Archive for the 'Weblogs' Category

Be nice

November 3, 2008

The Internet is full of meanness? Who knew?

There’s a whole world of people out there, and boy, are they pissed off.

On political blogs, the invective flies. Posters respond to the latest celebrity gossip with mockery or worse. Sports fans set up Web sites with names that begin with “fire,” hoping coaches, athletic directors and sportscasters lose their jobs.

And though there are any number of bloggers and commenters who attempt to keep their postings and responses on a civil level, all too often interactive Web sites descend into ad hominem attacks, insults and plain old name-calling. Indeed, there are even whole sites devoted to venting, such as justrage.com (one screed there was titled, “I don’t give a flying f***, so f*** you”) and mybiggestcomplaint.com.

On the other hand, what do those moronic half-wits at CNN know? The Fort Wayne blogosphere is as polite as a church picnic, and anybody who says otherwise better not show his face around here.

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Fairly scary

August 13, 2008

Keep using that First Amendment, bloggers, while you still have it:

There’s a huge concern among conservative talk radio hosts that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine would all-but destroy the industry due to equal time constraints. But speech limits might not stop at radio. They could even be extended to include the Internet and “government dictating content policy.”

      FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell raised that as a possibility after talking with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. McDowell spoke about a recent FCC vote to bar Comcast from engaging in certain Internet practices – expanding the federal agency’s oversight of Internet networks.

The “Fairness” Doctrine may be the most misnamed federal policy ever. This is all about intimidation.

Out of touch

July 25, 2008

I was all set to enjoy a pleasant evening of blogging last night. One of my favorite old black-and-white movies, 1935’s “G Men,” with James Cagney and Margaret Lindsay, was playing on Turner Classic Movies. With my laptop set up in front of the TV, I could half pay attention to the movie (old favorites are comfortable background noise) while composing posts to thrill and astound my readers. But at 7:58 p.m., two minutes before the movie’s start — Zap! Comcast Cable went out. “This channel should be available shortly,” the message said — on every channel.

Oh, well. It wouldn’t be quite as much fun, but I could blog while listening to some albums or the radio. Except for the fact that I discovered my Comcast high-speed Internet wasn’t working, either. And I was in complete ignorance — no TV news guy to tell me what was wrong with the Internet, no Internet bulletin to tell me what was wrong with the TV, and nothing from Comcast’s customer service line except a busy signal. I called a friend to see if she could get online and find out what was going on (thank God I still have Verizon phone service), but there was nothing. Finally, after a couple of hours, they were both back on. By then, though, I was ready for bed and not in the mood.

What happened? Here’s the unhelpful story from WANE-TV:

The worker says sometime after 7:30 p.m., the fire alarm went off causing a fire suppression system to kick in. As part of the system, some type of gas was emitted that forced workers to evacuate the building.

Fire alarm? Gas emission? Building evacuation? What pitiful excuses for ruining my evening. Two things:

1. We have the most sophisticated system of communications the world has ever known; anybody can reach anybody else with any message, at any time, in any place, under any set of circumstances.

2. I pay Comcast an obscene amount of money each month.

So, the next time, I want something a little more specific and encouraging than “One moment please, this channel should be available shortly” on every cable station and something better than “This site is currently not available” on every Internet address. I want something like: “We know this is inconvenient and upsetting, Mr. Morris. Our service should return in about two hours. We know you had your heart set on ‘G Men,’ so we will be repeating that from 8 to 9:30 p.m. every night for a week on Cable Channel 400, just for you. And we are sending by mail a check in the amount of quadruple the pro-rated cost for the time you will have been out of service. Half the staff here has already been fired over this regrettable interruption and, rest assured, more heads will roll. If there is anything else we can do, please let us know. Oh, and a piping hot pizza should be at your door any minute now.”

Is that too much to ask?

Nothing new here

May 5, 2008

Welcome to the wonderful world of the unfiltered Internet, where legitimate history resides side by side with vicious fantasies:

A video showing a longtime supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton using slurs to describe Hoosiers spread through the Web like a virus Friday, triggering a firestorm of protest before the video was finally exposed as a hoax.

It was just the latest example of how the Internet is changing politics.

The video clip, uploaded to the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube and spread via blogs and e-mail, showed former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor describing Hoosiers using profanity and a racial epithet.

No, this isn’t going to be a lament about the loss of “editors” and “gatekeepers” as we move from the old media to the new. That’s been fairly well chewed over in lots of places, and I suspect we willl end up with some kind of hybrid that combines new-style openness and access with old-style editing and sorting; filters and gatekeepers there will be.

