At least when we hold them, you can be sure there will be no grotty chicken vol-au-vents
Big Blog Company client Kamal Aboukhater, producer of the independent film Blowing Smoke (yes, that’s our lead designer’s gorgeous creation), has put an invitation out to readers of the movie’s blog to come to a special screening of the film on April 21 in Los Angeles.
I think this is a first of its kind invitation from a film producer via movie blog - very exciting stuff. Blowing Smoke is a provocative film - the New York Post’s Richard Johnson called it ”the most politically incorrect movie ever made” - and well worth checking out. RSVP now, as space is limited.
Last night I attended a Six Apart event on blogs, in action at the Polish club, which is a very nice trad-looking venue indeed. A good counter-balance to the high-tech and business topic and the audience. The people assembled were an interesting bunch and my impression that there is a pent up demand for such events. My only reservation was that much was crammed into the session and a series of events would allow to spread the backlog of blog knowledge to ‘evangelise’ in the UK. It would also allow a sustained focus on blogging, which is sorely needed here. The good news is that Alistair and the tBBC gang are planning such a series, with focus on individual sectors and industries. So, watch this space.
I was taking copious notes during the session but having come across Suw Charman’s account, I put my hands in the air and said ‘teach me master’ - I am a fast typist, or so I thought, but Suw’s “demon typing hands” put me to shame. She captured most of the talks on her blog and I shall only reproduce the one by David Carr, our esteemed bloglawyer, who first scared everyone away from blogging and then told them what to do about it.
Lawyer and director with the Big Blog Company. Issues around libel etc.
Lots of horror stories that can frighten any blogger - the lesson from that is stay away from lawyers. There are several issues, such as privacy, but the one that comes up most often is libel. It’s a major worry and with good reason. Some people have formed the view that the internet is beyond the reach of law and that you can post whatever you like and it doesn’t matter. This is nonsense. All the law that applies to traditional publishing applies to blogging. There’s a little difference in the way corporate and vanity publisher are treated, but not with libel. Whether you are commercial or not, the position is unsatisfactory for bloggers. Law is governed by the Defamation act,
In 97, someone pretending to be one Dr Godfrey posted to a Usenet group and said lots of horrible things about him, the real Dr Godfrey took the view that the comments were libellous. Faxed Demon internet, and asked them to take it down. Demon said it’s nothing to do with them, they were just hosters. Godfrey took Demon to court and won - Demon said they were innocent carriers. But that only works up to the point that they have received notice of the libel. Because Dr Godfrey had noticed them, and not taken down the posting, they lost their defence.
Law does not require you to police your comments - if someone leaves a libellous comments, you are not necessarily obliged to do something about it unless someone notifies you, and then you must take it down. Difficulty is what is a plausible complaint and what is silly and frivolous. Puts blog owners in difficult position, because they will remove the offending item rather than face a lawsuit, although implication that someone wrote something libellous could also be interpreted as libellous.
Have disclaimer on the comments to the effect that your comments are here under sufferance and that it’s a privilege not a right, and that comments may be removed at any time for reasons of law, taste or decency. ‘On any grounds that the editors see fit’. May be less important with personal blogs, but particularly with commercial concerns.
Photos and permission is another issue.
All in all, a good evening that should be repeated.
I mean me, for a change.
The theme of the event was “Mass market, smart content,” and featured four TV writers/producers/directors: Paul Feig (creator and executive producer: “Freaks & Geeks;” director: “Arrested Development;” director and writer, the feature film “I Am David;” author: “Kick Me: Adventures In Adolescence” and the upcoming “Superstud: How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin"), Scott Kaufer (executive producer: “Boston Legal;” writer: “Gilmore Girls,” “Chris Isaak Show,” “Murphy Brown"), Rob Long (co-creator and excecutive producer: “Men, Women & Dogs,” “Love & Money,” “George & Leo;” executive producer: “Cheers") and Tim Minear (executive produer: “The Inside,” “Wonderfalls,” “Angel,” “Firefly"). Together, they tackled the issue of how successful television writers manage to keep their distinct viewpoints when writing for the mass market.
