February 29, 2004
Anonymous Sources vs. Anonymous Commenters: How they are similar and why they should be rare
- four people on the planet ... Woodward; his partner, Carl Bernstein; Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post; and of course, Deep Throat himself
that brought down Richard Nixon. There are numerous reasons why journalists must keep the identity of a source of important information secret, and there are many reasons why I want to allow anonymous comments on my blog to be made. But at the same time, overuse, to hide, to harass, to advance ideas manipulatively, without scrutiny of the purveyor of those ideas and their motivations, is corrosive to the marketplace of ideas, our discussions across communities and for the democracy. The gold standard for objectivity in media is under scrutiny, and as Ken Auletta recently said, it may not be objectivity that is key, but fairness. And this fairness goes both ways, with the reporting, but also for readers who, in evaluating a story should know who said what and where they come from. This is a kind of fairness too. After all, there is no view from nowhere; each person's words should be scrutinized in the context of their views. Big media has huge power and huge responsibility to use these sources rarely and only in very important circumstances. Otherwise, they become shill's for these manipulators who keep insisting they need anonymity, and lose the credibility that is their professional currency.
On February 25, the newsroom at the NYTimes got a memo from Bill Keller about Confidential Sources. It is not as broad as the policy they put online on the same day and mentioned today by Dan Okrent (in what could be a blog, as it's online, with links, and is written in semi-blog style -- a new blend for the Times of online and offline communication, though not with comments, they leave that to their forums).
The Keller memo on the new policy does say that 16 news organizations including NYT, "The Washington Post (scroll down for the WDCPost memo), The AP, and The Chicago Tribune, as well as the president and four other board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors" signed this policy, which says that writers and editors should "resist granting sources anonymity except as a last resort", and then if done, the reason will be stated in the story, and "a supervising editor must know the source's identity." The policy admits that "in some cases, it may be impossible to use the information they [confidential sources] provide" but the "costs of following a rigorous sourcing policy will be far outweighed by the trust it builds with our readership."
The NYTimes has had trouble with this before, and so it's interesting that they have made this policy, because they've gone back and forth on anonymous sources. Gretchen Morgenson in her work about Wall Street and Enron had Howell Raines refusing to run pieces because she wouldn't disclose sources, though she eventually won a Pulitzer for that work. But then Raines allowed Jayson Blair to run amuck with anonymous sources. And now they are back to emphasizing a policy of requiring disclosure to editors.
The other day, Dan Gillmor wrote his column about issues of credibility with online anonymous speech and why communication on the internet is degraded when people try to fool readers about who is speaking, where they come from, or refuse to stand behind their words. It's something that came up on bIPlog, where a commenter used different false names there, on Dan's blog, and at some other blogs, to imply that different people were speaking, when in fact none of the names were real and they were all one person. Dan and I have been talking about this issue since last Fall, off and on, trying to figure out ways to keep speech open, but still foster support for accountable speech. Amy Harmon's article about Amazon's glitch revealed more on the topic of online communication and the manipulation of readers perceptions. Amazon temporarily revealed the real identities of book reviewers, where sometimes authors had written their own or good friend's reviews. This has caused people to see those reviews as untrustworthy.
It seems as though both online anonymous communicators as well as anonymous sources should be highlighted in some way so that readers know the source is anonymous and unverified. Readers do want to view information originating from someone over time to evaluate that person and this should be supported so that people are encouraged to stand behind their words, though I am well aware that if something like this occured, people would attempt to game the system. However, in circumstances like Amazon's system, where they control the review process with a one day delay before putting up a review, they could also require that people with verified accounts post under their real name. There would still be ways to game things somewhat but it would cut down considerably on their book review problem. Open internet communication is another story, and at this point really impossible and undesirable to force people to communicate a certain way, including using a real name. But certainly, writers of blogs could devise someway to highlight anonymous communication that at least might make anonymous words more explicit.
At the request of a professor at UCB (who is a NYTimes reporter), I compared AP and NYTimes articles, before and after the announced policy on Feb 25th. Below is what I came up with, however, since the publicly available policy is effective March 1 at the NYTimes, we will need to evaluate again after the change to see the effects.
Search: anonymous or anonymity (removed any cites that were not about anon sources but that used these words)
Date range pre-policy: Feb 14 to Feb 25, 2004
NYTimes.com results: 995 articles
AP results from WDC Post with AP only selected: 540 (many of these are reposted articles, with either no alterations or altered slightly, so the same articles show up numerous times, and I'm not sure how to count them and don't have the time to really get it right, so I won't try to characterize what the real number is, but I'd guess at maybe 200?)
Date range post policy: Feb 26 and 27
NYTimes.com results: 9
AP results: 15 (counted each article once, regardless of changes)
Note: the AP search was done on the WashingtonPost.com site, where AP can be isolated in the advanced search function.
Examples from the NYTimes (The new NYT policy on sources, which is very cool in terms of transparency and commitment to using anonymous sources judiciously says, "The rules are effective on March 1, 2004, and will become part of a revised Integrity Statement to be issued in the coming months."):
Bank Works to Improve Its Image in Canada By BERNARD SIMON Published: February 27, 2004
- The aggressive approach initially paid off. David Kassie, Mr. Hunkin's successor at CIBC World Markets, "should be credited with accomplishing quite a bit," said a former colleague, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Why is this person anonymous? This is a compliment. Surely someone could compliment David Kassie on the record.
Oscar Mudslinging: It's So-o-o Last Year, By SHARON WAXMAN February 27, 2004
- Meanwhile, Universal has been spending millions to promote its best-picture nominee, "Seabiscuit," though even within the studio few think the movie has a chance to win. Instead, one senior Universal executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity, the spending was "a good investment in a relationship" with the writer and director Gary Ross and the producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
Again, why is this person anonymous?
Meeting Local Needs in a Presidential Primary, By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ Published: February 27, 2004
- (About Hillary Clinton) "It's a no-win situation for her," said one New York Democrat on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "No matter what she does, people are going to think she is doing it to advance her own position. So she is better off staying under the radar until a clear front-runner emerges."
And this person? This isn't exactly a, "crucial issue of law or national security in which sources face dire consequences if exposed...."
Official Says DNA and Alibis Clear Man Held in Sex Attacks By ROBERT D. McFADDEN February 27, 2004
- The official, a member of the prosecutor's staff who requested anonymity because charges in the Upper East Side cases had not yet been dismissed in court, disclosed that Mr. White had been cleared by DNA evidence in one case and by substantiated alibis in the other three in order to alert residents of the area that the attacker was still at large.
This case I can understand a little more, where the court hasn't yet issued the dismissal of the case, but it would seem that someone who attended the hearings could substantiate that the evidence was presented and seemed credible, and therefore, because of the alibis, would be cleared.
AP (not subject to the above referenced NYT policies, but a signer of the agreement to use anonymous sources more judiciously, however I haven't been able to find anything on their site about this other than here last updated in 1995: News sources should be disclosed unless there is a clear reason not to do so. When it is necessary to protect the confidentiality of a source, the reason should be explained.):
Study: 4,392 Priests Accused of Sex Abuse By RACHEL ZOLL The Associated Press Friday, February 27, 2004; 7:28 AM
- The studies - commissioned by America's bishops - found that 80 percent of the alleged victims were male and that just over half said they were between ages 11 and 14 when they were assaulted, a source who read the reports told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The Catholic Church has a history of hiding and these studies are supposed to make the sexual abuse situation more transparent, and the reporter is using anonymous sources to corroborate this.
Supermarkets, Grocery Clerks Reach Deal By ALEX VEIGA The Associated Press Friday, February 27, 2004; 4:06 AM
- LOS ANGELES (AP) - Grocery clerks and three supermarket chains reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday that could bring an end to the longest grocery strike in U.S. history and send 70,000 cash-strapped employees back to work. Greg Denier, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, as well as a source close to the supermarket chains who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an agreement had been reached. The source later characterized it as a handshake agreement; no terms were disclosed.
Does the supermarket chain have a spokesperson? Why does this person need to be anonymous? There should be some reason why they was necessary.
