On journalists' & pundits' attitudes about new media: It's the privilege, stupid!

Plaque for Common Sense

For years now we've seen people entrenched in, married to, paid by or validated by old media attack new media, "those bloggers," Twitter, Facebook … the Internet in general. It's been fading lately as publishers especially have started to embrace and integrate new media into their publishing strategies. But there are still holdouts, many of whom seem not just ignorant but willfully ignorant.

Malcolm Gladwell's weak dismissal of "weak ties"

Gladwell's New Yorker article was the buzz on Twitter. One excerpt:

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.

…proving that old media journalists are as adept as anyone in the straw-man rhetorical technique.

Gladwell's main argument seems to cling to the notion that things like the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s could not have happened in new media. The thing is he seems to think that this is a notion that all of us "evangelists of social media" cling to. His is a rant against ghosts and phantoms to make a point, not an investigative exercise.

I love Gladwell's books, especially Blink. But this column is more an expression of his attitude towards social media rather than an insight into social media. It's a tract for dismissal, not a lesson towards understanding.

In a Guardian article on Gladwell's thoughts, journalist Tim Adams, who, by the way, describes us all as "insects":

The twitterers have responded to his provocation by swarming on to blogs and websites to protect their uniting belief: that the future belongs to them.

…does end up revealing a truth behind Gladwell's views:

The New Yorker, for which Gladwell is a stellar correspondent, sees itself as the spiritual home of a kind of reading and writing and engagement that could seem threatened by the attention overload and surface concerns of online skimming. I spoke to Gladwell a while back about his use of computers: he never spent much time on the internet, he said: "I run out of things to look up really quickly."

So Gladwell in fact doesn't even know much about social media, doesn't have a use for them, and doesn't even find the internet of much use. Obviously he's not interested in what other people might have to say. Why would he? He has his saying machines (The New Yorker, his books, his occasional appearances on television). What could anyone possibly offer to a man on top of the literary heap?

So why would Gladwell even bother to take on a subject of which, he admits, he knows little? Because he's a writer for The New Yorker, and that in itself makes his views relevant? I not only like Gladwell, I love The New Yorker (as a subscriber for years). But his taking on social media strikes me as hubris at best, enabled by the blindness of privilege.

Will Variety and Hollywood Reporter paywall gambit pay off?

Yes, subscription membership revenue models can pay well, but only if you can get the subscribers. So when I read that Hollywood Reporter and Variety are going for the paywall model, I wonder if they're missing something. Writes Nikki Finke on Deadline Hollywood:

I've known that Variety spent 6 months intensely studying all its options. Now toppers Neil Stiles and Brian Gott have decided to go to a paid strategy right after the first of the year. That means the website will no longer be free. So online and print content will both be subscriber-based. Exactly which combination of content and services will be offered has yet to be determined. But this is being done in recognition of the sad fact that, ever since Variety pulled back that paywall in 2006 (back when all that mattered was traffic numbers at the expense of subscription dollars), the trade has lost a ton of money. Meanwhile, sources tell me that The Hollywood Reporter is about to dump its daily print version. The date considered was October 16th, but now that's been moved back. So this means THR will pursue a paid web-only strategy for its content.

The thing is that Hollywood of all industries is a community, with gossip, rumors, insider tips, deal-makers, wannabees, and a very insider, insular, provincial social graph, often colored with a healthy dose of cynicism. What better place to leverage community participation in a trade publication?

This wouldn't preclude Variety from setting up freemium approach, with a paywall around their hottest news. But maybe they could build some traffic by leveraging the open source tools out there to build an online community. It's a tough pond with plenty of sharks, but if anyone has an advantage, it's the industry insider Variety.

Or maybe not.

Comments on the Deadline Hollywood post are interesting.

(Psst! It's all one platform)

That's the message that Robert G. Picard seems to miss in "Blogs, Tweets, Social Media, and the News Business":

Judging from their widespread adoption, it’s hard to find a technology that news organizations don’t embrace. Read the Los Angeles Times on Kindle.

"Technology Diminishes Journalists’ Value"Watch ABC News on YouTube. Leave a comment on a blog about media and marketing from the Chicago Sun-Times. Listen to a podcast of “On Science” from National Public Radio. Participate in a discussion board hosted by The Washington Post about college admissions. Receive SMS news about the Dallas Cowboys from The Dallas Morning News. Get features from Time on a PDA and tweets of breaking news from CNN.

