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February 2007
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It's journalism, not the medium, we should be committed to

Yes, revisiting that age old debate again, but here's an interesting development and an excellent quote (both via David Black):

Trinity Mirror’s Buckinghamshire Advertiser has relaunched its web site. It’s very cleanly designed. But there’s something significant that is unusual about it — it’s a blog

And, the editor of The Online Journalism Review gives us this useful perspective on journalism:

Journalism tells people about something that really happened, but that they might not have known already. Journalism can come from a hundred readers on a political blog, sifting through a federal document dump for evidence of White House corruption. It can come from a hyperlocal blogger, telling her readers about the town's spring festival. Or it can come from consumers on a discussion board, sharing their personal experiences in trying to get the best deal on a family vacation.

New processes create new opportunities. A journalism story is only as strong as the sources that inform it. A traditional reporter might include a handful of sources in his story. But a community-driven website can accommodate reports from thousands more, making its reports potentially far stronger.

The old way of doing journalism served us well before the Internet allowed millions of people to become publishers. But insisting that everything we call journalism in the future be made in the same way we did journalism in the past puts our craft in grave risk.

A picture story, or why it's been a bit quiet here lately

I know it's been pretty quiet here recently, here's the explanation - mostly in pictures (note: a fair share of these are taken with my mobile phone camera, so not the best of quality, but click on them for larger versions).

Last week I was racing to get everything out of the way before I set out for a week long trip of work and holiday, and Thursday saw me getting up at 4am to catch my flight to Newcastle via Stavanger after only a few hours sleep. You can imagine my delight then, when I at last, for late lunch, was able to get this tray of delights delivered via room service to my ever so comfortable room in the west wing of the estimable Jesmond Dene House (which, I should mention, was a complimentary stay, courtesy of NewcastleGateshead Initiative):

The good things in life

That night we had dinner at The Newcastle United Football Club and were treated a show-round of St James' Park. Many of the older women lined up to have their pictures taken next to the shirts of Owen and Shearer (yes, the tour included a peek in the wardrobes), but I was rather taken by the strange ambience of the empty stadion:




While in NewcastleGateshead, we encountered a number of school classes making their way around town and were told that it was quite common for school classes to use the city as their classroom. Here's one of them, all the kids in deep concentration with the task of trying to draw the bridge:

Painting the town

After Newcastle, I was off to Ireland, on yet another uncomfortably early flight. My visit coincided with that of the Norwegian Environment Minister, so I stopped by Dublin Castle on Monday for the press conference following the meeting of the Norwegian, Irish, Icelandic and Austrian Environment ministers (on nuclear energy and the feared reopening of Thorpe, Sellafield). This is not my best picture from the event, but by far the funniest as everyone seems preoccupied with his or her own affairs:

Press conference, Dublin Castle

My real purpose with visiting Ireland, however, was to see two good friends who work as volunteers at an animal refuge there. Most notably, this place caters for monkeys who've previously been used for labratory research. The place is in the middle of the Irish countryside, so I could only dream of getting online and was cut off from the world for quite a few days, but as you see from the pictures, it was a very peaceful, tranquil corner of the world, where, frankly, the world seemed to fade into the background:

Rory looking after his monkeys

Monkey feeding I

Monkey feeding II

Buddha overseeing the Monkey delta

Marianne and Des at Glendalough

One of our excurisons went to the impressive Glendalough nature reserve as pictured above (and in the post called Timeout).

All in all a lovely trip, full of magnificent views and good experiences, but it was cold in the Irish countryside, smoking ban and all, or maybe it just was the effect of running around like a headless chicken for a while and then facing complete peace and quite, in any case I got ill, very ill, towards end of the stay, so that's another reason why it's been a bit quiet here and I still have all those emails left unanswered...

Toulouse 'citizen' riot photographer threatened with arrest

It seems the new French law , that many feared would criminalise non-accredited journalists who recorded acts of violence, is already having an effect. Graham Holliday reports how he was forced to show his press card to prevent the police from confiscating his camera during Sunday's violent protests against Le Pen's rally in Toulouse. Disturbingly, another photographer on the scene, who did not have a press card to waive, reports: "I got all the photos and videos I took yesterday on my camphone deleted by a policeman who told me he would arrest if he ever saw me doing again."

I must admit I don't know anything about any other French laws, with regards to recording acts of violence, that may have preceded the newly introduced one, but the new law will hardly have made it any easier to report from such events as a citizen journalist. Though some, of course, argue that any fears of this new law being an assault on citizen journalism are completely misguided...

