Category Archives: Commercial Weblogging

Is Blogging Journalism? (Rounds 1 through 4)

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In the foreground, Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor, the turned head of an attendee we don’t know, , and Gordon Joseloff of WestportNow.com and formerly of CBS News and UPI. That’s me near the clock, commenting to the What is Journalism? session at BloggerCon II. Photo courtesy of Werner Vogels (click to enlarge it.)

Is blogging is journalism? What are the differences? If you want to know, don’t invite speakers from either side. Instead, invite speakers who each are are both bloggers and journalists. They’ll know the answers.

Round 1: Last Spring, JupiterMedia’s ClickZ held a Weblog Business Strategies conference, which was attended by some 100 people, including software pioneers such as Dave Winer, Anil Dash, Dan Bricklin, Doc Searls, Bob Frankston, and David Weinberger, and by journalists such as Jeff Jarvis, Rafat Ali, Elizabeth Spiers, Jimmy Guterman, Rick Bruner, Christopher Lydon, Rebecca Lieb, and Tony Perkins. It had a focused agenda. I was lucky enough in it to speak, along with Jarvis, Ali, and Spiers, on its panel about Weblogs: New Syndication Models Or Uncontrolled Platforms? We concluded that well-written blogging can be journalism. Spiers’ work for Gawker.com and Ali’s for PaidContent.org were excellent examples. Jarvis cited tests of blogging he planned for his company’s newspapers. And I cited examples such Dan Gillmor, Andrew Sullivan, and the Guardian‘s blog. The question of whether or not blogging was journalism was already understood and answered. In many cases, the answer was yes.

Round 2: Last month, I intentionally missed Mediamorphosis, a symposium held by the American Press Institute, a news industry think that’s trying ten years too late to rebrand itself as a center of new-media thinking for news. This symposium was well-intentioned, but I missed it for six reasons:

  • Mediamorphosis’ agenda and schedule were woefully unfocused. The last thing the news industry needed was another executive retreat to think about the challenge of new-media. Most of the news industry has been blindly retreating from that subject for more than a decade. If news industry executive don’t already know what to do, then they shouldn’t be in their jobs.
  • Once involved in this unfocused agenda, the participants were encouraged to shape their own discussions. Though is possible for a hand-picked team of experts to shape an excellent discussion on their own, unfortunately Mediamorphosis’ attendence was based upon who responded to mass mailing (and mass e-mailing) that the API sent to any news industry executives who were involved in new-media. Although that did hook a few experts, it was an ironically unfocused, mass-media way to choose new-media experts and its outcome was somewhat randomized: the majority of the attendees weren’t exactly news new-media experts, despite lots of executive titles.
  • The API hired CNN broadcast personality Jeff Greenfield, who knows little or nothing about new-media, to moderate the start of Mediamorphosis. That was clearly a bad sign: the clueless moderating a group that wasn’t entirely composed of experts.
  • In exchange for contributing their thoughts during Mediamorphosis, each attendee was asked to to pay the API some $1,800 (plus pay his own costs of traveling and staying at the site, the Four Season Hotel in Newport Beach, California). The API promised that the diet of ideas would be rich, but was a bring-and-cook-your-own-food buffet. No, thanks! I’ll pay to listen to experts, but I will no longer pay to speak as one.
  • Prior to receiving the invitation to pay some $1,800 to attend Mediamorphosis, I received an invitation for my company to rent a 6×3-foot exhibit table at the two-day event for $30,000 (yes, you read the size and price correctly). That just made the whole thing laughable.
    [I wasn’t alone with these reactions. A journalism professor I later met felt the same way about Mediamorphosis’s agenda, schedule, composition, moderation, and costs — even though he wasn’t asked to rent an exhibit table costing $833 per square foot per day — and so he skipped it, too.] The results of Mediamorphosis were as I [and that professor] anticipated: Its discussions derailed. Attendees squabbled about questions that Leah Gentry of the Finberg-Gentry Digital Futurist consultancy aptly noted were ten years out of date. But the biggest squabble at Mediamorphis was about whether blogging journalism. The bloggers said it was, the journalism (with the few exceptions being those journalists who actually practice it) said it wasn’t. That’s what happens when
    (For examples of the breakdown of Mediamorphosis’ discussion, read the symposium’s own blog entires for its last day, March 12th, particularly those by Jim Kennedy of the Associated Press, Bill Gannon of Yahoo!, Marta Buscaglia of the Duluth News Tribune, Mary Hodder of UC/Berkeley, among others.)

