Posts about bestof

The emergence of media tribes

The latest Pew Research Center study on Americans’ views of their news media show falling trust, growing divides, and the emergence of media tribes. There’s much to chew and choke on in this. Here are some of their findings and my musings:

News media continue to lose respect

That’s not surprising news but it’s still quite sobering. Though the majority of Americans still have generally favorable views about news media (from 60% favorable about national newspapers — specifically the New York Times and Washington Post — to, inexplicably, 79% favorable about local TV news), those numbers have fallen since 1985 (when 81% spoke favorably of national newspapers and cable news topped the list at 91%). For comparison: Favorable opinions of the Supreme Court are down 12 points and Congress 20 points since 1985; for the Democratic Party 8 points and the Republicans 12 points (to only 42%) since 1992. Only the military’s rating has risen. So the nation is getting more critical of everyone. I’ll get to a theory on that in a minute (hint: Fox).

But drill down to the specifics and MSM’s grades get worse. Today a majority of Americans says stories are often innacurate (53% now vs. 34% in 1985). I’ll get to why I think there’s a bit of a turn there in a minute (hint: Bush).

A majority say that the media are biased (55% today vs. 45% in 1985). But a plurality has always thought news media are biased. I say it’s time for news media to admit it and I also say that will improve their trust.

A plurality no longer thinks news media are moral (moral?): 46% today vs. 54% in 1985.

Yet 66% today think the news media are highly professional and — take this as good news — 44% think they protect democracy (36% disagree and 20% don’t know).

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That’s the foundation. Now we’ll see some intriguing trends and divisons Pew finds. . . .

The emergence of media tribes

Pew was most struck by the growing difference in opinions about media among people who use different media. Bottom line: People who use the internet as their primary source for news — who are also younger and better educated than the rest of the country — are the most critical of mainstream media (and probably the most likely to sneer at it as “MSM”). TV viewers are older and also less critical.

I see the emergence of media tribes.

Different groups use different media and have different views of that media. Perhaps that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, the internet is used to criticize MSM and it attracts people who are critical of MSM and thus it is more critical of MSM. Or not. It could be that younger, better-educated people are already inclined to be critical of MSM and that is why they gravitate to a medium that gives them more choice, comparison, and control. Chicken, meet egg.

This is an inevitable outcome of the end of monolithic media: the death of The Press. Now that we have the means of comparison, we compare — and the old controllers do not compare well. I have long decried the allegedly grand shared experience of media that really lasted only three decades — from the 50s, when network TV killed second and third newspapers locally, to the 80s, when the cable box, VCR, and remote control gave us more choice, to the mid 90s when the internet gave us more control. I say it is a good thing to have more voices, more perspectives, more means to compare.

But I’ll also note that this division of the media tribes means that we are each seeing different Americas. That will have ever greater implications for not only news media but also for politics and public policy as well as any consumer business. Of course, this means you can’t just buy network TV to sell soap or ideas anymore. But it also means you’re never talking to one nation.

Note again that the ratings are generally favorable. But there are clear differences. Some numbers from Pew: 60% of Internet users (that is, and I’ll say this once, those who use the internet as their primary source of news) rate national papers — again, the Times and Post — favorably; that’s the same for the population as a whole. But 68% of internetters rate local TV favorably vs. 78% of the nation; that’s 62% of the internet vs. 75% of the nation favorable of cable news, 61% vs. 71% for network news, and 71% vs. 78% for local daily papers. In every case, TV viewers give these media higher favorable ratings.

Now to get more specific: 64% of internet users say that news organizations are politically biased (vs. 55% for the nation as a whole and 46% for TV viewers). 59% say that the stories are often inaccurate (vs. 53% for the nation). 68% of internet users say media don’t care about the people they report on (vs. 53%, still a majority, of the nation). And — get this — 53% of internauts say the media are too critical of America (vs 43% for the nation). I think we’ll see why that is next. . .

The growing political divide over the media

Pew found a growing partisanship in views of media. In 1985, we were unified with strong favorable opinions of network news: 88% of Republicans and independents and 92% of Democrats rated TV news favorably. Today, that’s only 56% favorable for Republicans, 70% for independents, and 84% for Democrats. Same story for the national papers: Democrats’ favorable ratings fell from 85% to 79%, independents from 80% to 60%, Republicans’ from 79% to a very grumpy 41%.

This pattern — the growing divide — holds, of course, in specific views of media behavior. Is the press too critical of America? 63% of Republicans say yes vs. only 23% of Democrats. Does the press hurt democracy? 48% of Republicans say yes vs. 28% of Democrats. Are media politically biased in their reporting? 70% of Republicans vote yes vs. 39% of Democrats (and, for comparison, 61% of independents… to me this indicates that “bias” means “disagrees with me”). Is the press liberal? Guess what: 75% of Republican say yes vs. 37% of Democrats. This divide also shows in the parties’ view of press performance. Are stories often inaccurate? 63% of Republicans say yes vs. 43% of Democrats. Note that in all these cases, the split is much greater than in 1985. The Republican-Democrat gap, as Pew calls it, grew from 9 to 40% in their views of whether the press is critical of America, from 6% to 20% over whether the press hurts America, from 6% to 31% over the question of political bias. These tribes are growing farther apart.

Why? Read on. . . .

