The Difference Between Reporting And Discussion

from the this-is-a-discussion dept

On a daily basis we tend to get a couple comments here or there from people who insist that I shouldn't have written a certain post. Some of them are from the small group of folks who make sure to complain about every post here (what a life they must lead). Others are from people who like some of the stuff I write, but get upset if I venture into a particular topic area. A common refrain on some of them are that I shouldn't comment at all on certain topics because I'm not an expert in those topics or because they don't fit into the categorization of what those people think this site is about. I have to admit, I've always found these comments slightly amusing and slightly perplexing. As I've said before, I view the posts on this site as a part of a larger conversation, not as any sort of "reporting" or journalism. When you have a conversation with friends/colleagues/strangers, you will almost always express an opinion on something perhaps without "fact checking" every last bit of it. And from that you learn.

Fred Wilson did a great blog post recently, where he discussed the same basic concept, pointing out how people complain whenever he dips into politics or healthcare -- outside of his official realms of expertise. But he points out that it's his blog and he sees no reason not to speak his mind:
I am not an expert in everything I write about. But that is not going to stop me from speaking my mind about things other than venture capital and web startups. It might annoy or piss some people off. It could even hurt our business because those people are less likely to do business with me or our firm.

But I've made the decision to put myself out there, speak my mind publicly, and say what I think. And I am going to continue to do it.

There are plenty of regular readers of this blog who don't agree with me on most of my political views. People like Andy Swan, JLM, Dave in Hackensack, Steve Kane and many others. But they've never suggested that I shouldn't speak my mind. They leave comments arguing that I'm wrong. And you know what? They've opened my mind to other viewpoints and I have to say that I am more open minded about their views than had they not taken the time to articulate them sensibly and articulately.

If you really think I am full of s**t, let me know in the comments, but please don't suggest that I don't have the right to speak my mind. We live in an open society where everyone has this right.
And that's exactly how I feel as well. I really enjoy the discussions held on this blog, and hope to actually expand them in the near future. At the same time that people complain about some of the topics I pick, others complain that we're sometimes too narrowly focused on certain other topics. We've been discussing how to balance all of this, and I'm hopeful that we have some useful solutions coming up that will allow the topics under discussion here to expand, while still being engaging. But, no, not all of them will fit into what some people think this site has to be about -- and most of them will be an effort at further discussion, rather than what people decide is "reporting." But, just as we suggest that companies adapt to changing times, so too, do we hope to adapt and grow as well -- all with the goal of adding more value (and not taking away value). We're always looking to connect with fans, and we'd love to get your thoughts in the comments here on how best to cultivate more discussions.


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  1.  
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    MarksAngel (profile), Sep 14th, 2009 @ 11:00pm

    hmmm

    You can please some of the people some of the time, but never all the people all the time...

    I say keep writing! I enjoy techdirt, though I might not agree with everthing I see, so What I don't live in a world where I expect everyone to cater only to me...

     

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  2.  
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    Brooks (profile), Sep 14th, 2009 @ 11:01pm

    Kind of meta complaint

    So I occasionally complain about posts here, but not because of their subject matter. Talk about the relative merits of the 3-4 and 4-3 defense, for all I care.

    What gets my goat, and this post is an example, is the uneven quality of the concepts presented here. Sometimes I think, "wow, that's a really insightful addition to an important conversation," and sometimes I think "wow, that's shoddy reasoning that's more about supporting a position than being coherent."

    My complaint with this post is the assumption that frequent complainers are either terminally dissatisfied or subject matter purists.

    In fact, there's a third category: people who silently agree with a lot of the content, but who feel compelled to say something when a post isn't up to Techdirt's standards for intelligent, careful analysis. The problem is that, when you folks hit the nail on the head, there's not a lot to say other than "yep." When you get it wrong, there's lots to say. That's the way of the world.

    So, right, let's be constructive: you could probably do a better job of guiding conversation with questions.

