Posts about bestof

The unbearable weight of infrastructure

After returning from the National Association of Broadcasters/Radio Television News Directors Association convention in Vegas, I have been haunted by the size of the infrastructure of the industry. The convention center was packed — blimp hangar after blimp hangar and the lots inbetween and meeting rooms all around — with salaries and equipment devoted just to filling a little screen a few minutes a day. Look at the video below — not yet; wait until I tell you — and you will see thousands of salaries walking around — and, of course, they represent a tiny fraction of a percent of the people who work in TV, just those who are sent to conventions in Vegas. There are thousands more like them at home. That will be the death of TV: the unbearable weight of its infrastructure. (I talked about the media infrastructure implosion here and I calculated the savings of a new world of TV practically free of infrastructure here.)

At an RTNDA panel, my pal, panel star Michael Rosenblum, lectured executives and stars of local TV news about this implosion. There was no lighting and so my video of him sucked even more than my usual video (proving the point of the pros, I suppose, and making them smug in their belief that better pixels equal lifetime jobs). And so I put his words on top of random images from the floor of the convention, just to show the number of people, the salaries, the weight of it. Over to you, Michael:

But, of course, it’s not just about the infrastructure of staff and equipment but of culture. Now see a San Francisco anchorman from WPIX TV complain, predictably, about quality and hear Michael’s response (again there was no lighting — as the anchorman pointed out — and my video sucks, but you can get the substance of it; think of this as a transcript with sound, a podcast with wallpaper):

Now go to Michael’s blog as he reacts to my wishful and surely and sadly wrong suggestion that the end of the age of the anchor may be at hand — anchors like that guy. He calculates the real cost of Katie Couric’s $14-million-per-year salary:

The whole concept of ‘anchor’ is a complete waste of time and money.

Where did this come from, this notion of the ‘anchor’?

People seem to believe that the ‘anchor’ gives the newscast some kind of credibility.

After all, we call it, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Credible?

Yet…

We don’t call it, The New York Times with Tom Friedman, but the New York Times still seems to be pretty credible. And we certainly don’t pay Tom Friedman $14 million a year!

That is a nice sum, $14 million (let the number roll around your tongue for a minute), a year, to work 22 minutes a night, reading what someone else has written for you. By the way, in every other journalistic endeavor we would call that plagiarism. Only in television do we deign to call it ‘journalism’.

There is a rationale that these people somehow earn their pornographic salaries.

Bullcrap!

What they do instead is strip the true journalistic assets of any newsroom, whether it is local news or network, because that $14 million has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the budget of the news division. How many local news operations work with old equipment, broken vans, ancient editing decks and a skeleton staff so that they can pay the ‘anchors’ their insane salaries?

In short, Katie is infrastructure. Along with all that equipment and those executives and those studios. Michael suggests a better use for the money that buys all that infrastructure: reporting.

Newspapers are fairly simple. You get a bunch of reporters. Pay them a decent salary. You give them pads and pencils. You say, ‘here’s your pencil, there’s the door, see you at 6′and they go off and find stories. Works pretty well. (That is why TV news gets its stories from the newspapers, and not the other way round).

We could build a TV newsroom based on a newspaper. We could, for argument’s sake, take 100 great journalists, give them small HD camcorders and laptops and say ‘here’s your camera, there’s the door, see you at 6, and send them all over the world. They could upload their stories and feed them to a web site, 24 hours a day. Refreshing all the time. With text and video and sound… Live and podcast and VOD.

Pretty cool.

Really kind of a digital model for journalism for the future, don’t you think?

And it would not cost all that much.

Let’s say we paid each of our 100 reporters, $140,000 a year. That’s a pretty good salary. You would attract a lot of talent. Real reporting talent.

Where would you get the money from?

Well, let’s take the $14 million you’re paying Katie Couric and guess what… you’re there.

What, really, do you think gives you better journalism?

And then get rid of some of that unnecessary equipment and layers of production and management and imagine how much more you could spend on journalism. Of course, it wouldn’t all fit in 22 minutes a day. But to hell with those 22 minutes. Feed the web with reporting.

If you get rid of the presses and the trucks and the broadcast towers and the headquarters buildings and the fancy equipment and the old-time stars, if you kill the infrastructure, you are left with more resources for journalism — and savings in the face of reduced revenue in a suddenly competitive marketplace — and the bottom line is a and more efficient and sustainable business.

Infrastructure is the enemy of journalism.

Ah, but you say, what about editors and correspondents? If they’re vital, they’re not infrastructure. If they are not vital, then they are merely expenses and you must get rid of them.

Infrastructure is the enemy.

