Posts tagged ‘media wars’

The Wikileaks Subpoena

By , 14 January, 2011, No Comment

I’m getting to this a week late, because I was on the road on behalf of Public Business when the story broke, but some thoughts on the subpoena. Seems to me there are two conversations to be had:

One is from the perspective of individual consumer privacy and what kind of legal compliance policies companies ought to have when it comes to user data. Companies, plural, because, as Tom Phillips has noted, there’s a whole lot of language in the subpoena that’s got nothing to do with Twitter. And, I would add, several classes of company not covered in this subpoena who might be targeted for data in future lawsuits if this prosecutorial M.O. persists. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a while, at least since I had the chance at Columbia to take a course on privacy with a professor who prophesied that the ability to broadly subpoena Google + Microsoft + Citigroup + BofA would produce 21st century totalitarianism. While I thought his vision hyperbolic–and while we butted heads a lot in class–that the information subpoena was a scary tool was something on which we agreed.

The second conversation taking place is one about journalism and shield protection.

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Really, it’s not funny

By , 12 November, 2010, 9 Comments

Two weeks ago, I joined much of the young American Left at the “Rally to Restore Sanity.” I didn’t travel down to Washington for the occasion; I’m not that much of a Daily Show devotee. I had meetings with various sources, a very good college friend to stay with, and my sister to see in Philly on the way back. The timing and location were convenient.

The rally was, to be honest, boring, certainly not as funny or as compelling as the two television shows from which it derived. Given how little effort I put into getting there, that’s fine. But when I think about how many young folks actually traveled to be there, it’s infuriating. It’s infuriating that the ideas around which young liberals rally en masse are so unsubstantial.

I was not the only person who felt that way. Mark Ames had a screed at The Exiled on the rally, and it’s definitely got a lot of problems [basically, skip the second half], but I think there’s a kernel of truth in the piece that is worth excerpting at some length.

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Apocalypse 34: Privacy and Publicness

By , 28 June, 2010, 1 Comment

This weekend, I spent some time pondering the recent departure of Dave Weigel from the Washington Post. Weigel made a name for himself at the Washington Independent, where he covered the conservative movement for a liberal audience. This spring, he was hired to blog about American conservatism for the Post.

Like most of the Washington left-of-center reporting pool, Weigel was a member of the controversial JournoList, an off-the-record email listserv managed by the Post’s Ezra Klein. Last week, a number of Weigel’s emails on the list surfaced, showcasing harsh, offensive views about the movement he covers and a desire to influence coverage of that movement at the publications of his peers. On Friday, Weigel resigned.

The political blogosphere, especially the left-o-sphere, has been quick to turn Weigel into a hero, a poster child for the principles of new media, where having an opinion and voicing it is an asset, not a liability, and where the line between news reporter and newsmaker is blurry if it exists at all.

Apocalypse 33: News on the Dole

By , 1 June, 2010, 3 Comments

The FTC has released a report on the state of the news media, in preparation for a meeting on June 15. The FTC draws heavily on previous reports by the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism and the Columbia Journalism School.

To new media evangelists, the report suggests the government should protect old media organizations against dangerous digital forces, i.e. the evangelists themselves. And the FTC’s focus is traditional, The report defines journalism as original reporting in real, or very recent, time. This means newspapers and online news sites, but it does not include magazines or opinion blogs or most TV news.

Some bloggers think this line is arbitrary, but I disagree. Aggregators and analysts are beginning to find sustainable business models online, but the raw news they rely on hasn’t. Raw newsgathering is inherently inefficient, and has never been profitable. But in print, you can bundle in the money-losing news with the profitable commentary, the spinach with the candy. The web breaks the bundle. It’s no surprise that no one has figured out to monetize raw beat reporting—on its own—online. The FTC has not only chosen the most essential segment of media, but the one that, demonstrably, the market hasn’t figured out. That’s what the state should do.