My observation would be that this really isn’t new, just faster. At your dead-tree newstand, you can find copies of The New York Times and Washington Post right next to copies of those tabloids that write about space aliens and Elvis sightings. ON TV, you can see “60 minutes” side by side with “The Jerry Springer Show” and wrestling right next to football and basketball. Most people have been able to sort out the real from the fictional, but some haven’t. Scarily enough, they live and work right along with the rest of us.

The main thing that’s different about the digital age — other than how many information players there are — is how quickly the hoaxes can spread. But they can be debunked just as quickly. Most people will retain the memory of the truth, but a few, unfortunately, will act on the lie.

The Goeglein story

February 29, 2008

(Twenty times. That number is important later on, so remember it.)

tim-goeglein.jpgThe four posts I have today were actually written last night and kicked off this morning. I had planned to supplement them with two or three more I worked in with my other duties. But my day blew up from the time I opened my first e-mail this morning. It exploded over — as many of you already know by now — the Tim Goeglein affair. Since I’m the editor of the editorial page that ran his guest columns, I’ve been right in the middle of the whole thing.

Briefly, in case you are a little behind, on Thursday we ran a guest column by Goeglein, a Fort Wayne native who is now a special assistant to President George Bush. We’ve run nearly 40 since 2000. Nancy Nall, a former News-Sentinel columnist and a blogger who now lives in the Detroit area, read the column online. She noticed an unusual name in the piece and Googled it. What she found was a 1998 piece by Jeffrey Hart in the Dartmouth Review that bore an uncanny resemblance to Goeglein’s piece. Reading them side by side made it clear, in fact, that Goeglein had lifted whole chunks of Hart’s essay without attribution. No way around it — the president’s special assistant for faith-based initiatives had committed plagiarism.

That first e-mail today was a heads-up from Nancy that she was going to post on the plagiarism. I read the post, printed it out and immediately went to my boss, Editor Kerry Hubartt, and we started making plans. When there is a charge of plagiarism, there is a protocol. We verify if the plagiarism happened. If it it’s a staff member who is guilty, the staff member is fired. If it is someone else (a letter-to-the-editor writer, for example), that person is banned from the page or the paper. We start examining everything else the person has written to see if there is an isolated problem or an extensive one. We apologize to readers. We don’t have to do it too often, thank goodness. A freelancer for the Features section was banned a couple of years ago. I have banned one letter writer. Usually, this is done quietly, without much fuss or notice.

But Tim Goeglein is a member of the president’s team in a highly charged election season. No way this was going to stay a small, local story. Since this morning, the story has been all over the blogosphere — even Drudge has it now, and he gets something like 21 million hits a day. And the mainstream media have been quick on the uptake for a change. AP has it. The Washington Post has it. We’ve been fielding calls from everybody from Editor & Publisher to the local TV stations.

That’s the reason I can write this now instead of later. There was a fear that if we put too much online, either here or on the paper’s Web site, we would end up scooping ourselves, since we can’t get anything in the dead-tree edition until tomorrow. But that’s old thinking. We finally came to the conclusion that if we waited until tomorrow to tell everything we knew, everybody would get it somewhere else first. There is only one way to do this in the digital age — put what you know online as soon as you know it and keep updating it. That way, instead of just getting written about, we can be quoted, too. (The story should be up shortly, so keep checking periodically if you want to see it.)

With new information, by the way. Twenty (so far) is how many of the 38 columns we checked for which it is possible to say that Goeglein lifted whole chunks of somebody else’s writings. Hart twice. A writer for the New York Sun twice. Numerous people one time each. It’s hard for me to fathom this. If somebody lifts a line or two once, maybe it was an accident. Two or three times, somebody thinks he can get away with something. But 20 times, and not a line or two each time but whole passages? The only thing I can think is that there is some crossed wiring that causes the person to think that plagiarism isn’t really stealing.

It is, of course. Those of us in the business sometimes agonize over whether we might be guilty of it. For any given editorial, I’m likely to have read 10 to 20 articles on the subject just on the day of the writing. Is everything in my finished piece really mine, or did I inadvertenly lift a phrase or two? This incident sort of draws a line, doesn’t it? Nobody claims this isn’t plagiarism, even Goeglein, who has admitted it and apologized.

Don’t know what happens next, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Goeglein is fired or allowed to resign “to pursue other options” or whatever they say these days. The White House issued a statement saying his behavior was “not acceptable,” and that’s when he was thought to be guilty of one or two incidents, not 20.

And The News-Sentinel will keep working on what is a ticklish situation — reporting on what has become the biggest story of the day while being a central part of the story ourselves. Tricky.