The obsolete interview

The interview is outmoded and needs to be rethought.

There’s no better demonstration of this than the recriprocal snipes we’ve been seeing from and around Wired magazine from its attempt to interview people about Michael Arrington. (If you know the tale, skip to the next paragraph.) See Jason Calacanis’ quite reasonable effort to respond to Wired writer Fred Vogelstein’s questions via email and Dave Winer’s equally reasonable offer to respond in public on his blog. Now see the blunderbuss response from Wired in a blog post by Vogelstein recounting the email exchange and his dogmatic rules — “I never do email questions right out of the gate…” — and also in a blog post from his colleague Dylan Tweney, calling Calacanis “cowardly” (it appears to be an awkward attempt to be cute) and in an even clumsier attack from Ryan Singel: “What happens when a top tech figure has an online soap box, a Silicon Valley-size ego, millions in the bank and a grudge against the mainstream media?” Arrington piped in, fearing the fuss would cost him his publicity. And unable to resist any post about Arrington, Valleywag joined the journalism seminar. Vogelstein — who came to Kofi Annan agreement to record an interview with Calacanis — emailed me, too, but I told him I was about to blog about this snit and he probably wouldn’t want me. Finally, Wired Editor Chris Anderson joined in, saying in a comment on Calacanis’ blog, “I don’t impose any one policy.”

But maybe, given your vow of radical transparency at the magazine, Chris, you might want to at least impose openness to new ways, or at least an open discussion about the state of the art of the interview in the time of the empowered interviewee. A few discussion points:

Who says that reporters are in charge of interviews anymore? Why should they set terms? They are the ones who are seeking information. As Calacanis pointed out in their email exchange, Vogelstein was willing to give up two interviews because the subjects would not follow his rules. So the story suffers — it’s less complete, less informative, or less accurate — because of the reporter’s controlling rules? That wouldn’t make me happy as an editor, subject, or reader. If you need the information, shouldn’t you be willing to get it however you can? Isn’t that what reporting is all about?

Are interviews about information or gotcha moments? Vogelstein said in his email that he wants phone interviews to get the tone of the subject. Why? If this is about information, what does that really add? Or is it about the reporter’s effort to characterize the players in a narrative? Is this about information or drama? As a subject, wouldn’t you be wary of that? Or does the reporter want to catch the subject in a slip of the tongue? But what does that really accomplish? Isn’t it better to get considered, complete answers? What’s so wrong with enabling a subject to think about an answer, to review it and get it right before sending it? Isn’t accuracy and completeness the goal? When I came up in the business, I was taught not to review quotes with subjects before publication but now I see magazines doing just that; as Valleywag points out, reporters even negotiate quote approval. The only reason not to do that is that you don’t want to ruin the gotcha moment: ‘You said that.’ ‘Well, I didn’t mean it.’ ‘But you said it. Gotcha.’ ‘But it’s wrong, so can’t we correct that?’ ‘Gotcha.’ We’ve all misspoken. Should we be able to take back our own words? The only reason not to is if the reporter believes he has indeed caught us. And there is a place for catching people (George Allen couldn’t take back “macaca”). But in most stories, that’s simply not the case, unless your agenda is to get someone.

Too many reporters get too much wrong. Listen to what both Calacanis and Winer — not to mention veteran journalist Dan Gillmor — are saying: They’ve been burned when their words in stories end up incomplete or wrong. Gillmor’s right that reporters should be the subjects of stories to learn what it’s like to be on the other end of that pen. I’ve certainly learned that lesson myself.And by making complete interviews public, as Calacanis insisted, even on audio, we get to check the reporter. If, again, the goal is accuracy, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s a better way. Try combining the Calacanis and Winer methods: Perform the interview in writing, in public. As Winer says: “So if you want to work together, let’s find a new way to do it. I’m fed up with the old system. The way we start the reboot is to do all our work out in the open, real-time. Not via email, but in full view of everyone.” Examine the possible benefits of this: The reporter asks a question and I answer it. But I get it wrong and a reader pipes in to give a correction. Isn’t that a better way? I read my answers as I write them and improve them myself. What’s wrong with that? Why should the reporter get the opportunity to rewrite and edit and I don’t? Why should the reporter get to look smarter than the subjects? The best reporters, after all, go to find people who are smarter and know more than they do to get the best story. Ah, but I can hear some of you saying, wouldn’t this blow an exclusive? Well the exclusive has a fleeting value of about 30 seconds anymore anyway. And what’s exclusive about what Dave Winer has to say about Mike Arrington? If anyone owns that exclusive, it’s Dave, no? And Dave’s stance is that if he has anything to say on a subject, he’ll say it on his blog. Welcome to the transparent era, my fellow journalists. You want transparency? This is transparency.