The mantra for news organizations is to be anywhere, anytime, on any platform. But is this strategy really a good idea? In an era when the business models for news are stressed, hard thinking should be done in assessing the opportunities that various technologies present. It isn’t the time merely to be copying what others are doing.

Tough questions must be asked to figure out which of the new technologies is beneficial for journalism and the business of journalism. Is each one equally useful? What are the real costs in staff time and the operating costs to be on the various platforms? What is actually achieved for the news organization in being there? Does every news organization need to be active on all of the platforms? Finally, how can a news organization achieve optimal benefit across platforms?

The answers we find might lead to deciding which of these technologies to employ.

I beg to differ. The way I see it, it's all one platform, one technology. What Picard is talking about is really a matter of context, not platform. These things he's describing are not things, not platforms, but merely doors into the big platform.

After all, all of these digital means of consuming news feed off of the Internet, and the Internet is a lot more than just a delivery system. We connect with each other in this realm. We share information in this realm. We recommend to each other in this realm. And what we do in one context appears elsewhere. It's all interconnected. Networked. Internet-worked.

In fact, the Internet is not even the thing. "We" are the thing.

It's a mistake to think of Twitter and Kindle and blogs and so on as different "platforms." They are all tools of one big machine. Different levers and buttons on the big machine.

And this is all the more true when you consider that peer-to-peer is a strengthening paradigm into the future, as Andy Oram wrote recently:

Recurring outages on major networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn, along with incidents where Twitter members were mysteriously dropped for days at a time, have led many people to challenge the centralized control exerted by companies running social networks. Whether you're a street demonstrator or a business analyst, you may well have come to depend on Twitter. We may have been willing to build our virtual houses on shaky foundations might when they were temporary beach huts; but now we need to examine the ground on which many are proposing to build our virtual shopping malls and even our virtual federal offices.

Swine flu: being concerned is not foolish

There's been much a-Twitter about the alarm surrounding the Swine Flu. People griping that SARS, Ebola, bird flu, [fill in the blank] didn't wind up being much, so why get worked up now? Everybody's over-reacting, they say.

I think the cynical response is overly-cynical and perhaps a bit to happy to declare "boy who cried wolf" and laugh or sneer.

Reality check:

Highly contagious? Check!

Fatal to healthy adults? Check!

No vaccine in sight before fall? Check!

Spreading quickly? Check!

This is a little thing that is very bad and could get very big very quickly. I don't see the alarm as overblown (though Egypt's destruction of all the pigs seems a bit ridiculous). We're an interconnected world now.

Shutting down the schools seems to be an obvious step. This is how you try to stop pandemic: By eliminating the mass-infection opportunities that we have.

If nothing comes of the swine flu, I think it could in part point to why such aggressive measures were indicated. It's if it gets really bad when we can say shutting the schools was perhaps too little too late.

So count me as skeptical of the proud, cynical skepticism out there. Just because you've run stop signs without consequences doesn't mean you want to continue doing it blithely.


No, Google is not a monopoly

First, some context

Henry Porter, an opinionator granted a regular podium by the Guardian, has written a bit of a rant claiming that we're victims of Google, a "monopoly."

Google presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that Google was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, YouTube. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

The article is full of these kinds of claims, all largely based on what seems to be either a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Web, or a lack of understanding of the word "monopoly."

The core of Porter's ignorance, willful or not, is revealed in this statement:

Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.

This is true only if you think that things exist on their own, and that their relationships to you, their relationships to each other, do not exist, or are not worth looking at, let alone making available for use -- let alone making relevant to our day-to-day lives.

Google provides a means of finding relevance in that sea of stuff out there on the Web. It's like a mega-index of the "book" of the Web. That relevance was largely hidden from us before search engines. To find relevance, one had to ask friends, browse libraries, analyze the Dewey Decimal System, dig up Yellow Pages, rummage through desk drawers to find that one tidbit of information you want right now.

That is hardly "nothing."

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."

Thomas Jefferson was also against a strong judiciary, which in hindsight sounds pretty foolish, imho. But Jefferson aside, there's no indication that what newspapers are in function -- delivery systems for filtered information -- is not going anywhere. It's just the newspaper industry, and the infrastructure and market that enabled the paper to be printed, that is going away. News is still happening. It's just that how we're getting it is changing.

