DEVIN STEWART: I'm Devin Stewart from the Carnegie Council. Thank you very much for coming.
This is an issue that affects just about everyone. "Cyberethics: The Emerging Codes of Online Conduct" is apparently relevant to a lot of people, so I'm glad everyone could make it today.
We had a warm-up dinner last night. Several issues came up. I will just briefly go over some of them.
One is the sort of Rawlsian issue. The issue of identity, online identity, is that you pick your identity. In a sense, you have more say over who or what you are online. Obviously, your identity in the real world is important, but, as Phil Rosedale of Second Life said at dinner last night, which one is more you, the one you create or the one that you were born into? A thoughtful question.
A second thing is anonymity, and related to that is accountability. How do you keep anonymous people accountable online? One of the things that came up last night was that people put a lot of time and energy and resources into cultivating and developing an identity online, and they have as much tied into that identity so that they need to protect that personality as well. So there is a sense of accountability.
I tend to worry about anonymity. I know that anonymity has its place. But that might be another thing that we might cover today.
A third point, quickly, is news coverage. Cass Sunstein was here recently. He talked about group polarization. Groups tend to polarize online because they find likeminded people and they kind of stick together, like geese. I tried to coin a term called "news polarization." News has also started to narrow because people can find what they want to read. So supply has to meet the demand for a narrow group of issues. For example, the Iraq War, Afghanistan, and U.S. politics dominate American media coverage.
The fourth thing is, are newspapers dying as a result? Is traditional media dying as a result? Are the economics any different from what they were before the Internet? Is the Internet just promulgating something that was already there?
Finally, and this is quite important—Josh Fouts is in the audience, from the Center on Public Diplomacy—there's the idea of how our engagement online affects our public diplomacy and how it affects our democracy, the health of our democracy, and deliberation.
We have a panel from different mediums and different generations—I would say at least four generations. We are going to hear from Mike Getler, Alex Koppelman, Rita King, Jay Rosen, and Steve Clemons.
I just want to say a special thanks to Steve Clemons, who actually came up with this whole project idea about a year ago. He said, "The Carnegie Council would be a great place to start a dialogue on blogger ethics," I think is how he put it. As a result, we have a growing number of institutions signed up to what we call the Ethical Blogger Project and an accompanying blog that was called "a blog of note" by Google. Its name is The Ethical Blogger.
I'm going to start out with Michael Getler, to my left. Michael Getler is the ombudsman for PBS. He was appointed in November 2005, the first ombudsman in PBS history and the first for any major American general-interest television network or service. Mike is going to talk about journalistic integrity for traditional media and how new media is bringing some challenges.
Mike, please take it away. Thank you very much.
MICHAEL GETLER: Thank you very much.
I also spent 35 years with The Washington Post and the Herald Tribune, which is really where I was formed and which will inform my remarks.
I was actually very pleased to be invited to this panel, but I'm a bit unsure about what I can bring to it. Any way you look at me, I'm sort of a dinosaur. I was nurtured on newspapers. I have spent a lifetime with them. I'm still rooting for them, but also very worried about them and even more worried about what happens to us if they don't make it.
I also, however, live on the Web. I write a weekly online column for PBS.org. I have a healthy email exchange with thousands of viewers. In many ways, I also live off the Web, in the sense that I read lots of online commentary, analysis, press criticism, and other things, much of it quite lively, useful, thought-provoking. Indeed, I think the Web commentary often soars beyond that of newspaper op-ed pages and certainly brings more diversity to what would be on those pages.
On the other hand, I'm nowhere near an expert on the Web or on the blogosphere or on the ethics on display or not on display there. Certainly, online publications that I read regularly, such as Slate or Salon, seem highly professional and ethical, aside from being smart and analytically informative and entertaining.
What I don't find on the Web beyond the sites of the major newspapers, wire services, and news magazines is much original, authoritative, verifiable news and investigative reporting of the kind that makes me feel factually and confidently informed. I see nothing that comes close to the amazing daily package of news of all kinds that comes to my door each morning with The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal in the office.
I'm grateful for the work of blogs and bloggers for when they do things such as uncover the fabricated documents used by the Los Angeles Times last week or for cell-phone citizens capturing "macaca" moments when reporters aren't around, and the continually good work that one finds, for example, on Talking Points Memo.
But I'm not a believer, more broadly, in citizen journalism that is somehow going to replace the need for big, serious newspapers. There's no doubt that bloggers and citizens taking on the role of amateur reporters and photographers have at times added importantly to the body of public knowledge. That's a good thing. It should be encouraged. It will certainly expand. But that's not going to produce an alternative to the Los Angeles Times or any other newspapers, or replace the role of hundreds of trained, committed, and experienced reporters and editors working for independent newspapers, with a clear set of published standards, and in pulling together the vast array of vetted, reliable news that we constantly need to inform ourselves, our society, and our democracy.
There is a great deal that can be fairly criticized about the so-called mainstream media. But we are now in the season of journalism prizes and awards, and while that is sometimes a flawed measure of things, it's also a useful reminder of the extraordinary array of good, tough, and hardnosed reporting that is still being carried out in this country by newspapers.
For the past almost eight years, I have served as independent ombudsman, at The Washington Post for five of those years and now into my third at PBS. What I find among thousands of readers and viewers who have contacted me is a demand for news. That is overwhelmingly what they want, along with the sense that there is some daily intelligence guiding the selection and placement of news and helping them to sort it all out from the blizzard of information now available. These consumers can smell bias or spin in a story a mile away. There is someone out there who will catch any mistake. They take historical accuracy very seriously. They have a good sense of fairness. They don't like anonymous sources, but there is some understanding that in certain cases they are unavoidable.
They focus much more on news than on commentary, and they seem to understand the difference. My guess is that the vast majority who contact me are well above 25 years old.
Editors are at the center of what is right and wrong with American journalism. My sense is that not enough attention is paid to them within newsrooms and journalism schools. I'm not talking here just about the top editor, who is usually responsible and quite good, but the whole string of editors that handle a story from start to finish. The reporters get the bylines and become well known, but editors are supposed to be the gatekeepers, to ask questions, to challenge, to check facts and sourcing, to check the clips, to remove bias or language that offends and distracts from the power of the news, to protect readers and viewers from inaccurate information.
If you go back to all of the unfortunate, high-profile failures that have damaged the mainstream press in recent years, from The Washington Post's Janet Cooke story back in 1980 to several New York Times stories with Wen Ho Lee, Jayson Blair, pre-war Iraq, Jack Kelley's stories in USA Today, Dan Rather's 60 Minutes II about Bush's air guard records, you will find that at their root are editing failures, even though reporters are the ones identified with these journalistic calamities.
My point here is that good editing, in my view, is the central but often overlooked or taken-for-granted factor in the transformation from news gathering to presentation to the public in a form in which they have a right to feel confident. The same, I believe, should pertain to online journalism. But part of the online world culture is to sort of get out of the way, to be free of gatekeepers and editors who may seek to alter things or slow down the speed of delivery. But I think editors and editing are central to ultimate online credibility.
As Web-based journalism grows, it seems to me that the canons of traditional, professional, and ethical reporting that we all understand—the journalism of verification—and which can be found in the Associated Press or The New York Times or The Washington Post or the Society of Professional Journalists' style books need to be the basis for Web journalism as well. The obligation here is always to the public, not to the reporter or to the blogger. The loyalty is to the public—the reader, not the writer.
I think it's fair to say that we live in a world in which there is such an information overload, much of it personal and opinion-based, that it can be for many people increasingly difficult to gauge what is true. This in turn fractures any sense of a reasonable starting point for almost any national debate or issue you can think of. Much of this plays into a divide in our society in which people only read, if they read anything, that which tends to affirm their own feelings and beliefs. There is a proliferation of blogs and Web sites that not only are partisan, both on the left and the right, but that frequently express things in the most extreme fashion. That is not particularly fair or accurate and is contributing to the divisiveness of the society.
Tearing down the mainstream media frequently seems to be a goal of some of these operations. But I suspect the objective is not to improve journalism, but to diminish those who threaten their view.
The mainstream media has done a pretty good job of giving itself a black eye, as I mentioned previously. But it remains, in my view, the most important and irreplaceable barrier against an uninformed and vulnerable society, unable to coalesce around important courses of action. Big, serious newspapers and news organizations are the ones that can still afford to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can still keep foreign correspondents posted elsewhere, can support large investigative staffs, can withstand pressures from advertisers and governments, and fight back against legal challenges and intimidations. The Web can't do that, at least not yet.
