Posts from October 2009

Why I’m voting for Chris Daggett

Actually, I already voted for Chris Daggett. Sent in my absentee ballot the other day.

To my New Jersey friends, I urge you to take the pledge, vote for Daggett, and declare independence from the corrupt and incompetent party politics of this state.

I’m a life-long Democrat but this time, in the race for governor of New Jersey, I’m voting independent.

It’s as if I got three votes in one:

daggettbadgeI’m voting for Daggett because I am confident he is the best candidate for the office. Daggett happens to be a neighbor of mine and I’ve gotten to know him better as I’ve helped the campaign in very small ways in recent days, shooting Flip videos and sitting in on strategy sessions. This is the first time I’ve ever done that; as a professional journalist I bought the doctrines of separation and objectivity and so actual involvement in my community was verboten. But online, I’ve been preaching the new gospel of transparency and interaction and after telling you that I voted for Clinton and then Obama, I’m now telling you that I’m voting for and actively supporting Daggett (I also contributed to the campaign).

Daggett is the one candidate making the tough decisions about the budget and taxation. He has a plan to reduce property taxes while also holding down local spending, which will force municipalities to find new efficiencies through collaboration. He holds a doctorate in education and I trust him to work to improve the schools. Daggett is an experienced manager and a good man. So he has my vote.

At the same time, I’m also voting against the two parties – and there are my other two ballots. Chris Christie is aggressively unimpressive and, worse, a cynic who tried to foist a platform without a plan on the state; I wouldn’t trust him any more than the worst Jersey pol – and that’s saying a lot in this place. John Corzine is a smart and decent man and has made tough decisions, I think, but he has not proven to be a good manager (I wish he’d stayed in the Senate). But as the Star-Ledger said in its endorsement of Daggett, it is time to repudiate the parties. They deserve it. We deserve better.

Daggett has had incredible momentum in the polls, passing the 20 percent mark more than a week ago while both of his opponents fall into a dead heat. All Daggett needs to win is 33.1 percent. But his biggest challenge is that people who want to vote for him fear that he can’t win or that they’ll be helping the person they don’t want get into office. Daggett’s answer: “It’s never wrong to vote for the right person.” He really can win.


Editor as star

Kai Diekmann, the head of Bild, the gigantic German newspaper, is a journalistic celebrity of a sort we don’t have here: utterly charming, lustily egotistical, brashly opinionated, infuriating to those he infuriates (a friend of mine calls him Germany’s Roger Ailes), beloved to his fans, witty, quick, clever, innovative, and never afraid of the spotlight.

Now he has a blog. And a store. I’d heard about his blog for sometime but it wasn’t seen outside the walls of his office. Now it has gone public. He says he’ll do it for 100 days. I predict he’ll be addicted.

There’s a 360-degree tour of his office, starring him. Click on his possessions and learn more – about, for example, a piece of the Berlin Wall signed by Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and George Bush (41). He has a bio and lots of photos. Diekmann interviews himself (Why are you writing a blog, he asks. “I’m just incurably vain,” he answers). He posts video he shoots himself – “ich bin Videoblogger-in-Chief für” – including one in Baghdad and another of him getting a shot. He brags about the commercials for Bild made by Bild’s readers, who understand its brand well. He links gleefully to an interview with a competitive publisher and scion of a German publishing family (founders of Der Spiegel) who says the esteemed Süddeutsche Zeitung won’t be around on paper in 20 years – but Bild will. He tweaks the liberal competition, the taz. On his “fan club” page, he shows his critics (and I thought I was brave exposing underendowment). In his store, he sells books (starting with his own) and hoodies, buttons, totebags, and mugs with his own mug (as Che Diekmann) and Bild branding as “the red-hot chili paper.”


The guy has balls. And he’s getting attention, which surely is the goal.

I can’t imagine Bill Keller or Marcus Brauchlidoing this, can you? Not even Alan Rusbridger or Will Lewis. Not even the editor of the New York Post (who’s he?). Piers Morgan is the closest thing I can imagine to Kai in the anglophone world, but he had to leave editing to become a star. In Germany, Kai is a brand. In the staid world of anglophone journalism, that’ll probably be sniffed at. But on the social web, I see little choice but to be open and human and even – gasp – have a sense of humor.