Fox News, the great negativity machine

The Fox News tribe is markedly more critical of media and I don’t think that’s just because media are criticizing Bush and because Republicans — who, not surprisingly, outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 among Fox viewers — have long thought media to be biased and liberal. I think it’s because Fox News is inherently negative and is effective at spreading that negativity. You’ll find some justification for that view in the Pew numbers.

63% of the Fox tribe — that is, viewers who count Fox as their main source of news — believe that news media’s stories are often inaccurate vs 46% of CNN viewers and 41% of network news viewers. Foxers say that the news media are too critical of America: 52% of Fox viewers say that vs. 36% for CNN viewers and only 29% for network news viewers. Are media unfair to George Bush? 49% of Foxers say yes vs. only 19% of CNNers and 22% of network people. Are media politically biased? 54% of Foxers vote yes vs. 46% of CNNers and 42% of network viewers (note again that this is a widely held view). Now getting to views of specific media, only 39% of Fox viewers think favorably of the national papers vs. 69% of network viewers. That’s 72% vs. 83% for local daily papers, 59% vs. 87% for network TV news, 81% vs. 86% for local TV news.

More evidence for this Fox-negativity theory: CNN viewers are more favorable to Fox than Fox viewers are to CNN. That tells me that CNN viewers are nicer or at least less grumbly. They see the world through rose-colored TV lenses. The numbers: 79% of CNN viewers rate Fox favorably while 55% of Fox viewers say the same thing about CNN.

The divide over cable news carries into other media tribes. Says Pew: “Dislike of both major cable news networks runs notably high among Americans who count newspapers and the internet as tehir main sources of national and international news. One-third of people who count on the internet for most of their news express an unfavorable view of Fox, and roughly the same number (31%) feel negatively toward CNN.” Pew adds that the polarized views of Fox and CNN, not surprisingly, “are most prevalent at the ideological extremes — conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.”

pewfoxified0809.gifNow here’s the interesting bit: Pew looked at “Fox-ified Republicans” — that is, data show that “being a Republican and a Fox viewer are related to negative opinions of the mainstream media. . . . Republicans who count Fox as their main news source are considerably more critical than Republicans who rely on other sources.” Specifically, 71% of Fox-ified Republicans hold unfavorable views of the n national papers vs. 52% of Republicans in other media tribes and 33% of nonRepublicans. Note, by the way, that only 28% of Republicans are Fox-ified. That’s an important political stat. That may be how the Democrats justified snubbing the Fox presidential debates, but I still say that was short-sighted.

The growth of demographic tribes

We know well that media usage varies by age. Some Pew numbers: Comparing 1995 (note the different year) with 2007, it’s clear again how much the internet is affecting other media. Asked how they get their news about national and international newspapers (note that they could give two answers), 26 percent today use the internet vs 6% in 1999; it wasn’t asked in 1995 (which was barely after the creation of the browser). Compare that with TV — 65% now vs. 82% in 1995, newspapers — 63% then vs. 27% now (OUCH), radio — 20% then vs. 15% now, and magazines — 10% then vs. 2% now (and one wonders why the newsmagazines are sputtering).

Now look at the impact age has on opinions of media. Favorable opinions of local TV can cable news rise with age but fall for network news and national and local papers. College education generally lowers opinions of news media. Note also that women and blacks are generally more favorable.

And now for some good news?

Pew finds encouragement in the enduring positive view of the press’ watchdog role. Well, yes, except that view is declining and it is now a minority view among Republicans. In 1985, during the Reagan years, 67% of Americans — 65% of Republicans, 71% of Democrats — supported the watchdog view. Today that’s 58% for the nation, 71% still for Democrats, but only 44% for Republicans (who fell below the majority line in 2003).

What is it about local TV news?

Finally, I remain befuddled by the continued high ratings for local TV news, which comes out only slightly behind local newspapers. Local TV news sucks. It’s all fires, press releases, weather teases, and time-shifting (‘Police this morning are searching for the criminals who allegedly performed a crime right here where I’m standing last night but in fact no one who’s involved in the story is here right now and I could read this same script to you from the studio after I cadge it from the newspaper but standing here it seem so real and current, doesn’t it? Back to the you, Sally Ann…’). There’s no reporting. The faces we see are all transient as they head from market to market; they don’t know our towns. They’re often not too bright. But yet, they seem friendly. And I fear that the reason people like them is because they don’t report. What’s not to like about pap and predictability?

: RELATED (somewhat): Stowe Boyd writes about social networks and tribalism, inspired by Blonde2.0 on a survey of tribe members.

Sticky posts: the ‘bestof’ tag

Jeff Pulver had (another) good idea: He wanted some of his better posts to be sticky and he asked others what their sticky posts were. I suggested that if we all tagged out better posts, we could do lots of things: We could link to them from our own blogs and compile those posts across blogs we like. It would make it easier to find those seminal posts when reporters come asking what we have to say about something we’ve already written about and when we put together our blooks. Tom Evslin, blook author himself, volunteered to do a bit of that programming if it rains this weekend. I suggested in an email exchange that we should just tag our posts and that’d do the job. Chris Brogan rejected my tag suggestion — “sticky” (especially when discussing seminal posts) and suggested that we use the tag “bestof.”

So I’ve just gone through and tagged the last few months’ posts that I think have more to say; they’re here.

