All’s fair in love, war and journalism

The relationship between a reporter and a company he (or she) is trying to write about is… well, complicated. In some cases, it’s like two hostile nations trying to meet at Camp David, with each side compiling as much information — secret and otherwise — about their adversary, and each side trying to read between the lines to find out what the other party really meant. And sometimes those files get leaked, as they did in the case of Wired writer Fred Vogelstein.

spy vs spy.jpgIn a classic case of mis-communication, Fred got sent the file that Microsoft PR firm Waggener Edstrom had compiled on him. The PDF, which Fred has helpfully made available here, contains 13 pages of notes from interviews, commentary about his reporting abilities, and so on. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you, but still somewhat embarrassing — including comments such as “It takes him a bit to get his point across so try to be patient” and “We’re pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing.” Ironically, the story was part of a Wired cover package on transparency, as editor Chris Anderson describes here.

As Mike Arrington notes at TechCrunch, the fact that Microsoft’s PR firm compiled a dossier on Fred is not surprising. Somewhere, there is an underground server farm the size of the Pentagon filled with minutiae about anyone who has made it past the Microsoft reception desk (I’m only partly joking). That’s how Microsoft — and many other large companies — work.

Frank Shaw, president of Waggener Edstrom — whose blog, fittingly enough, is called “Glass House” — has responded with a post about the event. For the most part, he plays it cool, although he seems (perhaps not surprisingly) a little on the defensive at certain points. Towards the end, he says that in most cases “the interests of a journalist and PR are totally aligned – a great interview is always the best possible outcome.”

Mr. Shaw is right, of course. But what he doesn’t say is that the definition of what constitutes a “good” interview can differ radically depending on whether you are a PR firm or a reporter trying to get a story. Sometimes that relationship is a pitched battle, sometimes it’s an arranged marriage, and sometimes it’s a dance. A PR firm has to be equal parts marriage broker, dating service, DJ and (in some cases) spook. ‘Twas always thus.

Come on out tonight and mesh

Spring seem to have hit Toronto with a bang, and that can only mean one thing: mesh is coming soon (check out all the details here). And that means it must be time for the next mesh social event, which is on tonight at the Charlotte Room on King Street just east of Spadina. Come on out for some cold beverages, warm food and conversation, maybe a little nine-ball or Boston on the pool tables, and some all-around meshing.

We’re planning to get started at about 6 p.m. and keep it going until they make us go home, so be sure to drop by and join us. All the details and some of the attendees can be found at the Upcoming page.

Anyone who came to the last mesh meet-up at the Irish Embassy knows that it was a blast, with about 100 people showing up on a rainy November night, complete with guest appearances by Darren “Problogger” Rowse, all the way from Australia, as well as the guys from ConceptShare (all the way from Sudbury), and many of the usual suspects as well. Leesa Barnes did a great job conducting a bunch of podcast interviews with folks such as Dr. Tony Hung and Bernie Aho, and we’re hoping she’s going to do some more this time.

Knight launches citizen media resource

The Knight Foundation has launched a website aimed at helping “citizen journalism” or community media operations find resources and best practices. Called the Knight Citizen News Network, it’s managed by J-Lab — the Institute for Interactive Journalism — with content created in part by Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media and by Amy Gahran of I, Reporter (as well as Right Conversations and the Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits).

There’s a press release with more info here. The resources at include:

And (gratuitous Canadian reference) the site was designed by Hop Studios out of Vancouver.

Feeling the need for speed

I realize that it’s sort of childish to be interested in going really, really fast for no other reason than because it’s fun to go really, really fast — but I can’t help but be fascinated by this video clip from the UK’s Top Gear show of the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest production automobile, hitting its top speed of more than 400 kilometres an hour.

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Kathy Sierra: the dark side of anonymity

Update 2:

Alan Herrel, who (used to) blog under the name The Head Lemur, has written a long email to Doc Searls – which Doc has posted here — saying he was not involved in the postings on meankids that appeared beside his picture and name, and apologizing for his involvement in the site. He also says that someone has hacked his blog and his email accounts.

And for another perspective on Web-based hate speech, check out a post from conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who has been getting similar comments for several years now.


Chris Locke, one of the bloggers involved in the sites that Kathy Sierra described — and (both of which have been removed) — and also one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, defends himself in this response to a journalist’s questions, and another of those involved, Frank Paynter, has an apology here. There’s a good synopsis of what happened with those sites and Kathy Sierra here.

Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses has some thoughts about anonymity and cyberspace and its effect on behaviour. Danah Boyd of apophenia reflects on her own experience with cyber-bullying, and Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void has some thoughts as well, as does Karoli at Odd Time Signatures, and Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy.

Original post:

Kathy Sierra’s disturbing and heart-wrenching take on cyber-stalking, which is here, is yet another example of how the anonymity of the Web allows — and even encourages — certain individuals to toss aside what we see as normal human behaviour and indulge the worst elements of their nature.

anonymity.jpgIt’s not all that much different from the obscene phone call or anonymous death threat of another era, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing — and the fact that a simple search can find out so much about a person no doubt makes it all the more so for Kathy, who says she has cancelled her appearance at eTech as a result. And given some of the things she found on the sites she mentions (both of which have since been removed), it’s hard to blame her.

