Posts about guardian

In season

Well, you’d never see this as a promotion from an American newspaper. I just caught this tweet from the Guardian’s Comment is free, in full:

“We can’t keep fucking flying stuff around the fucking globe like their’s no tomorrow. Fuckin ‘ell! We’re fucked”

Well, it did make me click. I thought it might be about American interventionism. No, it’s a reaction to chef Gordon Ramsey declaring that out-of-season vegetables should be outlawed.

The swearing-chef extraordinaire has declared war on out of season produce, suggesting that restaurants should be fined for using, say, strawberries in February.

The Michelin-starred chef thinks that both fruit and vegetables should be “locally sourced and only on menus when in season”. Not only does the produce taste better, but it also helps to cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of miles needed to transport them.

Oh, bloody ‘ell. So just to make ourselves feel good, let’s make a bunch of Mexican strawberry farmers and Chilean asparagus farmers — not to mention truckdrivers, ship crews, port crews, and supermarket help — unemployed. Priorities, people.

Remind me not to go to Ramsey’s restaurants in cabbage season.

Guardian column: Gary Vaynerchuk

My Guardian column this week about wine wizard Gary Vaynerchuk:

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Before you read this, do me a favour and go to WineLibraryTV.com Be prepared for a jet engine in your face. That blast of personality is Gary Vaynerchuk, a 32-year-old merchant who has made more than 450 daily wine-tasting shows online – just him, his glass and a spit bucket.

The show, with its audience of 80,000 a day, has transformed Vaynerchuk into a cultural phenomenon. He has appeared on two of the biggest TV talk shows in the US and in the Wall Street Journal and Time. His book, Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines, comes out next week and the day he announced this on his internet show, his fans immediately pushed it to No 36 on Amazon’s bestseller list. He has a Hollywood agent. He makes motivational speeches. And he has only just begun. Gary Vaynerchuk is on his way to becoming the online Oprah.

This isn’t as simple as using online video to sell wine, though the family store is now a $60m-a-year enterprise. Vaynerchuk is also transforming retail and making it social. He has realised that a store should be a community and so he uses every tool available online – a social wine rating site called Corkd.com, his videos, his appearances on other popular online shows such as Diggnation, his ubiquitous presence on Facebook, and answering countless emails every day – to make and connect with as many fans as possible.

One day, a few weeks ago, Vaynerchuk announced on his online show that he’d throw an event for his video friends at his store in New Jersey. More than 300 people showed up. He calls himself “the social media sommelier”. “Social business,” he says, “is the future of our society.”

Vaynerchuk is on a mission. “I want to change the way that people think about wine and change the way that people do business … This is how I will be remembered.” His secret is generosity and passion. Now that may sound like a line. But I’ve witnessed Vaynerchuk in action. I’ve bought my wine at his store for a few years and watched his sales people eager to help customers find a better, cheaper bottle. I watched him at the South by Southwest conference, where he gathered instant parties via Twitter, having strangers – now friends – sample from the seven cases of wine he had shipped down. I do think this guy’s for real. Authenticity, Vaynerchuk argues, is a necessity in the transparent, social, web 2.0 world. “You’re not going to be able to have multiple personalities,” he says. “Your personal brand is now completely exposed to the world, 24/7. Everyone is media now.” This leads him to a grand conclusion: “So now good is going to win.”

See, he does sound like Oprah. And he acts like her as he constructs his empire. He says he is building – as he calls it – “brand Gary Vaynerchuk”. Online, he issues opinions, not only about wine but about life, like this: “I’d rather have a million friends right now than a million dollars. Your social equity is far greater than your financial equity.”

He even has an inspiring personal story: he came to the US from Russia at age three, a young entrepreneur who made a $1,000 a week selling baseball cards at the mall. When he had to work in the family store as a kid, cleaning shelves, he hated it until he realised that wine was as collectable as baseball cards. And now he has used his expertise, passion and personality – and the power that online gives anyone to speak to the world and make friends anywhere – to turn himself into a star.

As I left the office where he tapes his show, he handed me a copy of his book. Then he went to a “meet and greet” with a fan who just wanted to be near force Vaynerchuk. All this is possible with just a dream and a webcam.

