Posts about Weblogs

Editor as star

Kai Diekmann, the head of Bild, the gigantic German newspaper, is a journalistic celebrity of a sort we don’t have here: utterly charming, lustily egotistical, brashly opinionated, infuriating to those he infuriates (a friend of mine calls him Germany’s Roger Ailes), beloved to his fans, witty, quick, clever, innovative, and never afraid of the spotlight.

Now he has a blog. And a store. I’d heard about his blog for sometime but it wasn’t seen outside the walls of his office. Now it has gone public. He says he’ll do it for 100 days. I predict he’ll be addicted.

There’s a 360-degree tour of his office, starring him. Click on his possessions and learn more – about, for example, a piece of the Berlin Wall signed by Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and George Bush (41). He has a bio and lots of photos. Diekmann interviews himself (Why are you writing a blog, he asks. “I’m just incurably vain,” he answers). He posts video he shoots himself – “ich bin Videoblogger-in-Chief für Bild.de” – including one in Baghdad and another of him getting a shot. He brags about the commercials for Bild made by Bild’s readers, who understand its brand well. He links gleefully to an interview with a competitive publisher and scion of a German publishing family (founders of Der Spiegel) who says the esteemed Süddeutsche Zeitung won’t be around on paper in 20 years – but Bild will. He tweaks the liberal competition, the taz. On his “fan club” page, he shows his critics (and I thought I was brave exposing underendowment). In his store, he sells books (starting with his own) and hoodies, buttons, totebags, and mugs with his own mug (as Che Diekmann) and Bild branding as “the red-hot chili paper.”

kai2

The guy has balls. And he’s getting attention, which surely is the goal.

I can’t imagine Bill Keller or Marcus Brauchlidoing this, can you? Not even Alan Rusbridger or Will Lewis. Not even the editor of the New York Post (who’s he?). Piers Morgan is the closest thing I can imagine to Kai in the anglophone world, but he had to leave editing to become a star. In Germany, Kai is a brand. In the staid world of anglophone journalism, that’ll probably be sniffed at. But on the social web, I see little choice but to be open and human and even – gasp – have a sense of humor.

I have some personal history here to disclose. See my own story about introducing Diekmann to the Flip video camera here. I later went to speak to editors and executives of Bild’s parent company, Axel Springer, at their retreat in Italy. There, Diekmann was constantly recording every event with his own version of the Flip camera, to his colleagues’ grudging acquiescence. Does he do this all the time? I asked. Yes, they moaned. Sorry, I said. At that meeting, I pushed them all to blog and I’m not suggesting that has anything to do with Diekmann’s effort. But I’m glad to see lots of blogs emerging from Axel Springer. On a very different level, see the blog by the editor of Die Welt. The form knows no limits.

Diekmann took the Flip and surprised me by not just equipping his journalists – other editors’ reflex – but instead equipping his readers. He took interactivity and didn’t just allow readers to comment on what his paper does – as other editors do – but instead had them define his brand. He now has taken the blog and surprised me again, making a comment on the form and his paper and his industry and himself. And it’s fun to watch.

: Later: I left a comment on Diekmann’s blog and in no time, I got email from him. He’s reading what his public is writing.

FTC regulates our speech

The Federal Trade Commission just released rules to regulate product endorsements not just in advertisements but also on blogs. (PDF here; the regs don’t start until page 55.)

It is a monument to unintended consequence, hidden dangers, and dangerous assumptions.

Mind you, I hate one of its apparent targets: Pay Per Post and its ilk, which attempt to co-opt the voice of bloggers. But I hate government regulation of speech more.

And mind you, I am all in favor of transparency; I disclose to a comic fault here. I think that openness is the best fix for questions of trust and advise companies and politicians and certainly governments to become transparent by default as enlightened self-interest. But mandating this for anyone who dares speak online? Foolish.

There are so many bad assumptions inherent in the FTC’s rules.

First, Pay Per Post et al, as I realized late to the game, are not aimed at fooling consumers. Who would read the boring, sycophantic drivel its people write? No, they are aimed at fooling Google and its algorithms. It’s human spam. And it’s Google’s job to regulate that.

