Old-school values

In the comments on the post/book immediately below, my friend Fred Wilson said I was sticking with old-school notions. I left this comment in response and think it’s worth bringing the discussion out here:

In journalism education, I talk a lot about the need to rewrite and break rules, to end old assumptions, to work with new realities. I talk about it far too much for the taste of some (many, actually).

But I also talk about the values that are worth maintaining and preserving. Credibility is the essence of that. Not selling your voice is the key to credibility. It is the foundation of independence. There are other worthy values I talk about, too: fairness, accuracy, completeness. And this week on Newshour, I included in the discussion the ethics I have learned from the blogosphere: the ethic of the correction, of the link, and of transparency.

In the professional arena, I also talk a lot about the need to reexamine the wall between church and state, the need for journalists themselves to take responsibility for the sustainability of journalism.

But that makes is all the more important that we understand how to maintain independence and credibility. That makes these selected “old-school” values all the more critical.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers oneself a journalist, though. Credibility is the same for all of us. Our readers expect us to speak with them directly, as trusted friends. My neighbors aren’t paid to speak to me. No one is (yet) trying to buy their voices. I expect the same here.

I don’t want to tear down all the old schools. I want to update them.

And I clearly believe in the importance of advertiser support for media, including the media of the people. But that, too, is why I think it is important to have these discussions openly and in detail, so that bloggers will build and maintain their credibility. For if they lose their credibility, they lose their value both to their readers and to their advertisers. That much has not changed: Advertisers, including Microsoft, want to be associated with people of who have the respect of their shared public.

  • Jeff, why can Disney and Leo Laporte get away with endorsing things on radio that go FAR beyond what Federated Media did with Microsoft? http://scobleizer.com/2007/06/23/why-can-leo-laporte-and-disney-do-it-but-mike-arrington-and-techcrunch-cant/ has the details.

  • Jeff, this is not a credibility issue it’s an integrity/authenticity issue. I don’t mean to suggest that participating in the program represents a lack of integrity – but it does indicate a lack of concern with authenticity.

    The only thing old-school about your view is that A-list bloggers need to maintain high standards of integrity/authenticity to grow their audiences.

    As Robert explains – we don’t really expect celebrities to subscribe to higher standards than the rest of us.

  • Old Media often has a problem telling the difference between old-school values like “credibility” and the limited assortment of tactics their discipline has decided are the best and only ways to achieve credibility. Modern Journalism has taught them that tactics like a neutral, authoritative voice, publishing only “verified” information (which they don’t and can’t really do), and objectivity are the best and only ways to achieve credibility. Now think about it — who would want a boring “trusted friend” like that? On the other hand, being transparent, willing to openly admit mistakes, and sharing early, rough info that makes the reader among the “first to know” are all credibility-builders. At this point, bloggers also have the advantage of being seen as non-commericial participants, an image that the public probably does not project upon the most visible Old Media personalities, like the multi-million dollar Katie Couric. Jeff, you are doing the establishment a great service by taking on their dogma, and I am impressed how you have been able to do it without having been marginalized (as far as I know!) (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

  • Here’s another response I gave to Fred on his latest post:


    As more journalism is done independently, I’d say there will be less difference between journalistic and personal integrity. More and more, we will be our personal brands.

    We all care about our reputations and credibility. We don’t want to seem to be bought or speaking out of conflict. That is why you are very good about revealing your interests. You and I disagree about satellite v. digital radio and you always point out your financial interest in digital for a reason. It maintains your credibility, your integrity. I point out on my disclosure page that I have Sirius stock (damned little) for the same reason. Our motives and responses are exactly the same.

    And you do perform journalistic functions sometimes, whether you like it or not. If you impart information to me, that can be a journalistic function. Your posts about the age of successful entrepreneurs were no different for me than a trend story on the business front of the New York Times. I took away information and a worldview and quoted it and relied on your facts and observations as I would a Times reporter. Like it or not, increasingly, journalism is in the eyes of the beholder.