Bush Spends $3.6M to Run Ads on Cable TV By LIZ SIDOTI The Associated Press February 26, 2004
- It requested ad rates on broadcast stations in 17 states, but is likely to buy network airtime in 14 to 16 of them, according to a Bush-Cheney source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Of the 17 states under consideration, all were competitive in the 2000 presidential race, with the contests being decided by 6 percentage points or fewer.
Okay, we know that team Bush-Cheney is not kind to leakers, but was this an intentional plant of information? A reason about why this is necessary would be good.
Media Wants Names of Martha Stewart Jurors By ERIN McCLAM The Associated Press Thursday, February 26, 2004; 7:45 PM
- Also Thursday, lawyers picked up the judge's draft of legal instructions she will give to the jury. The draft included instructions on all nine charges in the case, a person who saw the document said on condition of anonymity. The judge is considering defense motions urging her to throw out some or all of the counts. She plans to hear additional arguments Friday, when she decides on the final wording of the instructions.
I can understand why this is anonymous, because otherwise we wouldn't likely get the information at all, but where is the explanation that this information is not really supposed to be public in the first place, until the Judge makes it public, and that's why the source is anonymous?
Overall, these uses of anonymous sources were not explained, and seem unnecessary, except in two cases.
My Comments on NY Restaurant Prices, etc.
A reader asked about my comments in another post a while ago, about NY restaurant prices, as well as prices of other things, compared to the Bay Area.
Well, my experience is that each time I've visited New York in the last year or two, I'm surprised again by how reasonably priced everything is. SF, and the Bay Area in general, is just so expensive. So mid-priced NY restaurants, like Peasant or Bond St. have excellent food and wine, and for two we spent $60 and $80 respectively including drinks, food, tip and tax, for dinner. We were shocked, because the quality of food, presentation, quality of wine, were such that comparable Bay Area restaurants would have been $150 and that's what we expected to spend before the bill arrived.
It’s become regular here, as of the last five years, for high end restaurants to be $250 for lunch for two, and $600 for two for dinner (Masa’s, Aqua, etc.) and the accommodation in our minds of that has led to mid-priced places being half that for two. Also, when I shop at Food Emporium in NY and the farmer's markets in Union Square and Tribeca, the prices for the same organic ingredients I purchase here (I cook quite a bit) are 30-50% less and yet of equal quality, variety and interest. And low priced lunch-type places are also less, though by maybe a dollar or two. Only drinking is more, and it's significantly more in the mid and low priced places, though equally high in the high end places.
So while these are anecdotal examples, my own experience is that I can eat for significantly less in NY than in SF but still have excellent quality. That’s not to say that food in NY is say, the same as Iowa and therefore actually cheap. But it’s shocking to me that NY costs less now than SF, in many other categories as well, and that’s why I still marvel over this each time I visit (in the past year, several two week trips, renting a place in Tribeca, or Chelsea, or Westside). I grew up thinking that NY was supposed to be the most expensive place in the country, always. And certainly it’s possible to spend enormous sums in NY. But 5 years ago, I think SF turned into Manhattan, and so Manhattan is now a relief, a step or two down in price and speed, people move slower, they don’t rush as much as in the Bay Area. I just really enjoy working in NY verses SF, because it’s a little more relaxing and less expensive. That’s not to say that everyone and everything here or there falls into these generalizations, but I see these differences between SF and NY more and more.
So I that’s what I meant in those comments in my post.
February 27, 2004
Now That AP Says It, It Must Be True: Web Feeds Are The Next Big Thing
Enthusiasts call Web feed next big thing by Frank Bajak, AP Technology Editor.
This is about media, not technology. This is about the whole journalism model turned upside down, inside out, counter-intuitively, disruptively with RSS. This is about behavior and media consumption; people taking control back from the media companies over consumption and framing and interest, even if news aggregators suck and the interface is horrible compared to the 300 years of newspaper interface that is tactile and rich, or even better, 50 years of paper magazines that bath you in a rich warm experience. People want some measure of control over their media, more than the UIs of old. I tried to explain this to someone at AP a year ago and they just had no idea what to make of it. It's clear from the headline and the story, that it's just hitting the radar. Soon to be off the radar for the next story, with little understanding of what this means to media, big media.
It's not the technology that's important, it's what people are doing with it, what they use it for, how it changes their behavior. RSS is not the center of this discussion, it's that people design their own media systems, use news aggregators to collect it, and people whose blogs they respect to filter that news down even further to get what really matters to them.
February 26, 2004
Cellphone Demographics: One Billion Served (Elsewhere)
We are so under-connected here in the US. Way behind. Among the ways? Broadband (which for most of us is really midband) and in cell phones. According to 3G Americas, not only do we only have (in North America, so this includes Canada) 12.3% of the worlds cell phones compared to Europe at 25.79% and Asia at 38.94%, but GSM (and WCDMA) have more than a billion combined users, out of 1.5 billion cell phone users, but the US (with Canada) has 30 million GSM/WCDMA users.
Ohheee. Pat yourself on the back!
So while everybody else is deep into text messaging, sms (sending photos), email on phones, surfing the web, we are hanging out with our few cellphones and our few BB connections, losing ground in adapting the always-on, wired via wireless way of behaving and thinking, our friends around the globe are marching on with a different way of seeing and understanding the world. When I text message my friends (in the US), it's pretty much one way. They can read them, but with the phones we get here, it's a nightmare replying, not to mention the anti-competitive prices which discourages people from wanting to get a phone that they can txt-msg on. And when I send photos, there are literally about 20 people who can receive them, and I have to remember as I'm taking a shot for someone whether it will get there. And then of course there are the network drops, where loads of messages are just plain lost and never arrive. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.
And BB, well, suffice it to say that getting in the habit of being always-on, leaving the computer on and rebooting once a month, is something only a quarter of American can do. But when they do, they get it. It's always-on and it changes everything. Suddenly, the internet is quick and available and the source for everything from search to news to entertainment. And it's active. The TV doesn't cut it once you know this and live it. You still want TV, because it's rich media, but you can "watch TV" in the background while you move around, fast, choose what you want and make your experience. People who get this are way ahead of the curve here, but compared to South Korea, where 90% of the populace lives this way, we are so behind.
But I swear we can keep our edge by clamping down with restrictive IP (intellectual property). Yeah right. Not going to happen. We won't have a clue about making and selling digital media if we keep this up.
Link via Gizmodo.
C&D'd on The Grey Album
Napsterization received a Cease & Desist order from Capital Records for hosting the Grey Album, though due to the change in site hosting and my SFTP issues just after the change, I wasn't able to participate in this civil disobedience and host the album Tuesday, and so I linked to others hosting the album. The letter is below under more and while it was sent Monday, I did not receive it until the middle of last night.
But I want to point out demand #2:
- 2. identify the names and addresses of any third parties who have supplied you with physical or digital copies of The Grey Album or who are otherwise involved in The Grey Album's unauthorized distribution, reproduction, public performance, or other exploitation;
Well, that feels very "house unamerican activites" committee of them. So I'm guessing they're going to get a lot of cooperation on that one. Not to mention, they demand a full accounting of all your activities! Now, young lady, or we're turning this car right around and going straight home. Spank, spank, spank!
Does it matter if you own the two albums outright already, and simply want the blended version, remixed? The point here is that copyright goes too far, and so any remix is illegal-art without permission, unless it's a public domain work. The properties of digital media work in direct opposition to copyright law, still currently based on analog media which is almost always tied to some physical media. It's time we changed the copyright law to reflect what digital media really is: divorced from physical media and able to move back an forth between the physical and pure byte-state, flexible, recombinable, and with proper metadata machine-readable and alterable, easily distributed across the time and space of the internet; it's information that can no longer be sold just because it must be on physical media but rather must be reconceived as something highly copyable, transformable, and distributable for free. It is different, and the question is how long it will be before the law reflects reality. My guess, as soon as the kids who know this on a cellular level grow up, and there is a critical mass of adults that see these things. Until then, record companies like EMI and Capital can hide behind analog copyright to attempt to protect themselves. But as you read the letter, you realize they aren't protected in any practical way at all.
Subject: The Grey Album and Misappropriation of Capital Records, Inc.'s Sound
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 16:22:29 -0500
Thread-Topic: The Grey Album and Misappropriation of Capital Records, Inc.'s
X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 2.63 (2004-01-11) on smtp-a.gkg.net
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Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C.