The conservatism of journalism students revisited

Despite how Norway's most successful newspaper, both in terms of profits and readers, is the online version of VG, aspiring journalists would rather work for VG's print version. The former is currently hiring, the latter firing. Still, while 1510 applied for summer jobs in VG this year, the printed tabloid, VG online only received 162 applications. Öyvind Naess, VG's Human Resources director, said he thought this indicated that journalism education was still stuck in 'old patterns of thinking' (via Kampanje).

This reminds me of an excellent post by Martin Stabe:

"Why are journalism students apparently 'closing their eyes to reality'? It is a strange creature, the iPod-teatherd, MySpace-surfing, hip young hack who wants nothing more than to crank out copy on a Remington in time for the evening edition to go off-stone. Yet it seems to be a fairly common species."

Stabe links to a number of interesting posts on this issue, including this one from Rob Curley:

"Know how to write. Know how to tell a story. Know how to conduct an interview. Know how to research your ass off. Traditional journalism skills will *never* go out of vogue. I don’t care what the latest gizmo is, the foundation that everything will be built upon are those core journalism skills," but: "Newsrooms are getting smaller. My gut tells me that the journalists who are going to survive all of this recent goofiness will be the ones who are committed to the journalism, not the medium."

IT Conversations: more about the net as a giant zero

If you enjoyed Doc Searl's recent post on Giant Zero Journalism, this podcast (via Adriana's Furl feed), which I of course only found time to listen to this weekend, provides further food for thought:

Craig Burton has said that the best geometric representation of the net's end-to-end architecture is a hollow sphere comprised of everything and everybody on it. Doc Searls, senior editor for Linux Journal, used this statement to describe the hollow sphere as a "giant zero” that it puts every point at virtually zero distance from every other point. He joins Phil and Scott to discuss his current work on the concept and how it has changed communication. Doc also evaluates the importance of blogging in current communications and illustrates how bloggers can influence more traditional writing.

Did you miss the post on Giant Zero Journalism, and the vibrant web discussion it snowballed into? Here's a few highlights:

It is essential for the mainstream media to understand that the larger information ecosystem is one that grows wild on the Net and supports everybody who wants to inform anybody else. It no longer grows inside the mainstream media's walled gardens. Those gardens will continue to thrive only to the degree that they do two things: 1) open up; and 2) live symbiotically with individuals outside who want to work together for common purposes.

We have readers and viewers, not just "audiences" and "consumers". We write articles and essays and posts, not just "generate content". "User-generated content", or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.

"Content" is inert. It isn't alive. It doesn't grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. "Audiences" are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it's not what happens on The Giant Zero. It's not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it's all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship — with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.

Mecom, Schibsted and Giske debate the role of media ownership in a changing media landscape

Put Trond Giske, Norway's culture minister, on a panel with two media companies he has accused of threatening local democracy - Mecom, represented by David Montgomery, and Schibsted, represented by Birger Magnus - and you get a very interesting discussion indeed (so interesting that this post is way longer than what I usually allow myself to publish here).

It was Thursday evening when Montgomery ventured into the lion's den, as Kampanje so aptly described it, to attend a debate for The Editors' Association in Oslo on what media owners want to achieve with their ownership; what editors, the public and the authorities can expect of media owners etc. He was joined on the speaker's panel by Trond Giske, who frequently has stated his preference for Norwegian media owners, as well as apprehension about what Mecom's regime will mean for former Orkla Media, and Birger Magnus from Schibsted, whose efforts to merge its national daily Aftenposten with Norway's top regional papers also has prompted Giske to voice great concern about media diversity and local democracy.

The last person on the panel of speakers was Erik Nord from A-pressen, but he didn't have much to say apart from how he thought his company was doing a good job. In any case, it was a wildly gesticulating Giske, sprawled on his chair, and a much more restrained and proper, yet eloquent, Montgomery, who came to dominate the debate under the chandeliers in Hotel Bristol's old and distinguished meeting room.

Giske admits his law on editorial freedom won't change anything

Regular readers of this blog will remember how Giske's recent proposal to establish the rights and duties of the editor by law to protect editors from meddling proprietors has been widely criticised for not accomplishing much. This Thursday evening Giske candidly admitted that his critics were right:

"Some people say incorporating this in the law won't change anything and they're right, but it's important to put this law in place at a time when it [the rights and duties of the editor] is widely accepted and practiced. I'm not concerned so much about [future] political pressures, but more worried about the economical pressures."

Of course, when Giske unveiled this law proposal, he cited a dramatic change in the nature of the country's media ownership as one of the triggers for introducing it, a 'dramatic change' it was difficult not to interpret as Mecom's controversial acquisition of Orkla Media.

