Posts about curmudgeons

Public Parts: atomize & reform

I’ve been rewriting the introduction to Public Parts — both because it needs it and because of events in Egypt and elsewhere. This segment, from the end of the introduction, is related to the post below. I thought I’d share it with you as it adds some more thinking on the same topics:

* * *

Technology is forcing us to question centuries-old assumptions about the roles of the individual and society: our rights, privileges, powers, responsibilities, concerns, and prospects. That describes nothing so much as the process of modernization. In ancient times, Richard Sennett says in The Fall of Public Man, “public experience was connected to the formation of social order”—that is, the end of anarchy. In recent centuries, being public “came to be connected with the formation of personality”—that is, with our individuality and freedom. Ancient and authoritarian regimes told people what they must think and do; modern societies enable and ennoble citizens to do what they want to do, alone and together. Publicness is a progression to greater freedom but that freedom is often used to collect into new societies.

Society splinters and splits and then reshapes in new forms. Think of us as atoms in molecules. Centuries ago, our molecules were villages and tribes; location defined us and often religion guided us. In Europe, Gutenberg empowered Luther to smash society apart into atoms again, until those elements reformed into new societies, defined by new religions and now nations. Come the industrial revolution—for which Gutenberg himself was the first faint but volatile spark—the atoms flew to bits again and reformed once more, now as cities, trades, and economies. We atomize. We reform into new molecules. We don’t evolve so much as we blow up in wrenching bursts of violence, breaking strong, old bonds and forcing us to feel disconnected until we can connect again. This is not a debate about whether we are meant to be alone or together, whether our natural state is independent or social, private or public. We are meant to be both; we just change the formula, given chance and necessity. We like to think that we finally find the right balance and discover our natural state. And then technologies come along and ruin our dear, old assumptions and order. That is what is happening today.

The net is everyone’s printing press. I don’t mean it’s a medium; I just said it’s not. I mean it’s our tool of disruption, the catalyst that breaks old bonds once again and sets us loose to explore our natures anew. This transformation takes trivial form: we no longer all watch the same, shared news with the same, one-size-fits-all viewpoint. R.I.P. Uncle Walter. Clearly, this transformation also takes earth-shattering form: revolutions, dead industries, economic upheaval. We atomize. We reform. We want to be apart—too far apart, some fear. See the book Bowling Alone, in which Robert Putnam worries that we are becoming disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and society. But then we want to be together. That book inspired entrepreneur Scott Heiferman to found Meetup.com, a platform that lets groups organize meetings in person around whatever interests they have, from dogs to dance, sci-fi to society. Atomize. Reform. We can now find the publics we wish to join based not on the gross labels, generalizations, and borders drawn about us by others—red v. blue, black v. white, nation v. nation—but instead on our ideas, interests, and needs: cancer survivors, libertarians, Deadheads, vegetarians, single moms, geeks, hunters, birders, even privacy advocates.

Publicness is an emblem of epochal change. It is profoundly disruptive. Publicness threatens institutions whose power was invested in the control of information and audiences. That’s why we hear the incumbents protest this change and warn of its dangers. Publicness is a sign of our empowerment at their expense. Dictators and politicians, media moguls and marketers try to tell us what to think and say. But now, in a truly public society, they must listen to what we say. So if they are to survive and prosper, companies, governments, and institutions must learn to deal with us at eye-level, with respect for us as individuals and respect for the power we can now wield as groups—as publics. Many will not survive and will be replaced by entrepreneurs and insurgents, both good and bad.

The progression toward a more public society is apparent and inevitable; resistance is futile. But the form our new society will take is by no means predestined. We are at a critical moment with many choices. We who hold the tools of publicness hold keys to the future. We must decide how to use them. Rather than baying at the moon and cursing the tide, we would be wise to find opportunity and advantage, to decide the kind of future we want to build. . . . Now is the moment and we are the people to give shape to our next society. In each of our roles as individuals, parents, employees, employers, citizens, officials, and neighbors, each of us is deciding how private to be (safe, protective, closed, sometimes solitary, often anonymous) and how public (open, collaborative, collective, and vulnerable).