It’s impossible to discover every instance of plagiarism before it hits print; that would just be too time-consuming and labor-intensive. And even if we’d had 10 people dedicated to the job, I doubt Goeglein would have been suspected. The faith-based assistant to the president filching somebody else’s words? All we can do is do what we think is right by our readers when we do discover an incident (or it is pointed out to us). I think we’ve handled everything right so far. Let me know if you think otherwise.

UPDATE: The Whie House has accepted Tim Goeglein’s resignation.

Opening Arguments responds

February 13, 2008

A question from the Indiana blogosphere:

Anyone else notice the tendency of some bloggers to anthropomorphize their blog? — By which I mean something like if I would write, “Masson’s Blog wonders if anyone else has noticed the tendency of some bloggers to anthropomorphize their blog?”

To me, it seems to be a stylistic tendency drawn from editorial pages where the editors write in the name of the newspaper. “The New York Times endorses . . .”

We are not amused.

Blogging 101

December 17, 2007

The original blogger — Jorn Barger, who coined the term “weblog” — has 10 suggestions for new bloggers. His No. 2 is interesting:

You can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility.

That may have been his idea for what a blog should be, but there are as many ideas for blogs as there are people doing them. A great many bloggers today include at least some journaling. The links are used to reinforce the personal world view they’re trying to get across.

Listen up, amateurs

December 14, 2007

Silly me, I thought the First Amendment was for all of us, protecting citizens from government interference with disseminating the facts and opinions we need to be informed voters. But there are “citizens,” you see, and “journalists,” and heaven forbid we let the two mix without the professional journalist giving us our proper instructions:

So without any real standards, anyone has a right to declare himself or herself a journalist. Major media outlets also encourage it. Citizen journalism allows them to involve audiences, and it is a free source of information and video. But it is also ripe for abuse.

[. . .]

Having just anyone produce widely distributed stories without control can have the reverse effect from what advocates intend. It’s just a matter of time before something like a faked Rodney King beating video appears on the air somewhere.

Journalism organizations should head that off. Citizen reports can be a valuable addition to news and information flow with some protections.

So just stop all that, you stupid bloggers, and wait for the professionals to give you your instructions and your standards. You might get something wrong and have to bury an incomprehensible correction on Page 15.

Think it over

November 22, 2007

There are many reasons to be thankful today, and you can find people writing about most of the usual ones — family, material comforts, living in a free country — in a lot of places. Let me be the only one, I trust, to thank you for arguing with me.

Several years ago, before cancer took Gene Siskel out of the best movie-review team ever, I wrote a column about how lucky he and Roger Ebert were to have each other. They were both good at what they did, and they loved what they did. And their whole relationship was about each making the other better. Siskel could not come up with a negative review without considering what Ebert would say about the same movie. Ebert had to be mindful of how Siskel — whose movie sensibilities he knew very well — would respond to whatever he said. Neither  one could be complacent. If you know someone of roughly equal ability is always going to be there to challenge you, you will always question your own assumptions and bring your best arguments to the game. Siskel and Ebert were competitive, but in a healthy rather than destructive way.

All debate should be that way. The point should not be to best each other or prove ourselves to be the biggest talkers on the block. We are in a search for the truth, are we not? The best way to find the right answers is often to start with a good argument. It helps clear away the bad logic and weak reasoning, replace faulty assumptions with good premises. We work together, competitively, to chip away at the lies and find little truths on the way to the larger truths.

Blogs aren’t quite there yet, are they? We wouldn’t even start one unless we had egos, the desire to be noticed, the overwhelming need to shout out, “Look at me. I matter!” So instead of answering arguments, we tend to answer people, and it becomes more and more personal. You don’t have an argument I challenge; you are a left-wing moonbat. I’m not a worthy opponent with faulty logic that can be demonstrated; I am a conservative wingnut. We just keep calling each other names, and the moonbats and wingnuts who agree with us follow along and keep the echo chambers going.

Remember the origins of Thanksgiving. It’s not just a holiday to be grateful for what we have. The holiday celebrates the needs we had that others recognized and reached out to meet. I have some insights that might help lead to the truth. You have others. Sharing those insights — by arguing about them and thus deciding which ones are valid and which ones are not — improves the human condition.

The ancient Greek philosophers argued for centuries about the metaphysics of life, chewing arguments over for decades before saying, “Well, maybe so, but let’s consider another nuance.” Go read about the atomists. Today, we embrace an agrument during the morning talk shows and discard it before the evening news, daring the moonbats and wingnuts to challenge us.