To this, Montgomery replied: "I think it would be a very sad day if a government has to legislate on editorial freedom, this should be maintained by the industry itself and not have to be superimposed by a government."

Giske to Monty: actions speak louder than words

That is, of course, a somewhat 'foreign' way to think in a country with such as great tradition for legislating all things great and small as Norway. Giske has previously hinted at how the Government may introduce new media laws and e.g. withdraw the state subsidies Mecom newspapers receive, if Montgomery were to default on his 'civic responsibilities', and, true to form, Giske restated some of his fears and 'expectations':

'We have never had so many big dramatic changes in the Norwegian media landscape in such a short space of time as we had last year. This creates a certain amount of uncertainty: how will the new owners conduct their business? Montgomery is saying many nice things, but we will have to wait and see – actions speak louder than words. The Government sees media as more than just business, that's why we have special VAT rules, state subsidies etc. That's also why we expect a lot from the industry.'

"Ownership is interesting word in itself," said Montgomery, subtly shifting the focus of the discussion in that ever so British way which frequently will have Norwegians talk of Brits as full of balderdash. He went on: 'We can only describe ourselves as custodians for our shareholders... but the real newspaper owners are the local communities. Ownership has moved on in history, we have to demonstrate leadership in these difficult times for newspapers. Newspapers won't survive and thrive if they don't change. Owners have to lead through that process.

'These are the most exciting times for editors, journalists and people working in the media ever. Today the individual journalist can communicate directly with the audience by many more channels than before. To think of ourselves only as a newspaper business is not sufficient. We think of ourselves as a content company with a 24/7 news operation and 24/7 communication with the audience. Editors have much more challenging and stimulating jobs than ever before. Our philosophy is local management and local editors. Only they can serve local communities.'

Schibsted: worries about foreign ownership are understandable, but why this fuss over how many per cent we own in Media Norway?

Schibsted's efforts to forge a merger that will dwarf just about any player in the Norwegian newspaper market have been the cause of much debate recently, and Giske has expressed his usual worries about diversity and local democracy. Predictably, Birger Magnus thought we should be much more worried about foreign owners, such as Montgomery, than about the dominant market position this merger will put Schibsted in if it is not blocked:

"I understand the worries when we have a new owner that's not from Norway and don't know our traditions, but I have more difficulties understanding this whole debate around Schibsted's stake in Media Norway being 30, 40 or 50 per cent."

An interesting insight into how Schibsted views the media debate. Even more interesting in light of how the company's CEO, Kjell Aamot, expressed his frustration with Norwegian media coverage on Friday: "One of the most frustrating things for me is to get all this praise when I meet media investors abroad, but only lots of critique at home. In that respect it's good to be abroad for a few days."

Schibsted: Google is the big bad guy. Syndication means you have to reduce staff in a clever way

So a foreign owner is a threat to Norwegian media for Schibsted, who has a massive presence in a number of foreign markets such as Spain, France etc. (But then, Norwegians have always been self-proclaimed world champions, in media ownership as in so many other things). Google is another one: 'Google is a very serious challenge to media' said Magnus. 'Strong Norwegian newspaper - who are actually producing, not just copying news – is the best guarantee against this'.

At this point, the eminent chair of the debate, Eva Bratholm, asked Magnus if not Media Norway would mean much greater reliance on syndication, and if that wouldn't mean reduced staffing and a situation where you had one journalist only to cover each subject across many titles. "You have to do that, but you have to do it in a clever way," said Magnus.

Giske said he was concerned about diversity, and the impact of syndication on staffing level.

"As an industry we should stick up for ourselves more as content providers. Diversity grows with the launch of new titles," said Montgomery and cited newswires as an example of how syndication had been with us for a long time. He added: 'but we have to have distinctive newspapers on a local level as life is local.'

Montgomery was then challenged on Mecom's business model: 'Yes, we are a business, we have to give returns to our shareholders, which we should remember are pension funds who handle our pensions, yours and mine, but papers don't succeed without creativity as core. This is more true now than ever before. In the days of licensed monopolies newspapers were a license to print money, that's not so anymore.'

Giske said he is giving Montgomery the benefit of the doubt, that must be why he expresses so many doubts whenever he talks about Montgomery and Mecom.

Montgomery has faith in the future of newspapers

As a final point, the members of the panel was asked about their concerns for the future:

Giske said: " We have more change of ownership than any time before, coinciding with a huge technological change. I am worried that we get more entertainment and less infotainment." Magnus said his main concern was the ability to build newspaper houses able to deal with the future, and, in an obvious sidekick to Nord, he said he was worried about how there was no other country where one company held such a dominant position in the cable market as Telenor, the partly privatised former state monopolist who holds a majority stake in A-pressen. Nord's perspective on future challenges: ' we want to develop our current position further.'

