And the award goes to . . .

February 29, 2008

A George Polk Award for reporting went last week to one of my favorite blogs, one of the very, very few I read on a frequent and regular basis — Talking Points Memo. That’s right, a blog.

We in Intro to Digital Communication have been discussing in what circumstances blogging is journalism and what the medium or format brings to the enterprise of reporting that previous to blogging did not exist (for example, an individual voice and perspective, shorter posts or dispatches, rich hyperlinks, transparency, comments/feedback). But for a blog not tied to or an extension of any mainstream news organization, a blog like TPM, to win a Polk? It is a watershed moment for the blogosphere, for bloggers who do journalism.


TPM’s chief blogger and founder, Josh Micah Marshall, is proud to be a blogger. He told the New York Times, “I think of us (the dozen TPM reporters) as journalists; the medium we work in is blogging.” This is an echo of something said in class this week and discussed a bit this morning. A blog is simply a medium or, more precisely, a medium format (the Web here is the medium; the blog the format). It can be used for good, like TPM’s investigative reporting on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, for which it received the Polk and because of which Alberto Gonzales ultimately had to step down as U.S. Attorney General, or it can be used for ill, like Matt Drudge revealing that Prince Harry is/was fighting in Afghanistan.

Josh Micah Marshall

Important for us is TPM’s use of crowdsourcing. In the case of the U.S. attorneys, TPM pursued tips from readers, synthesized the work of other news outlets, provided its own original reporting and solicited and received the help of thousands of readers in sifting through piles of documents released by the Bush administration, piles not unlike all those JFK files we saw at the Dallas Morning Herald earlier this week.

“There are thousands who have contributed some information over the last year,” Marshall said of this crowdsourced U.S. attorney coverage.

We asked this morning, in a Long Tail world, a Long Tail Internet economy, what is the future of the news business? I read the quote from Anderson’s book: “This is the end of spoon-fed orthodoxy and infallible institutions, and the rise of messy mosaics of information that require and reward investigation.” The Marshall Plan (hee-hee) seems to fulfill something of Anderson’s prediction.

So, my questions for our deliberation, for some wisdom of the crowd:

What do you think the future of the news business looks like? What role will broadcast TV news play, if any? We talked a bit about the importance of filters, recommendation systems and error-correction systems. Do these priorities lead us to something like Yahoo’s Buzz? Or something more like TPM? And what of the aggregators?

Clearly, on-demand news for free 24×7 is a part of our answer. Users are in control.

And does this future look like a water cooler-less rainbow of microcultures and tribes of interest, with little in common and less that truly binds us together? Or will we always have “hits” and, if so, what kinds?

{note: I tried to track down the electronic version of the Times article, but the Times‘s search is acting up; I’ll post it later if I can.}

Two quick notes to close. An update on Kluster at TED: The startup attempted a repeat of its earlier MacWorld success, announcing that it would entertain product ideas, select, then produce and sell the winning product by the end of the event. It’s promising a new product in 72 hours. I’m posting the call here:


And one other update, on crowdsourcing customer service complaints and responses from Corporate America. You’ll recall we looked at

The new one, called Get Satisfaction, at, is a San Francisco startup aims to mobilize people to voice their customer service complaints and elicit responses from the companies causing the problems. I wonder if Target will participate ;->

Stealing a “free” newspaper is . . . THEFT

February 24, 2008

Below is my letter to the Campus Carrier, which I plan to submit this week. I wrote in response to, unfortunately, a Berry student who does not (yet) appreciate the role of free expression (oooh — there’s that word again — free!) in a democratic society nor the insidious threat of “little brother” censorship, and that profoundly saddens me. It really does. Something in the student’s education, including long before coming to Berry, went terribly wrong. The student’s letter has sat in the pit of my stomach like an ulcer for four days. I also have a postscript at the end I will not be submitting.