I have some personal history here to disclose. See my own story about introducing Diekmann to the Flip video camera here. I later went to speak to editors and executives of Bild’s parent company, Axel Springer, at their retreat in Italy. There, Diekmann was constantly recording every event with his own version of the Flip camera, to his colleagues’ grudging acquiescence. Does he do this all the time? I asked. Yes, they moaned. Sorry, I said. At that meeting, I pushed them all to blog and I’m not suggesting that has anything to do with Diekmann’s effort. But I’m glad to see lots of blogs emerging from Axel Springer. On a very different level, see the blog by the editor of Die Welt. The form knows no limits.

Diekmann took the Flip and surprised me by not just equipping his journalists – other editors’ reflex – but instead equipping his readers. He took interactivity and didn’t just allow readers to comment on what his paper does – as other editors do – but instead had them define his brand. He now has taken the blog and surprised me again, making a comment on the form and his paper and his industry and himself. And it’s fun to watch.

: Later: I left a comment on Diekmann’s blog and in no time, I got email from him. He’s reading what his public is writing.

Howard Stern 3.0: The future of entertainment

We just got a glimpse of Howard Stern’s next life, I think. I was running errands today listening to a repeat of the show from this week when I heard Stern talk with a caller about what he could do on the internet. Thanks to my handy Sirius Satellite radio, I was able to – Tivo-like – back and up repeat what he’d just said and I wrote it down:

Tomorrow I could go on the internet and start my own channel with my own subscribers. You’d be able to click and watch us on TV, watch us in the studio live, streaming. You’d be able to listen to us streaming. You’d be able to get us on your iPhone. You’d be able to do everything right at the click of the internet. I wouldn’t even need to work for a company. I’d be my own company… So true it’s ridiculous.

Sounds like more than idle admiration of technology to me. Stern has a year left on his contract on satellite. He’s so valuable to Sirius, they surely will make him an offer it would be hard to refuse. But I suspect that much of his last reported $500 million contract came in stock and that stock is now worth $0.59 (I know all too well, because I own some), so continuing with satellite would still be a gamble. Besides, he has plenty of money and no divorce settlement to pay off (or so it would certainly appear). This week, he was lambasting Rush Limbaugh for ripping off his listeners selling them T-shirt; in response to a question from Gary Dell’Abate, Stern said even an extra $1 million wasn’t worth that. Could he be rationalizing a cut in pay?

On the internet, Stern would get the complete freedom he has long lusted after. He would share his revenue and value with no one but his staff. Now that we can listen to radio over the internet – on our internet-enabled phones – we can listen to him anywhere (is this why he has refused to allow Sirius to put him on the iPhone? I’m still unhappy about that). He would have direct relationships with his fans. He could charge them (and, yes, I would pay for it; he’s why I subscribe to satellite now … see, I am not a pay bigot). He could sell advertising in new ways. Fans could get him anywhere, anytime. If he’s smart – and he is – he could open up enough tidbits to go viral, letting his audience market him for free.

I wrote about Stern as a pioneer in my book. He rethought radio networks and built his own. He brought satellite radio to critical mass. But satellite radio was always a transitional technology, waiting for ubiquitous connectivity that would enable on-demand programming anywhere. (I tried to warn Sirius’ president, Mel Karmazin, here.) Now our phones can give us radio and soon Stern will be ready for them; they will make him portable.

There’s a larger trend at work here: Entertainers (radio, music, comedy, books, columnists, even filmmakers) will have direct relationships with their audiences. Like Stern, they won’t have to work for companies or go through them for distribution. That’s already happening, of course, on the web for creation, distribution, and monetization. That idea is even extending to funding. Look at Kickstarter – a Spot.US for creativity – where your most loyal fans who most want you to make something can fund or invest in it, maybe for nothing more than the privilege of helping you (this is the Wikipedia ethic). It returns to the age of patronage, only now the kings don’t fund the artists, the public does and less money is wasted on middlemen.

