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September 2007
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Putin, Web 2.0 and the ghost of Giordano Bruno

I found this excellent piece in the Washington Post yesterday, on how The Kremlin is extending its reach into cyberspace, rather troubling (via Bloggers Blog). It almost seems as if Russia is edging back, step by step, towards totalitarianism. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full article:

After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

The article reminded me of two things. Firstly, and unfortunately, it was a sharp reminder of how, as Julien Pain, described so well in this article, dictators, too, have entered the world of 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."...New technology allows them to receive and share news out of sight of the authorities.... 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.

Secondly, the dark tidings from Russia reminded me of one of my favourite works of art, "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo. I'm so lucky that I actually have this lithography, as well as many others by the same artist, but unfortunately I've got most of my art locked away in storage. The picture is dedicated to Taslima Nasrin and the international PEN association, and I don't think it would be too far-fetched to suggest it's a tribute to everyone, everywhere, who is being persecuted for their beliefs:


Detail from "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo

On Scandinavian differences and similarities

A lot could be said on this issue, and I might get back with a few more insights in the morning, but, in the meantime, here's Jill Walker Rettberg commenting on INorden, the new Nordic citizen journalism portal:

Given the similarities of the Scandinavian languages (think the difference between a Scottish brogue, a Texan drawl and Cockney and you’ll have the idea: we can all understand each other with a little effort) it’s really quite strange that the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish “webs” are so disconnected. I suppose it’s habit, born of the past centuries of war, occupation and competition - we’ve only been friends for a hundred or so years, really...

New Nordic Citizen Journalism Initiative

Bloggers and journalists unite to set up Scandinavian citizen journalism portal (via Undercurrent)

In the absence of a media corporation with the foresight to utilise the fabulous opportunities online to create a cross-regional Scandinavian media site, after all the regions' languages are more similar than they are different, a group of concerned bloggers and journalists have launched an impressive new citizen journalism initiative at According to the founders it's "an attempt at settings new standards for civic journalism in our neck of the woods."

From INorden:


First We Take Scandinavia, Then…
People around the world have the darnedest conceptions of the Nordic countries. Quite a few seem to consider Stockholm the capital of Norway and Trondheim a Danish village — and honestly; they could’ve done worse. After all, indeed Stockholm once was Norway’s capital, as was Copenhagen. Sweden’s, Denmark’s and Norway’s history respectively, have been entwined, or rather; entangled for centuries. But let’s not forget Sweden’s colonisation of Finland, as well Danish rule on Iceland, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands — Finland’s supremacy on Aaland not withstanding.

You would expect these countries to have common arenas aplenty, at least on the Internet, which after all is an ideal channel for international dialogue. Alas, that hasn’t been the case, until now, that is. iNorden is an ambitious project, no doubts there. Even though an arena such as this would normally be initiated by the authorities or a sizeable media corporation, iNorden was founded by a group of concerned bloggers and journalists, who, like so many others recognised the absence of a Nordic common ground on the Internet — or anywhere, for that matter.


Here's how to contribute

Swedish newsstands deprived of FHMs poster girls

The Bonnier-owned publishing house that publishes FHM in Scandinavia, announced this week that it had decided to close the Swedish edition of the male mag.

'The mag faced too much competition, not from the other Swedish male mags, but from the internet,' said editor-in-chief Tobias Wickström. Other commentators said the mag simply failed to grab a satisfactionary market share in a crowded market.

Now, this is where it get's interesting: I'm currently testing the webagent Cision is offering companies to monitor the Scandinavian blogosphere with. I must admit I'm not very impressed so far, it seems like the combination of my own (free) keyword searches and RSS-feeds is more effective, but Cision's webagent did throw up this amusing reaction to FHM being pulled from the Swedish market (my translation):

I'm worried about my little brother
FHM is folding and my thoughts go to my little brother Max and his abundance of testosterone. FHM is God and Max is his apprentice. He even has a FHM calendar on his wall (and changes months if he thinks the current month's chick is ugly). I hope he survives this with his health intact. I don't want him to become any more funny than what he already is. I will have to call mum and consult with her, perhaps we have to set up some sort of a crisis- and emergency facility.

From Interessesmurfen

Sshh... don't mention it: on burying a book launch

Carl I Hagen. Ooops, slip of the tongue, and a most humble apology to my international readers for focusing on local news, but the publishing house of this controversial Norwegian politician seems bent on burying the news of his book launch.

