Posts from September 2005

Judith Litella?

I’ll admit it: I can’t figure out Judith Miller. Is she just Emily Litella: Oh, nevermind. Dan Froomkin asks the question better than I can:

So what was Miller doing in jail? Was it all just a misunderstanding? The most charitable explanation for Miller is that she somehow concluded that Libby wanted her to keep quiet, even while he was publicly — and privately — saying otherwise. The least charitable explanation is that going to jail was Miller’s way of transforming herself from a journalistic outcast (based on her gullible pre-war reporting) into a much-celebrated hero of press freedom.

Note to reporters: There is nothing intrinsically noble about keeping your sources’ secrets. Your job, in fact, is to expose them. And if a very senior government official, after telling you something in confidence, then tells you that you don’t have to keep it secret anymore, the proper response is “Hooray, now I can tell the world” — not “Sorry, that’s not good enough for me, I need that in triplicate.” And if you’re going to go to jail invoking important, time-honored journalistic principles, make sure those principles really apply.

Transparency, please. Reporting, please. Honesty, please. If you dragged all journalism through the briar patch and didn’t have to, you owe an explanation.

Arianna Huffington also asks:

After she answers Patrick Fitzgerald’s questions today, Judy Miller needs to start answering some of the obvious questions raised by her head-scratching stance:

What made her refuse Libby’s waiver when it was first offered but accept it now? (Especially since Judge Hogan had told Miller that “she was mistaken in her belief that she was defending a free press, stressing that the government source she ‘alleges she is protecting’ had already released her from her promise of confidentiality.”)

Was Miller’s sudden eagerness to find a get-out-of-jail excuse prompted by Fitzgerald’s planning to ask for an extension of the grand jury?

Or was it prompted by Fitzgerald’s gearing up to charge her with criminal contempt?

If all it took for Miller to feel properly released was a phone call, why did she wait 85 days to make it?

And I’ll ask: When she reenters the newsroom, will it be to triumph, shame, or questions?

Dell Hell, continued (and continued and continued)

Business Week is staying on Dell’s ass about customer service. After recounting its disasterous satisfaction ratings and various rants against them (including mine) and their panic to hire more customer-service and now their numbnutty attempt to actually start charging more for the crappy service they give, the report says:

While execs won’t say so publicly, the message is clear: That new PC you bring home comes with only the most rudimentary support. More hand-holding costs extra.

Indeed, Dell is rolling back some of the perks that now come standard. BusinessWeek has learned that in mid-October, Dell plans to redefine the term “free shipping” for its low-end models. Instead of delivering them to the customer’s home, Dell will mail them to the nearest post office for pickup. These customers have to pay extra for home delivery — although it comes standard with pricier models such as the new XPS line….

If customers don’t go for the new “pay-up” plans and service keeps sliding, Dell may have to put more money into solving the problem itself — or risk having more consumers defect to rivals.

I’ll say it again: Sell Dell.

Professor of overwriting

That’s him.

Defying definition

The Online Journalism Review tries to define “blog.” They asked me for mine and I got snippy (always handy when you’re looking for a foil for the lead). I’ll be obnoxious — not for the first time, eh? — and quote my reply:

To blog or not to blog is no longer the question.

The question now: What is a blog …

“I don’t care,” e-mails Jeff Jarvis, the veteran print journalist and prominent blogger behind BuzzMachine. “There is no need to define ‘blog.’ I doubt there ever was such a call to define ‘newspaper’ or ‘television’ or ‘radio’ or ‘book’ — or, for that matter, ‘telephone’ or ‘instant messenger.’ A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list. People will use it however they wish. And it is way too soon in the invention of uses for this tool to limit it with a set definition. That’s why I resist even calling it a medium; it is a means of sharing information and also of interacting: It’s more about conversation than content … so far. I think it is equally tiresome and useless to argue about whether blogs are journalism, for journalism is not limited by the tool or medium or person used in the act. Blogs are whatever they want to be. Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘blog’ is a fool’s errand.”

And when will there be a museum of blogging?

I suppose it’s appropriate that we had a meeting about the future of media with old media and new, big media and small, mass media and personal at the Museum of Television & Radio’s Media Center. The big guys aren’t history yet. But I suppose they could be.

