Tag Archives: Blogger

Gay Lesbian Syrian Blogger? Or a Bearded American from Edinburgh?

Here’s a cautionary tale about how hard it is to verify whether someone is who they say they are:

Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man

Tom MacMaster’s wife has confirmed in an email to the Guardian that he is the real identity behind the Gay Girl in Damascus blog

Tom Mcmaster

Syrian lesbian blogger has been revealed to be Tom MacMaster, an American based in Scotland. Public domain

The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written by not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.

The Guardian, frankly, has not covered itself in glory on this issue. The story itself makes no mention of the fact that the paper itself was duped. It was, after all, bloggers did the detective work that uncovered the hoax, not they. There’s this mea culpa, buried deep in a secondary story but it doesn’t apologise for misleading readers for more than a month:

The Guardian did not remove all the pictures until 6pm on Wednesday 8 June, 27 hours after Jelena Lecic first called the Guardian. It took too long for this to happen, for which we should apologise (see today’s Corrections and clarifications). The mitigating factors are that we first acted within four hours but compounded the error by putting up another wrong picture, albeit one that had been up on our website for a month, was unchallenged and was thought to have come directly from “Amina”. We know for a fact that the two pictures are of Jelena Lecic, but we didn’t know much else until thisevening. But we do know that when using social media – as we will continue to do as part of our journalism – the Guardian will have to redouble its efforts in establishing not just methods of verification, but of signalling to the reader the level of verification we think we can reasonably claim.

And even The Guardian hasn’t yet corrected itself: This piece is still up, uncorrected, and illustrating some more journalistic traits by not sourcing the story or expressing any “unconfirmed” thoughts:

image

The only suggestion that something is amiss is this at the end:

• This article was amended on 7 June 2011 and again on 8 June 2011 after complaints that photographs accompanying articles relating to Amina Araf showed someone other than the abducted blogger. The photographs have been removed pending investigation into the origins of the photographs and other matters relating to the blog.

Bottom line. Journalists have got to be smarter: smarter about the old things, such as dual sourcing, being sceptical about everything (a lesbian blogger in Damascus posting pictures of herself and using her real name? Even the author of the Guardian pieces was using a pseudonym—itself a no-no) and doing some basic legwork in trying to authenticate the person. And smart about new stuff: using the same tools the bloggers themselves used in exploring the real person behind it (those people could be forgiven for not having done this earlier: they, after all, are a community and accepted ‘her’ as one would in such a community.)

So what are those ‘new’ tools?

  • basic search. Do we know everything about this person? What kind of online footprint did they have before this all happened?
  • check photos’ origin. Not always easy, but worth doing. File names. Captions. Check out whether there’s any data hidden in the image. Image date.
  • IP addresses of emails and other communications.
  • Website/blog registration. Where? By whom?

These new tools need to be learned by journalists. And we need to learn them quickly.

We also need to find better ways to correct things when we get them wrong, and, frankly, to say sorry. Here are some other outlets that fell for it and have yet at the time of writing to either apologise or correct their stories:

WaPo: Elizabeth Flock, “‘Gay girl in Damascus’ Syrian blogger allegedly kidnapped,” June 7, 2011

CNN: “Will gays be ‘sacrificial lambs’ in Arab Spring?”

AP: Syrian-American gay blogger missing in Damascus – Timesonline.com- World-

NYT (since corrected, sort of, but the comments are intriguing. Readers are gullible too, although they might reasonably feel aggrieved that the NYT didn’t do its job in checking the facts): After Report of Disappearance, Questions About Syrian-American Blogger – NYTimes.com

More links:

Open door- The authentication of anonymous bloggers – Comment is free – The Guardian

Gay Girl in Damascus blog extracts- am I crazy- Maybe – World news – The Guardian

Syrian blogger Amina Abdallah kidnapped by armed men (example of The Guardian duped)

Wikipedia: Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Something So Simple, Something So Elusive

From Lifehacker, a way to select text vertically. Two comments on this:
1) Can’t believe I’ve not come across something so basic before, and
2) What happened to us and our computers that something so simple and so ordinary should, when revealed, get us all excited? One day we’ll be able to move pictures and words around our document any way and any place we want…

clipped from lifehacker.com

Blogger Diana Huggins highlights a handy tip in Microsoft Word for selecting text vertically rather than the traditional horizontal select we’re all used to.