My words are mine. Enough said.

Quotes need no longer be taken out of context. Isn’t that the greatest problem subjects have with how their words are treated? But that need no longer be a complaint. Why shouldn’t every quote, every snippet and soundbite, link to its context in the fuller interview? If the reporter has done a great job on the story, no one need click on those links. But if you want more or if you want to investigate the context in which this person said this thing, why not make that readily available, now that we have the ability, thanks to hyperlinks and permalinks? In fact, doesn’t this change the very structure of the story? Why shouldn’t that change, too? I’ve been arguing for sometime that online, there’s no reason to insert the standard background paragraph when you can link to full background. Ditto for interviews. Think of the finished story as a summary, a guide to more information. It may give you everything you want. Or it may link you to background if you’re new to the tale. Or it may link you to more depth if you want to dig deeper. Every story becomes a table of contents to knowledge. Let’s not just reexamine the interview. Let’s reexamine the architecture of the article.

Interviews and articles need never end. And never start. A story can begin with a reader’s blog post: ‘I wish I knew…’ Or it can begin with a reporter’s blog post: ‘I’m looking at doing a story about ____. What do you know? What do you want to know? What should I ask? Whom should I ask?’ Who says the reporters should ask all the questions? Shouldn’t the readers? Shouldn’t even the subjects (good interviewers usually ask whether there’s anything they didn’t ask)? Then the interviews can appear online to be challenged, amended, and corrected by writers, readers, and subjects alike. Why shouldn’t it be a collaborative effort when it can be? Won’t that only yield better information? Then the reporter writes a story. Make no mistake: There is still and always will be great value in that. For the vast majority of subjects and stories, I don’t want to go digging through original material and reporting-in-progress. I want the reporter to do the work of packaging it for me. Absolutely. So the article remains a keystone. But who says the story should be over then — done, fishwrap — just because the reporter’s finished writing it? The story is online and as we see every day, it continues to live and grow as people add their knowledge and perspectives and corrections via links and comments and remixes of the information. So the article isn’t a product. It is a process. It is collaborative. It is three-dimensional, linking to background and depth. It’s alive.

Yes, it is a favor. Vogelstein said in his email to Jason that “no one talks to me to do me any favors.” Oh, they most certainly do. In our gift economy, every act of sharing is an act of generosity, a favor. No reporter or reader should ever forget that. This is the essential human trait that makes the internet — let alone libraries, newspapers, and magazines — valuable. Reporters think that they are the ones doing the subjects the favor and, indeed, that used to be the case and to a lesser and lesser extent, for some, it still is: The reporter holds the key to the presses and with the reporter’s choices — ‘I’ll quote you but not you’ — the reporter grants attention, publicity, legitimacy. Or that’s the way they thought it worked. But this is the essential lesson of the democratization of media: We don’t need you and your presses to be heard. Calacanis in his email to Vogelstein: “Besides I have 10,000 people come to my blog every day–i don’t need wired to talk to the tech industry.” Winer: “Like Jason, I don’t have any trouble getting my ideas out on my own.” Or hear the students at Virginia Tech who got sick of reporters bugging them about the stories they’d already told on their own .

That should force reporters to reexamine the human economics of the interview: because they have to and because they can, because the power dynamics of journalist-subject have changed and because they now have new tools to do interviews — and articles — in better ways. Why not at least try?

Vogelstein wanted to talk to me about Arrington. But I didn’t want to talk to him about that. I wanted to talk to him about this. And I just did it, in writing, in public. And I hope he talks back and that you will, too. Yes, news really is a conversation.

Meanwhile, elsewhere at Wired, they are trying radical new ways working with Jay Rosen and NewAssignment.net on their Assignment Zero. I was interviewed via email and posted the results immediately, as did the reporter; they also solicited questions and wrote about doing interviews this way. Not a lot of conversation around that because I was long-winded, pontifical, and boring. But hey, the internet and conversation are meritocracies. We talk about what’s worth talking about.

PrezVid Show: Advice for Edwards

In response to his YouTube spotlight video, I have an entirely frivolous yet still sincere suggestion for Sen. John Edwards that can change his image and the tone of the entire YouTube discussion.

More at Prezvid.

The CBS interview

Here’s the embeddable version of my CBS interview. A friend suggests I should loop Katie saying “Buzzmachine.”

When the comes from the people – live. A new architecture of news.

Again, I have no doubt that in a very short time, when the next big news story breaks with reports coming from the scene and from witnesses, it will be live. Video, audio, photos, and text can and will come to the web as the news happens from the people there and we will see it live.