Rules for journalists/bloggers/witnesses? A Guardian debate

Here’s a debate that just went up at CommentIsFree (please go comment there; the discussion’s already underway): me vs. Michael Tomasky, the Guardian’s man in Washington, over whether, as he has said, bloggers should operate under the rules of journalism…..

Editor’s note: Earlier this month Barack Obama’s election campaign was shaken by a report that Obama had described rural, white voters as “bitter”. The news was broken by a “citizen journalist”, Mayhill Fowler, and was carried on the Huffington Post’s politics blog, Off The Bus. Last week Guardian America editor Michael Tomasky argued on CiF that Fowler’s reporting raised serious ethical questions and argued that blogging, like journalism, needed rules. CiF commentator Jeff Jarvis responded on his blog Buzzmachine that openness, not rules, was demanded in the era of the internet. The answer? Bring the two men together to thrash it out, right here.

Jeff Jarvis to Michael Tomasky:

I believe the rules you long to carry into the new world are inherently corrupting for journalism: We journalists have long traded in the currencies of access and exclusivity with the powerful. But the price we pay is complicity in a system of secrecy. That’s what off-the-record talks and unnamed sources add up to: secrets. As journalists we should be allergic to the idea of helping public officials hide anything from the public.

And as journalists, I’d have thought we’d be rejoicing in the idea that witnesses can now share what they hear from public figures. Openness is our cause, transparency our goal, no? Yes, we may lose some exclusives – but exclusives now have the half-life of a click. With more openness and more reporting – by all – we will end up with more stories, the public will get more information, and politicians will learn that anything and everything they say and do can (and should) be reported.

You want transparency from the citizen journalists. I agree, but I’d expand that: I want transparency from all journalists, and not just about donations but also about influences, especially in the US, where claims of objectivity have lately become a cloak for partisanship. That’s the simplest rule: openness for all.

I think we should be applauding and supporting Mayhill Fowler. Her reporting of Obama’s “bitter” remarks – in spite of her support of his candidacy – is an impressive act of intellectual honesty. She knew those remarks would be newsworthy. She knew they could hurt him. But she opted for openness, directly to the public, around campaign spin as well as press filters: the witness reports. I’d say she showed veteran journalists how to operate under new rules of her own that, in this case, were superior to the old rules of conspiratorial secrecy.

Michael to Jeff:

Well, sometimes the rules I “long” for (what a word!) are inherently corrupting and result in secrets being kept from the public. But sometimes, indeed more often, it’s just the opposite. Sometimes, only the protection of anonymity will ensure that a source with important information about powerful people comes forward. In this way, the public has learned about a million things, from the Pentagon Papers to the less alarmist intelligence assessments about Iraq before the war. You know that.

And very few journalists I know would favour “[hiding] anything from the public.” They would, however, favour not publishing something until it’s verified. That’s scarcely complicity in secret-keeping. That’s just being responsible. I’ll tell you what. Let’s go ask Alan Rusbridger the following: One of his reporters hears from one source (unwilling to go on the record) that David Cameron praised Oswald Mosley in a private talk. Should the Guardian publish on the basis of that alone? I’m guessing that Alan would prove himself to be “old-fashioned” on this point, and properly so.

But none of this has to do with what Fowler did. To recap: She got in the door because she donated money to Obama’s campaign. This is something no beat reporter would or could do. Then she was able to take advantage of that situation. She “showed veteran journalists” nothing, because “veteran journalists” would not have been allowed in that meeting! You write as if these “veteran journalists” would have heard Obama’s remarks and kept them secret. But the point is that veteran journalists would never have gotten through the door in the first place.

So fine; call them “witnesses” and drop the whole conceit that they’re journalists. And I’m glad you agree about listing witnesses’ donations. Will you take that message to Arianna Huffington and Jay Rosen [the co-sponsors of the Off The Bus citizen journalists' blog]?

Jeff to Michael:

Well, I think you’re mixing apples and kumquats into a bit of a rhetorical fruit salad. There’s quite a difference between hearing a tip from a whistleblower and recording a presidential candidate speaking at a forum. There’s also a difference between verifying such a tip with reporting – which we’ll all agree is necessary – and playing that tape-recording, which itself was the verification anyone needed. Obama’s words and voice spoke for themselves. So I don’t see the connection you make between keeping something off the record and verifying it; the former does nothing in the interest of the latter in this matter.