Sustaining journalism through innovation

I have to say that I was disappointed with the Economist’s Project Red Stripe — in the idea they ended up with and in the fact that it is not yielding a product, as Paid Content reports.

But I hope I can learn some lessons about managing innovation as I bring together a conference on networked journalism for our News Innovation Project at CUNY on Oct. 10 and as I start teaching a course this fall in entrepreneurial journalism — a course that is supposed to yield specific, sustainable, practical ideas for new and innovative journalistic products or businesses.

The Economist had split off a half-dozen of its smartest people — and there, that’s really saying something — who had to audition for the team with their ideas and determination. They were sent off to separate offices and given $200,000 to create something with only two requirements: It had to be of the web and it had to be innovative. They also decided to make the process open and talked to lots of folks, like me, discussing and even inviting ideas publicly on their blog.

But then they went opaque because they believed transparency would have affected the business; I’m still not sure how. And they ended up, I think, not so much with a business but with a way to improve the world. Their idea, “Lughenjo,” was described in PaidContent as “a community connecting Economist with non-governmental organizations needing help – ‘a Facebook for the Economist Group’s audience.’ ” It wasn’t intended to be fully altruistic; they thought there was a business here in advertising to these people, maybe. But still, it was about helping the world. And therein lies the danger.

I saw this same phenomenon in action when, as a dry run for my entrepreneurial course, I asked my students at the end of last term what they would do with a few million dollars to create something new in journalism. Many of them came up with ways to improve the world: giving away PCs to the other side of the digital divide, for example. Fine. But then the money’s gone and there’s not a new journalist product to carry on.

This gives me hope for the essential character of mankind: Give smart people play money and they’ll use it to improve the lots of others. Mind you, I’m all for improving the world. We all should give it a try.

But we also need to improve the lot of journalism. And one crucial way we’re going to do that is to create new, successful, ongoing businesses that maintain and grow journalism. We need profit to do that.

So I would have thrown another requirement on Project Red Stripe or any media company’s innovation incubator: that they start a sustainable — that is, profitable — business. I have now added that requirement in our entrepreneurial class. I didn’t outlaw projects that may get some help from foundations to get going (and I may live to regret that). I’m also bringing in business executives and even venture capitalists to help the students think about how they are investing in the future of journalism. It’s a business. It needs to be a business to survive.

So it’s also important for journalists to think about the business side of the industry as well. As journalists, we were brought up not to sully our pretty little heads with filthy commerce; that was someone else’s job — the guy on the other side of that church-state wall. But now the business of journalism is every journalist’s business.

I believe I will see students leave our class to go start new products and new businesses that improve the future of journalism, that sustain it. That’s the hope.

: LATER: Neil McIntosh says that news organizations shouldn’t insist that innovations need to be revolutions. Sometimes, he says, the change comes in small steps. Yes, if the steps are big enough given the needs. Small steps may not be big enough for news organizations now.

Neil also quibbles with my call for profitabllity. I’ll still say that we need to make sustainability our standard and that means journalism has to pay for itself and, in most cases, that means it needs to be profitable. Too much of journalism is becoming unsustainable and that’s my fear.

Guardian column: Live

I’m two days late putting this up thanks to tortured internet access in my Munich hotel. The limits of technology: a revolution is stopped by a log in the road. Anyway, here’s my Guardian column about the impact of live TV news from witnesses, a polished-up version of the discussion here:

The wait for Apple’s iPhone turned out to be the great non-story: hordes slept outside Apple’s stores across America to get a phone that turned out not to be in short supply. As soon as the lines emptied, one could just walk in and buy one.

Yet I say we will mark this non-story as the moment when television news changed forever. For in those lines were people with small cameras hooked to laptops, which used mobile phones to transmit video to the internet, live. They are lifestreamers, who have been simulcasting their lives 24 hours a day. Why? Because it’s there. They’d already been blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, Flickring, podcasting and YouTubing their lives. Live video was merely their next frontier.

Yet because they were there, we saw this news covered live, in video, sent to the internet and to the public by the people in the story and not by reporters. The news came directly from witnesses to the world. Two months ago, after mobile-phone video of the Virginia Tech mass shooting went online via CNN’s website – more than an hour after the event – I speculated in this space that someday, we’d see that same video from a news event being fed live, directly to us on the internet. Well, that didn’t take long.

This changes the relationship of witnesses to news and news organisations. When witnesses can feed their views live to the internet, news producers will not have the means or time to edit, package, vet and intermediate. All that news groups can do is choose to link or not link to witnesses’ news, as it happens. This means that we in the audience may not see the news on the BBC’s or CNN’s sites or shows; we may see it on the witnesses’ blogs via embeddable players from services such as uStream.tv and Justin.tv, which enable lifestreaming.

This presents an infrastructural challenge for news groups and consumers: how will we know where to find this news? For a time, we may go to portals for live TV, but they are overcrowded with content – and anyway, portals don’t work any more. Instead, I imagine that news organisations will devote people to combing live video to see what’s happening out in the world. Or collaborative news collectors, such as Digg.com, will find and pass the word about news now. The real value will then be alerting all the rest of us to something going on now so we can watch on the internet … or perhaps on our iPhones.