As we have all found out to one extent or another — whether through blog comments, or email flame wars, or blog posts about us — the anonymity of the Internet has a tendency to free people from their inhibitions, as James Robertson also notes. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a very bad thing. People will write things that they would never think of saying to someone in person, or saying if their identity could be discovered.

It’s a little like the spell that comes over people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Because the other drivers can’t see them, and don’t know who they are, people feel free to say — and do — all kinds of terrible things they would never think of doing face-to-face. Seth Godin has more to say about the downsides of anyonymity here.

I understand Scoble’s desire to show solidarity by not blogging, but to me the only way to get rid of that kind of behaviour is to shine a light on it. Bravo to Kathy for going public with it.

Independent: just another word for “wrong”

Many bloggers and journalists alike are busy debating the “death” of newspapers and the online evolution that media organizations of all kinds are being forced to consider (see my previous post), but it seems that some are still wondering what the fuss is all about — witness the latest commentary from Tim Luckhurst, a former editor of The Scotsman, in the Independent, a paper whose editor is a well-known skeptic when it comes to online.

blogging.jpgMr. Luckhurst appears to think that the whole blogging, online-media thing is overrated. Despite the fact that the Telegraph has spent “millions” on things like blogs and video, he suggests, the payoff has been meagre. How does he know this? Unnamed “senior editors” and “analysts” say so. One of the most damning things seems to be the lack of comments on the Telegraph blogs, which Luckhurst says only get a few remarks in some cases. In summary, he says that the Telegraph’s experience “does not prove that rushing to embrace each new item of technology makes editorial or commercial sense. Waiting and watching has often been the astute response to revolutionary technology. Those who pioneer multimedia may not be the ones to do it best.”

It’s probably not surprising that Shane Richmond, the online editor for The Telegraph, might take issue with Mr. Luckhurst’s view on things, but I think he makes some worthwhile points anyway in his response. Among other things, he notes that comments on blogs are a fairly poor indicator of whether an online strategy is working on not (Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian has some thoughts about Luckhurst’s piece as well, as does Martin Stabe).

But Shane Richmond’s most powerful argument comes at the end, when he talks about Luckhurst’s recommendation to wait it out, and says:

“If only it were that easy. You don’t just flick a switch and turn this stuff on. It requires learning, training and a shift in culture. It requires planning, investment and, most of all, time.”

In that, I think the Telegraph editor is exactly right. It isn’t just a change in appearance, such as going with the Berliner format or trimming the page size. It’s part of a change in thinking — and you can’t just wave a wand and make that kind of thing happen. As Shane says near the end of his post, the Independent had better start that shift now or it won’t have any readers left to talk to.

Contrast the Independent’s view with that of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who said in a meeting with staff about the move to 24/7 reporting (described in a post by Roy Greenslade) that:

“The print-on-paper model [for newspapers] isn’t making money and isn’t going to make money. It’s no longer sustainable. Though the future is unknowable, we are taking an educated guess about what we should be doing and where we should be going.”

Print may be dying, but the news is not

Rumours of trouble at the San Francisco Chronicle (which came from Tim O’Reilly originally) have sparked much commentary, some of it insightful — and here I have to mention Dave Winer, whom I have had differences with in the past but who makes some worthwhile points about what papers need to do — and some of it, well, not so much. Like my friend Mark Evans, who has a long post here, I think Robert Scoble falls into the not-so-much category with his post about how newspapers are dead.

newspapers2.jpgAre newspapers in trouble? Sure they are. And I would definitely agree that there hasn’t been enough thinking about (or investment in) the future from many newspapers, although I would argue that the Globe and Mail has been doing more than some of its competitors. But I don’t think it advances the debate any to throw around apocalyptic pronouncements — and I say that knowing full well that many people will discount what I’m saying because I work for a provider of dead-tree media.

Obviously, more people like Robert Scoble are getting their news from the Web — as am I, and other geek types. As Mark points out, however, plenty of people are also getting their news from free papers, which have been growing at an incredible rate. That definitely means trouble for the newspaper industry’s current business models, but not necessarily for print itself. But there are still hundreds of millions of people subscribing to newspapers, and likely will be for decades, even if that number decreases.

To me, part of the problem is that everyone focuses on the “paper” part of the word “newspaper,” which to me is the least important part of the term. There’s no question that the paper part of the business is decreasing in importance, and news may no longer be primarily distributed on smashed-up trees. Does that change the nature of the business? Definitely.

But it doesn’t mean newspaper companies have to die — it just means they need to evolve.

Further reading:

Doc Searls has some ideas about how to do that. Mike Arrington has some thoughts about journalism at CrunchNotes. Karoli at Odd Time Signatures has a few thoughts about the evolution as well (love the new blog design, Karoli). My friend Scott Karp has a long and typically insightful look at the paper business here. And Steven Hodson at Winextra notes that the equation is a little different for small-town or local papers, which I think is an important point.

Is the DMCA harbour safe for YouTube?

