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August 2007

Sun gets green light for web-first corporate news

As of next Monday, 30 July, Sun Microsystems will start releasing key corporate news over the Internet, via the company's website and RSS-feeds. It's thought to be the first time a US company has been allowed to use the web as it's main channel for price-sensitive information and follows protracted negotiations between Sun's CEO, Jonathan Schwartz and Christopher Cox, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman – made public on Schwartz's blog.

Financial Times has the background story. Here's Schwartz on the implications:

Referencing a dialog we've established with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, and its Chairman Cox, this will place, for the first time, the general investing public - those with a web browser or a cell phone - on the same footing as those with access to private subscription services. In effect, driving an open dialog directly with investors, rather than routing information through proprietary sources. Open is as open does.

I believe this change will increase the transparency of our business, fulfill our desire to disseminate information on a fair and equitable basis, and allow the network to be used for what it's intended - connecting people and information... I wonder how far off we are from ceasing to issue traditional press releases altogether... after all, no news agency could possibly suggest they reach a greater portion of the planet than the internet.

Watch out for a brave new future where you get your press releases via RSS-feeds you subscribe to, rather than as a nuisance clogging up your email box. Okay, lots of companies are already using RSS to distribute press releases, but being able to distribute price-sensitive information this way: now that's a milestone.

A-pressen pulls out of 'Kreml-newspaper'

Last month Norwegian media group A-pressen was heavily criticised for indirectly supporting Putin via its involvement in Russia. Now it seems A-pressen - a group owned by the Labour Union, the partly state-owned Telenor and free speech charity Fritt Ord - will sell its 25 per cent stake in Russia's biggest-selling tabloid newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, to, well, eh... a company it is rumoured will pass the shares on to a friend of Putin.

The Moscow Times reports that "analysts say the Kremlin is especially eager to bring major media outlets under its control ahead of presidential elections in 2008, when Putin is constitutionally required to step down after two terms in office."

Not that Komsomolskaya Pravda is renowned to take a critical stance against Putin under its current owners. Quite the contrary, which was why A-pressen got so much flack for its involvement with it in the first place.

More here from Kommersant, Undercurrent and NA24 (I am, by the way, currently working in-house for the latter, or its media section rather, hence the lack of daytime blogging here).

Keen vs Weinberger

The Wall Street Journal has a full-text transcript of a discussion (via Poynter) between authors Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is Killing Our Culture) and David Weinberger (Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Clutrain Manifesto):

Keen starts off with a hyperbole-laden diatribe about how awful the Web is. To which Weinberger countered: "Amateurs aren't driving out the pros, Andrew. The old media are available on line. If some falter, other credentialed experts will emerge. But the criteria governing our choice of whom to listen to are expanding from 'Those are the only channels I get' and 'I read it in a book' to 'I've heard this person respond intelligently when challenged,' 'People I respect recommend her,' and even 'A mob finds this person amusing.' This is the new media literary, suited to the new abundance. ...The history of the Web so far says that we are highly motivated to come up with ways to make sense of a world richer and more interesting than the constrained resources of the traditional media let on."


A smart woman pointed out in a comment on a previous post I wrote, that although initially taken by some of Keen's arguments, or held capitive by the nightmare scenario he painted rather, she found it strange that a guy who thought so bad of bloggers was such an ardent blogger himself. So much so that if you didn't know better you might suspect him of link baiting, or link whoring even...

Mediabistro takeover

Here's another interesting acquisition, good thing I'm not the only one to be working through the holidays: Jupitermedia buys Mediabistro for $23m. Can't say I agree with the headline for this article though: 'Website for jobseekers sold'. Mediabistro is much more than that, a valuable network for freelancers prodviding resources, advice and training: a network that sprung out of Laurel's experience of how isolated the life of a freelancer can get. And yes, I'm a member and have found it quite useful over the years: not so much because of the parties and job listings, but because of other resources like training, advice on pitching different publications etc.

Mecom closer to securing Dutch deal

Meanwhile, and yes, have to stop this journalistic obsession with M&As soon, Mecom edged one step closer to acquiring Wegener yesterday, when the Dutch Financial Authorities granted the British newspaper group an exemption from the requirement to submit a formal bid within six weeks of announcing ït. The new extended deadline, 17 August, is expected to allow time for the UK listings authority to approve the prospect.

