Archive for November, 2008

I am thankful for…

By , 27 November, 2008, 2 Comments

…two new additions to my tech life:

1. GoodReads, where I can keep lists of books I mean to read, see what my friends are reading, read and write reviews, and buy books over Amazon. This is helping transition the print intransigents, people who still want the culture of curling up with a good book, to the web, by showing them how digital tools can serve analog practices.

2., which I’m convinced is truly revolutionary. Here’s how it works–two academics or journos each get on their computer’s built in cameras and simultaneously turn on their video recorders and their video phones–then they film their phone chat, usually for an hour, on a given public policy topic. The site broadcasts it as a “diavlog,” a video blog entry where we see a split screen of the two speakers simultaneously.

So far all the internet has done for broadcast media is enabled the uploading of clips; but this doesn’t come close to what blogs did for print, because it doesn’t allow for the interactivity of Web 2.0: you can’t link into and out of a podcast. The great thing about BloggingHeads is that as you watch, you see links to relevant items on the side of the screen–articles by the speakers, articles they reference, bios of people they reference and you get the sense of personal connection that comes with blogs. What I’d love to see is a marriage of this format with what I blogged about at MobDub, allowing users to add links to the diavlogs too.

For now, as you sit digesting your turkey, enjoy this conversation between my two favorite Bloggingheads, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury.

Kudos to CNN on Bombay coverage

By , 26 November, 2008, 3 Comments

I don’t have the answers to how and why this happened, but being a media junkie, I do have some reflections on the way it was covered for audiences here in the States.

After an election season where I thought they did an innovative job, MSNBC completely failed today. Granted, they’re not an international network so they don’t have an army of correspondents to call on. But still, in the few segments I saw, I didn’t get the sense they were even trying to make heads or tails of the situation. Instead, what we got was some panel discussions about how a terror attack might be read as a test of Barack Obama as President-elect. I flicked to Fox for a split second; they were debating the same question, but the concern was about the strength terrorists might gather in the interregnum before January 20th. Never mind that none of this makes sense given when it’s Bombay, not Baghdad; at 4:30 EST, when people around the world are still trying to get the basic who-what-when of casualties and injuries, the U.S. political ramifications are manifestly NOT the story.

Meanwhile CNN rose to the challenge. They have the institutional advantage of bureaus and affiliates everywhere that can feed them live footage and photography, and they’ve been ahead of the curve in using the internet to get similar footage from citizen-journalists. [I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that this is the way citizen-media is likely to achieve its potential: by presenting itself as a resource to the established media and capitalizing on the establishment’s brand and reach; not by taking down the big names.]

Moreover, CNN showed today they had mastered the 21st century version of established expertise: today’s expert is not a news anchor, a la Cronkite, telling us what to think; it’s an individual professional, a reporter, interpreting the facts on air, thinking outloud. And there aren’t yet enough citizen-bloggers who’ve been reporting on conflict for 20+ years who can think aloud at the level of CNN’s best.

Allow me to explain: there was a moment when Miles O’Brien was getting confused about who the splinter group claiming responsibility for the attack is (poor thing, he’s just the substitute anchor in for Wolf Blitzer this week and he certainly hadn’t planned on covering a big story after markets closed on a holiday eve). It’s someone named Dekkan Mujahideen and until this morning, no one had heard of them, but as every analyst remarked, they have obviously been at this long enough, given that they launched a coordinated, multisite attack and somehow infiltrated official facilities to get access to a police van and uniforms.

Anyway, O’Brien kept trying to do the old-style anchor thing (where you give the viewer a clear worldview) by painting the level of coordination as a sign that this was al-Qaeda-esque. He had 5 sources on at once and wanted each of them to be his ‘yes’-men in promulgating that view. The reality, however, is that the reporters are the real experts and the silver stroke came when Barbara Starr, who’s been covering the Pentagon and US national security for a zillion years, changed the subject in the middle of O’Brien’s chat with her to tell him, by the way, that this al-Qaeda link was messy. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, she said (I paraphrase), al-Qaeda uses suicide attacks and bombs, not hand grenades and hostage-takings. This, she said, smacks more of the domestic kidnapping economy that has plagued developing countries for decades, now mixed with the ideology of militant fundamentalism, and that’s how officials will likely tackle the case. The FBI correspondent agreed, explaining to O’Brien that U.S. agents will do everything they can to offer support, but that we should (as MSNBC failed to) recognize that not every news story is an American one first. To his credit, O’Brien got the message and spent the next half-hour trying to understand domestic Indian conflicts and what the parameters of international jurisdiction are in such cases.