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, a lawyer for entertainment giant Viacom writes what amounts to a thumbnail summary of the company’s $1-billion lawsuit against YouTube for copyright infringement. In a nutshell, Michael Fricklas says that the case boils down to whether the video site — now part of the Google empire — is protected by the so-called “safe harbour” provisions of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

dmca.jpgObviously, Fricklas’s argument is that it is not. Why? Because, he says (and Cynthia Brumfield has more on his argument at IPDemocracy), YouTube knows that infringing material is uploaded to the site, it has both the ability and the duty to monitor and remove this content, and yet it not only leaves the content on the site but makes money from it — which is a no-no under the DMCA, and removes the protection of the “safe harbour” provisions. Ipso fatso, as the legal types (of which I am definitely not one) like to say when they have proven their case.

This may sound like a slam-dunk, and other observers — including billionaire Mark Cuban — certainly seem to think YouTube is on shaky ground when it comes to safe harbour protection. But others aren’t so sure. For example, Electronic Freedom Foundation lawyer Fred von Lohmann has said that simply making money from potentially infringing content is not a clear breach of the safe harbour, at least according to some lower-court rulings.

Some of what Fricklas seems upset about is the structure of the DMCA itself (which, it’s important to remember, was essentially created by content owners like Viacom). He says “Putting the burden on the owners of creative works would require every copyright owner, big and small, to patrol the Web continually on an ever-burgeoning number of sites.” And yet, that is the way the DMCA works: copyright owners notify a site and the site removes the content.

In other news, one of the chief architects of the DMCA thinks that it is flawed (primarily because of the focus on DRM, as Michael Geist noted in an email to me) and likely needs to be reworked.

Hey Ma! They got TV on the Internet now!

After much rumour and innuendo, as well as some sabre-rattling in the direction of Google and YouTube — or at least Comedy Central-rattling — News Corp. and NBC have announced a joint venture to provide network television, movies and other content online. The hype-infested press release is here, and all of the Techmeme discussion is here. But the big question is: Will this be (as Google has reportedly dubbed it) Clown Co., or is it a YouTube-killer?

The press release makes it sound like the Second Coming: Full-length TV shows, video clips that you can “mashup” or whatever it is you kids call it on the Intarweb — and all free for the taking.

“Full episodes and clips from current hit shows, including Heroes, 24, House, My Name Is Earl, Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights, The Riches, 30 Rock, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, Prison Break, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader and Top Chef….

… will be available free, on an ad-supported basis, within a rich consumer experience featuring personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video search.”

Sounds great, don’t it? Of course, as Mark Cuban notes here, the gap between press release promises and reality can be vast. How much of this content will be free versus pay — and how much will the fees be for the latter? What kind of DRM will be used? Will we be able to fast-forward, rewind, pause, etc.? Will only a few token clips (of the networks’ choosing) be provided for embedding or mashing? Mike Arrington has notes from the conference call, but many questions remain unanswered.

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 says the news is an admission that the content-creation business is dying, and he could be right. To me, the tone of the press release suggests that this particular Holy Grail is primarily an advertising venture — and that’s generally not a good sign. Like Valleywag, the first thing this reminded me of was MusicNet, the record companies’ much-hyped response to Napster, which crashed and burned shortly after leaving the runway.

Of course, the networks could provide all kinds of DRM-free content, free for the asking, embeddable anywhere, full-length, etc. Or not. My friend Paul Kedrosky thinks that NewTube could be successful enough that it and YouTube could co-exist for some time (although he is skeptical of NewTube’s ability to pick hits). Like Stan Schroeder at Frantic Industries, I’m willing to bet that NBC and News Corp. will find some way — or, more likely, dozens of ways — to screw this up royally.

It’s not Web 2.0 — it’s just the Web

Peter Rip, the venture capitalist and blogger whose point of view carries a fair bit of weight (at least with me), has a post that is getting a fair bit of commentary going on Techmeme, which he says that Web 2.0 is over, done (and possibly overdone as well), has jumped the shark, is finished, kaput, history, etc.

I would definitely agree that the buzzword Web 2.0 is getting long in the tooth, and he makes it clear it’s the buzzword he thinks has outlived its usefulness, not the concept of interactivity, or agile Web-based services. I’m not sure the Alexa charts he uses — which show a decline in traffic to TechCrunch, Gigaom and Technorati — are that persuasive, mostly because I think Alexa is fatally flawed, but the point is still well taken.


Valleywag has more on the Alexa issue here, and Mike Arrington points out that his traffic has just kept going up, which kind of undermines Peter’s thesis somewhat.

Peter also notes (as does Mark Evans here) that what we need now is more innovation when it comes to helping all the sites and services we have work better together, so that each one is no longer an island. The easy work has been done — the Ajaxification of everything, the rounded corners and pastel colours, the logo with the missing vowels, not to mention the cheap storage and server space provided by Amazon’s s3 and ec2.

Paul Kedrosky rightly says that we need to focus on what is changing and what it means, not on marketing mumbo-jumbo. And whenever I hear the term Web 2.0 now, I think of Tim Berners-Lee’s response last year, in which he argued that the kinds of interactivity most people mean when they use the phrase are just the Web, period — not one-point-this or two-point-that.