Monthly Archives: February 2011

Salem News adopts real-names commenting policy

My local daily, the Salem News, has added itself to the growing list of news organizations that are requiring real names for online comments in order to root out the hateful speech that too often mars such forums. It’s the right move, and one I adopted about a year ago. Editor David Olson explains:

If you write a guest column for the newspaper, you have to use your real name. If you are quoted in a story, we use your real name — no anonymous sources allowed. And if you write a letter to the editor, not only do you have to sign your name, you have to give us an address and phone number so we can check to make sure you are who you say you are.

Online commenters, until now, have had to do none of this.

Like Media Nation, the News will rely on the honor system for the honest majority and intuition (and informants!) for rooting out those who adopt fake names. That’s definitely the way to go. Last July the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro unveiled a real-names policy that required people to turn over their credit-card information if they wanted to comment. If you poke around, you’ll see that the paper’s website has pretty much become a comment-free zone.

This blog post by Howard Owens, editor and publisher of the Batavian, remains the definitive explanation as to why real names should be required.

The courage of Lara Logan

Lara Logan

Esquire’s Chris Jones has written a thoughtful post about the hazards of journalism following revelations that CBS News reporter Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted during the celebration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday. I recommend it highly.

I think we tend to take the courage of celebrity television reporters for granted. Though we might understand that a newspaper reporter traveling outside the glare of the camera is running risks, TV reporters — with their crews, equipment and live feeds — can seem pretty much invulnerable. That is clearly not the case. As we know, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour had some hair-raising moments in Cairo.

Let me join those who are praising Logan not just for her courage and dedication in reporting the story for the benefit of us viewers at home, but also for letting it be known that she was sexually assaulted.

It’s a detail she could have kept to herself, and I suspect a lot of women would have done just that. But it’s important to our understanding of what happened, and she should be saluted for sharing it with us. (Via Don Van Natta Jr.)

U.S. Army photo via Wikimedia Commons.

An experiment in local news is growing

Congratulations to Howard Owens, publisher and editor of the Batavian, who this week announced two part-time hires for his pioneering news site, one on the news side, the other in advertising. Significantly, his new reporter, Brittany Baker, recently lost her job at the local newspaper, the Daily News.

Owens continues to prove that it’s possible to build a successful for-profit community news site if you’re willing to work hard — although, as he is quick to point out, he works no harder than the pizza-shop owners and other entrepreneurs who advertise on his site.

Community journalism has never been a way to get rich. What Owens is proving is that the cheap and free tools of the Web make it possible to restore mom-and-pop independent local news of the sort that graced every city and town up until a generation or two ago.

A harder future for non-profit journalism

What does the future of non-profit news look like? Maybe not as bright as we had hoped.

Nieman Journalism Lab director Joshua Benton gave a talk recently on “Eight Trends for Journalism in 2011.” There are a lot of interesting nuggets, and I want to give it a more careful read later. (Thanks to Jay Rosen for flagging it on Twitter.) But I was particularly struck by Benton’s prediction that we may have reached a peak in non-profit journalism, and that the slogging will be tougher from here on out. Benton writes:

I do think that 2011 is going to see some trimming back, because a lot of these news organizations were started on initial gifts from very well intentioned wealthy people, or local foundations that gave lump-sum payments. And a lot of them are having a real difficult time transitioning to anything that looks sustainable.

The non-profit project I follow most closely is the New Haven Independent. Benton’s prediction will not be news to the founder and editor, Paul Bass. In fact, he and I talked last summer about how to move from a model that relies mostly on foundation grants to one that relies mostly on user contributions and sponsorships, similar to public radio.

Since last fall, the Independent has used Journalism Online’s Press Plus system to ask for voluntary contributions.

Still, a site like the Independent, serving a small, poor community, is hardly a public radio station, many of which draw on large, affluent regions, and whose listeners can thus afford to give.

Ultimately, I wonder if local foundation officials will have to face up to the reality that journalism is a social service essential to the community fabric and needs to be funded on a sustaining basis.

I understand that when foundations give money to non-profit news organizations, they have that much less they can allocate to traditional programs helping young people, the homeless and the like. No doubt that makes for a very hard sell.