I keep thinking about the implications of this as I watch the coverage on big media, relying on witness-reporters and as I read the students’ own news coverage and as I read Robin Hamman’s most thoughtful post about the producers and reporters who descended on the blogs of the students who were reporting what was happening, begging them for contact and interviews. It begs questions about the very architecture of news.

So imagine if Jamal Albaughouti’s seminal camera-phone video/audio of the shooting yesterday had come in live, as technology now allows. How would it be seen? Yesterday, he uploaded it to CNN. But how, live, would he get the attention of the closed infrastructure of a newsroom? How would that get on the air? How would they know and verify what was happening? It’s hard to imagine how newsrooms could reorganize themselves to accept such news as it happens. It’s hard to figure out how those news organizations market to people who do not know they will be witnesses to major news, telling them to come to them with the news they see when it happens (though, clearly, CNN’s marketing with with Albaughouti). And it’s less hard to see how we will know where to turn to find such live coverage (we’ll do that at the speed of links, which is not instantaneous; it will cause a lag in the news).

And so I don’t think it will work to feed this live news through the big news organizations, exclusively. I see that in Hamman’s post, with scores of reporters each trying to get their piece of the student’s voice when, as Robin sagely realizes, the student’s voice and account is already online for all to see, on a LiveJournal blog. The right thing to do is to point to that, to quote it, to link to it.

This yields a new architecture of news, a distributed architecture. It’s what is bound to happen. Those students put their news up on their own sites because they have them and because the people they care about know their addresses and will read them. I’m surprised that Albaughouti’s video didn’t go up on YouTube (I sat next to a YouTube exec last night on a panel at NAB and he said, “it will”). I have no doubt that people will soon have their own live YouTubes/blog pages where they broadcast what they are doing at the moment: Twitter Video. We will all be Justin.TV. And sometimes, what we broadcast or blog will be news, big news, live news.

So what is the relationship of big, old, centralized media to this new, small, decentralized architecture of news? They need to link to reporting at its source. They will not have the time to get exclusive interviews and feeds. It’s live. They will try, as they should, to confirm the authenticity of what we see, but they won’t have the time or means to do that, either, so they will have to issue caveats and we, in the audience, will have to understand those caveats just as we understand today that everything we see from a live report — from the Iraq war or the West Virginia mine disaster — is live and may not be correct.

And so the key skills in a newsroom will not be to get reporters to the scene — that will come later, after the news happens — but to have antennae up to listen and find news reports as they happen, as people link to what’s happening. You can’t possibly have enough reporters, editors, producers to do that on your own. You need to have lots of friends who’ll alert you: When I put up a link here to something I find compelling — or even embed and broadcast it here, live — will I also alert CNN? I don’t know. Would you? Do you have such a friendly relationship with CNN? Maybe that will happen but that, too, is insufficient. So you need to use every tool that’s available — the Technorati of the live video web — to see what’s happening in the world.

This isn’t about creating one serial broadcast show. It’s also going to be about creating a window onto the news in the world as it happens from no limit of witnesses with the cameras and tools to share news as it happens. There is a role for big media, incumbent or new, in that: to discover, organize, and vet it. That is a vastly different and vastly expanded vision of how news will come to us. And it brings no end of additional implications about our ability to know what is true and what is not as it happens.

So now take recent news events and imagine them shared live, by the witnesses at the scene. Would such coverage of Katrina have spread better information or more misinformation? Would live 7/7 coverage from mobile phone to mobile phones have saved lives or caused panic?

I have said before that since 9/11, I have carried a camera with me every day. There were scenes from the disaster that live only in my memory; I could not share them. But more important, I think it is important to get the street-level, eye-witness perspective of the news. The world saw 9/11 from rooftops a few miles away: It was gigantic, beyond human scale. It looked very different on Church Street. What if many of us had shared what we saw as we saw it? How would our view of that event have changed?

Live, distributed news gathering and sharing will change the news more radically than we can yet imagine.

PrezVid MSM Syncometer: Out of touch on Obama

The latest Gallup poll shows Hillary Clinton solidly ahead — and rising — in the Democratic race. Yet as Politico points out, if you listen to “the developing media storyline” it’s Obama who has the surging mo’. And if you listen to the self-declared net roots in blogs, you’d believe that Hillary is sinking fast.

So we here at PrezVid decided to quantify this gap by measuring coverage of Clinton and Obama in news media overall, in major MSM outlets, in blogs, and in the Democratic netroots. It’s our first PrezVid Syncometer. So how out of sync are they? About as out of sync as Sanjaya.

