Medium, a media magazine in Germany, just named a blogger, Stefan Niggemeier, as journalist — yes, journalist — of the year because of BildBlog, which follows, criticizes, and dogs the huge tabloid newspaper in Germany, Bild. Just to give you a flavor that translates easily, here’s a post about a picture that ran in Bild, supposedly of a Turkish prison cell, when readers noticed the similarity to a picture of a cell at Alcatraz — note that moment of networked media criticism. I don’t know enough about the German media society, but I suspect this award could be as much about antipathy toward Bild as admiration of BildBlog. And I suppose this could only fuel the fires of blogs-v-MSM (which I keep trying to douse). Still, I think it’s a positive sign that a blogger is recognized not only as a journalist but as the journalist of the year. (via Martin Stabe)
Posts about Weblogs
A dozen huge companies — including Dell, Microsoft, General Motors, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Wells Fargo — have just started a corporate Blog Council.
I’m glad that these big guys have embraced blogging. But I have one bit of advice for them:
Change the name now.
It’s not about blogging. I hate to call on the obvious platitude, but I will: It’s a conversation.
When I was in London, I sat with folks from the BBC in an afternoon devoted to blogging, and the woman next to me was troubled, bearing weight on her shoulders from having to fill her blog and manage her blog. To her, the blog was a thing, a beast that needed to be fed, a never-ending sheet of blank paper. I turned to her and said she should see past the blog. It’s not a show with a rundown that, without feeding, turns into dead air. Indeed, if you look at it that way, you’ll probably write crappy blog posts. I’ve said before that if I think I need to write a post just because I haven’t written one, I inevitably come out with something forced and bad. Instead, I blog when I find something interesting that I’ve seen and I think, ‘I have to tell my friends about that.’ You’re the friends. So yes, I said, it’s just a conversation. And reading — hearing what others are saying — is every bit as important as writing. It was as if scales were lifted from her eyes and weight from her back: She’s just talking with people.
And that is how I think the Blog Council should look at this: It’s not about them writing blog posts. It as much about them reading everybody else’s blog posts. And, besides, there are all kinds of new tools for the conversation: Twitter, Pownce, YouTube, Facebook, Dell’s IdeaStorm, and more being invented in dorm rooms coast-to-coast.
The other problem is that the language on the Council site is much about marketing — marketing to us. That’s understandable because these are marketing guys and it’s also likely true because this is being run by a leader in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a group whose existence and name has given me the willies. It implies that they can manage our mouths when, indeed, that’s the one thing that we, the customers, are fully in charge of. If they truly realize that we, the customers, are in charge, then that changes the way you comport yourself in this conversation. Again, you listen more than you speak.
So have the Council. Not a bad idea. But I suggest you call it the Conversation Council. Or better yet, the Listening Council. That alone would say as much as the best blog post.
: Guardian Unlimited’s Jemima Kiss is also cautious but open:
I remain a little sceptical, not least because I haven’t seen a corporate blog I’m really “wowed” with yet. But with a bit of luck, that’s what the Blog Council will serve up.
Alec Saunders is a big cynical about it, speculating that this is really about Googlejuice. There are other benefits. He concludes:
Good heavens, people! Get a grip! You don’t need a cozy little exclusive club to figure out what to do with blogs. Just get on the net, start talking to your customers and advocates, and start interacting with people outside the strictures of twentieth century command and control marketing. Council, Shmouncil!
Similar advice here from Scoble.
Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca says:
It’s also not about control. For me at least, that has been decided–companies don’t control the message, customers do. I hope that Dell (and other companies in the council that have made the leap into digital media) can work together to move companies past the false notion that we are still in control. I’ve talked to folks from other large companies and that reality scares the heck out of them. I think that’s the primary reason why less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have a blog. That fear makes it a non-starter for many companies. . . .
Good corporate blogs force companies to look at things from a customer’s point of view. That’s why I want more large corporations to blog, and I want them to do it the right way. That means letting real people have real conversations just like individual blogs do. But it’s a bit different from a corporate perspective. Transparency is still key, but the reality for large corporations is that there are some things we can’t discuss. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes it’s a difficult one. But worth the risk? You bet it is.
