Monday, February 28, 2005

Older attempts at using e-Media

An interesting confluence: This morning I read a comment on one of my posts that talked about the kinds of people who come to media innovation at different stages in its development; I also got an e-mail from a documentary producer; and it all reminded me, rather surprisingly, that I did something similar to "blogging my stories" back in 1995.

I made my first web page in 1994 (might have been 1993, but I'm sure about 1994) via Geocities: It was a home page for the Manly Football League (fantasy football), and in those pre-Google days, if you typed the word "manly" into the Yahoo! search engine, we were the No. 1 result. Hence, the site's motto: "Voted No. 1 Most Manly Site On the Web by Yahoo!" It included a link to a yodeling page in Austria where you could listen to people yodel. Just because.

Andy Rhinehart took over that site, and look what happened to him: His RSS feed from is part of the documentation for RSS that Dave Winer posted at Harvard, and he's one of the most forward-thinking web guys in the MSM.

After handing off the MFL site, I posted something new at geocities: a web site that published a 150-page research summary of the work I had done on retelling the story of World War I aviators Frank Luke and Joseph Wehner. I realized I couldn't travel to find more information, so I thought that if I made available what I had learned -- RATHER THAN HIDING IT FROM COMPETITORS -- perhaps bits of the story that I would never find otherwise would make their way to me.

Those bits continue to find me. The grandson of the commander of the 27th Pursuit Squadron found me through the site and has promised to call me in the next few days. Descendents of long-dead pilots and support crews have provided jpegs and diaries. This morning, a documentary film producer wrote to say his film is moving ahead and that he still hopes to interview me for the project.

Yes, other people have submitted manuscripts to publishers and scripts to studios based at least in part on the research that I did and made available for free. But I felt in 1995 what I am feeling even more strongly today: Cooperation works.

I never really wanted to be a web designer or a programmer. I wanted to be a writer. Thing is, you can't be part of anything innovative without being a bit of a shade-tree mechanic, too. You've got to want to pull things apart and figure how they work.

I've never made an innovative website or written a computer program. I'm more like that first wave of settlers, the people who follow the scouts and build really ugly little houses out where the wild things roam.

Podcasting on podcasting?

So here's the idea from this weekend, which came about after playing around with audacity: Why not put up a stand-alone podcast called "A Short History of Podcasting" on my newspaper website the day the story runs? I pitched the idea to my boss this morning, and she liked it.

Blogging about my thinking on stories continues to pay dividends. Andy Rhinehart wrote in with good suggestions, and my most recent post got a plug on The John and Steve Show, which might wind up netting me a good interview.

So far so good on the openness experiment. Obviously, there are certain stories I would not blog because there are certain things I would not want to give away before publication, but the more I do this the more encouraged I become. Yes, I am competitive by nature. But as Cara White pointed out last night, cooperation trumps competition over and over. Besides, my biggest competion is typically the eternal conflict between my ideas and my stamina.

A very interesting (not to mention helpful) e-mail from Caleb (Area 51), who points out that Liberated Syndication has set up a public place for people to play with their service (libsyn hosts podcasts). Log in as "sandbox" with "sandbox" as your password. It will take you to a place called -- duh -- sandbox, and you can listen to what others have posted here.

I liked the science package I put together on Discovery Informatics for our Health/Science section this morning, but it just doesn't read as well when you get it on the web. Web readers never see the extremely cool illustration by Jason Fletcher. They don't see the photo by Alan Hawes. The FAQ is tacked onto the bottom of the main story, and the sidebar isn't even given a dedicated link -- it's just a general link somewhere below "Stay at home mom reaching her goals through exercise."

I'm a perfectionist pain-in-the-ass about such things, but there is certainly truth to the statement that the web experience of print publications still pales in comparison to the original. And from our perspective, why shouldn't it? If you get it on the web, you're getting it for free.

Man, we all really need a new business model.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Frustration takes hold

Two weeks ago, podcasting was like this little secret I had: it was as close as I had ever come to being hip in my entire life.

Today, of course, podcasting is on the cover of WIRED and the NYT and everyone is scrambling to get it. Caleb Fiske described the problem best: He was part of the team that launched The Area 51 Show three weeks ago, and he recalled his internal anxiety at missing the boat, the lament: "if only we could have launched it three days earlier..."

This is the heart of our frustration. I have always sensed that the world is moving faster than I can track it, but when even early adopters feel that way, I feel safe in saying that this is the spirit of the age. Parse that however you like.

And then there's the constant click-track of technology: My PC dates back to 2003, and thanks to the changes at Microsoft, it is on the verge of functional obsolescence. It's not that there's anything WRONG with it -- it's just that every MS update that shows up causes previously stable systems to crash and crawl. I limp by via system restores, but this is a temporary solution at best.