I have always believed that most people understand that there is a real value in being informed, that you have a leg up, whether you are a carpenter or an engineer, if you know what's happening outside your own circle. So my expectation—or perhaps it's just a hope—is that there remain enough devoted core newspaper readers out there so that circulation declines level off at a point that sustains the continuation of many newspapers for many years.
Of course, this will be in conjunction with the growth of their Web sites. I can only hope, because I don't see any clear paths—nor does anyone else—that the Grahams and Sulzbergers and Zells and McClatchys and also the Murdochs of this world (or, more likely, some young people who work for them) will figure out how to get enough resources out of this combination of print and Web to support all those things I just mentioned.
From a substantive standpoint, it seems to me that many of the print newspapers are making high-quality moves to the Web, with first-class sites and a smart selection of Web-only columns and blogs, and a good use of photos and video links. I personally still prefer the feel and humanity of a newspaper, but these Web sites are good, they are getting better, and newspapers are working hard at further integrating the two platforms and the two staffs.
Still, I don't think there are many signs that young people are engaged with the news of our nation and the world, even on the Web, in any percentage large enough to signal an eventual turnaround. The key, again, is whether news organizations have a prayer of raising enough revenue to support the kind of reporting that has served us, as we have evolved as a nation, for hundreds of years. These Web sites are governed generally by the same editorial and ethical standards as the parent newspaper, but they do little of their own reporting, and I suspect they can't afford the editing needed to monitor the non-staff material.
Finally, there is another hidden factor that is part of the cloud hanging over journalism's future quality, and that is the demand for multiplatform performance by reporters and what that may be doing to the quality and depth of reporting and news analysis. We all know that advertising is down, circulation is down, public confidence is down, profits are down, stock prices are down, staffs are being cut, space is being cut, bureaus are being closed, morale is down.
But what also is happening is that a reporter, for example, who covers the Supreme Court may now be asked to write a story for the Web site soon after a decision is handed down, then perhaps sit for a TV interview or an online chat or blog, and then do his or her story for the next day's paper. Some reporters are actually very good at this, but it reduces reporting time, thinking time, time to leave the office and check with other sources.
So along with the departure of a lot of experienced journalists through the buyouts and layoffs that will happen, what will happen to the depth and quality of reporting in the future is a concern. Of course, we will not know what we are missing.
DEVIN STEWART: Thanks so much, Mike. Mike came to us through the introduction of Jon Gage, who is on our Board, which reminds me to thank Booz Allen. Booz Allen Hamilton's strategy+business magazine, New York University's Center for Global Affairs, and the Lounsbery Foundation made this all possible.
Booz Allen also graciously put several of their new books up there. You might have seen it on your way in. Please take a copy.
I'm going to turn it over to Alex Koppelman. This is a fairly easy transition, but the next one will be more dramatic. From Mike to Alex, we are going from a more traditional type of media to an online magazine with a lot of power. Alex is a staff writer for the online magazine Salon.com. He runs Salon's political blog, War Room.
Alex, take it away. Thank you very much.
ALEX KOPPELMAN: Thank you.
I actually am going to echo Michael a bit in the beginning of my talk here on a couple of points.
The first is that I'm very glad to be here, but I am a little surprised, honestly. I first met Devin a couple of weeks ago at a dinner. We talked about what we do, and he told me, "I'm running this panel on ethics in new media. You should come. You would be interested."
I turned to him and I think I said something like, "Well, that's an easy answer, right? None."
I say that not just to embarrass both of us, but because it's a good starting point for a discussion like this, I think. The assumption that a lot of people come in with is that there are no ethics in new media, that somehow we have unleashed this new world in which these bloggers can say anything they want; they can just make stuff up. And that's true. But I think the problem that old media, especially, is making is confusing the medium with what is being done in the medium.
The problem here is, I think we are focusing more on the ethical problems with new media, when, in fact, the same ethical problems exist in the old media. I think they are more pressing. Bloggers now have a lot of influence. That's undoubtedly true. But they still don't have the influence of a New York Times or a CNN or an MSNBC, any of these old media outlets. The old media outlets, I think, are the more pressing concern. If you look at the economics of this, they are now trying to move into new media, and, as I said, they are confusing the medium with what has been done in the medium.
I'm going to drift away from ethics a little bit, but this all comes together.
What Michael was saying before about the ways in which the economics of moving into new media are having a detrimental effect on old media is very true. You see problems that really come out of this attitude that the old media has toward the Internet. One is, of course, fear. The other is a tendency to look at the Internet and say, "Great, we have this outlet now where we can sell advertising and we can do everything cheaper. We can have journalists who do a blog and do reporting and film a video and do a podcast, and we can pay them the same that we paid them before."
Also what happens is that then journalists my age, who grew up doing this sort of thing, are replacing the older journalists, who are really the institutional memory.
What's also happening is a tendency to say, "It's just the Internet. Don't worry about it," and to publish stories that you might not publish in your print edition or to say, "We paid for this story already. We don't want to run it in the print edition. Just put it on the Internet." I think that sort of attitude contributes to a more lax ethical standard when you are moving into the new media.
The other issue is that there are genuine ethical concerns about new media—bloggers, certainly. Having been a blogger myself for a few months now and having gone from being a traditional reporter for Salon, I'm noticing the changes. I'm the kind of reporter who likes to take four weeks to do a story and know every single detail of it. That just can't happen on a blog, where I have to churn out eight posts a day, ten posts a day, something like that. So there is a tendency to want to push out a post or a story before it's really ready, before, in print, you would go with it.
That's a bad thing, obviously. But you can't focus on it just with the bloggers. I was talking last night about 24-hour cable television as well. It's the same exact thing. You don't know, but you have to say something, so you speculate. That problem exists in both mediums. Again, I think focusing on it in the new media is a problem because, even on my blog on a good day—and it gets quite a bit of traffic—Chris Matthews still has ten times the audience I do.
So if you are looking at what is more detrimental and what we really should be talking about, I still think it's the old media and how they are going to translate into the new.
The other thing is that—what I used to say when people asked me, "How can you read blogs? How can you trust anything they write?" The good thing about blogging initially was, because it is free, because you don't have to run a printing press and you don't have to buy ink by the barrel, anybody could do it. To me, it has always seemed more of a meritocracy. I read certain bloggers because I know I can trust them. Having read them for a long time, I know they have an expertise in something. But when I read, say, a columnist in The New York Times, I'm reading them because The New York Times says, "Trust this person."
Sometimes, I would argue, those people aren't necessarily trustworthy. But you are reading them just because it's a legacy paper. It's what we have grown up reading and thinking we should trust.
The nice thing about the Internet is, you really have an opportunity to go out there and see what you should trust, to make that decision on your own.
I think the problem with the blogosphere is that it's beginning to calcify in the same way. You now have The New York Times of the blogosphere. You now have The Washington Post and the networks of the blogosphere. The same sort of cliquishness, clannishness, whatever you want to call it, is developing in the blogosphere. And that's a problem for journalism on the Internet, I think.
That brings me to the other thing I want to talk about, which is more about the advocacy blogs. There is a separation between blogs that are doing journalism and blogs that are doing advocacy. What I'm going to focus on are blogs on the left. That's not to say that blogs on the right are inherently more ethical; it's just that blogs on the left are the ones I know. Also there is a difference. Blogs on the right—really, their purpose is more of an echo chamber. The left hasn't had the kinds of mechanisms that the right has developed over the past 30 years. The blogosphere has really been this sudden explosion of activism on the left that it hadn't had before—organization activism, all that sort of thing.
The problem with it, as I see it, is that blog readers, at least, have come to expect a certain element of almost revolution. They are on that blog because there was an anger, a sense that certain voices on the left were not being heard, certainly in the run-up to the war in Iraq, during the impeachment of President Clinton. All of a sudden the blogosphere gave people an avenue for this.
The problem is, the bloggers have made it now. Marcos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong are two of the most influential bloggers on the left, especially Marcos, who runs a big blog calledthe Daily Kos. They wrote a book called Crashing the Gates, about, essentially, bloggers and people of a similar ideology taking over the Democratic Party. But Marcos said something very interesting after the book was published. He said, "We said we wanted to crash the gates. We never said we weren't going to come in."