"If you had seen what I saw today visiting the management of Edda Media, and recently while visiting Berlingske Officin, you would not be worried about the future. There's tremendous enthusiasm about doing what media companies do best: creativity," said Montgomery to smirks and suppressed laughter in the audience, where many thought, with all the negative press he has received in Scandinavia, and the worries of the journalist unions, this had to be obvious spin (if only the Brits wouldn't use so many superlatives, so many words, and remember esteemed Norwegian proverbs such as "Silence is gold", they might gain trust more easily here). Still, Montgomery, as the biggest optimist on the panel, went on:

"Don't be despondent about our industry, it's got the skills required: if it sticks to the core skills of creativity it will have great future, but it will demand hard work."

Then for a traditional Norwegian dinner...

After the debate, Montgomery was escorted to a very civilised, traditional Norwegian cod dinner in Bristol's legendary Bristol Grill (he should be happy that the debate was in Oslo, and not in Bergen, where 'traditional' Norwegian dinner could have meant Lutefisk or Sheep's brain): an Englishman in Scandinavia, quite at home in the formal setting of Hotel Bristol, but not quite with his informal, yet terse, fellow panellists...

(yes, I know he's Irish, but still, ever so British).

Yahoo is cleared in Shi Tao case, but ignorance is no excuse

The authorities in Hong Kong have decided there is not enough evidence to prove Yahoo! Hong Kong handed over information from Shi Tao's Yahoo mail account, which helped convict the Chinese reporter, accused of leaking state secrets, to ten years in prison on mainland China (via The Times and USA Today).

'The result of the Hong Kong authorities' investigation is consistent with my understanding of the facts', writes Rebecca MacKinnon, but "the issue for me is that Yahoo! chose to host user e-mail data in a jurisdiction where the company would inevitably wind up serving as a conduit for human rights violations.

They made a choice. Not all companies have made the same choice. It was not something they 'had' to do. They have not ever expressed public regret for having made this choice. Now they say it's out of their hands because the Chinese company Alibaba now controls Yahoo! China. Yahoo! deserves to take a hit on its global brand reputation and user trust as a result."

I couldn't agree more. This whole story reminds me of an excellent post by Adriana I never found the right opportunity to blog about: Complicity in a crime is also a crime. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full post:

"I am fed up with Western companies collaborating with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, helping them restrict the internet and monitor communications by those who disagree and oppose them. Julien Pain of Reporters without Borders writes in Dictatorships catching up with Web 2.0:

These days, "subversive" or "counter-revolutionary" material goes on the Internet and political dissidents and journalists have become "cyberdissidents" and "online journalists." ... The Web makes networking much easier, for political activists as well as teenagers. Unfortunately, this progress and use of new tools by activists is now being matched by the efforts of dictatorships to fight them. Dictators, too, have entered the world of Web 2.0.

Today the likes of Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Skype, Yahoo! cannot be excused even on the basis of ignorance....."

Update 16/03: just came across this brilliant Wired article which shows just how problematic this situation is, "Yahoo betrayed my husband".

Complaints about blogging foreign minister won't go away

That Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has a blog will be old news to many of you. As will the fact that this blog has been the focus of many harsh and uninformed attacks in mainstream media recently (how dare a politician short-cut the media and publish his opinions without a filter, with no mediation?). But the fact that this story goes on, and on, and on, just beggars belief...

A few weeks back, when Swedish tabloid Expressen started attacking Bildt for his blog, saying that the blog allowed Bildt to conduct one-way communication, not answer questions on what he wrote and generally served to confuse Bildt's professional role with Bildt the private person, I must admit I thought the story was too surreal to gain credence with the rest of Swedish press.

Unfortunately that was not the case. Former newspaper editor Bertil Torekull even compared Bildt to Hugo Chavez: that's what politicians with a dictatorial bent do isn't it – employ one-way-street channels of communication, in Chavez' case hold monologues on state-owned TV, in Bildt's case write a blog. When the story surfaced I also thought it was a rather predictable attack from a newspaper who made a lot of noise of how they had the scoop that brought down former trade minister Maria Borelius before blogger Magnus Ljungkvist who won international acclaim for ousting her – Expressen just failed to publish the story before the blogger, but hey, minor detail, to the tabloid anyway.

However, the number of journalists who have joined the choir of complaint over Bildt's blogging is worrying, to say the least. And today Hans Kullin reports (in Swedish) on a frighteningly uninformed story from the Swedish edition of Computerworld, of all publications, which makes me think there's a bit of a blog backlash going on in Sweden at the moment, or maybe all bogeymen have felt empowered to come out of whatever dark corners they've been hiding in by Expressen's campaign against Bildt.