Slow down a little. Think. Consider. Mull things over. Find the weak points in the other side and address them. Answer arguments instead of people. Make be better and more thoughtful than I would be without your participation.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Be reasonable

November 19, 2007

The blogosphere is a still free-for-all so far, with people seeming to believe they can say anything they please with no fear of repercussion. It’s just a war of words, and strong speech is answered with strong speech. But cyber space is part of the larger world, and in that world there are such things as libel and defamation of character. As more and more people use the Internet, strong words will increasingly be answered with lawsuits, as this woman discovered:

Unhappy with her daughter’s private school, Sonjia McSween created a blog to warn other parents.

The unexpected result: The New School of Orlando Inc. slapped McSween with a defamation lawsuit to stop her from publishing and talking about the school and force McSween to pay damages.

Some say it’s a case of censorship. Others say First Amendment rights have nothing to do with it.

[. . .]

The Internet is what gives the New School case a new dimension.

“It’s one thing for a disgruntled parent to go around bad-mouthing you to her small group of friends,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, a law professor at the University of Florida whose expertise includes First Amendment and Internet-speech law. “It’s another to bad-mouth you to the world at large on the Internet.”

Also known as New School Preparatory, the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school alleges that McSween deliberately told unflattering lies, causing enrollment to drop. It alleges defamation, libel, slander and interference with business relations.

There is a lesson in this case that every blogger should take to heart. You are not immune from a lawsuit just because you were expressing an opinion. Opinion, it is true, is more protected than statements of fact, but it is more complicated than that. There is a difference, for example, between pure opinion and mixed opinion — depending on whether the facts underlying the opinion are set forth on the article or are generally known to the reader, and pure opinion is more protected than mixed opinion. The distinction can be subtle, and you never know which way a court will go.

This is still an area of developing law, and it might turn out that blog opinions will stay in the “more protected” category. The overall context matters — letters to the editor, for example, have constituted a strongly protected category in part because people expect to find opinions there. Blogs might achieve that status, too.

In the meantime, what was true before the Internet is still true in the time of the Internet: There is no substitute for making sure your facts are right and that your opinions flow reasonably from those facts.

Here’s some case law on the subject.

A blog casualty

November 2, 2007

Ouch. Indianapolis Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle has been fired. For something he wrote on a blog. Double ouch. It’s been tricky to get specifics on it — it’s one of those things where the offensive post was removed and the Star’s editor, Dennis Ryerson, vaguely described the post as “racially offensive.” But here’s a pretty good summary of the situation:

Riddle’s blog entry was titled, “The Indianapolis Black Democrat minstrel show.”

It was originally called “Coons for Power,” judging from the Web address for the blog entry, which uses those words, and according to the Indianapolis blogosphere.

One blogger wrote that the piece originally compared the council president to “Zip Coon, a derogatory, racial slur on black men dating to the days of slavery.”

The context: Both Biddle and the city-county council president he was writing about are black, so this isn’t a case of a member of one race being insensitive about a member of another. He was making the point (I think) that the councilman was being embarrassingly unserious. In his apology, Ryerson said he wanted the Star to be “a model of civility. The Internet should be a center of electronic debate, not diatribe.”

Not sure about that. It does get rough out here — sometimes maddeningly so. But there is often a robust exchange of ideas in the vitriol. A different set of rules is emerging on the Internet, and I’m not sure how equipped “civil” newspapers are to deal with it. Was the Star right to fire Biddle? Or was the editor being too sensitive or politically correct? 

Blah, blah, blah

September 7, 2007

Somebody yesterday asked me what I do in my spare time.

“Blog, mostly,” I said.

“What’s that?”

This seems to come up at least once or twice a week, or at least so often that I have the speech down pat: “Well, it’s journaling on the Web. Some of the ‘Web logs’ — that’s where the name comes from — are merely personal diaries, meant for family and friends. Some are extensions of existing institutions. Some, like mine, are kind of a hybrid. Blogs represent what’s happening in the communications revolution, with immediate transmission of information and instantaneous feedback and blah, blah, blah.”

Usually, the listener’s eyes start to glaze over before I get to the blah, blah, blah part. I do not get the impression that they are going to rush home, fire up the computer and get hooked on this blog phenomenon. So I wonder: Is this large group of people hopelessly out of touch, in danger of getting caught on the wrong side of the information superhighway? Or do those of us who are so caught up in blogging think it is a much bigger deal than it really is?

I don’t know the answer, Grasshopper; that’s why I’m asking.

Check it out

September 5, 2007

Just one small story from the northwest corner of the state: An e-mail is circulated saying that the owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts is turning away customers in uniform because “you are killing my countrymen and I will not serve you.” Outrage builds until somebody decides to check it out:

“Hard to believe that something like this might be going on in our community,” said John Pitt of the Indiana Army National Guard.

