Howard Owens is a digital media pioneer. He started publishing local news online in 1995 when very few local news outlets had web sites. The header image on the site depicts the film camera he used early in his career and the press pass from his year on the staff of the Carlsbad Journal. For more on Howard's professional background, read his LinkedIn profile.
HowardOwens.com is the personal web site of Howard Owens and covers his range of interests -- political localism and libertarianism, music and personal interests, as well as his professional interests.
Howard is currently publisher of The Batavian and lives in Batavia, N.Y.
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Tag Archives: blogging
In an age when information flows like a million Mississippis, we need to have an ethics about information.
In an age when access to information is as open as a billion galaxies, each individual is responsible for handling information ethically.
In an age when we are all information creators, contributors and consumers, we share a responsibility to each other not to mishandle information.
The information ethic begins with each person who both understands the power of information and the scourge of misinformation.
This is a role not solely for journalists, but journalists as the paid purveyors of information must not slip in adherence to high ethical standard (the ethical burden on journalists has never been greater); this is not a role not solely for bloggers, but bloggers as the vanguard of a new information river, must take on the burden of protecting and cherishing information; mostly, this is a role for all participants in the conversation, both the creators and the followers.
Not all participants will rise to the occasion, increasing the burden on those of use who recognize the responsibility.
The information ethic requires that we strive always for honesty, transparency, accuracy and fairness.
We must teach ethics as well as we practice ethics.
This is the ideal. Not all participants will recognize nor care for even a shadow of the ideal, but those of us who do must hold ourselves to the highest standards of information ethics.
This is no code of conduct we sign, no pledge we take, no oath we swear, no authority we obey. It is just something we do within ourselves.
And if we do, society will be better for it. Continue reading
Yesterday, I thought about doing a piece on the NYT’s link-bait story on the stresses of blogging, but I thought … “I’m busy today. Why bother?” I knew bloggers would be all over it, and of course they are.
But just now, I read the following quote on Romenesko and it gets me fired up anew. My take on the story is that it demonstrates clearly where big-time Journalism has gone astray, and the quote from Larry Dignan confirms it:
I had doubts about the premise. Yes, blogging is stressful. Yes, it can be insane. But is it any worse than being a corporate lawyer? How many of those folks dropped in the last six months? How about mortgage brokers? Hedge fund traders?
Here’s the thing — the Times could have had a very interesting story about big-name bloggers, and aspiring big-time bloggers, and what some of them go through to achieve and maintain success. The Times could have done that with no sensationalism, no heart attacks, no news peg. The story could have just been interesting and informative. That’s news, too.
Instead, the Times tries desperately to pin two deaths to blogging, but then knowing it has over-reached, still tries to weasel out of it.
To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.
That’s not serious journalism. That’s weasel-word journalism. When you have to write a paragraph apologizing for the angle you’re taking on the story, there is something ethically wrong with your approach to the story.
The poorly chosen angle reminds me of NYT’s botched McCain coverage a few weeks back.
It’s shoddy journalism like this that drives people away from newspapers and reminds them of why they distrust us, why they hate us.
I point to TechCrunch all the time — both in this blog and in my public presentations — as an example of a journalistic blog.
It is a blog that breaks news, real news, important news. It is also a blog that is full of opinion. It is also a blog that is winning in the marketplace of readers and revenue.
TechCrunch represents both the present and the future of online journalism, of a reinvented journalism.
Today, Erick Schonfeld, a respected and serious journalist who joined TechCrunch six months ago after his previous employer, the magazine Business 2.0, went out of business, blogs about blogging for TechCrunch.
Working at TechCrunch is a completely different experience. For one thing, I no longer write long-form, narrative journalism. There is not much time for story-telling (except for weekend posts like this one). It is mostly breaking news, reporting facts and providing analysis. At TechCrunch, I am completely focused on blogging, 24/7. With a few exceptions, no single post is very difficult to write (unlike an in-depth magazine article that can require 50 interviews and weeks of travel, for instance). But taken as a whole, blogging is actually harder. That is because the blogging never stops. Just ask my wife and kids, who now mock me by repeating back my new mantra: “I’m almost done, just one more post.”
TechCrunch succeeds because its bloggers do very good journalism — gathering lots of stories, getting them online quickly (if not first), and because its bloggers know what the hell they’re talking about, their commentary is respected.