To make your hypothetical case consistent with the discussion at hand, if the witness who heard David Cameron praise Oswald Mosley put a video of it on YouTube for all to see, I imagine that you and the Guardian would deal with it at face value. You would, as reporters did in the Obama case, report further – you’d put an oyster around the pearl. But these witnesses are the ones who now start the story.

Now let me extend your hypothetical: let’s say that a reporter did get in the room with Obama and had made a pledge to keep it off the record. But a donor – any old donor, with or without a blog – had recorded the session (as Fowler says many did) and put that on YouTube. Does it now matter that there was a journalist there? Who is serving the public better? I say the journalist should be delighted that word got out and that demanding such off-the-record pledges is now fruitless.

This is a crucial element in a new architecture of news: when witnesses share what they see publicly we need to figure out how to integrate that into our journalism. It will become even more complicated when they share what they see live with their camera-phones, as technology allows today. Veteran journalists may be nowhere near that news – because, as journalists, they had not been allowed in the door or merely because they had not arrived yet – but they will depend on such reporting or witnessing, call it what you will. It will still add up to journalism in the end.

As for your challenge on disclosure, I’ve done more: I reveal my politics on my blog’s disclosure page, including my vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I’ve blogged my expectation to see similar behaviour from bloggers and journalists alike. I went so far as to ask my readers recently whether, having revealed my preferences anyway, I should put my money where my mouth is and donate to Clinton’s campaign. Their view (like mine) was mixed. But it’s worth asking: if I’m going to be a citizen journalist, shouldn’t I act like a citizen?

Michael to Jeff:

You make a fair point in the bulk of your third and fourth paragraphs, but then you end, for me, on a false note. I suppose Fowler served the public interest in the sense that, sure, those remarks of Obama’s were revealing of something or other. But I still say it’s a little sneaky and sleazy to be a citizen for the purposes of making a donation, and then getting to be a journalist for the purposes of writing it up. There is a certain duplicity there, Jeff. Let citizens or witnesses videotape and audiotape to their hearts’ contents. But no, it doesn’t add up to journalism. It adds up to recording, or transcribing.

As I said in my original CiF column, I overwhelmingly embrace the blogosphere, and I like most of what I’ve read under the Off The Bus rubric. (I felt you didn’t acknowledge this in your original Buzzmachine post, which practically made it sound like I have a Linotype machine in my basement to which I pay secret ritualistic obeisance.) But I admit that I’m a little less persuaded that it’s such a great and necessary thing that we know every single word public people utter. People say dumb things and things they don’t really mean. They misspeak. Whether constant recording of such missteps, and the inevitable intense fixation on them, will over time serve the public interest and help voters make more “informed” decisions is not yet settled in my view.

That it will lead to more “gotcha!” moments on the campaign trail as candidates are caught saying naughty things isn’t a particularly stellar claim to make for the blogosphere, which actually does far more important work in the areas of media-monitoring and community-building. What I like about the blogosphere is that, at its best, it elevates the debate. Mainstream journalists would think I’m out of my mind to say that, but it’s true – there are, for example, all manner of policy experts with blogs who shed real light on substantive questions, or bloggers with the intellectual chops to make really interesting and important observations about something happening in the news. Or look at what FireDogLake did during the Scooter Libby trail, which was awesome. All those things are great. Catching pols putting their feet in their mouths may make news, but it’s not exactly why John Peter Zenger went to jail.

Jeff to Michael:

I don’t think this is really about bloggers. It’s almost coincidental that Fowler had a platform at Huffington Post. If she hadn’t, she’d still have found the way to tell her story, if only on YouTube. This weekend, at an open house for students at the City University of New York graduate school of journalism, where I teach, I spoke with a potential student who has been volunteering in the Clinton campaign and she has a great story to tell about the reaction she has gotten, as an African-American woman, from Obama volunteers. Now the fact that she’s a volunteer is not just something to be disclosed, it’s at the heart of the story. Hers is a great story that is revealing about the campaigns and, more so, the country and the times. I urged her to start writing and said she should pitch it to a magazine. Or better yet, wouldn’t the Guardian like to see it?