Result: I download new programs that don't work properly, and I can never tell whether this is a function of the install or the result of service pack updates that I have to hold at bay.

To put things even more bluntly, as of today, podcasting looks more to me like a beta than a first release. Geeks and wannabes (like me) will love playing with it and puzzling through the problems, but the average person just won't care that much.

My iPodder has never worked properly, but there's no tech support for that, no documentation. I've got some really cool recording programs now, but I can't tell whether my problems with them are user ignorance or software issues. My other podcatching downloads all have problems. I cannot, with confidence, timeshift downloads from RSS feeds.

The intended answer is obvious: Go out, buy new computers, new software. Buy an MP3 player. Buy a better microphone, plus an adapter, maybe a mix board. Oh, and it should all be on a laptop, too, in case you want to record on the fly. And then you need a host to upload your file, and blogging engines that will properly publish the feed. And you have to worry about bandwidth overages, just in case you get really unlucky and a bunch of people download your stuff.

Blogger, which was so much fun just a few weeks ago, looks too limited to me now.

And as I covet this new tech, I think, "What Would Wendell Berry Do?" And then I am ashamed.

I do love this stuff. I wake up at odd hours thinking about it. But the more I road test it, the more I see that this is a game for people who build their lives around technology, not vice versa. And until it makes that switch, as blogging has, no real breakout is going to occur.

We all experience the same frustration, but we each have a different threshold. The genius will be the person who figures out how to reach this technology down to guys like me.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I interview the Area 51 guys

So at 10:30 this morning I got on the phone with the crew from The Area 51 Show... sort of. I called executive producer Marc Rose in Oregon, who called the rest of the group in St. Petersburg, Fla., on a cell phone. So I would ask questions, and then they'd take turns putting people on the cell phone.

Here's the cool thing: Whether these guys ever become famous or not, it's a pleasure interviewing creative people who are pioneering in a new field. People tend to become less interesting and fun once they've got something to lose, but here's hoping these guys find their audience. They look like some kind of second- or third-generation vanguard in podcasting.

In case there are some other fans out there (and apparently there are now a few thousand listening in after three weeks), here's the short skinny: Five people put the thing together, with a bunch of rotating voice talent that morphs in and out. Rose and co-host Douglas Scott write the material; co-host Bobby Black is an actor and a former professional wrestler who was killed in "The Punisher;" Caleb Fiske is an artist and the guy who handles their web presence, and a guy named JR mixes the stuff. Scott writes jingles; Rose produces a sci-fi radio show.

Meanwhile, Adam Curry is dropping hints about some hookup between him and Apple in DSC 2-25-05. Talk about building your own buzz machine. Want someone's attention? Whisper.

I'm O.D.'d on podcasts today, folks. I listened to all kinds of stuff -- and now all I really want to do is hear some silence.

Coulter, Corn, Rosen, etc.

Last night I ALMOST posted a lengthy piece responding to Ann Coulter's absurd column on Gannongate. I stopped myself because ... well, something told me to wait.

In the final analysis, I felt that much of what I had to say was weak -- certainly more relevant than Coulter's propaganda, but not the kind of real reportage that the situation requires. Besides, this isn't a partisan blog. It's a media blog. So I sat down and shut up.

This morning I found two excellent pieces on the subject, and I'm glad my intuition was in form last night. David Corn and Jay Rosen have written excellent articles on the subject, and Rosen's piece is probably the best thing I've read on the larger story of what's happening to the press in Washington, period.

Corn's "Problems with Gannongate" explains why sometimes it's best to look a gift horse in the mouth. He fails to frame the story in the larger context, at least for my tastes, but this kind of critical review is absolutely essential.

Rosen's "In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press" is just an amazing summary of the current situation. It puts Gannon/Guckert in that context I crave, and actually expands it.

Do yourself a favor. If you read nothing else today, read the Rosen piece.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Object lesson: Blogging your stories

To road test some of the ideas about taking down walls between reporter and audience, I've been blogging some of my internal questions about how to approach stories. The other day, the question was, how does a guy in my situation approach the Global Warming story?

Here's an excellent response:

"Maybe write a story about how the average person with finite time and interest should go about forming their opinion? e.g. what rules of thumb should they use, e.g. who should they outsource their researching to, to get the best results. (will the 4 year old kid down the street be the most accurate resource? how about the snake oil vendor? the industry shill? the Koran? the Bible? the blogger who sounds most sure of himself? ...)"

Kinda cuts to the heart of the matter, don't it?