 

The key: just hold down the Alt key (or Option key on your Mac) while you drag your selection.

Word, the Expensive Blogging Tool?

I’m always looking for a better way to blog and some folk are pointing to the tools available from within Word 2007:

From within Word, you can create a blog entry with extensive formatting and imaging, and easily upload to your blog – whether hosted by a company such as Blogger, or hosted on your own website through installed software, such as WordPress.

Along with that, the software comes with additional features, such as “live previews for text styles, images, paging, etc.” and image effects, including shadows, orientation, borders and shapes.”In summary,” dkaye says, ”Word 2007 is simplifying blogging, so it’s not just straight and boring text anymore.”

Interesting. Of course you’ll have to shell out for all the other features of Microsoft Office, whereas Windows Live Writer is free, but if you’ve got Office already, it’s probably worth checking out the features.

Intriguing that Microsoft is backing into the blogging revolution with these types of tools, which I imagine would somewhat cannibalize each other. But then again, Microsoft have long learned the lesson of diverting the unschooled, unwary or click-happy user into their own sales channel, as the default option in this dialog box for adding a blog to your Windows Live Writer illustrates:

This post was written on, er, Windows Live Writer.

What Probably Won’t Happen in 2007

The BBC has asked me to make some predictions about the coming year, something I’m always loath to do because I seem to get it wrong. Anyway, here are my notes. They’re based in part on my own bath-time musings, and partly inspired by the thoughts of others (tried to credit them where relevant.)

1999 just took longer than we thought, that’s all

Web 2.0 is not just about AJAX, mashups, blogs and all that. It’s about building a platform. That’s now been done. All we need to do now is let people use it. That is already happening, but it will REALLY happen in 2007:

Delivery will get better

RSS will stop being something we have to keep explaining to people, because they’ll be using it. It will be seamless — a way for anyone to join something, whether it’s a newsletter, a service, a MySpace group. It will stop being known as Rich Site Syndication or Really Simple Syndication and be Really Simple, Stupid.

Content will get better

The real improvement in computers will be the rise of the dual- and four-core processor, i.e. one that uses more than one chip. Think of it as the computer having more than one brain. This will speed up, and make easier, the editing of video and other multimedia content. Our computer, in a word, will no longer be an expensive typewriter. With faster connection speeds, too, video will be the thing that really makes the Internet compelling to people who were previously uninterested. What we watch on YouTube will get better. Individuals will have their 15 megabytes of fame. But this will couple with a rise of content generated specifically for the Internet, further blurring the lines between TV and computer viewing. Silicon Valley is no longer a tech center, but a media one.

The demise of big software

The rise of online applications will in turn blur the distinction between what is going on in your computer and what is going on at the other end of the line — the server. Vista will seem more like a farewell than a big hello, as big software from big companies locking in users to specific ways of doing things will give way to open source alternatives like Ubuntu. Microsoft will fight this tooth and nail, but I’m sure they already know it.

The mainstreaming of social media

 Web 2.0 is really all about breaking down barriers by making it easier to do stuff, and to mix it up with other people doing stuff. In a way what the Internet has always been about. Expect the influence of blogs to further pervade those last few citadels that have been resisting it, breaking down walls within organizations — internal blogs that flatten hierarchies and build up feedback mechanisms for employees to talk back to their bosses. Think government departments. Think universities, schools and anywhere else where hierarchies exist. This won’t be a one way street: anonymous bloggers in places like Microsoft and China may find themselves outed and lynched.

The rise of the maven

As the Web gets bigger, Google will need to reinvent itself to keep up. Web 2.0 offers some great ways to find stuff through other means, leveraging the knowledge of others who have gone before. We will acknowledge the contribution, and marketers will acknowledge the power, of the maven: the person who seems to somehow know stuff, and is ready to share it. Tagging, blogging, and other social tools will be recognized as extremely powerful ways to do this.

