March Blogger Meetup: Blogger Small Group Overview, Afterthoughts, A Panda Driving a Car and Errantry

The com­bined blogger/podcasting meet­up last night was the best yet. There were so many peo­ple there that we broke up into three small groups: one for pod­cast­ers, one for blog­gers and one for peo­ple to dis­cuss with Denise Polver­ine [who paid for the beer!] how can incor­po­rate more blog con­tent into their site. I didn’t get a chance to browse the or the pod­cast­ing groups because the blog­ger dis­cus­sion was so live­ly. Hope­ful­ly oth­ers from the oth­er groups will blog about their stuff. I know I’d like to know.


Col­li­sion Bend and Sar­don­ic Views on the group.

Blog Group Overview:

Jay Miller from Crain’s Cleve­land start­ed off the night with the top­ic that would pret­ty much take up the whole evening. He is not a blog­ger him­self, but was here to find out the state of the blog­ger [and/or, +/-, vs.] jour­nal­ist dis­cus­sion.

As I said before, we had a live­ly one. Democ­ra­cy Guy and Vir­tu­al Lori both have jour­nal­ism degrees and Callahan’s Cleve­land Diary is a trig cove on just about any sub­ject. Red Wheel­bar­row, Your Dai­ly Art and Organ­ic Mechan­ic pro­vid­ed a good bal­ance to the dis­cus­sion. Pop Life was there, and anoth­er blog­ger came in a bit lat­er, but I didn’t catch his name. There was also a new blog­ger named Daniel­la, but I fool­ish­ly failed to get her con­tact info [She found me, I’ve spelled her name cor­rect­ly and linked to her blog]. Roll call ends now.

Red Wheel­bar­row offers his own suc­cinct thoughts on our group. Democ­ra­cy Guy, too.

Jay came in want­i­ng to find out if blog­gers are will­ing to adopt some of the jour­nal­is­tic tricks of the trade into their blogs. It seemed that he was con­cerned with ensur­ing that blog­gers report things in such a way that the con­tent is accu­rate enough to avoid get­ting sued. Every­one had strong feel­ings on this mat­ter. It came across, at least to me, that Jay felt as if blogs are slop­py or lazy jour­nal­ism, or that, with no set of guide­lines, the medi­um can’t become a respectable part of The Media. While there is some mer­it to these ideas, and there are sure­ly a large amount of blog­gers who are the web equiv­a­lent of dirty-beard­ed soap­box ranter, our group was of a con­trary opin­ion.

The gen­er­al con­sen­sus of the blog­gers present was that if we aren’t com­fort­able say­ing some­thing on our blog that we wouldn’t say to some­one in per­son, we don’t write about it. Trans­paren­cy was a word brought up time and again. I learned a bit about the jour­nal­is­tic process, some­thing called the invert­ed tri­an­gle method which starts out lay­ing out all the facts, and then nar­rows down to the end by stat­ing the author’s opin­ion. My imme­di­ate reac­tion to this is that the method can often be disin­gen­u­ous. As a some­what typ­i­cal con­sumer of mass media, I have been trained to think that hard news is noth­ing but fact, so “dis­cov­er­ing” that a writer has a bias makes peo­ple bitch and moan about spin. The trans­paren­cy comes in when peo­ple [or blog­gers] say “These are the facts” [with sup­port­ing links] and “This is what I think about that” [with com­ments open for rebut­tal or dis­cus­sion].

The point was then raised that blog­gers have no check upon them. I assume this was more along the lines of edi­to­r­i­al checks for accu­ra­cy than any­thing else, because just about every­one said that [jour­nal­is­tic] blogs are pret­ty much always checked by anoth­er blog with a dis­sent­ing opin­ion. Then Jay men­tioned that peo­ple who read blogs are unlike­ly to search out dis­sent­ing opin­ions. Then some­one else said that it is no dif­fer­ent than a per­son who only reads The New York Times for their news. Hooboy. Live­ly. 🙂

We moved back toward libel ter­ri­to­ry and were tak­ing that into the direc­tion of free speech, mak­ing analo­gies all over the place. Does link­ing to a blog post that lat­er turns out to be false make you an accom­plice in libel? Shot right back was, if I cut out a news­pa­per clip­ping and give it to my friend, and the clip­ping lat­er turns out to be false, is that com­plic­i­ty in libel? The final con­clu­sion before we end­ed seemed to be that the larg­er your audi­ence the more liable you are to be sued for libel. Jay said that he thought that hav­ing a bit more knowl­edge of jour­nal­ism would allow blog­gers to keep their vis­i­bil­i­ty high.