'Blogging:' the newspaper story

Just came from the weekly features department meeting, where the conversation turned to blogging and New Media and grassroots journalism and self-programmed media and the future of advertising.

Some of us were passionately interested, others weren't. There was some skepticism, but some of that might change as people find out more on their own.

One of the things that is clear to me is that the average MSM employee stays so close to the edge in terms of deadlines and workload and stress that there just isn't time or energy for exploring new possibilities that don't show promise for quick return on investment. We're the people who should be tracking this most intensely, but the general knowledge base is pretty average-American.

I've broached some of these topics in the past, but for whatever reason, today the general subject took hold, and now I find myself with a story on "blogging" for mid-March. It will come on the heels of my story about podcasting.

(and I don't know what I'm going to say)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


I really liked the tenbyten idea as art, but you gotta love this representation of the media stream, brought to me by my brother, Dewey Sasser.

10 by 10

Hey, make sure you check out this link, if only to be impressed by its different approach to presenting news. It's fascinating, although I doubt I'll make it part of my daily routine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

How to cover Global Warming?

I'm leaving for Columbia in a few minutes for a chance to sit down with a University of South Carolina scientist to talk about global warming. And the thing is, this isn't so much an interview as it is a conversation about how to proceed on a story.

I write about science for a Southern metro paper, and I'm not going to be the guy who breaks big stories on global climate. So what's my role? Why should I even be interested in this story? Am I up to it?

My hypothesis: I want to know what I can trust, and so do my readers. Is global warming real or an elaborate fake? How do we know? How should we judge? Who can we trust?

To me, global warming is the perfect example of the potentially world changing story that my profession fails to tell. We fail because we don't understand it, but we also fail because we think we are somehow doing our jobs when we assign equal weight to all voices. That's fine in a local debate about zoning, but on science?

Can I write a story that helps people to understand the truths and the distortions and the folly, an objective story written by a subjective person? Can I ever hope to understand it all myself?

I write about science, and truth be told, half the time I don't know as much as the average high school student.

Monday, February 21, 2005

To quote the man:

"The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or
trade. It is a cheap catch-all for f***offs and misfits - a false doorway to
the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the
building inspector."
--Hunter S. Thompson, forwarded to me by GMLc columnist Harriet McLeod

So long, HST

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. You never expected Hunter S. Thompson to kick off in his sleep with a comfy shawl around his shoulders, fresh glass of Ensure slowly warming on the coffee table. Thompson and guns; we should have seen it coming.

My second thought after hearing this was "Thank God I don't have to write that obit." Where would you begin? And how would you ever balance the genius with the profanity, the wildness, the occasional maddening obtuseness? Because you don't do HST justice by making him simple.

I don't know enough about him to write that obit, but I'm looking forward to the one that "gets it."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Hey, look over here...

Has anyone else noticed that while we were all busy debating a Social Security plan that isn't going anywhere, tort reform just passed?

Ah, the joys of reporting

A parting shot from an e-mail from my first editor, received this morning:

"You should know that whenever I hear or read a story about airplane toilet crap falling from the sky, I think of you."

Memories... light the corners of my mind...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Area 51

I'm writing on Discovery Informatics today, but with my podcasting story in development, I made sure to listen to the Area 51 Show when it came out today.

Mine was the only listener e-mail they read during the show, and it was lame as hell, which tells me that I was probably the only person who wrote them an e-mail.

That should change, though. Area 51 is funny as hell. Once a week, about 15 minutes. I'm hooked.

I gonna have to interview these guys for my story, eh?

Peggy Noonan

I heard something about this WSJ column by Peggy Noonan yesterday but didn't have time to read it (I wonder how, since it was published today?). Today I'm e-mailing the link to dozens of friends and co-workers.

There's an incredible acceleration of blog talk in the MSM just this week. Perhaps the confluence of Gannon/Eason and the spreading awareness of RSS/podcasting etc. is driving this toward critical mass for pop cultural awareness.

AP story on wikis

Check out this AP story on new aps that use wikis to foster collorative online documents.

Andy Rhinehart and I discussed an idea last month whereby a newspaper could offer free hosting for anybody associated with a recreation sports league or little league team. In exchange for the site and various in-print pointers, the newspaper would get the right to surf the various league sites, looking for story ideas and news items to put in the print edition. Great idea, and not difficult, but I wondered what would happen if the people running the sites lost interest, got sick, went on vacation.

Lo and behold, this article addresses that question DIRECTLY: "Say someone has built a Web site for their child's soccer team. Setting up a community-style blog could help make the task easier, Reid said. A single person wouldn't be burdened with all the work."

