Is Net Neutrality on the line?

All bloggers, writers, media professionals or anyone else using their online presence to do business should keep a close eye on what The New York Times reported yesterday: That Google and Verizon may be close to making a deal whose effects could dash the whole idea of Net Neutrality:

“At issue for consumers is how the companies that provide the pipeline to the Internet will ultimately direct traffic on their system, and how quickly consumers are able to gain access to certain Web content. Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television.”

The concern for content creators, as well as consumers, is that corporate media that already uses branding and professional search engine optimization advantages could push independent sources further on the fringes, marginalizing if not outright silencing a variety of voices on the Web that haven’t existed in old media. Northeastern University communications professor Dan Kennedy, hardly a Chicken Little commentator, calls this “The closing of the Internet:”

“Net neutrality is the baseline requirement for diverse, independent media. Those of us who spent years railing against corporate media consolidation have been pleasantly surprised, as numerous little guys — including significant players at the international, national and local levels — have been able to make their voices heard.

“Along with the advent of closed systems such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone, the demise of net neutrality could mark the beginning of the end of this media explosion, and a return to business as usual.”

Google, which has been an advocate for Net Neutrality, says the Times report is wrong; CEO Eric Schmidt, by the way, has been a technology advisor to the Obama Administration, which supports Net Neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission has called off what had been private discussions with Google and Verizon in wake of the revelation of the meetings. Self-described “Google fan boy” Jeff Jarvis has some conflicted thoughts.

Some critics, like tech writer Henry Blodget, claim this isn’t about Net Neutrality but rather the ability of Internet Service Providers to charge what they can for premium traffic:

“Net-neutrality zealots don’t own pipe companies. They haven’t spent billions of dollars building the networks that carry all those bits around.  They HAVE spent (collectively) billions of dollars building the bits that get carried around–so of course they’d like to keep that bit-carrying as cheap as possible.

“In other words, it’s obvious why most of the net neutrality folks are humping for net neutrality: Because it’s in their economic self-interest to do so.  And there’s nothing wrong with humping for your economic self-interest: Everyone in this country does it all day long.”

Ditto for Jeff Eisenach on the conservative Daily Caller, pointing out that private investment has fueled much of the growth of broadband. Much of this issue, in fact, hinges on whether the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband services.

On complicated matters like these I generally defer to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has its own concerns about how the FCC has gone about this piece of business.

Assorted journalism links for May 27

Lots of good links from around the journosphere that I’ve found especially helpful, intriguing or worth paying attention to for other reasons:

A writer’s search for journalism in the age of branding — Maureen Tkacik is a young journalist, but her battered, whirlwind experiences make her sound like my jaded generation of printies. She does wish we would dispense with some outdated notions about holding ourselves outside of a story.

For me, an enduring frustration of traditional journalism is that what training you do get centers on the imperative to discount and dismiss your own experiences in pursuit of some objective ideal, even as journalism simultaneously exposes you to an unusually large variety of experiences. The idea that it might be a good thing to attempt to apply insights gleaned from those experiences to future stories—let alone synthesize it all into any sort of coherent narrative—rarely comes up, unless you’re a columnist. This can be an especially torturous dilemma during the inevitable low point at which the journalist—this one, anyway—comes to believe that the only feasible course of action (given the state of journalism) is to secure a six-figure book deal, and commences filling her off-hours in a feeble attempt to ‘write what you know.’ I know a lot of things, taunts the endless negative feedback loop, but none of them is how to make six figures.”

More than a few readers, by the way, suspect Tkacik isn’t as serious about her ideas for journalism as she is building her own brand. Perhaps it’s a little of both.

(h/t Kyle Whelliston)

• Death of a newspaper career — Oregon print journalist Adam Sparks stopped taking the newspaper after returning from vacation, and eventually he stopped going into his old office at the Register-Guard in Eugene — by choice:

“It’s scary to lose your job and have your livelihood taken away, and, I’m not gonna lie, it’s a bit terrifying to be stepping away voluntarily without a landing place lined up. I’ve had my career goals in place since high school, and it’s unsettling that, after all this time, I have no specific aspirations. I’ve got a lot of ideas, and have already encountered a few possibilities, but this is still a giant leap into the unknown, without a parachute or a safety net.

“There’s a reason it’s called a ‘comfort zone,’ and a reason most people don’t seek to leave it.”

Sparks has started his own news site, and is seeking freelance work. Welcome to the diaspora.

3 Underrated but essential skills for journalists — Mark Luckie of the fine 10,000 Words blog says they’re math, design and interpersonal skills, the often-caricatured unHoly Trinity of  the ink-stained wretches. I could definitely improve in all three, but the “people-person” reference didn’t help articulate his final point. Any good grizzled editor would strike that as a lame and vague reference and ask, not entirely sarcastically: “What does that mean?”