I’m sure I missed some­thing or got some­thing wrong, so feel free to cor­rect me.


I don’t think Jay meant to come across this way, but my back got up almost imme­di­ate­ly when he men­tioned that blog­gers might ben­e­fit from a bet­ter knowl­edge and appli­ca­tion of jour­nal­ism. I am under the impres­sion that he feels that the cur­rent jour­nal­is­tic process is the best one. Blog­gers in some sense are quite counter to that, which is why my hack­les rose at the men­tion of becom­ing more like a jour­nal­ist. To me it smacks of allow­ing your­self to be edit­ed. And while any new method is wor­thy of exam­i­na­tion and new knowl­edge can be noth­ing if not help­ful, I didn’t like the way it came across.

If any­thing, I think blogs pre­vent folks from being just pas­sive con­sumers of news. Read­ing blogs is basi­cal­ly the equiv­a­lent of talk­ing to thou­sands of blokes down the pub and then using your own men­tal fac­ul­ties to syn­the­size it. I’d rather have that, with all its accom­pa­ny­ing blath­er­ers and trolls and slop­pi­ness, than hav­ing to get all of my news, rel­a­tive­ly untouch­able [until blog­gers start work­ing on the case] and accept­ed as gose­pl, from 4 or 5 media con­glom­er­ates.

The libel dis­cus­sion and nascent free speech issues con­tained with­in it, and the men­tion that blogs might fall into obscu­ri­ty if “jour­nal­is­tic integri­ty” is not fol­lowed, just strike me as scare tac­tics, even though the intent might be just the oppo­site.

The blogs falling into obscu­ri­ty if they are inef­fec­tive is a good thing. It is nat­ur­al selec­tion in a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment. If they can’t stand the heat they get burnt. I kind of get the feel­ing that non-blog jour­nal­ism might feel a bit threat­ened by the pos­si­b­li­ty that peo­ple would rather lis­ten to opin­ion­at­ed writ­ing on any­thing under the sun that also allows them to check on the sources, than lis­ten to the faux-objec­tive or ultra-objec­tive dreck that can be found every­where else.

I’ve tried to be a bit con­trary in this post for the hopes of con­tin­u­ing the dis­cus­sion here. So, dis­cuss folks!

A Pan­da Dri­ving a Car:


I could hard­ly sleep last night because I had so many thoughts swirling around in my head as a result of the meet­up. One thing that came to mind is that I don’t like the term “fram­ing” when used in dis­cus­sion. Fram­ing an argu­ment seems to lim­it it imme­di­ate­ly by stuff­ing it into The Box we’re always sup­posed to think out­side of. It binds a top­ic and just think­ing about it in those terms is reduc­tive instead of expan­sive. I like say­ing that you are look­ing through a lens, because then it is both obvi­ous that you are com­ing at the top­ic through a bias [lens­es dis­torty things] but you also allow the top­ic to remain amor­phous and do what it wants.

9 Replies

  • Adam,

    I’ve been think­ing about our con­ver­sa­tion, too.

    I didn’t intend to come off as believ­ing “jour­nal­ism,” what­ev­er that is, is the only true path to enlight­ment. Sor­ry if it seemed that way. Part of what’s easy for me to do, because I do it as a reporter all time, is play devil’s advo­cate, and I was doing that quite a bit last night.

    Reflect­ing since then, I guess what con­cerns me most is that I won­der if blog­gers are pre­pared to sur­vive as the medi­um evolves.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, I think about the issue of audi­ence and that’s where stan­dards of con­tent (be it jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards or some oth­er stan­dard) comes in.

    Part of what jour­nal­ism train­ing does is make you think about your audi­ence and what you need to do to sat­is­fy their needs so they will keep read­ing.

    I think for the long haul blog­gers need to be think­ing about that.