There is always something else to write about, and not enough time to cover it. But we live or die by how fast we can post after a story breaks, if we can’t break it ourselves. We hardly have time to proofread our posts, as anyone who’s come across one of the frequent typos in TechCrunch knows. Luckily, our readers love to point out our mistakes in comments. They are our copy editors and fact checkers. (We love you guys). Our philosophy is that it is better to get 70 percent of a story up fast and get the basic facts right than to wait another hour (or a day) to get the remaining 30 percent. We can always update the post or do another one as new information comes in. More often than not, putting up partial information is what leads us to the truth—a source contacts us with more details or adds them directly into comments.
Every traditional journalist who reads this post just cringed. I expect angry comments. But this is why traditional journalism is failing — declining readership, declining revenue, declining trust — and blogs are succeeding.
Here’s something from Mindy McAdams:
What some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of subscribers to the print product is decreasing and the number of online visitors is increasing: Make “Web first” the rule, in all cases. Produce for online, write for online, shoot for online, design for online.
If you’re going to produce for online first, start by thinking and acting like a blogger. If you don’t know how to do that, start following TechCrunch. You’ll learn. Continue reading
There’s nothing to this blog thing, right? It’s just a lot of blow hards spouting opinions.
Well, upstart HuffingtonPost.com has surpassed DrudgeReport.com (not a blog, but more of a big media headline aggregator, and so well established now as to be pretty MSM) in traffic, and according to compete.com, is gaining on the Chicago Tribune.
[youtube Ui2IgNYuSOs nolink]
Quote: “If we disappeared tomorrow they (the people who call big media journalism dinosaurs) might have to reinvent something that looks like us.” Continue reading
As newspapers struggle through a recession at a time of media tumult, Stowe Boyd writes:
The Big Band era is coming to an end, and while some oldsters are going to keep on listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, most of us are moving on to rock and roll. Many of the players will find new gigs, experiment with new musical forms, but some won’t. Some will retire, open bars, or find something else to do. Zell and Tierney may have to take their losses and find something else to invest in. David Carr may have to start blogging for the Huffington Post, or run for office.
His comparison with the death of the Big Band era is more apt than he states.
You could say Big Bands were killed by rock and roll, but that would really miss the point (and be at least a decade off the mark). Big Bands were killed as much as anything by hubris, greed and technological efficiency, not to mention changes in society’s musical taste and needs.
The musicians strike of the 1940s opened the door to smaller combos filled with non-union musicians. Not only where these combos more nimble, they were playing new kinds of music (such as country and rhythm and blues), driven by better technology for amplifying their music. By the time the strike ended in 1944, the new musical forms had not yet gained in popular demand, but the trajectory was set. Hank Williams would break through in 1947. Louis Jordan dominated R&B charts from the early 1940s through the end of the decade, setting the stage for the birth of Rock and Roll.
Of course, the oldsters who clung to the golden era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman saw no value in hick or race music. To them, it was all a fad whose time would pass. These wild sounds weren’t polished or sophisticated. This wasn’t quality music. The public would return to its senses and soon demand those big band sounds again. Sort of sounds like journalists attitudes toward bloggers, doesn’t it? (Interestingly, Goodman made a fine switch to small combo music, and he recorded some of the first jazz to feature lead guitar, employing the pioneer Charlie Christian).
Note that music didn’t die with the Big Bands, nor did it really diminish in quality. It fact, some of the greatest music of human history was created in the second half of the 20th Century. The music that came after was, to the discerning ear, no better nor worse than the stuff gathering dust on scratchy 78s. It was just different.
The same will be said of journalism fifty years hence.
For old-time sake, here’s Big Band music at its best: Goodman’s band playing the Louis Prima-penned, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
[youtube 3mJ4dpNal_k nolink]
UPDATE: Ur, um, is this video really “Sing, Sing, Sing”? Nobody’s called me on it, but upon reflection — the “Sing, Sing, Sing” melody is not any part of this performance. What it does have is elements of “Christopher Columbus,” which was incorporated into Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” But “Sing, Sing, Sing” was eight (studio version) to 12 minutes long (the famous “Live at Carnegie Hall” performance, which is without a doubt the single greatest achievement of recorded music history. At least, I say so. More here.
There’s an old saying in computers — I first heard when I was in the Air Force 26 years ago — “crap in, crap out.”
In other words, if you feed a computer gibberish, that’s all you’re going to get back.
Until artificial intelligence really becomes something, CICO will be true.
The same could be said of blogging.
Blogging is only as good as you make it.
There’s a lot of bad bloggers out there. There are bloggers who don’t really have anything to say, but say it anyway. There are bloggers who are more noise than substance, and some how manage to get more attention than they deserve. And there are bloggers who are just plain dumb.
Most of the bad bloggers tend to gravitate toward current affairs blogging.
Unfortunately, political blogs are also the kind of blogs most journalists tend to read. So a lot of journalists have a very low opinion of blogging.