The demise of the big computer

The cellphone will get better at what it does, and we’ll grow to trust it more. We’ll stop calling it a cellphone and just call it a wearable device, or something snazzier I can’t think of right now. One day we’ll think it quaint that we had to sit in one place to do stuff, or near an outlet, or within range of a WiFi signal. Cellphones don’t have those limitations and this will start to hit home in 2007:

Teenagers will show us the way. Again

They’re already sharing everything via Bluetooth, creating networks on the fly (that, incidentally, fly under the radars of commercial networks and marketers). They share videos, ringtones, songs, games, either by exchanging content or playing against each other.

Space-shifting

The cellphone has already redefined what space is, and that will continue. Sexual liaisons involving public figures will be recorded by one party as insurance against future hard times. Cellphone television will become more popular, not just because it’s mobile but because it’s personal, a time to be alone under the sheets, on a bus, waiting for a friend, stuck in traffic. Maybe not this year, but soon they’ll be pluggable into the hotel TV. This is tied into the idea of personal space being something you control, either through presence, or through intermediary services where you only ever hand out personal details of your virtual self.

The End of the iPod

The iPod will decline in importance as the music-phone takes center stage. I didn’t think this would happen because cellphone manufacturers mess up the software on the phone, but they’re getting better at it. Even Nokia. So expect most people, starting with teenagers who don’t want more than one gadget and probably can’t afford them, to switch to one device. This will again throw open the mobile music/MP3/DRM debate, and iTunes will start to look a bit wobbly until Apple gets something sorted out so non-iPod users can download from the site easily and cheaply.

The downsides

It’s not all fun and games. Bad things are going to continue to happen, and there’s not much we can do about them. It’s partly just the normal process of utopians being pushed aside by realists, but it’s also about an ongoing debate about how to, or whether to, police a space that seems largely unpoliceable.

A dual identity crisis

Mainstream media’s identity crisis will be compounded by an identity crisis among bloggers. The rise of pay-me blogging, where bloggers get paid for writing about specific companies or products, will lead to some scandals and make people explore more deeply the ethics of blogging, and how they’re not that much different to the ethics developed by journalists over several hundred years. This won’t however, lead to the demise of blogging, but the rise of a sort of online press corps, with its own associations and rules, both written and unwritten. Many bloggers will end up being journalists, and the best journalists will move effortlessly and happily through the blogosphere. Many already do.

Keep up, grandma

Things are moving so fast the slow will look like they’re running backwards. If 2004-6 were anything to go by, 2007 will move quite quickly. Some folk I spoke to said that not much has popped up this year that’s exciting, and that’s true, in a boiling frog type way. It’s the earth shifting that is changing, and we need to change with it. Young people just get it, but us digital immigrants need to not just learn the lingo but keep up with the fast-changing slang. Oh, and MySpace won’t be the place to hang out in 2007; it’ll begin to look like a sad school hall dance arranged by the teachers.

The Rise of the Snoop

We tend to make a distinction between these things, but they’re actually all part of the same thing. Spam is getting worse, and it’s not just an invasion of privacy but an invasion of our productivity (91% of email is spam.) Music and video files will also rise as vectors of trojans, malware and other PUPs. GPS devices married to phones will enable people to track their employees, spouses or offspring, and further empower stalkers. Cellphone monitoring devices like FlexiSpy will get better at distributing themselves, and will be powerful not just in the hands of eavesdropping acquaintances but identity thieves. The rise of virtual worlds will also lead to the rise of virtual identities and virtual identity theft, along the lines of CopyBot. Expect to see cellphone eavesdropping and data theft from cellphones to surge. And we’ll start to realize that Google isn’t as cuddly as it looks; it’s a snoop, too.

What Probably Won’t Happen in 2007

The BBC has asked me to make some predictions about the coming year, something I’m always loath to do because I seem to get it wrong. Anyway, here are my notes. They’re based in part on my own bath-time musings, and partly inspired by the thoughts of others.

