Posts about guardian

The public life

The Guardian asked me to write a column about the transparent life and my writing about my prostate cancer. Here it is:

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In the company of nudists, no one is naked and there is nowhere to hide. In this space and on my blog, I have been arguing that with the internet, we are entering an age of publicness when we need to live, do business and govern in the open. So I was left with little choice when I learned I had prostate cancer. I had to blog it.

So far, no regrets. Oh, one troll tweeted that in my blog post, I had merely used my cancer to plug my book (which, by the way, is entitled What Would Google Do?). But my Twitter friends beat him up on my behalf. I got emails pushing nutty cures on me – yes, there is cancer spam – but Gmail’s filters killed them for me. And I have had to be mindful not to bring my family into my glass house; my transparency shouldn’t necessarily be theirs.

But it has all been good. On my blog, on others’, in Twitter, and in email, I received an instant and lasting shower of good wishes and some good advice about my choice of surgery. My brothers in malignancy have shared their experiences with generous candour. I even inspired a few of them to blog their own stories. They joined me in urging men to have the PSA blood test that revealed my cancer.

After my blog post sharing the diagnosis was republished last week in the Guardian, I heard from Emma Halls, chairman of the UK Prostate Cancer Research Foundation, who said the disease affects almost as many men as breast cancer does women, but it gets less funding and little attention.

That stands to reason. We men don’t like talking about penises – certainly not when they malfunction. Discussing one’s incontinence and impotence post-surgery – both temporary, we hope – well, it doesn’t get much more transparent than that. It’s one matter for me to disclose my business relationships, politics, religion, and stock ownership on my blog’s “about” page; it’s another to do this.

So I think I’ve become about as transparent as a man can. I am living the public life. There are dangers here. I risk becoming merely a medical and emotional exhibitionist. And I know I have violated my own privacy to an extreme.

But I think we need to shift the discussion in this era of openness from the dangers to privacy to the benefits of publicness. It’s not privacy that concerns me, but control. I must have the right and means to keep my disease secret if I choose.

By revealing my cancer, I realise benefits, and so can society: if one man’s story motivates just one more who has the disease to get tested and discover it, then it is worth the price of embarrassment. If many people who have a condition can now share information about their lifestyles and experience, then perhaps the sum of their data can add up to new medical knowledge. I predict a day when to keep such information private will be seen by society as being selfish.

Collectively, we will use the internet’s ability to gather, share and analyse what we know to build greater value than we could on our own. That is the principle of transparency that I want companies and governments to heed: that openness in their information and actions must become their default, that holding secrets only breeds mistrust and robs them and us of the value that comes from sharing.

I believe this openness at the source will become a critical element in a new, linked ecosystem of news, as institutions and individuals will be expected to provide maximal information on the web. Such open intelligence also allows an unlimited number of watchdogs on those in power, helping to bring about a new, collaborative – and ultimately, I hope, more effective and efficient – system of journalism.

So for me, transparency is a necessary ethic of the age. That is why I used my medium, my blog, to share my prostate cancer. If I believe in the value of publicness, how could I not?

Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts

I have two podcasts to plug this week:

* The latest Guardian Media Talk USA podcast is up. David Folkenflik, NPR correspondent, and John Temple, ex editor of the Rocky Mountain News and now a damned fine media blogger, and I talk about the AP, the TechCrunch/Twitter affair, and news as charity. I also interview Josh Cohen, product manager of Google News.

* Leo Laporte, Gina Trapani, and I recorded the inaugural edition of This Week in Google (TWiG). You can watch it in video here and listen to the podcast here. We discuss all kinds of things: Apple (AT&T) blocking Google Voice; the importance of Google Wave and the live web; the AP (again); Gmail getting rid of that damned “on behalf of”; Microsoft Office (finally) going into the cloud. Great fun.

I wish I could embed both of them here (hint, hint) but go take a listen and please subscribe.

Guardian column: Charity v. collaboration

My Guardian column this week expands on an idea I discussed here, about viewing charity to news organizations as collaboration in the news ecosystem. The kicker: “Charity is likely to be a contributor to the future of news. So will volunteer labour in the form of bloggers and crowdsourcing. But we still need a business model for news. News still needs to be profitable to survive. It’s not a church.”

Government by the people

In the midst of the UK’s MP expenses scandal – and as Gordon Brown’s government teeters, with nudges over the edge from The Guardian itself – the paper asked its columnists and then its readers to reform, even reinvent government. The results are in and are fascinating.

Tom Clark’s writeup in today’s paper service is quick to point out that this is a survey of Guardian readers with their baggage in their left hands. But that makes it even more surprising that, for example, 70% say they do not support demographic quotas as a means to configure Parliament. They want to change voting and the structure of Parliament and they want a constitution. May I recommend a First Amendment?

What’s exciting about this is that it turns the usual discourse around, shifting from complaining about government to doing something about it, taking responsibility. After the destructive comes the constructive.

: Speaking of…. See also Kevin Anderson’s report from the Deutsche Welle conference on the need for journalists to focus more on solutions than problems. More here.

: And see Lloyd Shepard’s tweet: “sheesh. when voting is a process of elimination, you know democracy’s in trouble. this is how people end up supporting arsenal”

No gadget savior

My Guardian column this week reports on my weeks’ experiment of reading The New York Times and Wall Street Journal only on my Kindle. I’m still reading The Times that way, though I think I prefer the iPhone for that and will likely switch. When the Journal raised its price from $9.99 to $14.99, I canceled. Snippet:

…The reader works wonderfully for books. But it also tries to turn a newspaper into a book, starting us on the first page of the first story and nudging us through its awkward user interface to proceed a page-turn at a time through the entire product, as we used to on paper. The digital among us, however, no longer read news in this way. Online, we search and link and flit and explore. We are in control of the experience, not some editor somewhere.

Online, news has been freed from its packaging. Indeed, that is a key architectural underpinning of the web itself: content is separated from presentation. The same text and media can be fed into a web page, or into an iPhone app or an RSS feed. Substance parts company with style. . . .

We care less about the form of news and more about the information it imparts. That is the key strategic problem for editors and publishers hoping to charge us online: once news is known, it is knowledge that can be spread through conversation, which means it can no longer be controlled behind a pay wall. News is spread in the speed of a tweet. The half-life of a scoop’s value is lessened but the value of links grows. . . .

But in news, neither the device nor the form matters nearly as much as the information and its timing. This requires that publishers unleash their news on every device possible. But no single gadget will be their saviour. None will bring back the good old days – if they were that – of news and the world delivered in neat little packages we paid for.