I remember watching the drama of Egypt’s revolution play out on Twitter. Silly little Twitter. It was supposed to be made for nothing more than sharing the narcissistic trivia of our lives as we each answered the simple question: What are you doing now? As if the world should care, right? During the Egyptian revolt, I tweeted how jarring the contrast could be between the very everyday updates of people I knew—meals, dates, travels, shows, complaints, cats—flowing next to the messages of courage, fear, exhilaration, and determination I saw from the brave people of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, strangers I was coming to know and respect by the minute.

@ghonim—Google executive Wael Ghonim, who was credited with helping spark this revolution using a Facebook page—had been held prisoner by Hosni Mubarak’s police; his followers and fans would believe he was free only when they saw him say so in a tweet. He used the tool to deliver news, inspiration, and support: “Pray for #Egypt. Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.” On the night 17 days into the 18-day revolution when the people of the square believed the dictator Mubarak would leave—but he did not—@ghonim had tweeted, “Heading to Tahrir” and “Revolution 2.0: Mission Accomplished.” The next morning, Mubarak was not gone. The work of the revolution not yet over, Ghonim told his followers and the media that he would not be speaking through the press but through his Facebook page, his tool of publicness. And then Mubarak did leave. “Welcome back, Egypt,” he tweeted. “They lied at us. Told us Egypt died 30 years ago, but millions of Egyptians decided to search and they found their country in 18 days.”

At every minute in this momentous story, it was evident how precarious the next minute would be, the one after that only more so. Mubarak might or might not leave sooner or later. The army could shift this way or that. Thugs with rocks could return to the square. Authorities could use the internet themselves to spread misinformation and find and arrest the protestors. Out of habit, I watched the news progress on TV, but most of the time, even Al Jazeera English had only a telephoto shot of the square from a safe distance with commentary that could do little more than repeat itself. TV could hear few voices from the square.

On Twitter, a virtuoso of the form, @acarvin—National Public Radio social-media strategist Andy Carvin—spent hours and days constantly curating the best he could find from the people who were on the ground. He passed on news and debunked rumors and asked the people who were there what was really happening. He quoted—retweeted, that is—people like @sandmonkey, a brave blogger who six years before began to use these tools to share his ideas and experiences in Egypt with the world. Early in my blogging days, I had learned much from him. After the protestors’ victory he blogged, “Tonight will be the first night where I go to bed and don’t have to worry about state security hunting me down, or about government goons sent to kidnap me; or about government sponsored hackers attacking my website. Tonight, for the first time ever, I feel free … and it is awesome!” Sandmonkey replaced his cartoon avatar on Twitter with a picture of the real him and published his name, Mahmoud Salem.

Even as you read this [the book is coming out in the fall of 2011], months after the revolution began, it is, of course, far too soon to know how this story will turn out. There is no script and not even a dramatis personae of leading actors. @ghonim, who brought many people to Facebook, Twitter, and the square, demurred as a leader, vowing on Twitter that he would return to his normal life at Google when this work was done. What kind of society Egypt can build and maintain post-Mubarak teeters on so many risks, needs, and warring interests, but also on so many new opportunities. Just as Egypt’s society of the future could go many ways, so could ours and other societies yet to emerge.

The new age has its doubters. Young curmudgeon Malcolm Gladwell says, “surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protestors may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented.” Well, I have no doubt that the tools of publicness played a role in helping a true Egypt of the people rise from silence to be heard at last. These tools enabled them to share their information, their frustration, and their dreams. That is why Mubarak shut down the internet and mobile phones completely, because they were a threat—and the fact that any one man could do that must worry us all. But even Mubarak had to turn it back on, because the internet is that vital to life now. Yet in the end, Gladwell is at least right about this: the tools are only tools. The revolution is the people’s. As a blogger reminded us on Al Jazeera English, Twitter did not fight Mubarak’s police. Egyptians did. Facebook will not create the new society. But here’s where Gladwell’s wrong: This new society used Facebook to help shape itself.