The problem that I think blog readers are going to run into is that they expect this to be a constant revolution and a constant outsider perspective, but you are going to start seeing bloggers on the inside of the Democratic Party very soon. They are already there, to some extent. When Newsweek hired Karl Rove as a conservative contributor, they balanced him out with Marcos. But at some point, you are going to see these people running a presidential campaign. I think the issue is going to be, will the readers trust them anymore? Or will they become the exact same thing they were screaming about ten years before?
That's something that I started thinking about after a personal experience with reporting. A coworker and I reported a story on John Edwards's campaign. This was about a year ago. Two bloggers had become controversial and were fired. We knew we were right. We had very good sources. We knew we were right about it. But the bloggers were invested in making sure that these people didn't lose their jobs. What we found out later was that the bloggers who were then going online and saying, "Don't believe Salon. Salon's story is wrong," knew we were right. But they had their own interests that they had to protect.
Now, I'm not saying this happens all the time. But as they gain more and more influence—especially what I think is going to be interesting is, if a Democrat is elected to the White House, the question then becomes, are you still this activist blogger? Are you still, from the outside, trying to change the Democratic Party and rail against the Republican Party? Or are you there trying to support your now-entrenched power?
I really can't predict how it's going to go. I think the blogs on the left have done a good job so far of resisting the temptation just to be a mouthpiece. But I think as they gain more and more power, that's going to be something that really will bear watching.
That's about all I have to say. Thank you.
DEVIN STEWART: Rita King is next. She's going to talk about identity in the Imagination Age. Specifically, Rita helps companies, major corporations, navigate virtual worlds, the most famous being Second Life, the founder of which joined us last night, which was very exciting. There is a small—what would you call it, a brochure?
RITA KING: If anybody is unfamiliar with what an avatar is or what Second Life, I just made a little brochure, and they are around, so you can see. A lot of people haven't even heard about it before. I will try to give a little bit of explanation before we start. I put postcards up there with the literature so that you can also check the blog if you want. It just explains a little bit more. It's overwhelming to people who haven't ever heard of it before.
I'll start back with 1996, with my first job after college. I graduated from college never having touched a computer. I started to perceive that the Internet was going to become a popular thing and that I ought to take a job figuring out how to use the Internet.
So I got a job at America Online. They tried to make me a tech supporter. Let me tell you, it didn't work out. So I tried to leave, and they said, "We have another job that might interest you."
I said, "What?"
They made me a sort of vulgarity censor, which did interest me. I would say, as a Brooklyn Italian, I took it quite seriously. They asked me to compose a list of vulgarities, and it was like a book. But the novelty wore off very quickly.
The point is, at that point in 1996, if you were creating an identity for yourself, you were lying. You either were or you were not the person you said you were. If you claim to be a doctor and you aren't actually a doctor, that's not creative identity invention; that's lying.
Fast-forward ten-plus years later. I had been working as an investigative reporter for seven years, specifically on the subject of corporations. For example, I worked on a major report going through all the FEMA contracts for post-Katrina corporate profiteering in the Gulf Coast. I started to feel that my job had become complaining about what was going wrong instead of contributing in any kind of productive way toward what could actually make a change in corporate hierarchical structure. I had no idea where to start to remedy that. I knew that I probably had to shift careers.
It just so happens that I have a lunch group that meets monthly. A friend of mine in the group was from IBM, and he said, "You should try investigating something that's more fun."
I said, "Yes, I know, but, unfortunately, they don't often pay you to investigate things that are more fun."
He said, "Have you heard about Second Life?"
I said, "No, I haven't heard about Second Life."
He started describing it to me: "It's a world where you create your own identity and communities develop and there's an economy and people have jobs."
I thought, "Wow."
So I went home thinking I would just download the software, so I could tell him the next month that I had checked it out. I didn't think I would ever go back in again. When I logged in and created my identity, there were people from all over the world logging in at the same time. As they came in, they had avatars that looked very similar to mine, because you start off with a generic avatar. They were speaking all these different languages. I thought, "Wow, this is really amazing. These are people from all over the world."
At this point now my avatar has a translator. I can type in English and it can get translated instantly into ten different languages, so I can actually communicate with people from all over the world that way.
So I gradually started—well, no. I got obsessed with it right away. I stopped everything. My friends and family thought I had lost my mind. It may well be true that I did for a while.
I met a Muslim woman in a Jewish synagogue. This is what got me hooked the first week. She told me that, her entire life, she had wanted to see what happens in a synagogue, but felt that, as a Muslim woman, she would either be persecuted or make people feel uncomfortable.
Then more and more of these things started happening, and I started realizing that Second Life, in particular, is user-created content. There are lots of other platforms, and I'm not an advocate for any particular platform. That was just my initial experience. I have been a blogger; I have been a journalist. I understand the necessity for credible sourcing. But I don't see them as mutually exclusive. I see virtual worlds as a deepening of the evolution that we have seen right here with Michael and Alex. People can now build their own content.
So the woman who built this synagogue and let this Muslim woman in, built it overnight. She learned how to build it and built the entire thing overnight. By the next night they were actually having prayer services in the space. Anyone in the world, in real time, can come to this space.
Once you do that, it's then up to you—as a journalist, when I see something in these spaces, in these communities that develop, I liken it to this. Let's say you have a blog and you have 100 comments on your blog. Those are real people from all over the world. But they can only leave a comment. Second Life is a space where you can create an identity, and if I created the space that you are in, you can actually talk to me about it, in any language, in real time, and get information and then take that information and go back to the Web or take that information and read The Washington Post. Then you are more informed about what's going on in the world.
I simply feel that the medium in which we exist is in constant transformation. We may want to cling to the old way of doing things, but we all know it's not an option in any way in life. So I see this as a deepening process.
I started working with IBM. What I did with IBM was to study the evolution of their virtual universe community and wrote a report that got published, actually, yesterday. They started out with 15 people sitting around a virtual fire pit. China convinced the company, "Let's go in here." Understandably, many of those individuals' managers thought they were just trying to play games at work and weren't interested. But then it evolved. Now I think there almost 6,000 people worldwide in virtual spaces for IBM.
My chief global strategist is Joshua Fouts. He is the world's foremost expert on virtual public diplomacy. So we also work with the British Council. Our focus is the development of a new global culture in the Imagination Age.
As a journalist, I wrote a cover story for The Village Voice about my "sweaty scenes from the life of an AOL censor." I have written about the nuclear industry. I take that background with me and I blog about virtual worlds now. We publish "Dispatches from the Imagination Age." We frequently cite sources from the traditional media, sources from blogs, sites in virtual spaces.
I think, in arguing about how they are different, we miss the fact that they are all interrelated, and they are all just human beings from all over the world who are trying to understand one another's cultures.
The last example that I'll leave you with, as far as anonymity and ethical issues go—we blog about that a lot. In real life, you can't take a Hajj to Mecca if you are not a Muslim. You're not supposed to. There is a virtual Hajj to Mecca in Second Life.
One of the things that we are doing is, we are putting a group of people together and we are taking them on the Hajj to Mecca. Muslim people will lead it. We're not going to lead it. We're going to observe and we're going to interview everyone. We're going to take the same group to a synagogue. We'll take the same group to a Catholic church. We'll throw in some agnostic and atheist stops along the way. But we're going to take the same group of people to radically divergent places, interview all of them about what they learned, the commonalities, all these different things.
The capacity for dialogue in virtual spaces exceeds the capacity for dialogue both on blogs and in traditional media, but it builds on those traditions. I think acting as if they are mutually exclusive undermines the fact that they build on each other and makes people who have been amazing reporters, editors, and publishers in traditional media feel devalued. And they shouldn't, because it's all built on the same thing.
I'll leave you with a final thought: The one problem with the mainstream, corporate-owned media is that it cannot report fairly on corporations. The fact of the matter is, corporations are not inherently evil institutions—they are made of human beings—but because of the relationship between corporations and the media, things have gone horribly, horribly wrong in the world, largely due to that aspect.
Blogging and the creation of communities and spaces and virtual worlds—what it does is, it allows people who live in a specific location, who deal with a specific problem—they don't have to have gone to journalism school. They don't have to understand the journalistic ethics in the same way that a mainstream journalist needs to. We need both.
If you live near a river that's infected with radiation, you don't need to be an experienced journalist to understand that if you put some pictures online and put up some sources, it gives the rest of us an opportunity to do some investigating on our own.