Second, the FTC assumes – as media people do – that the internet is a medium. It’s not. It’s a place where people talk. Most people who blog, as Pew found in a survey a few years ago, don’t think they are doing anything remotely connected to journalism. I imagine that virtually no one on Facebook thinks they’re making media. They’re connecting. They’re talking. So for the FTC to go after bloggers and social media – as they explicitly do – is the same as sending a government goon into Denny’s to listen to the conversations in the corner booth and demand that you disclose that your Uncle Vinnie owns the pizzeria whose product you just endorsed.

Insanity and inanity. And danger.

The regulations raise no end of questions. For example: How much do I have disclose? Before I say anything nice about anyone, do I need to list every advertiser I’ve ever had? Every possible business relationship? You think my disclosures are comical now, just wait.

And what about automated ads, such as those from Google? I have been writing nice things about my treatment at Sloan Kettering. This has caused ads to come up on my blog, via Google, from the hospital. Presuming someone clicked on them, I’ve made money from the hospital. Does that taint what I say or me if I don’t disclose the payment? That’s the level of absurdity this can reach.

The regulations are not aimed just as bloggers, of course, but at endorsements of all sorts, including from celebrities and experts. The FTC requires advertisers to continually reconfirm that endorsers are bona fide users of the endorsed product. Do we really believe that Tiger Woods drives a Buick? How will that be policed?

The FTC also concedes that it treats critics at publications differently – less stringently – than bloggers. Don’t they realize that people on travel and gadget and food publications get freebies all the time. I’ve long believed that ethics alone should compel them to disclose. But the FTC doesn’t.

I love this one: The FTC now forbids media advertisers from changing a critic’s opinion in a blurb. Ha! That happened to me constantly when I was a critic. (“Colossal piece of crap” became “Colossal! – Jeff Jarvis, People”.) I even wrote a column in People complaining about an “NBC pinhead” doing this. A few weeks later, my colleague on the launch of Entertainment Weekly, went to Burbank for a business meeting with the network with an exec who identified himself as that pinhead.

Note, by the way, that when I did cover entertainment in Time Inc., conflict came not only from advertisers (Hallmark pulled all its advertising after I dared give Hall of Fame
treacle the reviews it deserved) but also from within the company (the head of HBO wanted me fired and the editors of Time Inc. tried to change my opinions). How the hell could that be regulated? Only by my fighting back, it turned out.

And there is the greatest myth embedded within the FTC’s rules: that the government can and should sanitize the internet for our protection. The internet is the world and the world is messy and I don’t want anyone – not the government, not a newspaper editor – to clean it up for me, for I fear what will go out in the garbage: namely, my rights.

What I now truly dread is that the FTC is holding hearings about journalism on Dec. 1 and 2. As Star-Ledger editor Jim Willse (full disclosure: he hired me a few times) said in my Guardian podcast last month (full disclosure: I work for the Guardian): the words, “we’re from the government, we’re here to help,” should be met with trepidation.

: See also Reason’s take. More comments from others coming soon.

Dan Gillmor sees full employment for First Amendment attorneys.

Steve Garfield’s disclosure is longer than his post. Fit that in Twitter.

Andrew Keen says the regs should include “bent reviewers on Amazon.” Damn, Keen and I are agreeing too much these days.

FTC guy tells blogger to return books after a review. These people have no clue as to reality. Publishers don’t want them back.

Here’s Fortune on the story.

Here‘s the Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson, unsure about the regs. And here‘s Daniel Tunkelang, also debating with himself.

Techdirt points out more absurdities.

Jack Shafer calls the rules the FTC’s mad power grab.

More bloggers than CEOs? Heh.

Mark Penn writes in the Wall Street Journal that there are now more paid bloggers than CEOs.

Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders.

Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work ,and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s.

As much as I would like to believe that blogging is a lucrative profession, I’m not sure I buy it — not quite yet. He says that bloggers with 100,000 readers a month are making $75k. Name a few. Still, the trend is heading this way and I’m certainly happy to hear talk of blogging as a business model.

One rotten apple? Kill Johnny Appleseed!

It’s barely worth dignifying with a link but Howard Witt writes a letter to Romenesko wondering whether, Mark Cuban has been brought up on insider-trading charges, his Sharesleuth.com would cover the news. Witt uses this as an opportunity to dismiss any value from all bloggers: “I’d say this is yet another example of why the nation cannot possibly expect to rely on all these pseudo-journalistic blogs that are supposed to become the future of journalism when all the newspapers disappear.” Oh, jeesh. OK, you play the Cuban card. I’ll see you with a Jayson Blair and raise you with a Judith Miller.