    You have your own standards. I have my own. They are necessarily different because we and our circumstances, needs, and goals are different. I have been quite vocal about not having a single standard we’re all supposed to sign onto. We agree there.

    But what I have a problem with is your dismissal of this discussion, of what Nick Denton and I have been saying, as merely “old school.” This is an important decision each blogger must make for him or herself and they are making it now.

    Om Malik and John Battelle have each made clear that they wish they had set their boundaries in public and navigated against them before this episode. I’d like other bloggers as well as young, independent journalists to see the lesson in that. I’d like them to grapple with their own standards. So I don’t think it’s productive to dismiss that discussion as old school.

    It’s also inaccurate. As I pointed out in my last response to you, I have been trying to bring our new-school values — the ethics of the correction, the link, and transparency — into the old school, literally.

    And the reason I’m doing that is because I care about journalism and an informed society and the open conversation and just as I believe the old school has much to learn from the new, so am I convinced that much of journalism in the near future will be performed by individuals, pro or am, and I want them to have the respect and attention (and, yes, revenue) they deserve because they have protected their own credibility and integrity. It’s not just for their sake but for ours.

    So I wish you’d have entered into the discussion more fully rather than acting like an island.

    Finally, I still disagree about the campaign at hand. There’s not a thing new about it. It’s an advertorial. Except this would be as if Business 2.0 had had Om write for it. If you picked up today’s New York Times and saw Tom Friedman or Saul Hansell not just quoted on but writing for a page under an advertiser’s brand, wouldn’t you be at least disappointed? And I have to say that I find it hard to imagine you picking up the latest issue of Fortune and dashing to those Special Advertising Sections to suck up the wisdom there. Federated just took the advertorial and tried to gussy it up — by using well-known and well-respected names such as yours. But it’s still just a Special Advertising Section.

    Finally, as many including you have pointed out, you don’t need the money. You still do have skin in this discussion — reputation, ego, relationships — but that is different. But keep in mind that many are doing this because they do need the money — even Arrington complained about making his payroll without this revenue. People who are new to this idea of living, thinking, speaking in public are grappling with how to handle it. This is an important discussion to them and to their publics and to the rest of us who can depend upon and be affected by what they decide. That’s why I spent the last full day reading, thinking, and writing about this on my blog and on many comments on others’. It’s not about being old-school. It’s about trying to see people figure out what the best of old-school and new-school can and should be.

  • Here’s my response to Scoble on his post, linked above:


    It has long been the case that radio people voiced commercials. I don’t like it. But the conventions make it clear in most cases that this is not an endorsement; it’s a read. When the copy makes it seem like a persona endorsement, I don’t like it; I do think it’s unfcomfortable albeit traditional.

    Note that TV people used to do the same thing. Go watch 60 Minutes guys telling you to smoke a cigarette, or live reads on Today. That ended. Why? Because it reduced the credibility of the journalists and hosts reading the ads. That was an improvement. Sadly, radio never caught up. Especially when radio ended up with one person in the studio — because it was suddenly less profitable thanks to TV and because technology allowed this — that person had to do everything.

    I have to say I think it’s a cheap shot to dismiss this entire discussion as link bait: cheap and unproductive. This is an important discussion. We need to establish whether we are at least as good as TV — let that notion sink in — or as bad as crappy local radio — let that sink in, too. We need to decide what our individual standards are and what our relationship with our publics must be.

    This is a complex discussion. So it does no good to dismiss it as if it were just a stunt. I didn’t spend all day Saturday researching and writing my book-length post to get links. I did it because I believe this is important and I hope we all think through the implications of our decisions.

    That, after all, is the real lesson of the Federated case, as acknowledged by everything from Malik to Battelle: They wish they’d had their standards in place and thought it through.

    So I wish you’d encourage this discussion rather than try to snuff it. I think your analogy to radio is very helpful and the further analogy to TV is also helpful. so I’m glad you contributed to the discussion. I hope more join in.