    You could also do a better job of structuring posts as a coherent position, explicitly calling out assumptions, inferences, and conclusions. That will help people disagree intelligently, and will make it more clear when one of the permanently aggrieved just wants to complain in general (or when an old-media insider wants to disagree with conclusions and not the supporting material).

    All that said, I think Techdirt is on a roll, and I expect the brand (and Mesnick's personal brand) to continue to ascend. But with that success, you're going to have to accept that your poorer offerings (and *everyone* has work that's not up to snuff) are going to be subject to more scrutiny and criticism.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 14th, 2009 @ 11:22pm

    Re: Kind of meta complaint

    My complaint with this post is the assumption that frequent complainers are either terminally dissatisfied or subject matter purists.

    Ah, good point. I wasn't suggesting that those were the only complaints. Just the ones that ones whose validity I questioned.

    Complaints about shoddy reasoning... I'm all for those. Keeps me on my toes.

    So, right, let's be constructive: you could probably do a better job of guiding conversation with questions.

    Interesting. How so? I tend to avoid "questions" since it often feels like begging for comments, and I never thought that was polite.

    You could also do a better job of structuring posts as a coherent position, explicitly calling out assumptions, inferences, and conclusions. That will help people disagree intelligently, and will make it more clear when one of the permanently aggrieved just wants to complain in general (or when an old-media insider wants to disagree with conclusions and not the supporting material).

    Another good idea -- though, I'm not quite sure how that would work in practice.

     

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    Eric (profile), Sep 14th, 2009 @ 11:27pm

    All i can say is this is one of 3 sites i like enough to purposely turn off my ad block for.

    Not all of the posts here are perfect, but this is an blog, not a .... well, i'd say newspaper, but apparently they don't do a huge amount of fact checking lately either.

     

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    drkkgt (profile), Sep 14th, 2009 @ 11:39pm

    Re:

    "well, i'd say newspaper, but apparently they don't do a huge amount of fact checking lately either."

    Then again, a "newspaper" would only write a retraction if they got caught, and then on some back page in small type, where as Mike and crew usually do it right on the article or in a follow up on the main page/feed.

     

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  6.  
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    Doctor Strange, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 12:12am

    The difference between "discussion" and "arguing on the Internet"

    The default model on the Internet, as Clay Shirky points out, is "publish then filter," not "filter then publish." As you've taken no steps to prevent this (not a judgment, just how you've structured things here) you will get unfiltered publication of everyone's opinion, from trolls to thoughtful commentary. Unless you want to start some filtering, you're going to have to accept that you will get plenty of trolls and thoughtless commentary. You can deal with these in any way you want: ignore them, ban them, hide their comments under a link, refute them, engage them, whatever. Your strategy will largely determine the character of the debate.

    What I find interesting is that you have both trolls that agree with you and trolls that don't. If I search for '"fuck the RIAA" site:techdirt.com' I get a number of results. On the first hit, we find a few choice comments leading the "discussion:"

    Death to the RIAA & SONY!

    RIAA - Sony BMG

    Im not surprised, Both companies are in my boycott list so no matter! FUCK THEM!


    Along with these trollish comments, we find unsubstantiated and ridiculous accusations:

    "so why wasn't she charged with perjury and prosecuted?"

    Probably because she bribed the DA.


    (also to this question:)

    Because the legal system is corrupt. Any more questions?

    It seems that Techdirt will miss no opportunity to fan the flames with its overstated anti-copyright rhetoric.

    Because her lawyer is incompetent.

    Which of these comments was worthy of an "official" response? It was this one:

    It seems that Techdirt will miss no opportunity to fan the flames with its overstated anti-copyright rhetoric.

    This wasn't the most trollish comment in the thread. It wasn't particularly insightful, either, but then again it was in a sea of low-value comments. Further, the response was:

    MLS, I'm curious as to what "anti-copyright rhetoric" was used in this post? Can you point me to something that was factually incorrect, or are you simply trolling again? For a supposedly respectable IP lawyer, it reflects poorly on you to make blind accusations without adding a single fact to back yourself up.

