Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Money? Prestige? Bring it on. Responsibility? Oh.

Posted by metaphorical on 10 April 2007

The world is starting to take blogging seriously. Maybe it’s time bloggers did too.

The upside of seriousness is having influence and getting paid, two recent for what is, after all, almost a new form of journalism that’s less than a decade old. The downside is that journalism is a serious business that requires, you know, ethics and shit.

Eric Alterman sums up the influence part on the current issue of The Nation.

Back in the pre-Internet days of yore, political punditry was the best job in journalism and one of the best anywhere. You could spout off on anything you wanted, and almost nobody would call you on it, much less find a place to publish and prove you wrong. And once you had established yourself as “credible,” it required little work, save coming up with a few semi-memorable phrases. (George Will’s chef-d’oeuvre was opining that the Reagan Administration “loved commerce more than it loathed Communism.”) With the advent of television talk shows, riches arrived in the form of corporate speaking gigs that paid tens of thousands of dollars an hour just to say the same damn thing you said on television. When Fred Barnes famously pronounced on The McLaughlin Group, “I can speak to almost anything with a lot of authority,” he was right, at least to the degree that he was really saying, “I can speak to almost anything without anyone pointing out how full of shit I usually am.”

The advent of the Internet–particularly the blogosphere–has changed all that. Now, not only are the things pundits say and write preserved for posterity; there are legions of folks who track pundit pronouncements, fact-check their statements and compare them with previous utterances on the same and similar topics. They also demand a degree of transparency about methods of inquiry and the reasoning behind conclusions drawn. While proving pundits wrong–over and over and over–has not yet cost anyone a job, it has contributed to a precipitous decline in pundit prestige.

It’s a short article, well worth reading in full.

There’s starting to be real money in talking up tech, talking down pundits, and all the other things we bloggers love to do. Last week, Business 2.0 handed it out its first blogging bonuses. As reported in Talking Biz News (a blog of course)

Writers at entrepreneur-oriented biz magazine Business 2.0 who started blogging earlier this year recently received their first checks based on how many hits their blogs received in the first three months of the year, said editor Josh Quittner.

Josh QuittnerQuittner, who was in Chapel Hill, N.C., moderating one of the magazine’s panels called “The Next Disrupters,” told Talking Biz News at a reception afterward that the biggest checks were for several thousand dollars. The writers were paid $2.50 for every 1,000 page views their blogs received.

All of Business 2.0’s blogs received 1.3 million page views in March. That’s up from 1 million page views in January, said Quittner.

If you remember, Quittner raised eyebrows in the business journalism community last year when he stated that he was going to require all of his writers to blog on a regular basis — and that he would pay them in addition to their regular salaries based on how many hits their blogs received.

The story is a little unclear about the payments. Quittner said “there were a handful of reporters at the magazine who received checks in the area of $2,000 to $2,500.” But if you do the math, it looks like the magazine handed out about $8,750. The article lists four blogs that “ranked high in page views.”

Four checks in the $2,000 to $2,500 would account for all of the page views, but then were told,

The second tier of bloggers, which includes Quittner, received checks in the “hundreds of dollars,” he said. Further down were bloggers who received checks for less than $100. Each of the writers was allowed to pick the topic of their blog, but those who received small checks also got the suggestion that maybe they needed to pick a new topic, said Quittner.

Anyway, an extra ten grand a year is real money to a full-time journalist. But with real money comes real responsibilities.

Amanda Congdon, a video blogger for ABC News, is one of a number of new media journalists to get paid from each side of the blood-brain barrier that is supposed to separate reporters from the companies they report on. As News.com reported,

there’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on right now in light of revelations that even as she has been producing stories for ABCNews.com, she has also been performing in infomercials for DuPont, one of the largest companies in the world.

Congdon went on to write that ABC had given her approval to do the DuPont spots–in which she touts products like the chemicals that protect firemen from raging heat–but that it didn’t matter anyway because she’s a blogger and “I am not subject to the ‘rules’ traditional journalists have to follow.”

Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? And Congdon isn’t the only new media journalist to believe that. As Greg Sandoval at News.com reported, at the same time Business 2.0 was handing out checks, we learned that

financial news site MarketWatch, owned by The Wall Street Journal parent company Dow Jones, has acknowledged bending the rules for veteran columnist Bambi Francisco.