I apologize, blog friends, for having been silent since Wednesday night, when our family lost my brother-in-law, Steven Westmark, to a sudden and tragic heart attack.
I almost turned off the comments on this post, which may seem rather odd. But I know that you all would offer my family condolences, and if you do so in the comments and emails, I’ll feel guilty not responding to each of you with thanks. Your sympathies are assumed and accepted as are my thanks in return. But that’s not why I’m writing this post.
What has puzzled me these last few days is what I should or should not write about this and how personal this blog or any blog really is.
I often tell people that the best blog posts come when you see, read, hear, experience, or decide something and think, ‘I should tell my friends about that.’ Your friends, of course, are your readers.
There were many such moments in the last week. If this were fully personal, I’d be chronicling our debate about whether to be angry at God or kill him; the impressive maturity I’ve seen emerge from young people in the midst of trauma; the social and manipulative business of funerals; and even the media story of charging the bereaved $400 to share their news and grief (where is the craigslist of obituaries? perhaps it should be craigslist).
But I’m not doing any of that because it would, I believe, be an intrusion on my family’s privacy. I’m not doing it for their sake.
But for my sake? My life is an open blog. Sharing these moments and the context they give to other thoughts is what I do now. It is reflex. Or that’s what I’ve discovered in this time.
This isn’t unlike my days as a columnist in San Francisco in the late ’70s. I constantly had the column on my mind and when I saw or thought something column-worthy, I’d store it away like a nut in a tree until I could publish it. But that was more opportunistic. That was about filling a space six days a week. That made experiences a commodity to be exploited.
A blog is different. Pardon me for restating the overstated, but it’s a conversation, a conversation among friends. It’s different from publishing. And, of course, it’s personal: one person talking among others. And so privacy has a different impact. That’s a lesson young people teach us often these days in their attitudes toward privacy online: In this conversation, you can’t get something in return if you don’t give something of yourself. And in this case, I don’t mean the return of condolences. I mean the return of experiences and ideas and viewpoints. I can’t get those from you, which I value, if I don’t give something myself first: my experiences, my thoughts, and the context for them. It’s personal, a blog.
Sometime later, I may well have that conversation about killing God. And I think I will contemplate the impact of someone disrupting the obit market. But not now.
Now I’ll just say that personally, I miss Steve greatly. He was a magnificent uncle to my children. No one in our family understood kids like he did; there’s a special smile only he could bring to their faces. He was a wonderful brother to my wife and a generous brother-in-law to me. He was a great husband, father, brother, and son. Steve was a devoted Deadhead, a talented builder, great fun, one of a kind.
I promised I’d stop writing about Cleveland. But as a dishonorable blogger, I honor no promises….
Jay Rosen summed up what I was trying to say in one eloquent line; he has a habit of doing that: “Advice to newsroom people: if you’re caught up in a situation that appears to pit journalists with ethics against bloggers who ain’t got none, you may actually be facing a conflict between one ethic and another, and it would be good to find out what the ‘other’ is before deciding what to do.”
Danny Glover thinks I was tough on Cleveland — we do disagree — but note that inherent in what he says is the bloggers’ ethic of transparency. He says the blogger erred in not disclosing his donation — though I do believe he hadn’t written about the campaign in question yet. And the paper didn’t ask them to disclose all their ties and donations. But note that if the paper had, then it would set a precedent — welcome from my viewpoint — of requiring such disclosure of all its staff members as well. So Danny is operating from the other set of ethics.
Now go to Adrian Monck in London, who is far away from Cleveland, he’ll be happy to tell you, and is writing nothing about it. He’s writing instead about the BBC and its 12 pillars of behavior and ethics, including this one: “Impartiality is no excuse for insipid programming. It allows room for fair-minded, evidence-based judgments by senior journalists and documentary-makers, and for controversial, passionate and polemical arguments by contributors and writers.” Adrian’s response: “Get that? Journalists – fair-minded, evidence-based. Contributors – controversial, passionate and polemical. Helpful, eh?”