    The comment was posted anonymously, and you chose to "out" this person, as well as accuse them of trolling without a factual basis. Yet at least half a dozen other comments in the selfsame thread were trolling just as badly if not worse, and none deserved censure.

    You can let the mob have and express any opinion they want, and they will. But they also, subtly or otherwise, help to frame the debate.

    A personal pet-peeve: One clear framing of the debate here is the demonization of everyone on the "other side" (this includes the RIAA, the MPAA, the recording industry in general, most lawyers, and anyone with anything resembling a pro-IP position). I understand and recognize that, in the articles, you attempt to separate characterizations of the actual people and organizations from their ideas (it's not the people who are delusional, just their ideas, right?) I have a lot of trouble recognizing the fundamental distinction, but again that's a personal thing. Either way, the mob will take the next natural step every time for you.

    The end result is that the "other side" is caricatured (if not directly, then through very strong indirection) as being some kind of huge evil conspiracy. Once you've decided something is a huge evil conspiracy, there is no reason to examine their motives seriously. You can just recognize that they do what they do because they are both huge and evil.

    I don't believe in huge evil conspiracies, in general. I don't think that most people who work for the recording industry get up in the morning and say "how are we going to fuck the consumers and our artists a little more today? What time does the New Fucking Strategies meeting start today? Is it 10AM? Isn't Bob giving a presentation on devices can we attach to their testicles to extract the last penny of revenue from their wallets?" I'm not sure what they think. I think understanding what they're actually thinking would be hugely informative, but I'm pretty sure I could hang out here for 30 years and gain only milligrams of insight on the subject.

    I tend to avoid "questions" since it often feels like begging for comments, and I never thought that was polite.

    Really? I'd think that asking questions is one of the best ways to inspire cogent debate, if that's indeed your goal. Not that it always works, of course, but I find that it probably will evoke more thoughtfulness than the adversarial "here is why I'm right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong" debate style that's seemingly become the dominant form of political discourse (and, really, discourse on the Internet at all) these days.

    I find it interesting that you think you don't ask a lot of questions. If you search for a '?' on the front page there are actually tons of questions (far more than I expected before I attempted the experiment), and even a couple articles whose titles are questions. What this says to me is that these questions are only rhetorical: you're not asking them because you genuinely want the answers, you're asking because you already know the answers. It fosters only adversarial debate.

    The structure of the site is also not conducive to thoughtful discussion, either. Again, this is not a judgment - the site is an opinion blog, and so posts naturally have a shelf life of several hours or maybe a couple days (if it happens to be the last post before the weekend hiatus). What is the point of starting a long-running debate in a comment thread that will be stale in a few hours? What's the point of taking time to research and write up a thoughtful post if nobody's going to be around to read it?

    Because of the short lifetime of comment threads, people can (and do) employ a very simple (but unfair) debate tactic: just don't respond to anything you don't want to. The thread will be gone and replaced by dozens more, and nobody will call you out for this. In a personal discussion, this sort of avoidance would probably be called out, but on the Internet nobody is bound to such rules.

    I'm not sure why short post-length is also a running feature of the commentary here. I write longer posts, and regularly get "tl;dr" or "wall of text crits for 5000" sorts of responses. One particularly amusing response I got was (paraphrasing): "if you can't state your opinion in a few lines, then it's obviously not good enough to be worth reading."

    Maybe so.

     

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    Chargone (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 1:57am

    Re: The difference between "discussion" and "arguing on the Internet"

    i can understand this particular post getting that 'wall of text' response. it is pretty big. on the other hand, one and two liners don't really explain much either. [and i certainly read it all easily enough, not that i have much to say about it, all up.]

    i think the tl;dr thing may be related to the short shelf life. i... can't quite explain that connection. maybe someone else will get it and do so (or not)

    I'd actaully say avoiding asking direct questions is helpful. they typically get joke responses and/or angry flames about how the question is biased and blah blah blah. if you just make statements, even rhetorical questions, the kinds of people who'd throw a fit over such things Seem more inclined to just dismiss it and move on.


    you're quite right about the article's shelf life being too short. [i think it was you... my brain is pretty dead right now. busy day]. i just read the latest one on the RSS feed. trying to find older ones that i didn't think to bookmark is a bit of an interesting experience. [of course, the fact that i went through a lot of pages before noticing the search feature didn't help there :D].

    also, i wanted to show one of my friends one of the older ones. found it, linked it... she couldn't view it. which may have just been her computer, or may be due to how the archives are set up, i forget.

    and, once again, i have no point, only thoughts. here they go.