I believe wholeheartedly that there is no such thing as ‘the mainstream,’ and that the mass market is dead, and being replaced by a mass of niches. I also believe that the mass media is not being destroyed, merely altered radically, and individuals are being liberated from the mass by the unprecedented choice of personal relevance that (thanks to things like blogs, mp3s, TV on DVD, podcasting, and TiVo) they have today - and that choice of personal relevance is increasing exponentially at a rapid rate. So the topic of the panel was extremely appealing to me as a total geek on the social ramifications of emergent technology tip.
I didn’t want to hit the guys over the head with the beliefs I laid out above, so I asked them if they thought that TV series on DVD (which they all seemed to agree was the best thing to happen to TV in a long time, even if the lack of leadership in the Writers’ Guild means that they get screwed out of decent earnings, receiving only 2 or 4 pennies per DVD sale), TiVo, and that greater choice of personal relevance is going to affect what they do in any significant way. Every panel member had something to say about that, but the most interesting answer came from Paul Feig, who said that the bottom line is that the show that draws the most advertising revenue wins, and it will always be that way.
Except I am sure that it won’t always be that way, and that the advances in emergent technologies and the rebirth of niche will bring about that dramatic shift a lot sooner than we may think. The business model of broadcast must change if it is not to die (and with only 12 per cent of US viewers getting their TV via antenna these days anyway, ripping it down isn’t a bad idea). As viewers (read: customers) get used to having that personal choice of relevance, they will throw their attention (read: value) to the places where they can get it: cable, satellite, and the internet. And if you think advertisers won’t pick up on that and move their ad spend accordingly, I’ve got some stock in broadcast that I’d just love to sell you.
The kicker being, I don’t believe that advertising revenue is going to be the bread and butter of TV on cable, satellite, and the internet. Sure, there will be ads in the world as long as there are lazy, clueless companies who believe in ”just in case” marketing. But the costs of that kind of marketing are rising, the effectiveness declining, and profits down as a result.
Which brings us to my point: This drive to niche dovetails very nicely with the need of companies to put customers at the beginning of the value chain instead of at the end of it. The increasing emphasis on the individual also means a move from push marketing to engagement marketing. So instead of wasting a great deal of money on a TV ad, a company can spend a fraction of that on, say, developing great blogs to provide value and engage the niche they are targetting. (They can throw some podcasts up there while they’re at it.)
So here’s the question I really wish I had asked the panel: Ten years from now, who exactly is going to be spending the kind of money on network TV ads that they need to maintain this broken system? And if that money isn’t there, will you be running over non-TV-watching freaks with your Kia instead of your Mercedes?
It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it…
Friday night in Hollywood, Perry and I hosted a party for bloggers and media types: film producer Brian Linse, LA journalist and media critic Cathy Seipp, advice columnist Amy Alkon, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, senior Variety editor Pat Saperstein, husband-and-wife journalists Matt Welch and Emmanuelle Richard (who went straight from the party to E!’s studios to do some punditry on the Michael Jackson case for French TV), and Ventura County Star director of new media Howard Owens.
There were even some people who don’t have blogs: Mickey Kaus (no permalinks, no blog, dude), Arianna Huffington (who came to our party from dinner with Barack Obama at David Geffen’s house - talk about a nosebleed-inducing descent from the A-list), Hollywood, Interrupted author and Drudge Report co-editor Andrew Breitbart, Vanity Fair contributing editor Richard Rushfield, Hollywood political activist Donna Bojarsky, digital motion picture guru Bijan Tehrani, LATimes.com GM Rob Barrett, journalist Ruth Shalit, transatlantic TV and filmmaker Peter Stuart, The Hollywood Reporter senior film editor Anne Thompson, film critic Jeffrey Wells, and director James Orr. There were others there, too, but I’m not sure how they feel about being blogged.