  • I guess deep down I had a feel­ing you were going the DA route.

    Part of what jour­nal­ism train­ing does is make you think about your audi­ence and what you need to do to sat­is­fy their needs so they will keep read­ing.

    I think that state­ment will let me elu­ci­date some­thing that was swim­ming around didn’t not come up for air last evening. In sim­ply “think[ing] about your audi­ence and what you need to do to sat­is­fy their needs” there is no room for the audi­ence to state their needs. In some ways I think the rela­tion­ship between a blog­ger and their audi­ence is much more inti­mate than between a tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ist and their audi­ence. All too often jour­nal­ism comes across as “We know what is best, we know what you want” but the greater inti­ma­cy that a blog­ger has with his audi­ence [most­ly through the use of com­ments and the abil­i­ty to fol­low up on a sub­ject with­out the bound­aries or con­flict­ing con­cerns of a news show or news­pa­per] auto­mat­i­cal­ly makes a blog­ger bet­ter equipped to assess the needs of his/her audi­ence.

    One of the most excit­ing things about blogs is that no one real­ly knows what is going to hap­pen to them as they evolve. So when are you going to start one, and show us all how it’s done? 😉

  • Hel­lo Kur­tiss, good to put a name to the face.

    Your points are strong, but I think there needs to be some way to strike a bal­ance [maybe not in method­ol­o­gy] but in con­tent. [play­ing Devil’s Advo­cate now] The use of RSS allows peo­ple to sub­scribe to very tai­lored inter­ests, but there are things that peo­ple need to hear about, need to dis­cuss, that can only be effec­tive­ly illu­mi­nat­ed using tra­di­tion­al report­ing meth­ods [although per­haps not tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of dis­sem­i­na­tion].

  • First, I was in the oth­er blog­ger cor­ner, so don’t know what Jay’s words or demeanor were. But why should that keep me from com­ment­ing?

    I was sur­prised to see Jay at the meet­up. I assumed he was curi­ous or con­sid­er­ing start­ing a blog of his own. I had no idea he was going to focus a dis­cus­sion cri­tiquing blog­gers, but that’s okay. Blog read­ers prob­a­bly have just as much right to cri­tique as blog writ­ers. Jay is pres­i­dent of the Cleve­land chap­ter of Soci­ety of Pro­fes­sion­al Jour­nal­ists. I hap­pen to be 2nd veep, so have got­ten to know Jay and his writ­ing. Though this won’t give him enough cred­it, he’s pri­mar­i­ly a “busi­ness reporter” in his writ­ing I know. To do well at this, it helps to have a busi­ness ori­en­ta­tion or train­ing. I grew up in a For­tune 500 corp hdqtrs., and I know that the cul­ture that sticks around is the con­ser­v­a­tive biz cul­ture in all the ways you can think of, includ­ing deliv­er­ing what your cus­tomer wants (not nec­es­sar­i­ly what the cus­tomer needs) and the legal lia­bil­i­ty stuff… in a word the cul­ture is: Safe.

    Safe is not free speech and expres­sion. Safe is not rebel­lious. Safe is not usu­al­ly pas­sion­ate. Safe is not walk­ing on thin ice. Safe is not the stuff and moti­va­tion of most blog­gers I know.

    I think it’s clear that the val­ue of Jay shar­ing his view­point with enve­lope-push­ing (or not) blog­gers is that it’s got us think­ing and talk­ing about how and why we do what we do. Ulti­mate­ly, the blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty may reject what Jay says about libel, tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards or what­ev­er — but in our doing so, we have added val­ue to blog­ging, imho.

    Jay, whether you intend­ed or not, thanks for mix­ing it up at our meet­up. Only wish I could have been part of it.

    All the Best,
    Steve FitzGer­ald
    “Lake­wood Life” blog­ger on
    and pub­lish­er

  • I think we’ve got an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion going here and a num­ber of good points have been raised. But I prob­a­bly entered the dis­cus­sion a lit­tle too casu­al­ly and, nat­u­ral­ly, the con­ver­sa­tion fol­lowed a path of its own. As a result a lot of impor­tant stuff didn’t get said that prob­a­bly should have. Most of all we didn’t talk about any eth­i­cal oblig­a­tions a writer — jour­nal­ist, blog­ger or what­ev­er — has to his or her audi­ence.