And soon, those very phones will be a means of gathering and sharing news. Lifestreamers have had to carry their apparatus in backpacks, which sounds onerous until you consider all the equipment and expertise still hauled around by the networks. One of the lifestreamers covering the Apple lines at the gigantic Mall of America, Justine Ezarik of iJustine.tv, has glamorous looks destined for broadband. She wouldn’t let a backpack spoil her image. Instead, she perched her tiny camera jauntily on a fashionable cap and hooked that into a tiny laptop in her purse. Yes, news gathering is now purse-sized.

The fact that this coverage from the scene is live also means it can be interactive: the audience may interact with the reporter, asking questions, sharing information, suggesting they go shoot this instead of that.

Now add in global positioning technology and the ability to email or SMS people who happen to be near a news event and it becomes possible to assign witnesses to open their video phones: everyone at Glasgow airport with a camera could have received an SMS suggesting that they start shooting and sharing what they saw moments after the flaming car rammed the terminal. They also could be warned to stay away from the danger. Live.

Problems? Of course, there are. Yes, someone could fake a broadcast. So producers may choose not to link or may issue caveats. It is incumbent on journalists and educators to instil an ever-greater scepticism as a keystone of media literacy in the era of ubiquitous news. And, yes, through each lens, we’ll see just one angle of the story; it is necessarily incomplete. But we can also get more people to show more perspectives on that story than was ever possible with coverage from the networks.

In a comment on my blog, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen said this is a case of “media evolving toward a more and more complete imitation of life”. Or perhaps the two begin to merge: life becomes news.

Towns are hyperlocal social networks with data (people that is)

I think I’ve been thinking about hyperlocal the wrong way. Like most everyone else chasing this golden fleece, I’ve defined it as content, news, a product, listings, data, software, sites, ads. It’s not. Local is people: who knows what, who knows whom, who’s doing what (and, yes, who’s doing whom). The question should be — in Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-if-I-have-anything-to-do-about-it phrase — how we bring them elegant organization. They already are a community, already doing what they want to do, already knowing stuff. How can we help them do that better?

Local is people. Our job is not to deliver content or a product. Our job is to help them make connections with information and each other.

In truth, that was, long ago, the job newspapers saw for themselves. That’s why they lived to get as many names in the paper as possible. They knew: Local is people. Newspapers gave us news that mattered to us and would be trivial to anyone else. Newspapers were small and local and served their communities — and their advertisers — better. This is very close to the real mission of a newspaper, a mission we have lost as they got bigger and more egotistical and more powerful, as they become one-size-fits-all monopolies. Except today we have new tools (and new competitors). No one can or should do it all anymore. We need to help people do it themselves. Yes, themselves.

I’m not suggesting that hyperlocal is just a social networking tool. Or just a forum. Or just a bunch of blogs. Or just a listings tool. Or just a search engine. Or just a news site. It needs to end up being all those things and more. And as I said the other day, this will not happen in one place, on one site, but will be distributed across wherever people are being people and communities communities, locally. The trick, once more, is to organize it all. Elegantly.

And this will not happen all on its own. It needs investment, motivation, leadership, shared and distributed ownership.

What exactly does this look like? I’m not sure yet. I’m working on that. But I’m getting a better idea, I think, by working from a new starting point: People, not content. People, not data. People, not software. Long ago, when I launched the GoSkokie project at Northwestern’s Medill, I told the students that towns know things I wanted them to figure out how to tap that keg of knowledge. They got partway there with (which was a model for Backfence, by the way), but that was only partway.

I now believe that he who figures out how to help people organize themselves — letting them connect with each other and with what they all know — will end up with news, listings, reviews, data, gossip, and more as byproducts.

Thoughts from the beach. Stay tuned.

The local challenge

The biggest challenge facing local news organizations today is figuring out how they can gather more and produce less. That is, how can they help other people produce, so the news organizations have something worth gathering?

After trying one of everything in hyperlocal, I’ve come to believe that this will happen only by combining those various models — so people can join in however they want to — and by answering the questions: How much news will members of the community create and share? What do they need to do that? What motivates them? How can local news organizations enable and encourage them?

Hyperlocal will not, I firmly believe, happen at one site. It will work only via networks: content, commercial, social. It will work by gathering, not producing.

But I still don’t know whether it will work. We need to do a lot of development and experimentation.

That’s why I’m sad to see the long-time-coming closing of Backfence — not just for the founders, who are smart people and friends, but because we’ll now hear hand-wringing about hyperlocal, just as we did when Dan Gillmor folded his local efforts. There were particular reasons behind the fate of each. Paul Farhi acknowledged that in this roundup of the state of hyperlocal efforts.

But Farhi, as most do, just talked about the fate of local sites. I think we need to look at local networks. No one can do it all. Newspapers can’t afford to cover everything. They never could but now they can afford to cover even less. TV and radio stations are covering next to nothing themselves; they have no idea how to get very local. New local ventures, as Backfence proves and Fahri points out, are finding it tough to do it themselves. Individual bloggers don’t pretend to do it all and need help to get their stuff found and get revenue. And today there just isn’t enough stuff from all these players together to add up to a critical mass of coverage for almost every town and neighborhood in the country. We need more but we don’t yet know how to get it. I believe we can figure this out. But we have to try.

That, to me, is the state of hyperlocal. The work has barely begun.