I think this discussion is balancing on what will add up to journalism and who all does that adding. I believe that coverage of stories and topics will, more and more, become molecules that attract all different sorts of atoms: a bit of reporting – and, yes, it’s reporting – from witnesses; reporters’ work adding balance, depth, vetting, answers to questions; editors packaging and adding links to background and source material; readers and bloggers adding – as you indeed point out – corrections and context; sources having the chance, at last, to respond in kind. Journalism becomes less of a product and more of a process. When I was at the Guardian a few weeks ago to talk about its new newsroom, this notion was at the centre of the discussion. What you’re really talking about, I think, is not rules but is a new organizing principle of journalism.

I’m glad that Fowler had her recorder and shared what she heard. That, I believe, is the seed for journalism and we in the business and in the society will benefit. And so, in the long run, will politicians, once they learn the benefits of living and working more transparently. Will we have silly gotcha moments? Sadly, yes. But sadly, we had those long before bloggers were born. Was what Fowler reported a gotcha moment or a revealing one? Well, that’s where our perspectives – and our transparency about them – come into play. I thought it was revealing, but I’m a Hillary voter and you’d be within your rights to judge what I say accordingly. You have been laudably open about your preference and so it’s right for you and your readers to wonder what impact that might have. This becomes one more ingredient in what it turning into a bigger and bigger pot of journalism stew.

Michael to Jeff:

Regarding your last paragraph, I already said that Fowler served the public interest. I think the quote was revealing of something; at the least, the fact that Obama has comparatively little direct experience dealing with and talking to white, rural working-class people and not enough familiarity with their way of life. So that’s a fair knock. It’s just that these things do get blown out of proportion, and it gets comical (or sometimes worse) watching millionaire pundits natter on about “elitism.”

I’ll just end where I started. I still say she came by the quote at best surreptitiously because she got in the door as a citizen (via her donation) and then became a journalist when that was handy, a contention you haven’t seriously refuted except to say (1) that’s the way it is these days, and (2) okay, then, let’s drop the word journalist from our description of Fowler et al and just call them witnesses. That’s my claim, and you haven’t said anything to dissuade me from sticking to it. On all this other meta stuff, we don’t especially disagree.

Guardian: The value of this blog

For my Guardian column this week, I put a price on my blog:

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Some people think I’m nuts for blogging when I could be doing real work (as if writing newspaper columns were the only real work). They ask me how much money I make directly from my blog and the answer is: not much. But to me, the blog is worth a million dollars – or more – for it brings me value in many other ways. So I thought I’d give you an accounting of that worth.

Last year, Buzzmachine.com, which has been in business, loosely speaking, since 2001, made $9,315 (£4,655) from two blog ad networks, $1,866 from ads on my RSS feeds, and $2,674 from Google ads, for a total of $13,855. Though I’ve written many a blog post and column lamenting that there aren’t better, richer ad networks to support grassroots media, when I add that up, I’d say it’s not too shabby. Nonetheless, you’d still be forgiven for thinking I shouldn’t have quit my day job.

When I did quit that day job – as president of an online division of Condé Nast’s parent company, which I left in 2005 – I got my next job thanks to the blog. If I hadn’t been pontificating about the state of the news in the internet era, I wouldn’t have come to the attention of the City University of New York, which appointed me to the faculty of its journalism school – a job I love. But I must confess that my teaching post pays a fraction of my prior salary. So you may still think me a fool.

To make the money I don’t make teaching, I consult and speak for various media companies and brands. The only reason I get those gigs is because companies read the ideas I discuss at Buzzmachine and ask me to come and repeat them in PowerPoint form and explore them with their staff. I’ve also been asked to teach executives how to blog (a class that should, by rights, take about two minutes). That work and the teaching get me to a nice income in six figures. So I’m not looking quite as idiotic now, I hope.

It was also because of the blog that I got this column. The MediaGuardian editors asked me to take some of the topics I write about online and turn them into columns; the newspaper is an aftermarket for the blog. It pays a bit, a few hundred dollars a column, but that’s not why I do it. I enjoy the discipline of taking the lumpy clay of a blog post and moulding it into a column. I like discussing column ideas with my community before I write them. And I quite like having you readers as an audience. So please don’t tell my editors that I like doing this so much I would do it for free.