1999 just took longer than we thought, that’s all

Web 2.0 is not just about AJAX, mashups, blogs and all that. It’s about building a platform. That’s now been done. All we need to do now is let people use it. That is already happening, but it will REALLY happen in 2007:

Delivery will get better

RSS will stop being something we have to keep explaining to people, because they’ll be using it. It will be seamless — a way for anyone to join something, whether it’s a newsletter, a service, a MySpace group. It will stop being known as Rich Site Syndication or Really Simple Syndication and be Really Simple, Stupid.

Content will get better

The real improvement in computers will be the rise of the dual- and four-core processor, i.e. one that uses more than one chip. Think of it as the computer having more than one brain. This will speed up, and make easier, the editing of video and other multimedia content. Our computer, in a word, will no longer be an expensive typewriter. With faster connection speeds, too, video will be the thing that really makes the Internet compelling to people who were previously uninterested. What we watch on YouTube will get better. Individuals will have their 15 megabytes of fame. But this will couple with a rise of content generated specifically for the Internet, further blurring the lines between TV and computer viewing. Silicon Valley is no longer a tech center, but a media one, as Andreas of the Economist told the .

The demise of big software

The rise of online applications will in turn blur the distinction between what is going on in your computer and what is going on at the other end of the line — the server. Vista will seem more like a farewell than a big hello, as big software from big companies locking in users to specific ways of doing things will give way to open source alternatives like Ubuntu. Microsoft will fight this tooth and nail, but I’m sure they already know it.

The mainstreaming of social media

 Web 2.0 is really all about breaking down barriers by making it easier to do stuff, and to mix it up with other people doing stuff. In a way what the Internet has always been about. Expect the influence of blogs to further pervade those last few citadels that have been resisting it, breaking down walls within organizations — internal blogs that flatten hierarchies and build up feedback mechanisms for employees to talk back to their bosses. Think government departments. Think universities, schools and anywhere else where hierarchies exist. This won’t be a one way street: anonymous bloggers in places like Microsoft and China may find themselves outed and lynched.

The rise of the maven

As the Web gets bigger, Google will need to reinvent itself to keep up. Web 2.0 offers some great ways to find stuff through other means, leveraging the knowledge of others who have gone before. We will acknowledge the contribution, and marketers will acknowledge the power, of the maven: the person who seems to somehow know stuff, and is ready to share it. Tagging, blogging, and other social tools will be recognized as extremely powerful ways to do this.

The demise of the big computer

The cellphone will get better at what it does, and we’ll grow to trust it more. We’ll stop calling it a cellphone and just call it a wearable device, or something snazzier I can’t think of right now. One day we’ll think it quaint that we had to sit in one place to do stuff, or near an outlet, or within range of a WiFi signal. Cellphones don’t have those limitations and this will start to hit home in 2007:

Teenagers will show us the way. Again

They’re already sharing everything via Bluetooth, creating networks on the fly (that, incidentally, fly under the radars of commercial networks and marketers). They share videos, ringtones, songs, games, either by exchanging content or playing against each other.

Space-shifting

The cellphone has already redefined what space is, and that will continue. Sexual liaisons involving public figures will be recorded by one party as insurance against future hard times. Cellphone television will become more popular, not just because it’s mobile but because it’s personal, a time to be alone under the sheets, on a bus, waiting for a friend, stuck in traffic. Maybe not this year, but soon they’ll be pluggable into the hotel TV. This is tied into the idea of personal space being something you control, either through presence, or through intermediary services where you only ever hand out personal details of your virtual self.

The End of the iPod

The iPod will decline in importance as the music-phone takes center stage. I didn’t think this would happen because cellphone manufacturers mess up the software on the phone, but they’re getting better at it. Even Nokia. So expect most people, starting with teenagers who don’t want more than one gadget and probably can’t afford them, to switch to one device. This will again throw open the mobile music/MP3/DRM debate, and iTunes will start to look a bit wobbly until Apple gets something sorted out so non-iPod users can download from the site easily and cheaply.