    Round 3: A panel of academics at the University of Texas’ annual Online Journalism Symposium on Saturday concluded that blogging raises new questions about the nature of journalism and the role of the journalist. Temple University Doctoral Student Sue Robinson said blogs “daily news in the mainstream online press” and called them ‘postmodern reporting where information does not state its origins as clearly as mainstream media.’ Eric Wiltse, a senior lecturer at the University of Wyoming, recommended that blogs should be accepted only as equivalent to editorial pages are in newspapers. University of Texas graduate student Lou Rutigliano said blogs have a symbiotic relationship with mainstream news and depend on that to survive and Doctoral Student J. Richard Stephens said blogs have no desire for objectivity or balance and that an ethics code should be created for them.

    Round 4: Saturday coincidentally was an big day for blogging, the date of the annual BloggerCon conference, held at Harvard University’s School of Law. Unlike Mediamorphosis, its admission was free, a far more amenable rate for bloggers. Some 200 bloggers showed up, including blogger/journalists Rebecca McKinnon, Bob Stepno, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, Scott Brodeur, Tom Regan, Chris Lydon, Jason McCabe Calacanis, Gordon Joseloff, Rex Hammock, and Rick Bruner. Others, such a Rafat Ali, remotely attended through IRC. Much of their focuse was New York University School of Journalism Professor Jay Rosen‘s session on What is Journalism? (an ironic turnaround on journalism conference panels that wonder what is blogging). As Jarvis’ notes detail, having a room chocked full of people who are each journalists and bloggers was boon for this topic. I think Jack Hodgson of the TECHpopuli blog put it well:

      My reactions and takeaways: What I got from this session is that bloggers used to be loners working without restraint, and pro journalists used to be part of a collaborative, restrictive system. And each is moving toward the other.

      Some bloggers are embracing a more structured form, and old-school journalists are experimenting with the freedom and directness of blogging.

    Nico McDonald, who didn’t attend but monitored the many BloggerCon blogs, wrote a good overview in The Register.

    But ultimately broadcaster Christopher Lydon put it best: He noted the example of “I.F. Stone, the only certifiable genius journalist that I’ve met — and believe me journalism is not a genius field. Stone was a blogger without a blog.” Acknowledged in America as the consummate journalist, Stone worked alone, publishing his own printed newsletter between 1953 and 1971, much the way that bloggers today publish alone.

    Stone died in 1989, but the best journalism of the best blogging lives on.

  • BloggerCon II

    Bloggers attending the BoggerCon II conference Saturday at Harvard University’s Law School voted that forming a trade association of bloggers and also giving advertisers better usage statistics about blogs are the two best paths toward generating revenues from blogging. During a session on Blogging as a Business, moderated by Jeff Jarvis, president of Advance Internet and author of the BuzzMachine blog, and attended by some hundred commercial bloggers or wanna-be’s, generated a quite comprehensive Wiki listing of ideas how to make money and what is needed to make money from blogging. (Related to providing advertisers better usage statistics, Rick Bruner of MarketingVox notes in iMediaConnection.com that the demographics of bloggers themselves should already be attractive to advertisers.)

    A separate, earlier BloggerCon session on Blogging in Business, moderated by David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces, Loosely Joined and of the Joho Blog, didn’t find many businesses using blogs for commercial purposes and didn’t think that many would for years.

    The New York Times also reports about BloggerCon. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Nico MacDonald give an overview.

    What If They Gave A Party and No One Came?

    Yes, the Newspaper Association of America setup a group weblog for attendees of its Connections online publishing conference and none of them used it. So what? Did anyone really expect it to be used?

    Last November, a group weblog that the Online News Association provided to attendees of its annual meeting was heavily used. However, that was a group weblog for a meeting of journalists — people who like to write. whose jobs are to write, who like to report what occured. It should have been no surprise that the ONA group weblog was heavily used.