“What kind of world would make the values of both publicness and privacy equally accessible to all?” asks Michael Warner. That is our challenge: to find a new balance between us as free individuals and as members of a public who freely join together to build better, more open, more generous, and more accountable companies, markets, communities, governments, schools, relationships, and lives. There is a need for privacy, its cautions, and its advocates, to be sure. But publicness also needs its advocate. That is this book.

Gutenberg of Arabia

At the critical climax of the Egyptian revolution, one of its sparks, Google’s Wael Ghonim, told his followers on Twitter that he would not speak to them through media but instead through the Facebook page he created, the page he’d used to gather momentum for the protest, the page that had gotten him arrested, the page that was one of the reasons that Hosni Mubarak hit the kill switch on the entire internet in Egypt (here’s another reason). After Mubarak left, Ghonim said on CNN that he wanted to meet Mark Zuckerberg to thank him for Facebook and the ability to make that page.

After the Reformation in Europe, Martin Luther thanked Johannes Gutenberg. Printing, he said, was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace.” Good revolutionaries thank their tools and toolmakers.

There’s a silly debate, well-documented by Jay Rosen, over the credit social tools should receive in the revolutions, successful. abortive, and emerging, in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Jay compiles fine examples of the genre, which specializes in shooting down an argument no one we know has made: that Twitter carries out revolutions. (I would add the Evgeny Morozov variation, which incessantly wants to remind us—not that anyone I know has forgotten—that these tools can also be used by bad actors, badly.) No one I know—no one—says that these revolutions weren’t fought by people. As a blogger said on Al Jazeera English, Twitter didn’t fight Egypt’s police, Egyptians did. Who doesn’t agree with that?

This same alleged debate—curmudgeons shooting at phantom technological determinists and triumphalists—goes on to this day over Gutenberg, too. Adrian Johns, author of The Nature of the Book, accuses premier Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein, author of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, of giving too much credit to the printing press. He does not buy her contention that print itself was revolutionary and “created a fundamental division in human history.”

Like Jay, I’m a befuddled over the roots of the curmudgeons’ one-sided debate. Why do they so object to tools being given credit? Are they really objecting, instead, to technology as an agent of change, shifting power from incumbents to insurgents? Why should I care about their complaints? I am confident that these tools have been used by the revolutionaries and have a role. What’s more interesting is to ask what that role is, what that impact is.

I was honored to have been able to call Eisenstein to interview her for my book, Public Parts. Her perspective on the change wrought through Gutenberg was incredibly helpful to my effort to analyze the change that our modern tools of publicness are enabling. When I asked her about the internet, she demurred, arguing that she’s not even on Facebook. (Though I do love that when she’s researching, her first stop is Wikipedia.)

At the end of our conversation, Eisenberg raised the Middle East, observing that “they sort of missed Gutenberg. They jumped from the oral phase to this phase.” She was quick to add that it’s facile and wrong to say that the Middle East is still in the Middle Ages; she’s not saying that, merely observing that “they skipped Gutenberg, for better or worse.” She said this before the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions and I was not sure what she meant.

Today, it occurs to me that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the Gutenberg press of the Middle East, tools like his that enable people to speak, share, and gather. Without those tools, could revolutions occur? Of course, curmudgeons, they could. Without people and their passion, could revolutions occur? Of course not, curmudgeons. But why are these revolutions occurring now? No, curmudgeons, we’ll never be able to answer that question.

But it does matter that the revolutionaries of the Middle East use—indeed, depend upon—these social tools and the net. That is the reason why we must protect them, for by doing so we protect the public and its freedoms. If you follow Gladwell, et al, and believe that the social tools are merely toys and trifles, then what does it matter if they are shut down? That is why the curmudgeons’ debate with themselves matters: because it could do harm; it could result in dismissing the tools of publicness just when we most need to safeguard them.

In the privileged West, we have been talking about net neutrality as a question of whether we can watch movies well. In the Middle East, net neutrality has a much more profund meaning: as a human right to connect. When Mubarak shut down the internet, when China shuts down Facebook, when Turkey shuts down YouTube, when America concocts its own kill switch, they violate the human rights of their citizens as much as if they burned the products of Gutenberg’s press.