Update 17/08/2007: the deadline has been postponed to 28 August to allow more time for the UK Listings Authority to consider the prospect.

Montgomery sets his sights on France

Yet again, we hear tidings that former Mirror-boss, David Montgomery, continues his march across Euorpe. This time the tidings come from France, where his investment vehicle, Mecom, apparently is embroiled in a bidding war with the French Hersant Media Group (GHM) for a number of French regional papers owned by the Le Monde- and Lagardere groups.

I first saw this story surface in Le Figaro on Monday. The paper reported that Mecom was raising its bid while GHM remained confident that the French group had successfully negotiated a deal that would land the regional papers on its hands.

A Mecom source then told us that the British bid probably wouldn't go through and the regional papers would, most likely, remain on French hands, but today Hemscott had a story about a union source who said that Mecom's bid is better than GHM's.

I'm sure Mecom would love to add France to its expanding newspaper empire, but guess we have to trust them when they say their bid is unlikely to succeed.

More tidbits here and here (in French).

Spam season and the (il)logic of spam

I guess I'm lucky, or have been, to receive very little spam on this blog, just the odd trackback, but this month spam's been a daily nuisance - mostly in the form of trackbacks, but also comments. What's struck me though, is that most of it links to real products, like Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses or book reports. So, is this a new, absurd product advertisment strategy, or just pranksters with a bizarre kind of humour? Where's the business model in spam?

Now, blog spam, at least the kind I get, comes in three differents forms: 1) when someone writes gibberish and links to a product website: seems like an obvious prank, I mean, who would click on a link like that? 2) says "I've found the ultimate solution to xx" and links to a product website, why would I care? 3) says something intelligent that relates to the topic of my blog and links to a product website. If it's intelligent enough I might let that pass as it could be the beginning of an interesting conversation.

But the whole business of spam really is beyond me: you spam 10,000 blogs, get 5,000 or less hits - how big a percentage is actually stupid enough to buy your product? Try to advertise sunglasses via a trackback on my media blog, huh? That is almost as widely off the mark as the spam emails I get about available Russian chicks and European casinos. Talk about untargeted marketing...

Here's an interesting blog post (in Swedish, via Henrik Torstensson) about sites spamming Swedish blogs with links to 'link farm like' catalogues. Again, the business model escapes me....


Norway is Facebook Country

At least according to this 'world map of social networks' I found while catching up with the feed from Valleywag. Last time I checked, VG's Nettby was still Norway's biggest social network, with 381,647 'citizens' vs Facebook's 291,695 members of Network Norway, but such national social networks probably fall out of the equation. That would go some way towards explaining why Sweden, which has many thriving national social networks, is down as 'unidentified'. Nick Denton explains more about the methodology used in this comment. Interesting map nonthesame:


Blogger who brought down minister scoops up citizen journalism award

Well wouldn't you know, Magnus Ljungkvist, the blogger who first published the damaging revelations that forced Sweden's trade minister, Maria Borelius, to resign, has just been awarded 'Nyhetspriset 2007, Årets avslöjande' [News price 2007, the expose of the year]. The price is a new citizen journalism award founded by political blog Politikerbloggen and PR agency Prime PR (via Hans Kullin).

Regular readers of this blog might remember that Swedish tabloid Expressen contested that it was Ljungkvist who brought down Borelius and claimed to have had the scoop days before it published it. These claims must have been swallowed uncritically by Sweden's Association of Investigative journalists who awarded the tabloid the prestigious journalism price 'Guldspaden 2006' for the very same story.

The purpose of the latter award reads as follows:
"Guldspaden [the golden spade] is awarded to journalists active in Swedish media who through committed and knowledgeable journalism reveals fundamental issues which the public previously was unaware of."

Guess bloggers must be some sort of crazy outcasts, a separate race perhaps: if we're not part of the public, what are we then?

Ghost let loose in my Bloglines account?

Something really weird is happening with my Bloglines account. All of a sudden I found two new feeds I certainly didn't add myself, in fact, had never even heard of before: one Didier Stevens and one Panzera Security blog. Very strange. Then, the next time I checked my newsreader, Didier Stevens was gone but to my surprise I saw that one of the feeds I do subscribe to, David Black, had 10 new posts. Upon closer examination I found that this Didier Stevens feed had inserted itself into David Black's feed, and the former was clearly advertising for various software solutions. A new sophisticated form of spam? I'm even supposed to have saved one post from the Panzera Security blog which I have never opened. Spooky. My mind needs some rest after a long days' work now, but would be grateful for any suggestions of what's up here ...