    By contrast, Connections is a conference of general managers and marketing executives — people who aren’t writers, whose jobs aren’t to write, and who are usually tight-lipped about saying what’s really going on. Why did the NAA expect those people would be motivated to report for a group weblog?

    Perhaps seeing how heavily a group weblog was used at the recent ONA conference, the NAA decided to provid one at the Connections conference — the way that it also served soft drinks, carrots and dip, and Internet kiosks, as just another accessory? Maybe it also just wanted to be trendy and say that it too provided a blog?

    Whatever the reason, the NAA forgot the old adage about how a conference organization should know its audience. Writers write. Managers manage. And the managers who attended the Connections conference managed to do quite well without a group weblog. No mystery why.

    A Solid, Practical Guide for Commercial Blogging

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    If you’re a business or a person planning to launch a Web log for a product, service, public relations, lead generation, advocacy, product, service, public relations, or any other business purpose, MarketingWonk has published a solid, practical guide for you.

    Business Blogs: How Successful Companies Get Real Results from Weblogs, written by Kate Kaye with help from Rick E. Bruner, cuts through hype and smoke about business use of blogs. Bruner, who I met when we were both speakers at JupiterMedia ClickZ.com’s Weblogs Business Strategies conference this summer, sent me a review copy.

    The 102-page guide, which MarketingWonk is selling for US$99, is packed full of fundamental advice about why and how to launch blogs for commercial purposes and how to run them. Kaye and Bruner see blogs as one of the most effective online marketing tools that a business (or even a professional individual) can have. Their guide discusses how blogs are used for corporate leadership, lead generation, customer relations, branding, and product & service management. Chapters examine:

    • The Prevailing Models of Business Blogs
    • A Guide to the Process of Setting up a Business Blog
    • How to Promote Your Business Blog
    • Advertising and Public Relations on Blogs
    • Best Practices: Blogging Dos and Don’ts
    • Legal Considerations for Business Blogs
    • Blog Publishing Platform Review

    The guide features 17 case studies from organizations ranging from Microsoft, Macromedia, Nokia, Sega, ESPN, Home Depot, Dr. Pepper, Jones Soda, Mattel, The WB television, Jupiter Research and the US Army, and also contains chapters with blog resources, bibliographies, terminlogy, plus the URLs of more than 50 other examplar business blogs.

    Overall, this is the type of guide to commercial blogging that my company wishes it had written. We can heartily endorse it as the starter guide for any business or professional who that wants to start a blog. Indeed, even magazines and newspapers that are launching blogs could use its sage advice.

    Business Blogs: How Successful Companies Get Real Results from Weblogs is the first business report to be published by MarketingWonk and we look forward to more good ones from it.

    — Vin Crosbie

    The 11 November IT Professionals GnomeReport

    We thank Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome, who today is attempting to clear up Digital Deliverance’s “deep misunderstandings of the RSS feed and its accomplaying blog technology.” He has been leading a charge that publishers should abandon e-mail publishing in exchange for RSS feed syndication. Because his opinions have been picked up by some mainstream publishing pundits, we think his misinformation has been hurting mainstream publishers. That’s why we’ve been countering it. He now writes:

      “An RSS feed allows micropublishers a place akin to a shop in the mall, while a traditional, static, website only gives them a store out on the edge of town. They still need to advertise the business in some way, location notwithstanding.”

    We now deeply understand that his previous article, Why RSS Will Kill E-Mail Publishing, was only about micropublishers and not about all publishers, something that his previous articles omitted.

    We also now understand that because Pirillo calls them ‘static‘, micropublishers must not be constantly able to update their sites. We agree that blog software makes a site easy to update, but we didn’t previously know that regular Web sites can’t be constantly updated. We’ve made note to ask Janine Warner to rewrite her instructional books on Macromedia DreamWeaver about that and we’ll also alert the folks at NetObjects Fusion.

    It’s also good to hear that using RSS is the equivalent of “having a shop at the mall.” We haven’t heard that phrase since the early day of the Web, when having a Web site was like “having a shop at the mall.” What doomed that metaphor then was the proliferation of Web sites. And that’s already happened with RSS. For example, Syndic8 already counts more than 38,000 RSS feeds! Quite a huge mall!

