What are the objections that are constantly thrown in your face when you try to talk about new opportunities on the internet?

I’m thinking of writing my Guardian column this week responding to some because I’m tired of having to answer the same complaints over and over. I sometimes despair at being able to advance the discussion about the opportunities of the connected age, as someone in the room will inevitably say: “Yes, but there are inaccuracies on the internet.” Or: “Most people watch junk.” Or: “There are no standards.”

It happened last night as I gave my first presentation based on my book to a group of scary smart foundation grantees doing great work in areas from housing to science to women’s health to taxation. I was asked to speculate on what Googley charities would be like and we discussed themes including transparency and openness, acting as a platform and network, and new roles in a linked ecology of news and information. I’ll grant that their circumstances are different from those of companies and other institutions because they deal in often controversial and sometimes sensitive areas and their goal is often to influence not the population but policymakers (though I’m still enough of a cockeyed democrat to hope the population is who should influence the policymakers). Halfway through, those same old objections arose. I take it as personal failure that I’m sometimes not able to keep the discussion headed toward the future and find us spinning wheels in the present or, worse, sliding backwards.


And then I got email for a panel discussion at NYU on Oct. 21 called Crossing the Line, which asks these questions: “Are there any ethics on the web?” “Should bloggers be held to journalistic standards?” “Who makes the rules — the media, the courts or YOU?”


The implied answers, of course: The web has no ethics… Bloggers have no standards…. The wrong people are making the rules (if there are any).

To hash over these weightless questions they have nothing but the products of big, old media: David Carr of the NY Times, Liz Smith of the NY Post, Jim Kelley of Time, Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, and Sherrese Smith, counsel for WPNI.

Mind you, just across campus, NYU has at least two of the country’s greatest thinkers on the internet and its implications for society, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky. But they’re not on that panel. New York is thick with great practitioners of new ways on the internet, but they’re not there.

Same old questions/objections/complaints/fears. Where is the talk of new opportunities in our new reality?

So please share the questions/complaints you hear all the time and how you answer them. Then instead of repeating ourselves in the future, we can just hand the curmudgeons and worriers a link.

: LATER: Here are the complaints I’m working with now.

* There’s junk on the internet.
* Most people watch junk.
* Anyone can say anything on the internet.
* There are inaccuracies on the internet.
* Wikipedia has mistakes.
* We need a seal of approval for internet content.
* Bloggers aren’t journalists.
* The internet has no ethics.

Any others you hear?

I’m writing my responses in the column.

  • complaint: the internet/blogs will never reach quality-standards like newspapers.

    answer: start reading your local newspaper.

  • “Sigh…” is right.
    As you well know, the media unfortunately loves “bad” stories more than “good” ones.
    In my space (teaching entrepreneurs how to build online businesses and teaching web site owners how to market better online), the question/complaint that still repeatedly stops me cold is “But it’s not safe to use credit cards on the Internet, is it?”.
    Mass media’s continued focus on the “risks” of doing business online does a disservice to everyone, including those who are still off-line!

  • Gerard Barberi

    I try to remind them that those qualities they value in mainstream media (ethics, accuracy, trustworthiness, etc.) are not inherent to the media itself. We can bring those things to the Internet as well. It’s not impossible.

  • Austin

    But Jeff, the web doesn’t have any ethics and bloggers don’t have any standards. Luckily, on the others side of things, the wrong people are not making the rules because there are none! That’s what these people fear.

    As you and Google have been pointing out over the years the value is not in having rules or attempting to codify standards – it’s in building credibility through links. It’s gaining a reputation or authority, not because someone grants it to you or because you’ve graduated from an accredited institution, it’s because you’ve earned it by putting out your product and having others turn to you for information or whatever you’re providing beacuse you’re the best.

    The web is a wilderness that “product producers” have to survive in due to quality of their output and recognition of same rather than their control of the means of distribution (as you constantly point out).

    Don’t sigh Jeff. Tell ’em the way it is!

