Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution...
Great bike ride today, unfortunately my Nexus 7 phone went flying and didn't survive. ;-(
I figure this is an omen that I should buy a new unlocked T-Mobile iPhone next Friday, but in the meantime I need a cheap backup I can order from Amazon for next week.
All I need to be able to do with it is make phone calls, check email and use maps.
I'd like to pop the SIM out of the old phone and put it into the new one.
I was glad to have time yesterday to watch a seminar at MIT with Joi Ito and Ethan Zuckerman both of the MIT Media Lab. Ito, who is director of the Media Lab is also on the board of the NY Times, the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. It puts him in a pretty central position to support experimentation in new models for news.
I've known both Joi and Ethan for many years, and consider both friends.
The discussion was how to innovate in news.
Of course I have some ideas about that, and some stories to tell about past experiments that worked, that yielded great results. Here are three of those stories.
I first got into the web during the San Francisco newspaper strike in 1994. It was a moon mission atmosphere. We had to get a website on the air as quickly as possible and flow news from reporters working on the strike paper. We shared technology with the management guys too, who were friends. The net result for me was a very primitive web CMS called AutoWeb. Which led to many other great things, including blogging, a number of years later.
Take-away from that experience -- look for opportunities to make big progress very quickly. News is full of them, because of the nature of news. Something happened and we (collectively) have to scale up a new operation to cover it.
Another great example was the coverage of 9/11. For that one I was in California. Untouched by the terrorism, I was able to take reports from all corners, at first from eye-witnesses, people with digital cameras, and then as the NY-based reporters got to the scene and were themselves out of danger, integrating their reports. By the next day the press had recovered, and they picked up the ball.
Another incredible example of cooperative development was the deal we did with Martin to get the content of the NYT to flow through the then-nascent RSS network. It was based on a personal relationship. You'd have to ask Martin why he trusted me, but he did (maybe it's because I loved his product and he could tell) and we were able to stop all the terrible fighting in the tech business. I think the role the Times played in cleaning up the RSS mess was something that hasn't gotten enough attention. The Times in this case was a user of technology. Moral: Users can be powerful.
Look for moments when the gates are down, when people have to get stuff done, there's no time to object.
The US government is hoping to legislate who is and isn't a journalist. This is serious stuff. They aren't deciding who can and can't get a Pulitzer Prize, instead they're deciding who goes to jail for publishing leaks "without authorization."
It's pretty clear they weren't driven by principle, rather by a goal. The goal was to craft a definition of journalist that would include the NY Times, the Guardian, Propublica, Huffington Post, and their reporters, and exclude Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. The definition might have had a chance of working if not for the carve-out for Assange, who clearly, in every way, deserves the same protection as a professional reporter.
Manning and Snowden are clearly not reporters, they were employees of the government, either directly or indirectly, and were bound legally to keep confidential the information they were trusted with. In both cases, conscience dictated that they release the information, and I think a good shield law would create exceptions that say that Manning and Snowden, while guilty of crimes, should not go to jail. Every day the Snowden leaks prove more value for those of us who want to understand how government, and all the new technology we love, actually work -- never mind the feel-good hype about fighting terrorism and empowering individuals. The people who run the tech companies act more like government officials, with the requisite perks, and we're left with bedtime stories and no security for our own information, with maximum security for those in government, and their collaborators.
Remember who the government is supposed to be serving. In this case they clearly have such a huge conflict of interest that they should be recused from playing any role in making law about who is and isn't a journalist. If given a chance they would say that anyone who leaks on a member of Congress or the executive should go to jail, unless it happens to be a member of Congress or an employee of the executive, of course.
See how crazy this gets.
It gets worse.
We have a highly dysfunctional press, exemplified by reporters who want to debate the character of the leakers, instead of exploring what was revealed by the leaks. In such a world, we should be trying to expand the realm of people empowered to inform us about what our elected representatives are doing with the power we invest in them. Keep them on their toes and looking over their shoulders. Put a little of the fear they put in us in them.
Imho if the government says who's a journalist, under penalty of law, then there will be no journalism.