Those of us more immersed in blogging, or who have grown beyond merely the current affairs bloggers, know that there is more to blogging than rants and raves.
Crap in, crap out. You only get out of blogging what you put into Word Press, Blogger or Moveable Type.
Naive as it might be, I haven’t given up hope. I believe journalists can become good bloggers.
Learning to blog really takes turning one simple switch in your head: This isn’t print journalism.
It isn’t the journalism of your cranky old city editor or your sainted j-school prof. Neither of those old farts would approve of blogging in any form, even though blogging is now part of the legitimate media mix.
A lot of people like to say, “a blog is just a tool.” By that, they mean blogging software is just technology for a web-centric content management system.
While there’s some truth to that, the statement also sells blogging short. Blogging is much more than that.
Blogging is a mindset. It’s a way of approaching media communications that is different from traditional media.
Traditional media is really mass media. In mass media, the voice of the reporter is authoritative. It’s one voice speaking to many people, so there isn’t much room for nuance or alternative view points. In fact, you better make sure both the left and the right, the creationist and the evolutionists, the global warmers and the SUV drivers, get heard. You better make sure you get the story right and balanced and present it in a way that says, “this is definitive,” even if it’s not.
That’s why objectivity has been such a strong touch point for journalists over the past hundred years or so. Generally, especially in print, you get one chance to get it right, and your communicating with a blob of an audience, so you better check out whether your mother loves you.
On the web, audiences are more fragmented. People are using personal devices to communicate.
That means, what works best is the conversational voice, a personal point of view, and a mindset that says, “I’m sharing,” rather than, “I’m reporting.”
So-called objectivity is great for print, not so much online. Some snarkiness and observational prose is appropriate online in a way that is not necessarily so in print. In part, because online, our audience can talk back. We want to encourage that.
That’s not to say in print, or even online, there isn’t a place for shoe-leather reporting and traditional modes of storytelling. There is still a place for all the things the blustering managing editors value, because it is still important. It’s important for society and for civic engagement. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do journalism these days.
Too many publishers, or more to the point, the editors and reporters they employ, still see online as just another place to shovel the same journalism they’re doing in print or in broadcast.
Online is different, and blogging is the key that unlocks the kingdom of how online is different. If you can get blogging, you can get online.
It would help newspapers.com tremendously if more reporters and editors would not only start blogging, but learn to do it well.
It’s a fact, blogs help grow audience. Blogs, however, can also help us produce online products that are different from our print product, giving consumers more choices and maybe, just maybe, a reason to make a habit of both print and online.
I say, it’s worth a try, cause the way we’re doing things right now ain’t working out so well.
In case it’s not obvious: There are lots of different kinds of blogging. This post might be an example essay blogging (if I were to be that pompous about it). There’s also link blogging, and commentary blogging, and news blogging. The kind of blogging a journalist might do depends on the situation, the purpose and the goals. The purpose of this post is merely to say — get over your objections to blogging and start exploring how you can use it in your newsroom to grow readership.
For a related post, see Ryan Sholin’s list of example blogs. (And yes, it’s no coincidence the Ryan and I — we work together — are posting nearly simultaneously along such parallel lines. GateHouse Media readers, are you paying attention?)
Some related links from me and elsewhere:
- Journalists should pay attention to successful blogs to understand web journalism
- Journalism has evolved to fit society’s needs and demands
- Scott Karp: Local Link Journalism: Pulling Together The Threads Of Local Blogger Reporting
- Scott Karp: How Link Journalism Could Have Transformed The New York Times Reporting On McCain Ethics
I’m preparing a post on newspaper blogging … it was partly inspired by something Mark Cuban wrote recently, but addressing Cuban’s rant has really more of a sidebar to my main point (I hope to finish that shortly), so I’m spinning it out here:
Newspaper blogging is probably the worst marketing and branding move a newspaper can make. The barriers to entry for bloggers are non existent. There are no editorial standards. There are no accuracy standards. We bloggers can and do write whatever we damn well please. Historically newspapers have set some level of standards that they strived to adhere to. By taking on the branding, standard and posting habits of the blogosphere, newspapers have worked their way down to the least common demoninator of publishing in what appears to be an effort to troll for page views.
CICO (Crap in, Crap out — see my coming post for how this fits). Some newspaper bloggers (most, probably), aren’t very good. But that doesn’t mean newspapers should not hire and promote bloggers. Online isn’t news print. You would think a man of Cuban’s background and blogging prowess would get that. And there is no reason to assume that a newspaper-affiliated blogger would adhere to the low standards Cuban assigns to bloggers. CICO. Newspaper bloggers can and should do better.