I think we need a combination of platforms. Everything will not happen in one place; that is why, in my view, both newspaper local sites and independent, stand-alone ventures like Backfence haven’t worked. That is why lone bloggers have trouble making a business of it. They have to work together. They have to become networks that organize, enable, and monetize.

Newspapers will produce journalism, I hope. Individual bloggers will produce reporting, I hope. And people who are doing neither will want to contribute what they know to this pool of information without having to have their own sites. So we will need a combination of models and platforms: Newspapers will have local sites. Local bloggers will do their own thing. There is a need for group sites like Backfence or GoSkokie, which helped inspire it, where people can contribute. There is a need to organize all this; I hope Outside.in can do that (disclosure: I’m an adviser). There is a need to support all this financially; that is where newspapers can play a crucial role, setting up ad networks and infrastructure. And then we still need to see what will motivate people to contribute what they know: money, ego, influence, what? And we need to see what help people need: technology, attention, training, support.

But nobody can do it alone. That is the real lesson of hyperlocal thus far.

I hope we don’t get discouraged when some efforts die. (And I hope we discuss this and commit to new experiments at our meeting at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism on networked journalism as part of my News Innovation Project in early October.)

iPhone and the future of news

Something significant happened in the coverage of the otherwise insignificant and comically unnecessary lines that formed outside Apple stores waiting to get the iPhone:

The event was covered live, in video, directly to the internet and to the public, by the people in the story, without news organizations.

That is a big deal: the start of live, video witness-reporting. Scoble did it. More than one of Justin.tv‘s folks did it. So did GroundReport.tv and Diggnation and the gadget blogs and more than I can list.

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Not to mention, of course, all the reporting that went on via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, blogs. . . .

Two months ago, after the video of the Virginia Tech shooting went up online — more than an hour after the news occurred — I speculated that someday soon, we’d see that same video from a news event being fed live, directly to us on the internet.

Well, that didn’t take long.

As I said in that post, this necessarily changes the relationship of witnesses to news and news organizations. When it is live, producers don’t have time to edit, package, vet and all the things that news organizations have always done. They can’t intermediate. All that news organization can do is choose to link or not link to what we, the witnesses, are feeding, as the news happens.

The news is direct, from witness to the world.

The infrastructural challenge in this is that we, the audience, won’t necessarily know where to find what’s going on. For a time, there will be portals for live — UStream et al — but it’s already hard to find out what’s happening there. Portals don’t work. So I imagine that news organizations will need to devote people to combing all the live video to see what’s happening out in the world. The real value will then be alerting all the rest of us that something is going on now so we can watch on the internet . . . or perhaps on our iPhones.

ijustineiphone.jpgAnd, of course, soon those iPhones will be the means of gathering and sharing that news, as soon as they have video cameras and as soon as AT&T gets its act together. Son Jake told me that iJustine, one of the Justin.TV lifevloggers, doesn’t need to carry a backpack; her small camera hooks up to a Vaio in her purse. So the gigantic ENG (electronic news gathering) and SNG (satellite news gathering) trucks with their dishes and expensive equipment and expert operators are replaced by . . . a purse, and soon a mere phone.

This also makes this transaction interactive: The audience can interact with the reporter. We can ask questions and share information and suggest they go shoot this instead of that.

Now add in GPS and SMS and the idea that people who happen to be near a news event can be alerted and assigned to open their phones and start shooting: Everybody at the Glasgow airport with a video phone gets an SMS suggesting that they start shooting and sharing whatever they see; a flaming car just rammed the front of the terminal. Others there can be warned to stay away from the door where the danger is. Live.

So imagine that Wolf Blitzer on CNN is standing in front of a wall of screens showing our video from the scenes of news. Imagine that MSNBC sends us alerts when news happens live so we can tune into the internet to watch. Imagine if the BBC can assign viewers near any news event to start shooting and sharing. Imagine if CBS News prepares for an event — a storm — by asking the public to all be streaming in their witness-eye views. Imagine also that we can go around these organizations and set up alert systems to tell each other, directly, what’s happening where and to show it happening, live; that is precisely what happened in the case of the iPhone lines.

Problems? Of course, there are. I never sit in a meeting with journalists without hearing them obsess about all the things that could go wrong; that is, sadly and inevitably, their starting point in any discussion about new opportunities. I blew my gasket Friday when I sat with a bunch of TV people doing just that. So, yes, someone could fake a news broadcast and, because it’s live, you don’t have the time to vet. But you can issue caveats and triangulate with others in the area or choose not to link to or show something you doubt. You can also set up systems to vet trusted contributors and ban fakester. We in the public will also doubt and it is the job of journalists and educators to help them doubt; that is the media literacy we need to strengthen already in the age of 24-hour cable news. Yes, nasty things could happen before our very eyes and ears. Someone who’s in grave danger in front of the Glasgow airport might actually say “oh, shit.” I would. And, yes, through each lens, we’ll see just one angle on the story; it is necessarily incomplete. But we can also get more people to show more angles on that story than we ever could with just one camera and one SNG truck — which usually arrived long after the news is over, leading to the tortured tense of TV news: “Police are this morning hunting for… Firemen are this morning sifting through… Neighbors are this morning wondering…”

Life becomes a 24-hour news channel. And we see news through the eyes of witnesses.

Even though the mass of iPhone lines in front of the Apple stores was a nonstory, it still was a story that changed news profoundly.