It was a great bash. I got an email from one of the attendees this morning, saying: “It was like a party with old friends.” After hearing about it, someone asked me today, “So are you from LA? With that guest list, it’s like you’ve lived here for years.” Well, no. I’m from Ohio, where I grew up on a farm. My first trip to California took place in December 2004. All the people I know in Los Angeles, even those who are themselves not bloggers and perhaps not even internet users, I know because I started blogging and engaging with other bloggers. I’ve said it once and God knows I’ll say it again, but while the technology that enables this is certainly remarkable, it is the network effect of blogging that is truly amazing.
Perry and I went to the Art Institute of California yesterday to talk to some students about blogging. The campus has a lively atmosphere, and the students we met were all bright and personable - and very curious about blogs.
We had a great conversation, as I talked to them about how building an online portfolio with a blog - perhaps using one of Typepad‘s mixed media templates - could help them to make their talent and expertise tangible, searchable, and accessible to the sort of people to whom they would love to show their work. Bijan Tehrani, the editor of Digital Journal Online and the man who arranged our talk with the students, said that just two days ago he had talked to someone at one of the major global entertainment companies who volunteered the information that they are scouring blogs for new talent. These kids are lucky to be entering the workforce at a time when it is so easy and inexpensive to reach a network of millions and demonstrate for the people within that network who are worthwhile to them - like the guys at entertainment companies who scout blogs for new hires - exactly why they should sit up and take note of their talent.
One artist who should take note of this is a guy named Todd Goldman. Walking around The Grove in Los Angeles earlier this week, I wandered into an art store that was full of his prints. They’re all pretty humorous, and there was one in particular that made me think, “I want to have my picture taken with that one!” Inside the store, I asked the manager - who pounced on me as soon as I entered, which I hate - if my friend could take my photo inside the store. “No,” he replied, in a tone that suggested that he had mistaken me for a retarded child. “We want people to buy the prints, not take pictures of them.”
If this guy thinks he’s selling more prints by limiting peoples’ ability to spread the word about them, I want to know what he’s smoking. The real kicker? There are multiple websites where the images of the prints can be easily downloaded in various sizes. So I can do that, but I can’t take a picture of myself with a print and post it to my blog, along with a link to the artist’s site, thus increasing the chance of him selling some of his work - which, in addition to the prints, includes a whole line of licensed merchandise. Bad business decision, dude. I’ll let one of the artist’s images speak for me, because it really does say it all.
Last night, Adriana and I attended The Fall and Fall of Journalism, an event at the London School of Economics which aimed to debate whether the traditional role of journalists is being usurped by simply anyone who has access to a digital camera, camcorder and the internet and explore the new phenomena of citizen reporting, blogging and other new technology/new media-enabled reporting. (Details of the panellists can be found behind the hyperlink.)
It can be quite a drama, in Britain, to be very straightforward about the quality of debate on blogging in this country. If you take issue with a particular argument that someone has made, people seem to feel that you are insulting the person who made the argument. The alternative is to nod and smile and pretend that a splendid bunch of people have inevitably produced a splendid event, full of splendid insights and imparted knowledge for the audience.
That alternative is, quite frankly, dishonest - and it is not the sort of thing any self-respecting, truth-seeking person (blogger, journalist, or otherwise) can do without compromising his or her integrity. I preface my comments on the LSE event if only to prepare people who may be very unfamiliar with blogging for something that is one of the universal truths about those who operate in blogosphere: Our BS detectors are very sharp, and we do not hesitate to use them.
FT Magazine editor John Lloyd, who knows of what he speaks when it comes to old media and particularly newspapers, made some very good points about the ‘tabloidization’ of the media. In his book, What the Media are Doing to Our Politics, Lloyd explains that the expense of producing well-researched, in-depth journalism is what has turned so much of the media towards the infotainment model of ‘journalism’. I especially loved his comment - sure to wind up two very different, sensitive groups - that Britain’s Independent “viewspaper” is the Fox News of the UK media, using strong front page headlines that appeal to emotion to shift copies.
