Who else, I mean. I know the proprietor of a business called DVDojo on the Bowery in New York. He’s Michael Rosenblum, who preaches the citizen revolution in TV and also makes it happen. Digital cameras and cheap, desktop editing systems have come within reach. Rosenblum attracts paying customers to workshops on how to shoot, edit, and prepare video documentaries, and he varies the course depth: four weeks, one week, just a weekend. He may be creating a new public for journalism education, the extension of our teaching to other audiences. Once people start acquiring knowledge of how to shoot, catalogue, and edit a piece of video, some are going to stumble into doing basic journalism, and we in the J-schools of America are supposed to know how to teach basic journalism. I don’t know what this all means yet, (we may stumble) but Rosenblum teaches courses for us, so we’ll be able to find out. Is the press priesthood diminished when audience empowerment gets in gear? I would say no, not diminished or demolished, but the terms of its authority are changing, as I argued in CJR this month. By the way, were you ever part of the priesthood of journalism? And what do you think it happening to it?

Jarvis: The danger is thinking you are in a priesthood. As more and more people learn how to do this — or simply how it’s done — the only thing that will separate the media priests from the commoners will be their collars — that is, the press passes around their necks that give them access everyone can’t have. But I’ll bet we’ll see more bloggers on campaign busses and at the conventions. But more important, we’ll see bloggers covering town meetings newspapers can’t afford to cover. And that will be good. More information is good. Isn’t that what we believe? Will they be better bloggers — and their audiences better served — if we can teach them some of the skills and tricks of our trade? I think so. But that’s a bigger topic; that’s worth lunch. Last question today: How do you think the priests of high media should relate to weblogs? Should they just read them or do them and why?

Rosen: I never tell the priests of high media what they should do. They get grouchy if you try that. In fact, one of them just said so this week, Jack Shafer in Slate: “The journalistic priesthood abhors advice.” What a grouch. But I can tell you what my hopes are. I would hope they would keep a careful eye on this experiment in journalism that keeps happening online, and learn something from it. Elite journalism is very much needed in this country. After all, it’s a country with an elite. It’s not clear (yet) how the New York Times should deal with the weblog form, and I would not expect a rapid plunge. But this week, the Los Angeles Times had cause to report that it currently has no weblogs, in an article about the Sacramento Bee, which does. I found that intriguing… for the priesthood.

Comments on comments

Comments on comments
: I’ve had some discussions with folks about comments lately and so I thought I should give you my policy. It’s quite simple: This is my house and I do as I please. I tend to let discussions go — I like interactivity — and rarely kill a comment. But I will kill comments that are brazen personal attacks on anyone (and I’m shocked at those sites that don’t do this). I will kill comments that are wildly off topic. I will kill comments about my work, because this is a personal site (I sometimes mention my work but that’s my prerogative; otherwise, I won’t drag my colleagues into this parallel universe). And I will kill a comment if I really don’t like it just because I don’t like it. Dont’ give me any crap about “censorship.” That’s not censorship. That’s judgment, editing, choice, dictatorship. Censorship is something a government does. Killing comments is something a power-hungry editor does. That’s me. Just so you know.