A fancy piece of luggage or an extension of your mind?

That's the central question facing a federal appeals court in a case that could sharply limit the government's ability to snoop into laptop computers carried across the border by American citizens.

The question, before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arose from the prosecution of Michael Timothy Arnold, an American citizen whose laptop was randomly searched in July 2005 at Los Angeles International Airport... In June 2006, a judge from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California threw out the evidence, finding that customs officials must have at least "reasonable suspicion" to begin prying into the contents of an electronic storage device, a decision the government is now appealing.

"Electronic storage devices function as an extension of our own memory," Judge Dean Pregerson wrote. "They are capable of storing our thoughts, ranging from the most whimsical to the most profound. Therefore, government intrusions into the mind -- specifically those that would cause fear or apprehension in a reasonable person -- are no less deserving of Fourth Amendment scrutiny than intrusions that are physical in nature."

The US government disagrees: "If allowed to stand, the district court's decision will seriously undermine the nation's vital interest in protecting its borders by removing the significant deterrent effect of suspicionless searches."

Priceless. Do check out the rest of the article here (just catching up on my Wired feed). The case is due to be argued later this year.

The art of blogging about drinking

I just love the really good niche blogs I come across once in a while. I frequently find myself defending the virtues of blogs to editors and fellow journos and find it perhaps too easy to refer to those blogs with high and mighty ambitions about changing the world, setting the agenda etc.

But if we start talking about blogs that really make a difference we shouldn't forget the more light hearted stuff, covering lifestyle issues with so much zest, passion and indepth know-how that they surely deserve to be called crogs. I've found some wonderful blogs doing exactly that and have been particularly impressed by a few blogs about drinking.

So far, my favourites are Natalie's The Liquid Muse, Knut Albert's beer blog and the now defunct DC drinks. I've also been looking for a good blog about wine, here's a good contender I just stumbled across, but also found this blog with a long blogroll worth exploring.

I'm not much of a cocktail drinker myself, but I marvel at how my friend Natalie has managed to turn her blog into a one-woman cocktail company with a cocktail book coming out soon, penning various columns on libations and whipping out signature cocktails for a number of high-profile parties, including the Celebrity Poker Tournament at The Playboy Mansion:


And here's Knut Albert on the importance of beer:

It's all thanks to beer
Because before beer was discovered, people used to wander around and follow goats from place to place. And then they realized that this grain [barley] could be grown and sprouted and made into a bread and crumbled and converted into a liquid whiceh gave a nice, warm, cozy feeling. So gone were the days that they followed goats around. They stayed put while the grain grew and while the beer was brewed. And they made villages out of their tents. And those villages became towns, and those towns became cities. And so here we are in New York, thanks to beer.

The Danish PM is flirting with the blogosphere


It looks as if Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, has set out to seduce the country's bloggers. Not only has he recently started blogging, but, while addressing his first post to "Dear Reader", each of his subsequent posts starts with "Dear Bloggers".

At this stage, his blog posts read like a mix between a letter and a speech. No outgoing links (yet?), but plenty of comments and a fairly sensible, bordering on strict, comment policy.

In his first post he writes: "My weblog has one main purpose: I want to use this chance to get inspiration, good ideas and opinions directly from you. And of course I want to use the chance to communicate some political messages every now and then." He goes one to write about how much he values meeting and talking to people from all over the country with different stories, dreams, worries, aspirations... the usual political claptrap you tend to get whenever a politician addresses an audience, but should be an interesting blog to watch... (thanks to Jilltxt for making me aware of it).

Black Monday II? Media Authority to rule on Schibsted merger

Today may also become a black Monday for Norwegian media group Schibsted, as the country's Media Authority is due to give its verdict on the media company's prolonged efforts to create giant media group Media Norway. The merger would see Schibsted's national Aftenposten partner with regionals Stavanger Aftenblad, Bergens Tidende and Faedrelandsvennen and has previously been branded an acquisition by Mecom, with Schibsted bent on retaining a 50,1 per cent stake in the new consortium.