We start with the Gallup poll:

gallup0407a.gif

Note Clinton’s wide lead and Obama’s slight dip. Her lead only widens without Gore in the race:

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Says Gallup:

Sen. Hillary Clinton remains the dominant presidential front-runner among Democrats nationally, with twice the support as her nearest challenger. Sen. Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, and former Vice President Al Gore are tightly bunched in second place, with all other candidates in low single digits. If Gore is removed from the ballot and his supporters’ second-place choices substituted, Clinton’s lead becomes even more dominant, with Obama and Edwards tied far behind.

These data were collected April 2-5, just as reports of Obama’s first-quarter fundraising success were made public. The survey results suggest that while Obama may have had a great deal of financial momentum in the past quarter, it was not matched by any increase in voter support. . . .

The trend for Obama has been relatively static. The Illinois senator ends up in this latest April poll essentially where he was last January; Obama gets exactly half of the vote given to Clinton.

That sure doesn’t seem to be the story we hear from media, does it? Let’s see:

Now we go to GoogleNews and search on the two leaders. Over the last 30 days, it returns:
Hillary Clinton: 8,908 articles
Barack Obama: 13,992 articles
So media as a whole give Obama the mo’.

Well, what about the biggest, most sophisticated outlets of political coverage in America? Same search over the last 30 days yields this at the New York Times:
Hillary Clinton: 28 articles
Barack Obama: 95 articles

And at the Washington Post:
Hillary Clinton: 108 articles
Barack Obama: 252 articles

Obviously, these searches operate differently. But the relative results are the same. The mo’ won’t quit.

The troubled LA Times, however, stands apart:
Hillary Clinton: 77
Barack Obama: 69

So let’s go to the blogosphere. According to Blogpulse, the coverage and comment for the two candidates is at least even-handed:

blogp0410a.png

And finally, let’s check the netroots. MyDD, a leading blog, just held its straw poll. The results:

picture-1.png

Clinton in fourth. Way, way behind. Boy, those results don’t look like those from Gallup — from the real voters. At the Politics Online conference in Washington a few weeks ago, I remember one of the many pundits there arguing that Hillary has no grass roots support and momentum because you can’t find it in the blogosphere. Well, maybe in one blog.

(Crossposted from PrezVid)

No twinkie badges here.

I was doing my best to ignore Tim O’Reilly’s misguided effort to play hall monitor to the blogosphere, wishing it would just go away. But unfortunately the New York Times did not ignore it. How could it pass up a juicy opportunity to make us all look like the louts they all too often think we are? An above-the-fold, page-one headline in today’s paper labeled his crusade “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs.”

So O’Reilly only set us up to be called nasty, unmannered, and thus uncivilized hooligans. Except for Tim, of course. He’s the nice one. Me, I feel like the goth kid with premature tattoos skulking down the hall.

But the problems are far more fundamental and dangerous than that. And just gratingly twinkie, too.

This effort misses the point of the internet, blogs, and even of civilized behavior. They treat the blogosphere as if it were a school library where someone — they’ll do us the favor — can maintain order and control. They treat it as a medium for media. But as Doc Searls has taught me, it’s not. It’s a place. And when I moved into the place that is my town, I didn’t put up a badge on my fence saying that I’d be a good neighbor (and thus anyone without that badge is, de facto, a bad neighbor). I didn’t have to pledge to act civilized. I just do. And if I don’t, you can judge me accordingly. Are there rules and laws? Yes, the same ones that exist in worlds physical or virtual: If I libel or defame you on the streetcorner or in a paper or on a screen, the recourse is the same. But I don’t put up another badge on my fence saying I won’t libel you. I just don’t. That’s how the world works. Why should this new world work any differently? Why should it operate with more controls and more controllers?

Go to Jimmy Wales’ wiki where he and O’Reilly set up their code of conduct. The earliest version was short and, thankfully, not terribly sweet. But they didn’t know what they were starting. They only opened the door for more people to come in and embroider the code with saccharine insipidness and their fondest wishes for laws that would take effect if only they ruled the world (cue theme music). The current version as of this writing (which reflects O’Reilly’s own post, where he adds his sheriff’s badge) begins:

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation. One can disagree without being disagreeable.

I don’t need anyone lecturing me and telling me not to be disagreeable. I won’t take it from Continental clerks when flights are canceled. I won’t take it from you. I’ll be disagreeable if I want to be. And I am right now.

But it gets worse. They argue for taking the public, transparent nature of this world and putting up opaque walls, saying that we should deal with people privately:

We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person. If tensions escalate, we will connect privately before we respond publicly. When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved–or find an intermediary who can do so . . .

