Posts from April 25, 2005

Smart mobs

Smart mobs

: Smart mobs are not just some cute cult of the cellphone. They are, indeed, a force. Witness today’s NY Times front-page story on the unfortunate anti-Japan mobs in China:

The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for the anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a more mundane fact: they are China’s cellphone and computer generation.

For several weeks as the protests grew larger and more unruly, China banned almost all coverage in the state media. It hardly mattered. An underground conversation was raging via e-mail, text message and instant online messaging that inflamed public opinion and served as an organizing tool for protesters.

The underground noise grew so loud that last Friday the Chinese government moved to silence it by banning the use of text messages or e-mail to organize protests. It was part of a broader curb on the anti-Japanese movement but it also seemed the Communist Party had self-interest in mind.

“They are afraid the Chinese people will think, O.K., today we protest Japan; tomorrow, Japan,” said an Asian diplomat who has watched the protests closely. “But the day after tomorrow, how about we protest against the government?”

Nondemocratic governments elsewhere are already learning that lesson. Cellphone messaging is an important communications channel in nascent democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution used online forums and messaging to help topple a corrupt regime.

: Read a great followup to this in the comments: “‘A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets’ is a great headline for Manhattan, but meaningless in Beijing.” From

The prime directive: Do not lie

The prime directive: Do not lie

: I got pretty shocking email from a journalism student at NYU, who also sent it to Steven Levy at Newsweek. I’ll not give the student’s name in hopes that he or she will learn the lesson and not be Googled with it forever. But I will quote the email because there is an important lesson here:

Hi, I’m a student of …

I am writing an article on fact-checking in blogs.

I have two questions.

Recently, sent a fake tip (said I heard Moby say to a little girl, “Don’t ever say that Teany [Moby’s tea store] is Shitty”). They posted it in their “Reader Sitings” section. I e-mailed them and said it was fake. But they posted no correction and the fake tip is still on their site.

Do you think Gawker should be held responsible for any damages against Moby? Do they have a responsibility to fact-check reader tips, do you think?


I had a very simple response to this student: “You are responsible.” Ethically and otherwise.

Gawker puts up notes from readers and clearly labels it: “Sightings are sent in by readers.” Any reader with a two-digit IQ and any experience with this medium and the internet knows that readers can publish anything anywhere and so, caveat reader.

If this would-be journalist simply asked Gawker, I’ll bet they would have given an answer. Ask me about the comments here or the posts in a forum and I’ll tell you quite clearly: Nothing is vetted or edited. That’s obvious. But if you were a good reporter, you’d ask the question. And if you did not get an answer, you still should not resort to what you did. You lied.

And that, correspondent, is the most basic journalism lesson you will ever receive. That is your prime directive as a journalist. That is Rule No. 1:

Do not lie.

Trust is our only asset. Truth is its only measure. Ask Jayson Blair.

Do not lie.

As a reporter, would you call the Fire Department with a false alarm just to see how fast they came? If you did, you’d go to jail and deserve it. Would you lie about a stock online to see what happened to its price? If you did, you’d go to jail and get sued and deserve it.

You make it even worse, then, by emailing your lie to two journalists. So you defamed not only Moby but Gawker. In fact, I don’t think any harm is done here. But with different players, you could, indeed, do harm to your subjects and your own reputation and the credibility of the journalists you ensare.

You also lied about your own identity: You did not reveal yourself as a would-be journalist. In an age of transparency, that, too, is becoming ethical lapse.

So, dear student, if you were in my class, I’d give you an F on this assignment (at least). I would assign you to apologize to those you tried to smear with your little lie. And I would hope that you would learn the most important lesson in journalism: Telling the truth is hard enough without lying.

(Oh, and by the way, it might help if you copy-edited your emails before sending them.)

: UPDATE: See in the comments, Lockhart Steele, editorial director of Gawker Media, says that they didn’t receive notice of the “correction” but have since X’ed it out. The same person hit Lockhart’s own Curbed.