    Most jour­nal­ists, for exam­ple, believe they have an oblig­a­tion to be as hon­est and fair as pos­si­ble in gath­er­ing and inter­pret­ing infor­ma­tion. We also believe it is impor­tant to exer­cise con­sid­er­able care to avoid errors. From what I heard at the meet­up, many blog­gers find media sources that they believe adhere to those prin­ci­ples. I say that because sev­er­al peo­ple said they don’t do report­ing, they rely on media for that. I think that rela­tion­ship needs to be explored.

    That said, I’d like to reply to some of the com­ments I heard. A few peo­ple seemed annoyed that I sug­gest­ed blog­gers should be aware of the laws of libel and slan­der — they didn’t think that would affect them. Well, a show of hands, please. How many of you, five or eight years ago, expect­ed record com­pa­nies to be chas­ing after Inter­net music down­load­ers? Also, I’m trou­bled by a com­ment above by Kur­tiss Hare. He wrote: “In the future, it should be pos­si­ble to point, click, and cer­ti­fy your web­site , under con­trac­tu­al law, so that your vis­i­tors may be assured of your adher­ence to some degree of well defined integri­ty. This sort of tech­nol­o­gy both enables free speech and pro­vides for a means of reli­a­bil­i­ty in online sto­ry­telling.” I have to dis­agree, he’s turn­ing free speech on its head. We should nev­er encour­age the estab­lish­ment of some orga­ni­za­tion that cer­ti­fies what peo­ple want to write or say.

    And I guess that’s some­thing that jour­nal­ists under­stand about the exer­cise of free speech and free press. Since we don’t want any­body appoint­ed free speech gate­keep­er. So we try to hold our­selves to stan­dards that read­ers can under­stand and rely on.

  • You’re right, ethics is some­thing we didn’t speak about specif­i­cal­ly; I scrounged up a few links on blog­ger ethics. It seems most of them already use the SPJ’s own code as a primer.

    The cost of ethics: Influ­ence ped­dling in the blo­gos­phere is an arti­cle that con­tains many excel­lent links on just about every facet of blogger/journalist ethics. It is also frig­gin long.

    Quoth the arti­cle:
    Most observers agree on one point: Blog­gers and tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ists don’t play by the same rule­book. Con­sid­er the unspar­ing stan­dards set out in the Soci­ety of Pro­fes­sion­al Jour­nal­ists’ Ethics Code, which instructs jour­nal­ists to:

    • Avoid con­flicts of inter­est, real or per­ceived.
    • Remain free of asso­ci­a­tions and activ­i­ties that may com­pro­mise integri­ty or dam­age cred­i­bil­i­ty.
    • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free trav­el and spe­cial treat­ment, and shun sec­ondary employ­ment, polit­i­cal involve­ment, pub­lic office and ser­vice in com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions if they com­pro­mise jour­nal­is­tic integri­ty.
    • Deny favored treat­ment to adver­tis­ers and spe­cial inter­ests and resist their pres­sure to influ­ence news cov­er­age.
    • Be wary of sources offer­ing infor­ma­tion for favors or mon­ey

    Blog­gers some­times act as jour­nal­ists, but they uni­form­ly say they hew to dif­fer­ent stan­dards than pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists. “The idea that there has to be a Chi­nese wall is an indus­tri­al-era notion that doesn’t take into account the cot­tage media era we live in,” said Mitch Rat­cliffe, a vet­er­an tech jour­nal­ist and blog­ger. “When I am blog­ging and I am both pub­lish­er and edi­tor, I’m play­ing by dif­fer­ent rules, and there is, across the blo­gos­phere, an evolv­ing set of mores that will nev­er become hard and fast rules for all blog­gers.”