Sending out an invitation to the launch of his new book at 7:39pm on a Friday evening in Norway, where journalists are known, likely even, to leave their work at 4- 5pm, makes you suspect this is a book they don't want to be associated with. Now, who shall I compare Hagen with: Pim Fortuyn, Jörg Haider, Newt Gingrich? In either case, we're dealing with a politician the intellectual elite might be uncomfortable being associated with, but one the publishing house might safely assume is controversial and/or popular enough for 'the masses' to purchase a book from even if the media didn't mention the launch. Or, maybe they've cut an exclusive with someone...

Icelandic bank takes Danish tabloid to court - in London

Kaupthing has sued Extra Bladet for libel at a London court after the Danish tabloid, in a series of articles about the Icelandic economy, accused the bank of being tax dodgers. (via Berlingske, in Danish).

The rationale for suing in London? Extra Bladet translated the articles to English and published them on its website. This, according to Kaupthing's lawyers, who argue that the articles are highly libellous, means the offence took place in England.

The bank has previously brought an unsuccessful complaint against the tabloid to the Danish press complaints commission.

It's the first time ever that a Danish newspaper is being taken to court in another country for publishing defamatory articles on its news site.

Extra Bladet's editor-in-chief, Bent Falbert, told Berlingske: "It's quite interesting that someone can take us to court in another country for something we have written on our news site. That means we could just as well have been sued in Los Angles or Bejing where you also can sit and read English texts online. If that is the criteria, it's dangerous to use English texts on a news site."

However, a quick Google search showed me that this case is not without precedence. In May 2005, Rachel Ehrenfeld, an Israeli-born author now living in New York, was sued at the high court in London by a Saudi billionaire after she made allegations about him in a book on terrorism. She was sued in London on the basis that 23 copies were bought by individuals in Britain via internet booksellers.

There might be many more examples of this of course, but it was new to me, and Extra Bladet is still shell-shocked, working feverently to reach a settlement before the case goes to court. Not that they don't believe they have a good case, but the sheer cost of an English trial compared to a Danish one is so daunting that even in the case of victory the legal expenses alone would be enough to bankrupt a smaller newspaper...

Mecom's Wegener acquisition a done deal

Mecom has declared its offer for Dutch newspaper group Wegener unconditional after the Dutch competition authorities (NMa) yesterday approved the acquisition, subject to certain conditions. Mecom had amassed 86,6 per cent of the shares at the end of the tender period 19 October, with Government of Owners (GO) still refusing to sell its 13,4 per cent stake in Wegener. However, Mecom-boss David Montgomery has decided not to declare a subsequent tender period.

The acquisition will make Mecom a larger newspaper business than Britain's Trinity Mirror and Norway's Schibsted.

Southern California fires coverage shows potential of internet facilitated reporting

With every new major disaster these days, we see evidence that mainstream media finally is waking up to the power of internet facilitated reporting: experimenting with Google Maps, You Tube, Twitter, Flickr, Technorati, Facebook and various other aggregation and social networking tools.

A few weeks back it was Burma and it's citizen journalists leading the way, this week it's the coverage of the Wildfires in Southern California.

Martin Stabe reports how San Diego TV station News 8 has "responded to the crisis on its patch by taking down its entire regular web site and replacing it with a rolling news blog, linking to YouTube videos of its key reports, plus Google Maps showing the location of the fire.

"There are links to practical information that their viewers will need at this time, including how to contact insurance companies, how to volunteer or donate to the relief efforts, evacuation information and shelter locations.

"It’s an exemplary case study in how a local news operation can respond to a major rolling disaster story by using all the reporting tools available on the Internet," he concludes.

Of course, not all news organisations are equally innovative. As always, though the future may already be here, it's far from evenly distributed – to the dismay and frustration of many of us. Here's Kevin Anderson, blog editor of The Guardian, writing on his personal blog:

"If part of news organisations’ job is to be a trusted guide, why are so many blind to the aggregating this content and helping their audience navigate it? ...I’m still baffled why web aggregation during breaking news with follow up interviews still are the exception not the norm. There are all of these people living through a news event making themselves known through blog posts, photo sharing sites, social networking sites and more, and yet we’re still telling the story through wire copy, agency video and stills..."

Bloggers Blog has a good overview of online reporting and resources from California here.

Newspaper to readers: "Are we making too much of being downsized?"

Steven A. Smith, editor of Spokesman-Review asks his readers on his blog, News is a Conversation: 'Are we too self-obsessed in our coverage of our pending downsizing?' The question followed this morning's live webcast from the paper's editorial meeting (see the post/webcast/comments here).

According to Mr Smith, who recently visited Oslo, Spokesman-Review is the most open and transparent newspaper in the US (I wrote about his visit and presentation for Journalisten, no direct link available so far). Broadcasting the paper's editorial meetings is just one aspect of what Mr Smith dubs 'the transparent newsroom'.