Lloyd also feels that this same expense of producing good journalism is what makes it difficult for bloggers to do so. His thinking is that bloggers don’t have the time or resources to devote to getting to the heart of a story, discerning fact from spin, and understanding complex subjects. What I think Lloyd would be pleased to know is that some of the most significant features of blogging are what make those issues less of a problem. Most notably, the network-building that is inherent to the blogosphere and the fact that blogging gives people who are already experts in certain fields and situations the ability to quickly and easily make their expertise tangible, accessible, permanent, and searchable to a network of hundreds of millions - the latter of which obviously helps other truth-seekers out there ("proper journalists” among them) in their quest for a grip on reality.
What I found somewhat disturbing about Lloyd’s comments later in the panel was his contention that traditional journalism is something of a civic service, and one that we should be very careful to preserve. This sentiment smacks of the current, hysterical cries coming from old media types who are far less aware than John Lloyd - the idea that journalists are the guardians of truth and that, to some extent, we should take a kid glove approach to this most holy of disciplines. The message is that those armed only with their own expertise and journalistic skills learned outside conventional bounds, never blessed with a sanctifying paycheck from an authorized credentials broker, should really not believe their own hype. Lloyd said - and I will give him the benefit of assuming he was joking - that traditional journalism is such a precious thing that we almost need a government-funded National Journalism Service, as Britain ‘needs’ (debatable) a National Health Service, to safeguard it.
This angle, with its stasist attitude to how journalism must be produced, is at odds with the dynamism that our circumstances demand. And it echoes quite loudly the attempts of the trade unions of 1980s Britain to dictate how newspapers ‘had’ to be produced - actions correctly ridiculed by Lloyd in his opening remarks.
If everyone’s main concern was the truth and how we get to it, the focus of last night’s discussion would not have been so squarely on old media versus bloggers. What seemed to be missing was a basic understanding of exactly how and why blogs really are fundamentally different from traditional journalism - a shocking oversight on a panel that included the LSE’s resident new media and internet professor, Robin Mansell, whom one would expect to be aware of such elementary facts.
What no one on the panel seemed willing to point out, if they did indeed know it, was that the aim of bloggers is not to replace traditional journalists. While definitely not a collective, as some panel members seemed to believe, the blogosphere is made up of individuals whose motivations for revealing truth and correcting untruth are not borne of a desire to bring down the media. To be quite blunt, I don’t think “the media” looms as large in the minds of people as perhaps certain elements of “the media” would wish. What really gets to people is sloppy reporting, spin presented as fact, and audiences being misled.
These people sometimes become bloggers. Most of them do not become bloggers in order to police journalism, but to share their knowledge and opinions with whoever is interested in reading them. But that same disdain for reporting in the traditional media that lacks credibility also fuels the ongoing peer review to which bloggers naturally subject themseves and which keeps everyone in check. An audience member at the event, Professor Ivor Gaber, seemed quite angry that - as he sees it - blogs whose reporting is informed by a particular worldview may be mistaken as ‘objective’ news reporting by dim internet users. He cited Spiked (which is, it should be noted, not a blog) as an example of this danger. (I can’t help but wonder if Gaber eschews email and warns others against using it, lest they be taken in by spam scams.)
When people start wringing their hands over provenance and how to protect the unsuspecting man in the street from his own stupidity, for the common good, in the public interest, etc, etc, things are going down a frightening path.
What no one on the panel pointed out was that the self-regulating, peer review aspect of blogs goes beyond pulling people up on their shoddy reporting, and that many bloggers are recognised experts in their fields, not (as often with traditional media) generalists who move from one subject to another and whose reports are often received with assumed authority. For example, Brad Delong is a noted economist who served in the Clinton administration and who - fancy that - today corrects a statement from a group blog produced by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. Blogs are not, as Gaber and Mansell seemed to think, message board-like stomping grounds of the illiterate and uninformed. What we see much more of in the US - and France and Japan and Iran and Poland, for that matter - than we do in the UK currently is noted experts blogging about their discipline and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of fellow experts and others. The blogosphere is not a world where traditional journalism is regarded as a group of scum to be scalped - no matter what some scared journalists seem to think - and other bloggers are treated gently and go uncriticised. And guess what? Those who read blogs have brains, too, and can work out for themselves that Instapundit is a law professor who isn’t a news reporter and comes to the table with a worldview that informs his writing, just as those who read the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph know that those publications are not - like the BBC is - operating under the pretence of complete objectivity.