  • How about this one: “We shouldn’t give our [content|data|product|service] away on the Internet because all the Internet does is destroy its value. We can’t make as much money on it there because we don’t control the distribution.”

  • Oh, sorry, forgot to say how I respond to that one:

    As a business leader, I’d rather have unlimited, uncontrolled interaction around my offerings than limited-and-shrinking, but controlled, distribution of them.

  • When I get that kind of stuff, I try a couple of responses.

    * If it seems a reasonable, sincere question, I’ll answer it directly.
    * If it is of the more-of-the-same-ignorant-stuff, I’ll suggest that what they are stipulating is true in some cases, but not all or even most. And then try to move on.
    * If they insist or others pile on, I’ll stop the discussion by saying, yes, well, how can we use your concerns to our advantage? For instance, if you think bloggers are just throwing out uninformed opinion, wouldn’t you challenge them in the comments area?

    Most of the time, I suggest to them that the people they should care most about are the reasonable ones, the ones who are seeking information, trying out ideas, experimenting. Those are the ones they want as their readers and commenters. The inaccurate, the bloviators, the trolls, well, in the end, who cares? Reasonable people will identify them for what they are.

    Of course, I’ve also been called naive.

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  • I was experiencing the same frustration last February when I posted this.

  • “News are to important to be handled by other than media and journalists.”
    “Blogs are a waste of time to read, because they only spread garbage.”
    “Conversation is overrated. People have nothing clever to say.”
    “The internet is only good at one thing – destroying business models.”
    “There is no need to listen. We (the media) know best anyway.”
    “New media is for hippies only.”

    …and this is just the start.

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  • My personal favorite just when people use the term “the blogs” as though all bloggers are in cahoots.

    As a journalism professor, the approach I take with my intro-level students is to just try to get them to grasp from the beginning that journalism is a method (of verifying and transparently presenting information) and NOT a medium. A blog can be journalism; it can also be something else. (That something else is not inherently bad, it’s just different.)

    Obviously, there are also many unique aspects of the blogging medium that can enhance, rather than detract, from their journalistic value, e.g. linking, conversation, etc. and we talk about that too. But my students start out reading Elements of Journalism by Kovach and Rosenstiel to understand what journalism IS – something that is not tied to a certain medium or organization and not limited only to certain people.

    This seems, I hope, to be fairly effective. The next generation gets it. Lets just hope we can get them gainful employment doing important work.

  • Bascially it’s too early to be sure about any of this, everything has it’s place but the main problem is the internet is like a fancy dress party, you can be anything.

    It’s nearly impossible to verify much of what’s out there….oversight is a problem, no matter what people say. Do you believe everything you read, no, believe nothing, then ask yourself why bother reading at all, or read everything and make up your own mind – but again what’s the point – there is so much out there you could spend all your life reading and not living.

    So what to do?

    How about some benchmarks to start with – like foundations of a house, otherwise it’s all static and nothing means anything…

    These could be existing outlets (old news hubs or online diaries / thought dumps) – but few of them are independent, PR gets in the way, as does paying the bills….

    It’s cheap to say eyeballs through advertising are white bread – somebody needs to start the process and open their pocketbooks…

    Why should news be free when the people gathering it put themselves at risk, when everything else has a fixed price?

    Pay for quality or expect gibberish and implode

  • Rod

    “we’ll get sued” is fairly common round my neck of the woods

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  • Complaint: Advertisers just aren’t ready to spend $ on UGC sites.

    Answer: Is that a direct quote from the Advertising GOD himself, or another assumption you’ve made without asking?

  • It’s a challenge to change opinions. Almost everyone has an opinion – making it difficult to change ideas.

    There is also signs of progress. We’ve been working with 50 local newspapers. Rather than fighting blogs, they understand the need to harvest that energy. Rather than the paper as an end destination, they see the possibility that the paper is a hub for conversations.

    However, during the period of change, arguments can be circular – as old ideas intermix with the new – often with conflicting ideas in the same breath. Patience, time – the basics are clear. Old dogs do change. So do boomers.