This entire tale is not about one tribe having ethics, the other not. That’s what was so grossly insulting, self-centered, and truly self-righteous about the Plain Dealer’s treatment of the bloggers. They thought the other guys didn’t have any. Instead, this should be about one tribe trying to understand — and learn from — the ethics of the other. The Plain Dealer didn’t try. That is its loss.
I thought I was done writing about the Cleveland kerfuffle, but reading Poynter’s coverage — which, by the way, didn’t include bloggers’ perspective; too bad — I can’t help but think that the paper is digging itself deeper into a trench that will be hard to climb out of later.
They are making what a friend called a Jesuitical distinction that the issue here is all about money: once the paper paid the bloggers, then the bloggers had to live by the paper’s (unspoken) rules. So what happens when and if the paper decides, as I think it should, to start an ad network across local blogs and sites? Do they all have to live by the paper’s rules? It’s just an ad network, after all. It’s not a case of putting the bloggers’ content on the paper’s site. Is that, too a distinction? And what are the rules? The paper now admits that it didn’t discuss its rule about campaign contributions with the bounced bloggers before they started to blog under the paper’s roof. What other rules are there? Is volunteering for a campaign just as bad? Attending a rally? Putting up a lawn sign? Wearing a button? Telling friends to vote for someone? Or is this just about money — the paper’s money going to the bloggers and then to the campaign? Does the paper now have to check on the behavior of all its syndicated sources of content to make sure they live by the Cleveland Commandments? Now what happens if the pay an op-ed writer; do they have to do a background check?
The paper is going through this Talmudic toenail clipping, I think, because they’re trying to argue that this is about some rule obvious only to them about contributions and not about political pressure. The paper sided with a politician’s definition of ethics without giving the bloggers the opportunity to express their view of ethical behavior. And now they’re digging that trench. I think they’ll come to regret that.
: LATER: And I meant to mention that it’s amusing to hear the paper say that they expect to restart the blog, only this time they won’t pay. I can’t imagine any self-respecting blogger going for the deal. if you’re going to abuse them, you should at least pay them, eh?
Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?
If not, I’m worried about you. If you’re not squirming in uncertainty from time to time nowadays, you must not be close enough to the edge. In response to a question in the Sacramento Bee newsroom last week, Melanie Sill said, “If you’re in a newsroom and the editor doesn’t say that change is needed, you should leave.” I think that same sentiment applies to our need to loosen up, let go of some control and learn to play by the changing rules of the new game we’re in.
See also Jay Rosen’s comment on the politics of this.
Ted Diadiun is called the “reader representative” at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In his latest exchange with bloggers and the public, that’s a misnomer. He is the paper’s representative, explaining the paper’s way of doing things and trying to impose that system on any who come in contact with the paper. He makes no apparent attempt to understand the bloggers’ worldview. And that’s tragic because if anyone should be trying to grasp and champion new ways to look at journalism from the readers’ eyes, you’d think it would be the reader representative. Not Diadiun. This is why newspapers are having trouble adapting to new realities. They won’t ackowledge other realities.
See the background in this story from my perspective here and here and see also Diadiun’s comments. The long and the short of it: The paper hired four bloggers, two right and two left, to blog together. One liberal blogger contributed to a campaign and was told not to write about his opponent; he refused and left; the other liberal blogger left in protest; the paper stopped the blog. Bloggers accuse the paper of being pressured by a politician. The paper accused the bloggers of being unethical for making contributions.
The problem, in my view, is that Diadiun isn’t listening and learning. That, you’d think, would be the fundamental qualification for his job. Indeed, that is what journalism most needs today — new perspectives, new understanding of the public, a new relationship with that public, and new ways of serving it. But instead, Diadiun just defends the paper against an accusation of buckling to political pressure and lashes out at the bloggers as aliens to the newspaper ways.
I made some of these points before but wanted to examine the Diadiun attitude in more depth because it is so revelatory of the cultural change newspapers are having problems making. Pardon the length, but here are my reactions to Diadiun’s column:
The conflicted relationship between professional and citizen journalists — newspapers and blogs — is at various times a romance and a fistfight.
More and more, newspapers are putting their news and information online and using the Web to expand their reach. While hardly anyone doubts that print will one day give way to the Internet as a news source, how and when we eventually get there is unknown. But we do know that nothing proceeds smoothly along its evolutionary path without an occasional mudslide.