    While they may not have a rule­book, blog­gers have evolved a loose-knit set of gen­er­al tenets. These prin­ci­ples seem to be wide­ly held:

    • Dis­close, dis­close, dis­close. Transparency—of actions, motives and finan­cial considerations—is the gold­en rule of the blo­gos­phere.
    • Fol­low your pas­sions. Blog about top­ics you care deeply about.
    • Be hon­est. Write what you believe.
    • Trust your read­ers to form their own judg­ments and con­clu­sions.
    • Rep­u­ta­tion is the prin­ci­pal cur­ren­cy of cyber­space. Main­tain your inde­pen­dence and integrity—lost trust is dif­fi­cult to regain.

    Oth­ers have come up with their own for­mu­la­tions. Rebec­ca Blood, author of “The Weblog Hand­book,” iden­ti­fied six prin­ci­ples of blog ethics. And Jonathan Dube of issued a Blog­gers Code of Ethics. But as Rat­cliffe sug­gests, the blogger’s pen­chant for inde­pen­dence means that even these guide­lines may be trumped by an even high­er law: Don’t impose your rules on me.

    …which sums up nice­ly the prob­lem I came up with while in the show­er. Pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists are to do all they can to avoid con­flicts of inter­est. At the same time, they are get­ting paid to do this, which is why they are pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists. Pret­ty much no blog­ger makes their liv­ing from their blog. The pre­scrip­tivist blog­ger code states right out that blog­gers should write about what they care deeply about [which I think pret­ty much every blog­ger fol­lows… Who wants to write about stuff that bores them?], so it seems like blog­ger ethics are less strict. That is where trans­paren­cy comes in.

    For pos­si­ble com­par­i­son:
    Cyber­Jour­nal­ist gives their own adapt­ed ver­sion of the SPJ’s code.

    Soci­ety of Pro­fes­sion­al Jour­nal­ists Code of Ethics

    Now, that is a shit­load of read­ing. I think you might find a much sim­pler ver­sion over on BFD:

    Show up
    Pay atten­tion
    Speak your truth
    Let go of the out­come…

    Jay, you want me to delete those last two lines of you last com­ment? Looks like you were rephras­ing stuff and for­got those were at the bot­tom…

  • I was the guy who came into the con­ver­sa­tion half way through. I must say that the major­i­ty of blogs that I read are in no way sim­i­lar to the prod­uct of tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ism. This is because the con­tent I receive is high­ly tai­lored to suit my par­tic­u­lar inter­ests. No news­pa­per or trade mag­a­zine has been able to come close to the kind of nar­row­cast­ed arti­cles that I read on a dai­ly basis.

    I think that in tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ism, authors were faced with the prob­lem of sat­is­fy­ing their read­ers, because the read­ers had a very lim­it­ed set of media from which to choose, and an ever more crude sys­tem of dis­tin­guish­ing between choic­es. This stems from the fact that jour­nal­ists were in short sup­ply because of the high cost of becom­ing a jour­nal­ist.

    The advent of dis­trib­uted peer media is pulling us out of the “econ­o­my of scarci­ty.” Think­ing that an author must sac­ri­fice any sort of integri­ty, opin­ion, hon­esty, or even dis­hon­esty, to sat­is­fy read­ers is a moldy biprod­uct of old, cen­tral­ized media. Today, there are tech­ni­cal solu­tions allow­ing peo­ple to sub­scribe to what they like. I believe that increas­ing­ly, peo­ple will be drawn to the sort of trans­paren­cy seem­ing­ly present in many blogs. To me, it is pre­cise­ly the dif­fer­ence in the nature of the medi­um that should be an excit­ing prospect for new sto­ry­tellers (be they colum­nists, blog­gers, or pod­cast­ers). I am cer­tain­ly no legal expert, but I can defin­i­tive­ly say that the per­ceived opor­tu­ni­ty cost of releas­ing com­plete dis­cre­tion over my words and hyper­text is much high­er than the prospect of any libelous alle­ga­tion com­ing to fruition. …*and* with any luck, inter­net tech­nol­o­gy will con­tin­ue to evolve such that the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost of pub­lish­ing con­tin­ues to decrease. The future of sto­ry­telling does not lie in the dark age of scarci­ty, where the unnec­es­sary rigid­i­ty of jour­nal­is­tic prac­tice suc­ceeds only in silenc­ing the peo­ple.