Pitt was among a group of Army National Guard members who arrived in uniform on Tuesday to test the message. “Just to see if there was any validity to it. And we were served. We had great service,” he said.

The Internet is a great tool, but it is only a tool, as good or as bad as the people who use it. If you express your opinions and pass along news you unearth, you are performing a valuable service. If you just pass along nonsense without checking it out, you are no better than people gossiping over the backyard fence, and you can do far greater damage.

Lecture over.

Alone together

August 7, 2007

Bloggers are cowboys, outside the mainstream, anarchists throwing bombs at the establishment, iconoclastic philosophers who go their own way, loners preaching truth to power — well, you get the idea. So, naturally, they need to band together in solidarity:

In a move that might make some people scratch their heads, a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labor union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.

The effort is an extension of the blogosphere’s growing power and presence, especially within the political realm, and for many, evokes memories of the early labor organization of freelance writers in the early 1980s.

Organizers hope a bloggers’ labor group will not only showcase the growing professionalism of the Web-based writers, but also the importance of their roles in candidates’ campaigns.

Scratching our heads, indeed. Bloggers are becoming more powerful and influential all the time, so now they need proection so The Man doesn’t keep them down? If the bloggers are “labor,” who, exactly is management? These aren’t “left-leaning bloggers,” they are loony moonbats. (In blogger terminology, for the uninitiated, “moonbats” are people who have lost their minds on the way to falling off the left side of the world; people who have lost their minds on the way to falling off the right side of the world are “wingnuts.” We must keep the terminology of our rational discussions straight.)

Susie Madrak, one of the leaders of this blogging movement, explains why the union is needed:

Madrak hopes that regardless the form, the labor movement ultimately will help bloggers pay for medical bills. It’s important, she said, because some bloggers can spend hours a day tethered to computers as they update their Web sites.

“Blogging is very intense — physically, mentally,” she said. “You’re constantly scanning for news. You’re constantly trying to come up with information that you think will mobilize your readers. In the meantime, you’re sitting at a computer and your ass is getting wider and your arm and neck and shoulder are wearing out because you’re constantly using a mouse.”

Oh, the humanity. Tethered to computers for hours, scanning and updating and mobilizing. To think of all the whining Cesar Chavez did about the trivial complaints of his migrant farm workers.

Fish in a barrel

July 12, 2007

A syndicated columnist calls it quits, with a little whining thrown in:

Those who wanted more biting opinion gravitated to the Internet, where there are vast numbers of people offering commentary along every single point on the political spectrum. It became very easy to find writers expressing exactly one’s own personal opinion about everything. Bloggers also have the advantages of no space constraints, and an ability to post comments in real time and to offer links to supporting documents and sources. Now they even have audio and video.

As a result, the demand for traditional column writing has pretty much dried up, just as the demand for buggy whips collapsed when the automobile came along. I don’t mourn the old system. I am a great fan of bloggers and learn far more from them than I do from the Broders and Friedmans of the world, who have largely become irrelevant to serious political discussion.

Furthermore, the basic medium through which columnists operate — newspapers — are dying a slow death.

Yes, all that darn competition. People everywhere are able to express an opinion. Not everyone is sympathetic to the quitter:

Columnists express opinions on anything they want. It is like being paid to breathe. And he is turning down the money?

Instead of writing a newspaper column, he will write books. That’s like giving up playing the kazoo to become a concert pianist because it is easier.

Of course it pays better. You actually have to have talent and work at it.

Writing a newspaper column is like shooting fish in a barrel. But the fish need to be shot and I am happy to do my part.

After Watergate, there was a surge of kids coming into newspapers who all wanted to be immediately put on the investigative reporting, “give me a year, and I’ll bring down a governor or at least the mayor” beat. A trend that lasted longer — and I’ve had to deal with it on the editorial page — were the people who wandered in off the street and wanted to quit their jobs with the phone company or the bank and be hired next week by the newspaper. “I’d really like to write a column, but I realize that it might take at least a year before other papers pick up the column and I’m syndicated.” Never mind the journalism degree or writing obits or putting in your time on the police beat and in city council meetings. The whole world is just waiting for my opinion, and I’m eager to give it to them. No realization at all that before you get to shoot those fish in a barrel, you have to first, as Mao noted, swim with all the other fish in the sea.

“Fish in a barrel,” by the way, is one of the kinds of editorials we write when space must be filled and the ideas just aren’t coming, along with “preaching to the choir,” “beating a dead horse” and “belaboring the obvious.” Funny, those show up in blogs, too.