Maybe this is all wishful thinking. I’ve been dreading Stern’s retirement (but I think so is he). So I’m hoping that he makes the leap to the next generation and that others will follow his example. Am I reading too much into his conjecture about the internet? If I am, I’ll bet Karmazin is, too.

: Tim Windsor adds in the comments: “Sounds like Howard needs to make a pilgrimage to Leo Laporte’s TWiT Cottage to see how this can be done professionally for surprisingly little money.”

Right. Leo shows it all: how to do live video with chat and also distribute across many platforms.

Small c: Stats and odds

My prostate cancer was caught with multiple PSA tests that weren’t out of the normal range but that were rising fast. That led to a biopsy, which found cancer in 1 of 12 samples, meaning it apparently was caught early. That led to surgery, which confirmed my malignancy but also that it was contained to the prostate.

I say, thank god science for screening. Those tests gave me information I needed to make a choice. Without the information, I wouldn’t have had the choice.

But there is a growing rumble about curtailing screening, especially for the erogenous-zone cancers of the breast and the prostate. See today’s New York Times report on the debate about the efficacy of screening to save lives.

Note that plural: lives, not a life. This isn’t about me and my cancer. This is about statistics and money. The question they’re asking: Is it worth it to find these cancers and cut them out at considerable cost if we’re not sure those cancers would have killed all those people who had surgery? But who’s to say what’s worth it?

What if I’m the one in a hundred who would die without the screening and surgery? Only one way to find out: keep the cancer in me and wait. Indeed, I had that choice — “watchful waiting,” it’s called. But without the screening, I wouldn’t have had the information to know that was cancer was in me until it spread — until it was too late. I wouldn’t have known I had a choice.

As The Times points out, part of the problem here is that researchers don’t know whether some prostate tumors are more certainly deadly than others and I’ll agree that more research is inevitably a good thing.

But this discussion is really about playing the odds with my life – and who gets to roll those dice. I want to be the one who makes this bet. I want to have the information to make it. But implicit in this debate is the idea that insurance companies want to make the bet and they want to do it for everyone at once: “Let’s curtail the screening and see what happens. OK, so one more person in a hundred dies, but we also saved huge money.” Worth it? Not if you’re that one in a hundred. Not if that one is me.

I am 55 years old and in good health with a wife and two children. Faced with the choice of not knowing whether I had cancer, I chose screening. Then faced with the choice of leaving cancer inside me because it might not kill me (that is, something else could kill me sooner than this slow-growing tumor), I chose – my wife and I chose – to get it out. In my grandfather’s case, no other disease or accident got him first; his prostate cancer killed him.

My insurance company will probably pay $25k for my surgery to take out my cancer. I am now facing some inconveniences. Worth it? I’d say it is. Will the insurance company think it’s worth it? Don’t know. Don’t care. I don’t want them making that decision. I will make it. That is the point of having control of information about my health: my information about my life. That is the point of screening.

If this were a purely economic decision, then some would die. Imagine you’re Frank Purdue and you can spend $100,000 to save a few chickens worth $100 on the market; you won’t do it. But we’re not chickens. At some level, it’s always an economic decision, I know. That is why I support government involvement in health care. Yes, I’m a free marketeer when it comes to other industries, especially the press (because I’m also a First Amendment adherent). And yes, even when government is involved, it can decide not to spend money for expensive treatments or old people (the stories we keep hearing about the U.K.) – but at least then we hold political pressure over the government. Chickens don’t vote. Patients do.

As a matter of statistics and odds, I know screening results in treatment that adds to costs. But it also saves lives – no matter whether we know precisely how many. I believe screening saved my life and I chose not to have been proven right by waiting.

So get your screenings, folks, get ’em while they last. I’m due for another damned colonoscopy (which I’ll get after my rump feels repaired from the damage of my last surgery) and I’ll get it because they found a polyp in me (benign) last time; I won’t take the risk. You should get your PSA tested, men, and your mammograms, women. And then you can make informed decisions – informed by data and your doctors. It’s the information that gives you the choice. That information is yours.