Believe it or not, I could go on cataloguing the errors touted as truth and misguided thinking presented as expertise that was on display at the LSE event. Mick Fealty, journalist and editor of the superb Slugger O’Toole blog on Northern Irish politics, covers some of the bases I have ignored in the interest of time (mine and yours).
Look around at this blog: It’s my job to know all this stuff. So I find it depressing that we are still at the stage in the UK where many or all of the panellists at an event like this - even the LSE’s own new media and internet professor - will come to the table without a basic grasp of the fact that the internet is not a broadcast channel, but a two-way conversation whose one-to-many information distribution differs significantly and inherently from that of traditional media.
So consider this post a demonstration of the “narrative of fact” that John Lloyd spoke of as being sacred to society. And if the fact that I’m doing it on a blog, instead of in a newspaper or on TV, makes you uncomfortable, just wait till blogging actually breaks in the UK. Some people - in media, academia, and other fields, and often calling themselves experts - are in for a very rude awakening.Go back on the hippo's back...
tBBC’s Perry de Havilland and I will be descending on Los Angeles for the month of March, in order to deal with clients there and do all sorts of interesting things (plus a lot of sitting in traffic jams) in the name of blogging.
Our calendars are quickly filling up, but I know we’ve got some clever people reading us (and linking to us) in LA. So...Wanna get together? Drop me an email (jackie - at - bigblog.net) and let’s talk, even if our previous conversations have been confined to the blogosphere, or even if we’ve never talked before. If nothing else, we need people to help us sample all the delights of the Farmers’ Market on the tight schedule of four weeks to do so…
Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine is on the roll reproducing his experience at a conference on “Blogging, Journalism & Credibility” taking place at Harvard University this weekend. There are some worthy points that should be noted here:
Jay (Rosen of PressThink) says that journalists have been slow to recognize the debt they owe blogging and that is because this new medium—this new press—was not developed by them. The people who understand this new press—the ethic of the link, the art of conversation—are bloggers.
The way to get diversity is for the entirety of media to find diversity and balance. That is what is new: In the past, you had a one-size-fits-all, one-newspaper town. Now you have access to all the media of the world. That is what brings you diversity.
While on the hit parade of old arguments, we got the argument that bloggers are an echo chamber seeking only their own views. I said that’s a red herring. We link to that with which we disagree.
Hinderaker goes back to Bill Mitchell’s question from his presentation, in which he asked what tool we need to help build trust. Hinderaker says it would help to show us the material behind the story. The attitude bloggers have is—via the link: “See for yourself. Don’t take our word for it.”
Chris Lydon gives us his best Emerson quote ever: “Do not destroy the mass media but liberate the individual from the mass.”
Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says that a few years ago, nobody could have predicted that a bunch of unpaid citizens could replace the Encyclopedia Brittanica with its budget of $350 million but it happened. He said that the business model of The New York Times is not sustainable.
Jeff Jarvis moderated another session and this is what happened:
Rick Kaplan, president of MSNBC, said at the session I Oprahed yesterday that blogging actually drives ratings on shows and that there is a corollation between shows that devote effort to blogging and the growth in audience.
The picture below reveals a dilemma that has only recently come into effect: When one is being moblogged by multiple mobloggers at the same time, which camera does one face?
Last night, several members of the Six Apart gang descended upon tBBC HQ for a shamefully healthy dinner. As well as the company’s co-founder and President, Mena Trott, we had the pleasure of the company of CEO Barak Berkowitz, Loïc Le Meur, and Alistair Shrimpton. Pukka London-based bloggers Tom Coates, Brian Micklethwait, and Monica White rounded out the group of guests.
I don’t think there’s much that we talked about that is really blogworthy. Well, quite a lot of it was very interesting indeed, but perhaps better left unblogged, despite this exchange between Mena and Tom when Loïc was moblogging masses of pictures (as above):
Mena: You know, some people don’t blog everything that ever happens in their lives.
Tom: Yes, but are any of those people here?
