Posts about ona

Little big man

Michael Arrington loses it in the comments on his own blog, attacking his friend Dave Winer, Rafat Ali, and me. This all seems to spring from his odd, fetishistic hate of The New York Times.

The Times introduced a simple little feature allowing/encouraging readers to recommend stories on Digg, Facebook, and Newsvine. It’s not terribly new; Gothamist has a similar feature letting people add links to or Yahoo. I claim no credit for the feature but I do like it and I did suggest it a few months ago; I’m sure I was not alone. (Disclosures: I’ve been consulting for at the Times Company and The Times Company invested in Daylife, where I am a partner, and where Arrington and Winer also invested.)

A writer on Arrington’s TechCrunch reported the addition of the Times feature under a headline with curiously uncalled-for snarkiness: “New York Times Surrenders To Social News.” In the comments, many TechCrunch readers respectfully called them on the attitude. Winer did likewise. That awoke Arrington from his bear’s hibernation and he growled:

Dave, I’m wondering out loud if your support for the NYT stems primarily from their support for RSS and their occasional links to you. As an occasional (but always unlinked-to) source of breaking news to the NYT, our respect for them doesn’t go quite so far. They are in the middle of a war for their life, and they are doing just about everything wrong.

And then:

Sure. RSS is important. But the NYT is an ethically bankrupt institution. I have first hand evidence, being trashed by them at a conference (which was subsequently mischaracterized), but there are other examples, too:

You, Jarvis and Rafat Ali are sucking up to them to further your own agendas. I don’t think that’s a good idea in the long run. In the case of Jarvis and Ali, this loyalty has resulted in outright fabrications.

Fabrications? Them’s fighting words, big fella. But I have the DVD and plenty of reliable witnesses to Arrington’s meltown and effort to bully The New York Times, which ended with The Times demanding and getting a sheepish apology from him. As I said here, bullies always back down.

At Arrington’s site, Winer tried to get the discussion back to a civilized track:


I don’t think this deserves a response other than I doubt it’s true about Jarvis and Rafat, and I know it’s not true about me.

Back off dude, you’re in over your head.

But Dave failed. Arrington continued: “Wow. You are completely lost Dave.”

I would have said all this over at Arrington’s site, but he then cut off the comments, even though they hadn’t turned nasty — except from Arrington himself. Bullies can be wusses, too.

: See also Matthew Ingram’s post and Valleywag’s coverage of the latest Arrington meltown here and here. I’m glad Denton et al drew my attention to Arrington’s snitfit. I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. I stopped reading TechCrunch long ago. My loss, missing scoops like “Talkster Launches Presence-Based Service For The Enterprise” and “Jott to Convert Cell Phone Calls to Text” and “Add Text Bubbles To Videos” and “Wordie Is Like Flickr Without The Photos” and “Web App Provides Virtual Fitness Support.” Web 2.0 is so, well, 1.0.

ONA: A lesson in journalism

The last panel at Online News was supposed to be about new frontiers in technology and news. I was on it and for the first time talked publicy about Daylife, the soon-to-launch news company I’ve been involved with. I joined Mike Davidson of Newsvine (doing very interesting work in reputation systems), Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, and Adam Yamaguchi of Current.

But the event quickly turned into a circus — and, I hope, a journalism lesson — when Arrington launched attacks on news media, contending that journalists will be losing their jobs and that reporters are fools if they don’t quit and start blogs. He then tried to sucker-punch The New York Times, arguing that the only reason the paper could have written a favorable story about the startup Inform was if the reporter or editor had ties, financial or otherwise, with the firm. I challenged him immediately, saying that this is a grave charge and that he clearly had no facts to back it up; he said as much. I also made it clear that Inform is, in some ways, a competitor with Daylife and that Arrington is also an investor in Daylife. It didn’t stop him. He repeated this attack, among others, on The Times. It was most uncomfortable, even embarrassing. I couldn’t sit there letting his attacks go unchallenged (all the while needing to be transparent myself about my consulting relationship with NYTimesCo). But challenging him, I found myself descending into some two-bit TV shout show, which got me accused of joining in his blowhard game.

Now The Times is frequently the punching bag of convenience for people who want to complain about any generalized sin they see in the news business; this, apparently, is the price of publishing from the top of the heap. I’ve been at plenty of events like this when darts are thrown at The Times, and Timesmen, as a rule, sit stoically and don’t rise to the bait. But I am very glad that Jim Roberts, former national editor and now continuous news editor of The Times, rose to the microphone and called bullshit on Arrington, demanding an apology. As Staci Kramer reports at PaidContent, Arrington backed down immediately, as bullies do. He said he was just trying to be provocative. He admitted he had no facts and apologized.

The stinky-cheese irony of this is, of course, that even as he tried to cast aspersions on The Times, he only succeeded in shooting his own credibility — and with it, likely, the credibility of fellow bloggers — in the foot.