But a good non-profit news organization can foster the kind of civic engagement that makes it more likely people will take an interest in their community — and perhaps to donate money to those foundations. I think that’s called a virtuous circle.

Clif Garboden, 1948-2011

Clif Garboden

Early yesterday afternoon I received some very sad news. Clif Garboden, former managing editor of the Boston Phoenix, had died. It was not entirely unexpected. Clif had gone through devastating treatments for cancer a half-dozen years ago, and had recently been diagnosed with a recurrence. He died of pneumonia before treatments could really get under way.

Clif was simultaneously a caustic, profane social critic and an unabashed idealist — two qualities that I think are often found together.

His 2004 outburst following the election results, “Screw You, America,” is a classic example of the former. I remembered every word of it when I re-read it this morning — it’s that good.

His essay for the Phoenix’s 40th-anniversary issue was an example of the latter. Clif genuinely, deeply believed that we in the alternative press were doing God’s work in holding powerful institutions accountable. It was a bracing idea, and something to ponder when the day-to-day frustrations of journalism were getting us down.

Clif’s contributions to the Phoenix were legion, ranging from his hilarious “Hot Dots” television listings to his leadership in the creation and growth of ThePhoenix.com — a site regularly recognized for its excellence by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, an organization of which he was a past president. (Here is a tribute posted at AAN.org.)

Indeed, he did so much that it’s sometimes forgotten he was also a first-rate photographer. Here is his Flickr photostream. When Howard Zinn died a little over a year ago, Clif let me publish a photo he had taken of Zinn during a 1967 debate over the Vietnam War. The richness of tone and lighting is striking. As Clif once explained of his student days at the BU News:

In the darkroom, we pushed standard black-and-white film to wantonly high speeds with specialty developing concoctions so we could shoot everything with available light — imparting an atmospheric, realistic look to our pictures and abandoning the flat, grain-less, over-lit direct-flash intrusiveness of standard press photography.

Tributes to Clif are pouring in on Facebook and at ThePhoenix.com. The lives of all of us who were fortunate to know him were enriched by the experience. He possessed a great soul, and we are all going to miss him deeply. I already do.

Will HuffPo prove to be AOL’s MySpace?

Click for full cartoon at Politico

Does AOL have a MySpace problem?

You may recall that MySpace was a social-media phenomenon when Rupert Murdoch bought it back in 2005 for $580 million. It wasn’t long, though, before Facebook zoomed past it, rendering Murdoch’s new toy all but worthless. The site is now for sale. A large part of it may have been that Facebook was simply better technologically. But surely some of MySpace’s lost cachét was due to a perception among users that anything owned by Murdoch wasn’t cool anymore.

Which brings us to AOL and the Huffington Post. When AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong forked over $315 million for HuffPo, he no doubt thought he was acquiring, among other things, an army of unpaid bloggers. But not so fast.

AdBusters reports that there’s a boycott under way:

Socialite Arianna Huffington built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists. She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp.

Follow it on Twitter at #huffpuff.

Two old Boston Phoenix friends have weighed in as well.

Al Giordano writes that he cross-posted 26 of his stories on HuffPo between 2007 and 2009. He stopped, he says, because he “grew uncomfortable with how that website was transparently becoming more and more sensationalist, cult-of-personality generated.” Now he’s removed his posts, replacing them with this:

(As author and sole owner of the words in this story, I did not write them for AOL, and do not wish to have any association with it imposed upon me. The original text may still be found at http://narconews.com/thefield – Al Giordano, February 7, 2011)

On Facebook, Barry Crimmins adds:

What Ariana Huffington sold for $315 mil was a lot of bloggers who work for free and all the eyeballs they attract to HuffPo. Feeling exploited? Stop working for free for HuffPo and stop providing HuffPo with the value of your visits. Believe me, there will be alternatives. True alternatives.

Dan Gillmor says that, at the very least, Huffington ought to start paying people.

It’s hard to know to what extent HuffPo’s unpaid bloggers fit into Armstrong’s plans. At the very least, though, it’s beginning to look like he did not get what he paid for. He could ask old Rupe about that.