I just got a book contract because of a notion that began in the blog and that I kneaded over and over for about a year. As I write What Would Google Do?, I continue to explore ideas on my blog, helping me to think them through. The US contract roughly doubled my consulting income last year; international contracts may add more.

If I add all that up over the past five years and the five to come, to me the blog is worth a few million (dollars, not pounds, sadly). But it’s worth even more than that. Buzzmachine has taught me about the new architecture of media; I wouldn’t have learned that without jumping into the new world myself. The blog has stoked my ego, getting me on TV and on conference stages to blather to audiences far and wide.

It has also checked my ego, as my readers never hesitate to challenge and correct me. It has forced me to be more open to new ideas. It has given me a second career playing with new toys; professionally, it keeps me young. Personally, it has made me countless new friends and reconnected me with old ones, owing to a blog’s ability to give a person a strong identity in Google searches.

People ask how I have the time to blog on top of everything else. But the real question is, how could I not blog when it leads to so much more? Finally, for a proper accounting, I should also give you the other side of the ledger: the blog costs me $327 a year for hosting. So this is one web 2.0 venture that is profitable.

An open ad network opens for business

OpenX is building the start of a new, more open ad network infrastructure.

My Guardian column this week starts with a recast of my blog post about Google Ad Manager and then breaks a wee bit of news:

OpenX (nee OpenAds, nee phpAds) is putting together the elements of what I hope can become an open ad architecture that could compete with Google and create a more transparent marketplace that will support the creation of many more sites (I’ve been wishing for this for more than two years). OpenX is already serving about 200 billion ads over 30,000 sites each month with its free software. What I’ve been urging that they do is tie that together into a network that advertisers can pick and choose from for ad hoc networks of quality sites.

Today, I was told by OpenX founder and CTO Scott Switzer, they will have the first piece of that puzzle: an ID structure that will cookie users across any participating site.

Next, in the second quarter, they plan to deliver a bidding infrastructure so agencies and networks can buy ads on any of those sites. Thus an agency could put together an ad hoc network of great mommy blogs, or an existing network like Federated could augment its own sites with others sites that are using OpenX. And a site can take high-value ads from one network today and another agency tomorrow and backfill with ads from a remnant network — including, apparently, Google itself. So both the publisher and the site recognize higher value and that, I believe, is what can propel sites of any size to put together highly targeted and flexible networks that reach critical mass and offer greater quality than portals, which are merely collections of eyeballs.

And next will come a hosted ad serving service, which is now in beta; this would enable any site without benefit of a 16-year-old son and webmaster to serve ads from most anywhere.

What they’re really creating is an open ad call, since any other network or server can serve ads through OpenX. That, I believe, is the keystone to creating a new and more open ad architecture. That, I hope, is what will enable most any advertiser to place ads on most any site.

Switzer told me that they are being advised by a panel of sites, agencies, advertisers, and networks large and small.

Here’s where I hope this goes next, from my Guardian column:

Once we have an open ad network, we’ll also be able to expose data about sites and ad performance. We would establish the true value of our new medium, especially when we can track new metrics: behaviour, interest, influence, authority, the timing and spread of ideas, and so on. As an ad blogger once said: instead of measuring impressions, we’d measure the impressed. Or to twist another ad cliche: let’s stop reaching eyeballs and start reaching brains.

My hope is that an open infrastructure would encourage the creation of many new companies. Let’s start with a wealth of new content sites: niche interest blogs, hyperlocal blogs, innovative services, new, small-scale journalism. Next we’ll see new analytics companies that would help advertisers find their ideal buys. And we’d see a host of networks spring out of ad agencies and media companies to help us poor bloggers make a living.

The Guardian started such a network gathering green blogs. The Washington Post put together networks for high-value content areas such as travel. And last week in 13 US markets, CBS TV launched a network that places widgets containing news and ads – with promotions for stations – on local blogs.

So now the battle is on. Will big media brands, Google’s ad network or an open network win more of the online ad market? The stakes are growing ever bigger: last week, General Motors announced that it will move half its $3bn ad budget online. I’m just hoping that one of these networks will bring a few of those dollars on to my humble blog.