Oh, goodie, that’s just what I want: trolls at the doorstep. This is a public space. That is its greatest strength. That is the key to its credibility. Tear down your walls. I argue that newspapers should be dealing in public, transparently. So should bloggers.

They also want to eliminate anonymous comments. The latest code — an escalation of the earlier version, I should add — decrees: “We do not allow anonymous comments.”

My own stand on anonymity, stated frequently in this space, is that I will not give full respect and credence to things said by people who do not have the balls to stand behind their words. When people complain that I’m trying to get rid of the anonymous nature of the web, I say no, I wouldn’t do that. I’m simply telling you the way I judge your words when you’re too chicken to put your name on them.

What’s worse is the ignorance displayed by the latest code authors who define verification of identity this way: “We require commenters to supply a valid email address before they can post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with an alias, rather than their real name.” Well, that gets us nowhere. I can go to Yahoo and get an email account with a bogus name in 60 seconds. That verifies nothing except that I have no life and have the time to do that.

I had a good discussion about this with Clay Shirky’s NYU class last week. I said that at first blush, I would like the option of using a system of verified identity. I could read blog and forum comment only from people who had aforementioned balls and stood beside their words. But with the students, we raised a number of problems. If sufficient sites require verified identity then anonymity and the benefits that come from it — see bloggers in China, Iran, and Iraq — fade away. And what is deemed to be verification of identity? My credit card, Social Security number, passport number? Who verifies that? What third party now has the power to certify or decertify me? What of my privacy and the ability to tie back to, say, my financial records? Identity is tricky.

I am real. You know that. I put my name and face on this blog. People have met me. They will verify my identity. I stand behind my words and my mistakes and changes of heart are visible for all to see. I leave most comments here untouched but I reserve the right and exercise the right to kill comments that are abusive, off-topic, or irritating. I do that rarely but all know that I will do that. You either trust me and respect me based on what I say here or you do not, and there are plenty in the latter camp. Transparency and publicness are what drive that. Not some silly code and badge.

But here’s the real danger in this: This code threatens to give back the incredible gift of freedom given us in Section 230. Go read about that. Section 230 says that we are not responsible for content created by someone else on our sites. It was created because before that, if a site said it would police content and missed something, it was held more liable than if it had not tried at all. That came out of what was known as the Prodigy case. The result was the site owners didn’t touch anything and so nastiness could only fester and grow. So Section 230 holds that we cannot be held responsible for what others create and we have the right to kill what they do create on our sites. That is vital — vital — to free speech because without that protection site owners would clamp down on all speech and try to control anything and everything that could possibly get them in trouble. No open forums. No real-time discussion. No YouTube. No MySpace. No internet.

The Times describes the codes this way (my emphasis):

A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive.

So imagine the challenge to Section 230 . . . . A lawyer says to a blogger in the witness box: ‘You put that badge on your site saying that you are responsible for everything on that site and you do kill comments that violate your code, which assures that no one will be libeled or defamed, and yet you left up this comment (wave printout menacingly) that defamed my good client.’ If I were that attorney, I would say that you waived the protection of Section 230. That would be dumb. And dangerous.

I just spoke with a public radio reporter about another case of something bad happening on YouTube. As all reporters do, this started with an effort to look for standards and rules and lines crossed. I said that the lines are the same as in real life. But reporters make the mistake of judging the internet in their own image: as a medium that can be, should be, and is controlled, sanitized for our protection. The internet is not that; it’s not a magazine or newspaper or radio show or library. It’s a place. It’s our place. And we will behave in it as we do on our other place. Most of us are good and adhere to the rules of civilization. Some don’t. The difference is that our place called the internet and the blogosphere is judged according to the worst of us: It is, to quote the Times, “a World of Nasty Blogs.”

Note that it was only at the end of the Times story that we heard any dissent or caution about this code.

Robert Scoble, a popular technology blogger who stopped blogging for a week in solidarity with Kathy Sierra after her ordeal became public, says the proposed rules “make me feel uncomfortable.” He adds, “As a writer, it makes me feel like I live in Iran.”

Amen, brother blogger.

: See also these people I know and trust and for whom I need no badges to recognize their authority and civility (especially since they agree with me on this): Rex Hammock

However, when it comes to my personal blog, a “code of conduct” is something I practice on a personal level, not something someone drafts for me. That said, I do think having model guidelines for those who create community-space projects or forums is a good thing. I don’t like “seals of approval,” however I do like good suggestions, recommendations and idea-exchanges on issues like this.

Dave Winer:

Of course the NY Times couldn’t resist putting it on page one since it confirms their assertion that the blogosphere is a bad place. Maybe next time well-intentioned people will avoid the rush to perform for the big publications.