This stuff isn't rocket surgery anymore, but whoever gets there first in the MSM is going to look like a visionary genius.

What to put in, what to leave out?

Robert Scoble blogged on Monday about Charlie Rose talking to bloggers on his show. His point: Don't leave out the geeks, and he goes on to list them (some just by first name, as if we all know pioneering blog geeks by first name).

Scoble's point is excellent: You want to get all the right people in your piece.

But this is the curse of mass media: When you leave someone out, they're OUT. You've screwed up. You can't get it back. And if you were an expert on the subject, you might have known better, but you aren't, so you didn't. And tomorrow the subject will be bass fishing lesbians. Ready... GO!

The grass-roots notion that "there's more knowledge out here than in there" could change this equation and improve our ability to get the right people to the table, but we're going to have to bring a lot of MSM decision-makers to this discussion before that's going to happen regularly.

(A secondary point: As bloggers become more popular and their comments take on transformative weight, they too will become subject to this problem. It's easy to say hurtful things when nobody really gets hurt, to exclude people when it's a private party. But scale changes things. It's like growing up. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

National Review on Gannon

Here is Tim Graham of the Media Research Center giving his take on the Guckert/Gannon mess in The National Review:

"Liberal media elitists say they want only 'real' journalists, not 'partisan operatives,' to be allowed in the White House briefing room. But what they really might wind up accomplishing with their 'Gannongate' pounding was the silencing of rare right-leaning voice in the White House press corps. To them, you can only be 'authentic' by pounding the president from the left."

Graham then goes on to give a nice list of cheesy sympathetic "questions" from Clinton-era press conferences. And he's right: some of them are laughable and pathetic.

But this is a red herring. Graham has equated the Gannon issue to what his organization does: monitoring for partisan bias and then raising holy hell about it. Only that isn't the issue here: Gannon and Talon News claimed to be something they weren't. Bloggers sniffed it out and discovered the guy was using a fake name and couldn't get credentials to cover congress. Then it turns out the that he's linked to the Valerie Plame fiasco.

I don't hear left wing bloggers calling for Talon News to be tossed out of the press room (disclaimer: I haven't read every left wing blog, but that isn't the tone of what i've been reading). As for me, I don't have any problem with partisan media participating in press conferences. I'm just like Graham: I don't like it when things pretend to be other things.

But now we know exactly what Talon News is. We know exactly who J.D. Guckert is. We can see that the White House is not forthcoming about its relations to Talon, and that Gannon evaporated the instant he came under scruitiny. We can see how the MSM handles this. We can see how the Bush apologists on the right are trying desperately to spin this into a left-wing hypocrisy story or a gay-bashed-by-lefties story.

It's neither. At its best, this is a story of how the White House rewarded a wealthy GOP political donor with a press pass for his personal "news service" and the guy didn't have the brains to hire a reporter who used his own name and didn't run a homosexual escort service. At worst, it reeks of arm's length collusion.

The word at the center of the new media is "transparency." It's a difficult thing. I'm all for it, but even I don't know if I'm ready to live up to it. Whatever: Transparency is coming. It's the new standard, and we're all going to have to get there.

Gannon is a head on a pike, right alongside Dan Rather's. But let's get the correct message.

In summary...

Dave Winer calls it like he sees it and is probably one of the most fearless people I've met in public life. He seems a man following an inner muse, campaigning for what might be called civic virtues. He doesn't mind giving his straight out honest opinion, but he's not without tact when he needs it.

I don't live up to that standard. I am not fearless. Less fearful than I was, sure, but fearless? I'm never a paycheck away from bankruptcy -- damned right I'm fearful. I worry quite a bit about offending people. I have to force myself to be direct sometimes.

Dave Winer speaks with confidence and authority, isn't afraid to say what he doesn't know or to identify those things that really don't interest him. Me, I know a little bit about everything, which is enough to win free bar tabs on trivia night, but not enough to be an expert on anything. I don't know that I'm qualified to write on these subjects... but if I don't write about them, who will? And how will my readers find out about these topics?

I had a good drive back, thought that I would try some new things here. Maybe I'll come up with a link that points to the stories I write. Maybe I'll create a blog for the neo-pagan story I'm getting ready to write and bring more of the participants in via that blog BEFORE publication. i can even imagine a reporter's blog that talked about the process of doing a story, but I don't think I'll broach that subject until my employer is ready to have the blog talk.

Anyway, back to work.

More "More on Winer/Rhinehart"

11. There's a 4 p.m. session with the H-J staff. About eight or nine people, plus D and A. Some skepticism, sure, but it winds up being a good exchange.