In these days of media downsizing and resizing, always followed by complaints and conflict, it's refreshing to hear someone ask the question of how much focus this should be granted in the bigger scheme of things, and interesting to read the replies...

US shield law offers no protection for the Dr. Stockmanns of this world

Citizen journalists, bloggers and even poorly paid freelancers will be excluded from the right to protect confidential sources under a new federal US shield law proposal, passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives last week.

There's still a few legal hurdles to pass before the law becomes reality, but it seems likely that the US will end up with a shield law of "limited scope and usefulness", according to David Ardia of the Citizen Media Law project.

Out of touch with reality
Enter Dr. Stockmann, the famous protagonist of Ibsen's Enemy of the People. And no, it's not only the recent problems with contaminated water in the city I live in that makes me think of him. As I've touched upon before, this law proposal is completely out of touch with reality. In one respect it's almost as out of touch with the radically changing media landscape as Ibsen's plot...

In a world where everyone can publish, Ibsen's carefully constructed plot falls to pieces. I don't know about the psychological struggles and emotional turmoil, he might still have to face those, but in today's society Dr. Stockmann could easily bypass corrupt politicians and self-serving editors by uploading a video showing the contamination at the city's prestigious baths to YouTube, or blogging about the evidence.

US shield law would benefit Stockmann's enemies
But this is also where the proposed US shield law complicates things. Let's for the sake of the argument say that a) this takes place in the US and b) that during his two years of research to establish the source of the contamination, Dr. Stockmann talks to sources whose reputation and/or jobs would be at stake should their names be revealed.

Who would stop the doctor's corrupt brother, the mayor, US shield law in hand, from forcing Stockmann, whose only motivation is serving his community and doing the right thing, to reveal his sources?

Not far-fetched
You might think that this literary scenario is far-fetched, but according to 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 governments."

Likewise, it's hardly far-fetched to believe that local 'champions' would go to great lengths to expose local misconduct or irregularieties which affect their lives or their community adversly. Social media enables people to do this more effectively than ever, that is why the current wording of the shield law proposal is so misguided.

'We need a shield law for all acts of journalism'
Amy Graham of Poynter's E-media Tidbits writes: as passed by the House, the bill now defines a "covered person" as: "a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person."

This, writes Ardia: "would likely exclude many freelance journalists who must rely on other work to supplement their incomes. Do we really want judges to be deciding whether a journalist is earning enough money to qualify for protection?"

He concludes: "Journalists -- and more importantly, the public -- desperately need a federal shield law. But what we need is a federal shield law that protects all acts of journalism regardless of whether they are done for pay."

Another reason to drink beer

I apologise for digressing from my usual media related posts, but I have to talk a bit more about water. Water is important to me: I work out quite a bit, and water is also the only sensible compensation for all the caffeine I consume. Drinkable tap water used to be one of the few advantages Oslo had over London, and the Norwegian capital is almost in the grip of a panic now that its authorities has announced its drinking water unsafe.

Yesterday bottled water was sold out by the time I hit the supermarket, and I had to confine myself to a bottle of carbonated water. Today there was no Norwegian water left when I hit the store mid-day; only Swedish (!) bottled water (hopefully Swedish is better than French bottled water - an exec of Severen Trent Water once told me over dinner that the latter had worryingly high traces of arsenic, but I never got around to test that thesis). Anyway, in these dark water times, this post from eminent beer blogger Knut Albert Solem sure put a smile on my face:

It’s funny. Back in the Middle Ages, one of the reasons people drank beers in vast quantities was that it was the only liquid available that was reasonably safe to drink.

Meet a new acquaintance, the cheeky little fellow in the picture is called Giardia, and is a parasite that is currently inhabiting the water supply of Oslo. (He was probably there in the Middle Ages, too!)


...That’s about four weeks of boiling all the water you want (or need) to drink. Luckily there are other beverages available. And at last we have a use for the ice beers from which they have removed the flavour - they are ideal for brushing your teeth!

How John Stuart Mill saved my life

Okay, that's perhaps a slight exaggeration, but without that venerable old philosopher I'd be penniless, dehydrated and miserable today; confined to live on whatever sparse supplies of canned tuna and pasta I have in my cupboard until sometime next week - provided I got paid on time.

But, wonders of all wonders, despite how someone stole all my money yesterday, I woke up this morning to find that I had finally been paid for two John Stuart Mill translations I did a while back (excerpts from "On Liberty" and "On the Subjection of Women") and was no longer penniless.