Last September, Francisco was allowed by her bosses to accept a stake in Vator.tv, a start-up that intends to play matchmaker for other start-ups and venture capitalists by showcasing Web videos of those newcomers.

It’s unclear how large a stake Francisco received in Vator, which is backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. In an interview with CNET News.com, she wouldn’t disclose the size but acknowledged that she didn’t pay anything for her share of the company.

Rather than tell Francisco to play by the same rules as everyone else at The Wall Street Journal,

MarketWatch Editor In Chief David Callaway said he gave Francisco his blessing before she accepted the offer.

Callaway acknowledged that Francisco’s business relationship with Vator is unprecedented at MarketWatch. But when it comes to “solutions,” Callaway said some of the practices adhered to for decades by traditional newspapers, magazines and television newsrooms may not be relevant in the Internet Age.

But why should the rules for blog journalism be different from those that govern traditional newspapers and magazines? We’ve had blog-like opinion and reporting for years. Walter Mossberg’s WSJ column reads like a blog. So do David Pogue’s and David Carr’s in the Times, as do the weekly and semiweekly columns of Friedman, Herbert, Dowd, Rich, and Krugman.

Blogs differ from mainstream journalism mainly because they do more quoting, have links, and take comments. Indeed, comments are the biggest difference—blogs are interactive conversations. Those conversations don’t always go well, and the lastest fiasco, surrounding Kathy Sierra, has led some to propose a “Blogger’s Code of Conduct.”

Item one, Tim O’Reilly recently wrote on his blog, was

1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.

Having talked to both Sierra and and her unwilling poster-boy protagonist Chris Locke, O’Reilly wrote:

we now have one more clear object-lesson on what you get when you start a site that not only tolerates but encourages mean comments: there’s a quick race to the bottom. It seems to me that there’s a big difference between censorship and encouraging and tolerating abuse.

O’Reilly plans to stop “tolerating abuse” on his own blog:

We don’t usually get inflammatory comments on Radar, but in the past, when they’ve occurred, we’ve tended not to delete them, lest we be accused of censorship. But in future, we’re going to adopt a policy of deleting comments that are ad-hominem, insulting, or threatening to any individual. I’d like to see other bloggers do the same. Obviously, there’s a responsibility on the other side for bloggers not to delete comments solely because they express opinions the poster doesn’t agree with.

It’s important to be transparent. If a comment is deleted, it’s likely good practice to say so, and to explain why. (It would be nice to have mechanisms in blogging platforms to show markers for deleted comments, with the reason shown.)

I’ve already done exactly that in one instance on this blog, so I suppose I’ve already voted with my feet. But the issue still seems unsettled to me, and so I’ll return to it in a future post. The interactivity of the Net, and particularly blogs, really is something new, and I suspect the blogverse is going to be discussing how to handle it for some time to come.

3 Responses to “Money? Prestige? Bring it on. Responsibility? Oh.”

  1. Swanny said

    I still vote for the comments being left up to show the posters for who and what they are. Deleting them might make things look and feel nicer but it just sweeps things under the rug. On the other hand, I think that such comments (short of death threats which can never be acceptable anywhere under any circumstances and should immediately be forwarded to law enforcement with the IP address of the commenter and any other information available to the blogger about that person) should be highlighted and discussed when they occur.

    But then, each blog is a function of their owner and reflects their views. I get a little (ok, more than a little) uneasy when people start talking in terms of a “Code of Conduct.” In the end it’s why I decided against using WordPress.com. The more time I spent in the forums, the more I saw a kind of “this is the way things are done” attitude that totally made me run screaming for the hills. I’ll do things however the fuck I like, thanks.

    Hmmm, got a bit off topic there.

    To sum up, Swanny sayeth: death threats – never, other inflammatory comments – leave ’em up and talk about ’em.

  2. tigtog said

    I quite like Teresa Neilsen Hayden’s technique of disemvoweling rather than deleting. It’s a clear mark of moderator disapproval, the comment is easier to skip over than decipher, so it tends to not generate further replies, and it’s retained for posterity nonetheless for those who care to decipher it.

  3. Tigtog, I like that idea. Maybe I’ll try that next time it comes up (hopefully it won’t, but it’s obvious it probably will).

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