1133 Avenue of the Americas * New York, NY 10036-6799
Telephone * Web www.cll.com * Fax
Re: The Grey Album
and Misappropriation of Capitol Records, Inc.'s Sound Recordings
To Whom It May Concern:
We are counsel to Capitol Records, Inc. ("Capitol"), the exclusive U.S. licensee and/or owner and distributor of musical sound recordings featuring performances by The Beatles. We write concerning your announced intention of distributing an unlawful and unauthorized sound recording known as The Grey Album on February 24, 2004. This infringing album contains extensive samples from recorded performances by the Beatles, including "Long, Long, Long," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Glass Onion," "Savoy Truffle," "Mother Nature's Son," "Helter Skelter," "Julia," "Happiness is Warm Gun," "Piggies," "Dear Prudence," "Rocky Raccoon," "Revolution 1," "Revolution 9," "I'm So Tired," and "Cry Baby Cry" (the "Capitol Recordings"). Distribution of The Grey Album constitutes a serious violation of Capitol's rights in the Capitol Recordings - as well as the valuable intellectual property rights of other artists, music publishers, and/or record companies - and will subject you to serious legal remedies for willful violation of the laws. We accordingly demand that you cease any plans or efforts to distribute or publicly perform this unlawful recording.
As you are no doubt aware, The Grey Album is an amalgamation created by an individual named Brian Burton (a/k/a Danger Mouse) of Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' self-titled 1968 album commonly known as The White Album. There is no dispute that The Grey Album incorporates Capitol Recordings, as Mr. Burton acknowledges on his website (http://www.djdangermouse.com) that "every kick, snare, and chord is taken from the Beatles White Album and is in their original recording somwhere [sic]." There is also no dispute that Mr. Burton never requested permission from any of the rights-holders to create The Grey Album.
Capitol has demanded that Mr. Burton cease distribution of The Grey Album, and Mr. Burton has indicated publicly that he intends to comply with Capitol's demands. As reported by Reuters on February 17, 2004:
- Danger Mouse said he created the record strictly as a limited-edition promotional item, with only a few thousand copies pressed . . . .
- The artist, whose real name is Brian Burton, has agreed to comply with the order and will no longer distribute copies. "He just wanted people to hear the record," says a spokesman in the U.K.
Reuters has also quoted Mr. Burton as saying, "[t]his wasn't supposed to happen . . . . I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place." By further distributing The Grey Album, you will not only be violating the rights of those who own the recordings and compositions at issue. You will also be interfering with the intention of the very artist whose rights you purport to vindicate.
We are aware of the so-called "Grey Tuesday" event, sponsored by http://www.downhillbattle.org and described on the http://www.greytuesday.org website as a "day of coordinated civil disobedience" in which participating sites will make the unlawful Grey Album available for downloading, distribution, and file-sharing in order to force "reforms to copyright law that can make sampling legal." Your site is listed among those that will engage in this openly unlawful conduct. Any unauthorized distribution, reproduction, public performance, and/or other exploitation of The Grey Album will constitute, among other things, common law copyright infringement/misappropriation, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment rendering you and anyone engaged with you in such acts liable for all of the remedies provided by relevant laws. These remedies include but are not limited to preliminary and permanent injunctive relief as well as monetary and punitive damages necessary to remedy your openly willful violation of Capitol's rights.
We accordingly demand you:
1. cease and desist from the actual or intended distribution, reproduction, public performance or other exploitation of The Grey Album and any other unauthorized uses of the Capitol Recordings or any other sound recordings owned and/or controlled by Capitol;
2. identify the names and addresses of any third parties who have supplied you with physical or digital copies of The Grey Album or who are otherwise involved in The Grey Album's unauthorized distribution, reproduction, public performance, or other exploitation;
3. provide Capitol with an accounting of all units of The Grey Album that have been distributed via your website, either physically or digitally, and of all instances of public performance of The Grey Album rendered via your website; and
4. preserve any and all documents and records relating to this matter, including but not limited to electronic data and other information which may be relevant/discoverable in the event of litigation.
In addition, to the extent that you have already commenced distribution of The Grey Album, you must make payment to Capitol in an amount to be discussed. We demand that you contact us immediately.
Unless we receive full and immediate compliance with these demands, Capitol will be forced to consider pursuing any and all available remedies at law and in equity.
Nothing herein shall be deemed an admission or waiver of any rights or remedies of Capitol and/or its affiliates, all of which are hereby expressly reserved.
February 24, 2004
RSS Attention and Metadata Love
Really Simple Syndication or whatever you want to call it, is overwhelming our news aggregators, per Steve Gillmor, subscriber of 400 feeds, who mentions Robert Scoble. Robert told me at eTech he has 1300 feeds in his aggregator. Steve also mentioned that while he can't read all his aggregated links, he can search them, because his aggregator saves all the metadata, but then he made me promise not to tell the RSS feed purveyor he cares about the most, because he's afraid they'll take it back and it's his favorite source.
I already use my friends plus bloggers I haven't met to filter the news for me somewhat, because I either know them, or have read them enough to know that I want their take, I trust it and know the biases and want their skew. So what's next? Filters for the filters? Depending on my time and attention availability, I may want Dan's filter on Steve, who's giving Dan the filter on some particular techy stuff along with his opinions. I want Donna's filter on IP, but also I may need her to be my filter on IP bloggers and topics when I'm so swamped I can hardly see straight I've been working so much. Then again, sometimes I just want to know what's on any of their minds, and so I read their blogs for that.
How about, depending on the amount of time I have on a given day, some topic community filter, and then a topic or keyword search to get some particular skew, grok the latest on something or someone or some small community?
Grey Tuesday is Today
The album is great. Download it here and check it out. Free the grey album! I think if you have or buy both albums already, black and white, you should be able to hear the grey. Grey Tuesday is in support of the Grey Album. Also look at EMI's C&D on Grey Tuesday.
(ps, I had wanted to host it but having just changed hosters, have not figured out how to get it up there on the new stuff, but if I do, I'll update....)
Update: as noted in the comments the link to the Grey Album was shut down Tuesday night.
February 23, 2004
So last week at the blogger dinner, one of the bloggers whom I had not met before (and I can't remember exactly who said it so I won't try to guess) told me he was surprised I was so young. He though, reading bIPlog and then Napsterization, and considering my name (which he thought sounded very old fashioned), that I must be someone in her 50's. Well, I'm sure you can image I was surprised.
Anyway, I also had a conversation early this morning with Doc Searls, who accidentally called me on cell around 6:30. He didn't realize it at first, as he was wandering around his construction site/house remodel (disaster - please wish him good thoughts for a speedy fix to the chaos), and somehow I won the speed-dial roulette. Great conversation involving Walt Whitman, blogging, the industrial revolutions, trade offs, privacy and disruptive technology. Suffice it to say that Doc pointed out that the bigger fear, beyond the government or companies (who are incompetent for now - though that isn't great long-term privacy protection), when we reveal anything about ourselves on the internet, is from each other. He's right. Great thoughts to wake up to before coffee.
I've been thinking about that all day, in the context of the remark last week about how my name and blog makes me seem, and how in the past I've been reluctant to post photos of myself online. Generally, I just didn't want to go that far on my site, though it's been done in other places. It's true, that in that case, my fear is about people who might misuse it. The wisdom that Doc points out is that we are in the end the ones who can really hurt us the most. We have, day-to-day, the greatest ability to accept this always-on, online existence with persistent information and point's of view, especially on blogs, not to mention personal information, and use it respectfully and judiciously.
February 18, 2004
- Educated Guesswork has an insightful response to the ongoing Grey Album controversy (Infringing mixes). The proposal is that rather than distribute the fully remixed version of the Beatle's White Album with Jay-Z's Black Album, one could distribute the mechanical instructions for remixing the albums: a remix recipe if you will. Those interested in the Grey Album would have to have access to both the White Album and Black Album in order to make use of the recipe, but the traditional elements of copyright would not be implicated in such a scheme. I believe that this is a brilliant model for our rip-mix-burn culture.