The good folks at MT&R wanted a session on the intersection of blogging and mainstream news and I got to be a co-convener, helping bring more good folks from the blogging world together with the center’s list of big-media people, all of whom are working at the intersection: Debbie Galant of Baristanet, Jay Rosen of Pressthink, Steve Baker of Business Week, Terry Heaton of Donata and Nashville is Talking fame, Bill Grueskin of WSJ.com, Dan Gillmor of Bayosphere, David Weinberger of Joho and more, Susan Crawford of the amazing mind, Bill Gannon of Yahoo, Jon Klein of pajama fame and CNN, Rick Kaplan of MSNBC, Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times, Alisa Miller of Public Radio International, Tim Porter of First Draft, Steve Shepard of CUNY, Kinsey Wilson of USAToday.com, Vaugn Ververs of CBS’ Public Eye, Andrew Heyward of CBS News, Paul Steiger of the Wall Street Journal, Bill Grueskin of WSJ.com, Steve Shepard of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Merrill Brown as moderator. A fun and fascinating bunch. Some random notes, first from others, then from me:

: Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, summarized the event. Excerpts of my transcription:

The world has really, really changed and will keep changing and we in mainstream media may not like it but it’s a fact and we have to embrace it or we will die.

People, readers, viewers are no longer satisfied with a small number of omniscient narrators. The toothpaste is out of hte tube. They want to be hears as well as be talked to and they want to hear each other as well as talk to us…

[On the blogosphere:] I think I’ve heard that the magic of this revolution is that it allows people to reach each other and it allows people to learn from and teach each other. It also allows people to mobilize together….

At the same time… many people will do this because it’s fun, because it feels empowering…. Some of those folks will decide they really want to do this and will find ways to get paid… They will develop business models…

How can we [mainstream media] respond and embrace and take advantage of this? First of all, the way to do it is to approach with what we do well: [Taking Susan Crawford’s illustrations] which is to aggregate, which is to illustrate or to order…

And then there are still two skill sets that are in the mainstream media and not in the general blogosphere, which is the general notion of reporting; the ordinary citizen is not a qualified reporter… and then mechanisms for verifying — those annoying habits of editors, w hich get in the way of reporters blooming free…

I had to send a note to my colleagues the other day to remind them that blogs in specific industries have become every bit as important as trade publications … and if you fail to credit one of them it’s just as bad as failing to credit another print publication. [At this moment, the bloggers looked at each other and mouthed the word “Rafat”.]

Whatever the business model, in order to keep getting paid, people in the blogosphere or traditional media would need to do at least one of two things very well… either provide uniquely broad credibility, which will still have value even in this revolutionary world, or uniquely exciting argument… You have to at least do one of them or you’re not going to get paid.

: Go read Susan Crawford’s post to get the perspective of a nonmedia person who was amazed at the bubble we media people live in:

The print guys are very proud of their priesthood, and the culture of journalism is just about the strongest professional bond I’ve ever seen. The emotional energy that filled the room when the print guys started decrying the “potentially deadly” inaccuracy of bloggers was remarkable. We Are The Truth, they seemed to think — We Have Standards. Those bloggers, they’re just typing. We do so much more.

That’s the part — the pride — that made me worry about beloved print journalism. It seemed like a hallmark of descent. We were the best, we were the truest, and even though the blood is running thin and our chins are weaker and our shoulders are rounder, we come from the finest stock. (Speaking of stock: not a diverse group.) I’m familiar with this kind of thinking — I myself am a lawyer and a WASP, two groups that have priesthoods and enormous pride. And are no longer what they used to be….

Under its surface, this well-dressed roundtable discussion (complete with waiters) was really about a future that none of us can hope to control.

: More from the participants: Weinberger thinks the were usual suspects were there. I’ll plead guilty but I’ll argue that Galant, Porter, Heaton, Crawford, and Baker are not. (Later: David agrees.) They’re doing real things so they soon will be. David also says: “The bloggers didn’t have to spend half the morning explaining that most bloggers aren’t journalists, that bloggers are in conversation, etc. Progress. There were still elements of hostility and misunderstanding, especially around the question of accuracy. But there is definitely progress…” Here’s Heaton’s take. Here’s Baker’s Here are Porter’s prep. And here’s Nora Ephron on another blogging blatherfest across town; Garrick Utley went to both and said MT&R’s was better. Both events, as all the posts above note, were too male and too white.

: Jay Rosen’s cogent notes include:

* Still, it was agreed: Big Media does not know how to innovate. What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never. Do these firms attract designers and geeks who are gifted with technology? They don’t, because they don’t do anything challenging enough. They don’t innovate, or pay well. So they can’t compete.