In an op-ed last Monday, Stig Finslo, a director in Mecom's Norwegian arm, Edda Media, asked: 'Who exactly is eroding media diversity in Norway?' He was responding to a journalist in Stavanger Aftenblad who, defending the propesed merger in his own paper, had said he thought it strange how 'Mecom is allowed to ravage as they see fit, causing considerable damage to media diversity, while an ownership integration seeking to strengthen the position of the regional newspapers may be blocked.' Finslo challenged the journalist to document his claims about Mecom.

However, Norway's culture minister has made it clear on numerous occasions that he is 'very worried' about how both Mecom and Media Norway could erode the country's media diversity and thereby threaten local democracy.

Update 15:20: the Norwegia Media Authority obviously shares those worries and has upheld its previous pledge to intervene against the merger, citing Schibsted's dominant online position and the relative size and influence of the newspapers involved as major reasons.

Schibsted on the other hand, contests the Media Authority's interpretation of Norway's media law and will appeal to the country's Complaints Commission.

Black Monday? Verdict Due for Press Mogul

CHICAGO For all the sexy testimony about a Bora Bora vacation on the company's dime and a lavish Park Avenue apartment bought at a suspiciously low price, the center of the case against former media baron Conrad Black comes down to a decidedly unglamorous topic: Non-compete payments. Black has denounced the U.S. government's case as "pure fiction," a terse comment he made in French to Canadian reporters as he left U.S. District Court here Wednesday after the 3 1/2-month trial went to a jury.

More on the pending verdict from Editor&Publisher here.

Citizen journalism project survives Danish freesheet merger

It was with some concern I read this week that Nordjyske's regional freesheets Centrum Morgen and Centrum Aften would merge with JP/Politiken's 24timer and be published as 24timer Centrum after the holidays.

Yes, it's just another, perhaps inevitable, merger in the once so overcrowded Danish freesheet war, and 24timer had already swallowed JP Århus+, another regional freebie, but with Nordjyske pioneered one of the most interesting citizen journalism projects around:

A lot of newspapers allow their readers to set up blogs on their site, which is great for increasing traffic to the news site, but most separate the blogs from the rest of the newspaper - which means there's no synergy between the bloggers and the news. Nordjyske has avoided this by taking to heart examples such as American, and as well as Korean blogging is not separate from the news stream, but part of it. At readers can upload blog posts, articles, pictures, opinion pieces and poems, which may then be printed in the real paper the next day. And people happily report on local stories such as flooded tunnels, the price level at local pizza takeaways or compile a photo gallery of fun trucks trafficking the region's highways (In this paragraph, I'm paraphrasing a few lines I copy-pasted from a review by Henrik Föhns, published last summer, but the link is broken after redesigned its site)

Lars Jespersen, a managing editor at Nordjyske explained: 'The readers' contributions are not confined to a separate section, but scattered throughout the newspaper. We have 12,000 unique users at every week and are very happy about that. The readers' stuff we print can be stories about local affairs, reflections on life, opinions, poems, pictures. Lots of pictures. It's a mixed bag.'

This concept, Jespersen told me, will not be affected by the merger, and, together with its readers, Nordjyske will supply all the local coverage to 24timer Centrum – which will get a circulation of 35-40,000 and be distributed both at traffic hotspots and door-to-door.

Of course, the future success of 24timer as such will not in any way rely on this regional citizen journalism project alone. Far from it: it's still war, and many feel that four major freesheets is at least one too many for the small Danish market. But in the larger scheme of things, this is one of the citizen journalism projects I've come across that makes the most sense to me.

I think people need a strong motivation, or a strong sense of community, to produce citizen journalism that can compete with or supplement mainstream media, as in the case of readers reporting on local issues, and local newspapers are perfectly placed in this respect. I can totally see myself submitting a story for free to my local newspaper about a community issue I care about, political or practical, and, of course, it's the perfect way for a local or regional newspaper to become more relevant to its readers.

What's up at Wikipedia?

...this graph provides definitive, sobering proof of something gone awry at Wikipedia. Sometime in September/October of 2006, the growth rate of Wikipedia dropped dramatically. It crossed over from overperform to underperform in that time. And it’s been mired in that slump ever since... What could explain this? The beginnings of a virtual colony collapse disorder, or the natural course of a mature community? Interesting post from Andrew Lih (via Rebecca MacKinnon), but as so often, some of the most interesting bits can be found in the comments.