: LATER: Just read a very good related post at TechCrunch by Duncan Riley. He calls this eventstreaming: “Eventstreaming is the missing link in Web 2.0′s challenge to network television.”

Buying their voices

Federated Media stepped in it with their latest campaign, getting some of its bloggers to issue not so bon mots on behalf of a not so bon advertiser, Microsoft.

I tried to warn Federated when I adamantly turned down two prior similar campaigns, telling them that this would reflect poorly on the bloggers who do it, possibly on bloggers as a whole, on the network itself, and in the end on the advertisers. But they kept trying to push the boundaries, because that’s what advertisers and thus sales people do.

So ultimately, this is a cautionary tale for all bloggers who take ads: You must set your own boundaries and not let them be pushed. When you do — whatever those boundaries are — that is the very definition of selling out.

In each of these cases, the advertiser’s effort is to get more closely associated with us, our content, our reputations, our brands. They’d like get into our pants mouths. They want us to speak their names. Nicely. Or at least be near them, associated with them. This happens at every editorial product I know and it becomes incumbent upon their editors to resist and to protect their integrity from integration — if, indeed, that matters to them (and in many cases, such as entertainment shows — Coke glasses on the American Idol desk — it doesn’t). Advertisers can’t get us to endorse their products directly — unless we’re PayPerPosties or actors — and so they try to find some way that we can say something nice somewhere else. That’s what happened in this case, after much Talmudic wrestling that still strikes me as the congregant asking the rabbi for permission to have an affair… with a shiksa… on a pig farm… on a Saturday… for money.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: The rules are obvious. Our readers should not be confused about the source of what they read. If it is paid for, that should be labeled as advertising. In editorial environments, our voice and our space cannot be bought — or it is not editorial; it is, by definition, advertising. Not every media property needs to follow these rules; entertainment, for example, is not editorial. But this is the essential rule that allows us to accept advertising to support publications without losing our credibility.

First, I’ll give the background of the current case to those who, having taken a weekend day off, had not seen it on Techmeme. And then (at the three asterisks below) I will give you my history and the emails I sent to Federated on this last year.

The current case: On Friday, Nick Denton at Valleywag gave proper a tongue-lashing to Federated and the prominent bloggers in the ad network — Om Malik, Michael Arrington, Fred Wilson, Paul Kedrosky, Matt Marshall (plus Richard MacManus, Mike Davidson, and Federated founder John Battelle) — who agreed to give pappy quotes over their names for a platitudinous campaign about business that is “people-ready,” said quotes appearing on a minisite Federated made for Microsoft and on banner ads. We, the public, are supposed to become so engaged in this fit of interactivity that we vote for our favorite cant (does the winner go on a bumper sticker? a t-shirt? a blimp?) and submit our own people-ready stories. If this felt any more stretched, it’d be taffy. But note how they try to get the bloggers to lend their names and voices even if not on their sites and not about the product but still under the advertiser’s brand. Didn’t fool Denton:

I can’t blame Battelle’s team for latching on to this idea. The campaign is slick; and Microsoft is a deep-pocketed client. But it’s disappointing that so many of his most reputable writers have signed on as spokespeople. One would have thought that tech opinion-leaders as influential as Om Malik and Paul Kedrosky would ration their credibility more carefully, and reserve it for companies and products for which they felt real enthusiasm.

This is why I love the Brits: understatement.

Om Malik, to his considerable credit, back-pedaled quickly:

So without making any excuses, to my readers, if participation in Microsoft’s advertising campaign has made you doubt my integrity even for a second, then I apologize.

I have requested Federated Media, our sales partners, suspend the campaign on our network of sites, and they have. We are turning off any such campaigns that might be running on our network. Would I participate in a similar campaign again? Nothing is worth gambling the readers’ trust. Conversational marketing is a developing format, and clearly the rules are not fully defined. If the readers feel a line was crossed, I’ll will defer to their better judgement.

The fact of the matter is that the original premise of the campaign was to give my thoughts by what People Ready meant to me – it wasn’t an endorsement of a specific Microsoft product. (You can read it here, and judge for yourself.) Nor did my words run in any portion of our editorial space. Microsoft asked us to join a conversation, and we did. I wasn’t paid to participate in the conversation, but Microsoft ran an ad-campaign that paid us on the basis of CPM.

But today the campaign, which has been running for close to two months, brought up doubt about my editorial integrity for some of you.

In the future I shall focus on what I know best – reporting and writing.

Good on Om. He was clearly seduced by some silver-tongued ad sales guy but has thought better of it. So has Paul Kedrosky: “…I still should have taken more time and said “No” to an ad whose style could so easily be misconstrued.” Fred Wilson has not thought better of it and called Nick so old school for sticking to these rules (Fred, some rules are worth keeping). Ditto Michael Arrington, who tells critics to “pound sand” and argues that it’s clearly an ad. Absolutely right, but it’s still an ad with your words in it. Except then Mike reveals these aren’t necessarily their words: “…generally FM suggests some language and we approve or tweak it to make it less lame. The ads go up, we get paid.”