12a. Dinner: We head up the street toward a barbecue or steak place, but we pass a restaurant that says "Noodle House" on the door and Dave says he loves noodles. So we eat noodles. "If I lived here I would eat here every day," Winer says. Dinner is good. Dave asks more questions about the South, then drums on cups and platters and table tops with his chop sticks.

12b. Dave seems to be doing two things: 1. I get the impression he's looking for a place to live next; 2. He's an evangelist for blogging, sort of a Johnny Blogoseed. Driving around the south, meeting with bloggers and editors and reporters, and not so much talking at them as interviewing them, bringing them out, making third-party connections that remain after he leaves. Only the subject really isn't blogging, and it really isn't media. What all these conversations have in common is a quest for some kind of deeper integrity, some sort of honest, open, non-elitist perspective that puts the emphasis on truth, not profit. I mean, boil it down.

13. One of my early concerns with "the blogger side" (a patently absurd label, I know) was that in its urge to tear down the monolithic media, the participants might trample the meaningful virtues of our business. I come away with a different understanding:

14. Example: Dave is openly hostile to concepts like "news judgment" and other manifestations of faux-objectivity (in fact, he doesn't believe that the virtues of the business even exist in any meaningful way, so corrupted does he see us). Me, I'm sitting there thinking about all the agonizing calls I've had to make over the years, thinking that a blogger-led media would vicitimize its subjects by destroying privacy, applying one-size-fits all ethics and "tough shit" answers to appeals for consideration of special circumstances. But now I think the disconnect is mostly one of semantics. In the act of posting his blog entries, I witness Dave commit at least two acts of what we would call news judgment, taking care not to "out" people, suggesting that a woman's comment would be great blog material so long as her name was not revealed.

He has a sense of when citing a source by name could be destructive, and he demonstrates compassion. Later in the evening, he argues AGAINST the mandatory use of his own transparency idea in cases where it might put female reporters at risk of stalking. We might call it different names, but Winer is dealing with the same issues that newspaper people worry about. Or SHOULD worry about.

15. In talking with editors/reporters, Winer is friendly and supportive. Yes, he still makes big, controversial statements that no doubt put some people off. But the average person with Dave's media grievences would not be so collegial. I don't know if he's as collegial with the bloggers with whom he disagrees.

More on Winer/Rhinehart

5. I can sense that the interview is boring Dave, so when Andy comes back in I give him a reprieve. "I figured you'd take longer than this," Andy says. "I remember some of your interviews." Thanks, A-Train.

6. We go to a coffee shop. This is fun: the ice is well broken, and the talk is more free-form. I'm still worry that I'm too much at the center of things. Andy's not usually the most talkative guy and I'm more like a verbal geiser, so I worry I'm stepping all over him.

7. objective/subjective. I admit that personal objectivity is impossible but contend that objectivity is a process. a person isn't objective, but a person can work through the process of ojectivity to produce more valuable information. General agreement. Dave points out that he's a scientist, understands all that, but that journalism isn't even in the ball game when it comes to that kind of objectivity. I agree. So why don't we consider using these tools to create it?

8a. We talk just a bit about crediblity scoring for journalists/news organization/news sources, etc. I suggest that it could be a membership relationship, sort of like the Associated Press. Dave asks "Bloggers too?" Well, why not? Membership would be optional, but being a member gives you a better shot at being taken seriously. The value here would develop over time. Dave ponders some kind of blogger "buddy system" whereby three knowledgeable people would vouch for a fourth person's credibility in the event of a dispute.

8b. Dave later describes the coffeehouse talk as being almost like a brainstorming session.

9. Back at the H-J, Dave blogs in andy's office and links to us. I cringe. This blog has only been up for about six weeks and I'm getting linked from Scripting News? Mixed emotions: one should appreciate unexpected gifts but beware unearned status.

10. Dave doesn't like stuff: He doesn't like Andy's new aggregator, he makes big statements about journalism and everything that's wrong with it. He tells me I'm going to get my story wrong, because journalists always do. But there's nothing mean in the way he says this stuff. Somebody else saying this would be like nails on a chalkboard. Dave says it and ... well, OK. Right or wrong, it doesn't FEEL personal.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Field notes from Spartanburg

1. I drive about 200 miles to Spartanburg, get in around 10:30, buy batteries for my digital recorder, $30 of used paperbacks and old postcards downtown, get to the Herald-Journal newsroom around noon.

2. Lunch: A pizza place downtown (Andy, pepperoni; Dave, salad and sandwich; Me, a poofy chef's salad). We all get unsweet tea. Dave: "Is it unsweetened or unsweet?" Us: "Unsweet. In the South, it's sweet tea, so the opposite is unsweet." Dave: "Unsweet sounds better."