Michael Arrington:

I’m not turning off anonymous comments, I’m not going to always try to talk privately with someone before i write, and I’m also not going to allow a mob to decide what types of words constitute “unacceptable content.” And I’m certainly not putting a badge on my site that says whether I comply or not. The code of conduct and the mass of bloggers lining up behind it scares me a lot more than the hate comments and death threats I’ve received in the past. I won’t support it.

Juan Antonio Giner in the comments:

Let me add that as someone that holds a Journalism degree but also a PhD in Law, that “the best law is no law.” Period.

Matthew Ingram’s headline says it all: “You are your code of conduct.”

Robert Scoble:

I do find disquieting the social pressure to get on board with this program. Tim O’Reilly is a guy who really can affect one’s career online (and off, too). I do have to admit that I feel some pressure just to get on board here and that makes me feel very uneasy.

Kent Newsome:

Here’s an Idea: Just Be Nice

Rather than try to recreate the world, how about just apply the real world rules of common sense and courtesy to the blogosphere. Everyone interacts with other people all day every day in the real world, and we don’t need Tim O’Reilly to rewrite the Golden Rule for us.

Seth Finkelstein:

You can proclaim peace-and-love all you want, the people who gain by advocating war-and-hate, or are personally nasty as a character trait, won’t care, except to the extent that they can posture over it.

And then there’s Anil Dash, whom I also know, like and trust, disagreeing with me in the comments:

I agree that a blog is a place. Are you saying you want to live in a place where anonymous threats of violence are acceptable, commonplace, and unpunished? Isn’t that contradictory with the whole war-on-terror thing?

And how does a few people signing a pledge change that? Do the miscreants sign it? It’s a feel-good thing that is not only meaningless but, again dangerous — for all the reasons I list above and one more: It makes you think that you’ve solved a problem just because you signed a pledge and posted a badge.

I worked for many years in magazines and newspapers, where they sign all kinds of pledges from all sorts of industry organizations. But they were empty. I saw people who’d signed them do plenty of things that I found unethical and I quit one job — the most visible job of my career, at Entertainment Weekly — over this. I saw workers in those industries get to ridiculous detail about some fine point of the pledge and miss the big picture. Those magazine editors would never put a Ford ad next to a story that mentioned Ford because the pledge said they shouldn’t. But I saw those same people (all of them gone now) sell their company’s soul when they tried to make us nicer to entertainment at the same time the company was merging with an entertainment empire. Years before, another editor I respect greatly, Pat Ryan, protected me from such pressure when I wrote reviews critical of the company new division, HBO. No pledge covered these cases. Judgment and ethics did. By the way, when I left that job, as I believe I’ve mentioned here before, I did not receive the standard three years’ salary, bonus, and benefits magazine editors got because I refused to sign the company’s shutup clause (which I found doubly abhorrent coming from a journalistic organization). Then, as now, I believe in transparency. I retained the right to tell you the story I just told you. I wouldn’t sign this pledge, either.

These pledges are all the more dangerous because big-media people think they are ethical and we’re not because they have pledges and we don’t. Let’s not fall in that trap. You have to make ethical judgments every day with every thing you do and no pledge is going to help you do that. Your mother either did that job — or didn’t.

: One more thing (that’s a lie; I’ll probably have more things later): Making a pledge for somebody else often doesn’t work. My town passed a silly law and wasted money making silly signs declaring it a “frown-free zone.” Everytime I see that sign, I frown. And growl. That’s what happens if you try to tell me what you think I should do.

: LATER: I got a call from a reporter doing a story on all this. His angle: Bloggers don’t want a code because we want to, in his words, spout off. I spouted off at him.

Chaos 2.0

I’m late to this since my AdAge subscription lapsed, but Bob Garfield (of On the Media and Ad Age) has written an important followup to his seminal Chaos Scenario two years ago. In the original, he argued that advertisers saw the decline of old media but that new media weren’t ready for them (as we indeed are not — see my AdAge column on the topic) — and so the advertisers are left without the means to market. In Chaos Scenario 2.0, Garfield argues that marketers have new ways to do their business directly with customers that no longer require advertising. He warns of “the post-advertising age.”

This is fundamental and important. In media, we have long argued that a new medium does not replace the old one and that ad spending may shift around in new mixes but do not decrease. No more. Now marketers and customers can have their transactions and conversations directly. That is to say, we the customers can get the information we want about products straight from sellers and the more that happens, the less those sellers need to waste money on giving us messages we did not ask for and do not want (aka, advertising). The more that happens, the less money they will spend on ads. Total ad spending will, indeed, decline.