    Piriilo continues:

      “Employing high-priced e-mail publishing firms will not change the fact that people don’t want to see any more spam, period. They are getting sick of e-mail altogether. Just because a number of high-profile companies still do it doesn’t make it right. You cannot forget the consumer in the equation when you’re [developing] a marketing plan, and continuing to force-feed spam [to] people is no way to market any product. As well, while large companies are claiming big numbers of subscribers and no downturn, that’s because when people are no longer interested in an e-mailed product, they most often don’t bother to unsubscribe – they simply delete. So subscriber lists are no reliable indication of the number of people actually reading a publication.”

    We presume that the line “Employing high-priced e-mail publishing firms will not change the fact…” alludes to how two of our partners also run the e-mail publishing application service provider PublishMail LLC. Although they do currently serve six daily newspapers each with more than 100,000 print circulation, they also serves more than 100 weekly newspapers nationwide — a particularly penurious clientele that would never be able to afford high-priced firms.

    Perhaps he’s never been in a competitive business, but Pirillo apparently doesn’t realize the fact that e-mail publishing vendors (and even e-mail marketing vendors) are in an extremely competitive businesses and their rates have been declining according to Moore’s Law for the past five years. After all, if large numbers of e-mail were expensive to send, then spammers wouldn’t be e-mailing.

    Moreover, none of the examples we’d previously cited in other response to Pirillo used high priced firms. In fact, the ones we cited used in-house solutions or inexpensive but professional e-mail publishing application providers. The examples we previously cited focused on that professional angle: employing legitimate vendors who know how to solve the problems. We never wrote anything about high-priced vendors. So, his phrase “Employing high-priced e-mail publishing firms will not change the fact…” is a rhetorical red herring, an attempt to make it seem like the ‘big boys’ are picking on him and that his is the only solution for the average person.

    Indeed …

      Slamming and insulting small business owners because of their lack of big budgets, and suggesting they are somehow less valuable because of that, is not any way to make one’s own advice any more valuable, either.

    … is the same rhetorical device. Do notice that in none of our previous responses to Pirillo have we ever slammed, insulted, or disparaged any small business owners (indeed, Digital Deliverance is one) or questioned their budgets. His rhetoric merely attempts to distract your attention.

      …people don’t want to see any more spam, period. They are getting sick of e-mail altogether. Just because a number of high-profile companies still do it doesn’t make it right.

    This apparently is meant to infer that firms like The New York Times, Financial Times, Economist, and The Wall Street Journal are spamming people. After all, those were the high profile companies we had mentioned. We weren’t aware that a solicited e-mail of the top stories from The New York Times was a spam, but thanks to Pirillo we now deeply understand that it is.

      You cannot forget the consumer in the equation when you’re [developing] a marketing plan, and continuing to force-feed spam [to] people is no way to market any product.

    Ditto. We thank Pirillo for letting us deeply understand that organizations like The New York Times, Financial Times, Economist, and The Wall Street Journal are forgetting the consumer in their business plans and are force feeding spam.

      As well, while large companies are claiming big numbers of subscribers and no downturn, that’s because when people are no longer interested in an e-mailed product, they most often don’t bother to unsubscribe – they simply delete. So subscriber lists are no reliable indication of the number of people actually reading a publication.

    We agree that this often happens. And, as we’d mentioned in our earlier responses to Pirillo, that is why the actual opening rates and clickthrough rates are more reliable indications of the number of people who actually read an e-mailed publication. We’ve said that all along. If someone has clicked through a link on an e-mail, the chances are they’ve actually read it.

      What is more permanent is that an RSS feed provides anyone who wishes to communicate with a large number of people the ability to do so, free of spam concerns, and with the assurance that the message will go where it’s intended to go, unhampered by unknown, unforeseeable problems at the receiving end.

    In reality, a RSS feed doesn’t convey the entire content of a blog entry unless that entry was short. It instead truncates anything more than a few hundred words and the publisher hoping that readers will then clickthrough to the actual (blog) Web site. Spam on blogs is becoming an increasing problem, as the BBC and Wired.com each reported last month and The Feature coincidentally reported today. We’re also pleased to see that veteran blogger Mitch Ratcliffe‘s blog is back online today after a week of having been knocked offline. (We learned about that from veteran blogger J.D.Lasica‘s new blog, who’s old blog also went kaput on him a few months ago.) It’s good to understand that there is an online vehicle free of spam and assured of operating unhampered by unknown, unforeseeable problems at either end.