I just listened to the Grey Album (a friend played it for me) and it's excellent. Some are more Beatle-like than others, and some are more Jay-Z. But very well done. Imagine a whole new genre of digital recipes, where you take your CD's and your DVD's and your pictures and your video news and you mix it, and send out the directions. Then maybe it's not just a joke with The Color Purple and Hall and Oates but something we do, we trade, we mix, and then just pass along the directions to friends. I may be up all night playing with this.
Update 022004: Check out the Grey Tuesday protest set for February 24th.
February 17, 2004
Press - Blog Feedback Loop II
Anthony, a student:
- 2. Joi Ito disappointed me sometimes, especially when she posed the question of what the difference was between a diary, a journal, and a blog was. It was such an interesting question, but then she copped out on the answer by just giving us links to her brand new diary that had one entry and her live journal. I would have liked to see some answer from her and not just answers from her readers.
Joi Ito responds:
- I hope my comments don't appear too negative. I'm quite interested in your thoughts and believe that my blog is evolving. Please remember that it's YOU that is viewing my blog with your journalism glasses on and I'm not being paid to write for anyone other than myself. I am interested in how blogs might augment or interact with journalism, but we're inventing the form as we go. Thus the blogging about blogging.
- The most important point is that there are no clear lines between the reader and the writer. When you read my blog, you're jumping into a conversation that I am having. You can critique it and I can read that critique. In my posting here, I've jumped into a conversation that you are having and I can easily share my thoughts. What does this collapsing of context mean for academia and journalism?
And he's sitting across the table, as we discuss this class, threatening to write "Blogging as War" about the art of blogging and how to be effective in constructing an argument in this medium. Okay. I'm game for it....
February 16, 2004
Yet Another Copyright / Remix Culture Struggle With a Mouse or Why I Get Whiplash Thinking About the Disney Diachotomy
Noah Shachtman/Wired in Copyright Enters a Gray Area look at DJ Dangermouse's new Grey Album, which piled the words from rapper Jay-Z's Black Album on top of the rhythms and chords from the Beatles' legendary White Album, and which caused EMI to C&D'd Dangermouse. Didn't ask permission. The album is no longer underground, and so as it becomes a mainstream hit, it's been "noticed" and therefore is off-limits. Musicians can pay a fee to cover a song, but can't remix without proper blessings.
After eTech, I went to Disneyland and California Adventure (which is relatively new, and did I mention California Adventure is a trademarked name? Trademark is forever, so remember, you can't officially have a California adventure, at least in name, without getting permission). Hadn't been to Disneyland since I was a junior in high school, and before that when I was 9. It's all still there, pretty much the same, except I understand that it's also been rebuilt, perfected, detailed, not to mention the content which is massaged, packaged, sifted and coiffed, though still very clearly derived from other obvious sources.
Most notable, though was the total remix it all is. Every detail, the California architectures and icons, the colors, materials and plants, the cultural references (the golden gate bridge is there in "miniature" at about 50' high, what looks like Sacramento Street near the Presidio, the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the Ahwanee Hotel, Thomas Molesworth, surfer culture - nonstop they pipe in the beach boys in most sections - Monterey Bay and what looks like Paramount Studios) as well as an Aladdin 45 minute test show (testing for Broadway?) that was okay. Parts of it were well done, the sets, the lights, the flying rug, but otherwise it was just okay, too much cheese-musical, OTT on that, but they had tons of remix cultural references to make it updated, quoting and riffing on lines from recent movies (yes, Austin Powers can fit into Aladdin, in case you were wondering), making jokes, etc.
Disneyland was next, and well, it was the rip, mix, burn experience all the way, babe. Seemed much smaller (shorter, as well as less spacious) than I remembered. At the little theatre showing Steamboat Willie cartoons, they outright rip-off Oliver Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with no parody, no commentary. I was wondering if they don't keep that little display going (it wasn't nearly as busy as other attractions with 75 - 90 minute posted waits) so that their Washington DC lobbyists can say that Steamboat Willie is an integral part of the Disneyland experience and therefore we must protect it by extending copyright.... Maybe not, maybe relatively minor as a reason to prolong copyright protection in the scheme of things (read: Mickey Mouse memorabillia), but demostrating that Steamboat Willie is still part of the program can't hurt.
You mother told you: do as I say, not as I do. Riffing is bad. It's stealing. That riff over there, oh no, we thought the whole thing up and therefore deserve complete protection in perpetuity.
Again, architectural, cultural and older (and out of copyright) artistic and literary references are riffed to the hilt. Went on the teacups, but all the other lines were 75 or more minutes of waiting and this was a three hour trip. Disneyland is primarily three things: rides/games/displays, restaurants and food outlets, and shops to sell Disney merchandise, equally spaced visually as you walk along the perfectly groomed, packaged and manicured streets. We stopped by Mickey Mouse's house where cartoons were showing for those in line to see him:
And took a quick photo of the mouse, who, when asked whether he preferred Roy or Mike, shrugged, threw up his hands and smiled. Er, that smile's painted on. But the shrug was real.
As is Disneyland. Part real, part fantasy. Part their imagination, part other's they've stolen (or riffed) from. But considering that everything, right down to the smallest touches and gestures contains both, you'd think they'd lighten up on the protectionist intellectual property bit. Too profitable, I guess, to turn back now. Whoever has the most lobbyists wins. And that's what Dangermouse is facing.
February 14, 2004
Does Writing Make You More Literate? Do You Learn More?
This is a question that came up last night at dinner, with Kevin Marks, Robert Scoble, Loic La Meur and Tantek Celik. Tantek posed the question, which is actually something I've been thinking and writing about for the past couple of weeks. What I said was that this medium, blogging, which has so easily allowed me to write daily (mostly), has changed my life. The ease, form and function are integral to causing me to pick it up daily, and to think about what I have to say when I'm not in front of the interface. But there is more than that, when I say that it's changed my life.
I believe there are different ways that people learn, ways that include auditory, note-taking, discussion, lecture, writing and reading but there are probably more. I learn in a way from all of these transmissions of information, but realize that, maybe due to a lifetime of training, I learn a lot while taking notes during any of these experiences. However, writing is a process that changes things more radically for me. When I take in some piece of information, I may react, may think about how I feel, what I believe, what the framework and logic surrounding the information are, but initially I'm still following the flow of the other source. I may critique it, pull it apart, Fisk it, but I'm still mostly trailing the one meaning (or submeaning) from the source, to the next thought and then the next. It's someone else's at root meaning, and I don't explore completely the other possibilities with each piece of logic in their flow of ideas, yet. Though often this level of understanding does bring about something more than a quick reading.
But a deep retelling, discussion, or writing, will cause me to internalize the information far more deeply than the reading and even Fisking or pulling apart. It is that deepest apprehension, finding and retelling my own logic, writing it down and causing myself to think it through, as meaning flows from one idea to the next that pushes me to find multiple extensive meanings. And so in writing it down, retooling it, changing it around and getting what I find most compelling straight that I feel most deeply connected with the information and the meanings, and the choices I've made in explaining or demonstrating.
So the answer is yes, writing does make me more literate. It's changed everything, writing daily (beyond either email/IM/txt or the other end: academic work which was never daily). But I'm not sure I can extrapolate this to what I see others doing. However, it may be that for the millions of bloggers who now in some form or another write daily too, even if it's just a list of links (there's still framing, choice, title etc to consider), find deepened meaning from the process, which in my case is very much spurred on by the ease of digital media and the linking between other writers publishing in and via this always-on discussion medium.
The reason I say it's changed my life is that writing has caused what I describe above, a deepened understanding and expression, but publishing online has caused a complete shift in my relationships, my community, my work, and my interests and commitments. It's turned everything upside down, and yet, what I commit to, and write about is more definitively right and consistent for me than I could have imagined before I started. The combination of these is radical.
February 13, 2004
Press - Blog Feedback Loop, or The Napsterization of The Non-Fiction Media
Last night at dinner after the end of eTech, Robert Scoble (of Scobleizer, and a Microsoft employee) told me about his interaction this week with Reuters. Apparently, Reuters did an article about Joe Trippi's O'Reilly's Digital Democracy Teach-In talk Monday (which was very different in effect for those who heard Trippi than the way it was framed by Reuters). I also heard that the back channel IRC talk from the audience listening to Trippi were very critical of him. Robert reacted to that article with this:
- ... TechDirt compared the coverage from bloggers to that of Reuters. They underlined the "spin" that Reuters gave the story. I agree with TechDirt. The spin doesn't match the speech. Journalists need to report what was said at speeches and put it all in context. This was like listening to a two-hour speech and then ignoring almost all of it so you can write the story you want to write in the first place. Why go to the conference then?