Finally, the whole team at CNN gets brownie points for recognizing that in crisis moments, the first role of journalists is to inform the public with news they can use. Zain Verjee kept reminding us that the State Department is running a hotline to help Americans get in touch with relatives who might have been staying at the Oberoi and Taj hotels. O’Brien kept apologizing for the time lag on the video feed, “it’s not live, but it’s as live as we can get,” and even for his own ignorance. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but you really got the sense these guys were trying to be public servants. On Thanksgiving Eve, I owe them a little gratitude.

Larry Lessig admits “he’s an old Communist”

By , 23 November, 2008, 2 Comments

Four years ago, Lessig’s book Free Culture unleashed a movement to abolish copyright and bring down the evil corporate producers of “mainstream culture.” I have never believed in this movement. Tonight, Lessig told Charlie Rose he doesn’t believe it either.

He says he’s an “old Communist,” a la Gorbachev, trying to reform a system; the younger free culture radicals who quote him are Yelstins, who’ve taken his policies too far. Lessig says he doesn’t want to get rid of copyright because it still incentivizes some people to produce valuable content who wouldn’t do it for free. His hippie proteges think anyone who produces art for money is not worth society’s time. Now whenever I’ve read Lessig, I’ve always felt he falls on the radical side of the line. Either I was wrong, or he’s now changing tacks because he realizes the moderate approach has a better shot of reaching its goals.

He’s not alone. Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis says he doesn’t have it out for print media and media corporations at all and outlines a business model for how established news organizations can coexist with a gift economy of citizen-journalists. It’s a good plan and it strikes me as a deviation from the things Jarvis has written in the past; again I wonder if (as he claims) this is what he meant all along, or if he’s just getting practical at last.

Either way, it’s good to have people of Lessig’s and Jarvis’s clout advocating a middle-ground. Then again, Gorbachev tried to remind people to take it slow too…and it didn’t work out so great for him.

Begging for Discipline

By , 20 November, 2008, 2 Comments

Here’s an interesting new phenomenon: executives going to Washington to beg for regulation.

C-suiters from Google, Starbucks, Nike, Sun Microsystems, Timberland and Levi’s are encouraging Congress to pass legislation (likely under Obama) that will force them to get more energy-efficient and bring us closer to a carbon-neutral economy.

Some of these companies have been hit hard for their social irresponsibility before: remember Nike and the sweatshop debacles of the 1990s? Some of them have great PR, but belong to industries that make a massive footprint on our environment–home electronics like computers make up 20% of our energy consumption. So this shift in rhetoric, if taken up by legislators, is notable.

But it strikes me as strange too: if all these executives recognize that consumers now care about the sustainability of the brands they buy, why not just dive in to the emerging market, instead of begging government to force all your competitors to come with you? I’m in favor of mild government coercion on this issue because I don’t think there are enough pro-environment executives in the big emission sectors (ahem, oil), but that doesn’t explain the behavior of those who do see the pot of gold and still need the government to push them over the rainbow.

It reminds me of this time in middle school when my kid sister bombed a test, knew she needed to study more, and begged my mother to ground her. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now.

Jeff Jarvis has a crush on Google

By , 18 November, 2008, 2 Comments

I wish Bruce Greenwald, my Corporate Strategy professor, would call Jeff Jarvis and tell him to stick to his competitive advantages. The man is pretty solid as a commentator on media, on why some newspapers are screwed and how serious web news outlets ought to develop their businesses to become serious competitors.

He is not, however, an all-around economic pundit and should not try to become one. Yet that seems to be exactly what he’s trying to do on his blog and in his new book “What Would Google Do?” trying to use the company as a model for everything. In this post, he tries to give us the Google model for the financial sector, but he winds up spending many words undercutting (hedging?) himself as he takes melodramatic (highly leveraged) positions. Some gems:

“Google’s first advantage is being digital. Who wants to be in the business of stuff any more – building cars, printing newspapers, selling CDs, growing food… Now the best retreat is to the value of knowledge.” You cannot engineer food…the characters in Brave New World tried that, and it didn’t work out so well.

