Category Archives: Commercial Weblogging

The Sacramento Bee Blog Controversy

There currently is a controversy in the blogger community about the Sacremento Bee‘s publisher ordering that part of a blog by one of her columnists be deleted and that all the newspaper’s blogs be edited prior to publication.

Was the Sacramento Bee’s publisher right to delete the comments a columnist posted on one of the newspaper’s blogs? We think yes.

First, here is the background: Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weinbtraub posted online some comments about California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. The state Legislature’s Latino Caucus did not like those comments and wrote a protest letter to Sacramento Bee Publisher Janis Besler Heaphy, who decided that she didn’t like Weintraub’s comments either. She ordered those comments deleted.

Many bloggers are incensed that a newspaper would dare edit or delete anything that appeared on a reporter’s or a columnist’s blog for that newspaper. Many journalists and U.S. First Amendment advocates are incensed that a newspaper would order retracted or delete something a columnist wrote or order that a columnists blog be edited before publication.

We’re all for the First Amendment in general. But the First Amendment fact remains that someone is legally and proprietarily responsible for whatever is printed in a publication. At the Sacramento Bee, that person is Janis Besler Heaphy. Should a newspaper publish anything that is libelous or defamatory, it is the publisher who personally risks legal liability, which can include jail time. That’s the major responsibility of a publisher. She can merely lose her job if the newspaper isn’t profitable; but she can go to jail if the newspaper is libelous. It may be a hard concept for some journalists to swallow, but a publisher’s function isn’t to provide a publication from which her editors, reporters, and columnists can say whatever they want. Her function is to let them do that within her judgement and responsibility.

Readers expect that responsibility and probity from a newspaper. That responsibility and probity is also why the law (at least in the US) gives newspapers special protections. Some journalists might complain that Besler Heaphy’s actions prevented readers from reading Weintraub’s unvarnished comments. Her actions did indeed do that, but it was her right to judge whether or not to do that.

Were Weintraub’s published comments about Bustamente libelous or defamatory? We personally don’t think so and, had we been publisher of the Sacramento Bee, would probably have let those comments stand. But the fact is that it would be Besler Heaphy who would suffer the legal penalties if those comments were and she exercised her right to decide. Some publishers take greater risks than others with those responsibilities. Some unfortunately fear not only a court’s libel judgement against them, but even the expense of successfully defending against a libel claim. Perhaps that was the case at the Sacramento Bee. Or perhaps Besler Heaphy merely decided that Weintraub was taking too many risks without her permission.

To excercise their responsiblities, some publishers, primarily those at weekly newspapers, will read every story prior to publication. But that can’t easily be done at daily newspapers (particularly one as large as the Sacramento Bee). In those case, the publisher delegates her responsibilities to her editors. They are there not only to correct spelling and grammar and to chose which stories to publish, but to help the publisher judge what newspaper staff comments should or should not be published. By ordering that Weintraub’s blog be edited prior to publication, Besler Heaphy was merely ordering what has been standard editorial procedure at newspapers for centuries. She was ordering what readers for expect in the responsibility and probity of a newspaper.

NYT, CSM, and Nashua Offer RSS Feeds

Editor & Publishing’s site reports on RSS feeds launched by The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Nashua Telegraph of New Hampshire. Joel Abrams, the Monitor‘s partnership development specialist, says his company is now trying to figure out a business model for RSS publishing: “I think it’s better to have people read your content than not,” he said. “It’s a challenge monetizing it.” The Monitor is exploring the idea of placing ads in RSS (something that PaidContent.org already does).

Dave Winer's Userland Deal with NYT Digital

Userland Software Founder Dave Winer explains his company’s deal with New York Times Digital, in which people who use Userland’s blogging software will have free-access to The New York Times’ paid-access online archives. We’re previously questioned the Times’ business model for this deal. Later, at the ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies Conference last week in Boston (where Winer and we were speakers), we’d heard behind-the-scenes talk that the Times’ had offered Userland (and only Userland) the deal for two reasons: (1) to quiet the outrage of Winer — one of the world’s most prominent bloggers — after the Times’ put all its old stories’ hyperlinks behind the paid-access firewall earlier this Spring and (2) to gain Userland’s expertise in creating and maintaining a Rich Site Summary (RSS) daily feed of New York Times news stories.

Can Media Companies Use Blogs?

Two of the contentious topics throughout the two-day Jupiter Weblog Business Strategies Conference in Boston yesterday and today have been ‘Are bloggers journalists?’ and ‘Are blogs threats or opportunities for media companies?’

