Posts about Weblogs


I commend to you Eric Alterman’s New Yorker piece on the state of newspapers. It’s a very good casting of the state of newspapers as a business, a technology, and a player in society. It’s also the beginning of a discussion about the resurrected debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey almost a century ago over the proper role of the press, objectivity, viewpoint, and discussion in a democracy. The piece doesn’t advance that discussion greatly but I wouldn’t expect it to, given the venue. What it does, instead, is advance The New Yorker’s view of media and the world well past that presented there by Nick Lemann (here was my response to Lemann at the time). Alterman’s is, I believe, a superior piece of magazine scholarship and I hope and presume it’s the start of a new book — with an extended conversation about the role of conversation first.

In the piece, Alterman also reports that the Huffington Post sees itself as the new newspaper. I wonder why that would be their ambition. I don’t mean that as a crack about newspapers or an obit. Instead, I think we need to redefine the players in the press sphere and their roles based on new realities. (I’m working on a post about that; have to make some drawings to illustrate it first.)

Related: See David Carr’s funeral dirge for newspapers from yesterday’s Times.

(Disclosure: Alterman — with whom I’ve had my share of blog sparring — is a CUNY colleague.)

My blog is my network

Flixwagon, one of the companies offering the ability to broadcast live on the internet from your mobile phone, has added the feature I’ve been wanting: a widget-player you can put on your blog or web site so people there can catch your live broadcasts. Now, you have to put up a link to sites like Flixwagon’s and Qik’s and embed your video in your blog after it’s over.

Between this and Twitter, it begins to turn blogs live. Of course, we often live-blog events. But now we can also have a live flow of text and video from anywhere, anytime.

I’ve written about the challenges and opportunities live broadcast from anywhere brings to news. It’s also interesting to see the impact this will have on blogs. I can’t watch 10 bloggers at once. How can I know who’s live doing what where right now? It’s another need for live search — or call it live discovery. It makes me think I want an alert service — but then, the last thing I want is a bunch of those irritating tweets that tell me that so-and-so (you know who you are) is broadcasting live. I want context: the live TV Guide. But that’s hard, too: As I’m broadcasting, how can I tell you what I’m broadcasting? If someone else watches and alerts others to the fact that I actually have something interesting to say, then that’s necessarily syncopated; it’s not live.

All that aside, I’m glad to see Flixwagon’s widget and I look forward to seeing how YouTube handles live.

Cause and effect in a two-dimensional world

I got an email from someone writing about the suicide of an adman and those who say that nasty blog comments about him had a role in it. The question to me was the ethical responsibility of bloggers regarding their comments. My response:

* * *

First, I think you’re making a leap that is, unfortunately, frequently made when it comes to media and tragedy: the implied causality of song lyrics or a game or a movie and, say, a young person’s act of homicide or suicide. The implication is that there was nothing else wrong in this person’s life that may have caused this tragedy and that it could somehow be brought on by one song or scene and that that media is wrong or even evil. Clearly, that’s absurd — and offensive. It’s convenient to try to find such an easy cause and an easy answer. But it is shallow and dangerous to not look deeper.

I don’t know anything about this case beyond what I’ve read in stone-skipping-water news stories. But I would caution against making this same presumption here. In doing so, you’d also be indicting and convicting the commenters in a serious act. This is a tragedy and I imagine there are more causes than we can see, just as there will be more effects than we can see.

So please don’t be quick to condemn interaction online on the basis of this one tragedy. One effect of that would be to dismiss and devalue so much of the good that comes from the ability of everyone to speak today.

As for a blogger’s — or publisher’s — responsibility regarding comments: That is up to them. Under Section 230, a publisher is not legally responsible for content not created by them. That was necessary to insure an open forum for dialog and as a nation we are privileged to have it; it is our online First Amendment. I know you’re asking another question: the ethics of it. I don’t think there is a blanket rule. I say on my blog that I will kill comments that are patently offensive in their use of hate speech or in personal attacks. I’ve been attacked often in my own comments, of course, and I’ve killed only a few of those; I’m more likely to kill comments attacking others, but even then, there’ve not been many. Part of the problem is that there is a falling bar on the definition of offensiveness; we live in an age of offense and political correctness when someone can be offended by anything said and someone can insist that that speech should be silenced. There’s danger there. In a free democracy and an open market, we must value open discussion and the exchange of views and ideas. So who’s to say what goes too far? There is clearly no one standard.

