The Guardian has an interview with Lord Hunt, who has just taken over the UKs newspaper regulatory organization, the Press Complaints Commission (quite a name). Most of it is fairly tame to boring. But then... at one point, Hunt talks about all the wonderful journalists he knows and how they're lovely upstanding citizens determined to get to the bottom of every story etc. etc. etc. And the Guardian reporter challenges him a bit:
But, I counter, surely the major problems occur because of the tabloids? "No," he replies, "I think the greater challenge is with the bloggers, whether it's Guido Fawkes or whoever."
The question, clearly, refers to some of the recent phone hacking scandals in the UK, in which the News of the World hacked into tons of phone voicemails to get stories and did all sorts of other hugely ethically questionable things. I'm unaware of any bloggers, let alone all "the bloggers" combined, who have done anything quite that egregious. And, of course, a blog is just a software platform. Lumping together everyone who uses that single platform doesn't make much sense. But, then again, someone who thinks that "the bloggers" are somehow a bigger problem for government scrutiny than those hacking into phone systems... well... I guess it's asking a lot to expect him to "make sense."
Well, well, well. Remember back when the Associated Press threatened bloggers for quoting snippets of AP articles? Is the organization considering dipping its toes in the Righthaven waters? The Las Vegas Sun reports that Righthaven has signed up Media News as a client and has sued a blogger on behalf of the Denver Post, after the blogger apparently reposted a Denver Post column by Mike Rosen (with a link and credit). This is interesting for a few different reasons. First, it was just a few weeks ago that the Denver Post published a cryptic "reminder" about copyright that had a bunch of people scratching their heads. I had thought about mentioning it at the time, but it seemed so utterly lacking in context, that there wasn't much to say. I guess the Righthaven lawsuit provides context.
But, much more interesting is the Associated Press angle. You see, the CEO of MediaNews is one Dean Singleton. The same Dean Singleton is also the chairman of the board of... (you guessed it!) the Associated Press. He's also been their leading champion for the AP's backwards-looking bunker "lock everything up" mentality and its "DRM the news" strategy. So, if he's willing to partner with Righthaven and transfer copyrights to that company in exchange for suing bloggers, should we consider this a warning shot that the AP will be next? I'm sure that Righthaven would love that, though lately Righthaven's legal strategy hasn't looked so strong.
There was an amusing post this week at TheWrap.com discussing how the various Hollywood movie studios are confused about the basics of social media and Twitter. You may remember (or, maybe not), back in 2003, when Hollywood suddenly started blaming text messaging for certain movies failing, because some kids would go to a movie, realize it sucks, and quickly warn their friends to stay away. Of course, Hollywood blamed text messaging, instead of the fact that they made a crappy movie, and couldn't rely on their old methods of squeezing a ton of money out of people before word got around. In the age of Twitter, of course, this has only increased, so the studios started blaming Twitter, calling it "the Twitter Effect" and proceeding to freak out about it.
This new article points out that "The Twitter Effect" doesn't really appear to have any impact at all, but does mention that studios are trying to jump on this "Twitter" bandwagon by "buying trending terms" on the site. But watching the movie studios try to figure out this whole social media landscape can be pretty funny. Adam Singer sent over an email he just received from Warner Bros. asking him to join its "word of mouth marketing team" in which the studio would pay him to say nice things about Warner Bros. films:
I am a part of the Warner Brothers word of mouth marketing team and recently came across your blog! Your blog uniquely stood out as dynamic, informative and highly creative. We are seeking bloggers that are passionate about entertainment to help us engage your readers with content that would be interesting to them.
We would like to have you join our WB Word marketing team to let fans know about our latest releases and relevant content/products. As a member of the team, you will be asked to display photos, clips, and stories on your Blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The best part is you will get paid! Additionally, we may even debut event previews and new content so that fans like you get to enjoy it first.
Here's a tip for Warner Bros.' "word of mouth marketing team." If it's really "word of mouth marketing," it probably doesn't require you to pay people to talk about your bad movies. And, of course, depending on how the various bloggers on the "team" indicate their relationship with WB, the studio may be opening itself up to FTC problems.