This is a story about how The Plain Dealer got itself spattered by some primordial ooze last week.
Note the victimhood there: The Plain Dealer got splattered. It got splattered by bloggers, denizens of the primordial ooze. Note how self-centered this is: It’s about the newspaper.
Diadiun explains the origins of the blog, saying that “it all began, as many vexations do, with the best of intentions.” This wasn’t a pleasant or a learning experience. It was a vexation. Dealing with the public in a new ways is a vexation. Diadiun continues:
Their mission was to opine daily about the political scene, play off each other and generate response from fellow online politics junkies. They got free rein on what they could write.
Wide Open debuted in September, and [assistant managing editor for online news Jean] Dubail sat back to watch the fun.
For his trouble, he wound up being called a “moron” in his own brainchild the second day out, when one of his bloggers linked to an unflattering story about the paper that had been in one of the city’s alternative weeklies. But in general, the blog did what he wanted it to do. Ultimately, Wide Open would attract 600 to 800 visitors a day.
More victimhood. The blogger dared to link out to the alternative paper, which dared to dislike the P-D. Newspapers are accustomed to controlling the press and thus the conversation. They don’t suffer criticism easily. You’d think an ombudsman would have grown a thick skin to this kind of talk. Apparently not.
Now Diadiun tells the story of the contribution:
Then, on Oct. 16, reporter Sabrina Eaton wrote a story about how much money Ohio’s congressional candidates had raised, and she named some of the more interesting contributors.
Among the names was one of the Wide Open bloggers — Jeff Coryell of Cleveland Heights (known in the blogosphere as “Yellow Dog Sammy”). Coryell, one of the two liberals, had contributed $100 to the campaign of Bill O’Neill, the Democratic opponent of U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican.
At first, Coryell didn’t understand why this would be news. Eaton explained that because he was a paid contributor to a Plain Dealer-sponsored blog, failure to include his name in the story would be deceptive. Then he became suspicious: How had she learned about the contribution?
As it happens, she had found out from LaTourette.
After she got the list of contributors but before she had looked it over, she had interviewed the congressman for another story. He had seen Coryell’s name on the list and asked about the ethics of such a donation.
It was a fair question. Any reporter knows that giving to a political campaign is prima facie conflict of interest. LaTourette or no LaTourette, Eaton would have used Coryell’s contribution in the story: She knew his name and his connection to The Plain Dealer’s blog, and it was obvious that fairness demanded she tell readers about it.
Here the paper is imposing its worldview and way of working on the public: Coryell gave a contribution and — note the fancy language — that is “prima facie conflict of interest.” Who’s interest? What conflict? The paper hired a liberal blogger. The blogger is involved in the community. How is that a conflict? Ah, it’s a conflict in Diadiun’s formulation because the paper paid him (they never say how much). It’s a conflict inLaTourette’s formulation because Coryell gave to the other guy. But is it a conflict in a citizen’s view? In a blogger’s? I’d say that’s a question that’s worth exploring. But Diadiun doesn’t explore it one inch. He brings his worldview and insists it must be Coryell’s. He’s not representing the reader. He’s representing the paper. More:
LaTourette was unhappy that the newspaper would pay someone who financially supported his opponent to write political opinion. He complained to editorial page director Brent Larkin, who referred him to Editor Susan Goldberg, whom he had never met. LaTourette set up an appointment, then thought better of it and canceled.
Goldberg was also unhappy, but not because LaTourette was unhappy.
“The issue here isn’t blogging, or political pressure,” she said. “The issue is our financial tie to these four bloggers. To allow someone we pay to use our site to, potentially, lobby for a candidate they financially support would put us in a place we can’t go. Had we known that he had contributed to the opponent of a person he might write about, we wouldn’t have put him on the blog in the first place.”
The editor exhibits no more curiosity than the ombudsman. That is equally troubling.
Let’s say that no money changed hands in either direction. Let’s say they had Coryell join a blog for free and he pushed LaTourette’s opponent without having contributed. What’s the difference?
