Filthy lucre, forceful moderator
: Well, I pissed off (and depressed) Douglas Rushkoff at the PS122 blogging panel the other night.
I shouldn’t be surprised. Here I was, the guy in the suit in the heart of what wants to be the counterculture on the Lower East Side. I thought I’d get ridden out of town on a rail because I supported the wars in Iraq and, for that matter, Afghanistan and because I wasn’t off getting arrested to show my dyspepsia with the current Bush et al.
But, no. I should have seen this coming: I got in trouble for being a — gasp — capitalist.
Maybe that’s an ounce unfair but, hell, it’s my blog and I’ll be unfair if I want to. At least I’ll link to and quote Rushkoff by name (to him, I’m merely “the moderator”):
But as we veered over into the realm of career blogging, we touched briefly on the subject of whether ads hurt blogs – and that’s where I think the whole thing died. And even depressed me a bit.
I tried to make the point that the early Internet and early rave culture were alike in that they were ad-free zones – alternatives to the free market reality in which we were living. And that’s what made them so powerful. I was trying to go on to explain that there might be a value in ad-free blogging; that doing it for money, for ads, may not change our writing on a conscious level, but that we may be changed – yes, corrupted – by the ads we’re endorsing, er, displaying.
The moderator shut me down with great force, dismissing the entire notion of ads affecting writers as silly – that the marketplace would judge the integrity of those writers accordingly. Now, I’ve been shut down by co-panelists, but not by moderators. And I would have chalked it up to my own ‘sensitivity’ had I not received more than a few emails from people calling the moment to my attention.
So I thought I’d call it to yours – not because I feel slighted or hurt, but because I believe that the underlying assumption that the market corrects all problems, eventually, or that the market is itself ‘value neutral,’ is incorrect. I’m not challenging free market capitalism; God bless the USA and all that.
I’m only challenging the perception that we are living in a marketplace. We don’t have to use the metaphor of a competitive economy to understand this world; it may as well be a collaborative ecology.
Plus, if I put ads on this blog, it’d be the end of something. No?
First, let me deal with the notions that I “shut [him] down with great force” and that moderators are neutered of opinions. Sorry. I have opinions and I state them. In fact, I believe that moderators — just like bloggers and journalists — should be transparent about their views. If I was too forceful, I apologize (and did so in Douglas’ comments; I like the guy). But I was also trying to involve as many of the people in the room as possible and not just the people who happened to be sitting up front; that’s the way I do these things (a la Bloggercon); love me or leave me. Prof. Rushkoff didn’t like my pace; another blogger complained that it was “too academic.” Can’t win. Don’t expect to. But I hardly think I’m Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews!
Now to the substance: What I said to Douglas — and others agreed — was that whether you accept ads is entirely your choice.
If you don’t want to have ads on your blog and believe that ads would not just present conflict of interest but could corrupt the very medium, well, then, fine, have no ads.
But if you want ads to help support yourself in this new medium — and thus support the growth of this medium with more contributions from more voices and more perspectives with more information and conversation and value, then you can do that. Maybe you can even quit working for The Man; what could be more counterculture than that?
The beauty of this medium — yes, the rave quality of it — is that I can do what I want to do and you can do what you want to do and our freedom is not zero-sum. It ain’t a slam dance, man.
I also said on that night and will repeat now that as soon as you accept advertising, you do have to deal with issues of conflict of interest and transparency and your own credibility. This is a matter of individual integrity. That’s exactly what I dealt with when I started Entertainment Weekly and the starstruck bosses at Time Inc. tried to make me be nicer to big-studio movies. I quit. Ads don’t kill integrity. Corruption does. I’ve faced that first-hand.
I also said in Douglas’ comments that, yes, legions of slimy bloggers with no credibility and lots of greed could affect the reputation or credibility of this new medium as a whole. But given the crush of folks who will fact-check-your-ass (trademark Ken Layne) — just as Rushkoff and another anti-ad, anti-me blogger at the session have challenged me — the likelihood of such corruption on a mass scale is reduced greatly.
The bigger choice here is whether we want to keep blogs as an elitist, edge medium or whether we want to see it expand. I know plenty of bloggers who would love to quit their job to blog (or get jobs blogging). When I ran a session on making blogs make money at Bloggercon at Harvard, I thought I’d hear a lot of this kind of latter-day-socialist sniping, but I heard none. People love blogging and want to find a way to support themselves doing it. What the hell is wrong with that?
I remind you, media prof. Rushkoff: Without advertising, we would not have The New York Times or The Guardian. Is the world better off that way? Or should we rely on rave news?
And let’s go one step further: Douglas advertises his own books on his own site and his blog with eagerness. He plugs the articles he writes for magazines that pay him because they are paid by magazines. I helped him plug his Open Source Democracy PDF done for a group that paid him to write it (and didn’t even mention that I never had the energy to fisk it, though I did print it out and mark up lots of things with which I disagreed).
I’m going to be pretty unapologetic about all of this. I’m unapologetic about having a lively discussion at a panel. Want to disagree with me? Disagree! Discuss!
And I’m unapologetic about hoping that we can find advertising support for this new medium — for those who want it — to help the medium expand and hear new voices and new viewpoints and more citizens.
Yes, we are living in a marketplace: a marketplace of ideas. And trying to restrict that marketplace to just those who can afford to play in it and don’t need support to be there will limit the diversity and value and openness and transparency of it.
I am eager to see bloggers who do this only and exclusively for the love it. But I expect them to be equally open to those who do it and also need to eat.
: CORRECTION: Rushkoff says in the comments that he was not paid for Open Source Democracy. I stand corrected. More bubbling in the comments.