There goes the neighborhood

(CommentIsFree asked me to write this post about AOL acquiring Bebo.)

Poor Bebo. I feel for the residents of their hip and convivial apartment block. It has just been bought by a slumlord.

AOL — which is paying $850m for the social networking site, the other Facebook — is where innovations go to die. Remember Netscape? Bought for $4.2b and now dead. AOL bought a mess of advertising platforms — Advertising.com, Quigo, Tacoda — and can’t make them to get along; the New York Times reports on continuing warfare that has resulted in AOL firing the business talent it just acquired. Back in 1998, AOL bought the pioneering instant-messaging platform ICQ and though AOL’s IM went on to become huge and though ICQ lives still, it was never the leader again. And then there’s what AOL did to Time Warner and its stock (which I bitterly regret holding onto from my days working at the magazine publisher).

In its purchase of Bebo, AOL — like Yahoo, Time Warner, Microsoft, and no end of media companies — is trying to buy the strategy it doesn’t have. And that’s a strategy that rarely works.

The terrible irony is that if anyone should have understood community and how to support, nurture, and profit from it, AOL should have. The problem is that AOL never understood its real value. At various times, it thought it was an internet service provider and then a portal and then an ad network. But all along, AOL’s greatest asset was the community of people under its nose: millions of enthusiasts in countless niches meeting and enjoying each others’ company in forums and chat and personal pages, the platform for community that AOL created.

AOL should have been Bebo before there ever was a Bebo. It should have been the Google of people. It should have been Facebook. Instead, having killed the golden goose of its own community — one it created as the social pioneer of online — it is going to the market to buy a tin gosling.

So what will become of Bebo? I shudder to think. These acquisitions rarely work well. We can look not just to AOL but also to Yahoo, which bought the wonderful photo service Flickr and bookmarking service Del.icio.us. Both live on but without the rush of innovation that made them so valuable and Yahoo has saddled each with its own klunky membership structure.

If history is any guide — and in AOL’s case, it certainly is — I fear that Bebo’s talented, visionary founders will leave in frustration or firings; AOL will bury the service inside its outmoded portal; and AOL will treat the people inside not as people but as ad inventory.

But then, maybe I’m just a pessimist.

Guardian column: Fess up, journalists

Oops, I forgot to subject you to my Guardian column this week about SNL, Obama’s honeymoon, and the election. If that’s not enough of me, here’s the transcript of my appearance on the same subject on Howie Kurtz’ Reliable Sources.

And for good measure, I give you Will Bunch of the Philly Daily News and James Poniewozik of Time, all of us agreeing that it’s time for journalists to fess up and tell us whom they’ve voted for.

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In a time of blogs with their ethic of transparency, how long can journalists continue to hide their opinions? I’m a believer in the British newspaper model, in which print journalists join a tribe, Guardian left or Telegraph right, and then invite the public to judge them not on their hidden agendas, but on the quality of their journalism. British broadcast and all US news organisations, by contrast, expect us to believe journalists are devoid of opinions: half-human hacks, roboreporters.

That fiction is falling apart in the US presidential campaign, where news media have failed to cover one of the essential stories of the event: media’s own love affair with Barack Obama.

The story has begun to attract attention, with comedy show Saturday Night Live twice skewering the press’s roughing up of Hillary Clinton and fawning over Obama. In one skit, the show’s faux Clinton complains: “Maybe it’s just me, but once again it seems as if a) I’m getting the tougher questions and b) with me, the overall tone is more hostile.”

The real Clinton picked up the punchline at the next debate and said: “If anybody saw Saturday Night Live, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.” Some believe this played a role in her victories last week.

In the other skit, a reporter gushes to “Obama”: “I just really, really, really, really want you to be the next president.” And the Fauxbama responds that journalists are “tired of being told, ‘You journalists have to stay neutral, you can’t take sides in a political campaign’. And they’re saying, ‘Yes, we can. Yes, we can take sides. Yes, we can.’”

So why don’t they? The question of journalistic objectivity is the stuff of endless journalism-school seminars. But what’s different this year is that the journalists’ opinions are related to the quality of coverage of the campaign.