That horrible crashing sound you hear is a gravy train derailing.

Media — news and entertainment — have long been supported by advertising and by the faith that even though it may be a zero-sum game, at least there were billions of dollars of support there for the earning. And profitability for those who got those dollars was very high because of scarcity: scarce space, scarce time, and now scarce consumers. What if there is less? What happens in post-scarcity world? What happens to the media economy? What happens to us?

I’d say that depends on who the “us” is. If it’s big, expensive, monopolistic, overpriced media giants — TV networks, TV studios, radio companies, newspaper companies — they are guaranteed to shrink radically and rapidly. They are screwed. But if “us” is new, small guys who are not addicted to big production luxuries — for whom the definition of big enough is many, many times smaller — there is still plenty to go around — but only if, again, we have the infrastructure in place to make it make it easy for advertisers to support us. We little guys are stuck in Chaos 1.0; we’re not ready for the advertisers. The big guys are stuck in Chaos 2.0; they’re seeing advertisers find better alternatives. And if we’re all not careful, the pie will, in fact, shrink. That’s new.

Says Garfield:

It’s a world in which Canadian trees are left standing and broadcast towers aren’t. It’s a world in which consumer engagement occurs without consumer interruption, in which listening trumps dictating, in which the internet is a dollar store for movies and series, in which ad agencies are marginalized and Cannes is deserted in the third week of June. It is a world, to be specific, in which marketing — and even branding — are conducted without much reliance on the 30-second spot or glossy spread.

Because nobody is much interested in seeing them, and because soon they will be largely unnecessary. . . .

He recites a requiem litany in the media business since his first chaos piece: MTV, Time Inc laying off. . . CBS spun off from Viacom “lest the broadcast business impede growth and depress shareholder value” . . . broadcast networks shutting out their distribution partners to give us shows directly online. . . NBC giving up on the 8 p.m. hour to give us dreck . . . big, bad Clear Channel doesn’t take over the world but is taken over by private equity. . . Knight Ridder and Tribune melt like witches on water and McClatchy doesn’t turn out to be in Oz. . . DVRs will reach half of U.S. households in three years and once we’re all skipping ads, advertisers say they’ll skip TV. . . TV upfront is down. . . Coke and J&J pull out of upfront. . .

Yup, screwed.

But marketers aren’t crying, or shouldn’t be. He continues:

What is certain is that the Brave New World, when it emerges, will be far better for marketers than the old one. What is nearly as certain is that many existing ad agencies and some media agencies will be left behind. And the reason they will be left behind is their stubborn notion that they can somehow smoothly transition to a digital landscape.

He argues that TV has been kept afloat artificially:

But TV isn’t really in the program-distribution business. It’s in the audience-selling business, and there the economics of scarcity still stubbornly reign. Because no other medium offers the reach of TV, advertisers have continued to pay more and more per thousand viewers — which is why Mr. Moonves is commanding higher CPMs; the upfront market has not yet plummeted; and video advertising on the internet, according to eMarketer, will amount to a paltry $775 million in 2007. On TV, it is $65 billion.

But economics will have its due. The law of diminishing returns will eventually prevail. Those who have perennially spent more and more for less and less will finally say, “No more,” and take their money online — whether there is sufficient ad inventory or not. . .

Mass advertising flourished in the world of mass media. Not because it was part of God’s Natural Order but because the two were mutually sustaining. . . . So why assume that either must transition to the new model? Not only is it economically nonsensical, it squanders the very nature of the digital universe, the ability to speak with — not to, but with — the narrowest communities and individuals themselves.

And they will use new methods that have nothing to do with advertising: Word-of-mouth, social, or just direct contact with customers who want information and can now get it from the marketer or — see my favorite example, my Treo — from fellow customers.

Garfield cites the story of an OgilvyInteractive creative director who didn’t buy ads to give away 45,000 tockets for Six Flags’ 45th anniversary; he posted on Craigs List and after five hours, the tickets were taken. But who gets paid for that? Not even Craig.

Garfield predicts some of the means of death of old media and agencies. I’m not sure he’s right about them all. He heralds — as I’ve heard heralded for more than a decade now — that we’ll watch a TV show and click on a car to buy it. I don’t buy that. He argues that we’ll end up paying for more content, supporting it with our money instead of advertisers’. Not sure I buy that, either. But I do agree with this arguments that we don’t like ads, we do want information, and we are in control.

And what he’s really saying behind all that is that the fundamental economics of media are, if not imploding, deflating. That is a big deal and has implications we can’t yet imagine in media and marketing as well as in the proliferation of small media that can afford to live without big marketing — if it’s ready. Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Downhill.