In light of some published opinions that censoring the readers of the Carrier by stealing 900 copies could not possibly be a crime, I offer only a few reasons why taking a “free” newspaper is actually theft and, therefore, a violation of the Viking Code by even the most liberal of readings:

First, “free” does not mean the Carrier does not cost anything. Student worker pay to writers, editors, designers and photographers; the cost of the paper and its printing; the advertising dollars spent by area businesses wasted on a publication not distributed to potential patrons all adds up to quite a bit of value. Like nearly every other newspaper everywhere, the cost of the Carrier is subsidized by advertisers and Berry, to the point that readers do not have to pay a cent. Someone else, therefore, is picking up the tab, but there most certainly is a tab to pick up. (By the way, the Carrier has always notified readers on its opinion pages that the paper “is available on the Berry College campus, one free per person.”)

Second, and I would argue more importantly, the Carrier is a vessel of intellectual property, which is Berry’s most valuable asset as an institution of higher education. Stealing 900 copies and, therefore, preventing potentially 900 other individuals from exposure to the ideas, information and opinions in that Carrier is censorship and the theft of intellectual property — that of those who wrote and contributed to the paper and from those who could no longer read those contributions. Ironically, last week these ideas and opinions included that of one letter writer who believed such censorship is “great,” to use the writer’s mind-bending description. There could be fewer more effective means of censorship than removing the publication from distribution and circulation.

Finally, and I reluctantly pull out the American flag for this last reason, censorship by stealing a campus’s only newspaper, its only paper of record, and a primary means of debate and discussion, is simply and unequivocally un-American. Doesn’t the writer realize that to prevent the dissemination of news, information and opinion with which someone disagrees contradicts the very notion of a self-governing democratic society?

There are other more economic reasons, but I will finish by quoting California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was speaking upon ratifying his state’s law specifically criminalizing the theft of free newspapers: “We must work to ensure that no one is able to deprive others of their First Amendment rights.” The Governator is right, because letting thieves get away with censorship threatens the very idea of a free press and the reason we are all here in the Bubble to begin with.

Postscript: It saddens me further that the Berry community has so quietly absorbed the threat to our intellectual vitality and academic and political freedoms, seemingly and dysfunctionally sweeping it under the Berry Bubbleland carpet. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the endorsement of First Amendment expression? Where’s even an apology from a cheerleader or cheerleader advisor for censorship on our campus? And what of the disciplinary investigation?

Immediacy v. the discipline of verification

February 22, 2008

We discussed this morning a hypothetical scenario about a sports reporter persuading his newspaper to publish a story about rumors that a college boosters were bestowing expensive gifts on a big-time college quarterback. While we were touching on this hypothetical, a real scenario was lighting up blog comments and the campaign trail, a scenario eerily like our hypothetical. It makes the John McCain-lobbyist scandal the perfect followup to our discussion.

Here’s the skinny: The New York Times published a story this week using unnamed sources to call McCain’s ethics into question regarding a female lobbyist with whom McCain was quite chummy.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post provides a digest of the events of the Times‘s approach, including a link to McCain defending himself on CBS, and a roundup of criticism of the coverage.

The Seattle Pilot-Intelligencer chose not to run the Times coverage because its editors were uncomfortable with the unnamed sources as the basis for the story, because the reporting was “seriously flawed.” The era of “trust me” journalism is over, wrote Tom Rosenstiel, co-author of The Elements of Journalism, which our Friend & Singer book quotes from quite a bit. (BTW, the Seattle paper’s story, “Why we didn’t run the McCain story,” is a good example of transparency, showing readers how the paper made its decision.)

Some questions for us:

  • Does it in fact appear that the New York Times compromised or sacrificed its own “discipline of verification” in getting this story out, knowing The Washington Post and other competitors were working on similar stories?
  • How much of a factor do you believe the Internet and the 24×7 news cycle was in pressuring the Times to run the story?
  • How uncomfortable should we as readers be of coverage so dependent on unnamed sources?
  • How significant is the Seattle paper’s decision not to run the coverage and then, subsequently, to pull the veil back for its readers in explaining exactly why? Is this a model for other news organizations?