    We’d previosuly written that most consumers won’t use RSS even if that technology is built into other software or even into the computer operating system, and cited the examples of how most consumers don’t use the Usenet newsreaders were built into e-mail apps or the Active Desktop feed receiving capabilities that were built into the Windows operating system. Pirillo responds:

      “The reason that aggregators will be used while Usenet and Active Desktop [are, comparatively,] not is that aggregators are easy to use and unobtrusive. You choose [only the] updates [that you find important], and that’s what you get. Right now there is at least one aggregator I know of, Bloglines, that could be easily used by anyone who has been online before. (For reasons that should be obvious, RSS feeds are of no value to anyone without a computer and online access.)

      “Active Desktop and PointCast gave me limited choices, along with a lot of stuff I didn’t want, which interfered with my other work at the computer (and Usenet has always been a mystery to me). I’ve never been able to configure it properly, so I gave up on that a long time ago. They are both completely different than RSS aggregators.”

    So, “aggregators” (RSS newsreader software) will be used, although the easy-to-use and unobtrusive Usenet and Active Desktop softwares were not, because the aggregators are easy-to-use and unobtrusive? As for Active Desktop, it gives you only the feeds you ask, like RSS does. If Pirillo got anything he didn’t want via an Active Desktop feed, that is because those feeds, like RSS feeds, send whatever their publishers wants to send. And we’re sorry to hear that the decade-old Usenet system is a mystery for this techno-guru to use. Ditto his:

      “Once my local newspaper gets an RSS feed, I’d probably look at it daily, too. I get an e-mailed update from one newspaper, but most often it gets deleted inadvertently, so I don’t see that one very often, either.”

    Gotta’ watch that Delete key! Nevertheless, we thank Pirillo for correcting our “deep misunderstanding” that his previous article, Why RSS Will Kill E-Mail Publishing, wasn’t about e-mail publishing in general but only about how some micropublishers might consider also using RSS. As indeed we are.

    If you’re a micropublisher operating a site aimed at people who might be using RSS newsreader software, take Pirillo’s advice. But if you’re not a micropublisher or your site isn’t aimed at people who might not be using RSS newsreader software, don’t abandon your site’s use of solicited e-mail publishing.

    Paid Subscription Blogging, Part 2

    The second part of our article examining the feasibility of paid subscription blogging was published today by JupiterMedia’s ClickZ.com. It also features the opinions of Hylton Jolliffe of Corante, Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits, Henry Copeland of Pressflex and BlogAds, and Nick Denton of Gawker, Gizmodo, and the recently launched Fleshbot.

    The article elicited this response from one reader:

      Hello

      I love your piece – but what exactly is a blog?

    Showing that you can’t take anything for granted when writing an article about this subject.

    iCAN Through the BBC

    Newspapers that provide blogs to a few readers are merely creating a few amateur guest columnists. That’s not ‘participatory journalism’. What is will be unveiled next Monday by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Called iCAN, the BBC Interactive‘s participatory journalism program lets any resident of a UK community raise issues, promote grassroot campaigns, find people with the same public concerns, and change things within their community or the nation. iCAN provides the hosting, advice, and the online tools and resource, and consists of two main components: self-service public forums that help people raise concerns and find others who share those concerns, and what the BBCi calls a ‘democracy database’ designed to provide the public with a wealth of information on grassroots campaigns and legislative processes.

    For example, if a city council plans to close a local school, iCAN can help concerned citizens find each other, facilitate organization of anti-closing public meetings and protests, and learn how citizens of other cities have successfully stopped schools from closing. BBCi architected iCAN after an ethnographic study of real-world grassroots political campaigns. iCAN benefits the BBC by giving it fertile grounds for story leads; six BBC reporters, assigned to different regions of the UK, will watch iCAN for potential stories.

    Matt Jones, one of iCAN’s lead developers (who is now leaving BBCi to join Nokia in Helskinki) provides some background theory.