  • Per­haps my last sen­tence was mis­lead­ing. As in all art, I think there is much to learn from your pre­de­ce­sors, even across media. Cit­i­zen Kane would not have been so bril­liant if Orson Welles had not already been a mas­ter­ful radio sto­ry­teller. Undoubt­ed­ly, there are good things to be car­ried over from jour­nal­ism and I think there is a com­plex dis­cus­sion to be had in exam­in­ing what those items should be. On the oth­er hand, even the most fun­da­men­tal of prac­tices should be reex­am­ined in the light of a new medium’s prop­er­ties. What a trav­es­ty it would have been for our found­ing fathers to have shaped Amer­i­ca with the same hands that wrought the famil­iar tyran­ny and injus­tice they were try­ing to escape, sim­ply because they couldn’t see past tra­di­tion.

    Phi­los­o­phy aside, I believe there are tech­ni­cal solu­tions to the prob­lems cit­ed by many jour­nal­ists that have not yet had time to devel­op. Lar­ry Lessig’s work with the Cre­ative Com­mons license is a prime exam­ple of such a tech­ni­cal solu­tion. In the future, it should be pos­si­ble to point, click, and cer­ti­fy your web­site , under con­trac­tu­al law, so that your vis­i­tors may be assured of your adher­ence to some degree of well defined integri­ty. This sort of tech­nol­o­gy both enables free speech and pro­vides for a means of reli­a­bil­i­ty in online sto­ry­telling.

    I think there is a gen­er­a­tion, or per­haps a large sub­set there­of, who do not feel the need to hear about tra­di­tion­al news, or real­ly, any news what­so­ev­er, until some­thing like O.J. Simp­son or 9/11 is shoved down their throats. Cer­tain­ly there are issues that affect these indi­vid­u­als more close­ly and reg­u­lar­ly than O.J. Simp­son, and for some, 9/11 as well. Is there any­thing with­in cur­rent jour­nal­is­tic prac­tice that may have incit­ed the exis­tence of such a gen­er­a­tion?

  • Jay is absolute­ly right that no estab­lish­ment should be giv­en the kind of pow­er that a title “free speech gate­keep­er” might incur. My sug­ges­tion was not that an orga­ni­za­tion inter­me­di­ate as to the truth­ful­ness or cor­rect­ness of a sto­ry, but that an orga­ni­za­tion might act as a legal con­duit by which nor­mal peo­ple might be able to make sim­ple cer­ti­fi­ca­tions about their sto­ries. Do you see the dif­fer­ence? Once again, I point to Cre­ative Com­mons as an exam­ple of an orga­ni­za­tion that is already pro­vid­ing a sim­i­lar ser­vice. They are enabling artists to hold a form of copy­right on their works with specif­i­cal­ly defined attri­bu­tions under con­trac­tu­al law. The kind of sys­tem I was speak­ing of would sim­ply be in charge of defin­ing a con­tract, the terms of which would indi­cate the sign­ing party’s intent to pro­vide mate­r­i­al com­pli­ant with a shared list of eth­i­cal prac­tices. The orga­ni­za­tion could pos­si­bly be respon­si­ble for act­ing as a legal wit­ness to the con­tract, in case of dis­pute. Per­haps I’ve made an over­sight, but any con­vinc­ing dia­logue mark­ing the idea as an inver­sion of free speech prin­ci­ples would be read­i­ly received. Trust me 🙂

    As far as the RIAA exam­ple goes, I’m not sure it is an anal­o­gous exten­sion of the sub­ject at hand. I find it hard to make any “bill of rights” argu­ment defend­ing the actions of inter­net pira­cy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got plen­ty of prac­ti­cal and eth­i­cal argu­ments, but none that would stand up as a fun­da­men­tal or uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed human right 😉 I do not con­done com­plete legal naivete on the part of any blog­ger, or cit­i­zen for that mat­ter; rather, I expect com­mon sense. It doesn’t make com­mon sense to me that I should legal­ly be able to down­load music that I might oth­er­wise have to pay for, but it does make com­mon sense that I should legal­ly be able to write artis­ti­cal­ly, expres­sive­ly, and accord­ing to my own def­i­n­i­tion of jour­nal­is­tic ethics when pub­lish­ing online. Of course, this is all assum­ing that I have no com­mer­cial con­nec­tion…

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