The web-istas say the state has no business in journalism. But for most of history, and especially at times when new technologies were emerging, American journalism has relied on government support. Done wrong, of course, this is propaganda. But done right, it’s great. Jim Lehrer is still the best evening anchor. Enough said.

As for the FTC’s actual recommendations, I have mixed reviews:

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Couldn’t have said it better myself

By , 20 November, 2009, No Comment

Great chat between Cato’s Julian Sanchez and American Scene’s Conor Friedersdorf about the future of media, what constitutes journalism and how politicians try to work the media narrative. The chat covers two subjects I’ve touched on before: the federal shield law and Google’s impact on media production. It’s solid stuff, the whole way through. Worth taking an hour this weekend for.

Washington’s Cognitive Dissonance

By , 5 October, 2009, No Comment

I wrote a news item for Fortune today on the FTC’s new guidelines for advertising and consumer endorsements on the web. Basically, the guidelines require disclosure of any material connections–money changing hands–between companies and bloggers.


 

“The issue here,” says Cleland, “is whether, if the consumer knew of the relationship between the advertisers and the blogger, would it affect the credibility of the blogger’s statements?” If so, the new guidelines would permit the FTC to demand that the blogger disclose the connection, with failure to comply resulting in fines as high as $11,000.

The problem, critics contend, is the lack of clarity in the FTC Guides on what will constitute a violation. Beyond direct payments from companies to reviewers in exchange for specific coverage, the guidelines seem to extend to consumer and personal websites where advertising content and editorial content overlap.

Read the rest here.

One thing that came up in my reporting that I didn’t get a chance to address in the piece is the question of whether blogs are a publishing medium where conflicts of interest are a form of commercial corruption, or just equivalent to individual speech, in which case the government can’t regulate them at all. In this case, the FTC is treating blogs as a publishing medium, at the expense of the many individuals who use the platform simply to carry on personal conversations.

Meanwhile, the FCC seems to be approaching the internet as a form of speech and therefore pushing net neutrality on the grounds that all speech must be treated equal. That approach takes away all the specific protections that commercial content is premised upon (like intellectual property rights), even as that publishing is about to move online.

Meanwhile, Congress, which oversees both agencies, is trying to draw a line in the middle of the blogosphere between those who use blogs as a publishing form–and get special rights but also stricter rules as a result–and those who are just speaking. The Congressional shield bill may be doomed now that it’s lost White House support, but I think in principle, some way of distinguishing commercial from non-commercial content online is going to be necessary.

What frustrates me most, however, is how easy it is for the two agencies to put into law two conflicting definitions of the same space–the net–without anyone raising questions about the inherent contradictions between their approaches. It’s a clear case where some regulatory consolidation is needed.

Bloggers Should be Seen and Heard

By , 22 September, 2009, No Comment

So believes video website Bloggingheads.tv, which I’ve plugged and linked to on this page many-a-time before. Basically, the site pairs journalists, policy folk and and academics on video chats and then plays back the conversations in a split screen. The result: long-ish wonky chats that show us what broadcast TV would look like if they didn’t edit every interview down to its 10 second soundbyte.

Anyway, they’re now letting fans video-blog on the site, albeit with some weird masking that is supposed to anonymize lay folk, but really just makes everyone look weird. Ironically enough, the debut ‘amateur’ ‘vloggers were professional journos–Portland-based Ethan Epstein, and myself (!)–discussing (what else?) the future of media.
Watch the video below, and let us know what you think, either here or on BHTV’s comments forum.

Apocalypse 30: Bellyaching in Britain

By , 30 August, 2009, 1 Comment

This past week saw the International Television Conference in Edinburgh, where various stars of British screen life pontificated on, what else, the future of media. The show stopper was a keynote lecture by James Murdoch where he railed against the BBC, Ofcom and government’s role in media more generally. His language was inflammatory and his politics insufferable, but I found myself agreeing with him about the economics of the emerging media model.