So I think citizen journalism, in a sense, turns us all into investigators. It turns us into cultural investigators. It turns us all into cultural ambassadors. It allows us to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways, with identities that we create, in communities that we create that are based on our passions, not based on our circumstances, the socioeconomic system into which we are born, and, frankly, the crapshoot of genetics, which is not kind to everyone. This allows people who are paraplegic to move their bodies. It allows people who come from cultures that can't relate to see each other in a new way.
I see it as—again, what Alex said—people confusing the medium for the way it's being used. What you hear about virtual spaces in the media is largely just reported by journalists who have no experience in the realm and who dismiss it out of hand.
So I would suggest an open-minded approach to building on traditions and also being open-minded to the fact that new things flower, and that's just the human condition.
DEVIN STEWART: Thank you.
We're going to turn it over to two fairly well-known bloggers, two people who are pioneering in the area of blogging, and thus appropriate for the original title, The Ethical Blogger.
First, Jay Rosen. Jay Rosen is a professor at NYU. He is the author of the blog PressThink. Jay Rosen will be talking about the importance of permanence and, I believe, a little bit about the living Web versus the permanent Web—maybe the stop versus the flow.
Jay, thanks so much for coming.
JAY ROSEN: Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for coming for lunch.
I know why they invited me to this panel. In 2005, I wrote an essay called "Bloggers versus Journalists Is Over." But nobody really listened to me. They kept having this fight.
The "bloggers got no ethics" discussion is one I have had for years, and is completely boring to me. If you force me to have it during the comments, I'll be happy to address it.
I really want to start in a completely different way today. The Web is people. That's what the Web is. If you leave with one idea from this speech, I would hope you would leave with that. The Web is people connected by computers.
Timothy Berners-Lee, the person who designed the World Wide Web—unlike many things in life, the Web has a designer—was interested in solving a problem for people. The problem was that the Internet, which existed at that time, though the Web did not, had a lot of stuff on it that people would find useful, but they couldn't reach it.
Timothy Berners-Lee was a scientist. He knew, as a physicist in Switzerland, that a colleague of his in Berkeley had a really good set of data on his computer, and they were connected by the Internet. But he had absolutely no access to that knowledge because it was in a different system, it was written in a different language, and in order to open it you needed a different protocol. So the fact that their connection existed was completely abstract. It had no actual utility.
Timothy Berners-Lee had a problem, and he realized that a lot of people had this problem. The origins of the World Wide Web had nothing to do with finding a new platform for The Washington Post or a new way for CNN to deliver news or with blogging. It had to do with this problem of how we share what we already have on the Internet. The World Wide Web is a platform where all the information on the Internet can come into a common space, so that everyone who is on the Net can share it, manipulate it, combine their knowledge together, edit, and publish back what they know.
So the origins of the Web are in sharing knowledge, in collaboration, and in making it possible for people to know together what they can't know alone or in isolation. It's very important to remember that, because that potential is there in the Web, and it's up to us to bring it out.
The invention of blogging, which occurred around the summer of 1999, was, from a technical point of view, totally trivial. The advance that blogging software made was, from a geek's point of view, completely uninteresting. It just took sort of a content-management system to the final few steps to make it easy for anybody to publish a page, edit a page, perfect a page on the World Wide Web. "Edit this page" is the essence of what blogging software enables you to do.
This unleashed a new age of freedom, even though it was an extremely modest change. What I mean by a new age of freedom is simply—everybody knows the most famous words ever uttered about freedom of the press: "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press." But the second most famous words ever said were by A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."
Well, blogging meant anyone could own one. It is that fact, that simple fact, that is shattering the media business, because up to that point, Liebling had been right.
So the Web is people, and it's people who are experiencing a vast increase in their freedom. And a lot of people get upset about that.
I study the Web by participating in it. I don't believe in taking the long-distance view. I like to get in there and do it myself, so that I know what it is.
I started blogging when a student of mine said, "Hey, Professor Rosen, do you know about blogging?"
I said, "No."
He said, "You'd really like it. It's up your alley."
I listened to him describe for me what it was. I didn't quite understand it.
He told me, "If you got a link from another blog, a bigger blog, you could have thousands of readers."
I said, "Really? How many thousand?"
He said, "Ten thousand."
I said, "Really? Ten thousand readers?"
I know what 10,000 readers represent. I know how big an audience that is. The more he told me about it, the more interested I got.
I had to walk about six blocks from my class to my office. By the time I got to my office, I was running upstairs to look at my first blog, which was Instapundit.com. I didn't understand it at first, and the reason I didn't understand it is that it just looked like a bunch of sentences kind of disconnected from one another. But each one had a link in it. Until you spend a little time with it and click the links and realize that you are going lots of different places from that one page, it's very hard to understand what it is.
But I spent several hours there, and at the end of those hours, I knew I was going to start my own blog.
In that story is the essence of what I want to tell you about ethics on the Web, the ethic of the link. The link—which is the idea that "you are interested in this, but did you know about that?" or "Here's what I'm saying, but you should see what they're saying," or "You're here, but there's also this over there"—is actually building out the potential of the Web to link people, which is what Timothy Berners-Lee put into it in the first place. So when we link, we are expressing the ethic of the Web, which is to connect people and knowledge. The reason you link doesn't have anything to do with copyright and property. It has to do with the way we make the Web into a web of connections.
That's how we connect knowledge to people.
So when we talk about this stereotypical conflict between bloggers and the mainstream media—by the way, Michael, the only people who worry about whether bloggers are going to replace the news media are people who work in the news media. Nobody else talks about that.
But when we think about it, think about the news industry's reaction to the rise of the Web. When the major news sites built their first Web pages, which was around 1996, they decided to repurpose their content from the print platform and put it online, which certainly makes sense. You paid all the costs already for all the articles and features that you produce for The Washington Post newspaper. Now you have this new way to distribute them: Put them online. You get a new audience, new readers, and maybe you can charge advertisers and make a little money.
In repurposing their content on the Web, which was a rational thing, they made up some rules for themselves. One of their rules was, you don't send people away from your domain. That is, you don't link out from The Washington Post to the rest of the Web, because you're The Washington Post; you have everything. You have national news, international news, local news, car news, sports news—"We have everything; we're The Washington Post. Why would we send you anywhere else?"
So when they decided to give birth to their first Web sites, their sites were actually anti-Web, because they didn't understand the ethic of the link and they didn't accept the ethic of the link. It has taken them a long time to learn the ethic of the link, because The Washington Post is willing to share their knowledge with you, but the whole idea of connecting people to knowledge wherever it is, which is the ethic on the Web, has taken them a while to understand.
So the bloggers were the people who came along who developed the Web first as a tool for informing people. They didn't have these rules. They used it for what it was for. When you are repurposing your content on the Web—the Web is very flexible; it's very generous—if that's what you want to do, you know what it says to you? Okay, no problem. If that's what you want to do, we can do that. Here's a newspaper; put it online.
It was exactly that impulse that prevented them from imagining an online newspaper, which starts not from what you have from a prior platform, but what the Web can do, what its ethic is, how it connects people to knowledge. If we start there with what Timothy Berners-Lee wanted to do, with the problem he was trying to solve, then an ethics of the Web, I think, flows from that.
As a blogger, what I try to do is do everything well all the time and give you way more than you asked for every single time you come to my blog—more knowledge than you thought, more links than you bargained for, more nuance, more depth, more education than you imagined when you clicked that link.
DEVIN STEWART: Quite a job.
Last night I felt at the dinner that everyone wanted to go home and start blogging. People were writing their blog posts while we were eating. It was kind of like a dual-personality thing going on. We had some people sending their avatars over, and it got very crowded.
Josh Fouts, who is up there, is a specialist on public diplomacy. This is a way to introduce Steve Clemons. Steve Clemons publishes The Washington Note. Just this week, Steve was courageous enough to suggest something about Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama—that this fight playing out in the Democratic Party might be good for America's image as a place where there is deliberation about who represents us, who represents the people—and a bloodbath ensued on Steve's blog. There were 99 posts as of this morning, I believe. I'm sure it has increased.
I thought, what a clever thing to say. It's taking domestic politics, showing the soft-power elements here, and mixing a lot of different concepts together.
There is a lot of anger. I don't know who they are, because a lot of them hide behind fake names and different identities.
We also have to thank Steve for launching this project with his idea.
Steve, I'll just turn it over to you. Thanks very much.