  • RE: your foundation presentation.

    In the light of day the next day, it seemed that level heads prevailed. People were definitely energized by your talk and referenced it extensively on Wednesday. “Googley” was repeated throughout the day, so if nothing else you’ve introduced that into the lexicon.

    I don’t think it was a failure on your part. I think the key is that, indeed, these folks are crazy smart–but they also are hesitant to buy in. That’s why they’re in the nonprofit sector, and not flying seat-of-your-pants at a startup. They need to shift their thinking more towards the startup frame of mind, but almost by design that world moves slowly. They take the long view, after all.

    By the way, it was too bad that you had to miss the ACLU presentation. They got it. Better than most journalists even.


  • Guy Love

    When I hear that type of comment I usually view it as “Hey, the average news consumer is to stupid to figure this stuff out and needs us to tell him good information from bad information.”

    The internet is a high speed information filter that ferrets out incorrect information in a very efficient manner. Within a 24 hour news cycle, most rumours and innuedo are shot down by someone with a vested interest in getting the story right. That is far more efficient than the traditional media distribution channels which have historically been very poor at correcting erroneous information (i.e. front page incorrect story, back page retraction a week later). What really bugs them is that this filtering process is occuring at the end point of the news consumer which removes the need for the upstream gatekeeper. This makes them realize that their traditional role as news gatekeeper is ancient history. Hopefully, they will eventually overcome their fears and get with the new way of doing things.

  • Sighing over the questions and calling them “weightless” doesn’t answer them. Maybe they keep getting asked because the pat answers people give (on either side) aren’t good enough and some people are hungering for deeper analysis.

    For example, asking the question “Are there any ethics on the web?” does not imply the questioner is assuming “the web has no ethics,” just as I assume your response is not simply “the web has ethics.” (And the other common response, which I’ve heard Shirky give — that the web has the best and the worst — doesn’t cut it either.)

    I get your point in the first part of the post and agree with you — it’s a disservice to you as a speaker when people don’t hear you because they can’t think past simple/closed-minded objections. My problem is with you dismissing the NYU panel for the same reasons. I don’t know anything about those speakers’ qualifications, but on the face of it the panel sounds worthwhile.

  • I also hear all the complaints/concerns that you have listed. However, we are the generation that is seeing the development of the internet. It has its strengths, weakness and vulnerabilities. I agree with you that the internet is full of opportunities and it is for us to identify and utilize them. It will be very many years before we saturate this medium. I am working on it, just as you are. Best of luck!

  • Andy Freeman

    The answer to most of those questions is “How many of your readers think that you are significantly different? How many of the readers that you lost think that you are not significantly different?” However, it’s fair to point out that the net has far more actual experts writing copy than MSM. When given a choice of reading quotes from an expert selected by a “journalist” or reading experts themselves, some that the journalist didn’t talk to, which should I choose?

    I especially like the “seal of approval”. Everything on the web has a seal of approval, just like everything in MSM. The only difference is whose seal it is.

  • “We shouldn’t give our [content|data|product|service] away on the Internet because all the Internet does is destroy its value. We can’t make as much money on it there because we don’t control the distribution.”

    They won’t make as much money out there. The revenue stream will be hammered. That is a fact. Absolutely incontrovertible. They still need to move online, because their customers are moving online. 9 out of 10 businesses are unsuccessful in making the transition.

    No wonder they make up the lies Jeff is sighing about.

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  • Thank you, Jeff. I was one of the people who attended the symposium you talked about in this blog post.

    Since implementing a fraction of what you outlined, we can report that our google analytics report has improved dramatically. You said increase the conversation(s) beyond yourself and link to other conversations and we’re doing it! Instead of just providing posts from guest bloggers, we are now providing the very latest posts and now people are taking an interest. Actually, whole organizations are taking an interest — linking to our blog at now for the latest information on the bailout bill and more, for example. We are now an online community full of conversations (we could still use more people commenting of course… ) and linking to other conversations. We have a long way to go, but we’re on the right track now!! Thanks again!