Rafat Ali of PaidContent.org calls this event the “Most Live-Blogged Conference on Earth”. The audience and presenters have Wi-Fi access and laptop PCs, which they are using it to blog live what was said by whom and to comment on the presentations.

If you’re interested in the conference’s presentations or discussions, Heath Row‘s MediaDiet is providing a virtual live “transcript coverage”.

Journalist, Weblogs, & Journalism

An executive of a newspaper Web sites posts:

“Mercifully, blogging will join the ranks of mood rings, pet rocks and Rubik’s Cubes in the not-too-distant future.”

With all due respect, we doubt that.

Consider that in their lifetimes Lewis & Clarke, Henry David Thoreau, James Boswell, and Charles Darwin wrote and published analog versions of weblogs. Lacking electronic technology, they weren’t able to publish those live, but we’re certain they would have if they had had that technology (wouldn’t a blog have been wonderful!)

Lord Byron, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Camus also wrote analog versions, which were published only after their untimely deaths. Leonardo Da Vinci’s draws great crowds today when it’s exhibited at museums (Bill Gates purchased it for $30 million a few years ago). Had the electronic technology existed during their lives, I think that they too would have written and posted digital versions (although Lincoln probably wouldn’t have published his live until after his presidency). Likewise, Mark Twain would certainly be blogging the way that Dave Barry to lesser effect does today.

If not Herodotus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Cato, the Plinys the elder and the younger, and Marcus Aurelius, then Dante, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Chaucer, Luther, and Shakespeare would probably have published journals if only the scribes or printing and transportation technologies of their times had been able to disseminate those journal inexpensively to the public. (In which cases, Athens would probably have condemned Socrates to death sooner and Polo would have returned to the West a celebrity.)

The words journalists and journalism arose from keeping journals, an activity as old as writing. If a journalist wanted to publish his journal (live or archivally) in print, that was and is expensive to do and to disseminate. Weblogging now eliminates those costs and difficulties.

Just as people throughout recorded history have kept journals, they will continue to do so. Those who want to publish their journals will likely use whatever technology is easiest and least expensive. So, Weblogging will be here at least for generations.

With several hundred thousand bloggers now operating (around 500,000 was the last count we’d read), it perhaps is indeed time to reassess the colloquial usages of the words journalist and journalism, because those words’ original meanings are beginning to return. There today are more journalists (people who keep journals) publishing daily worldwide than there are journalists (people whose paid work is edited by someone else before it is published).

But bear in mind that those returned definitions of journalist and journalism shouldn’t subvert what is taught in journalism schools: accuracy and honesty. Yes, there unfortunately are inaccurate or dishonest bloggers, but so too are there Jayson Blairs.

Better Internet Entrepeneurial Climate?

Azeem Azhar, entrepeneur and former Internet correspondent for The Economist, wrote in The Guardian last week, “I think that today is the best time in four years to launch a business.” Read why. Now UK managing director of 20six, a blogging company, Azeem is now on his fourth Internet venture.

He also notes that, “Media firms, particularly in the UK, are on the back foot, concentrating on structural shifts in the advertising business and their declining audiences. Once bitten, twice shy. They won’t innovate for a while.”

ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies Conference

David Winer (Berkman Fellow at Harvard University and Former CEO of Userland Software), David Weinberger (co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto), Doc Searls (of Linux Journal and another co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto), Jason Shellen (of Blogger), Tony Perkins (Creator and Editor In Chief of AlwaysOn), Dan Bricklin (of Interland and inventor of the electronic spreadsheet), Anil Dash (of Six Apart), Jimmy Guterman (of The Vineyard Group), Rafat Ali (of PaidContent.org), Jeff Jarvis (president & creative director of Advance.net), Elizabeth Spiers (editor of Gawker.com), Christopher Lydon (of Public Radio International), myself, and a few others will be giving presentations about the business models behind business-to-business blogs and media blogs. The venue is JupiterMedia’s ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies Conference & Expo in Boston next Monday and Tuesday.

NY Times Archives To Be Opened to Blog Links?

Speaking of Dave Winer, his weblog says that the the news archives of The New York Times, which are currently kept behind a paid content firewall, will be opened to webloggers’ hyperlinks. NY Times Digital last year began syndicating its news feed in RSS format to people who use weblogging software from Winer’s company, Userland Software. Winer’s weblog yesterday noted that he and NY Times Digital executives “…found a good compromise, the archive will remain open to people who link from weblogs, but they will keep the toll booth up for others. We have to hammer out a final statement, which I expect to have in a few days.