The downsides

It’s not all fun and games. Bad things are going to continue to happen, and there’s not much we can do about them. It’s partly just the normal process of utopians being pushed aside by realists, but it’s also about an ongoing debate about how to, or whether to, police a space that seems largely unpoliceable.

A dual identity crisis

Mainstream media’s identity crisis will be compounded by an identity crisis among bloggers. The rise of pay-me blogging, where bloggers get paid for writing about specific companies or products, will lead to some scandals and make people explore more deeply the ethics of blogging, and how they’re not that much different to the ethics developed by journalists over several hundred years. This won’t however, lead to the demise of blogging, but the rise of a sort of online press corps, with its own associations and rules, both written and unwritten. Many bloggers will end up being journalists, and the best journalists will move effortlessly and happily through the blogosphere. Many already do.

Keep up, grandma

Things are moving so fast the slow will look like they’re running backwards. If 2004-6 were anything to go by, 2007 will move quite quickly. Some folk I spoke to said that not much has popped up this year that’s exciting, and that’s true, in a boiling frog type way. It’s the earth shifting that is changing, and we need to change with it. Young people just get it, but us digital immigrants need to not just learn the lingo but keep up with the fast-changing slang. Oh, and MySpace won’t be the place to hang out in 2007; it’ll begin to look like a sad school hall dance arranged by the teachers.

The Rise of the Snoop

We tend to make a distinction between these things, but they’re actually all part of the same thing. Spam is getting worse, and it’s not just an invasion of privacy but an invasion of our productivity (91% of email is spam.) Music and video files will also rise as vectors of trojans, malware and other PUPs. GPS devices married to phones will enable people to track their employees, spouses or offspring, and further empower stalkers. Cellphone monitoring devices like FlexiSpy will get better at distributing themselves, and will be powerful not just in the hands of eavesdropping acquaintances but identity thieves. The rise of virtual worlds will also lead to the rise of virtual identities and virtual identity theft, along the lines of CopyBot. Expect to see cellphone eavesdropping and data theft from cellphones to surge. And we’ll start to realize that Google isn’t as cuddly as it looks; it’s a snoop, too.

An Advertising Conundrum

I guessed this would happen eventually: through one of the advertising aggregators I use for this blog a service I’ve been critical of has submitted an ad. Do I accept it?

Advertising aggregators provide a service to companies by letting them place banner and other web ads on participating blogs. I’ve been trying FeedBurner, for example, which puts ads on my blog and at the bottom of blog postings. They’re pretty obviously ads, since they’re all snazzy and jazzed up, and they help to defray (I love using the word ‘defray’) the costs of running the blog. Not everyone likes having to put up with ads, but we’re not running a charity here.

Anyway, Xdrive, an online storage service now owned by AOL, has just submitted an ad. I knew this might happen; I’ve seen their ad appear on other blogs using the FeedBurner service. But this blog has been something of a thorn in the side of Xdrive, ever since I started writing about some user complaints about a year ago (Google “xdrive” and a Loose Wire post appears among the first 10 results. Google “xdrive problems”  and it’s top.) And things don’t seem to have gotten any better: two readers complained only last week about the service.

My first reaction was to decline the ad, something I’ve only done once before with a service that was too unclear about what it offered to pass muster (I love saying ‘muster’ too.) Why should I allow an ad for a service that may not be up to scratch? But then cooler heads prevailed. Declining the Xdrive ad would imply I had somehow endorsed the ads I had approved to run. While I’ll try not to allow ads that appear to be questionable, I don’t think readers are going to assume that every product advertised on this blog is one I suggest they go out and buy. Or do you?

Two other issues raise their heads: Should I alert AOL that they’re running an ad on a blog that has been critical of the service that they’re advertising? Or is it their lookout? (Perhaps they know this already and are trying to redress the balance. Or they see criticism as part of the conversation.)