    WestportNow.com

    Cyberjournalists.net profiles Gordon Joseloff, a former CBS News and UPI foreign correspondent, who has used blogware to create an online news publication about his hometown of Westport, Connecticut. A very affluent community of 26,000 people, Westport has weekly and semi-weekly printed newspapers, but no dailies covering it well. Its residents’ high per capita income means that a very high percentage of their homes have computers with high-speed Internet access. Joseloff’s effort, WestportNow, is an example of how a professional reporter online can single-handledly create a serious news competitor to local weekly newspapers.

    A Blogging Mystery for the Ages

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    eMarketer today provides its usual good briefing skills to Perseus’s survey of blogs, which estimated that there are 4.12 million blogs worldwide.

    In that survey, the conclusion that got the most publicy was 66% of the surveyed blogs had not been updated during at least the past two months. Statistically, that represents 2.72 billion blogs. Some 1.09 million of those blogs were what Perseus called “one-day wonders” &$151; blogs that were setup by users but never used. Another 1.63 million blogs were abandoned after only 120 days. These high abandonment rates belie claims by blogging aficianados that three or four million blogs were in daily use.

    However, the other data that surprised us were the average age of bloggers. Perseus found that 91 percent of bloggers were ages 13 to 29. Teenagers accounted for 51.5% of all bloggers. What is remarkable is that those age percentages don’t follow the age demographics among the initial users of the Internet. During 1993 through 1996, the majority of Internet users were between the ages of 25 and 35 but with a sizeable plurality above the age of 50. That might have been because personal computers were expensive back then and weren’t used by young people?

    The almost lack of bloggers above age 39 is striking! Less than two percent, according to Perseus. This begs two question: Are blogs mostly used as journals by teenagers and young people? Why aren’t older people, who do keep analog journals (particularly by retired people), also using blogs?

    A third question might be, Have young people discovered something online that older people haven’t yet? But we don’t think that is the case.

    Nieman Report on Journalist Weblogging

    For those who are following the controversy about whether or not webloging is journalism, the Fall 2003 edition of Nieman Reports, the magazine of the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, includes articles by Christopher Allbritton, Eric Alterman, Paul Andrews, Rebecca Blood, Dan Gillmor, Mark Glaser, Paul Grabowicz, Jane E. Kirtley, J.D. Lasica, Sheila Lennon, Bill Mitchell, Steve Olafson, Larry Pryor, Tom Regan, Glenn Harland Reynolds, Brian Toolan, Mike Wendland, and Keven Ann Willey about that controversy. The printed edition of Nieman Reports cost US$5, but the PDF edition is downloadable for free.

    Editing Blogs or Censoring Blogs?

    Some general comments about whether or not blogs should be edited:

    The blogging community often mistakes the word editing for the word censoring, and gets all atwitter. There is nothing wrong with editing a blog or any other published writing.

      Editing involves making sure that every word and name is correctly spelled; that the writing makes grammatical sense (except where grammar and syntax might be loosened for stylistic reasons); and making sure that no one is unintentionally either libelled or defamed. News media also likewise edit to make sure all facts and quotes are true. There is nothing wrong with editing.

      Censoring is quite a different matter and is wrong, particularly for news media. But we’re not aware of any American media companies censoring its staff’s blogging. We know of some cases (for example) of media companies prohibiting reporters from blogging on their own in what the media companies claim are apparent violation of employment contracts. But that’s not censoring content; it’s breach of contract (i.e., if a reporter wants to blog on his own about the same topics for which he’s entered into a exlusive reporting arrangement for a publication, then he shouldn’t have signed that exclusive reporting arrangement.)

    We hope that some of the neurotic minority in the blogging community stop mistaking editing as censoring. Likewise, they too often mistake the characteristics of most blog (has first-person viewpoint, can contain misspellings, isn’t edited by anyone else, etc.) as the definition of blogs. That’s like saying the definition of a mammal is fur and four legs. That’s inaccurate and superficial.

    If blogs — no matter if published by one person or a company — are to be considered legitimate media, then there is nothing wrong with blogs being accurate, correctly spelled, and not unintentionally libellous or defamous. An edited blog is as much of a blog as an unedited blog, only better.