- Turns out it was Eric Auchard from Reuters. Now, look back at my blog on Monday. I took a swing at Reuters for how they reported Joe Trippi's keynote here at the O'Reilly conferences. The guy who wrote that story was now speaking with me. We had a nice conversation. He said that he had read and considered what I had to write and appreciated that. Then he explained his point of view. While discussing news judgment and other factors I found myself thinking just how unlikely this exchange would have happened five years ago.
- Because of the relationships I've built in the industry he was talking to me as a peer. Think about that. Reuters was explaining how it worked to me. And whether or not I was right or wrong really doesn't matter. The fact that a common citizen like me could be heard by a journalist who is at the top of his profession (you don't get a job at Reuters by being a hack or unprofessional) is simply amazing to me.
- Now, is Eric changed by weblogging? Absolutely! But I'm changed by Eric too. First of all, I was able to get Eric's point of view and, to tell you the truth, it is a compelling point (that his job is to report the news and that he picked out the most interesting things for his readers). Second of all, I now have a relationship with Eric. Who do you think I'm likely to call if I have a technology story that I think Reuters would be interested in?
I think this is rather amazing. I missed the Monday sessions. But I'm happy that to see that the whole day is available here. And I really am very interested in this discussion between a blogger and reporter discussing the why and how of stories in the traditional press. It's a very interesting phoenamon.
Check out Jay Rosen's The Tripping Point for more perspective on the Trippi talk at eTech and the Dean Campaign.
And for a different take on the traditional vs. non-traditional, here's Dan Okrent's semi-blog (he's the New York Times' public editor or ombudsman) and Steve Outing's interview with Len Apcar at NYTDigital.
February 12, 2004
Your 'Not-Just-Consumers' Are In Control
So says a Media Post article written from an Orlando, FL ad conference:
- Apart from the heady buzz surrounding the Comcast-Disney mega-merger, media executives attending the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4AAAAs) Media Conference here are immersed in convergence issues, questions of media mix, and a whole host of other issues confronting the business.
- Renetta McCann, CEO-Starcom North America and chairwoman of the 4AAAAs Media Policy Committee, told conference attendees that this year's conference will focus on the consumer - connecting with the consumer, engaging the consumer, and facing the fact that the consumer really is in control. In control via TiVo but not only TiVo. The consumer is in the driver's seat making decisions on all forms of media throughout the day. It would appear that media agencies and marketers need to know a heck of a lot more than they do about consumers' changing media habits, particularly within the 18 to 24 set.
This same idea, that people expect to control their media, was mentioned in the notes from the Digital Media Summit below, but in that setting, big media just hinted at this and were not open about it much, except for one or two people. Mostly, they tried to pretend it wasn't there, and talk about ways of containing it with business methods, or controlling it with intellectual property rules. licensing schemes and DRM. If you took what they said and did at the Digital Media Summit at face value, you could leave thinking that truly-digital media and the connected (not-just) consumer's expectations were minor concerns that with a little convergence, a dash of clever marketing laced with DRM here and there, could keep big media in control of the user experience. Of course, the mood, the questions, the occasional remark, belied that, showing the underbelly of fear they have over people demanding and expecting control, flexibility, ease of use and ubiquitous media to play with (10k songs in your iPod, not 10 songs on a CD). Seems the advertisers are a little more realistic in acknowledging this and discussing it outright.
And why are they not-just-consumers? Because they want to play, mix, rip and burn it, they want to remake it to suit themselves, and they want to show it to their friends, and they want it to be cool in whatever format, whatever time, place and setting.
February 11, 2004
More on Echo Chambers
Previously I talked about this, in reference to an LATimes article the other day. Dave Weinberger and I had a nice chat about that and he made a very good point, which is that echo chambers happen both online and off, that they are actually a very good thing in that they are actually like minded communities figuring out what issues are important to them, what logic works for advancing the cause, and who can do what to make it happen. I agree, and it's why I said below that there is some good and some bad in this kind of thing. It's similar to building your own newspaper, to the extent that you don't know what's going on in the world that the rest of the people you know are talking about. The result of this is being left out of the proverbial watercooler conversation. In the same way, being too insular in an echo chamber (aka community) will result in the bad effects, but using community building is also a positive thing.
I don't think we can dismiss the value of them, because they are insular too. And I don't think we can blame what happened with Dean on the echo chamber effect. The way the campaign used the internet was exciting and interesting, and it will be a value add to campaigns and political activity in future. It is a tremendous asset. But Dean, I think failed for other reasons, maybe because while he appeals as an outsider, he's also an outsider perhaps when it comes to voting verses blogging or donating, people went for the guy who can work Washington, a political heavy, who may be perceived as having a better chance at beating Bush. Don't know, but in any event, I don't think the internet was so much the cause of the failure here, but other factors that may have been obscured by how exciting it was for those folks to organize and communicate in this new way.
February 10, 2004
Digital Media Summit Day 2
More on the Digital Media Summit at McGraw-Hill. Day 2 is much more digitally focused, not on digital content or media, but on connectivity, specifically broadband, and the media, business and social effects of this always-on connectivity where people interact so differently than they did with dial-up. Still though, a lot of talk about consumers, instead of those they formerly knew as their audience, who are now expecting and demanding and wanting to talk back and truly interact, mess with media. However, there was some concession that the always-on customer they sell to may want more interaction than what they currently get now.
The first panel: Broadband, Content & Commerce, the Internet and the Digital Consumer (digital consumer seems like a misnomer, because by definition, if they are truly digital they are not just consuming in the sense big media understands their customers). They threw out a few stats: there are 22 million broadband households (no definition of this, but I assume that the vast majority of these BB people are actually midband, so between 128 and 384 mbs down -- which means they aren't going to be downloading movies anytime soon) and by 2008 with 40% growth, this number is expected to be 62 million. BB people are 5x more likely to buy something online than dial up people.
"Always on is always used"
The panelists saw this as the key to understanding people who are on BB. They realized that this was the key to creating a wired household, where people just blend connectivity and networking in the house into their daily lives. There is some holding back of ecommerce because of lack of payment standards, but stores are replaced at the margin by online shopping (giving the example of empty retail space around Manhattan as the evidence of this -- but I would argue that the recession and 9/11 have much more to do with this...), and Amazon sees 20-30% a year growth, which is amazing. Also noted was that the conversion rate on free trials for subscriptions online is around 17%, though I'm not sure what is offered, price or how to evaluate this figure.
Cable internet service was discussed, with the Comcast guy saying they are in 23 million homes, which is the largest of these providers. They are thinking about VoIP, video conferencing, and other ways to connect people to communicate personally. Segmenting customers, partnering (The WDCPost is doing lots of partnerships, as is Real, and PaymentOne.) The Comcast guy was kind of pissy, but admitted that in 10 years, everything will come over the internet, and regular cable for TV will no longer be needed (ie, you will have one cable service for all of it, and maybe save some money? except for that monopoly thing they've got goin'). The most interesting questions were how to balance the integrity of content (particularly directed at Reuters and WDCPost/Newsweek) and so they acknowledged that they have to maintain high journalistic standards for online news, whether is edited and filtered by the Post, or more of a raw flow as Reuters does.
Embracing the Connected Consumer had Jeff Cove of Matsushita reflecting on a study on how consumers want to get media at home that said the key issues are people said they wanted as absolute musts:
1. ease of use and interoperability
2. access, downloading and time shifting capabilities as well as getting some access to physical media, even if it's making their own
3. confidence that technology will last, technology standards, trust and upgradeable stuff
4. no crashing (having your home entertainment system crash is a loser...)
5. failsafe: if one part stops working, the rest keeps going (ie, TV and VCR, where if one stops the other doesn't -- they are not dependent for operating)
Next generation content convergence was mostly just demoing examples of interactive or multimedia by the panelists, but there was a very good point made by the eScholastic woman, who said that the kids on their site expect total choice, total access, no intellectual property barriers, and no architectural barriers. They want to make it work for them, when they want, how they want, where and with whomever they choose. Also, it was acknowledged that multimedia content that is designed specifically for the web is accessed much more by their audiences than video, which people hardly touch.