And of course, as your own, as well.

Speaking of transparency, the Times‘s writers and editors answered questions about the controversy over its McCain coverage, coverage that as of Saturday morning had generated 2,430 reader posts (wow!).

And some related links:

Facebook Profiles & Identity Management

February 19, 2008

A quick post to alert folks to an intriguing op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times on the Times-created controversy regarding the inability to delete Facebook profiles . . . ever. A story last week kicked off the brouhaha, which led to an announcement from Facebook that the social networking platform would be making it easier to delete, or sort of delete, profiles and pages.

The op-ed uses the flare-up to introduce readers to sociologist Erving Goffman‘s work on what Goffman calls “identity management,” a variation of what the law and previous, pre-Net generations have regarded as a right to privacy. According to Goffman’s argument, we all try to manage our identities in how we present and express ourselves, expression that includes the clothes we wear, the vehicles we drive and, most recently, the online representations of ourselves we create and manage.

Think for a moment of how differently you present yourself on, say, MySpace compared to Facebook compared to Linkedin compared to in the classroom compared to home on Thanksgiving day seated around the big table in the dining room. The point of the op-ed, which I encourage you to read, is how complicated it’s become to manage our identities with the flood of information about us available online, much of it we ourselves have made available in contexts and environments we thought at the time were private, or at least not public.

In short, our privacy concerns are being drowned in an ocean of profiteering, a sea of semantic and automated advertising (Gmail ads, Beacon, Netflix and Amazon recommendations, the sort of stuff we discussed last Friday). We need more, better privacy controls, and we could argue an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment that requires that companies like Facebook provide us these controls. It’s our information and should not be allowed to become a commodity like tires or toilet paper that others can sell to third parties for their own profits without our explicit approval. Sorry; starting to preach here. I’m done.

The tagosphere and folksonomies

February 17, 2008

This is NOT the post to which digicommies are supposed to comment; it’s two down from here. I’m posting this announcement of a talk tomorrow in Chapel Hill because it is directly on Friday’s discussion topics. Take a look:

Content Tagging and Web2.0 Implications

Presenter:  Joseph Busch is the Founder and a Principal of Taxonomy Strategies (

When:  Monday, February 18, 2008, 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Where:  UNC Undergraduate library, Room 205

Content tagging is one of the big stories on the Web. What’s new about Web 2.0 is that end users are doing the tagging  instead of librarians, and the results are being shown almost instantly on websites. First it was flickr,, Wikipedia and Technorati. Now end user tagging, tag clouds,recommendations and mash-ups are everywhere.

Librarians have long contended that end users cannot usefully tag content because they are not trained in how to do indexing. More correctly, end users cannot tag content the way librarians tag content. But this begs the question about what kind of tagging is useful.

In this talk, Joseph Busch will discuss the usefulness to be found in tagging as it relates to librarians and usability professionals, the Semantic Web, and document and content management practices.

*Biographical Note* 

Joseph Busch is the Founder and a Principal of Taxonomy Strategies. Joseph is an authority in the field of information science, a past President of theAmerican Society for Information Science and Technology, and an appointee to the Board of Directors of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. He is a frequent speaker on metadata, taxonomy, indexing, classification research, information retrieval, and content management.

Conference on blogging and social media

February 17, 2008

2nd Annual International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media

March 30 – April 2, 2008
Seattle, WA, USA

I post this to expose us to some of the lines of inquiry available when studying blogging and social media, the latter we have been focusing on in discussion and which a few of you are researching for end-of-course presentations. Cool stuff. Wish I could go.