     

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  8.  
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    mc, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 2:10am

    I usually disagree on what you say - usually meaning always!! - but in this post you are absolutely right.

    I love discussions on this blog, exept some people that only want to insult other people's posts...

     

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  9.  
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    ..., Sep 15th, 2009 @ 2:38am

    Re: The difference between "discussion" and "arguing on the Internet"

    Dr. Strange, or how I learned to love the mob

     

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  10.  
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    R. Miles (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 4:05am

    I can see this side of the argument.

    I was one of those who remarked that articles relating to issues outside the United States shouldn't be here (make a Techdirt for those countries instead).

    All these types of articles do is get people's discussions to go all "full of rage" as readers think it's happening in this country.

    I get the whole "we're not just limited to folks here", but why discuss the idiocy of other nations (especially you France and UK) when we've enough on our plate to deal with?

    Of course, I've not stated anything against these types of posts for a long time. I just simply ignore them now. Admittedly, I do peruse the comments just to get a chuckle from those who post comments.

    At any rate, I'm an Insider, so it obviously doesn't matter that much to me. So I can see this side of the argument.

    Ironically, those people who say one has to be an expert should read the comments from those very experts! They get the same crap Techdirt gets.

    Because "expert" is a misleading term on the internet. People demand 15 linked sources before they find the article credible. I wish these people would stay off the internet.

    Any, keep up the good work. I'll still read regardless of the article's source material.

     

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  11.  
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    mjuan, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 4:10am

    How do you dare?

    How do you dare to post on complaints, not being a complaint expert yourself? That's a provocation ;-)

    Seriously, I'm following your blog since a couple of days ago and find it one of the most interesting in my list. On the other hand, if someone writes on something I don't care, I just don't read it.

    Good job!

     

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  12.  
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    ..., Sep 15th, 2009 @ 4:17am

    Re: I can see this side of the argument.

    Are you on drugs ?

     

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  13.  
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    Moritz Zimmer, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 6:02am

    Why not state the divide?

    You hit the nail: There's a clear semantic difference between "reporting" and "discussion". So why not state which is which? This would probably help you to venture new topics without getting your expertise in others questioned.

     

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  14.  
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    R. Miles (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: I can see this side of the argument.

    What kind of stupid question is this to ask?

     

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  15.  
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    ChrisB, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 7:06am

    Re: I can see this side of the argument.

    > I was one of those who remarked that articles relating to
    > issues outside the United States shouldn't be here (make a
    > Techdirt for those countries instead).

    I absolutely think other countries should be represented. The US exports its culture and attitudes, mostly by force. You can see it in Canada with our politicians beginning to discuss copyright. Remember, in Canada it is legal to download music off the internet (because we pay a duty on DVR-R). Also, it is helpful for everyone to know how things work in other countries. If you were to believe your media, you'd think Canada's Healthcare was broken, when it is actually collectively better AND cheaper.

     

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  16.  
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    Claus Rasmussen (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Re: I can see this side of the argument.

    As I understand it, a Techdirt mantra could be something like: If the technology enables it, it will happen. Don't fight it, embrace it.

    Limiting Techdirt to US-issues only would seem like going back to a physical conference located in the states before airplanes were invented.

    I am sure you recognize that (judging by your reasoning), so I suppose that just as we non-US peeps enjoy (and learn alot from) reading about the wins and fails of your great country, you could also enjoy reading about how things are handled across your borders...

