Posts from June 4, 2005

Just bury me in the backyard

Just bury me in the backyard

: The Washington Post reports a trend in home funerals.

Sure enough, you can buy coffins on eBay.

The little fool

The little fool

: Ward Churchill, the reputed professor infamous for calling 9/11’s victims “little Eichmans,” is in the bullseye of the Rocky Mountain News in a series of investigations that find:

At issue

Did Ward Churchill falsely accuse the U.S. Army of using smallpox as a weapon of genocide against American Indians?

Our findings

His claim cannot be supported by the sources he has cited.

At issue

Did Churchill commit plagiarism by publishing the work of others as his own?

Our findings

An essay he “prepared” for a book was actually taken from a Canadian scholar.

At issue

Did Churchill mischaracterize two important pieces of federal Indian law?

Our findings

His contentions about the Dawes Act of 1887 and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 are incorrect.

At issue

Did Churchill misrepresent himself as having American Indian ancestry?

Our findings

His assertions that he is descended from Cherokee and Creek ancestors arenít supported by extensive genealogical records.

I’m all for freedom of speech and academic freedom as well. But at what point does the academy become just a refuge for a fool? [via Glenn Reynolds]

Video Skype

Video Skype

: I’m putting this here just so I can find it when I need it: There’s a video plug-in for Skype, at last.

Strange bedfellows, indeed

Strange bedfellows, indeed

: In a Times of London interview, Mikhail Gorbachev reveals that he is a Blairite socialist and Jesus was the first socialist and he and Pope John Paul were penpals and he thinks Margaret Thatcher should be a model for Vladimir Putin.

Question the money

Question the money

: John Tierney questions one of the sacred tenants of journalism: Thou shalt not pay sources.

The question is: Why shouldn’t Deep Throat, aka W. Mark Felt, make money from Watergate? Woodward and Bernstein certainly did. The scandal — and Felt’s information that helped them expose it — made them famous and made them a fortune and established their careers as journalistic heroes.

But when Felt’s family tried to get some money for his story, they were treated like money-grubbers. People and Vanity Fair wouldn’t pay them. Against journalistic ethics, they say.

Now there is some reason for this, a practical ethical reason: If people reveal the truth for money, they may make up lies to make money.

But there’s another reason, an economic reason: Journalism cannot afford to share the money it makes off the truth. What if everyone wanted their cut? What if your competitor could pay more? What if George Steinbrenner were a publisher? He’d get all the scoops.

As Tierney points out, the way to manage this in the past — the way to launder the money — was to publish a book; the public decides whether to buy your truth. There, it’s OK to make money for your own story. In newspapers and magazines, you can’t make money for your own story — the publishers do; they sell their truth.

I wonder whether the new age of distributed media that might change. I joked the other day that if Watergate occurred today, Deep Throat would have a blog. He might well, for it would give him control of his story and his identity. It’s hard to imagine making enough money off Google AdSense to make whistleblowing pay. It’s also hard to imagine a whistleblower able to get the verification and attention that journalists bring. But I have to believe that the next Deep Throat will want to control the fate of his story…. and its value. And is that so wrong?

Join the iParty

Join the iParty

: The CBC is developing a show about bloggers using the voices of podcasters.

Half-baked

Half-baked

: Fred Wilson (second link today) talks about fully baked vs. half-baked blog posts. I prefer half-baked.

Fully baked is a lecture or a book or a show. It says, “I’m done. Eat what I tell you.”

Half-baked is a conversation. It says, “Join in. Add some pepperoni before it’s done, make it better, make it right for you. Enjoy.”

Old media necessitated fully baked thought and expression: You had to “finish” it and get it “right” before you used precious paper, production, and distribution and you couldn’t go back and do it over again; you couldn’t rethink.

New media allows half-baked notions to be distributed and shared and improved upon and rethought.

At the end of the day, I believe, the half-baked approach will end up with better thought, thanks to the conversation.

Of course, quality is still a factor. A stupid notion, whether fully or half-baked, is still a stupid notion and no amount of remixing or baking can fix it. Bad sauce makes bad pizzas.

And, of course, as a writer myself, I don’t mean to say that everything should be a committee product (in fact, what I like best about blogging is that there isn’t an editor standing between me and you, my real editors). I don’t want to read a novel written by committee. I’ve seen many a movie and TV show and magazine story wrecked by too much collaboration. Yes, the individual’s voice and viewpoint and talent still has value and too many chefs can ruin the broth.

But what’s interesting about this notion of fully v. half-baked is that it addresses an assumption behind all media, an essential snobbery that, by necessity, got cooked into old media: The limitations of old production and distribution — the fact that someone owned the printing press and paid for the paper and would not allow anything to get onto that paper until it fit his definition of baked — meant that we all thought something wasn’t good or right until it was declared done by someone with the power to do so: The tyranny of the chef.

But when you think about it, that attitude reveals such hubris: believing that a thought can ever be done, that one author or one editor can know more than all their readers is so egotistical.

That is the essential attitude shift that must happen in media, especially news media: Discussion is often more intelligent than content. Paraphrasing Dan Gillmor, the audience knows more than the author.

Once we in big media stop acting as if we can fully bake anything, as if we know best, as if we are the only authorities, as if we’re finished and the story is done when it’s printed, then the public we serve should stop shooting at us when we screw up. If we provide valuable reporting and experience and resources but admit we’re human and are not the final authority, if we join in the conversation that’s already going on around us — the remixing of our news, the baking of it — then both we and the public we serve can learn the real value of collaboration.

In the end, itreally is just a simple attitude shift: It says that when we publish something, we know it’s not fully baked; we expect it to be debated and challenged and remixed and improved; we welcome that.

Half-baked is better.

: Hey, commenters, don’t get too literal about “half-baked,” as if it means numbskulled. It’s Fred’s creative wording and I like it and it’s not to say that one puts out numbskulled ideas. It says that any idea we put out is likely to be unfinished and the key is admitting that.

RSS for life

RSS for life

: From the comments below, the Misanthropyst has a fine suggestion for the killer RSS ap:

Wanna make a million dollars? Help supermarkets and local merchants provide rss feeds for items they are having specials and sales on. Ask your wife if she’d subscribe — I bet the answer would be, “In a heartbeat.”