As Cathy, over at The Good Things in Life, writes though, Bildt has been blogging for many years, it's his recently established Swedish blog that seems to fly in the face of some old media hacks. And believe me, I have a lot of sympathy for old media hacks, but if I didn't know better this story would really make me willing to consider that there is indeed a big conspiracy of big media vs. bloggers going on, as The Day of the Longtail suggests.

The story also reminds me of what Norwegians like to call 'the Swedish solution' – when your PC is acting up, not behaving well, just turn it off and on again and all problems will be solved. Maybe that's what they're hoping these 'old' Swedish dinosaurs, just stop people using such undemocratic tools as blogs, and all will be back to normal, no media ... eh... evolution, same procedure as last year, please...

The Social Impact of the Web

Adriana Lukas sums up the impact of the web in three levels, touching on democracy, authority, the individual, technology. As always, it's worth reading in full, but here's a highlight:

...people are learning something: They are learning self-determination and unlearning decades of one-way communication and mass broadcasting. The ability to express and respond to things on their own terms and their own way is what this is about. And in some senses, autonomy is a more meaningful definition of freedom as it entail my freedom to do many things essential to my identity.

The Next phase of Social Networking

Some interesting developments on the social networking front:

The New York Times (NYT) (via Adriana's Furl feed):
'...the recent purchase of a social network design firm, Five Across, will give Cisco the technology to help large corporate clients create services resembling MySpace or YouTube to bring their customers together online. And that ambition highlights a significant shift in the way companies and entrepreneurs are thinking about social networks.'

The NYT article, worth reading in full (requires registration), pretty much coincided with this piece of news (via Jeff Jarvis):

Reuters starts a MySpace for stock-pickers. Said Reuters head Tom Glocer: “It won’t have the latest hot videos and the ‘why I am into Metallica and the Arctic Monkeys’ blogs. Instead we are going to give our financial services users the ability to post their research or if they are traders, their trading models.”

And then, of course, there is Ning – create your own social network for whatever takes you fancy (via Bloggers Blog).

There's an interesting trend or two evolving here, especially on the corporate side, but I have yet to be convinced that people will have the time, or desire, to participate in all these social networks. A network of stock-pickers sharing their research would indeed be a valuable network, but why would the more experienced and established stock-pickers bother? Not to mention the issue of time: it's a very valuable, and scarce, commodity for many of us, which means there's a limit to how many social networks a busy professional possibly can be a part of, especially if it were to become a trend for all big companies to have their very own social networks...

Participatory mainstream journalism, Scandinavian style

I know, participatory journalism is often used as a synonym for citizen journalism, but what then should we make of this? No fiction here, so it's not Gonzo journalism...

During the recent rioting in Copenhagen, a journalist from Nyhedsavisen was suspended after he described in an article how he joined the demonstrators in stone-throwing and barricading the streets. I guess you could call it a kind of participatory mainstream journalism - which we seem to be creating some sort of tradition for in Scandinavia these days, with this story following hot on the heels of the Swedish reporter who reported his own court case.

At least the journalist from Nyhedsavisen was fully honest about the role he played in the case he reported, you can read his article here (in Danish, courtesy of NA24 Propaganda): it opens with a sentence on how throwing bricks makes your arm hurt, and a description of how he gets 'carried away'. If we leave the ethics aside, it's actually a pretty good article - it comes close to Gonzo-style journalism and does a great job of conveying the atmosphere.

In contrast, the Swedish reporter who reported his own court case wrote the article in third person, and the only clue we get to how it might be his own trial he is writing about is by connecting the byline with the name of the person he describes in the article - Niclas Rislund + Niclas Rislund, aha... If only he had written that piece in first person, as a column or blog post - like: "today I was sentenced to xx for pretending to be a policeman and it felt like..." - we might have laughed with him and his editor instead of laughing of them, called the editor innovative even...

A full-frontal attack on citizen journalism

The newly approved French law, which makes it illegal for non-accredited journalists to film or broadcast acts of violence, is a full-frontal assault on citizen journalism, writes Roy Greenslade. And rightly so.

Even if we presume that this assault on citizen journalism is nothing but an unintended consequence of a law whose professed intention is to clamp down on public order offences, introducing 'a distinction between professional journalists, allowed to disseminate images of violence, and ordinary citizens', is very troubling, as noted in this press release from Reporters Without Borders:

"In the field of human rights, it is citizen journalists and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the government. Reporters Without Borders thinks it would be shocking if this kind of activity, which constitutes a safeguard against abuses of authority, were to be criminalized in a democratic country."