Our World

March 22, 2007

Cathy Seipp, among other things the author of the popular blog Cathy’s World, has died after a long battle with cancer. Though I knew her only by her writing, I feel a sense of loss. She was conservative, but not always predictably so, and tough and smart and funny and a clear and compelling writer. Read this loving tribute — I think that term fits — by Susan Estrich, who was about as far politically from Seipp as it is possible to be:

Lung cancer was one of the few subjects we agreed on; I lost my best friend seven years ago, and watched in horror as the money from the tobacco settlements got spent building highways. We also agreed about things like mothering, kids and friendship. As for the rest, we had to agree to disagree. But I was always interested in how Cathy put it, where she came down and how she got there, because I knew she’d be as tough on herself as any critic would be. So I checked in every day to see what she was thinking, until the end. Ours was an old-fashioned relationship, the kind people used to have with people they disagree with, the kind that is too often under attack these days.

It’s too bad we’ll never meet, Cathy wrote to me not long ago, and my heart skipped a beat, but of course I knew what she meant. We e-mailed. She posted. We lived in a new world, by the old rules. It may be the best of both.

Living "in a new world, by the old rules." I like that. I have been blessed with many friends, some of them stubbornly clinging to liberalism despite my best efforts to convince them of the error of their ways — and I know they have been equally disappointed in me. But the arguing has always been fun, and challenging and stimulating and leavened with the knowledge that we cared for each other despite our differences of opinion. In the end, it’s not so much what you believe that matters but who you are and what you do.

As Seipp knew and Estrich still understands, that kind of "agreeing to disagree" friendship is tougher and tougher these days, and we are all the poorer for it.

Read the rest of this entry »

No more nice guys

March 22, 2007

Gee, do ya think?

It was yet another example of how the Internet — and the anonymity it affords — has given a public stage to people’s basest thoughts, ones that in earlier eras likely never would have traveled past the watercooler, the kitchen table or the next barstool.

Such incidents — and there are countless across cyberspace — also raise the question: Is there anything to be done about it? Or is a decline in civil discourse simply the price that we pay for the advance of technology?

This seems so strange to me. Folks in Fort Wayne cyberspace are so darn nice and polite.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blogging the blizzard

February 16, 2007

Blogs aren’t going to replace newspapers or anything else as primary providers of basic news. People who won’t spend 15 minutes with the paper and can barely pay attention to five minutes of the local-news broadcast aren’t going to invest all the time it would take to scour blogs and put the bits and pieces together into some kind of mental comprehensive report.

But we are starting to see what value blogs can provide. As bloggers begin to specialize and those interested in the specialties find them, communities of shared interests are being formed. Masson’s Blog, for example, does about the best job of anybody of keeping track of pending legislation at the General Assembly. The Indiana Law Blog follows legal issues and state court cases. Advance Indiana pays attention to gay and transgender issues. And digests like the Indiana Blog Review and BlogNetNews, one with an editor and one an automatic aggregator, are letting us quickly check what some of our favorite bloggers are saying.

With this week’s blizzard, we’ve seen another strength blogs. Several in Fort Wayne, including Fort Wayne Observed, Angry White Boy and one started just for the occasion by The News-Sentinel’s Ryan Lengerich, were reporting from the heart of the storm with digital images. And Ryan was even carrying around a laptop to post his stories as soon as he could. I noticed many blogs around the state were providing the same service for their communities. These were reports between the evening and the morning paper, more detailed than radio, at least as interesting as TV, taken altogether showing aspects of the blizzard available nowhere else.

I certainly hope we have nothing more disastrous anytime soon, like another flood, but if we do, keep your eye on the blogs for even more comprehensive reporting than we saw this week. And I suspect the coming city election (which some might call an unnatural disaster) will see a strong blog presence as well. There will be more information about more aspects of the races available than at any time in the past. That increases the chances for an informed electorate, which may be the blogs’ greatest contribution of all.

Read the rest of this entry »

BlogNetNews

December 18, 2006

If you want a quick overview of what’s going on in the Indiana blogosphere, this new site looks pretty thorough. Here’s the announcement of the site’s debut:

BlogNetNews doesn’t have a political ax to grind and jumps a generation ahead of other aggregators out there that just reprint posts and tell you which ones get clicked on the most.

We are going to use your feeds – and the feeds of top Indiana-centric news and political bloggers – to create new content and information that will organize your slice of the Internet to make it work better for your readers.

Our current version offers these features:

*The day’s top news – based solely on what news stories Indiana bloggers are linking to – no matter what mainstream news source they’re in.