Not to mention how Mill might have saved my sanity: back when I was offered the unexpected opportunity to immerse myself in his long and winding Victorian sentences, it provided a most welcome change from an incredibly detailistic and demanding trade publication I had foolishly agreed to do some work off my usual beat for (I was nearly pulling my hair off over that one, it didn't even pay well).

Now, I must admit that utilitarianism isn't exactly my (philosophical) cup of tea, but in this instance the school of thought was definitely on my side in more ways than one. Not only did everyone benefit, including the pesky thief, but the quality of my pleasure this morning, when I discovered that I could devote my day to writing rather than chasing money, should be enough to satisfy the cost-benefit analysis' of both Bentham AND Mill (no, the distress last night was not great enough to outweigh the benefits)...

Welcome back to Oslo (or the dangers of relying solely on your newsreader for news)

I arrived the city safely from my trip to the coast, although at the wrong bus stop (must have been a new driver). Then, just as I was boarding the underground train that would take me from the city centre and home, a pickpocket unzipped my backpack and stole my wallet.

I only realised what had happened the minute the doors closed and the train started moving. I went back, but of course, no trace, no witnesses, so off to the police I went. When I finally did get home I was (almost) penniless, very angry (mostly with myself for not noticing) and decidedly thirsty, but had consigned myself to drinking tea and water 'til I could convince one of my clients whose payment is overdue to pay me (my budget for this week was in that wallet).

But no, the minute I stepped over the threshold I was greeted with the news that the city's drinking water had been contaminated, and when I got down to the mall I found that my last coins couldn't even buy me water: it was all sold out.

Of course, had I checked the national news this morning, like normal people do, I would have known about the contaminated water and might have decided to stay on in that lovely village on the coast, but no: I only checked RSS-feeds in my newsreader this morning. So I knew all the big and small media stories of the day in various corners of the world, the key financial and business headlines, a bit about what was going on in the lives of people near and dear who blog, a bit about the lives of bloggers I don't know but like to read, but I didn't have a clue about the contaminated drinking water in the city I live...

Citizen journalism, blessing or curse?

Perhaps it's wrong to call it citizen journalism, perhaps 'eyewitness reports' is a better term. It's certainly not live blogging as I once phrased it, but with the way international media covered the recent events in Burma, it's clearer and clearer that eyewitness reports are starting to play a bigger and bigger role in mainstream media coverage.

Something is shifting: for me, as for others, Virginia Tech marked the first time eyewitness reports reached me much before I tuned in to mainstream media. So when I heard about the unrest in Burma, blogs and social networks seemed like the obvious first place to start looking for news of what really was going on.

But using social media for mainstream media purposes is not unproblematic: it raises big questions about verfication, who to trust, how to approach people, quality of coverage etc, as others have described more eloquently before me.

Still, these issues are worth giving some more thought to, especially since I've seen and heard several naysayers use the coverage from Burma as yet another excuse to have a go at how internet is corrupting standards and quality (like here, no direct links for the others) recently.

I don't usually advertise the work I do for a living here, but I was able to use links actively in this piece, and it takes comments, so if you're interested in this debate and have some skill in Scandinavian languages, you might want to stop by here (all the juicy links are over there...)

The great freesheet war – one year on

Last week, to the day, marked the one year anniversary for Nyhedsavisen, the Icelandic-owned freesheet that triggered the once so crowded Danish freehsheet war.

Modelled on the highly successful Frettabladid, it was always the explicit ambition of the paper's backers to take on Denmark's paid-for titles rather than other freesheets - an ambition that is turning the Danish media landscape upside down.

Beating the paid-for titles
Despite all the things that's gone awry for the Icelanders – such as the delayed launch, distribution problems and poor ad revenues – Nyhedsavisen can now boast more readers than well-established paid-for titles such as Berlingske and Politiken, and more than tabloids B.T and Extrabladet.

A quick peek at the latest readership figures reveals that Nyhedsavisen is the country's third most read paper, after JP/Politiken's freesheet 24timer (launched just ahead of what should have been Nyhedsavisen's lauch date in August 2006), and MetroXpress, the well-established traffic distributed freesheet.

Younger readers opt for free news
In other words, the three most read freesheets newspapers in Denmark today are all freesheets, and a recent survey suggests younger readers (20 – 34) prefer the free to the paid-for titles.

In fact, the target group for Mecom-owned Berlingske Tidende, Denmark's oldest paid-for title, is 30+. "It is a strategic challenge to get hold of young readers," Peter Lindegaard, Berlingske Tidende's MD, told Berlingske. He said targeting the 30+ segment was a way to prioritise limited marketing resources.