Clearly, Federated has not thought better of it. Their new VP of author relations, Neil Chase, a topnotch editor who just left the New York Times for this gig, responded to Denton trying to justify this self-delusion by taking lipstick and writing the label “conversational marketing” on the pig:

ValleyWag today suggests that one of FM’s conversational marketing campaigns is hurting the editorial integrity of our authors. It says that Microsoft paid them to write, which is simply not true. They were invited to join a conversation with readers about Microsoft’s new theme, and they did so, but they didn’t write about it on their blogs. The only money they get from Microsoft is from ads running on their sites, for which they’re paid by the page view.

Well, but they were paid. Mike Arrington’s laudably candid on that point. They were paid for the media rather than the creative, as we say. In publishing, we call this “value added.” Some media companies insist that they won’t negotiate their rates but then they throw in extra stuff — parties, goodies, extra ads elsewhere — to essentially lower the price. The value-added in this case was the bloggers’ words. Neil continues in his comment to Nick:

Welcome to the birth of conversational marketing.

It’s making people like you and me, who came from the world of traditional newspapers, have to learn about three-way conversations. We have already witnessed the evolution of the two-way conversation among authors and readers that is replacing old-fashioned one-way journalism. Even our old employers (yours at the Financial Times, mine at The New York Times) are now actively bringing their readers into two-way conversations.

So the next step, naturally, is for marketers to want to join the conversation. It can be done in ethical, responsible ways, and FM’s authors are among the first to figure out how to do it.

Uh, Neil, I think you’re jumping to a conclusion there and if you listen to the conversation about this “conversation,” you might think otherwise. Hear Charles Cooper at CNet: “Why would ostensibly independent voices come across as Microsoft shills?” Here‘s Ashkan Karbasfrooshan joining the discussion: “Frankly, it makes me distance from MSFT, dislike Battelle’s tactic (note singular John) and distrust what the bloggers have to say.” Neil continues:

We’re carefully expanding conversational marketing based on all kinds of new ideas that are coming from authors, marketers and our sales reps. We’re drafting a set of principles for conversational marketing that will help everyone, inside FM and across the industry, frame the discussion about how we do this the right way. And we’re taking care at every step of the process to make sure we don’t compromise the editorial integrity of our authors.

I’d say it should have been drafted long ago.

* * *

I pulled out email from September 11, 2006, from a Federated rep trying to get me into a similar program, this one with Cisco trying to get such bromides from bloggers for its effort to associate itself with the phrase “human network.” Worse, in this case, they wanted to write a Wikipedia article about the network to get their brand in there. I call that knowledge spam. I was told that if I chose to participate, my definition of “human network” — which I would deliver after they gave me a “seed definition” — would appear in an ad on Buzzmachine. The net to me for this opportunity would have been $559. I said no. And I gave them some free advice:

This will get them KILLED in the net. It is wikipedia spam. It is not transparent. It is wrong for them and wrong for me and I would say for FM.

I was told in email that the client decided to change how the Wikipedia entry was made, but they still made it. The original is here; the latest here. [*See note below.] I pressed on in a subsequent email:

I’m afraid they are still on the dark side. You just can’t put something with commercial motive into Wikipedia. Admitting it is hardly better; it is still a crime. The Wikipedians and bloggers will attack hard and they will deserve what they get.

And I cannot stand behind an advertiser getting me to write something for pay. In most quarters — in quality, reliable, editorial, credible blogs — that is equally a crime. You cannot buy my editorial voice or space; that is the very essence of church/state in any journalistic context; that is what I have told everyone who has ever worked for me whether on a newspaper, on a magazine, or online. . . .

I want to stay as far away from this as possible. And I will still counsel that FM should also. If you’re going to sell your soul, I suggest doing it for a fuck of a lot more than $559! Not that someone cannot choose PR and press-release writing as a career, but I would hope that is not what FM stands for.

This tactic came up again in a campaign for a gadget (I don’t know whether the campaign ever ran, so I’ll keep the brand confidential). This time, we were expected to write directly about the product with positive sentiment. I’d say that’s the definition of a product endorsement. I turned it down and responded: “This is pay-for-post and I will not do it and condemned it today on my blog.” They came back and said, well, it’s not an endorsement but a personal anecdote of a time when I appreciated the kind of ability this device afforded — if I owned that brand of device. I came back and said: “I fear that this could blow up in Federated’s face.” I laid out the same rules I repeated above and added: “It’s one matter for an advertiser to pick up something we say as a blurb; happens to movie critics all the time. It’s another to assign and pay for a blogger to write something about the product. You can say that’s not endorsement but I’d say it sure smells like it.”

My real advice to them, relevant today:

I suggest that Federated have a policy on the relationship of its bloggers with advertisers. I would argue that in the church-v-state of this media and journalism world, you need to be the state and create a wall that allows us to be the church. You have the contact with the advertisers; we don’t. And I would further suggest that the editorial voice and space of Federated bloggers is not for sale. Whether you want that policy is up to you and the FM bloggers; but that will remain my policy. I think there is an opportunity to pull up above others and work on a higher plain. I also think that having such a policy makes it easier with advertisers: You have something to point to. I’d be happy to help with brainstorming such a policy. . . . My two cents. Just trying to be helpful. . .

Never had that brainstorming.