STEVE CLEMONS: Thank you very much for having me here. I've been a fan of the Carnegie Council for years. I'm a fan of Jay Rosen.
It's difficult to follow him, because I'm going to be the more cynical one, who comes and talks a little bit about elites and who talks about breaking this up a little bit.
Essentially, my journey in blogging, which isn't meant to be anyone else's journey—one of the great things that Jay said is that it is people, it is connectivity, it is ideas. There are some ideas that are bigger than others, it turns out. The blog turns out to be like anything else, an echo chamber that works for some things and less well for others. But everybody has a shot at moving ideas.
I exist in the world of politics. I'm an inside-the-Beltway guy. Critics of my blog, who scream at me on my blog in the comments section now and then, call me the classical insider guy who has been corrupted by the wine-and-cheese receptions that I love to go to. It is absolutely true, because I love those receptions.
When I launched my blog, my real purpose at the time—I helped launch a somewhat successful think tank called the New America Foundation. We happened to be this past year the most published think tank in op-ed terms, which are important—those 800-word essays help give people an entrée into an idea or a notion (it may be congressional testimony, a book, a whole variety of different things)—the most published think tank in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times last year than any other think tank.
The question is, why wouldn't that be enough? For me, despite that success and the op-ed prima-donna position we could consider ourselves to be in, I found us increasingly less influential, in some ways, moving the kinds of ideas and getting the momentum and the viral nature behind some of the things we wanted to do. I had been executive vice president of the institution for about six and a half years. Basically, we grew beyond 30 or 40 people. You know what that's like, some of you in New York. Your life changes. You have no life, and you don't know what you think anymore.
I finally was able to get some time back and began thinking again. The blog was my way of trying to find my own voice in what I thought about foreign policy and national security questions, which were bothering me, and also what I felt about politics.
Josh Marshall was my best friend. Josh, as some of you know, launched Talking Points Memo and kicked me in the rear for two years to try to get me to do the blog. I didn't know it. I didn't know how to get a blog going or how to get the design. He did it all for me, finally. He said, "Here's your birthday present," and about three and a half years ago, we launched The Washington Note.
Let me walk through a couple of vignettes to sort of tell you the story of what I think is still significant when it comes to some of the ethical dimensions of blogging, in ways you might not have thought of before. They have a particular taint of the political world in which I live.
One of the things that I participate in a lot are blogger conference calls, blogger conference calls with giants. I've had blogger conference calls with Bill Clinton. I've had blogger conference calls with Harry Reid and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Ted Kennedy, et cetera. What you begin to experience on blogger conference calls is a quick seduction. Most people in blogging, particularly political blogging, are very, very young. They are not even like us. I call my best friends in the sort of progressive blogosphere "grunge bloggers," as a compliment.
But you found, early on, people out in Kansas, Washington State, or whatever all of a sudden on the phone with Ted Kennedy, who was thanking them profusely for what they did. And I'm sitting here as a think-tank guy who has a blog that took on John Bolton and won—it was a 21-month battle. Nonetheless, even though there is an activism element to my blog, there is also a knowledge element; there is an analysis element. There is a kind of propriety—maybe my own sense of propriety—about what I think needs to be published.
But journalistically—because my blog does break a lot of news—I feel as if there are certain rules and norms out there, where I don't want to be seen as the apparatus of some other political machine or operation. But too few others had that. So you would have the notion of essentially what we call in Japanese giri, or social obligation, mutual obligation, evolving in these conference calls that really bothered me.
So I decided to test it. Harry Reid, around the time, a year and a half ago, that we had the Jack Abramoff scandal—I asked a question about what was going on with regard to legislation on ethics reform. Harry Reid's response was really interesting. He said, "You know, I just had an unnamed senator"—he used those words, "unnamed senator"—"come talk to me about exactly the same thing." He did this kind of searchlight Nevada approach—"I just had this discussion."
The unnamed senator said, "I want to work across the aisle on some opportunities in this ethics reform."
Reid said that he responded by saying, "I'm not sure that this is the time to work across the aisle. Maybe this is the time to show the difference between how we do it and how they do it."
I wrote this, because it was, as far as I was concerned, an on-the-record conference call. Two things instantly happened.
One, a prominent progressive blogger attacked me, with my name, saying, "Steve Clemons," and then, "WTF?" I will let you gather what that might mean. It essentially was, Steve Clemons was disloyal, showing dirty laundry about this question of profiling potentially—something I hadn't even thought of—Harry Reid's obstructionist politics at that time over the question of ethics reform.
CNN, MSNBC, Fox all called that day. Harry Reid's office called to say, "Yes, we said that, but let's clarify a little bit." By the end of the week, George Stephanopoulos had it on his show, with the blog comment online, with Barak Obama sitting in the chair, saying, "Were you the unnamed senator?" Barak Obama stumbled over it and finally essentially admitted that he was the guy.
This then precipitated huge Democratic pressure on him to withdraw from the efforts with John McCain. That then instigated one of the nastiest letters John McCain has ever written, I think, in the Senate, to Barak Obama.
This story was in The Washington Post last week, with no mention of the blog, Stephanopoulos, or any of the issues. But, in fact, it was a blogger conference call, and this debate about the question of our role in how to manage this came up.
I wrote a post at the time about blogger ethics, particularly in this political world. Are we activists? Are we journalists? Are we part of the political machinery that the FEC [Federal Election Commission] might eventually regulate at some point?
The answer is, we are all of the above. And it requires at least a discussion and an outing of some of these pressures to do it.
I wanted to share that because that was essentially one of my first ventures into this question. There have been lots of others, which are more mundane.
The most traditional question I get, which I think is—I won't call it dumb, because some of you may have that question—what if a blogger says or does something wrong?
Blogging, serious blogging, blogging with big traffic, is the most self-correcting mechanism in the world. You can't just go create a scandal.
Now, there are blogs that are increasingly tabloid-like. But they become known as tabloid-like and, frankly, then they are considered somewhat disqualified in the marketplace of seriousness.
I made a mistake once. I had one of the most followed blogs during the Patrick Fitzgerald efforts against Scooter Libby, because I had one of the few somewhat dependable sources in the realm of a place that did not leak. I followed journalistic rules. I had two really good sources tell me a real sexy, juicy story: That Fitzgerald was going to expand his office space. Nobody knew whether the indictments were coming down. I had a commercial broker call me and then I had somebody who happened to be in the same building where Fitzgerald's office was—"hey, did you know?" This came in at the same time.
To tell you the truth, both of my sources went bad after I had written the story. I had CNN and everyone calling and wanting more on the sources. Journalists are lazy—excuse me, some journalists are lazy, and they want your sources. They don't want to go out and find the same path.
But I had to retract that story. It ended up being true. This was one of the great things. I had to retract it because my two sources eventually went soft. I acknowledged that, which is exactly what you must do, I think, in serious journalism if you want to be taken seriously. Then it turned out, in fact, that it was a true story, which was sort of a bummer.
But in any case, there are these kinds of things that happen.
But if I get something technically wrong, if I misspell a word, if I get a reference wrong, I will have ten posts on the blog, but then I'll get 100 emails instantly correcting it, with the level of traffic.
So there is a huge amount of seriousness. Occasionally it's fascinating. I wrote a post once called "A Soldier's Story." I sat on a plane coming back from the Middle East, next to a guy who did not want to talk to me. He was a young, clearly enlisted-level person in the Army—shaved head, a Hispanic guy, who was wonderful. But he just didn't want to talk. I wanted to know what it was like over there in Iraq, and he was over there. When I finally got him to talk, he couldn't stop.
I told his story as best I could remember it. I told him I was going to write some of this down. I took his name and stuff. But it basically was his story. I didn't try to make it more. It got 500, 600 posts on it right away, a lot of them from military people wanting to dispute some of the issues. He was at Tora Bora.
One of the most interesting things that came out of this was that he was telling me about a field DNA checker, a sort of pole with a little contraption on the end of it that they would stick in the dirt, into bodies that they found. Essentially, as I understood it, we had Bin Laden's DNA, and you were able to do field instant checking, which technically was not supposed to be able to be done.
So I wrote about this. Everybody said, "This is a lie. This is a self-promoter." But if you had been there, you would have realized that this wasn't a self-promoter. It turns out that this was a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) project, and now they have such things. They are complicated. But it was one of these things that came out.