  • Go Jeff :)

    You’re bridging this divide better than anyone else and you’re taking your knocks for it (welcome to those of us who are told we ‘don’t get it’) – but you’re positively right – this conversation is *extremely* important.

    Looking at the techmeme discussion – it seems “The Cluetrain Manifesto” has been perverted to the max.

  • Jeff, I’ve spent the last couple days reading about the storm created by Microsoft’s campaign with FM. I’ve read Winer and OM, Battelle and Chas, Arrington and of course you…just to name a few. I’m just a reader, with no skin in this game with the exception of my attention. Here’s my thought and question.

    Jeff, I consider my relationship with you in a very different way than my relationship with, say, Tom Friedman. I’ve read Tom’s book, I occasionally read his editorials, but your RSS feed is on my homepage that I read everyday. I think that is an important distinction. I believe the relationship is unique and different. You are more like my well-informed neighbor rather than some New York Times journalist. If the relationship is different, so then, in my opinion, should be the rules separating church and state.

    I want companies to attempt to engage you in conversations about their products/services. I want you to be there, in the conversation with me, because yours is a voice I’m interested in as well. Keep it transparent, make sure the context is clearly identifiable as advertising, not content in your blog, and then let me process the conversation as I choose.

    You are not Tom Friedman and BuzzMachine is not the New York Times. But that is precisely why I read YOU everyday.

  • Sticking to principles. Maintaining integrity.

    Just think where the U.S. would be today if the Bush gang had tried that approach.

  • “I want companies to attempt to engage you in conversations about their products/services. I want you to be there, in the conversation with me, because yours is a voice I’m interested in as well.”

    Randy…thank your lucky stars your “well-informed neighbour” – the scrupulous Mr Jarvis – doesn’t surreptitiously push “products/services” that advertise on his blog. But if you really want your neighbours to start selling you stuff….don’t wait for the blogosphere – pop next door.

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  • Jeff,

    I followed this debate about so-called “conversational marketing” on a number of the relevant blogs before turning to yours, and I was ultimately not surprised to find how well you summed up the issues. The debate would be much more shallow without your consistent thoughtful contributions.

    What is most disappointing about the “people-ready” campaign is not that it happened; it’s understandable and important for online media to experiment with new ways of funding the conversation. The disappointment instead is with those bloggers for whom I have had great respect but who now show themselves to be defensive and intransigent, resorting to “old-school” name-calling or hiding behind the banner of “new media” as if the need for integrity somehow no longer exists — when in reality it is even more vital in this world of endless electronic chatter.

    But throughout this debate I have kept asking myself — what the hell is “conversational marketing?” I understand the premise — inserting marketing messages into what otherwise would appear to be an ordinary conversation — but how is this anything other than subversive?

    If you and I are having a conversation and without missing a beat you start talking up a paid promotion for — I don’t know, say Turtle Wax, or Microsoft — and you next ask me how my mother is doing, that’s just plain subversive. And it’s plain weird too.

    Similarly in a blog, where the premise is that we are reading and responding to the personal thoughts of the blogger, the insertion of a paid message that is not identified as such is nothing but deceitful and betrays the trust of the reader. The presentation elsewhere of comments the blogger was paid to make, without acknowledgement of payment, also misuses that trust.

    I don’t blame any of these bloggers for making a mistake and learning from it. I will keep reading them all. But I am disappointed in those who seem to be wearing this mistake as a badge of honor and dismissing the worthy views of those who want to foster a healthy and helpful debate about these issues.

    Trust and integrity are hard-won and very easily lost. Congratulations to you Jeff for remaining a voice we can absolutely trust. You understand how precious that is.


  • The currency of MSM is credibility “here are all the relevant facts”

    The currency of blogs is authenticity “this is what I believe”

    The integrity of MSM is very closely connected to credibility and has less to do with authenticity. Vice versa for blogs.

    IMHO when bloggers endorse products their integrity is compromised if they don’t believe in the product that they are helping promote. The issue of “disclosure” is secondary.

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