In the midst of the Egyptian revolution, I realized that many of us in the West—and I include myself squarely in this—act under the assumption that progress in digital democracy would come here first, because our technology and our democracies are more advanced. Then it became clear to me that such advances would come instead where they are most needed: in the Middle East.

This is why I keep calling for a discussion about an independent set of principles for cyberspace so we can hold them over the heads of governments and corporations that would restrict and control our tools of publicness. I keep revising my list of principles, from this, to this, to this, to this:

I. We have a right to connect.
II. We have the right to speak.
III. We have the right to assemble & act
IV. Privacy is a responsibility of knowing.
V. Publicness is a responsibility of sharing.
VI. Information should be public by default, secret by necessity.
VII. What is public is a public good.
VIII. All bits are created equal.
IX. The internet shall be operated openly.
X. The internet shall be distributed.

This, to me, is a far more fruitful discussion than whether Facebook and Twitter deserves credit for Egypt and Tunisia. The revolutionaries deserve credit. They also deserve the freedom to use the tools of their revolutions.

A classic of curmudgeonliness

Newsweek issues what is either a genius act of subtle satire or a classic case of curmudgeonliness and resistance to technology and change in this slideshow alleging to list the things the internet has killed. It’s hardly worth a response except, in its slide-show simplicity, it neatly encapsulates the hymnbook of the old church. Among its obits:

* Facts: Insert the tired, old argument that “anyone can disseminate false information…. These days, politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and bloggers make so many false statements that more than two dozen fact-checking operations have been launched by news organizations or universities this year in an effort to stem the torrent of untruth.” Well, that sounds nice in alliteration. But it’s bullshit. I argue that we as a connected society have, instead, come to expect facts in an instant. Back in the day, when we didn’t know something, we might vow to look it up, but since that entailed driving to a library, the odds what we would fulfill that pledge were nil. Today, when you want to know something, don’t you reflexively reach for the Internets and the Google? When someone spouts bullshit, don’t you often ask them to show you the link, and if they don’t, you discredit them? This worldview comes from the old journalists’ belief that they were the priests anointed as caretakers of facts. I’d say we’re doing much better with facts on our own.

* Reference books: Only a few slides later, Newsweek acknowledges that we don’t really need those tomes. “Encyclopedias fall behind less-reliable [ah, they couldn't resist] but more timely competitors, like Wikipedia. And why carry around a dictionary, thesaurus, or atlas when you have Internet access and Google?” Why, indeed?

* Privacy: Oh, crap. I’d argue about this one but it would take time away from writing a book on the topic. I talked to new-Newsweek head Tina Brown about the topic here.

* Letter writing: OK, so what? We now have more means to stay in touch with more people in less time than at any time in history. I’m involved in projects on the future of the Post Office and I say there that the first-class letter will be extinct. And now we have blogs, which are often letters to the world. How wonderful.

* Concentration: I forgot what I was going to say about that.

* The yearbook: That’s just flat-out wrong. My kids have yearbooks. School papers are dying but that’s not because of the internet; it’s because of budget cuts.

* The peep show: That would be more accurate if they said the porno store. Drive around Florida or Vegas or even Manhattan and you’ll find plenty of strip clubs. Just this morning, driving in, I saw a new billboard for Hustler’s. (A true case of mis-targeted advertising, I’ll add.)

They also declared toast video stores, vacations, the 9-to-5 job, Polaroids and other film, the telephone, book, the CD, and….

* Civility: Oh, fuck me.

Now, Newsweek, let me suggest what the internet really kills:

* Government secrecy.

* Opaque markets.

* Central control.

* Power elites.

* Borders.

* Inefficiency.

* Ignorance.

* Newsweek.

Internet bigotry – again

I was growling at my iPhone on the train this morning as I read a prominently promoted New York Times story about the rumored Chelsea Clinton wedding that didn’t happen. Sixth graph:

The persistence of the rumor despite the lack of tangible evidence says something about today’s free-for-all Internet media culture, where facts sometimes don’t get in the way of a good story. It also says something about the Clintons and the mistrust they have engendered over the years that so many people do not take them at their word, even over a question like this.