     

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    Josh (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 7:52am

    Broadcast vs Conversation

    I think the reason that some of the commenters complain is that they are still stuck in the Broadcast mentality of the pre-Internet. Despite the fact they can comment on articles and that you (Mike) respond frequently, and that there are genuine discussions about a range of topics, some still expect to be able to file Techdirt into a particular category. They tune in to ESPN expecting sports, but instead get something they think should be on Home&Garden because they don't understand the nature of a conversation, who it meanders to other topics.

    And for the record, I enjoy a wider content base if the articles are interesting or thought provoking (and on Techdirt, they almost always are).

     

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  18.  
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    Claus Rasmussen (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 7:53am

    One often used idea in discussion forums is a comment rating system. Comments could be rated by other readers (registered ones only, preferrably), and discussions in comments with good ratings could be moved further up.

    Trolling comments would quickly get a troll-rating, just as flame-bait comments would get an appropriate rating.

    Moving comments up and down could break the meaning of them, especially when other comments reply to them, so maybe some sort of color-coding could be used instead. Irrelevant troll/stupidity/flamebait comments could be using a grey font color, while interesting discussions and well articulated comments could get a non-white background (similar to the official techdirt replies).

     

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  19.  
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    BullJustin (profile), Sep 15th, 2009 @ 9:19am

    Re: Re: Kind of meta complaint

    Interesting. How so? I tend to avoid "questions" since it often feels like begging for comments, and I never thought that was polite.

    Welcome to Coffee Talk. Mike's a little veklempt. Talk amongst yourselves, I'll give you a topic. "The Issue at Hand" is neither Topic A nor Topic B. Discuss.

    Maybe you could better elucidate which topics you want discussion on and guide the conversation in your comments better. Maybe even add some notifier for either off-topic or "Mikey Likes It" comments.

     

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  20.  
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    Love TD, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    techdirt ACTION SQUAD

    stay razor sharp Mike. I love that I can use this blog in real conversations and find myself saying, "Well, the gang at Tech Dirt would disagree...well, Tech Dirt pointed out that...the community at Tech Dirt tells it how it is and not how their bosses make them tell it...etc."

    Everyday I see a story that in the old days I would have believed and taken it for what it was. Nowadays, when I see a story out there, I immediately go and see if you guys covered it too. The reason is, 99% of the time, you disagree and give a compelling argument on the OTHER viewpoint.

    I love how well (and envy it too) yall make every look so ridiculous.

    I love how you call out people that are stupid (like Sheriff Judd).

    To make this better, not only should you continue to call out the ridiculousness in the rest of the media, you need to start informing us or LEADING US on how to respond to these incorrect articles/people, etc.

    How do I contact Sheriff Judd and tell him he's a freakin moron!!! Where do we take aim next!? How do we keep idiots like him from continuing to mislead the public and his followers?

    We need a TECH DIRT ACTION SQUAD or something! Yall call out the idiots, show us the facts (like you already do) and inform us on what we can do with strength in numbers. Can we bombard an inbox or phone number with calls to point out the person has it all wrong?

    Our younger generation in this country seems to be more active - maybe not more active - but better able to use the web to get our points across. so LEAD US!

     

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  21.  
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    Love TD, Sep 15th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    ACTION SQUAD

    I just posted that above and went out on my own (granted i'd prefer TechDirt lead the way) and found the contact us for that idiot Sheriff in Polk county:

    http://www.polksheriff.org/ContactUs/Pages/default.aspx

    let him know you are behind CraigsList 100% and that he needs to stop grandstanding because we are not clueless idiots.

    Yes I was a Ron Paul person (can't ya tell!) but it's no longer about Ron Paul, it's about getting into action and DOING SOMETHING to let these people know we will not "Eat, Sleep, Obey"

    We will correct the government when they are wrong because they make their living using money out of our pockets. They work for us. They also think they can tell what they want because we are dumb enough to believe it and because we won't do anything about it.

    catch my drift?

    ramble over....

     

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