Also, I neglected to add the full disclosure that most know but that should have been added specifically to this post: I am friends with Gawker Media and its founder, Nick Denton.

The future of journalism is not its past II

The future of journalism is not its past (continued)

: Tim Porter suggests his fixes for what ails news (see the post below). I’ll pull up to higher altitude (and lower oxygen) and suggest these steps:

1. Set a strategic imperative for change. From both the top down and the bottom up, there has to be an agreement — an urgent passion — for change: for updating, improving, finding new ways.

2. Listen to the public. Don’t just go to another focus group about the paper. Go listen to the people who don’t read the paper but want news. Learn how they’re getting it now: They no longer have the patience to wait for the news; the news waits for them to search for it, click on it, have it recommended. Ask them about trust and brace yourself. Read Merrill Brown’s Carnegie report.

3. Perform a business reality check. Read Tim’s post: The solution is still presumed to be adding more bodies. But when revenue is declining, that’s obviously not realistic. Classified and retail are in decline; there are new inexpensive and free competitors; audience is declining. So new business models must be invented.

4. Catalogue the opportunities for delivering news. No longer constrained to a printing press and truck route, list all the wonderful new ways that you can deliver news. If you want the public to get its news from you then you’d better give it to them wherever and however they want.

5. Catalogue the opportunities for gathering news. Insert hyperlocal citizens’ media spiel here. The public knows more than we ever can. How do we enable them to share that with others — with content, promotion, training, trust, money?

6. Reinvent the product. After doing that homework, after dynamiting old assumptions, after starting a conversation with the public — a converstion that should never end — now, it’s time to reinvent the product and the business and the industry of news.

7. Reinvent the relationship with the public. Now you can change the way the public views news. Hugh McLeod said, and I often quote it, that we need to stop thinking of newspapers (and their sites) as things but rather as places where help bring people together.

The future of journalism is not its past

The future of journalism is not its past

: Tim Porter writes his best post ever — Jay Rosen beat me to calling it that — about pathological resistance to change in newsrooms and journalism. It’s probably a good portrait of fear of change in any industry undergoing restructuring, only the situation is even tougher in journalism because it is an industry inflated with hubris as well as true principle — an industry that doesn’t even like to think of itself as an industry.

I’ve spent more than a third of my career trying to bring change to news media and I’ve been amazed hearing the notion that news should not change. Why not? The world is changing. The public and its needs and wants are changing. The technology is changing. The opportunities are changing. The competition is changing. The economics are changing. Why shouldn’t newsrooms change?

As Tim reports, the discussion is usually not about moving forward — and taking advantage of this change, embracing it — but, instead, about wanting to move back: back to when there were more people, there was less competition, the insiders had more power, and we had better bars (well, actually, that last one is mine… but it might help with the bad mood Tim finds):

The amount of anger and hostility, of distrust and suspicion, of inertia and ennui that pollutes the journalistic environment in these newsrooms at first surprised me….

It is a venom whose toxicity, fed by the same sort of outwardly-directed anger and suspicion that floods the waning days of all diminishing industries, weakens all hope these reporters and editors and photographers have of imagining a future in which journalism survives but its form is vastly different….

The obdurance and avoidance endemic in newsrooms rests on a bedrock belief that the “problems” at their newspapers are best solved with more bodies or a return to a more “traditional” form of journalism….

In these same newsrooms where the nattering nabobs of nostalgia pine for days of yore, there are also forward-thinking reporters and editors and photographers who envision and are working to create a journalistic future built on new story forms, deeper community connections and more truth-telling and watch-dogging….

We are in a time of great transition in journalism. The tectonics of technology, demographics, economics and lifestyle are disrupting the ground on which newspaper journalism stood for half a century. Survival requires nimbleness, openness and a sense of the possible. The intransigent and the angry and the incurably nostalgic will fall into the cracks….

There’s much more. Read it all.