This comes at the end of a conference where I was delighted to see, as I wrote over the weekend, that the wars seemed to be over. I saw no print v. online, no amateur v. pro, no blogger v. journalist. I saw constructive, imaginative efforts to share success stories about 24/7, omnimedia, cooperative, imaginative journalism. But all it takes to ruin things is for one guy to pull out the mortars. The ballroom in D.C. suddenly looked like Lebanon.

Now there was a bit of personal irony in my role here. At last year’s conference, I moderated, if you can call it that, a similar panel and pushed the crowd to stop being so mopey and get to work graspking new opportunities for news and online newspapers. I was supposed to provoke and I did. Some liked it; some didn’t. This year, many noted after the panel, I was the conciliator. But not really. If I was trying to defend anything both times, it was the growth of journalism. I keep harping on the notion that anyone can commit an act of journalism, that we must embrace new partners in our enterprise, and so it is in all our interests to see journalism not only grow but improve. But what happened in this panel did little to improve things.

Arrington does, I think, care about journalism. He works hard for his scoops. All this comes the day after he broke the big scoop that Google was negotiating to buy YouTube and, as Steve Rubel points out, other media picked up the story and credited him for it. Of course, he wants to be right. Before the panel began, the two of us talked about how to handle one of his stories; it was a journalistic discussion. So at the panel, why did he then chose to show so little respect for facts? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just to be provocative, as he said, to entertain. But the entertainment comes at a price.

Part of the problem is that it’s just too fun to maintain the fight story; it’s unproductive and damaging, but it’s a weakness in journalism’s character. So we had Mark Cuban poking the media business one day and the would-be Cuban Jr., Arrington, lobbing bombs the next. At least Big Cuban is charming. When he was booked for the panel, there was no predicting that Arrington would go ballistic. Oh, some might stay we should have known; he blogs, after all. But truly, blogging itself brings no baggage; it’s only a tool. Just as print confers no authority, blogging confers no disrepute. The tool is as good as its craftsman.

In any case, far more valuable than any of these speakers, present company included, was a panel of teens brought in to tell us old media farts how they really interact with our products. Hint: They don’t watch live TV. This made me think that every newspaper and network and station should invite in a panel of young people to scare the bejesus out of the staff and then make them want to find new ways to do their jobs.

And far more valuable than continuing this old fight is finding ways to work together to expand and improve journalism. We can’t afford the fight anymore. And beside, the fight is old news. So give it up. Move on.

: Here is Arrington’s take on the session. He says it was a waste of a weekend.

I could have, and should have, sucked up to these people. Others at the conference were. They still command a lot of traffic and a link thrown our way is always helpful. But I didn’t do that. I never do that, and I’m told that its bad for my career. I made enemies this weekend. Most of those people will never look at TechCrunch without thinking about the things that I said, and judging me for those statements.

Will I do this again if invited? Yes. But I will make sure that I prepare my statements in light of the fact that mainstream media is not prepared to discuss their shortcomings. That’s the path that other new media representatives took at the conference, and is obviously the way to win the game. Tell them what they want to hear, even as they lie dying on the hospital bed.

He misses the point and, sadly, the lesson. I criticize these companies plenty and came back for another round and I now find them quite eager to discuss their shortcomings and figure out what to do about it. The problem wasn’t criticizing them. The problem was ignoring the facts.

Mike says in his comments that he and I agree abot much but say things differently. We do agree about much. But I think that in a crowd of journalists, the way to win is to commit better journalism than they do. That, I’d hoped, would be the lesson learned.

:’s Dwight Silverman reacts to Arrington:

Don’t be surprised if, when you start throwing bombs, your targets pick up the explosives and hurl them back at you. Arrington said things that have been said umpteen times at other conferences — most notably by Jarvis — but they were said more thoughtfully and with more respect for the immense job journalists have for navigating a major sea change in their industry.

Arrington in his post accused journalists of not having a thick skin. But it sounds like he’s the one who can’t handle it when his insults and contempt aren’t accepted with gratitude and graciousness.

By the way, the last person to suggest he’d “dissolve the company and return what’s left to the shareholders” [which was what Arrington said about the Times and Post] was Michael Dell, speaking disdainfully of Apple in October 1997. And we all know what happened there . . .

: Dave Winer says:

…nothing is accomplished by prolonging the animosity between bloggers and pros. There was a time when the bloggers wouldn’t throw any punches, I’m sorry that this time, apparently (I wasn’t there) it was a blogger that provoked a fight. We all can do better, that is inclusive of both pros and amateurs.

ONA: The definition of civil war in Iraq

Zeyad was interviewed on the stage at the Online News Association by USA Today’s Mark Memmott and the room was pin-drop-silent from start to end. I thought it was riveting and so did many others.