Could not possibly comment on that one…
I just returned from a fast and furious session about blogs with two accomplished journalists and great audience to boot (no pun intented), Anne Thompson and Jeffrey Wells. Both of them are already on the net, understand its implications and have created their individual ‘brands’ building reputations over the years.
As always, when we get together with people who are interested in blogs, there is much to discuss and the race against the time commences. At this session, I tried to cover a multitude of topics, from the larger picture of internet as a network and how that affects those who try to use it as a channel, how content evolves and is not finished by publishing it, how blogs are tools and nodes that can be used in many different ways, what are permalinks and why they are the most important feature of a blog, what is creative commons licence and how it is especially relevant to those who publish their writing on the net trying to reach their audience, how you can reach audiences using the network effect to showing them how a blogging back-end looks like and how easy is to post, link and comment on a blog.
Talking to a US audience that is usually far more blog savvy than the UK one, as they have been surrounded by the blog buzz for some time, I was a bit nervous. I feared that I will not have much new or revealing to say to them. This turned out to be an unfounded concern as there are so many aspects to blogging and the dynamics of the blogosphere are constantly evolving, allowing ongoing pontification. As a result, there were many good questions and not enough time to cover all that was of interest. I hope this was just a beginning of a beautiful conversation… I guess we have to do some more bootcamps here in LA.
On the day that CBS News announced that four staffers will leave their jobs - three asked to resign, one fired outright - after an independent panel found that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles, we held another blogging bootcamp for journalists in London. The role of bloggers in Dan Rather’s downfall was one of many topics discussed, rest assured. And I have it on good authority that Adriana and Perry just may be doing something similar today, on another continent, many time zones away. Watch this space for more details on all that.
In the meantime, we’re going to keep up the momentum of these blogging bootcamps here in London. To that end, we will be holding further sessions on January 24th and January 31st, at 10 AM. (We do happen to have one open slot remaining for our bootcamp on the 17th, at 12 noon, too.) If you’re interested in attending any of these sessions, email me: jackie -at- bigblog.net, or leave a comment with your email address and I will get in touch.
We have a couple of slots left for our blogging bootcamp for journalists on January 10th - that’s this coming Monday - and have also added a bootcamp the next Monday, January 17th. The session on the 10th is at 10AM, but we’ll be starting at noon on the 17th in order to accommodate those journalists who need a later start. If you’d like to put your name down for the 10th or the 17th, email me: jackie -at- bigblog.net, or leave a comment with your email address and I will get in touch.
Each time lucky! Today was the third and the last session on blogging for journalists before Christmas and a good time was had by all again. It is such a pleasure to have varied and intelligent people coming to have a chat with us and no two sessions have been the same. We learn much about their perceptions of blogs and online world as well as motivation to investigate the blogging trend. One of the journalists was asking more about the mechanics of self-publishing, such as domains, servers, backing up the content. He saw his blog more as a structured online archive of his articles that he would use to build his reputation as a financial journalist. Another one did not worry about the software and its trick, he was wondering about what to write about and the oddness of people knowing about him more from his blog than he’d know about them…
All in all, it was a good series of ‘bootcamps’ and we are going to carry on doing them. The next one is on 30th December (for the keen and free) on that day and then 10th January looks a likely date. The sessions, originally scheduled for an hour, do take much longer because we try to address individual concerns and perspectives. In any case, those who attended know that they are welcome to come back with suggestions and more questions.
Monday saw another blogging bootcamp for journalists in London, which was great - almost too great, if that’s possible. Because far from the one hour timeframe, Monday’s attendees were so eager to stick around, asking questions, and learning more, that the last journalist didn’t leave until nearly five hours after he had arrived. His name is David Tebbutt, he’s a tech journalist, media trainer and software developer, and now he is a blogger.
We certainly didn’t mind having David and others stick around; far from it, we find such curiosity and enthusiasm extremely refreshing. And when people are clever enough to pick up the implications of blogging that reach far beyond mundane diary blogs and politicians trying to appear to be in touch with their constituencies, we think: “A ha! Got another one!”
Today, we got another one - more than one, actually. But for now, welcome to the blogosphere, David Tebbutt.