: MORE: This discussion also leads to the work Doc Searls has been doing with vendor relationship management and personal health records. We not only need the information, we need it in a form that is usable, and we need control of it — because it is, again, our information about our lives.

: Later: Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report (and a friend and fellow prostate guy) reports on TV’s reports on the story.

Giving up on the news business

Before reaching their dangerous conclusionrecommending government supported journalism in a report called the Reconstruction of American Journalism – former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie and Columbia journalism prof Michael Schudson make some basic and, I believe, profoundly mistaken assumptions, namely: “That journalism is now at risk, along with the advertising-supported economic foundations of newspapers.”

Just because newspapers put themselves at risk, it does not follow that journalism is at risk. Newspapers no longer own journalism. As too often happens in this discussion, they focus only on the revenue side of the business ledger of news – advertising falling from monopolistic heights – and not on the cost side and the efficiency new technology – and thus collaboration – that technology allows.

As Downie and Schudson themselves point out in their Washington Post op-ed, there is now a flourishing of new outlets and means of gathering and sharing news.

Journalists leaving newspapers have started online local news sites in many cities and towns. Others have started nonprofit local investigative reporting projects and community news services at nearby universities, as well as national and statewide nonprofit investigative reporting organizations. Still others are working with local residents to produce neighborhood news blogs. Newspapers themselves are collaborating with other news media, including some of the startups and bloggers, to supplement their smaller reporting staffs. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers but also freelancers, university faculty and students, bloggers and citizens armed with smart phones….

That is a basis for a new ecosystem of journalism, one we begin to outline in our Knight Foundation-funded New Business Models for News Project. We believe there is a sustainable and profitable future for news and they only way to confirm that is to try to build it but that will not happen if we declare surrender and defeat in the hope that the market can support the news a community needs.

Downie and Schudson give up on news as a business and, in their consequent desperation, make this drastic proposal:

American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting — as society has, at much greater expense, for public education, health care, scientific advancement and cultural preservation, through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy.

Collective responsibility. Socialized journalism. This is the ultimate in broccoli journalism: You are not only forced to read what journalists say is good for you but you are now forced to pay for it through taxation.

They make other suggestions with which I have no complaint: Journalism students should report not just for their professors but for the ecosystem and we see that beginning. If philanthropists want to do more to support news, I’m not going to burn their checks – but they are no white knights riding in to save the day. Public broadcasting can do more local reporting and we see movement in that direction from especially NPR and also public TV – though I would be loath to think that we should have government mandate of that. And we want more transparency; I belong to that religion.

All this comes from that dire assumption that journalism is dying with newspapers. That is not and certainly need not be the case. I disagree with Downie and Schudson’s key assumption: There is no crisis. When you start there, you don’t just reconstruct the past of journalism but see the possibilities to build a new journalism.

: Even The New York Times’ David Carr is somewhat incredulous.

: Mulling over the full report on my train ride in this morning, I realized that my problem with it is this: Downie and Schudson are addressing the business problem of news without doing reporting on the business.

The report is a cogent, comprehensive, well-documented summary of broadly held conventional thinking on the history and current state of journalism in America, but it is all stated from the journalistic perspective – no surprise coming from two distinguished journalists.

If this were handed in to me as a term paper in my class, I’d give it back for more reporting and rethinking. I’d tell the students that they made huge assumptions about the business state of journalism – both on the revenue and cost sides of the P&L – without giving me reporting on that. I’d advise them to look at the true cost of the accountability journalism they cherish, at the inefficiency of the business today as it produces commodity news, at whether there is sufficient advertising revenue to cover the journalism that matters once news organizations rid themselves of their inefficiency, at verifying the public demand for the kind of journalism they think the public needs, and at the issues journalism has had with trust and quality. Then, if they still came to the same conclusions – which I doubt – I’d urge them to get more balanced reporting on the risks behind each of their recommendations, particularly involving government subsidies, direct funding, and mandates on journalism. I think they did half the story, the half we’ve already heard (and which they quite ably summarize again). They should have given us the business story since that is what they really wanted to address. I wish they had.

: Alan Mutter’s good commentary.