*An Indiana blogs search engine.

*A quick guide to the hottest blog comment sections in the Indiana-centric blogosphere.

*A quick index of the day’s most active Indiana news and politics blogs.

*A guide to the Indiana blog posts most linked to by other Indiana bloggers.

In one place, in one minute, you’ll get an update on what’s going on across the blogosphere. And your readers will be able to find the best Indiana-related content – not based on random voters or some editor’s choices – but based on the real actions of your fellow bloggers and their readers.

Our theory is simple: We think our tools will help new blog readers find the best content fast. A good experience means they’ll come back – to you and to us. We also think a quick grasp of what’s going on in the blogosphere will help you get more out of the time you spend blogging.

I hope you’re interested in what we’re doing. Please understand though, the site is new and the programming is still being tweaked and tested – in short all the parts are in motion. In order to quickly improve the site, we want your feedback. Write directly to me at editor@blognetnews.com.

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Keep it nice

September 7, 2006

Libel law is applied in different ways to different media. The telephone company, for example, is just a carrier, and isn’t thought to be responsible if Person A says mean things to Person B about Person C over the phone. But a newspaper exercises editorial judgment, so Editor A can get in trouble if he lets Letter Writer B’s libelous comments about Citizen C appear on the editorial page. How does this apply to blogs? If a blogger lets a snarky reader make libelous statements about a third party in the comments attached to a post, can the blogger be held accountable? Don’t know yet, but we’re going to find out:

The California Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in San Francisco Tuesday on whether someone who posts a defamatory comment by another person on the Internet can be sued for libel.

Two civil liberties groups say the court’s eventual ruling, due in three months, could have far-reaching implications for free speech on the Internet.

While the case before the court concerns individuals-a Canadian doctor seeking to sue a women’s health activist for posting a third person’s comment about him-the court’s ruling could also determine whether Internet service providers can be held liable when they knowingly allow defamatory remarks to be posted. (emphasis added)  Read on…

A lot of people think the Internet is breaking such new ground that the old rules don’t apply. But I sort of suspect they do. Anyone who exercises control can be held liable for the actions of others through the medium being so controlled. It’s true that one of the draws of the Internet in general and blogs in particular is the robust exchange of views that is encouraged. The heavy hand of libel law could dampen that exchange considerably. But that’s nothing new. I’d pay attention to this case.

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First draft of history

April 24, 2006

Nothing new here, I’m afraid, or arguable, about the inefficiency, shallowness and lack of immediacy of the paper medium. The only thing noteworthy, as Jeff Jarvis notes, is that " newspaper is willing to print the first draft of its own obituary."

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The new underground?

March 10, 2006

If you aren’t tired of reading blog posts about blogging, here’s a long and thoughtful article from the Financial Times, which asks, among other things, whether Orwell and Marx would have been bloggers if they’d had the technology. It’s at least as skeptical as the Chicago Tribune editorial we’ve been talking about for the last few days, but it’s a lot more sophisticated and nuanced about what blogging is and might not be. What makes it a must-read is that it both explores the Old Media-New Media dichotomy and also considers blogging on its own merits:

Blogging will no doubt always have a place as an underground medium in closed societies; but for those in the west trying to blog their way into viable businesses, the economics are daunting.

The inherent problem with blogging is that your brand resides in individuals. If they are fabulous writers, someone is likely to lure them away to a better salary and the opportunity for more meaningful work; if the writer tires and burns out, the brand may go down in flames with them.

The most interesting point made comes at conclusion of the piece, and it’s something I haven’t heard much discussion of:

And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts – a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.

We all get caught up in what we’re doing and think it must be important and meaningful. But will it endure? Everything we do is archived on our individual sites, and I’d like to think the best of it can be captured and connected in meaningful ways the way our best books are shelved in libraries. But the same wishes were probably expressed by people in the underground press movement of the ’60s, which the writer compares blogging to (and not favorably).

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Two worlds

March 8, 2006

This editorial from the Chicago Tribune, which we ran on our op-ed page late last week, seems to predict the end of the road for blogs, or at least a mighty rough patch:

A new report from Gallup pollsters, "Blog Readership Bogged Down," cautions that "the growth in the number of U.S. blog readers was somewhere between nil and negative in the past year."

Gallup finds only 9 percent of Internet users saying they frequently read blogs, with 11 percent reading them occasionally. Thirteen percent of Internet users rarely bother, and 66 percent never read blogs. Those numbers, essentially unchanged from a year earlier, put blog-reading dead last among Gallup’s measures of 13 common Internet activities. E-mailing ranks first (with 87 percent of users doing so frequently or occasionally), followed by checking news and weather (72), shopping (52) and making travel plans (also 52).