Now, of course, I’m not defending gratuitous and anonymous attacks on people. I value civility in my blog comments and in the forums I used to run for publishers. I ran operations to kill the worst of those comments. And the communities were grateful for that effort. But I also would have fought any effort to take some number of comments or some event attributed to them to shut down all that discussion. That, too, would be a tragedy.

I urge you not to fall into the media trap of making this a simple cause-and-effect story. Note well this from the New York Times story on the event:But a colleague and friend of Mr. Tilley’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “There’s no way you or I will know why he did this, but it’s certainly not because of blogs.”

“I know it bothered him,” the colleague said, referring to the public criticism. “However, he was very intelligent, with lots of talents and skills, and this was not his whole life. Pointing to blogging and the media just trivializes a man whose life was not trivial.”

Love the customer who hates you

I have a column in Business Week’s customer-service issue arguing that customers who complain about you are doing you a great favor. Here‘s the foreshortened version that fit in the magazine. And here‘s my longer draft. Snippet from the draft:

Here’s some free advice: Go to Google, enter any of your company’s brands followed by the word “sucks,” and you will see the true consumers’ reports. Brace yourself, for it won’t be pretty. Wal-Mart’s unofficial Google Sucks Index turns up 165,000 results; Disney 530,000; Google 767,000. What’s yours?

Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. For these angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these customers are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice – and they’ll give it to you. . . .

You see, this is about more than putting out blog fires or quieting complaining customers. It’s about more than customer service; indeed some say that customer service is the new marketing (that was the title of a conference this month in San Francisco). No, this is about collaboration with your customers in every aspect of your business. If you enable them, they will provide customer service for each other. They will help design your products. They will sell your products. They will create your marketing message – they always did control your brand.

So when you reach out to that kvetching blogger you found online, you’re engaged in customer service as well as PR, market research, marketing, sales, and product development. You are reinventing your company – and, if you get there before your competitors, your industry. That is why you shouldn’t relegate this vital task to one department or some interns or consultants. You need to reorganize the company around this new relationship with your customer, finally putting that customer at the center of everything you do because – thanks to Google – you can. If you don’t, well, you’ll suck.

: Also in the current Business Week: a collaboratively annotated and updated version of Steve Baker’s and Heather Green’s popular cover story on blogs.

For bloggers: A stay-out-of-jail card

My colleague at CUNY, Prof. Geanne Rosenberg, has just put up an online course for bloggers and media practitioners of any stripe with the 10 things you need to know to stay out of court.

It’s quick, clear, easy, and fun with videos and quizzes. This was produced with experts from the Berkman Center at Harvard and the Media Law Research Center. The course is funded by the Knight Foundation and its Knight Citizens News Network.

The 10 rules to blog by:
1. Check your facts.
2. Avoid virtual vendettas.
3. Obey the law.
4. Weigh promises.
5. Reveal secrets selectively.
6. Consider what you copy.
7. Learn recording limits.
8. Don’t abuse anonymity.
9. Shun conflicts of interest.
10. Seek legal advice.

The press release says:

Each rule in the educational module is aimed at helping citizen journalists avoid lawsuits; each rule serves as an entry point for more in-depth material. While other educational materials on online publication are organized by legal doctrines such as libel, privacy, laws of access, and intellectual property law, the “Top Ten Rules” are organized around practical guidelines for safer and more effective journalistic conduct.

The module aims to educate citizen journalists about legal hotspots, help them distinguish between genuine legal problems and intimidation tactics, learn simple practical steps to reduce legal risk, find additional resources and information, understand rights related to news gathering, and recognize when to reach out for a lawyer’s advice.

I’m included in the credits but this is all Prof. Rosenberg — and good thing, since I don’t even play a lawyer on TV. All I did was say that I wish bloggers and citizen journalists had this kind of help and there was Knight to fund it and Geanne to write it. So here is a gift to bloggers from them and CUNY.

But wait, there’s more: For a graduate-level course with lots of in-depth details, the amazing Berkman is, at the same time, putting online a legal guide with information on such topics as setting up a publishing business.