I’ve seen reporters complain Clinton doesn’t give them access or is aloof; I’ve seen journalists quoted (anonymously) saying that they don’t much like her. Of course, that shouldn’t affect their coverage – since when do we see crime reporters whine that murderers are mean to them? – but it does. Obama is on an endless press honeymoon. He breathes rhetorical cumulus clouds – “Change we can believe in”, “Yes, we can”, “We are one” – without reporters challenging him or his supporters to define what they mean. I’ll wager that if a pollster asked 1,000 Obama fans what “change” means, there’d be 100 different answers.

There’s another new factor in the objectivity debate: weblogs. Reporters are now writing them. And they’re learning that if a weblog is successful, it is a conversation held at a human level. That conversation demands frank interaction and openness. As one online executive puts it: blogs are a cocktail party. I’ll add that if you talk to friends at a party and refuse to give your opinion while demanding theirs, someone will soon throw a drink at you, as I have been wanting to do to many a TV pundit lately.

I’ve heard TV news executives say that to have on-air personalities writing blogs might present a conflict because, after all, TV people are impartial. But they already live with that conflict by presenting TV journalists as personalities and then cutting off that part of the personality that enables opinion. If these people want to join the discussion on the net and reap its benefits, they have to give something of themselves.

The more journalists tell us about their sources, influences and perspectives, the better we can judge what they say. So I should tell you I voted for Clinton. You probably could have guessed that. But now you don’t have to.

Pity the big, bad wolf

A post written for Comment is Free on the Microsoft fine; crossposted here. Interesting comments already underway over there.)

I have a theory about the regulation of companies that get too big and too powerful: by the time government notices they really are so powerful, they are usually already in decline, having grown too big.

The EU today levied a record €899m (£680m) fine – adding up to a total of €1.7bn in the past four years – against Microsoft for charging “unreasonable” prices for access to its code.

The EU competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, wanted to pile on even more: another €600m for good measure. Take that, big, bad Microsoft!

Except, in my mind, Microsoft is turning into a bit of a laughing stock these days for trying to buy Yahoo, which itself is a company in rapid decline.

The reason Microsoft is desperate to do this is that, even after all these years, it still does not have a successful internet strategy. So it is trying to buy one.

But I say it is buying the wrong one, a strategy based on an old-media worldview in which we are all masses that can be bought and sold. Microsoft – like too many advertisers and media companies – thinks we think of the internet as just another TV. It believes it can own content and technology when, in truth, we own it now.

Microsoft just yesterday released some of its code under a new “open source interoperability initiative” that offers open interfaces, support for standards, data portability and cooperation with third parties.

Of course, a cynic might say that doing this only a day before its record fine was Microsoft’s way to suck up to the teacher and avoid punishment; the cynic would have a fair point.

But it’s also true that Microsoft needs to open up to play in the internet or it will continue to be left behind by the open and free movements that are taking over operating systems, browsers and – with Google’s goosing – office software.

One could also see the move as a mark of desperation. Poor Microsoft.

In the US, regulators and activists continue to rail at media companies that they say have grown too big. But these media conglomerates, too, are pathetic shells of their former powerful selves, shrinking in audience and advertising at ever faster rates. The internet is killing their mass models, and they don’t know what to do about it.

Their response, like Microsoft’s, has been to buy up competitors, to grow bigger. But that strategy is not working: witness the collapse of the radio giant Clear Channel into a private company and the tragic gobbling up of the newspaper chain Knight Ridder and the cross-media synergy giant Tribune Company.

It might make more sense for the conglomerates to invest, like Microsoft, in new companies, or even in their own innovation. But they have lost the touch. Poor conglomerates.

Looking back, I could even argue that the breaking up of telecoms companies that grew too big only presaged the inevitable opening up of communications that led to the decline of the split-up telcos and their desire now to reconsolidate.

This should be a children’s story, in which, at the end, we discover that the big, bad, scary monster is actually a pussycat inside, and a sad and lonely one at that. Paint these giants as dinosaurs with tears in their eyes.

And their regulatory conquerors? Are they knights in shining armour or are they the real bullies?

Either way, I’m not scared of Microsoft any more.