But the discussion became very interesting. What I realized at the time—and these are the lessons I've learned from blogging—is that the mainstream media is extremely important. I'm totally with Mike on this. But also there is an element of a cartel-like behavior. Op-ed editors are, themselves, fortress protectors. If you think about it as I do—as a think tank, I try to seduce the political system to think like we do on various fronts—it's a cartel that, frankly, is dominated by franchises of people, where most of the real estate has already been given out in pre-done deals, so the space that we have to compete to get is rather small. It creates a vicious competition to get it.
Serious blogging, as I tried to do with John Bolton, raises issues. The John Bolton battle was important for me. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has done this, in the attorney-firing scandal, with Trent Lott in the firing scandal, with Social Security privatization. It is, can you own an issue to such a degree that you bring the world to you, that they can't tell the story without your work?
I could write the reasons that I thought John Bolton—if any of you are related to him, my apologies. I don't presume people's politics. But John Bolton—I treat him civilly in all this—to me, he was modern Jesse Helmsism brought back as a face of pugnacious nationalism. The representation of it, the rise of that, was antithetical to the kind of principled American engagement in global affairs that I felt was important.
The reason that is important is, I could have written that op-ed for Salon or the International Herald Tribune or The New York Times maybe two or three times. I probably had 700 to 800 op-eds and countless numbers of articles that were influenced by the blog. It became the watering hole that anyone writing about Bolton and gathering serious information had to go to.
So the blogs become cartel breakers. They can bring many, many more people into a discussion. This creates new patterns of interaction. I do believe that blogs are connecting people, but I'm not trying to reach everyone. I happen to have huge traffic. But that traffic matters less to me than the fact that I have everyone in the State Department reading the blog or it's one of the most-read blogs in Congress among Hill staffers. I'm actually trying to move policy and move people who are doing policy.
While there is a grassroots element to many blogs, that's Marcos's game; that's not my game. I am really trying to move elites and I'm trying to let some elites know that if they don't move in certain ways or if they engage in behavior that maybe The New York Times might not focus on, but the blog might, they will pay a political price, to some degree, of some sort.
Just to bring this to a close—because we want to definitely have questions—the other thing to think about blogs is important, particularly if you have young people. The best big, successful blogs—there are tons of blogs, but in the political area, it's very interesting. You see academics, Hollywood screenplay writers, journalists, policy intellectuals out blogging.
All of them are knowledge workers. All of them have been writers in other forums. All of them are frustrated with their other forums. I'm frustrated with the restrictions of a think tank. So they are basically moving into these different worlds. But they have a facility with language and conceptual frameworks that is translating into this media. And even though you have something like 40 million or 50 million blogs, those that tend to get the traffic also tend to be these knowledge workers. So this doesn't diminish the need for critical thinking and writing and communication, and actually, I think, creates a new echo and underscores the importance of it.
Let me leave it there. Hopefully, that will give some insight into these questions of blogging and some degree of the political/ethical questions involved. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
DEVIN STEWART: Thank you very much. We have about 20 minutes to take a few questions.
Just a couple of caveats here.
First of all, you might wonder, is this panel liberal or too left? I don't know if you think that or not. Just out of fairness, I did actually invite a very well-known, extremely conservative blogger on here, David Frum. He's traveling. He wrote an excellent piece in The National Interest recently about the fight that Alex mentioned. He is traveling. It would have been nice to have him here. He's welcome to come and join the conversation.
Steve's story on the airplane about the guy coming back from the Middle East reminded me of an important community to mention, the milbloggers [military bloggers]. The Watson Institute, Brown University—James Der Derian, who heads up the Watson Institute, helped us launch this project. The way we launched it was at an enormous event with bloggers and filmmakers and all types of interesting people, and a lot of military bloggers, in Providence, Rhode Island.
One of the themes there that everyone mentioned, and that I think is important to mention, is that it's important to ask people when they are coming back from their experiences about what they saw and to get them to open up, as Steve said. It's very important. People might resist at first, but I think it's important, as citizens, that we try our best.
I would like to open it up to the panel, if there are any intra-panel comments.
JAY ROSEN: I would underline something that Steve said, which is that information has been decontrolled through the rise of bloggers, because people who in the past would have had to speak through the press can speak directly themselves. That's part of what you are talking about. Policy intellectuals, experts, the people who have always been sources are increasingly publishers. They can be publishers based on their own sense of ethics, their own sense of a project, their own sense of what they want to accomplish.
It is definitely the frustration with institutional forums of speech that is leading that. I got tired of passing my ideas about journalism through the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review and the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times. While I had mastered those forums and they were available to me, I didn't like telescoping everything I had to say into their idea of what a press controversy is, because it was just too limited.
By starting my own site, I am able, using the resources of the Web, to reach the very same people I would have reached through the Columbia Journalism Review about ideas that the Columbia Journalism Review wouldn't countenance for a second. It is just that that drives my interest in blogging—it is freedom of expression—when you are an institutional actor working within institutional forums.
MICHAEL GETLER: I wanted to say one thing. The phrase "corporate-owned media" is a handy cliché which needs to be understood. It is clear that the major commercial television networks have become owned by conglomerates, and the ownership has nothing to do with news, even though NBC, ABC, CBS are all owned by conglomerates now.
But the major newspapers of this country that are responsible for the vast amount of groundbreaking coverage, foreign correspondence—anything you can think of—are family-owned newspapers. They are not corporate newspapers. They are owned by the Graham family, the Sulzberger family; the Los Angeles Times used to be owned by the Chandler family; The Wall Street Journal was also family-owned until Mr. Murdoch bought it.
Those papers are different. They are at the center of American journalism. They all were families that obviously wanted to make money—they are in business to make money—but they all had a sense of public good, public interest. They were all isolated, to a degree that other corporations are not, from the pressures of Wall Street, from the demand for higher quarterly profits forever. Those are the newspapers that are at the center of American journalism and that are also now threatened.
But they are different. You need to understand that. It's not the Gannetts of the world or the Disneys of the world. These are different organizations. To me, what are at risk are newspapers of this quality and caliber, which, in effect, set the agenda for television and set the agenda for much that is on the Web for discussion purposes. They are at risk. I think that's a real danger, not because of profits or anything like that, but just in terms of the amount of information that can be put together in a package every day.
So "corporate-owned media" is a term that applies in some cases and does not apply in others.
RITA KING: I think that's absolutely true. Having spent seven years working for small weekly papers that were family-owned and one that was owned by a corporation—a couple of things.
One, I think if they are in danger, it's primarily because they haven't adapted quickly enough to how to preserve themselves with the new media. That would be my first argument.
My second argument—I understand completely that every situation is different, and I shouldn't generalize. But a situation that I was in, and one of the things that precipitated my departure from journalism toward blogging, was when I was working for a family-owned newspaper in Westchester County.
I was an investigative reporter on the nuclear industry, which led me to start discovering links between depleted uranium in Iraq and the nuclear industry. I wrote an article. I interviewed nine soldiers who came back to sue the U.S. government because they believed they were exposed to depleted uranium in Iraq. I posted the article online, on my blog, because the Westchester paper had a limited readership, and I thought it was important to post the story.
The newspaper basically had their attorneys tell me that I had to immediately remove the content from my blog, for all these copyright issues and everything else. They were threatening to sue me. I stopped working for the paper, because I realized that it was sort of the combat between the old way and the new way.
Sometimes, as a journalist, you have to make a choice; sometimes you don't. In my case, I just made a choice to not—as Jay and Steve and a lot of people here are saying, at a certain point you want to have responsibility for your own content. There is a lot of responsibility that comes along with that. I think that's part of what we are talking about today, the ethics or responsibility.
ALEX KOPPELMAN: I just want to make a quick comment about citizen journalism. It's sort of fitting that I'm sitting in between these two people right here, because I come down in the middle.
I think what Rita was saying about citizen journalism is absolutely true. I'm a big fan of it. I work also as a contributing editor for a magazine called SMITH: "Everyone has a story." What's great about the idea of that is that everyone has this story, but now that we are in the Internet age, everyone can tell that story. So what we try to do is say, "Who cares about the Google CEO? Everybody interviews him. Let's talk to the guy who changes the logo for every holiday and find out what his story is."
But, while citizen journalism is a great thing, the danger is that—in some ways, what Jay was talking about—with newspapers not understanding what the Internet is about, the response a lot of times is just co-opt: Everybody else is doing citizen journalism, so let's now do it, too.