Readership surveys suggest young Danes prefer to get their news online, or if, on paper, they won't pay for it. Lindegaard's opponent over at JP/Politiken, Lasse Munch, told Berlingske that this is a result of changing media habits, and his company's solution was not to try to change these habits, but to be where young people are.

Free is costly
In this respect, it might be of some comfort to JP/Politiken that they also hold the poll position in Denmark's freesheet market with 24timer.

But it's a poor comfort for those journalists at Politiken, one of the company's two flagship paid-for titles, who will loose their jobs as the paper struggles to save money to compensate for the losses 24timer is inflicting on JP/Politiken.

More to follow

A Swedish journalist's axis of evil: Facebook, MySpace and Gmail

The privacy issues connected with how these popular services collect and store their users' personal information for commercial purposes, make Swedish journalist Hanne Kjöller suggest we boycott them (via Media Culpa):

Kjöller writes (in Swedish): "Too old? Probably. I don't see the point with the website Facebook. But there are others who do. Business men and American terrorist hunters for example."

By the way, isn't that a strange phenomenon? Leading journalists that write negative articles about new media technologies that they don't understand, but understand well enough to bash on a prime location in the paper. I suggest that you either get a better understanding of the technology/service/website first, or refrain from writing about it all together.

Anyway, I think that the age factor might, unintentionally, be where she hits the nail. According to a study by Pew Internet "two-thirds of teens with profiles on blogs or social-networking sites have restricted access to their profiles in some fashion, such as by requiring passwords or making them available only to friends on an approved list." In other words, young people who are savvy online networkers are aware of the risks with being too open and act accordingly.... (read the full post over at Media Culpa).

I must admit I'm sceptical towards the trend that Kjöller questions myself, or some of its faces anyway. Being restrictive about how much information you leave for anyone to access is sensible, but if the service provider is able to pass on all your information, restrictions on access or not, to third parties, those restrictions don't help you much.

Is it a problem that people use the information you leave behind e.g. on MySpace to decide if you are in target group for razor blades or Barbie dolls? Well, yes and no. Age (being a minor or not) is one consideration, and who the service provider can pass the information on to (if it can be required to pass it on to the government) is another...

I wouldn't call it an axis of evil, far from, and if we should boycott Facebook, MySpace and Gmail on this rationale, we should, in the interest of fairness, start by boycotting Google.

Web 2.0 guru Tim O'Reilly has said that contrary to what most people think, Web 2.0 is about controlling data that people leave behind on the web and about the databases that are created as a result of this (in this Wired article, I'm paraphrasing him here).

I'm a bit uneasy about such a scenario, or some of its possible implications. It's great to get spot-on recommendations from Amazon, but, ultimately, I'm scared, perhaps a bit paranoid, I'll end up Scroogled...

The value of linking out revisited

Yes, I know: to most of you the power of linking out is self-evident. However, in my worklife I'm constantly reminded that linking out - e.g. to add transparency and additional value - is a foreign idea in too many quarters.

Linking out is part and parcel of what makes you, as a blogger, journalist, editor, part of a wider, distributed, conversation, as I've touched upon before. Still, this recent conversation reminded me of how widespread MSM fear of linking out still is - a fact that made me take extra note of these words from Jeff Jarvis on the value of the link:

It is the key architectural element supporting a new structure of media, the steel beam that enables journalism to build past prior physical limitations, to grow taller, wider, and stronger than before. Just recently, I have heard confusion from working journalists about the role of the link. They still think it is an endorsement rather than an extension or an FYI. They don’t always understand how links power the algorithms that organize knowledge today, and how links are the basis of media distribution from now on.

Key Internet Insights

One of those days: so many stories to blog about, but no spare time so far. In the meantime, here's the two most compelling quotes about the Web I've come across in a while:

Adriana Lukas: The futility of control freakery
... It was the internet that has driven the futility of control freakery home for me too. Once you start blogging, interacting and communicating, there is no point in trying to make people pay attention to you, let alone force or manipulate them to do what you consider right or appropriate. And anyone, whether an individual or business will struggle with the web until they realise that they should control what they can, not what they wish they could.

Tim Bray (via Adriana): The Net's killer application
Here’s the thing: the Net’s killer app has always been other people. There are side benefits, like access to all the world’s information. But the links that matter aren’t between pages but people, and they’re strong and rich and subtle. Multiply the infinite flavors in human relationships by a thickening bundle of means-to-connect; that product is what’s new and what’s good and what’s exciting. People who are looking for the Next Big Thing are mostly looking in the wrong places. And anyway, you don’t need to look, it’ll find you. The Next Big Thing? Two fearless predictions: it’ll be about a new way to connect to people, and it won’t show up first on either Techmeme or TechCrunch...