Zeyad told the story of the beginning of his blog and then about milestones in its life and the transformation of his thinking about the war — from the start of the war, when Zeyad was optimistic for Iraq; to the lack of media coverage of prodemocracy demonstrations in Baghdad in 2003; to the death of his cousin at the hands of American soldiers; to his current view of the war. When Zeyad pushed for and got an investigation into his cousin’s death (which found the Americans at fault), he said he saw a backlash among his readers. “They accused me of all kinds of things, particularly because I [had been] optimistic. I realized some people were supporting me just because I was saying things they wanted to hear.”

Memmott asked about the accusation that news media here are not covering enough good news in Iraq. “That what I thought in the beginning,” Zeyad said. “Over the last year, I think they are not covering how bad it is.” What are they missing? “Most of the coverage revolves around attacks on American forces and, of course, I understand that. But they are missing the sectarian violence going on around the country. And it’s also extremely difficult for Western media to get that story.” He praised a story in the Washington Post a week ago profiling a neighborhood and also praised some Times coverage. “But it’s not enough.” He said the TV coverage he has seen has been dreadful.

Zeyad explained that today, he gets most of his news from local message boards, “a great treasure trove. Sometimes, you have to sift through a lot of rubbish and propaganda…. But at the same time, you get some gems from these sites.” He explained that when he sees the same reports on opposing boards, he knows he has hit news. He suggested that media should be doing this themselves; he hasn’t seen evidence that they are.

He painted a terrifying picture of life in Baghdad, of “neighborhood shelling neighborhood.” In his Sunni area, “almost every night there is an exchange of mortar shells between neighbors and I haven’t seen that in any Western media. It goes on every night…. Sometimes, it’s just ordinary people from both neighborhoods. Trust is gone.” (Later, with Paul Brennan of the BBC, we sat in the hall and watched an Alive in Baghdad report about local patrols and Zeyad recognizes his own neighborhood.)

Asked whether this is civil war, he said: “I ask you back: How do you define a civil war? Does what I describe sound like a civil war — neighborhoods fighting each other? Yes, I think that’s a civil war.”

From the audience, he was asked whether he has feared for his life. “Yes, I was fearful for my life all the time and I had to weigh everything that I posted.”

Asked to quantify “how much of the story” Americans are getting — 80 percent or 20 percent, say — Zeyad said we are getting half the story. What’s missing? “The local story. I’m sure you get news about attacks — suicide car bombs — all the time, almost every day. And, of course, news about the government, which is really irrelevant. The government doesn’t control anything and doesn’t even control the Green Zone.” Coverage, he said, “should focus on the people and what’s going on on the street.”

Memmott ended asking whether Western media can do anything to help Iraqi bloggers. Zeyad replied: “They can help by publicizing the blogs… I don’t think they are getting the attention they should get. Right now they are a source of information complementing western coverage and they are a great source. They cover almost anything.” He points to the blog of an 18-year-old girl in Mosul, who writes about going through checkpoints to get to school. This isn’t just numbers, Zeyad says. “You get a great insight from these. It also puts a human face on the war. ”

: Here’s E&P’s report.

ONA: The death of Eeyore

This year’s Online News Association sounds very different from those I’ve attended in years past. When I went a few years ago, I heard a lot of resistance to change and blogs and all that damned stuff. Last year, I heard a lot of fear, moaning, and wailing and read Rafat Ali’s post about it on a panel. This year, I’m hearing a lot about new things that are succeeding on news sites and about the possibilities to do more; I’m hearing optimism and passion. I talked with the editor of a certain major paper (no, not that one), who said that the revolution is over; the newsroom is not resisting. But I’ve talked with other online folks who lament that the war is over, yes, but the print people won and though they talk a new game, they don’t get it as much as they think they get it. And I just spoke with an online pioneer who said we’ll know the revolution will be over when a major American newspaper is edited by an online guy (and, I’ll add, when it’s not a newspaper anymore but a norg). That will come in time, he said (read: evenetually). Yes, I asked, but will it come in time (read: before it’s too late)? I hear less resistance to, resentment of, and fear of change and that’s good. I hear excitement and imagination and that’s very good. The question remains: Are the changes big enough and fast enough?

How to make a newspaper talk

At Online News, Chet Rhodes of gives an inspirational talk about how he is turning the paper into video, training print reporters to take video (it takes 55 minutes, he says) and how it is working. Why do this? he asks. Because you have to. When we looked at video from a number of news sites in my CUNY class, the students liked’s video best because it was still somewhat raw, not overproduced. And that makes it easier for print people to learn how to shoot good video, I say, as the definition of good shifts away from the priests of the tools.

: Pankaj Paul of DelawareOnline tells about utterly reorganizing his paper’s newsroom to be platform agnostic. He said that a few years ago, only four people could post on the web but now 50 can and the number of web updates skyrocketed. They are a small paper and so they are not throwing staff at this; they are throwing simplicity at it: They are using iMovie and GarageBand to produce multimedia. He said that they have had four people leave because multimedia is not for them. I see that as a very good thing. Welcome to the future, newsroom. Says Paul: “There is no online department. It has ceased to exist. We are the online department. The newsroom is the online department.”