It’s bad enough that the reporter, Peter Baker, made two such gross generalizations but it’s worse that there was no backup for either in the story.

Who spread the rumor according to Mr. Baker? Here’s every attribution in his story:
* “The wedding rumor mill got started by the Boston Globe…”
* “Then New York magazine picked up the ball…”
* “In July, the New York Daily News said…”
* “’There is no truth to that,’ Mrs. Clinton said on Fox News…”
* “The Washington Post reported…”
* “The Post followed up…”
* “On Sunday, the New York Post reported…”
* “The New York Post concluded…”

I don’t see a damned thing about “internet media culture” there, do you? Not one snarky, unreliable, rumor-mongering, content-stealing, value-sucking blog. Nope, not one mention of Gawker. Just big, old newspapers and magazines. Indeed, the only refutation of the rumor – the fact-checking of it – appears to have been on Fox News. (I also saw no editor asked whether they continued to spread the rumor because they didn’t trust the Clintons.)

This is the sort of internet bigotry that pops up in The Times like clockwork.

Mind you, The Times as a whole is doing lots of innovative things online: The Local (in which CUNY is involved), its blogs, its twittering, its API – plenty to praise.

Yet this snarling about the internet still bubbles up from the newsroom, from reporters and from the many editors who choose to publish it. That’s the newsroom culture – as opposed to that damned internet media culture – you keep hearing about as an impediment to change. This is how newsrooms fight it, using the one weapon they have: the keyboard. They may be forced to blog and podcast but they can always get their revenge in print. Good, old, comforting – though unsubstantiated, rumor-mongering, never-let-the-facts-stand-in-the-way-of-a-good-story – print.

Aim the gun the right way

The last time Paul Farhi and I disagreed, it was about who’s to blame for the fall of newspapers (he found journalists blameless; I didn’t). We disagree about the same topic again. This time, he’s arguing – in an incredibly long American Journalism Review piece – that it’s the Associated Press’ fault for selling content to portals.

I’m going to suggest that you compare his analysis to that of Joey Baker, who writes a heavy metal rendition of Clay Shirky’s already-legendary essay on the economics of news.

Inherent in what Farhi writes is every old assumption about the economics of media, unchallenged by others and by the reality of a new reality. The notion is that portals were empowered by having the AP’s news and that this made it into a commodity (not the AP’s homogenization of the news, not the fact that knowledge, once known, is a commodity). But as the AP’s execs and defenders say in the piece, if the AP had not been there, Reuters would have been. Indeed, Reuters was. A

nd today, Reuters has shifted to a reverse-syndication model in which it gives headlines to portals for links back, which Reuters then monetizes (sharing revenue back for the value of the links). The AP, handcuffed by its paper-owners, can’t do that. The papers should be following Reuters’ example by giving the headlines in exchange for links, which they then monetize.

The AP is, indeed, hurting papers, but not the way Farhi thinks. It’s hurting them by cutting off links to the original reporting. That is how the link economy works. (Oh, and by the way, the big bad portals are themselves crumbling. One wonders which will die first: the papers or their supposed killers.)

The fallacy in Farhi’s argument is this: “When you give away the news, it becomes a commodity. When something becomes a commodity, you lose your pricing power. And that’s where we are today on the Web.”

Now see Joey Baker shooting that through such arguments – aka “the kool-aid of the bass-akwards mind fuck that the ‘old media’ folks try to sell you” – like a machine gun:

“Our economy is based on the trade of IP, and yet, paradoxically, the internet has made information practically infinite. Therefore, attempting to make money by controlling the amount of information is doomed to fail. Put another way: controlling the scarcity of something that isn’t scarce can’t work.”

There are more bullets in his gun:

History is not a good guide here: The internet is a fundamental shift from anything we’ve experienced before. It’s as revolutionary as the printing press and as radical as the written word. It’s both asynchronous and instant two-way communication.

There are however, fundamental laws. We just don’t know them all yet. The idea that you can delay, or should delay the transition to an internet based economy is just stupid. We’re here. Welcome to the future.

We depend on competition in our economy (fundamental law), which means that the first person to figure this out is going to make a boat load of money. Delaying, will guarantee you’re not that person.