Another: Should I make clearer what my policy is on advertising so readers are not confused? And if so, where should I put it? And what should it say? That’s something I’m going to work on, and of course something I’d be delighted to take input on from readers. I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to face this issue. The debate about balancing the needs of advertisers with the needs of a free and objective press is not a new one, and not one that, to my knowledge, has ever been entirely resolved. Maybe bloggers can have a shot at it.

PR, Bloggers and Teeth

Should PR people read blogs? Or more specifically, should PR people read the blogs of those people they’re pitching? Or, more specifically, should PR people read the blogs of people they’re pitching and take personal events, comments and references into account when they’re making their pitch? Answers to the first two questions are pretty obvious, but I’m not so sure about the third one. The issue has come to the fore with Microsoft mega-blogger Robert Scoble, who has written about the sudden and serious illness of his mother on his blog. But he’s still getting pitched by PR companies:

It’s amazing how many product pitches I’ve received in the past few days. Even in phone calls. Do they not read my blog? Do they have no clue what’s happened in my life in the past five days?

Apparently not.

The discussion in the comments that follows is interesting, and revealing, as is this interview with PR giant Richard Edelman. I have great sympathy for Robert, but this episode inadvertently raises all sorts of questions — about blogging, about PR, about the community that builds at the intersection of blogs, comments on blogs, and the conferences that bring such people together. I’m not going to pass comment on Robert’s choices but here, for what they’re worth, are some thoughts about this grey area:

Having a blog:

  • A blog is a great way to share, but unless it’s password-protected, you’re sharing with everyone, forever. That means opening up your life to some great people, but it also means you’re opening up to the whacko across the street with a gun. Be ready to share with people you may not want to share with. Because you already are.
  • Conversely, it’s fine to be personal on your blog, but unless your blog is entirely about your personal odyssey, don’t expect everyone who reads it to relate to or deal with you on all the levels you write on. Some people may have enough friends already, and just be interested in your professional comments on how to put ships in bottles.

Being a PR person pitching a blogger:

  • Pitches should never be made by phone without an email requesting a chat first. Phone calls are no longer as acceptable as they were; they are now as intrusive as a foot in the door.
  • PR people should find out if their mark has a blog, and if so, read it. For background, and to make sure the person is not on holiday or in the middle of a gender-change. It’s good to include some reference in the pitch to the fact that the blog has been read but there’s really no need to be smarmy. (“I’m a huge fan of your blog since before you started writing it and your post about how spammers are really annoying was just so spot on I had it tatooed in its entirety on my children’s foreheads.”)
  • A PR/journalist relationship can be as close as lips and teeth, but teeth can bite, and should. (The teeth is the journalist. Please keep up.) A journalist will always, if not today then at some point in the future, write something the PR person doesn’t like about their client, and the PR person needs to be ready for that. So should the journalist. The two can be best buddies, but I find that makes it harder to do one’s job, and be seen to be doing one’s job as a journalist al dente.  So I keep my personal distance. That’s just me. I think it was the BBC’s John Simpson who quoted someone as saying that people should always feel a journalist at the table was a menacing presence. As a journalist you’re not there for the people you’re dining with, you’re there for your readers/viewers.
  • If that’s true of journalists, then I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t also be true of anyone being pitched. The pitchee — whether blogger, opinion shaper, or journalist — represents an opportunity for PR to get their word out. So anyone accepting pitches should have teeth. And be prepared to use them.
  • If you have teeth, you can’t expect — indeed, you wouldn’t want — PR to take your personal life into account. They can be nice about it, but it shouldn’t affect their pitch, and whether they’re nice about it or not, it shouldn’t affect your likelihood to bite. After all, you’re both supposedly on office time, and office rules apply. It doesn’t mean not sharing your personal life, but it means either being ready to have people say “sorry to hear about your cat’s demise, would you be interested in reviewing our new kitty litter?” or leaving out those parts of your life from your blog that may muddy this relationship.

Robert’s overall experience as a mega-blogger is an interesting one in itself, and should be studied in much greater detail. There’s a transparency there that is refreshing and I believe it has influenced the direction of technology blogging, PR, journalism and the whole environment in which technology has evolved. That’s quite a powerful contribution. But I feel we’re still tweaking the edges of this intersection and, perhaps as with many other parts of this new world, we may find the lessons of the old world still apply.