The International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media provides a forum for researchers and industrial practitioners to present and discuss new research, applications, thoughts and ideas that are shaping the future of social media analysis.  Social media content now accounts for the majority of content published daily on the web. As the space evolves, academic and industrial practitioners find themselves at a key point for collaborating on research, implementation and deployment of a wide range of analyses and

The conference consists of a half day of tutorials (Sunday, March 30, 2008) and two and half days of an exciting technical program (Monday, March 31 – April 2nd).  We will also be hosting two evening receptions (Monday and Tuesday evenings).

Papers to be presented

* Wikipedian Self-Governance in Action: Motivating the Policy Lens
* Link-PLSA-LDA: A new unsupervised model for topics and influence of blogs
* Polling the Blogosphere: a Rule-Based Approach to Belief Classification
* Document Representation and Query Expansion Models for Blog Recommendation
* Space Planning for Online Community
* A Large-Scale Study of MySpace: Observations and Implications for Online Social Networks
* Competing to Share Expertise: the Taskcn Knowledge Sharing Community
* What Elements of an Online Social Networking Profile Predict Target-Rater Agreement in Personality?
* Exploring Social Media Scenarios for the Television
* Spontaneous Inference of Personality Traits from Online Profiles
* The Politics of Sourcing: A Study of Journalistic Practices in the Blogosphere
* A Social Network Based Approach to Personalized Recommendation of Participatory Media Content
* The Psychology of Word Use in Depression Forums in English and in Spanish
* Thin Slices of Online Profile Attributes
* Recovering Implicit Thread Structure in Newsgroup Style Conversations
* On TREC Blog Track
* Wikipedia as an Ontology for Describing Documents
* BLEWS: Using Blogs to Provide Context for News Articles
* International Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs
* Finding the Influencers and the Consumer Insights

From sense-makers to tastemakers

February 15, 2008

Excellent discussion this week on The Long Tail, so my thanks to Caitie and Tracy for leading us,
and shame on those who missed it.

To extend and continue the discussion, I would like us to focus on smart filters, which were a major theme of the second part of the book, and the many ways in which content is being filtered online. The book mentioned several:

  • taxonomies and folksonomies (and they are not the same thing)
  • pattern matching
  • collaborative filtering (wisdom of the crowd)
  • word-of-mouth (word-of-mouse) and other recommendation systems
  • bottom-up buzz (another term for word-of-mouse)
  • tagging

To illustrate the power of tagging and of folksonomies, I’d like to use Caitie’s experience buying her copy of The Long Tail at the local Barnes & Noble, a story she related in the discussion. She walked into the store, which has a layout by topic determined by “experts” (as opposed to a folksonomy, regular folk). She went to section after section looking for the book before breaking down and asking a human, a store representative. Though humans are flawed, this one knew to direct Caitie to “economics,” one of the last sections in the store Caitie said she would have thought to look.  This is Old World. Let’s step into the New World, that of long tails, smart filters, collaborative filters and of the tagosphere.


Caitie goes online, where hundreds of Digital Communication alum have purchased Anderson’s book in the past, tagging it with terms like “digital communication,” “Anderson,” “WIRED” and “Dr. Carroll’s favorite book.” These tags lead Caitie in one click to a page from which she can “BUY” a copy of The Long Tail. Before she clicks, however, she sees a scroll of reviews of the book, a discussion among peers, or “tastemakers,” about its merits and its limits and a link to a free chapter for her to sample if she wishes before plunking down the money.

My questions, then, for expanding our discussion, are these:

From the book, p. 98: “Peers trust peers. Top-down messaging is losing traction, while bottom-up buzz is gaining power.” For buying books and music, this is great. What about for news? Can peer-to-peer folksonomies really helps us when it comes to news? Artifacts here would include Digg and What are some of the implications of folksonomies in news and news consumption?

Second, relating to a sub-theme of our talk this morning, how much privacy are you willing to surrender to get these ever-smarter  recommendations? At what point does the “creep out” factor kick in, motivating you to opt out of whatever environment (Facebook) or service (Netflix or Amazon)?