There are two camps out there: folks … who think that there is some way that we can charge users for content just because we’ve always done it (we haven’t). And folks like me, who are convinced that the internet is such a fundamental shift to the economy and information management, that charging for basic content is just asinine.

The first of these commentators writes about media for The Washington Post. The second is a student. The first lives in the old world and understands its rules. The second lives in the new world and understands its rules. Who are you going to listen to about the future? It seems obvious to me.

It is our fault

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post issues a resounding apologia for journalists in the American Journalism Review, arguing that the fall of newspapers isn’t their fault. Then Roy Greenslade leaps up with a resounding hear! hear! They echo a defense earlier this year from Adrian Monck (who had decreed, “The crops did not fail because we offended the gods”).

Though I respect these three men, I must call bullshit.

The fall of journalism is, indeed, journalists’ fault.

It is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit — hell, we resisted — all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault that we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left the business to the business people. It is our fault that we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault that we sat back and expected to be supported in the manner to which we had become accustomed by some unknown princely patron. Responsibility and blame are indeed ours.

Farhi’s rationalization on behalf of his fellow journalists makes many bad assumptions and blind turns and Greenslade only follows him down those alleys, piping in with (my emphases follow) an “unhesitating answer” of no to accusations of journalistic guilt. “There cannot be any doubt that journalists themselves … cannot be held responsible for either the financial woes of the industry nor for the public turning its back on the ‘products’ that contain their work.” He piles on: “They are blameless.” They have “no reason to feel guilty…. It isn’t our fault…. The truth is that we are being assailed by revolutionary technological forces completely outside of our control…. We journalists are not [his emphasis] paying the price for our own (alleged) failures…. you are not the cause of the current calamity.”

The hack doth protest too much.

Farhi assumes that a newspaper is a well-defined product that is no longer supported by classified and retail advertisers and that’s not our fault. He acknowledges that newspapers should be updating their sites, adding Twitter, social networking, Google Maps, and more video. But he ignores the greater need and opportunity to rethink and reinvent journalism itself.

The internet does not just present a few glittery toys. It presents the circumstances to change our relationship with the public, to work collaboratively in networks, to find new efficiencies thanks to the link, to rethink how we cover and present news. No, the essence of the problem is that we thought the internet represented just a new gadget and not a fundamental change in society, the economy, and thus journalism.

By maintaining the newspaper and its newsroom as essentially static entities, Farhi also makes the common and dangerous assumption that their budgets are also fixed: They are what they are because they always have been and so that’s what they need to be. So it’s not their fault that they need to be supported at that level. But newsrooms are terribly inefficient and too many of their expenses were fueled by ego. We bear business responsibility. That is why I am teaching business in a journalism school, so we can be better stewards.

Farhi glosses over — in an unjournalistic way, I’m afraid — the state of the business and its relationship with its public. He brags that almost 50 million Americans still buy papers and so, he argues, readership is not the issue. But circulation is down more than 14 percent since 1970 and since then population has risen by 50 percent, so the adjusted loss is 74 percent. If steady, circulation should be 92 million today. Penetration is roughly half what it was: a mere 17 percent vs. 30 percent. I’d say our relationship with readers is a problem — in more ways than one: A Gallup survey says 52 percent of Americans do not trust news media, up from 30 percent in 1972. Are the two tied? Of course, they are. Who’s responsible for that?

“The critics have it exactly backward,” Farhi says. “Journalists and journalism are the victims, not the cause, of the industry’s shaken state.” Victims? As Farhi says to the critics, “Oh, please.”

Victimhood is an irresponsible abdication of responsibility, a surrender. He might as well declare newspapers dead: Oh, well, we did our best, but everybody around us fucked up and so they’re going to go away now. How dare they do this to us?

My purpose in rebutting Farhi and Greenslade is not to beat up journalists but instead to empower them. The reason to take responsibility for the fall of journalism is to take responsibility for the fate of journalism. Who’s going to try to save it if not for journalists? We are indeed responsible for the future of journalism and we have about one minute to grab that bull by its horns.

(This is why I am holding a conference at CUNY on new business models for news. There is not a minute to waste.)