“In Google’s economy, small is the new big. Of course, big is still big — Google itself is gargantuan.” Point being?

“Indeed, Google does not want to own the assets — content to commerce — upon which its empire is built.” This is different from banks that re-packaged and sold off their bad loans like hot potatoes how?

“Another hallmark of Google’s economy is transparency. Even as Google remains opaque about details of how it does business — its ad commission, for example — it demands transparency of the rest of us. For without openness, we get no search-engine optimization, no precious Googlejuice.” Hypocrisy much?

So much for the argument that being in the blogosphere forces reporters to keep it real.

Natural Allies

By , 14 November, 2008, 2 Comments

Like many progressives, I’m thoroughly dismayed by the passage of Proposition 8 and its ilk in this election. And I’ve spent the 10 days since talking with gay and straight friends about the best way to move forward now that the state-level legalization approach is beginning to feel like a giant game of Othello (four tiles flip white, then eight tiles flip black).

It’s understandable when you’re the butt of prejudice to feel like yours is the shortest straw: a lesbian reader at the NYTimes tells Judith Warner that homophobia is the last and only socially-acceptable prejudice in America today. As a young woman in the boys club of business journalism, I beg to differ: sexism is alive and well too. And if anyone doubts it, they need only look to the coverage of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton in this campaign. Like their politics or not, there was an awful lot of gender-biased vitriol spewed at them, and no attempt by news organizations to apologize or correct the behavior. Put this together with Proposition 8 and you see that it’s sexuality itself that is the last acceptable fault line of prejudice.

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I have seen the future of media…

By , 12 November, 2008, 1 Comment

…and even the people there can’t agree on how it works.

Last night, I went with high hopes to a panel at Columbia on the Changing Media Landscape, hoping to get some tips on how to prepare myself for the jobs I’ll be applying for when this program is over. You can watch a video here but it’s about 2 hours long. Or read my recap of the major points below.

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Battle of Britain

By , 6 November, 2008, 1 Comment

Now that (hopefully) your election-induced hangover has subsided, let me break some news: for all the symbolic resonance of Obama’s victory, there is more ideologically at stake across the pond in the British general elections, due to materialize by the end of 2010.

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Oh, What a Night

By , 4 November, 2008, 4 Comments

I voted for my first presidential winner today and though it wasn’t in a swing state, or even a swing district, I have to admit it felt pretty good. Unfortunately, being worry-prone, I’m already angsting about life after January 20th.

Barack Obama put his hyberbolic optimism on hold for 10 seconds tonight to remind supporters that just electing him isn’t “change,” [even if that’s more or less what his campaign has told us till now]. It’s just the opportunity to achieve change. In typical fashion, he left out the nasty realities of how such changes get made.

It being his victory night, and a rock concert of a rally, I’ll forgive him, and do some explaining myself: Actually passing new taxes or healthcare reform or an alternative energy agenda will depend on Obama’s ability to master all the backroom politicking he claims he doesn’t need.

Given Obama’s open distaste for such gritty negotiation (which he sees as cynical) and Joe Biden’s sloppy gaffe-prone history on the Hill, I’m beginning to think the success of the Obama administration will depend on the dealmaking powers of Congressional leaders: will Democrats and Republicans work with each other?

Paul Krugman had a great piece this week about the consequences for the country if an Obama victory leaves the Republicans clinging on to nothing but their most hardline members: no President would be able to operate effectively with a Congress 40%-composed of such intransigent radicals.

John McCain tonight urged his party, in name of national duty, to reject radical entrenchment, to work with Obama and the Dems to get things done. McCain has it in him to do this–he earned the admiration of many liberals and moderates, myself included, because he was able to bring Republican hardliners along on compromise legislation like the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance bill. If THIS John McCain goes to Washington in January (and not the angry, uncooperative McCain who crashed the bailout party in September), he will have a unique opportunity to bridge gridlock and broker compromises between his own party’s hardliners and the President who defeated him.

Indeed, John McCain–the old political hand and pragmatic public servant–may be more crucial to Obama’s “new politics” agenda than any of the rhetorical flourishes and youthful idealism that brought him to victory.