A proposal to the Associated Press: A link ethic

I propose to the Associated Press that it immediately begin linking to all its sources for stories, especially to members’ original journalism because:

* This will support journalism at its source. As I’ve written here, it is vital that we link to original journalism so it can receive traffic, audience, branding, credit, conversation, and advertising.

* This will provide a better service to readers and clients, enabling them to find, read, and link to original reporting.

* This will be an act of transparency that everyone in journalism should be practicing. As they say in the math test, we should show our work. The AP can provide an example that other news organizations should follow.

This comes out of the ethic of the link and quote that I have learned from blogs. It says to our readers: Don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself. And: Here’s what the source said; I won’t rephrase it but I will quote it directly so you can see for yourself.

The Associated Press, like its industry, has been operating under a different ethic for a different time: the ethic of ownership and control.

These two systems are coming into conflict now, but they need not conflict. As Prof. Rosen has been trying to teach journalists in another context: “Newsroom people, hear me out. You don’t have to leave the moral universe you grew up in. Just admit the possibility of another valid one beyond yours.”

The AP sent Drudge Retort and Rogers Cadenhead takedown notices for brief excerpts from and links to its stories. I reacted strongly but I’ll now try to explain calmly what’s at stake here.

The AP was calling bloggers unethical even while the bloggers were operating under their own ethic of the link and the quote. The bloggers believe they are doing the right thing in quoting directly and they think they are doing the generous thing — generous to both their readers and to the AP — in providing links to the source material. The bloggers will also say that this is an ethic the AP itself violates when it homogenizes and commodifies news, rewriting it and stripping it of the identity — and now the address — of the original reporting done by its members and other sources.

But the AP will say that it has a right to own that content and others, including bloggers, do not, so it believes it is protecting that license. That is its ethic.

Of course, these two ethics need not be mutually exclusive.

Bloggers should not quote excessively from others’ content and when they quote it should be for a reason — to agree, disagree, comment on, recommend, correct (there can be many reasons). This is fair use and fair comment. There can be no word-count limit because it depends on the use. If I want to fisk a story, I may well quote the whole thing because I am commenting on it all. The test is reasonableness: a fuzzy test, but life is fuzzy.

The AP, for its part, should recognize that they and their members now live in a new media ecology constructed of links, one they do not and cannot control any longer. To be good citizens in this new economy, the AP should respect the rights of readers who write and recognize the benefits of receiving links and credit, as the bloggers give it. They should further extend this ethic to their own work. And if there is conflict or questions, their reflex should not be to send their lawyers to write letters. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, not corporations. This was a hostile act and that is why it was met in return with hostility, deservedly so.

Now let me make clear that the AP is no idiot. Jim Kennedy, its head of strategy, who responded to my rant in the comments and has done so on other blogs, has the best strategic mind in the industry (if only there were more of him). He has inspired much of my thinking about the ecology of links in news. Tom Curley, his boss, has spoken eloquently about the need to separate content from the container — to, indeed, look at new means to distribute news (by blog quotes and links among them, I’d say). The AP has been dealing with issues of credit for years when TV stations pick up stories reported by newspapers and then rewritten by the AP, giving no credit to the source; the same happens with photos, as someone said in my comments.

No, the AP is no fool. But it acted like one in this episode. I wanted to throttle them. And so I did. My problem is not just that they threatened bloggers foolishly and needlessly and assaulted the right to fair use and fair comment but that it made them appear so clueless. I believe what they did could harm both the AP and the foundering news and newspaper industries.

How could it harm the AP? Well, I return to the case of the Ohio rebellion, where papers are now sharing their original journalism without the AP and its content mill. I think there well could come a day when local papers decide to share their own content around the AP and even to do without the AP state wire. Those same papers may decide to stop covering the world or at least to do it with links instead of syndicated, commodified, expensive wire content. At the same time, as Jon Fine says in his column this week, newspapers will shrink (or disappear). So I suggest that the AP had better reconsider its relationship locally and it may need to be more of a curator than a mill. It may need to provide not rewritten stories but instead selected quotes and links — as bloggers do.