I chatted with Craig Calder of NYT Digital, who told me that their archives generate around $1 million a year in revenue, but it's declining. He said mostly what's accessed is less than 90 days old, but the revenue is still revenue.
I missed the last panel as I had to take off for San Diego and the second half of the eTech conference. But the Media Summit was interesting, and I chatted with a lot of people there who have no idea about digital media and information in the way I understand it, and so we shared perspectives. Really interesting in getting a more specific sense of where they are and what they care about.
Digital Media Summit Day 1
At the Digital Media Summit at McGraw-Hill. Lots of big media are attending, and there is not much digital, and a little digitized, media being discussed. They appear to also discuss "IP" as though it were intellectual property, except the context is that "IP" is a code word for digital media in the Internet era. It's been discussed in panels where they talk about analog media, and then start refering to IP, as though analog media is not also intellectual property. Although I suppose they could be referring to internet protocols, though this is most definitely not a technically adept crowd, so I don't think they mean it that way. The cultural divide between them and the technical crowds I see at other conferences is huge. Speaking two very different languages with little cross over. Media people assume one-to-many models, broadcast, editing and filtering, and consumption. Tech people assume many-to-many, user controls, and user flexibility over content and systems. These two groups need each other but frankly, I don't see many bridges between the two. Though I would argue that as time goes on, the media people will need the tech people more, and the tech people will need the media people less, but that will take 20 years to complete, because people are slow to adapt to new systems and it will take that long for generations to change.
Media people still assume they are in control, and the case in point is the title of one of the first panels: The Broadcast Advantage or the Network Dominance Niche: Why the programming and advertising giants continue to deliver and maintain mass audience loyalty. I attended the first 10 minutes and this was debated. But still they assumed there was still control. They are arrogant, and it is a big part of the reason the public is so angry with media companies, and the press for that matter, and will keep wanting more ability to rip, mix and burn their media and to design their own experiences, and talk about it with both their friends and the makers of the content they buy.
The first panel I attended was on DRM, and included Mitch Singer at Sony and Ron Wheeler at Fox. Charles Nesson from the Berkman Center and John Godwin at MovieLink were there as well, but it was basically the Mitch and Ron show. They advanced a lot of ideas that were either technically unfeasible, ridiculous from a user point of view or the kicker, that the DRM solutions they discuss, which are technically feasible, would work. The audience, full of media, press, business and ad people took it all in, with very little dissent. Only one question from a gaming company executive, who said he had successfully sold games working with P2P, asked why they didn't consider doing the same. Wheeler said they couldn't do with movies and cable/TV what had been done with games, but did not explain why. Drew Clark asked about some of this, and was not really given an answer as to why these DRM solutions might not work. No one here addressed consumer issues, in this panel, or any others. Basically, we were discussed as though we are baby birds with our mouths open, happy to take anything big media company gives us. Wheeler also noted that Fox, any minute, is going to be suing people for uploading movies (suits are in the works now). Also he said that they were looking for carrots verses sticks to get to those who have more money than time, which they estimated was around 100 million American households. However, there was no consideration for people who want to take their media where they want, when they want, and how they want, and maybe mix it, which in another panel it was noted that kids are growing up expecting. I think this means that when these kids grow up, the business model put forth by Singer and Wheeler in this panel, and generally by big media today, will be over because they cannot sustain it. They will either adapt or die. They also talked about self-help systems, and Nesson briefly introduced his interdiction system, though he didn't say anything else for the rest of the session. Also, there wasn't as much from Godwin, who talked about how MovieLink hadn't been cracked.
Where was the technologist on this panel who might explain to them that what they are saying is not possible, or has been cracked, or simply, that with digital media, on computers (whether portable or tethered) that in order to listen/view/play, a copy must be made to experience? Drew Clark tried to ask Wheeler about his assumptions, Wheeler said these assumptions were correct, the worries were not founded, etc.
Deep down, the mood overall here is fear, but together in a pack, they can collude on the notion that while they can't turn back the clock, they might be able to keep things as the are now, in stasis, with a few controls (IP) and a firm lock on the media business (a few to the many) while chatting excitedly about convergence (it appears to mean using all the many media properties under one giant company umbrella, with many types of media and many platforms, to give them both cross use, and cross marketing, as well as synergy - there, it's been said, since they refuse to say it after the synergy-disaster of AOLTW, between these media companies). The thing they forget is that users will not go back to a time when they have to blithely accept what comes down, that they can't mix, rip, or burn, that they have to be controlled in their playing and sharing, and that they are not part of the conversation. These media companies are the biggest sellers now of cable/TV/Broadcast, movies and music. But if they can't continue to maintain the consolidation and broadcasting they do now, and the fear gives their position away. Once in a while there were a few words uttered about being realistic, often followed by silence, and then everyone moved on to what they perceived as the real conversation, how to maintain what currently exists.
The next panels on urban media and advertising models were more realistic and hopeful, because they were focusing on internet advertising for digital media, though they didn't discuss much about actual digital media, just internet distribution and the accompanying advertising models. Some very good ideas for ads, and some talk about how to stay in touch with users and remain authentic. The urban market (which they noted originated as a code word for "black" media 30 years ago) is big, hot and profitable, and a significant portion of media markets (over 40% of the top 10 markets). And yet not as many people attended the session (half full), compared to the ones where the big, old (white male) media companies were presenting (packed to the gills).
The last session included Jack Abernethy of Fox News Network and Kevin Conroy of AOL. This was the 30,000 foot overview, and had a little more realistic view of the major media companies and their ability to deal content to their users in the digital age. Lots of mention of the networked household, and untethered media, user's expectations about an always-on connection (as increased broadband penetration occurs.) Also, Conroy mentioned the biggest concern for AOL broadband users: 1. security and privacy (parents with kids on the internet - which I take to mean AOL and the parents are concerned about protecting kids, not security as in purchasing issues or people hacking into home networks), 2. communication features of BB and the convenience of BB, 3. Entertainment, and the repurposing of content for BB users, and 4. "All Builds" which he said means offering a service, like a radio preset list, that could go from laptop or home computer to mobile devices to car to office.
They also talked about bundling content, high speed delivery, what people will pay for (that which is important and unique), ad models and whether internet ads are cheap (they said they are, but to be successful both with ads and selling content is to segment markets). They ended with the Conroy remark that what is key is to understand, immediately, what matters to people and how to reach those that deem a particular thing as meaningful and give it to them (whether ad or content).
Finished the day with a quick 30 minutes (part of a 3 hour session) to hear Sen. Norm Coleman, who talked at the DCIA (Distributed Computing Industry Association - kind of a the trade association for Sharman Networks, maker of KaZaa) meeting held at the NY Hilton. I get a strange feeling from this group. I'm not sure what to make of them. They have one member, Altnet, a/k/a Brilliant Digital Entertainment. P2P has a quote I found after the presentation from P2P United front man Wayne Rosso:
- Sharman Networks’ DCIA (Distributed Computing Industry Association) is a "phony front organization operated by a rube," former Grokster president Wayne Rosso told p2pnet in an exclusive interview.
Note thought that P2P United is another trade association by Sharman's competitors.
The room was pretty packed, and Coleman, who has held hearings in Washington about the RIAA's tactics suing uploaders of copyrighted files, talked about how he didn't think this was the way to go about dealing with the ramifications of digital media and the internet, and new technologies like P2P. Instead, he thinks the DCIA is onto something, in trying to exploit P2P systems to distribute content. People were excited because they thought the woman who runs Sharman would be there, but instead, there was a large screen with video projection of her, speaking extremely slowly, while she explained why the DCIA was necessary to develop systems that work with P2P instead of against it. There was an AP photographer there who snapped photo's of the video. When he sat down next to me, I asked if he could actually use those, or if anyone else would use them, and he said no, that it was a waste (kind of exasperated), and then got his stuff and left. Not sure what happened next, because I had to leave to go to dinner with Daniel C. Silverstein (of early bIPlog), his brother Todd (who is doing a poetry reading at Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (Bleecker-Houston) on 2/18/04 at 6:30 pm and who had to leave early due to this upcoming poetry obligation), Scott Matthews and Amy Harmon. Interesting conversation about digital, media and tech stuff.