At its best, citizen journalism is an important, some would say invaluable, correction and supplement to mainstream media coverage. It broadens the picture. We all know how easy it is for MSM to get stuck talking to the same heads all the time, how the constant deadline race means we rely too much on newswires and don't find the time to do enough independent reporting.

Besides, sometimes MSM simply don't get to the scene first, or they can't get there at all, which I'm sure was part of the rationale for the recent deal between Reuters and Flickr. What if the French riots were to be reignited, and we, in this day and age, would only be allowed to see footage filmed by accredited journalists. If all French bloggers, podcasters, vodcasters, and even those snapping a picture with their mobile phone camera and sending it to a relative, could be put on trial or fined for publishing footage from the frontlines. How bizarre, troubling, surreal....

Then of course, there is the issue of standards, as raised in this recent debate. How can we force citizen journalists to abide by certain standards in terms of ethics, liability etc ? Short answer, you can't. Not unless you're going to publish a piece by a citizen journalist and you're vetting the material he or she provides, at least one would hope any responsible publisher would, take it for granted even.

France bans non-journalists from recording acts of violence

"The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday."

Okay, the law was intended to prevent so-called "happy slapping", the recording of violent acts to entertain the attacker's friends, according to BBC, but "the broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities," a campaigner told MacWorld/IDG.

Ironically, the law was proposed by none other than Nicloas Sarkozy, the French right-wing presidential candidate and Minister of the interior, whose presidential campaign is being advised by Loic Le Meur, Six Apart's European VP and one of France's most widely read bloggers. Le Meur is said to support Sarkozy in 'part because he believes he is the best candidate to help bring new opportunities to the French software and technology industries.' Right.

Le Meur, some will remember, had a bit of a fallout with parts of the blogosphere when he let politicians hijack blogging conference LeWeb 3.0 in Paris last autumn, and the bloggers present were none too happy about Sarkozy's 'monologue' for the cameras. It left people with the impression Sarkozy was there to broadcast how trendy he was by attending a blogging conference, while ignoring the people present at the actual conference. So not much praise for Le Web 3.0 organiser LeMeur on this account, let's hope he had nothing to do with Sarkozy's newly passed law, and this other piece of proposed legislation, which frankly is the most backward, oppressive and outright frightening proposal I've heard from a Western government in a long time:

"The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories," according to Macworld/IDG.

On making it illegal for non-accredited journalist to record acts of violence David Winer writes: "lf such a law were passed in the US, we'd assume it was because the government was getting ready to commit acts of violence that they didn't want people to see on the web. The French would probably talk about how we'd lost it in the USA."

Politicians Not Welcome

It's tough being a politician in Second Life. Despite the allure of a fabulous new and PR-friendly marketing platform, it's not quite the controlled environment they are used to, where policemen and security guards swiftly can be called in to deal with 'undesired elements'. Hell, it's unlike any other environment most politicians are used to, and many have found that 'interacting with digitial users' didn't take on quite the form they had bargained for:

At the start of this week, The Guardian reported how 'Italians seeking respite in cyberspace from the surreal world of Italian politics were fighting plans by a minister to build a campaign headquarters in there.' A more unpleasant surprise awaited US Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards at the start of last week, when his Second Life HQ was vandalized by Republican Second Lifers and haunted by a feces spewing obscenity. Then of course there's was Le Pen's brand new HQ in the virtual world that was bombarded with flying pigs a while back (still, it must have compared quite favourably to Le Pen's frequent experiences of being bombarded with rotten eggs in real life).

John Edwards' Second Life HQ vandalized

"This is the modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares. You see countless news stories about this, over and over again: the gray humourless drones of political parties or corporations rushing to establish a presence in Second Life because it's the thing to do, only to find themselves staring directly into the collective of the Internet's soul," wrote John Brownlee in Wired's Table of Malcontents, but one of his readers put it more bluntly in the comments:

"The way I look at it is that political idiots entered a realm that they do not and care not to understand. This would be like jumping in to World of Warcraft and expecting people to care about your political agenda... we just don't care."

Of course, politicians are neither the only ones, nor the first, who have met with 'violet' protests in this virtual world. CNET takes a closer look at Second Life 'grassroot activism' here.

ABC Nyheter's launch party stirs up debate on the value of citizen journalism

Telenor-owned ABC Startsiden launched its new news site 15 February, which, as far as I know, is the first commercial Norwegian news site that features a mix of citizen and traditional journalism. For this Thursday's launch party ABC Nyheter hosted a debate on citizen journalism that provided many useful insights into why this type of 'journalism' is so controversial.