3. Dave has a radio interview with a local NPR station in San Diego and takes the call in Andy's office. We listen to the interview on streaming audio next door in managing editor Greg Retsinas' office. Ah, irony: We're listening to the guy next door on the phone via streaming audio from a radio station in California.

4. I get a sitdown with Dave. There some interesting stuff, and I'm sure it will be more interesting to listen to the auido. The problem is, we're talking podcasting, but Dave is much more interested (and interesting) when talking about blogs. My framing of the interview is diminishing the conversation.

Well, more later... my wife just got home and I haven't seen her all day.

This is your brain on blog

It occurred to me on the drive home from Spartanburg that one of the luxuries of blogging is that one isn't forced by the medium to assume an authoritative voice. Newspapering requires that I speak as if I command a working understanding of the subject, and that's often not true. In blogging I can say what I don't know, and speak as I am (typically excited/befuddled).

So, with that caveat stated, I am just back from spending the day with Dave Winer, who is more or less famous, and Andy Rhinehart, who isn't, but could be. The official reason for my trip was a story I'm doing on podcasting; the best conversations were about journalism and blogging and ethics.

The day was sort of like the intellectual equivalent of a Ryan's Megabar: That is to say, there was a lot to digest, I didn't get around to everything that was available and now I may be up all night because of it.

Maybe I'm a little road weary, too: About seven hours in the Crown Vic, most of it spent interviewing myself. I guess that's weird.

I need to blog the experience of being blogged by Winer, and I will. But it's an odd thing: You go in to these interview situations to learn, and if you do it with any degree of curiosity and self-awareness, you walk out feeling overwhelmed by what you don't know. Winer just dashes stuff off. Me, I'm ponderous, full of second thoughts and cross currents.

And perhaps that's what I find so attractive about blogging. Blogging lets me contribute without having to pretend I'm an expert -- in fact, the worst thing I could do would be to claim expertise I haven't earned.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Oh, and a parting rant

Reading BuzzMachine these days makes my head hurt, because apparently I must be at war with myself: The ink-stained-newspaper-wretch me is a power-elite-snob control freak who wants to lord his superiority over the simple, truth-loving citizens of America; the blogger is an irresponsible fanatic out for blood, yet without a considered thought in his head.

The whole tone of this debate makes me ill. Look, I've got a litany of bitches about newspapers, but some of the people out there screaming bloody murder in the blogmob really DON'T know their ass from a hole in the ground. That doesn't discredit the smart critiques of the modern media, nor does it validate the media smugness that drives us all nuts. But please: "the bloggers" is a dumb label when you consider that it includes everyone from Little Green Footballs to Jay Rosen to my teenage stepson and his girlfriend.

There's a sentiment out there that the destruction of the media by the blogosphere is an exciting thing. There are sweeping statements like "Off-the-record is dead!"

Oh really? And that's a GOOD thing?

Let's see how you feel about off-the-record when a hostile journalist, citizen or otherwise, is calling you for a quote on a story that he's got completely backward. See if you don't want to go "off the record" for a moment to try to explain to him where he's gone astray.

If you want the truth, which we all say we do, then get to know what truth looks like, dammit. If everything is on the record, all the time, for attribution, you're going to get precious little of it.

I'm all for a media/cultural revolution, but I remember my history. Most revolutions do NOT led inexorably to the Bill of Rights, brothers and sisters. They're far more likely to lead to Robespierre or The Gang of Four than to liberty, brotherhood and equality.

I'm sick of watching great ideas be squandered.

There's a simple solution to every complex problem -- and it's wrong.


Spartanburg: Apparently the locals call it "Sparkle City." I don't know why.

But I'm off to S-burg in the a.m. for lunch with Winer and Rhinehart.

Sometimes I wonder: Isn't 41 a little old to go around feeling like a kid all the time?

Maybe I'll be more mature and less excitable at 42.

Maybe not.

Conservative voice

I can't remember when I signed up for the e-mail index of The Conservative Voice site, but my general impression over the past few months is that the starch is coming out of it.

True, it still posts hardline op-eds like "The Destruction of Jeff Gannon", but other than the piece's utter devotion to missing the point, the most remarkable thing about the post is the comments section. It's practically all pushback, with only meek efforts at defending the original thought and the occasional invitation to prayer.

This is literally the best defense any TCV reader could muster:

"It is truly a blessing to live in a country where our biggest worry of the day is the right wing blasting the left wing or the left wing blasting the right wing. How many millions of people in the world do you suppose just couldn't quite worry about petty political satires such as all these comments suggest because their biggest concern was if they or their children were going to find any food today. Or where could they hide to keep from being imprisioned or better yet killed. America is truly a blessed country when all we have to do is spew accusations at each other."