There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny.

I don't like how US-owned search engine companies are going along with the Chinese Government's restrictions on the Internet, either, but let's be clear: It's the Chinese government that is censoring the Internet. Google is going along with it, along with much of the rest of the American economy, let's face it. This is about corporate collaboration with government constraints on what we consider "American values," and not about a Google monopoly or how Google is anything but pretty darned typical these days.

Things I've learned on Twitter

[Cross-posted from BlogHer.]

As I convalesced this weekend from Day 9 of a terrible cold that just won't let go, the Thin Air Summit took place in Denver. Thanks to Twitter, I almost feel like I was there. I was tweet-reading in real-time. But you don't need to be there in the moment. A quick search for #tas08 on Twitter and you find a ton of posts. Tweets on sessions, tweets on insights, tweets on new acquaintances....

Last week I learned about the in-fighting (and quite often misogynistic) attacks from conservatives on Sarah Palin. #Palin was a trending topic after the election.

When Al Gore got onto Twitter, I saw it first on Twitter. [Update: Twitter has just changed @al_gore to @algore.]

Protests against California's Prop 8 I heard of first on Twitter.

And I found out that other people did not find True Blood tonight as much of a downer as I did. (Yeah, so it's a vampire show. Can't I have at least a little human kindness? Just a little?) When Tina Fey was going to be appearing on Saturday Night Live, I heard it first on Twitter and was able to set TiVo.

Now I'm sure that anybody reading this who hasn't actually tried Twitter probably has no idea what the heck I'm talking about. There are plenty of explanations of what Twitter is, but what strikes me as being important is less of what Twitter is and more of how Twitter is used.

Because you can follow whomever you want, you can listen just to tweets by people who interest you. Of course, as they tweet with others (using their Twitter handles) you can stumble across other people who also are interesting. Soon you have a metaphorical tree of Twitterers tweeting up a storm of miscellany that quite frequently can surprise you, astonish you, and inform you.

Twitter is as the Twitterer does

Some people seem to live on Twitter. For professional bloggers, Twitter becomes a way of building their online presence, connecting with others, sharing links, and picking up on things happening.

Me, I can't spend that kind of time Twittering the day away. But I don't consider Twitter to be simply a distraction. I learn too much from it. And I catch wind of things friends and acquaintances are doing elsewhere.

Heck, it's gotten to the point where people don't have names any more, they have Twitter handles!

Amber Rhea posts regular updates on what she's tweeted.

Earlier, in these pages, Beth Kanter (or @kanter) wrote about the importance of Twitter.

When I'm asked questions that I don't know the answer to, I admit it and use it as opportunity to demonstrate the value of the social brain or having a good network on Twitter. Unfortunately, I did not have my laptop accessible in that moment.

So the Times sees it as a "women's issue," like shoes and handbags?

Oh my, not again. Via Elisa's Worker Bees Blog:

A couple of months ago, prompted by Mary Hodder, I blogged about the NY Times and its odd placement of a technology story about girl geeks in the Fashion & Style section.

Well, they're at it again. And this time it is even more egregious. Check the article Diversity Isn’t Rocket Science, Is It? In the Fashion & Style section.

The article itself is quite provocative....

Based on data from 2,493 workers (1,493 women and 1,000 men) polled from March 2006 through October 2007 and hundreds more interviewed in focus groups, the report paints a portrait of a macho culture where women are very much outsiders, and where those who do enter are likely to eventually leave....

The problem isn’t that women aren’t making strides in education in the hard sciences....

And, women enter science engineering and technology (known as the SET professions) in sizable numbers....

An exodus occurs around age 35 to 40. Fifty-two percent drop out, the report warned, with some leaving for “softer” jobs in the sciences human resources rather than lab bench work, for instance, and others for different work entirely. That is twice the rate of men in the SET industries, and higher than the attrition rate of women in law or investment banking....

The 147-page report (which was sponsored by Alcoa, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer and Cisco) is filled with tales of sexual harassment (63 percent of women say they experienced harassment on the job); and dismissive attitudes of male colleagues (53 percent said in order to succeed in their careers they had to “act like a man”); and a lack of mentors (51 percent of engineers say they lack one); and hours that suit men with wives at home but not working mothers (41 percent of technology workers says they need to be available “24/7”).