February 09, 2004
The (Non) Digital, Media Summit
Attended the Digital Media Summit today. Some interesting stuff, but almost no digital, except in the DRM sessions (concurrent with others, so I attended only one of those). Saw Drew Clark and chatted about the lack of digital focus, or understanding, and how most panelists barely acknowledged digitized media. Will blog the sessions tomorrow, as I need sleep. But the overriding theme was about how incumbent companies survive the changes digital brings. So they talked a lot about being ready, but not too much about what they had to be ready for, and appeared to have little to offer in the way of solutions about how to be ready.
February 08, 2004
Saturday Night Rewritten
Attended this show earlier tonight by the Above Kleptomania Family at the Sage Theater in NY. The premise: watch Saturday Night Live, and then do an analog remix/riff with a 6 hour rewrite, and some rehearsal, spoof it with about 14 actors, plus a different band each week (we had the Billionaire Boys Club, who had a little mic trouble – you have to turn the mic on, guys – which added to the fun; decent band too) on the Sunday night after the SNL show. It was good tiny off off-bway theater.
Many good skits, but a fav included "Sara Shaffer" describing her new "book": Movies And Albums That When Played Together Will Totally Blow Your Mind.
Chapters include: How to correctly sync The Color Purple and Hall and Oates, The Pointer Sisters and episode #37 of Saved By the Bell (the one where Jack confronts Jesse about her speed problem), and Boys on the Side with Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash.
We caught part of the SNL show last night after dinner in Soho at Peasant (you know, food in NY is just so damned cheap -- okay, inexpensive. Everywhere we go, we are shocked, after a lot of good wine and food, how reasonable it all is -- it would have been double that in SF. Previous night at Bond Street, had the best Sushi, better than Nobu, we agreed, with Sakitinis - vodka and dry saki that were great - great beautiful delicious creative sushi, and it was half what we were expecting. I can't figure it out but it's nice to hang here and pay so much less than Bay Area prices. Even the Union Square farmer's market is about half the price of organic in SF/Berkeley. Though I also have to mention that we walked past this Rice Pudding shop - similar in concept to an ice cream shop - very high tech/Italian style too - but totally weird. I tasted three, ranging from awful to good, but frankly, and maybe I shouldn't have said this to the woman, "I'm sorry, but I just can't eat this." I'm an adventurous eater, but this was just not good.)
I asked the Above Klepto Family if they had to get permission from SNL, and they said things were cool, and so far no worries (I interpret this to mean that no, they haven’t asked) and that if the show is successful (been going 4 months), they may have to be more formal. However, imagine doing this digitally. Could you get the parts of the SNL show recorded to remix once the broadcast flag is in place (as rewritten, it was acted out live, though they did use original recordings, and totally take the opening of SNL and then shoot their actors in a similar opening montage, and play it on a large TV onstage)?
February 07, 2004
The Internet Echo Chamber is Similar to Echo Chambers Elsewhere
Doc was quoted in Joseph Menn's/LA Times story, Dean Backers Debate Internet 'Echo Chamber' today. My favorite comes at the very end, about Dean and the use of the internet in the political/campaign process:
- He's the Wright brothers' first airplane. You wouldn't want to put passengers on it. But that doesn't mean it isn't important.
- The echo chamber meme distracts us from the true echo chamber: The constellation of media, especially in the US.
An interesting thing, this echo chamber effect, and how digital media and the internet can take it in directions that are perpendicular to the kind that happen in the analog world. With the internet, we can't usually see the people we are conversing with (though there are blog photos, on the internet, no one knows your a dog...). This means it's harder in some ways to see a lack of diversity when conversing, because the commonality is just in the similar interests or characteristics and that those with opposing views are located somewhere else on the internet. The physical queues that would alert us to the lack of diversity are missing and so we turn to online queues which may either be non-existent, or just very different, and can't represent the physical and emotional states we embody. These digital queues may show us other things that might or might not lead us to diverse discussions, (exceptions for rants and other obvious excitements, but if one is just talking in a forum or blog, it's harder to gain that emotional presence that we pick up on in person and we might misinterpret another’s words in associating an emotional component).
I had a conversation with Eddan Katz yesterday about these echo chambers we find ourselves in, talking about the copyfight echo chamber, the Dean echo chamber, journalism and media’s, Washington DC’s, New York’s, SF’s, academia’s, lawyer’s, liberal’s, conservative’s, etc. All these echo chambers, whether in person/analog or online, lead to reinforcing their member’s views, while at the same time like members explore the logic and understanding of their shared interest or commonality. Some good and some bad there, but the value of the internet for us is the way we can, given interest and concern, find conversations easily that we don’t normally listen to, views we might not otherwise see because they don’t have physical proximity or the right of entry, to see what people who think differently are thinking about. The opportunity is there if we want to find it, but then, even the internet is an echo chamber, because our commonality is that we are people with access and an understanding of how to converse and how to find others conversing. This is a huge problem, though also a huge opportunity to find diversity without proximity.
Also, I am in a class with Joe Menn, who is an interesting, smart guy. Questions in the first class to students included what we had written, and I mentioned my blogs. I asked him whether he (or Katie Hafner) read blogs, would read them if he knew he himself or a particular article was being discussed. No, he said, no time, and not interested. Sort of intimated that bloggers are in the cranks and crazies category. Though he didn't say this outright. Didn't seem to like blogs at all, highly suspicious of them and their writers. Nice article though.
February 02, 2004
Ken Auletta on Objectivity vs. Fairness, and the Defensiveness of the Press
...at UCB JSchool 9am this morning in the Library. (Back after a long day, but I wanted to note these notes.) Ken Auletta is a lovely man. Sat next to him, and noted that with the pouring rain outside, he had the most beautiful pair of brown suede shoes, perfect and untouched.
A few points (all -'s are KA):
-News outlets will lose their brand if they lose their credibility. Ex: When Gannet says to their journalists, if you view a press conf online instead of attending, you can do two articles a day instead of one, and that's more productive, journalists have to figure out how to respond to these business interests to maintain their credibility, to maintain the brand, to maintain the value.
-It's bad when Gilligan says "I got it essentially right."
-Can't turn back the clock on narrow casting, and in fact transparency is key for journalism. Declare your ideology (news outlets), though journalists shouldn't have one. Not worried so much about bloggers so much as the European model, or the 19th century American model, where papers essentially worked for the parties. Though the new liberal radio has declared itself, rather not have that.
-Tech is not a tool of governments, in fact it can often be the tool that opens up or reveals.... Finds it thrilling that people like Bill Gates at MS are terrified of technologies like Linux, which Gates believes could ruin his biz model overnight.
-Bush views journalists and the press as a special interest, and Bush knows the press is unpopular. There have only been 9 press conferences this term. Bush, et al charge that the press is too often interested in the gotcha story, headlines, and there is merit to this argument, and so they can get away with this Left argument. But the real bias is not Left or Right, but rather an economic bias, where everything is ratings driven.
-The government has a role in helping police media. Murdock/Eisner/Sumner Redstone are terrified that India or China or the Govt of France will keep them out, or force certain kinds of public content.
Objectivity vs. Fairness
-(from Paul Grabowicz) Objectivity? What about this, is it part of the role for journalists? Or does it instead make for something where the journalists stand above everything?
-Objective is the wrong word. Rather, it's fairness. Objectivity is a false God. Instead we should strive for fairness and transparency.
-The press is too intrusive, but if you stick with fairness, as well as humility -- ask questions instead of providing answers -- there is good journalism. It's the vanity of journalists today, that go on talk shows and never say "I don't know" and then ask a question; instead they always have answers and people find that arrogant.
Transparency, Defensiveness and Humility
-Thinks it would be really great if Dan Okrent (Ombudsman at the NY Times) and Bill Keller should sit down every week and blog together.
Q (from me): is there a way to have conversation with your readers and still maintain journalistic integrity?
KA: that's the question! (but no one, including Clay Felker or Orville Schell provided an answer, though they looked around searching for something.) But he doesn't have time to do tons of email...