But that's not what old media should be doing. There are reasons why we don't just hand over the paper to anybody off the street. It's not that journalism is so hard to do. It's not that any of us are uniquely brilliant or capable or anything like that. If I can do it, you can do it. But there are reasons that we do things the way we do and there are reasons that CNN doesn't just hand the camera to somebody off the street and say, "Hey, go cover Katrina for us." But they are now saying to people, "Hey, if you have a camera and you're in Katrina, cover it for us."
It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, both in terms of the ethics, in terms of the actual coverage, and in terms of what old media should be doing, which is focusing on all the things they do really well.
QUESTION: There are a couple of things that I would be interested in hearing your reactions to.
One, we know generally that revolutions don't destroy; they repurpose. Television didn't destroy radio. It changed it from a broadcast medium to a narrowcast medium. You can see that in a lot of circumstances. I would be interested in how you think about changing ethical issues, not in a context where an Ancien Régime of standards and quality is being destroyed by a Wild West, but where a broader context is establishing a different frame of reference for those established institutions. The need for that editor, I think, as you were saying, Mike, is really important, the continuing need for editorial judgment.
But how does it operate in a context where it no longer has access to the same institutional power that it used to have, where the economics and the broader frame of reference and the challenges that come in from other points of view—what are the ethical or quality issues involved when that context changes?
MICHAEL GETLER: I don't know the detailed answer to that. For example, washingtonpost.com has the same ethical standards as The Washington Post. On the other hand, money is at the root of a lot of these things. The real crisis in newspapers is not that people are moving to the Web, because they want to move to the Web also. They are adjusting—perhaps not creatively enough, but that's what they are doing.
But the Web, as people move to it, is producing a very small fraction of the amount of revenue that The Washington Post, the print newspaper, derives. The Washington Post print newspaper, even though it's having problems, still gets eight, nine times the revenue that the Web site does. The Washington Post newspaper is the one that supports all of the reporting. All of that reporting goes on the Web. If the Web had to pay its own way, it would have three reporters and a videographer someplace.
The problem is, then, that, while they say, "We have the same ethics as the newspaper. We have the same dedication to editing," they don't really have enough people. You have to wind up putting more and more people into a Web site, which you can't really afford.
QUESTIONER: But one way or another, the people you are talking about, Web or print journalists, are still employees of The Washington Post Company.
MICHAEL GETLER: Right.
QUESTIONER: What about the readers of The Washington Post, as speakers? In other words, the context that is being described here is one of conversation rather than publisher and audience.
JAY ROSEN: May I address that? Dan Gillmor, who was the first columnist for a major newspaper who started his blog, began to blog about Silicon Valley, which was his beat for the San José Mercury News. When he did this, he discovered something really, really important. Here's the way he put it: "My readers know more than I do."
"My readers know more than I do." You can see how a well-connected blogger in Silicon Valley would say that, because lots of people know about deals he has no inkling of. Lots of people know about technologies that he hasn't mastered. Lots of people know about developments that he can't track himself. Because they have the Internet, they can easily reach him with this knowledge.
People always knew more than a beat reporter. That was always true. But now it's relevant because that knowledge is available.
Moreover, in the old system of reporter and sources, reporters always had sources; those sources always knew lots of stuff. But the sources didn't have connections to one another. In fact, if you were at a party with a reporter and there were two people who were sources for that reporter, they wouldn't even know it, and it would be funny if they discovered it. But today the same lines that connect sources to reporters connect sources to each other.
This is part of a larger thing which is transforming our world, and that is the falling costs for people with the same knowledge and interests to find each other, share information, and collaborate on the Net.
The question you are raising is, how do traditional journalists recruit into their work the benefits of "My readers know more than I do and are connected to me"? That is the issue for The Washington Post and that is the issue for The New York Times.
However, in order to understand why that's really, really important to a traditional journalist, you have to understand the Web. You have to have more literacy than the people in those organizations have. So they are having trouble adjusting to these new facts.
What is a blog? I said the Web is people. If the Web is people, what is a blog? It's a bunch of people in the same knowledge field and interests aura that are all reading and learning different stuff. The really good Web organizations, like Talking Points Memo and like your blog, Steve, have mastered inflow of information from readers, filtering and processing and packaging that and sending it back out, to cause more inflow. That's what they are. That's what they are good at. That's what Talking Points Memo is. It's a synthesizing machine for information coming in, packaging it, and putting it out.
That's the challenge for people in traditional media. The most difficult thing is not technology, it's not money; it's actually emotional and personal. It's admitting, "My readers know more than I do."
MICHAEL GETLER: I think that's really overstated. Beat reporters, experienced reporters, know a hell of a lot. There is no question about it. If you cover science, if you cover politics—
JAY ROSEN: Who said they didn't?
MICHAEL GETLER: Wait a minute. You are saying everybody out there knows as much as or more than the reporters. And that's not true.
JAY ROSEN: In the aggregate, my readers know more than I do, Michael. You wouldn't deny that.
MICHAEL GETLER: You didn't say in the aggregate.
JAY ROSEN: That's what the idea means. In the aggregate—
MICHAEL GETLER: Reporters know a great deal if they have been covering a beat.
JAY ROSEN: Again, who said they didn't?
MICHAEL GETLER: They know enough to ask the right questions.
JAY ROSEN: Who said they didn't?
MICHAEL GETLER: And they are very, very useful to the vast number of people who read that. Now, in an audience, there are always people who know if you have made a mistake. They may know a little bit more than you do. They may know a lot more than you. There are plenty of ways for them to contact you. I hear that all the time from PBS viewers, who watch a beautifully produced documentary and say, "Hey, you got something wrong." And they are right.
STEVE CLEMONS: Just so we can get some other questions in, I just want to intervene with one thing I was trying to say before. What matters is not that one medium is going to kill the other medium or displace it. What matters is the importance of trends as they are now. I own Xerox stock and I own Google stock. My Xerox stock has been at $17 a share for about a decade. My Google stock is based on the promise of what people think it will be tomorrow, not on what assets it has today.
When you look at trends, it shows very clearly that this new medium is generating possibilities. I think we haven't quite figured out what it means. For instance, I watch the blogging community. In the case of my own blog or Josh's blog and one or two other blogs, they do something that's not characteristic of the blogging community. It's one of the reasons we are asked to speak frequently. We have made political impacts in ways that, frankly, we shouldn't be able to. From a governance and ethics perspective, a single blog should not be able to take down a guy or create a movement.
It sounds neat, on one level. We ought to all be worried about it, on another. As it becomes more practiced, actually the uniqueness of that exercise diminishes.
But I think what is fundamentally clear, whether we want to accept it or not, is that, while there are the Serge Kovaleskis, who are fantastic, and the David Ignatiuses and the Helene Coopers and various people out there who are brilliant, the old press engines, as they were, are increasingly homogenized, increasingly under pressure to sort of look alike and be alike, and their failing to diversify their product in the space out there is what has allowed a lot of us to creep in. It is a synergistic story. There are parts of it that are there. It's not like one will vanquish the other.
All of the trends today—take China. China is an economy about the size of Belgium today. Maybe that's an overstatement. I guess Russia is the size of Belgium. China is bigger. But it's not what it is today that matters; it's the promise of what it looks like tomorrow, versus Japan, which is huge—yet sold out.
That's what happening between the blogging world, the new media world, and what's happening with traditional media.
Yes, it has assets. Yes, it has great reporters. That's not enough. That's not where the trends are.
DEVIN STEWART: Steve, thank you very much.
Actually, we have time for one question. We have one right here.
QUESTION: You put me on a spot with the one question.
This is all very exciting stuff. But I keep thinking about a piece Kristof wrote in the Times yesterday. It was called something like "If We Only Had More Brains," talking about people believing conspiracy theories, that a third of the country thinks the government was involved in 9/11, in order to generate an excuse to go to war in Iraq, and things like that.
A lot of the stuff that is being discussed here is conversations among, say, the top of the pyramid—explicitly, in Steve's case, and in other cases, also trying to get more people involved in actively thinking through political, social, economic issues.
But there is this problem. How do you reach down more—everybody in this country wants to, and probably soon will, own a computer, in the Internet. But will they be just soaking up more conspiracy theories or will they be learning to think critically?