...which makes one wonder why the New York Times editors felt they had to stick the article in the fashion section and not in the news section or technology or even business section.

Maybe they thought only women would -- or should -- be interested.

News and the internet (regarding the sad spectacle of the monkey clinging to the apple in the jar)

It really is painful to watch, in a way, how prominent members of the old-school news media complain about the internet. Today it's Robert J. Samuelson, who writes:

If the Internet permanently crashed tomorrow, I'd be thrilled.

I kid you not.

When I joined The Washington Post as a reporter in 1969, hardly anyone I knew in the news business considered it a business. We belonged to a craft, a calling or maybe a profession. We didn't worry about the industry's "business model," a term we'd never heard. Economic realities occasionally intruded, usually involving salaries (always too low). But mostly we blissfully ignored the proposition that newspapers aimed to make money. We condescendingly thought that the moneymaking people—advertising salesmen, managers—toiled so that we could pursue our higher purpose, which was to inform the public.

This comes from an award-winning business journalist. Color me naive, but isn't it obvious that a print publication with a cover price, paid subscriptions and loads of advertising is a business? The nature of the business may be changing, what with financial speculators trying to squeeze more and more juice from the melon, but it has always been a business. Right? Right?

We've been disabused of our naiveté and arrogance. All our business models (for newspapers, magazines, network news) are now in retreat, if not rout. The Internet is stealing our audiences and our ads. Few of us imagined ourselves as heirs to textile or steelworkers, disemployed by new competition and technology. But we are.

This, I believe, is a conflation of issues. The internet is bringing a new reality to newspapers (and all other media), but in this age of predatory Wall Street speculation in the news industry, I don't think the layoffs can be laid at the feet of a new technology.

How does a medium "steal" audiences? Especially when newspapers are right here in that new medium? It's not like there's no money in the internet. Why is it that web ventures are able to monetize their websites but newspapers fail at it so terribly? And why do old media folks then demonstrate the bad manners of blaming the messenger? --I mean, if they notice at all.

In Ad Age today, Simon Dumenco has an answer:

Who or what is really killing print? Craig Newmark? Blogs? YouTube, maybe? The internet in general? Or any of the other usual suspects?

Nah, print is killing print. More specifically, a handful of half-wit overlords at many -- if not most -- big print-media companies are killing print.

We see evidence of this every day.

An internet-company executive I know says of his vague and mysterious job: "I create value." That's an M.B.A.-enabled, blowhardy thing to say, of course, but he means it -- and when he says it, it occurs to me new-economy guys like him are at dead odds with many print-media executives these days, who seem to specialize in destroying value, even as they pay lip service to the "convergence of traditional and electronic media."

It's like watching a monkey thrash around, unwilling to let go of the apple in the jar.

So what's happening here, really? Perhaps it's that our taste for news is changing, and the old guard are unwilling to come along.

The ownership society catches up with YouTube ... for now

YouTube is 30,000 files smaller:

The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, found 29,549 video clips such as television shows, music videos and movies posted on YouTube's site without permission, an official from the group, Fumiyuki Asakura, said Friday.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based company quickly complied with the request to remove the copyright materials, made on behalf of 23 Japanese TV stations and entertainment companies, Asakura said.

Most videos posted on YouTube are homemade, but the site also features scores of copyright material posted by individual users. YouTube's policy is to remove such clips after it receives complaints, though some have suggested the startup eventually could be sued, especially with deep-pocketed Google Inc. about to buy it for $1.65 billion in stock.

This is almost inevitable. The media industry is built upon control over distribution, and 'net outlets like YouTube blast their oligopoly back into the 20th century. They are trying to hang on by using DRM and sniffer technology:

The company agreed to deploy an audio-signature technology that can spot a low-quality copy of a licensed clip. YouTube would have to substitute an approved version or remove the material automatically.

But the writing is on the wall: There is no room for the controlling middle man in the new economy. Content creators, producers, writers, photographers, videographers, filmmakers will be taking their work more directly to their audiences. In the end, while things will inevitably shift around, my guess is that the new economy will be better for the creators.

It's the "owners" who don't create, just speculate, that will lose out. They require big jackpot payoffs, and the market is shifting to the long tail.



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