Here’s the core of his argument: we live in a world where there is no longer radio journalism and TV journalism and print journalism and web journalism, but simply journalism. Stories–whether told in words, pictures or sound–are all going to be transmitted the same way, as a combinations of 1s and 0s to be read on laptops and mobile phones. Murdoch calls this the “all-media market,” and the people who provide it “branded mediators.” Clumsy phrases, but they do the job.

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Chris Anderson Practices What He Preaches?

By , 9 July, 2009, 2 Comments

WIRED’s Chris Anderson has a new book out, making his case for the “economics of free.” By this he means “free lunch,” but the core of the book is trying to dress up “free lunch” as “free markets.” In the new economy, all goods will be digitized, and as that happens, they will obtain a cost approaching $0. Therefore, all companies will make their money by providing auxiliary services atop their free goods, for, Anderson believes, production costs also approaching $0. [Ex: sell ads on free content site]

Here’s the problem: if consumers love “free” goods so much, what makes Anderson confident they will be willing to pay $>0 for services. Moreover, even if they were willing to pay for services, wouldn’t that willingness be undermined by the knowledge that, if Anderson is to be believed, the services also cost $0 to make? Never mind that there are serious doubts about the $0-cost-ness of digital production and distribution. [Malcolm Gladwell pretty effectively eviscerates the whole argument in the most recent New Yorker]

I have long rolled my eyes at arguments like Anderson’s. The more seriously you think about what “free” really means, the more you are convinced that it’s inherently anti-market, that the Internet leads us to a kind of decentralized socialism. Some tech-evangelists are upfront about this being their true goal, and even if I disagree with their values, I respect them for honesty. Folks like Anderson infuriate me because they couch their desire for a universe driven by “non-monetary” rewards for work in a vision of a profit-making economy.

Thankfully, Anderson has been revealed in his true colors: chunks of his book have been liberally plagiarized from Wikipedia because apparently, it was just too much of a hassle to cite properly: “he and his publisher ‘couldn’t agree on a footnote policy for Wikipedia entries’ ” Oh, cry me a river.

According to Anderson’s defense, everything is free online because the Internet makes assigning ownership so difficult that property ceases to exist. I personally believe the Internet necessitates a new definition of intellectual property, not an elimination of intellectual property as a category altogether. Without property, you have no philosophical basis for a market economy. So Anderson’s plagiarism and his cavalier response to being exposed suggest he doesn’t really believe in markets at all.

Double Digits

By , 5 July, 2009, No Comment

For a number of reasons—some chronological, some that I can’t disclose—I’ve been thinking about the parallels between the dot-com bubble burst and the credit bubble burst we’re suffering from now. Easy money leading to reduced scrutiny of financial transactions. Eloquent prognostications about the profitability of free web-only content, but little actual profit to show for it. The list goes on.

One important difference stands out, however. In the 1990s, the bubble could be forgiven, perhaps, on the grounds that the technology was new and misunderstood. New media evangelists today don’t have that excuse—the medium isn’t that “new” anymore. That’s why we resort to euphemisms like “Web 2.0” to give it the veneer of newness. Phrases like this really need to be retired.

The aging of new media was brought home to me last week by the ten year anniversary of the first-ever blog, Kausfiles. Mickey Kaus started this as a website, and while folks like Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan probably beat him to using the name “webblog,” it’s pretty clear that blogging is what Kaus was doing from the start. Some of his stylistic features have been widely adopted, like the strikethrough correction and the anonymous editor. Others, like the stream-of-consciousness writing style keep Kausfiles in a class of its own. Kaus has a nice retrospective post chronicling some of his major coups and gaffes that is worth checking out.

There is one thing Kaus doesn’t touch on, but which gets to the heart of what really has changed in these ten years. In 1999, Mickey Kaus was just a guy blogging from his home computer on a personal website; now he’s a paid blogger at Slate which has itself been acquired by the Washington Post. You’d think it was about time to drop the anti-establishmentarian rhetoric.