The editor says that had they known he’d dared to exercise his right — and, some would say, his responsibility — to support the political process as a member of his community, they wouldn’t have put him on their blog. Well, did they ask him? Did they discuss their ruleset with him? Or did they just assume that anyone who publishes in any form follows the same rules they made for themselves? It’s as if they can’t imagine a parallel universe where people publish differently. Newspapers define publishing. That’s what this exchange says.
After some deliberation, Dubail told Coryell he would have to agree to refrain from writing about LaTourette if he wanted to continue with the blog. Coryell declined, and they parted ways. The other liberal blogger quit in sympathy, and with two of his gang of four gone, Dubail reluctantly folded the experiment Friday.
The fallout from all this draws a bright line between the way newspaper reporters and bloggers ply their crafts.
In Diadiun’s head, there’s a bright line. But I’ll just bet that if you ask bloggers or readers, the line wouldn’t be nearly so bright. Shouldn’t the newspaper try to understand new ways to do things? When they invited bloggers in, they wanted bloggers’ voice and coolness. But they didn’t want to learn bloggers’ ways.
If they’d asked, they might have heard bloggers suggesting that newspaper people should operate more like them. Perhaps newspaper reporters should declare themselves liberal or conservative as these bloggers did. That itself would be a sin under American newspaper rules. But that transparency would be welcome. Not revealing your opinions and acting as if you don’t have them is a lie of omission. And making contributions and revealing them? Well, I hear journalists complain that bloggers shouldn’t be called citizen journalists because journalists are citizens, too. But do journalists act like citizens? Are they involved in their communities? Do they support the political process? Their employers take money from politicians buying ads but they think that to give money makes a journalist unethical. Can’t that be discussed? Apparently not, not here.
But the real reason the Diadiun got his back up defending the paper, representing it, is because Coryell et al were accusing the paper of crumbling to political pressure:
Coryell concluded that he was “fired” because of political pressure from LaTourette. Both Eaton and Dubail explained to him that the ethical concerns of the situation had nothing to do with LaTourette’s objections, but he was unpersuaded.
So Coryell is unethical for his relationship to a candidate but they are not unethical for their relationshiop to a candidate. They can’t see it any other way. And worse, Coryell dared publish what happened:
And he spread that view throughout the blogosphere. On his own blog, on local blogs and on the big national forums such as the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, you can find posts from Coryell that The Plain Dealer bowed to political pressure. Others picked up the cry, spreading his interpretation as if it were the truth and adding their own spin that still others picked up and embellished.
But that’s the way things work in the blog world: “Yellow Dog Sammy” rejects the ingrained ethics of the newspaper world, preferring to read editors’ minds and create his own reality.
What a slimy slap that is. Diadiun doesn’t give Coryell the respect to use his name but puts his handle in quotes to degrade him and then says he rejects the ingrained ethics of the newspaper world. Diadiun calls him unethical. Diadiun presumes that Coryell should know what the newspaper thinks are universal ethics. He dismisses Coryell’s account as creating “his own reality.” He as good as calls him a liar. And he keeps going:
Other bloggers pick that up and repeat it as gospel, and suddenly we begin getting questions from all over the country about why we’re letting Steve LaTourette run the newspaper.
Here’s the reality:
You can’t contribute to a political candidate and then write about his or her campaign, either as an employee or as a paid free-lancer for The Plain Dealer, on paper or online. Period.
Steve LaTourette has got nothing to do with that, now or ever.
Now this got more interesting in the comments on my post. Coryell asked the very good question in response to Diadiun’s last pronouncement: Do they ask op-ed contributors and syndicated columnists about their contributions?
Diadiun finally acknowledged that the newspaper rules were more unspoken than spoken. He commented:
That separation is so well established in the newspaper world that it usually goes without saying. But with this arrangement, those ground rules should have been discussed up front. Quite simply, it occurred to no one — not the editors and I will take on faith not the bloggers — that it would be a problem.
That is, they assume that no one contributes to campaigns and if they do they forever cut off their right to speak about those campaigns. That’s absurd on its face, but not to Diadiun. He continues:
Everyone feels bad about this. I think that reasonable people can disagree, as you and I do, about whether the newspaper should have established different ethical guidelines for the Web site that would have acknowledged the bloggers “involvement and transparency,” as you put it.
