Railing against the tubes

Weekly chat with Reader Rep Ted Diadiun

If you haven’t seen this yet, stop what you’re doing and watch. It’s 15 minutes long, but it’s well worth your time.

Ted Diadiun, the reader representative — i.e., the ombudsman — for the Cleveland Plain Dealer has some things to say about bloggers, and he’s not a damn bit happy about what’s going on in them there tubes. The video has become an instant classic — the talk of Twitter and of posts like this one, by Salon’s King Kaufman.

I’ve e-mailed Diadiun some questions that I hope he’ll respond to, either in his column, on another webcast or to Media Nation. I’ll keep you posted.

A new blog by John Carroll

I want to call your attention this morning to a terrific new local blog. Campaign Outsider is written by John Carroll, formerly a fellow panelist on “Beat the Press” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and now senior media analyst on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

John and I worked on the set-up outside Northeastern’s Au Bon Pain a couple of weeks ago. He’s off to a strong start, weighing in today with a tough piece on the Washington Post’s pay-for-play scandal.

Currently a mass-communications professor at Boston University, Carroll has a long and distinguished career in print, radio and television. I’ve already plugged Campaign Outsider into Google Reader, and suggest you do the same.

“Cluetrain,” 10 years on

Weinberger (left) and Searls

Last night I had a chance to see David Weinberger and Doc Searls, two of the co-authors of “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” speak at Harvard Law School. The conversation was moderated by law-school professor Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of the school’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The sound was not great, so I missed a lot. VisiCalc founder Dan Bricklin, credited with the invention of the spreadsheet, finally became frustrated enough that he got out of his seat and ran around with a little handheld microphone. But I did get a chance to score a signed (by Searls) copy of “Cluetrain,” which has been reissued on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

I read “Cluetrain” online a couple of years ago as research for this. I anticipate getting a lot more out of it this time around, now that I have a print edition. A computer screen is still no way to read a book.

The future of anonymous comments

From time to time I’ve considered instituting a real-names policy for Media Nation commenters. Take a look at this exchange and you’ll see why.

I know I would end up with many fewer commenters than I have now. Some folks who use regular pseudonyms add value, and I know there’s a good chance I would lose them.

But, too often, Media Nation — like most other Internet forums — has become a place where people come to say things behind a mask of anonymity that they would never say if they had to attach their names.

Thoughts?

Counting blogs: One, two, many

Four years ago, Jay Rosen dropped in on a media-criticism class I was teaching at Northeastern University for a discussion about blogging.

One point he made I thought was particularly salient: the 97 bazillion blogs Technorati claims to be tracking are often used by critics as a way to discredit blogging. After all, how could anything so common be of much value?

Still, it’s hard to quantify the number of blogs that matter to news folks — that is, blogs doing some type of journalism, even if it’s just commenting intelligently on the news. When asked, I generally respond that it’s certainly in the hundreds, or even the thousands, but definitely not the millions.

So I was interested to see more useful Technorati numbers appear in a New York Times story today about bloggers who quit because they quickly learn that it’s hard work, or that it’s no way to make money, or that they decide revealing personal details about themselves isn’t such a good idea. (Not that that has anything inherently to do with blogging.) To wit:

  • Of the 133 million blogs that Technorati was following in 2008, only 7.4 million had been updated in the past four months.
  • The vast majority of traffic is generated by 50,000 to 100,000 blogs.

Those numbers make far more sense, and show that blogging is something that a small subset of dedicated amateurs (and a few professionals) take seriously. As Rosen suggested, the Golden Arches approach is a way of marginalizing rather than elucidating.

Dubious allies

In my latest for the Guardian, I review Eric Boehlert’s new book, “Bloggers on the Bus,” which introduces us to the liberal bloggers who’ve redefined Democratic politics in recent years — and who helped Barack Obama win the presidency even as he, wisely, kept his distance from them.

New site covers arts on the North Shore

Check out Art Throb, a new online project covering the arts on the North Shore. Looks pretty ambitious. The lead Throbette is Dinah Cardin, among other things the former arts writer for GateHouse Media’s North Shore Sunday. According to the mission statement:

Art Throb is an independent publication and a collaboration of many talented writers and photographers. Our funding comes from a combination of sponsors, donors and grants.

Joel Brown said hello to Art Throb last Friday.

More evidence that the post-newspaper era will not lack for journalism of all kinds, whether there’s a financial model or not.

Platform angst

I’m seriously thinking of switching to WordPress.org so that I can bring my various Web sites under one roof — Media Nation, “Little People” and DanKennedy.net.

Pros:

  • WordPress has nicer templates than Blogger, so I should easily be able to come up with a better look than I’ve got now.
  • I’ll be able to use my own domain name.
  • I can set up static pages so that each of my different online projects will be in one spot.

Cons:

  • I’ll have to pay $6 to $10 a month for Web hosting. Not bad, but free is free. (I can’t use the free WordPress.com service because it forbids advertising.)
  • I can use dankennedy.net or media-nation.org as my main domain name, but the one I really want — medianation.org — is already taken.
  • I’ll need to put in some time getting up to speed technologically, and I really could put that time to better use.

So I don’t know. If you were me, what would you do?

Tweaking Media Nation’s appearance

I’ve made some minor changes to the look and feel of Media Nation, mainly to accommodate the newish, extreme-vertical ad that takes up the top of the right-hand column.

I’m also thinking about switching to WordPress.org so that I can have a little more control as well as multiple static pages. But this should do for the time being.

Pessimistic Weisberg criticizes paid content

Like most people thinking about the ailing news business these days, Jacob Weisberg is better at describing the problem than at prescribing solutions.

“I do think people approach it in the wrong way when they think about it as a business problem,” Weisberg, editor-in-chief and chairman of the Slate Group, said earlier today. “It is more fundamentally a problem of democracy. And it is a problem of democracy because our system of government is predicated on a free press and an independent media, which allow us to have an informed public and a check on government.”

Weisberg spoke at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, part of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A former editor of the politics-and-culture webzine Slate, Weisberg is now in charge of developing new products affiliated with Slate, such as The Root, aimed at African-American readers, and The Big Money, a financial Web site.

Weisberg expressed pessimism that anything like the newspaper as we have come to know it can survive in the digital age — especially papers smaller than the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. (Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.) Still, he refused to join the likes of Walter Isaacson, Steven Brill and Gordon Krovitz, all of whom have argued in recent weeks that newspapers should charge for their online content.

Asked by Shorenstein’s director, Alex Jones, how many subscribers he thought the New York Times would lose if it started charging $20 a year for online access, Weisberg replied, “90 percent.” He added he’d rather donate $100 a year to the Times than pay a $20 subscription fee, since a paid-subscription model would necessitate walling off content from the larger Internet, and especially from bloggers.

“The political debate exists online, and if you’re behind a pay wall, you’re not part of it,” Weisberg said, adding that Slate’s own 1997 experiment in charging for content is widely seen as having failed.

Though Weisberg would not rule out a role for non-profit, endowment supported projects such as the investigative Web site ProPublica, he said he prefers profit-driven ventures because they are not dependent on the whims and agendas of philanthropies.

“America’s contribution to the news media isn’t the free press, it’s the independent press,” he said. “Countries are better off with an independent media. That’s what we’re at risk of losing.”

The audio of Weisberg’s presentation is online here.

Photo of Weisberg (cc) by Dan Kennedy. For details, see Creative Commons license elsewhere on this blog.