I think the point  is to better serve readers. You do that by having conversation and exchanging ideas, typically now via blogs and social media. As for “the ability to communicate with a total stranger,” this is not a new skill. It is about building relationships, as that cliché goes, and it is the essence of good reporting and source-building, no matter the platform. Traditional journalists who successfully have done that in print and “old media” — with sources, officials and readers — are doing it in the digital realm.

An investor’s tips for budding news entrepreneurs — On the heels of the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp comes some smart advice from early-stage investor Robert Arholt. I especially like his remarks on the advantages of bootstrappers who want to stay independent:

“They continue to hold their destiny in their own hands. Having investors means bringing in not only capital, but additional perspectives and goals.”

Thoughts on redefining journalism, Part 2

A recent commenter on a post I wrote here some time ago clarified some thoughts I was trying to make on “redefining journalism” by reminding me it wasn’t necessary to go that far:

“In my opinion it isn’t a matter of ‘redefining’ journalism. The definition hasn’t changed.

“It is, as has been somewhat indicated, a matter of changing how we pursue and execute the craft.”

Last week Salon co-founder and “Say Everything” author Scott Rosenberg laid out one of the most succinct definitions of who’s a journalist, and what it means to be doing journalism today. It might make traditionalists squirm, but it’s not a redefinition at all. Rather, it’s an understanding that what journalists have always done isn’t limited just to those of us who’ve done it for a living.

It’s one of several compelling media and journalism pieces I’ve been reading in recent days and excerpt below:

No more bouncers at the journalism club door:

“The law should stop trying to protect journalists, and instead protect acts of journalism. Any time someone is pursuing an accurate and timely account of some event to present to some public, he or she should be protected by the law in whatever ways we now protect professional journalists.”

How to Save the News:

“A decade ago, Jon Stewart was not known for political commentary. The news business has continually been reinvented by people in their 20s and early 30s—Henry Luce when he and Briton Hadden founded Timemagazine soon after they left college, John Hersey when he wrote Hiroshima at age 32. Bloggers and videographers are their counterparts now. If the prospect is continued transition rather than mass extinction of news organizations, that is better than many had assumed. It requires an openness to the constant experimentation that Google preaches and that is journalism’s real heritage.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows demystifies — without coming across as too much of a fanboy — Google’s experiments to bolster journalism online. Fallows goes beyond interviewing the usual Holy Trinity of Google executives — Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin — and talks to the engineers, former journalists and others in the Google trenches. A very long piece, but worth taking some time to read and absorb.

Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes and no:

“I think the ability to mark-up some HTML and understand why <span>, <div>, classes and IDs are important for CSS and Javascript is essential for anyone publishing on the web.

“But my answer is that no, journalists don’t all need to be able to write programs, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.

London-based information architect Martin Belam, who’s been a developer for The Guardian’s lauded website, offers a relieving thought to former print hacks like me who are overwhelmed merely by dabbling in this stuff. Still, there’s a big jump in conceptual thinking involved here that goes far beyond mastering basic HTML and CSS.

What Web Media Can Learn From Print:

“When you hear someone say they like ‘holding” a paper in their hands what they really mean is that reading online sucks. It doesn’t have to be that way. The most popular news sites on the Web look horrible and do little to promote actual reading. It amazes me that when pundits talk about the fact that people skim instead of read online that they assume that that can’t change.”

Web designer Bud Parr says Web publishers who can create a better online reading experience will thrive. But we’re not there yet. Not by a long shot.

Fear, loathing and privacy on Facebook

Bipartisan Congressional action on anything — much less social media privacy?

The latest furor over the most recent Facebook changes comes as a House Democrat and Republican are soon to introduce legislation that would regulate what information Internet companies could make public and allow users easier opt-out procedures.

In truth, this bill has been in the works for almost a year, but the timing of making it available for citizen comment as many Facebook users are up in arms over “instant personalization” is interesting, to say the least.

I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by Facebook’s deceptive explanations for what it has been doing, and more than irritated by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that nobody wants privacy any longer. Speak for yourself.

His company is scouring every possible avenue for revenues, and I’ve got no problem with Facebook making money. I don’t post anything there that I want to keep private. The same goes for Twitter, my blogs and other places where I post online. It’s exercising simple common sense.

But I and millions of others signed up for Facebook with the understanding that we could control what information got out on search engines and to the general public.

Now Facebook is taking away those options as it becomes an even more dominant — if not the most dominant — figure on the social media landscape. Under Zuckerberg’s ethos, you ought to believe that you should want to share so much more information, photos, etc. with your friends than you’re already doing. This of course, serves Facebook’s bottom line interests.