I also believe that in an economy of links, the AP should reconsider its role. Many years ago, when I still worked for a newspaper company, I told the AP that I thought it should become an ad network; that’s what we need. Maybe it should be an aggregator, or perhaps a curator. But I do not think there is a future in acting as an owner of recycled content in an age when the link also commodifies all information in an instant. That becomes a pointless game of wack-a-mole that turns us — the AP’s readers and promoters — into moles.

My suspicion is that it’s the lawyers who got the AP into this mess. My best advice for the AP’s executives is that they should try to practice the bloggers’ ethic of the link and quote themselves (updating their news values with one more value). My next-best advice is that they should walk down the hall and tell the lawyers to put a damned sock in it or send them off for a very long off-site on a golf course where they can do no harm. This is not going to be resolved enforcing the fine print of outmoded laws built for an extinct age. This is a constantly changing landscape that must be maneuvered with flexibility and openness. But if those lawyers continue to threaten bloggers who know more about this new age and are only practicing their appropriate ethics, I will continue to use this space to suggest where socks should go.

[Disclosures: I have many dogs in this hunt, which I try to point out whenever I write about this but I'll make a fuller statement here. I am speaking for myself and none of those dogs. I am a partner at Daylife, which collects news and is a platform for links among news sources. I am on the board of Publish2, which will provide a platform for journalists to provide links to their sources. I am a member of the Media Bloggers Association, whose founder, Bob Cox, a more reasonable man than I, is talking with the parties in this story. I am writing a book about Google and believe that its role as aggregator, linker, scraper, and search engine is vital to the new ecology of media. I quote from and link to AP and others' stories constantly. I have worked with and consider myself a friend of the AP, though they might disagree right now.]

Blog bait

Vanity Fair knows how to tart itself up to get blogger links. See: here’s one.

I’m going to have to work hard to become less earnest.

Blogs then and now

Steve Baker at Business Week is reprising and revising his cover story from three years ago about blogs. The editors have asked some of us bloggers to talk about the past and future of social media and they might excerpt some of the discussion for the story. So as I was thinking about what to say, I realized that Business Week itself is a good illustration of the changes. I witnessed that three weeks ago when I was asked in to hold an all-morning blogging workshop with 60 staffers at the magazine/site.

Three years ago, blogs were still a curiosity to a business audience, new enough to warrant a cover story, strange enough to require explaining. But now, blogs and social media are not only better understood and accepted but they are coming to be seen as a necessity in media and more and more in business. I’ve written three stories in the magazine about business using social media to rebuild relationships with customers — Dell blogging and collaborating with customers and Starbucks opening a platform for customers’ ideas.

Business Week itself has a score of blogs and when I went there for a blogging workshop, what struck me most was that I did not hear the usual objections to blogging that are thrown at me when speaking with a group of media people: that blogs are not professional and thus not reliable. One staffer who came late did fret about the amount of crap out there but her fellow staffers argued her down; I didn’t have to. The meat of the discussion was, instead, no longer about why journalists blog but instead about how to blog better, how to be more involved in the conversation.

Next, I think, Business Week’s writers and readers will move beyond the conversation to see that social media are changing their fundamental relationship with customers to be less about serving and more about collaborating. No, I don’t mean that every product will be the product of a committee. But customers who want to talk will and smart companies will not just listen but will engage them in decisions. This will have an impact not just on PR and image but on product design, marketing, sales, customer service — the whole company.

Three years from now, I predict that Business Week’s cover won’t about about blogs or tools but about companies as communities.

: ALSO: Forgot to mention that the magazine is moving to collaboration. See online editor John Byrne’s blog that asks readers for their story ideas; he promises to cover some of them. It’s very MyStarbucksIdea of them, wouldn’t you say. I’ll be watching this process with interest. For I do think that the readers should be able to tell the journalists what they want to know. As my students have asked, why shouldn’t the public assign us?

Bloggal abuse

Sorry for neglecting you, dear blog. Was traveling last week. Heading to London for the Guardian and Online Publishers tonight. Catching up with book writing and work inbetween. It would be a dire mistake to make the blog a last priority. But it’s also good that blogs are forgiving.