That is a discussion worth having. I think it’s too bad that the discussion degenerated instead into conspiracy theories about political pressure and why The Plain Dealer “really” took the steps it did.
So the paper is above reproach and above questioning, even via the reader representative, who called the bloggers unethical rather than trying to discuss this from their perspective. I called that crap and Diadiun then played victim again: “Et tu, eh?” Spare me, I said.
Coryell called Diadiun’s column “grossly insulting and deliberately intended to smear me.”
So much for the conversation. So much for the P-D’s attempt to get bloggy and cool.
(Repeated full disclosure: I used to work with the Plain Dealer at Advance Internet, where I oversaw its affiliate website, Cleveland.com.)
I’ve just had a magnificent week-plus in London thanks to the hospitality of many Londoners — and this blog. Without Buzzmachine — and my mentions here and on Facebook that I would be over there — I wouldn’t have done any of this:
First, I wouldn’t be writing and consulting for the Guardian, which I unabashedly admire, and wouldn’t have gone there to work with them. I also wouldn’t be consulting for Sky.com, which is turning out to be fascinating. At both places, I met with no end of smart innovators.
I wouldn’t have had one of the great dinner conversations in memory with Tom Loosemore, ex of the BBC and now reinventing the future of media at OFCOM, the British regulator; Tom Coates, also ex BBC who’s already reinvented bits of media and is trying to keep doing it at Yahoo; and Paula le Dieu, also ex BBC (this is a theme for the week) and a leader in Creative Commons and now an exec at a leading digital agency in London. It was worth the trip to see Paula squeal like a schoolgirl at the wonders of the One Laptop Per Child machine Tom No. 2 brought along. (I can’t wait to get my hands on an OLPC; one of its great educational features is how it makes its code transparent to children.)
I wouldn’t have had an incredible day in Cambridge, thanks to Bill Thompson, who has his fingers in many media pies and has many smart friends, some of whom came along for lunch and then a wander around the town: John Naughton, who among many things is also a media columnist, at the Observer and who is starting a neat new company with Quentin Stafford-Fraser; Rex Hughes, who just got his Cambridge PhD; Rufus Pollock of the Open Knowledge Foundation; David Good; and a leader at the Open University who had to leave earlier. I was having such fun in the conversation that I didn’t want to tour Cambridge but the tour with the group only extended the talk and the fun on a beautiful fall afternoon. I wish my kids could go to school here.
I certainly wouldn’t have been invited to the home of Seamus McCauley, a strategic exec at Associated Northcliffe Digital, and his wife, who held a bonfire party to watch the fireworks behind their yard (Guy Fawkes day, you know) and there I got to meet Simon Cast, who is better-read in blogs that most anyone I’ve met.
Wouldn’t have gone with Robin and others to a Yahoo dinner, where interesting things also happened.
Wouldn’t have had drinks and dinner with Kevin Anderson, ex BBC and now Guardian, and his blogging mate Suw Charman plus two of their friends, ex BBC both, and by sheer chance Neil McIntosh and his wife and brother, Ewan, who I’ve been wanting to meet in reality and not just in Facebook and who just happened to be waiting for a table at the same restaurant (small town, London).
Wouldn’t have finally met and had a Saturday lunch with Martin Stabe, the killer media blogger at the Press Gazette.
Wouldn’t have had lunch one day and coffee another with Paul Brannan, deputy editor of BBC.
Wouldn’t have meet Katie King, ex Reuters and now a Burston exec; we got to talk about the Nieman Foundation and the future of journalism.
Wouldn’t have had breakfast with Edward Roussel, head of digital at the Telegraph, and seen what they’re up to in video.
Wouldn’t have caught up with Tom Shelley of the Economist Red Stripe project over breakfast.
And I wouldn’t have met Ivan Fallon, CEO of the Independent in London, and Mark Labovitch, head of digital, and heard about their strategy.
Oh, and by the way, I can’t resist pointing out where I met the guys from the liberal Independent:
I wouldn’t made all these friends and had all these great conversations and benefitted from their hospitality and I also wouldn’t have had this work. None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have this blog (and Facebook, too). Is blogging worth it? Well, yeah.