* In competing on the Web, the bloggers do not alarm big media. It’s people like Bill Gannon. Yahoo worries them, with its surging revenues, huge traffic flow, and recent moves in news and editorial that involve original content. The portals attract talent, and with their billions they can fund innovation, and roll out new products. This capacity dwarfs what the old line media companies can do, even if everyone on the editorial staff became a Webbie overnight.

: Now my disjointed notes….

: The tone has changed. There is no dismissive huffing from the big guys about blogs. There is still that argument about who’s trustworthy (see the note here). Old hat. But there is an acknowledgment that the change is gigantic and has only begun.

: Heyward surprised and impressed me when he talked about the weaknesses of mainstream media today:
* “The breakdown of our formulas.” He said the presentation must become more authentic, more natural.
* “The illusion of omniscience. A lot of television news is based around the notion that there is one truth the reporter gets to. The public has to accept the notion of ambiguity… and we have to be bold enough to acknowledge that there is more than one answer.”
* “The introduction of a point of view… The notion of objectivity in mainstream news needs to be reexamined.”

That, I believe, was a big moment, reflecting a cultural change in meanstream news.

Jay says: “This was probably the most significant surprise of the meeting: an actual shift in press think. At the top, no less.”

: One of the editors said that one roole for big media is to be a smart aggregator: if people are already in a community, he said, then they’ll find each other. But for those who have not found each other yet, we can help.

: Jay Rosen: “There is not a law of God that there needs to be a business modl for everything. There may not be a business model for the internet. The internet may just be part of life.”

He says that big media saw the internet come along and used it to repurpose their content. Bloggers came along and instead asked what the web can do. So they have taught jouranalists about links, the blogosphere, nonduplication of effort (an important and underappreciated lesson). The bloggers did this “because they were of the web, not on the web.”

: More Jay on how journalism got that way: “Journalists do a lot of thins simply because they have to for their production routines, not because it’s a good idea, not because it’s necessarily sound but because they have to meet deadlines… Your production routines you begin to mistake as the nature of journalism.”

This is the prison of the medium. This is why it is vital that journalism has to break free of his media.

Jay continues: “Journalists do certain things because they know they are going to be criticized and they anticipate criticism and they need ways to deflect criticism…. The production miracle, which is what daily newspapers are called, worked and still works but is an intellectual disaster…

“Journalists believe in a certain heirarchy of goods: … information is a higher good than opinion; commentary is a derivative good. On the web, people don’t necessarily think that way.” Journalism prides itself on starting with the facts; sometimes people on the web start with opinion and get to the facts. They can end up at the same place.

: Various BMEs (big media execs) said that their greatest problem is not the will to change but the ability to force change through the alimentary canals of their giant companies. They complained about the lack of product development. And they complained about the difficulty of hiring technology talent.

: Terry Heaton wows the group with his accomplishments working with Young Broadcasting stations in Nashville and San Francisco: Inviting bloggers into the stations to listen and talk; training bloggers how to shoot better video, using “dumb” (automated) and “smart” (edited) aggregation of bloggers (see NashvilleIsTalking.com; and starting an ad network with the bloggers. These are all the steps I hoped I’d see Young take when I had lunch with Terry and their execs a year ago. I can’t believe that they’ve accomplished so much. If you want to see who’s leading in this space, go to Nashville.

: Terry said he asked vloggers whether they would pay a subscription fee to have access to stations’ video for remixing and they all said yes.

: Terry also says that media is the biggest issue in the country today but media is not covering media as an issue.

: Dan Gillmor says he fears that media execs will think it’s over already: We have a blog, we have citizen journalists, we’re done. Dan says we’re just at the beginning. He asks big media to surface the best we’re seeing from the community and do some projects with citizen journalists. He suggests that big media team up with the citizens on covering the reconstruction after Katrina because there is a lot of reporting to do.

: David Weinberger: “I think the revolution has happened… The big change has already happened… It turns out that we the audience are much more interesting to us than the news media are… I don’t mean disrespect. There’s good and bad in that because we’re not very good journalists.” (Don’t shoot at David. He was saying that the proportion of bloggers who want to do journalism is small.)

: Steve Baker of Businessweek says that “one of the best things a mainstream journalist can do is blog” because they get more information and change relationships. “If Ilost my job tomorrow, I’d be happy that at least I had a blog going, as a little bit of a rowboat.” He says that “more of us are going to be on our own with our own little brands.”

Dan Gillmor later urged the BMEs: “If there’s someone in your organization — a Steve Baker — let him try stuff.”