Besides that, I can think of several bloggers who demonstrate higher ethical standards than some of the people employed at the New York Times or CNN.
So Cuban sells bloggers short, sadly. And with that said, his space limitation problems are his problem, not the media’s. He has an obligation to accommodate all legimate media, whether the output is to print, broadcast, a vlog or a blog. If he needs to build a bigger locker room to do it, then he should start calling contractors.
Michael Arrington started TechCrunch in June, 2005. It’s now the second most popular blog in the world. According to Compete.com, it is read by at least 900,ooo people per month, but that wouldn’t include the reported 500,000 RSS feed subscribers.
As TechCrunch has risen, Business 2.0 has gone out of business, while CNet and Ziff-Davis have hit financial hard times.
Arrington, when asked about blogs taking page views away from traditional news media, had this to say on Charlie Rose the other night:
It’s a very raw, very quick form of journalism. It’s not editing, it’s not balanced, it’s opinionated. A lot of people really want that.
I read TechCrunch everyday. The blog, now a group blog, breaks a lot of tech news. But every news worthy item contains what some might call opinion. I call it informed insight. Arrington and his team know what the hell they’re talking about and I value and trust their point of view.
TechCrunch has become popular because it is credible. It’s credible to its readers because over time they’ve learned that TechCrunch gets right more than it gets wrong, and it’s never proven itself untruthful, and when they’ve made mistakes, they’ve corrected them quickly. TechCrunch readers don’t look for fair and balanced. They look for relevance and understanding.
Before TechCrunch became a go-to blog for tech news, it had no brand. Arrington, who was pretty much an unknown outside of small circle of Silicon Valley insiders before starting the blog, made it credible; he made it a brand.
The next time some journalist talks about how important their newspaper brand is, think about TechCrunch, which demonstrates that brand isn’t about what you’ve done over the past 100 years — it’s about what you’re doing today.
While talking about journalism and blogging, I need to quote this Romenesko post, because it’s lingered in my mind for several days:
Many bloggers see Josh Marshall‘s Polk Award as vindication of their enterprise, writes Noam Cohen — “that anyone can assume the mantle of reporting on the pressing issues affecting the nation and the world, with the imprimatur of a mainstream media outlet or not.” Marshall says of bloggers: “I think of us as journalists; the medium we work in is blogging. We have kind of broken free of the model of discrete articles that have a beginning and end. Instead, there are an ongoing series of dispatches.”
Many times I’ve written about the need for journalists to blog because I think journalists need to get away from — at least online — from just repurposing what they do in print into the new kind of web journalism.
Web journalism is more raw, more conversational and makes immediacy and relevance more important than crafting the perfect, complete package.
We’ve spent many words recently debating the best way for newspapers to manage user participation, particular comments on stories and forum posts.
Most journalists value quality communication and are distressed to see rants, insults, cursing, lies and innuendo pass for online commentary, especially on their own newspaper.com.
It’s an understandable position.
There are a number of strategies to try an elevate the nature of the discourse on a newspaper.com, such as enforcing real identity, or using a Slashdot/Digg-style reputation system, or pre-screening comments (my least favorite), to outsourcing the entire headache to Topix.
But have you ever stopped to wonder why quality blogs usually have quality discussions?
Consider, for a minute, how quickly a discussion on your newspaper.com would spin out of control if you allowed comments on a story about butts on TV. Now look at the interesting discussion on this Lost Remote post (maybe not the best example I could find of a great conversation, but it is a logical contrast to what might happen on a typical newspaper.com).
Some blogs get more and better reader discussion than others, but you rarely hear any more about bloggers debating whether to disable comments and wondering if this whole commenting thing is really worth it (as you do from some editors).
Sure, blogs use some form of pre-screen (first-time commenters on howardowens.com, for example, go into a moderation queue), but any filters on blog comments these days have more to do with trying to block spam than worries over the content of reader comments.
Why is that?
I would say, primarily because blogs get the close attention of their owners. There is little opportunity for trolls to get a foothold on a well-run blog. Most blog owners apply high standards for the conduct they will allow. They monitor closely. They participate in the conversation. In other words, they are actively engaged and involved. They are owners.
How involved are reporters and editors involved in participation on their web sites?
And until we fix that weak link in our participation strategy, we will continue to struggle with developing the kind of online community our newspaper communities deserve.
Newsrooms need to develop an ownership attitude about participation on their web sites. Only then will the technology solutions really work. There is simply no substitute for real, sustained, dedicated participation in the conversation by editors and reporters. Without it, newspaper sites will continue to struggle to grow and retain audience. Continue reading