OS: there is no way Tom Brokaw can respond to 10k email.
-Is there a way to get away from arrogance? Hard. Yesterday, KA on CSPAN, and he said that, regarding media consolidation and the FCC, last June, the NRA, a right wing group, had joined with liberals in the fight. A caller said that KA was stereotyping about the NRA, and KA's first response was to get defensive, but then KA realized the guy was right. It's human nature to be defensive, but journalists need to start being transparent and allowing criticism.
Q: how come the NYTimes doesn't credit other outlets?
KA: that was yesterday's column by Okrent. Not a mistake by the Times, but rather not giving credit to other sources. And that's new.
I pointed out that Jeff Jarvis said that yesterday's column was the Okrent's first blog post, because it contained a link.
He mentioned his favorite inventions, including the Sony Digital Recorder because it makes his job so much easier, and he seemed delighted with the actual process of moving an interview from DR, via a memory stick to his computer. Nice talk. I hope the shoes made it through the storm on his way to the next event.
Suggestion for Conversations Between Those Formerly Known as Your Audience and Journalists
So while Ken Auletta and Orville Schell suggested it would be great and yet difficult for journalists (the example was Tom Brokaw) to truly converse with their audiences, I wonder if it might be possible to blog these conversations. Tom Brokaw could do a blog, not turn on comments, but rather link to constructive conversation on other blogs, as could other bloggers link to him. Inherent in blogging is a sense that, "this is my house" and so quality and reputation are up to each blogger, while other bloggers link to those that are useful or conversant in some way. It seems to me this conversation, which goes on every day in the blogsphere, transparently and in front of any viewer who wants to see it, might answer this question, while keeping Tom Brokow from having to answer thousands of email, comments or whatever.
Below is a recent CBS Marketwatch article on Auletta.
New Yorker's Auletta is in his prime
Commentary: He is the best at reporting on the media biz
By Jon Friedman, CBS.MarketWatch.com
Last Update: 12:01 AM ET Jan. 30, 2004
NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- When I think of the qualities that separate the best journalists from the pack, curiosity and courage invariably top the list.
By my standards, the New Yorker's Ken Auletta, the premier chronicler of the media business, is in his prime. Auletta, 61, is the author of the critically praised "Backstory," a new collection of his articles about the media industry and his ninth book in all.
In every chapter - ranging from "The Howell Doctrine" and "New York's Tabloid Wars" to "Fox News: We Report, We Decide" - what comes across is Auletta's boundless desire to understand how the world works.
"He loves the process of discovery," says his wife Amanda Urban, who knows a few things about successful authors. She runs the book department at International Creative Management.
And as I discovered, no detail is too small for Auletta to ponder. When we met on Jan. 16 at the New Yorker offices, he saw my notepad and asked in his characteristically quiet but forceful way: "Why aren't you using a tape-recorder?"
Even seasoned journalists sometimes shrink from asking tough questions of powerful people. But Auletta isn't reluctant to put CEOs on the spot. In November 2002, I watched him sit on a stage at New York University and interview Dick Parsons, the chief executive officer of Time Warner (still known as AOL Time Warner at the time) (TWX: news, chart, profile), the biggest media company in the world.
It was an opportune time. The company's stock had been falling steadily because of the calamities at its America Online unit (the shares have gained 29 percent in the past year). The financial beating that longtime Time Warner employees' 401 (k) programs had been taking was regarded as something of a scandal inside the House That Luce Built.
Auletta courteously but doggedly pressed an uncomfortable Parsons to talk about the grim effect of the stock plunge. Finally, Parsons said he would advise his employees to "get over it." As blunt as the comment sounded, it was even more astonishing because of Parsons' reputation for being a good-humored CEO as well as a shrewd corporate politician.
Auletta said Parsons' answer surprised him "because he's such a skilled diplomat."
It was vintage Auletta. He is the rare journalist who can persuade subjects and sources to tell him interesting nuggets without resorting to what he regards as the bane of the media, the tabloid practice of "gotcha" journalism.
"In addition to being really good at listening, he has a kind of sympathetic manner that lures people into saying things they probably wish they hadn't," said Nora Ephron, the film director of such hits as "You've Got Mail," who worked with Auletta at New York magazine in the 1970s.
Work, work, work
So, what, then, is Auletta's secret?
"There's no secret," says David Remnick, the ever-astute editor of the New Yorker. "He works and he works and he works and he works."
Indeed, Auletta, a native of Brooklyn, has ferocious work habits. When he labors on a New Yorker piece, he creates an index that would impress a doctoral candidate, complete with stick 'em pads as well as alphabetized and numbered sets of notes. By the time he is finished researching a book, his research file may be 180-pages long - single-spaced! For a New Yorker piece: 50 pages.
"My wife tells me I'm anal," Auletta lamented with a weary grin, "and she is right."
For a profile of Time Warner in 2001, Auletta said, he turned in 35,000 words, which his editor trimmed to a tidy 13,000 words. No wonder when I asked Auletta what he hoped to improve on in his craft, he said he wanted to do a better job of writing descriptions of people and scenes -- and that he wished he could hand in shorter stories to his editors -- "maybe 25,000 words," he shrugged.
Urban suspects her husband -- who moved seamlessly from a career in politics to one in journalism -- may eventually ease into teaching as his next Everest.
For now, Auletta's lessons can be found in his work. He follows a few wise courses of action in interviews. He says he keeps his mouth shut and lets the subject do most of the talking, opens conversations gently by asking about the person's childhood, doesn't make deals with sources, laughs at their jokes and definitely doesn't suggest he will write an overly flattering "puff piece."
"I tell them that if I do my job properly, I can promise that there will be things that you won't like," he said. "As a journalist, your first obligation is to the reader."
Auletta has served as an inspiration for his fellow journalists, such as Timothy Noah, who writes Slate's excellent "Chatterbox" column.
Speaking about Auletta's fascinating book, "Greed and Glory on Wall Street," Noah said: "I have never gotten over what a special piece of journalism it was."
Lessons in humility
Instead of "Backstory," Auletta could easily have titled his new book, "Lessons in Humility."
Auletta respects humility, perhaps above all, in his subjects and fellow journalists. Likewise, when a CEO is haughty or shows signs of hubris, Auletta will show his disapproval.
That was evident when Auletta wrote, perhaps, his finest -- and most important -- piece of the past few years, a profile of Howell Raines. When Auletta encountered him in 2002, Raines was riding high as the top editor of the New York Times.
Raines had crafted the Times' strategy on Sept. 11, 2001 to "flood the zone" and cover the terrorist attack from every conceivable human, business and political angle. The Times won Pulitzer Prize recognition.
But Auletta showed in his subsequent profile, "The Howell Doctrine," that Raines was a flawed leader. He was sure of himself and didn't seem to communicate well with his staff. "His virtues became his vices," Auletta said.
Auletta's article proved to be remarkably prescient. In a stunning fall from grace, Raines resigned from the Times last year in the wake of the scandal involving Jayson Blair, the reporter who fabricated facts in many cases.
While it's hard to find fault with Auletta, I had begun to believe some years ago that he was too easy at times on his subjects -- particularly in a 1997 piece on Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who is now the mayor of New York.
When I raised this point with Auletta, he frowned ever so slightly and said, "Maybe you're right."
Auletta's stories have also angered subjects.
"Bill Gates still doesn't talk to me," he said, referring to the Microsoft (MSFT: news, chart, profile) leader. Auletta criticized Gates' inflexible stance during the software giant's infamous antitrust battles with the U.S. government.
Auletta deftly peeled away -- like an onion -- what he viewed as personality shortcomings of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, an accomplished moviemaker.
"Harvey hated that piece," Auletta said evenly. "I'd have been disappointed if he had liked it."
It wouldn't surprise me if Auletta writes soon about the nation's newsmagazines, which intrigue him.
"The newsweeklies have a problem -- the mail," he said. "How do they stay relevant? I don't understand the future of the newsweeklies. You often don't get until Wednesday and you can read them online."
Generally, Auletta is skeptical about the media's future. He frets about the global corporations, which systematically cut the quality in their holdings to squeeze higher profits. He worries that it will be harder for his peers to do their essential work.
"As journalists, we're truth-seekers," he said. "We follow the truth."