'The idea that everybody can become journalists is undermining the respect for journalism as a profession'. 'Citizen journalism is the end of objectivity, of balance, of respect for the agreed code of ethics', in short, it's the end of business as usual.

This was some of the flavour I took away from the debate, but before I go deeper into these issues I should disclose that I've known ABC Nyheter's community editor, Heidi Nordby Lunde, aka Norway's blogging queen, Vampus, for many odd years (more at the bottom of this post).

Editor Herman Berg introducing his staff.
(picture courtesy of ABC Nyheter)

In addition to it's usual news coverage, ABC Nyheter has a section where everyone can register and upload their stories freely. The site will be using Slashdot's moderation system. Posts are not moderated prior to publication, but will be removed if found to be offensive, too commercial or similar.

This feature was the subject of a fierce, but fun and enlightening debate, at the site's launch party on Thursday, and ABC Nyheter deserves credit for hosting a debate which clearly outlined just why many find the concept of citizen journalism so problematic.

Of the four panellists, Trygve Aas Olsen, editor of trade journal Journalisten, opposed the concept adamantly, Björn Bore from Dagbladet and Arne Jensen from The Editor's Association both took more conciliatory but nuanced positions, while Heidi Nordby Lunde predictably defended ABC's position.

From the left: Björn Bore, Trygve Aas Olsen,
Arne Jensen (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)

Aas Olsen, who admittedly said he had been invited to play the devil's advocate, took a very harsh stand against citizen journalism, which provoked and shocked several of the bloggers present:

'The idea that everyone can become journalists is undermining the respect for journalism as a profession, a profession that is under enough pressure as it is from unscrupulous proprietors, cost-cutting, high profit demands and similar. I think we have to protect journalism as a profession because without journalism as a professional filter that records world events and presents them objectively, there will be no objectivity anymore...

'... Telenor is only interested in as much traffic as possible: those that allow their writing to be used by the company for free are being fooled. It's all about traffic, not about the proclaimed noble intentions of increasing democracy... I don't think citizen journalism can improve Norwegian journalism.'

The attentive audience (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)

How Norwegian journalists conduct their profession is guided by voluntary agreements like a code of ethics and the rights and duties of the editor.

Aas Olsen raised concern about how citizen journalists would pay no heed to these codes of conduct. To this, Jensen interestingly replied that the Norwegian Editor's Association had been struggling for years to make Norwegian media understand the rights and duties of the editor, which they only now were starting to understand. 'We are starting to get some informal rules of conduct for blogging, with citizen journalism we're not quite there yet, but we can't demonise every innovation for that reason,' he said.

'Citizen journalism is a lot more unpolished than traditional journalism' said Nordby Lunde, but highlighted how they received stories from corners of the world, and on issues, where Norwegian mainstream media offered no coverage, like on the recent election in Albania.

From the left: Tryge Aas Olsen, Arne Jensen,
Heidi Nordby Lunde (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)

One of my favourite 'citizen' articles from ABC Nyheter so far is a 50-year-old who writes a letter to the business life which has made him redundant due to his age. It's a very eloquent and moving piece I doubt would have been published by mainstream media. On the other side of the coin, I also found a story on ABC Nyheter which clearly was a press release for a fair trade shop.

I asked Nordby Lunde about this, and she told me yes, they had spotted it and taken it down, but when she had tried to explain why they had removed it to the person who posted it, he simply couldn't understand it and said: "All the other media published it uncritically, why can't I publish it on ABC Nyheter?" That, I think, sums up some of the challenges, both for citizen- and mainstream journalism.

Disclosure: I've known Heidi Nordby Lunde for a long time, crashed on her sofa countless times, and campaigned together with her for freedom of speech some ten years ago.

Doc Searls on community building

In this day and age, when you sometimes get the feeling everything is being communitised, it was heartening to read Doc Searls' answer to Lloyd Y. Asato's question of what he does to build community:

The short answer: I don't

The longer answers: I start fires. Or I roll snowballs. Cluetrain was a fire. Still is. It took communication (not community) to start it. The four authors of that tome have only seen each other in the flesh, as a group, twice. If there's a cluetrain "community", I'm not sure what it is. A lot of friends and fellow-travelers, sure; but not "community". User-centric identity is a snowball. It's also a community, to the degree that it's organized, sort of.

Do check out Doc's thought-provoking posts on starting those fires, and rolling those snowballs. From the latter:

Tell ya what. I'm fifty-seven years old, and I've been pushing large rocks for short distances up a lot of hills, for a long time. Now, with blogging, I get to roll snowballs down hills. Some don't go very far. But some get pretty big once they start rolling.