Sigh

What are the objections that are constantly thrown in your face when you try to talk about new opportunities on the internet?

I’m thinking of writing my Guardian column this week responding to some because I’m tired of having to answer the same complaints over and over. I sometimes despair at being able to advance the discussion about the opportunities of the connected age, as someone in the room will inevitably say: “Yes, but there are inaccuracies on the internet.” Or: “Most people watch junk.” Or: “There are no standards.”

It happened last night as I gave my first presentation based on my book to a group of scary smart foundation grantees doing great work in areas from housing to science to women’s health to taxation. I was asked to speculate on what Googley charities would be like and we discussed themes including transparency and openness, acting as a platform and network, and new roles in a linked ecology of news and information. I’ll grant that their circumstances are different from those of companies and other institutions because they deal in often controversial and sometimes sensitive areas and their goal is often to influence not the population but policymakers (though I’m still enough of a cockeyed democrat to hope the population is who should influence the policymakers). Halfway through, those same old objections arose. I take it as personal failure that I’m sometimes not able to keep the discussion headed toward the future and find us spinning wheels in the present or, worse, sliding backwards.

Sigh.

And then I got email for a panel discussion at NYU on Oct. 21 called Crossing the Line, which asks these questions: “Are there any ethics on the web?” “Should bloggers be held to journalistic standards?” “Who makes the rules — the media, the courts or YOU?”

Sigh.

The implied answers, of course: The web has no ethics… Bloggers have no standards…. The wrong people are making the rules (if there are any).

To hash over these weightless questions they have nothing but the products of big, old media: David Carr of the NY Times, Liz Smith of the NY Post, Jim Kelley of Time, Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, and Sherrese Smith, counsel for WPNI.

Mind you, just across campus, NYU has at least two of the country’s greatest thinkers on the internet and its implications for society, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky. But they’re not on that panel. New York is thick with great practitioners of new ways on the internet, but they’re not there.

Same old questions/objections/complaints/fears. Where is the talk of new opportunities in our new reality?

So please share the questions/complaints you hear all the time and how you answer them. Then instead of repeating ourselves in the future, we can just hand the curmudgeons and worriers a link.

: LATER: Here are the complaints I’m working with now.

* There’s junk on the internet.
* Most people watch junk.
* Anyone can say anything on the internet.
* There are inaccuracies on the internet.
* Wikipedia has mistakes.
* We need a seal of approval for internet content.
* Bloggers aren’t journalists.
* The internet has no ethics.

Any others you hear?

I’m writing my responses in the column.

Curmudgeonliness, with a twist

BlogNetNews pointed me to the curmudgeonly ending way, way down in Jody Rosen’s rather obsessive dogging of some freesheet hack’s gross acts of plagiarism:

But perhaps the Bulletin is merely on-trend—or even ahead of its time. The Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Real Clear Politics have made names and money by sifting through RSS feeds; Tina Brown and Barry Diller are preparing the launch of their own news aggregator. Mike Ladyman and company may simply be bringing guerilla-style 21st-century content aggregation to 20th-century print media: publishing the Napster of newspapers.

So he equates wholesale plagiarism with linking. Whew, that’s somebody who sure doesn’t understand the link economy.

Jody, I confess to a brazen act of theft: I linked to you. Twice. Shame on me.

But here’s curmudgeonliness with a reverse twist Jonathan Isaby, outgoing political diarist of the Telegraph, complains to the Press Gazette that all this constant demand for news, news, news from the “ulta-pressured environment” of the 24-hour, multimedia newsroom means reporters just don’t have time to sift through the record of Parliament and find news. So his response: He’s leaving to go work for … a blog.

: UPDATE: I got email from Jody Rosen saying that he was being ironic, making a joke about the paper’s “unorthodox ‘aggregation’ practices.” Hmmm. I didn’t hear it. One of us needs to adjust our ironometer. I’ll tweak mine up a bit. And I’m relieved that Slate won’t be launching a jihad on Google News. I also got Rosen’s gender wrong, which really makes me look like the loser. So I’ll skulk off now, growling like a curmudgeon.