Meanwhile, someone from the left: "The days of the wacko-right acting like they are the victims are coming to a close. The gig is up."

Interesting country we've got here...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Learning Curve

Things I am learning :

1. Angst about ethics on your blog and a stranger will come in and help you. Angst about ethics in a newsroom and SOMEONE will come up and remind you that "angst" isn't a VERB.

2. Transparency, which I've been touting forever, is tough. worth it, but tough.

3. Real interactivity is messy.

4. The most valuable thing in the world is somebody else's attention.

5. Podcasting: I know some very good people who need to be led to it quickly because they have valuable things to say.

6. It's OK to be wrong here. It's not OK to go on an ego-trip about being right.

7. Objectivity isn't a state. Subjectivity is a state. Objectivity is a process. Nobody else seems to agree with me on this, but I'm beginning to think that's why i'm here.

8. You can blog quickly. And perhaps you SHOULD.

9. Blogging requires a different approach to writing because it's a different medium.

10. There is a revolution going on. It is partially self-aware, partially naive, wildly vulnerable and utterly transformative. You don't drive it: You ride it, and you bless it.

Zen Kid Quote Du Jour

"What's the opposite of monkey?"
-- asked, in all seriousness, by my stepdaughter, Callie, Age 9, on Saturday, Feb. 12.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dave Winer & Andy Rhinehart

Thanks to Andy, I'm getting a chance to interview proto-blogger/RSS guru/pod-cast daddy Dave Winer up in Spartanburg on Tuesday. Topic: Podcasting.

I sold this as a story idea at a features department meeting on Thursday. Nobody had even heard of the subject, but everyone was interested (which is a lot better than the response to my pitch for a story on Discovery Informatics, let me tell YOU).

But I'm psyched. Just finished listening to the Audio Activism mp3 of Dave's gig with "civilian" greensboro and N&R bloggers earlier this week. Chock full of nuggets, with an interesting mini-history of podcasting at the end.

There's also something he said that related to my angst yesterday over revising posts.

A pretty close quote: "What you learn from blogging is that blogging is like fresco painting. You dip your brush and you put it on the ceiling and the fresco dries. Podcasting is like the same thing. There's no editing."

Gannon had help? How ironic!

Oliver Willis has my favorite blog motto ("Like Kryptonite to Stupid"), which is much better than the motto for this blog ("A Dingo Ate My Baby"). Today he references a comment left at the Poynter Institute site about the chances that J.D. Guckert could have snuck his fake name past the President's press secretary. Short, sweet, to the point.

I don't think anyone who has every tried to get working-press media credentials anywhere NEAR the president EVER believed that McLellan didn't know what he was dealing with. The last time I had to handle a Bush visit here, the White House required advanced, detailed personal information on each reporter (presumably for a background security check), then advised me to have all my people show up about an hour early just to get through the screening, etc.

I think what depresses me most about this whole sordid affair is that it never really occurred to me that anyone would ever take this with the proper seriousness. As Stephanie Miller so righteously put in on this morning's broadcast, we have now experienced The Death of Irony.

Which sucks, because I really LIKE irony.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I learned a little lesson about blogging this week:

If you put a headline on a post, be prepared to live with it.

My original post on Jeff Gannon ("We Hardly Knew Ye...") was headlined "deniability."

Why? Because I was at work and blogging in between phone calls while eating my lunch. I didn't like the headline, and went back later and changed it.

By which time Dan Gillmor had pointed to the first headline. A quality link, and I ruined it.

Another thing: I went back this week and edited a bunch of typos that had been bugging me, part of a general sprucing up that included changing the template to make this easier to read.

But I couldn't stop there. I went back into a post about liberal radio and took out some stuff that I'd written that was flat, factually wrong. i also tweaked some rhetoric.

In newspapers, you wish you could do that, and if you've got good editors, it gets done BEFORE you publish.

But it seemed somehow ethically wrong on a blog.

What are the rules? Where are the lines? How do we know when we've crossed them?

Magazine co-op?

Sometimes I just get ideas. From an e-mail I just wrote to a publisher/producer friend in NYC:

"The magazine cooperative is a very simple idea, and grew out of my growing sense of not having the time I need to keep up with all the reading I should be doing. It occurred to me that if you got a bunch of people who went out and subscribed to different magazines, each one could post a summary of that issue's articles online, giving the other members a sense of what was being said in each. If something looked interesting, the other members could always pick up the issue and read it for themselves. Seemed a nice little opportunity for virtual community.

"Then it occurred to me that, with just a bit of programming, you could turn this friendly little service into something much more useful.