If you follow political news even slightly, by now, you've probably heard about the whole Shirley Sherrod incident, involving an edited video of a talk she gave, which took her quotes out of context and made it appear she was saying exactly the opposite of what she was actually saying. The original video appeared on Andrew Breitbart's website, so it seemed kind of odd in discussing this incident, that two CNN anchors spent the majority of a video segment attacking anonymity on the internet. The first two minutes just complain about the internet in general, aided by a typically cranky Andrew Keen, but after the Keen segment, Kyra Phillips and John Roberts focus on the fact that people won't put their name behind what they say online:
Of course, anonymity had nothing to do with this incident at all. All of the players were known, so it seems odd to pick on anonymity. On top of that, both Phillips and Roberts seem woefully clueless on the subject of anonymity and liability. Roberts notes that Keen told him about companies that try to ruin other companies by posting false information online. What companies? He doesn't say. Where's the proof that this is happening? He doesn't say. Why the companies who have had falsehoods spread about them by other companies haven't sued for defamation? He doesn't say. In fact, Phillips falsely implies that there are no remedies for this, and suggests it's ridiculous that people have "freedom of defamation." She goes on to say that something needs to be done, and implies that the law needs to change, saying "something's going to have to be done legally," and that there needs to be "accountability." Um.... except defamation laws already allow people to sue over anonymous falsehoods. You would think that newscasters arguing over this point would know the basics like that.
But an even bigger point, as raised by Glenn Greenwald, is the fact that CNN relies on anonymous quotes all the time. It doesn't take long to find articles on CNN that quote anonymous officials. For them to rage against "cowards" who won't stand behind what they say, and then to regularly quote "anonymous" sources, seems pretty damn hypocritical. Phillips claims anonymity online is "very unfair." Phillips also attacks the media for "giving anonymous bloggers credit or credibility." But again, CNN quotes all kinds of anonymous sources all the time.
Later on, Roberts suggests anonymous blogging "has its place" and suggests that place is Iran and North Korea. But not the US. The authors of The Federalist Papers are rolling over in their graves.
This is amusing. The UK's The Guardian has been a strong advocate of keeping online news free and has pointed out how paywalls are generally a very, very bad idea. Of course, its competitor, Rupert Murdoch's The Times of London has famously put up a paywall. Right when that happened, we noted that a blogger for The Times had chosen to part ways with The Times, as he had no interest in having his own work hidden behind a paywall where it harmed his own, personal brand. It seemed likely that other top journalists would look for positions that were better for their own careers as well.
Now, in a bit of a snarky move towards The Times, the Guardian has agreed to start hosting the blogger who left The Times. Yes, the Baby Barista blog has jumped from The Times, to its own site, to The Guardian in the course of a month.
You may have seen the story we recently had about a woman suing Google after she got hit by a car while following Google Maps' walking directions. In that post, we linked back to Danny Sullivan's post about this story at Search Engine Land (where he noted that Gary Price had tipped him off to the news). In our post, we recommended people read Danny's full writeup, highlighted some of the points he made and added a bit of our own analysis. Of course, it's a hot story, and so lots of other publications wrote up their own versions of it as well, and Danny is now pointing out that the vast majority of mainstream publications did not credit him at all with breaking the story -- some of whom even used the images that Sullivan created in their own stories without credit.
Of course, the one I find most interesting is the Associated Press. The story published by the AP basically repeats a lot of what Danny put in his report, but fails to mention that Danny had the story first, and did a lot of the journalistic legwork in understanding what the story was about. Now, I've gone over this issue before in the past: and I don't see any legal reason why others should be required to cite their sources, but do believe it's the neighborly thing to do, and tends to lead to goodwill back in your direction as well.
With Rupert Murdoch's The Times of London going behind a paywall, we're already seeing some of their writers bailing out. A bunch of folks sent over the news that the writer of the Times' legal blog, Tim Kevan, has set up shop on his own blog, outside of the paywall. He admits he has nothing against The Times for putting up a paywall, it's just not something he wants to be a part of:
I have today withdrawn the BabyBarista Blog from The Times in reaction to their plans to hide it away behind a paywall along with their other content. Now don't get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem with the decision to start charging. They can do what they like. But I didn't start this blog for it to be the exclusive preserve of a limited few subscribers. I wrote it to entertain whosoever wishes to read it.
We've seen this before. Back when the NY Times had its old paywall around its op-ed columnists, there were plenty of stories of those columnists complaining about the lockdown. And, of course, when Newsday, in New York, put up its paywall (which infamously brought in just a few dozen subscribers), one of its top columnists quit, after publishing an open letter about why paywalls are a bad idea.
This does bring up yet another example of where paywalls can hurt. Even if they do get subscribers (a big if), it might not do much for a writer's own reputation if his or her work can't be read more widely. In an era where an individual's reputation is pretty important in the journalism world, many good reporters and columnists might not want to get stuck in virtual obscurity behind a paywall.