See, each snowball grows as others link to the original idea, and add their own thoughts and ideas. By the time the snowball gets big enough to have some impact, it really isn't my idea any more.

Anyway, at this point in my life I'd rather roll snowballs than push rocks.

Update 12/03: Interesting follow-up post on using these metaphors, starting fires and rolling snowballs as starting points for community building.

Why journalists should blog – a round up

I must admit I often draw weird glances or awkward silences from editors, and sometimes even other journalists, when I mention that I write a media blog. I've also received well-meaning requests to pitch editor friends before I 'give it away for free' when mainstream media has linked to some story I've blogged. Why do I bother blogging? Do I have too much time on my hands? Where's the money in that?

Of course, before I started blogging, I shared some of those assumptions, at least about how it would be impossible for me, who work around the clock at times and live from deadline to deadline, to fit that into my schedule, and why should I? Well, there's plenty of very good reasons, and recently a number of blogger-journalists have written some excellent posts on this...

A well of information
For one, blogging equips you with very valuable information about what people are interested in, read and don't read, what issues people search for information on etc, and it enables a more direct dialogue with your readers.

One side effect of this is that it gives me valuable information about which of the media companies I write about are being discussed in which country right now, and, if they have no presence in the country where they are getting lots of Google hits, even an indication of possible new acquisitions. A perfect example of how this information may be applied here.

At the moment, I'm getting a lot of hits from the intranets of certain Norwegian nationals. Recent investigations of mine (unfortunately behind pay-wall) found that the blogging efforts of Norwegian national media leaves a lot to be desired, so this catch-up post is especially for you guys:

For the bean counters out there, blogging, used correctly, is of course a great way to drive traffic to your news site, and strengthen your main brand. And, as Robin Hamman said quite a while back:
"I think that everyone who works in industry, journalism or academia needs to blog to stay relevant and informed these days.... There is enormous value in blogging- as a source of ideas, content, comment, criticism, and contacts," and it's fun. For more in-depth analysis of why journalists should blog, do follow the links to the posts I've highlighted below:

Martin Stabe: Attention journalists: Focus on blog signal, not noise
Unfortunately, many journalists... continue to focus instead on the noise, missing the signal in the process. They walk into the pub, hear the banter of drunken idiots in the front, and walk out in disgust — not realising that they are missing a lively and well-informed discussion going on at the quiet table in the back.

Stabe, again: Bloggin vs journalism yet again
It's not bloggers vs journalists. Blogging is transforming the journalism of ‘mainstream’ news sites, not supplanting it

Chris Cobler, The Tribune (where he until recently was publisher, now managing editor at Poynter. Requires registration) via Adrian Monck.:
If you write post after post that garners no response, then it ought to be telling you something. In print, we’ve been able to kid ourselves for decades that every reader is savoring every word of our prose. Online, it’s painfully clear what readers do and don’t care about....A third and related reasons is to better understand the digital world. If for no other reason than this, you ought to blog. During the past four years, I’ve learned the lingo and expectations of the online audience. I’ve learned to hyperlink to related articles. I’ve started a wiki. I’ve shot and posted video to my blog... Are there other bloggers out there who want to share their experiences? After all, the blogosphere, at its best, is all about being a conversation and not a lecture. If it’s a lecture, what you have is a monoblog.

David Carr, The New York Times (requires registration):
Independent bloggers can laugh all they want about the imperious posture of the mainstream media, but I and others at The Times have never been more in touch with readers' every robustly communicated whim than we are today. Not only do I hear what people are saying, but I also care.

Sometimes I wonder whether I care to the point that I neglect other things, like, oh, my job. Tweaking the blog is seductive in a way that a print deadline never is. By the time I am done posting entries, moderating comments and making links, my, has the time flown. I probably should have made some phone calls about next week's column, but maybe I'll write about, ah, blogging instead.

And... Why journalists fear blogging (Newsbreak via Adam Tinworth):
I guess it’s because, as a journalist, you are trained to be very careful about everything you write about. As a member of a news organization, there is also comfort in the thought that, before your words see print, they will go through rigorous editing and fact-checking. Blogging, on the other hand, is a spontaneous exercise. You are on your own. Once you hit the “publish” button, that’s it. There’s no turning back. If somebody happens to be browsing through your blog at that very moment, he or she will be able to read everything you wrote—including all the grammatical errors, misspelled words, and (horror of horrors!) ill-informed (read: ignorant) outbursts.

And now I've got to rush off to a launch party. Damn, lost track of the time, hope I won't be too late - there's another reason not to blog I guess...