"1. Members of the cooperative fill out an e-form before they begin submitting reviews: Age, gender, education level, areas of interest, expertise, profession, politics, sexual orientation, etc.

"2. While each review would include written comments, each review would also be scored: Cover story, editorial, letters, first feature, second feature, etc. Grade for overall quality, significance, whatever. Number grades between 1 and 10.

"Result: As a member of the co-op, my regular reviewing of one (or more) magazine(s) gives me access to a range of reviewers on a number of titles. I can check aggregate scores to see whether people liked this New Yorker better than the previous issue, look inside to see whether there's a must-read article this time. But I can do more, too: By changing my filters, I can look only at the scores and comments provided by gay 35-to-45-year-old men with masters degrees and Republican political leanings who earn in excess of $100k a year. I can look and see who likes a magazine and who doesn't. I can tailor a filter set so that I read only those reviews from like-minded people.

"Cost? A server, some programming, some marketing, incidentals. Your readers provide the content. All you're providing is the bandwidth and a sortable dbase that, given the right software, could offer specific recommendations based on your history of interests or your user profile, a la Amazon.

"Revenues? Ads out the yin-yang. Where would YOU advertise if YOU were a magazine publisher? Where ELSE would you offer subscription discounts?"

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Of course, the SAME system could be used to get coverage of various websites and blogs. dc)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

gannon parody blog

why didn't I think of THIS?

more on gannon

Things move fast when you work electronically. Here's a New York congresswoman getting in on the act.

Jeff Gannon, we hardly knew ye...

The saga of fake reporter Jeff Gannon reached a climax yesterday, thanks to the blogchasers at DailyKOS and other sites. It could be an excellent case study of how people operating as journalists outside the MSM are in a better position to expose the current administration's seedy approach to "communication."

For the uninitiated, Gannon was a reporter for something called Talon News , which seemed to have two functions: 1. Despite its journalistic claims ("your source for unbiased news coverage and no-spin reporting") it served as a shoddy stenographer for the right wing; and 2. It provided Gannon to White House press conferences, where he functioned as a "lifeline" for the press secretary. All of which led to increased attention by David Brock's Media Matters watchdogs.

This drew the attention of bloggers, activists and lefties, who began rooting around and finding all sort of junk in Gannon's trunk. The pressure built, and eventually led to the revelation on DailyKOS that Gannon (a nom de plume) also owned some homosexual prostitution domains. Gannon promptly resigned from Talon on Tuesday.

BuzzFlash trumpeted the win this morning in its a.m. e-mail digest. Timothy Karr from MediaChannel wraps it up nicely here.

MSM involvement? Practically nil. Researching and publishing the credentials of other journalists, no matter how dubious, is simply not something we (MSM journalists) are accustomed to doing. It implies not only a different role, but a different philosophy, and until someone succeeds in stating that philosophy coheriently, succinctly and prominently, none of this is likely to change.

It must be clear now that blogs and websites are providing the bulk of significant real-time reporting on MSM matters. Those of us who work in the MSM and care about these issues turn to these "non-official" sources to get the scoop on our industry, and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

Of course, the underlying theme of the Gannon/Talon story is one that the MSM should be covering: Covert information operations directed against the American public, with various firebreak disconnects providing the one thing every political organization needs to survive and thrive:


Friday, February 04, 2005

"swallow, Chernobyl"

Of the many things we love about the internet, is it possible that we love its endless potential for serendipity the most of all?

Yes, as a writer I love its promise of nearly instant research gratification. But it's the thrill of discovery that really makes a search engine such an exciting thing.

Consider: My short trip to Google News this morning in search of references to a day-old scientific announcement about the mutation rates of barn swallows from Chernobyl boiled down to a simple search for "swallow Chernobyl," (which on a wider web search is sure to pull up all sorts of Russian porno, I'm sure). It retreived no hits on my topic, but it did pull down this gem from the UK's The Guardian: a fanged-prose deconstruction of Annie Liebovitz's tri-fold Vanity Fair Hollywood issue cover.

To quote a bit, just for the joy of it:

"I feel soiled gazing at this photograph, and it's not just jealousy. It reminded me of Caravaggio's famous chicken in the National Gallery; it's just as pornographic. Leibovitz's cover is a simply a casting couch, a homage to the blowjob values of 1950s Hollywood. To watch 10 beautiful women (of which at least four are talented) bicker for the lens's attention like tarts in an upper class brothel is dispiriting. I'm off to buy the Socialist Worker. They don't do drama and the tits are smaller."

I didn't go looking for this, but reading it was pure diversion.

What is the value of serendipity? Do you want more or less of it in your life?