The Bookmarklet

Good list by Steve Rubel of Bookmarklets Every Blogger Should Have:

Here’s a bunch of bookmarklets that I use every day in Firefox. I highly recommend them. To use these, drag each one individually into your Favorites or Links toolbar (in IE), or your bookmarks folder/toolbar in Firefox

Good stuff. What I’d like to find is an extension to the toolbar in Firefox that let me add more bookmarklets (God, I hate that term. Anything ending in -let is ripe for extermination). Anything out there?

Get off my TiddlyTagCloud

For those of you interested in the whole TiddlyWiki thing, Clint Checketts has just pointed me to his new creation: the TiddlyTagCloud – a simple visualization of active tags, which list the existing tags in a TiddlyWiki alphabetical order and displays the more popular tags larger.

And here, just in case you didn’t see it, is a post on TiddlyWikis I made as a guest blogger on the Blog Business Summit ‘05. Thanks, Byron, for inviting me.

Bloggers Care Too Much About Readers, Journalists Not Enough. Right?

Leafing through back issues of Henry Copeland’s Blogads weblog, I was amused to read this:

Speaking of the bloggers versus journalists, I had an interesting conversation with a traditional publisher earlier this afternoon. He’d just spent a few days around a bunch of bloggers. He told me he was fascinated by the fact that bloggers are obsessed with their traffic/readers/feedback, while most traditional journalists are obstinately oblivious to their readers.

That’s a key difference between the two wings of the profession, I’d agree (and interesting that Temple Stark so strongly disagrees, saying in a comment that, “If you and he meant not concerned so much with “numbers” of readers than that would make sense. Otherwise the statement is just boldly and horribly wrong.”). It’s hard to generalize of course, but I’d respectfully refine Henry’s comments a little:

  • Some traditional journalists do not care what their readers think. Indeed, it would be considered a professional lapse to do so, since acknowledging readers’ reactions to stories would compromise one’s integrity. I’m not trying to be funny here, or sarcastic, I think it’s in some ways a sound approach. Do you want to change the way you write a story because of some guy storming into the newsroom to complain about your last one? But of course this is changing.
  • Some journalists write more for their sources than for anything or anyone else (apart from a Pulitzer, but not every story is going to win one). These are the readers that journalists do interact with, and they care deeply about what sources think of their stories. This is also natural, if you consider that sources who don’t like what you write aren’t going to keep talking to you. But it tends to undermine the purity of the first point, and raise the suspicion that some journalistic distance from the average reader has more to do with haughtiness than with a genuine desire to be objective and unfazed by reader opinion.
  • Editors, marketing and publishers care deeply about readers, but they don’t necessarily care about what they think. Readers’ mail is regarded as a miracle, and a sure sign of success, but it doesn’t play as big a role as you might expect in calcuating the net worth of a journalist, a section, a topic or whatever. (Online newspapers are different: they know down to the minutest detail what pieces, columns, sections and topics are popular because they have all the hit data to hand.) By contrast all offline editors have are focus groups, reader surveys and vaguely formed opinions about what readers want to read. Or should read. Or what might win awards. Given that is the view from the top, you can’t really blame journalists for remaining in their ivory tower.

In some ways I’m nostalgic for the idea that journalists remain distant from their readership. It was a great era. Journalists were like priests, sent out into the darkness to bring back some light. (That doesn’t sound right — Ed.) But it’s changing for reasons chronicled better elsewhere. I recall a discussion in the newsroom the other day: Should editors even know when they see page and ad layouts what companies are advertising on what page? Would that not influence an editor’s decision about what story to put on that page? (Big Brother Bank ad next to story about Big Brother Bank ripping off small depositor… etc) These things are not writ in stone, but I can understand some journalists thinking bloggers’ obsession with hits, readers’ feedback etc tends to steer, to a dangerous degree, the content of the blog. Does it, and if so, should it matter?