RITA KING: I just want to say quickly, when I mentioned the virtual Hajj to Mecca before, there was a man from North Caucasus at this "sim," which is a property in Second Life, at the virtual Hajj. We got into a rather heated conversation. I asked about ishtihad, which is the critical thought component of Islam. He thought I said "jihad." He got very upset. We had a big back-and-forth conversation. In Second Life, you can offer friendship to people and they accept or decline. He kept declining when I offered friendship.
When he got upset about the jihad, which was not the comment that I made, I said, "You know what? Why don't you go back through and reread the text." We had had a conversation in text. He reread it and he humbly apologized for the fact that he had misunderstood what I said, and I apologized to him for minimizing the language barrier between us. Then I offered him friendship again and he took it.
My point, when I say "new media" and "new new media," is, as far as reaching out to people, these are people you can't predict that you would meet. You just kind of encounter them and meet them, and then these cultural interfaces happen. My entire focus is on that process. I'm not trying to reach a specific audience. I'm trying to see where this goes culturally.
That answers partly why this is different, I think, than trying to reach a specific audience. Who is this guy? I don't know.
MICHAEL GETLER: I think it's different because I don't think that large, serious news organizations have propagated the 9/11 conspiracy theories. On the other hand, the media environment in this country is huge and complex. It is filled with talk radio, which does talk about these things. It's filled with cable television that's 24/7 that doesn't want to hire journalists, but hires commentators, who are much cheaper. It's commentary. It's not news; it's commentary. America is filled with commentary. The lines are blurred between news and commentary. People trust somebody on the radio, and that becomes news to them. But it's really analysis, their own analysis, commentary.
That stuff has a huge ability to propagate through this country, which, in my opinion, makes the mainstream media ever more important and ever more at risk, because they are a counter to that. They are a balance to that. They try to report news factually, verifiably, affirm news. We live in an environment which allows that kind of stuff to have a very wide audience.
DEVIN STEWART: I would like to take this opportunity to wrap up and allow the panelists to contribute some final comments. If there is any sort of future aspect to your comments, to integrate—does anything need to be done to help out the ethical component of the Internet or codes of conduct, or will it sort of work out itself? What do you see in the future? Any comments?
STEVE CLEMONS: I fear regulation in the political realm. I don't want regulation in the political realm, because I fear that there are some unanticipated crises ahead, which I have written a little bit about now and then, just within the realm of free expression within the political sphere of how to do it. I'm a believer in best practices. We haven't had enough time to discuss those.
But I do believe—Jay made this comment—when you get into Jay's blog and you are clicking all these other links, it's not Jay's job to battle those who believe in conspiracy theories. In fact, I just sort of look at that as part of life. Conspiracy theories are a big part of the Middle East. I sort of say, work with it. I try to be provocative in my own thinking.
I look at notions of corruption, for instance. I'm interested in development in other countries. We have this ethic of anticorruption in American developmental thinking, which I think is stupid, because when you don't have markets and you don't have easy weights for things, you can make corruption your friend, in a way, to move people and institutions and whatnot, and then eventually create other practices.
The big issue here is not to be holier than thou and try to affix on the incredibly rich and changing and innovative and dynamic and convulsive medium rules. But there are certain areas where there is a social contract for responsibility. I think it's important for people to try to figure out and negotiate and talk about, more importantly than regulate, what responsible behavior is.
In conclusion, maybe I am an elitist and like those parties. I sort of position my blog to be the West Wing-meets-Melrose Place sort of blog, and to give people access into these insider deals that are going on. But fundamentally, in my case, I have made a decision not to talk to people who are engaged in conspiracy theory-type thinking, as a class of reader. I'm trying to talk to people who are sophisticated. I don't talk down to them and I don't bandwagon with hype and momentum here. I try to make my blog serious. I think you are seeing that norm develop more and more, which I think is a healthy thing.
So I wouldn't get lost in the frame you have, because I don't think that's where the trend is going.
JAY ROSEN: If you go to my blog right now, you will see that I have a post up there where I'm arguing with the liberal blogosphere over whether it should declare war against the mainstream media. I'm taking an anti-war position and they have the pro-war position. I'm going to lose, for sure, in the immediate conversation, because a lot of people are very emotional about it.
In a way, it's a response to your question. I try to slow things down on the Internet and say, "Well, let's look at this." I try to lengthen the interval that you are thinking about it, so that you can't get away with an easy response. I try to say to you, "Wait a minute, this is really complicated, but we can understand it. Let me explain it to you."
There are a lot of people, actually, in this conversation. At my blog, I orchestrate it so that you can see people coming from lots of different places to the thing that concerns you. Because I do it that way, I have very few readers. I don't have the traffic that Steve has. He manages to be both serious and high-traffic at the same time. I have something different. It's slower. It's more occasional. If I wanted more traffic, I would operate in a very, very different way.
But the advantage of my way of doing it is that I have an advantage over others in memory. If you remember that Trent Lott—that the Web blogs kind of got him out of there, but you don't remember any of the details, and you put those words into Google, you are going to find my blog and my post about it, which actually has everything you need. Over time, a lot of people are going to come to me, because I take that longer ethic. And I'd rather have those people.
Here's how I would wind up. The best touchstone that I have as a student of media is something that Raymond Williams, an English sociologist, said, way back before the Web. He said, "There are no masses. There are only ways of seeing people as masses."
What he means is, you can't find a mass man or a mass woman or a conspiracy theorist. You can't actually go and locate them, because people aren't reducible to that. So there are no masses.
But what are real are ways of talking to people as if they were masses, ways of addressing them that way, ways of trying to engage them as masses. I think a lot of times the media teaches us to see people as masses.
What I have found on the Internet is that it doesn't. It holds out the promise of reaching people as two-way conversants. That's the ethic that is built into it.
ALEX KOPPELMAN: Briefly, on the issue of conspiracy theories, I think if you look at the 9/11 conspiracy theories, certainly the Internet has played a large role in that.
The Internet, because of the spread and because anybody can publish anything and anybody can get on and read anything, makes the spread of conspiracy theories easier.
I would also point out that there are still plenty of people who believe that the CIA killed Kennedy, and that happened in 1963, or that the Freemasons and the Council on Foreign Relations control the world. In the 1990s, there were plenty of people that believed that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster and that the Clintons were responsible for an extra 40 murders or something like that. That all happened without the Internet.
I think the mainstream media is just as capable of putting out conspiracy theories. The nice thing about the Internet is that, because there are so many different things you can do with it, it's almost easier to debunk conspiracy theories.
I did a story a little while back on two Border Patrol agents in Texas who were convicted of shooting an unarmed drug smuggler who was fleeing back to Mexico. These agents have become heroes on the right: They were wrongly prosecuted. It's this U.S. attorney and George Bush working to make sure that the borders are completely open, all of these things.
The conspiracy theory developed in newspapers and on TV and on the radio, not on the Internet.
The nice thing about the Internet is that—and I didn't do this, simply for time reasons—I had 4,000 words, which is for us these days a pretty long story. That was with practically another book left over on the cutting-room floor, just trying to explain the story. The New York Times can't react in the same kind of way. They do a process story saying, "There's a hearing in Congress on this today." But to really get into the story and to tell the truth of the story, they have to devote a magazine-length story to it.
On the Internet, what you can do is not just report out what you've learned, but you can say, "And here are the exhibits. Look at these exhibits. I'm going to do video and I'm going to reenact this." You can get all of those things together at once. That makes it easier, I think, to show people what the truth of the matter is.
As for final thoughts, going forward, ethically, what people have to keep in mind, I think, is that—at least in the old media, as I was saying before, they need to remember that there are reasons that people read and watch the old media, and as they move onto the Internet, there are still reasons that people are now going and reading the Times on the Internet, and not give in to the temptation to just be like everybody else on the Internet.
From the bloggers' perspective, they sort of painted themselves into a corner. When the blogosphere developed—and this is tied in with the war-against-the-mainstream-media thing—they had these very lofty ambitions. They were going to be better than the media. They were going to correct the media. They weren't going to succumb to the same problems that they see in the media. And then they got into power. Then they became influential. The temptation now has to be very strong to just be like the media, be everything that they didn't like in it.
So I think bloggers need to keep in mind the self-correcting aspect of the blog. They need to keep in mind what they set out to do as they go forward.
DEVIN STEWART: We are already over time. Quick thoughts, Rita?
RITA KING: I think this has been great. I think the diversity on the panel has been excellent. I think it has been interesting.
DEVIN STEWART: Thank you. Very well-behaved.