This has sparked Round 2 of the discussion we had a few months ago about blogs and their effect on Old Media (or MSM — "mainstream media"). See the post here at Fort Wayne Observed, which also links to a piece by Eric Zorn, a ChiTrib columnist who begs to differ with his paper’s editorial board:

And that’s another reason I’m unpersuaded by the sepulchral mutterings over the supposedly twitching corpse of blogs: They’re now often so well integrated into other Internet offerings that people don’t even know they’re reading them.

That same Gallup poll showed that 72 percent of Internet users say they regularly look for news updates online. And blogs have become nearly unavoidable at major news sites.

It’s clear from reading the comments at the FWOB post that many people in this debate are in an either/or mode. Either blogs are just a pesty little interruption in the MSM’s dominance, not practicing "real" journalism," or they are the vanguard of a whole new way of sending and receiving news, and people in TV newsrooms and in the dead-tree press might as well just admit it and slink home like whipped dogs.

But the old and new media are, in fact, complementary. Blogs are providing a level of insight and commentary not seen before, from a lot of people not heard from before, and they offer some critical scrutiny of the MSM long needed. But they still get most of the stuff they comment on from that very MSM. Watching a newscast or reading a newspaper might not give you the most comprehensive or accurate account of the news, but it’s a lot easier to rely on a team of news gatherers who decide what’s important by running everything through their filters than it is to search through dozens of blogs (after deciding which of the millions are the most useful to check) and trying to decide what’s important by cobbling together what they think is important. Getting news from blogs is very labor intensive.

I notice a lot of people still dismiss blogs as "one person’s opinion, who has to adopt no ethical standards, who doesn’t have fact checkers or editors," blah, blah, blah. Funny, that’s how newspapers got started in this country. A bunch of guys with fierce political opinions and bad attitudes started newspapers to advance their own candidates’ causes and bash the other guys’, in often scandolous terms, and, oh, what the heck, threw in a little information about when the ships were docking. (A whole big bunch of guys; starting a newspaper wasn’t quite as easy as starting a blog, but the equipment needed was more accessible to the masses than the multimillion-dollar presses of today.)

Newspapers evolved from that beginning, as they had to in order to reach mass readership. One big leap came with the now-dead telegraph mentioned by one of the FWOB commenters. Suddenly the time span between events and the reporting of them was shortened to the point where "the news" actually mattered to people. If newspapers treat blogs as they should, as a technological innovation instead of a threat, perhaps they will enable a leap, too.

Blogs will evolve as well — they have to. Part of the maturation will come as blogs do more original reporting  and more bloggers start walking around with cameras (both still and video) and digital recorders to take advantage of all the medium’s potential. Part of it will come as bloggers keep connecting with one another, making it easier for the blog readers to keep up. There is already a "review of blogs" site for the state, and one is being attempted in Fort Wayne. I don’t know where the evolution will take us, and no one else does, either. A lot will depend, probably, on how much advertising revenue flows to blogs, and in what form. As the new media evolve, so will the old media. Some will go away, some will adapt. All we can know for sure is that people will always want to know what is going on, and that new and better ways of delivering the information will always be found.

Since I have a foot in both worlds, I feel uniquely qualified to have a fierce opinion and a bad attitude about the issue, unedited and not fact-checked, my ethics known only to me. On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a little threatened, since the end of both worlds has now been predicted.

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Swamp meet

January 6, 2006

Here’s The Swamp, an interesting meld of blogging and big media. It’s run by the Chicago Tribune’s Washington bureau:

The Swamp is at the very least a triple entendre. The nation’s capital was created partly on what was a swamp. Some congressional press availabilities occur at a location on the Capitol grounds known as the Senate Swamp and Washington can often seem a morass of partisan politics, political intrigue and complex legislation and policy. Our goal is to cut a path for our readers through the Swamp.

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Finally

December 8, 2005

How were we able to live without Scott Adams’ Dilbert.Blog? How will you be able to resist bookmarking a site that has observations like this?

Today my wallet was stolen for the 400th time, and frankly I’m sick of it. I don’t know what bothers me more – the crime or the fact that the thief always sneaks back into my home an hour later and puts the wallet back in a hard-to-find place such as the top of my dresser.

There’s never anything missing from the wallet, so I know the thief isn’t especially good at his job. It might be the same idiot who keeps stealing my car every time I park it at the airport. He always refills the gas tank and parks it somewhere in the general vicinity of where I know I left it, but still it’s rude and unsettling.

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