So now I’m disagreeing with myself. In that last email, I put the onus on Federated to come up with that policy. And though I still think that would be principled and wise, I shift at the top of this too-long post when I say that I now believe it’s the bloggers who must make these calls. That’s because advertisers will be advertisers; they will try to push for more integration with us (and we should beware taking that as flattery). And sales people will be sales people; they will try hard to get the sale. So we bloggers are left, inevitably, with the need to say no. I also generally oppose efforts to create omnibus codes. I can wish others would operate in a certain way and I can judge them accordingly. But I’ll just speak for myself with my advertising policy in greater detail:

1. My voice is not for sale. No one can pay me to say what they want me to say.
2. My editorial space is not for sale. I accept advertising and it must be clearly labeled.
3. When I am paid to write (as in a freelance article) or to speak, I will still determine what I say and I will disclose that relationship.
4. I will attempt to disclose relevant financial relationships so you are free to judge me and my words accordingly.
5. In some cases, such a relationship will prevent me from speaking on a subject (as in talking in detail about an employer). However, I will not be compelled to speak because of such a relationship.
6. If I say something openly and freely here, it may be quoted by a commercial entity (the blurb) but I will not be compensated for that.
7. My acceptance of advertising here does not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser. However, I will at times turn down advertising I find unacceptable.
8. I recognize that many blog, vlogs, etc. do not pretend to live by editorial standards and that is their right and freedom. But when they say some things, I will need to take when they say with appropriate salt.
9. I have financial relationships with others who do not follow these rules and in many cases I do not believe these rules apply to them (e.g., entertainment). I enjoy and respect many sites and products that do not follow these rules, but I expect to be able to find out what rules they operate by. I believe one’s rules and relationships should be disclosed.
10. I do not believe I have a price at which I would sell out. But if I did, I can say I certainly haven’t seen it yet.

* * *

Some more blog comment on this. From Sam Harrelson:

And here’s the lesson to be learned from all of this, whether you’re in the Technorati 100 or Technorati 100,000…

Pay Per Post, Review Me, or accepting money in exchange for some sort of content production (whether a full post or a small block of text) comes across as slimy to your readers, hurts your credibility and does more long term brand damage to your blog and your brand than short term (monetary) good.

The only reason to engage in these sorts of schemes is to make a few quick bucks… but it’s not worth your blog’s soul. . . .

In our post-modern world, ideas such as “trust,” “objectivity,” “disclosure,” and “reliability” have been turned over and rendered subjective. That doesn’t mean that these terms are meaningless, it means that things like trust are now subjective in the eyes of the beholders. Authorial (or editorial), on the other hand, is meaningless. How I perceive you means everything.

He said it better — and briefer — than I did.

Kent Newsome:

t’s about whether or not you want to be the blogosphere equivalent of Suzanne Somers hawking a ThighMaster. It’s about the crossroads between cash and credibility.

All we have as bloggers is our reputation and our track record. No ad campaign is worth risking that, regardless of whether it crosses any ethical line. This is more about common sense than ethics.

Dave Winer says:

… But to imply that everyone knows they’re doing it is wrong. I didn’t. I’m sure others didn’t as well.

Second, and this is the really important one. It’s one thing to let Microsoft buy space on your site (it’s called advertising) and quite another to accept Microsoft money for words coming out of your mouth. Next month when we read something positive on these sites about Microsoft, how are we supposed to know if it’s an opinion, or just another example of being paid to say something supportive of Microsoft.

The only one of the people involved who showed any interest in what others think is Om Malik, and even his interest was conditional. In public writing, what people think of your writing is very important. They may not agree with you, they may not like what you say, they may not like you, but you want to be sure they know where you’re coming from. Any doubt about that removes value from your work. Do it often enough and it removes all value.

Mike says that this discussion cost him money that he needs to make payroll. I encourage him to look at a bigger picture. Any cloud over his integrity with readers will have a much bigger impact, imho.

: * LATER: John Battelle left this comment, which he also sent in email:

Jeff -
In fact, on the Cisco campaign, in now way did Cisco spam Wikipedia. They wanted to post a wiki version of their definition, and naturally their first thought was Wikipedia. Thanks to input like yours and many others, they did it on Wikia, the commercial cousin to Wikipedia. In fact, they sought out Jimmy Wales’ advice on the matter. The entry was later put up on Wikipedia by one it its editors, independently. Why? Because Cisco sponsored an honest conversation. Is it somehow illegal for companies to be part of a conversation? I really find that presumption offensive. Why can’t companies, which as the Cluetrain reminds us are just made up of people, be part of a conversation, and invite leader into that conversation? I’ll be posting more on this later, but I wanted to clear that up.

I never said “illegal.” I’m also taken aback by Battelle’s effort to be the offended party. I don’t know who posted the “article” and how it got there, yet it got there and the end result is the same. But there is Battelle’s stand.

: See also Fred Wilson’s response in the comments and my two responses, in turn.

: And here is Battelle’s post defending what he sees as “conversational marketing.” He says it’s new. I think it’s very old: It’s advertorial. I, for one, won’t contribute to advertorials. He also says that advertisers have a right to be part of the conversation. Of course; I don’t hear anyone arguing with that. The question is how they get there.

: THE NEXT DAY: Jackie Danicki asks why I didn’t write about this at the time. I did here. As I explain in the comments on Jackie’s post, I didn’t reveal the parties involved because this was business; they were just pitches at the time; I didn’t think the campaigns had actually gone through (my bad assumption); and I think discussing the issues is what matters here. This isn’t an expose. It’s a necessary discussion for bloggers. See also my response to Scoble on that point in the comments below.