While lots of attention was paid to the claims that the confiscation of Gizmodo reporter Jason Chen's computer's would "settle" whether bloggers are considered journalists, the details in that case suggest otherwise. However, a much more important case on that particular question was decided late last week. It's the case of Shellee Hale, which we've covered in the past. Basically, Hale posted some information claiming a security breach at another company. She revealed this information as a comment on another site -- and when she was sued, the company demanded she reveal where she got that information from. She claimed that her sources were protected, as she was a journalist.
The court ruled against her, saying that because she had "no connection to any legitimate news publication," her own investigations weren't journalism. That's troubling for a variety of reasons, especially given the wide latitude in determining what constitutes a "legitimate news publication." Hale appealed, and unfortunately, the ruling last week from the appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling:
"Simply put, new media should not be confused with news media," wrote Superior Court Appellate Judge Anthony J. Parrillo.
The court also claimed that her activities were not journalism because they "exhibited none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process, nor has she demonstrated an established connection or affiliation with any news entity."
Again, this is problematic. In an age of participatory journalism, people who do journalism don't need "an established connection or affiliation with any news entity." They can easily establish one with various sites, or they can simply set themselves up as a "news organization" on their own. Furthermore, as technology has changed the whole process of journalism, there's an awful lot about journalism today that "exhibits none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process." That's because the news process is constantly changing -- such as its expansion into participatory efforts these days. This ruling is troubling in that it looks backwards, not forward. It's also a reminder that rather than various broken state laws that shield journalists, it really is time for a federal shield law to protect journalists.
If you were anywhere near a techy site on the internet last week, you probably noticed the sensational story of how a prototype of a forthcoming iPhone got left behind in a Silicon Valley bar, and eventually ended up in the hands (and on the pages) of gadget site Gizmodo. Given Apple's history of cracking down on new product leaks, it wasn't too surprising to see the company ask for the phone back, nor to hear rumors that police were looking into the matter. However, it was a little surprising to read today that California police have seized computers and other gear from one of Gizmodo's editors, breaking down his door in the process. The COO of Gizmodo parent Gawker Media alleges that the search was illegal, as the editor is protected under California's shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources. Gawker founder Nick Denton says the case should let us find out if "bloggers count as journalists", but that's not completely clear. The shield law exists to protect unnamed sources, not to let journalists commit crimes (such as receiving stolen property) and then cover them up under the guise of their work. So while the case may not settle if bloggers are seen as journalists in the eyes of the law, it should settle once and for all that age-old question of whether or not an iPhone prototype left in a bar by an Apple employee constitutes stolen property.
That story we had earlier tonight about Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, if that's what it is (and our news director thinks it is), is yet another example of the decline of journalism as we once knew it. Our business now, too many times, is a fat kid in a T-shirt in his mother's basement, eating Cheetos and writing his blogs -- and we make it news. Jerry Jones in a bar, being Jerry Jones, is not news to me. And the fact that some creep slides up to Jones, records the conversation without Jones knowing, then tries to sell that recording -- and that becomes news -- is an embarrassment to us all."
But isn't that the real crux of the issue? Many sports journalists appear to be afraid to do anything that might jeopardize their access to athletes and their teams, so they've supported the PR efforts to carefully craft the outside appearances of sports figures, and are largely hesitant to do anything to upset these appearances. Hansen calls this sort of story evidence of the decline of journalism, but it's really the result of sports journalism. Stories like this become popular and notable among the public because they're so out of character for anybody within professional sports. Other pieces have called Jones' behavior in the video "just Jerry being Jerry." And you know what? That's fine. The content of the video isn't even really that objectionable -- and perhaps has some interesting insight into the fact that Jones might have hired Parcell solely for PR value, something which seems to have gone unacknowledged among the mainstream media. But it's only these reporters, who have been let inside the magic curtain, that know that. The public at large sees the staged media persona of somebody like Jones, and then this video differs significantly from it, making it interesting.
Whitlock says sportswriters "owe Jerry Jones an apology and all sports fans an honest explanation of why athletes/celebrities have every right to avoid us." That makes it sound as if the goal of sports journalism is to be friends with athletes, to buy into, and to help build up, the carefully crafted, positive images of athletes -- not to cover the world of sports. That's what makes the downfall of somebody like Tiger Woods so sensational and so interesting to the public. But it seems reasonable to ask that given the intense media interest that follows someone like him around, why didn't the story of his escapades break sooner? It wasn't until the situation became irretrievably public -- like the Jones video -- that the mainstream media ran with it. These stories break in blogs because their writers aren't beholden to the same model, and often don't care about being so close to their subjects. Whitlock alleges that sports figures like Jones "can't be human." That's not the case at all; rather the mainstream media often doesn't make any effort to show them as human, making these rare moments where they're seen without their protective PR cover so dramatic, and so compelling.