My bottom line is this: Facebook has betrayed the original trust it offered to users who signed up under their real names, with closed networks and required confirmation to add friends.

Facebook is a terrific place for me to stay in touch with former colleagues, old friends and family members out of town. As an avid social media participant, I love seeing how individuals consume and share news and other information, and I respect the power and command Facebook has created within one vast, self-contained environment.

That’s why Facebook is banking that so many millions of users simply cannot do without it, and therefore won’t take action to delete their accounts. Even though there are growing reasons to do so.

But while I’m unsure about the wisdom of government intrusion — and where it might go from here — Facebook has crossed a line that doesn’t appear to concern Zuckerberg.

To help cut through the confusion and Facebook’s facile language about privacy issues, I suggest following the updates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s an amazing resource.

So is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, especially, as Chrys Wu reminds us, with this being Privacy Week.

I think I have locked down information from my account that Facebook has no business distributing without my permission, and that I can still control. But there’s no way of knowing for sure.

Or what Facebook will do next.

Journalism/Media/Web links for April 27

8 Ways for Entrepreneurial Journalists to Think Like Business People:

“Many, many businesses have failed where the income statement showed things were great, but they didn’t have cash. Cash flow is ‘the lifeblood of your business.’ “

Bias Or Balance: Media Wrestle With Faltering Trust:

“Five or 10 years ago, the conversation about trust and the media would have triggered different results. But people no longer volunteer so many complaints about reporters making up stories, as they did in the wake of the scandals involving Jayson Blair at The New York Times and Jack Kelley at USA Today. And concern over how stories are slanted no longer comes just from conservatives. It comes from all quarters.”

72 Marietta — I Still Love You:

The Journal and Constitution hated each other then — a deep, healthy hatred that was a beautiful thing. The first time in history when the Constitution out-circulated the Journal was on Aug. 17, 1977, when the morning rag reported Elvis Presley’s death. I never forgave Elvis for dying on Constitution time.”

Terry Gross: What I Read:

“I really don’t keep up with bloggers. I suppose I should feel guilty about that but my goal in life is to get away from the computer. Time spent reading blogs takes away from the time I should be spending preparing for guests. It’s hard when you’re doing a show like Fresh Air and you’re talking to musicians, theater people, actors and experts on every subject. You have to make peace with the fact that you can’t keep up with everything. It’s more information than you can possibly absorb.”

Think Again: The Internet:

“Today’s Internet is a world where homophobic activists in Serbia are turning to Facebook to organize against gay rights, and where social conservatives in Saudi Arabia are setting up online equivalents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. So much for the ‘freedom to connect’ lauded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her much-ballyhooed speech on the Internet and human rights. Sadly enough, a networked world is not inherently a more just world.”

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information:

“The new connections features benefit Facebook and its business partners, with little benefit to you. But what are you going to do about it? Facebook has consistently ignored demands from its users to create an easy ‘exit plan’ for migrating their personal data to another social networking website, even as it has continued — one small privacy policy update after another — to reduce its users’ control over their information.”

More adventures in media dog-paddling

I’ve expressed here before that the ubiquitous “follow your passion” enthusiasts don’t always acknowledge that not everyone can really follow their heart’s desire because, quite frankly, every desire doesn’t quite translate into ample revenue streams.

Web wine impresario Gary Vaynerchuk (read halfway down on that previous link) has expanded that mantra in a new book that explains his success and encourages others that they can enjoy the same.

Perhaps I’m suspending my skepticism a bit, but his easy-to-absorb, 142-page “Crush It!” fully outlines his case in ways that videos and short blog posts and online articles can’t. But Vaynerchuk is careful to point out that this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, and that using social media isn’t an end in itself. They’re tools to build and grow a business, just like traditional advertising and public relations, and not merely shiny new toys.

He leads the chapter “A Whole New World” with the upheavals in the news media, and how that can be a good thing for journalists with a passion to go beyond traditional newsroom limitations. Indeed, he states as simply and clearly and realistically as anything I’ve read on this subject the imperative for journalists to become news entrepreneurs:

“News has always been functioning under a communistic regime, but capitalism always wins. . . . The changes affecting the news business are permanent. . . . And, like it or not, many people’s respect for quality reporting has eroded. This upsets me as much as the next guy, but the fact is that it’s a trend that is having a huge impact on business and needs to be noticed and accepted. . . . I assure you, this is how things are going to roll.

“The only arguments I get in this debate, by the way, are from journalists and individuals with an emotional attachment to the idea of ink on paper and the romance of sipping a cup of coffee while reading the Sunday Times. Most business people know I’m right.”

That last sentence I think is as essential to keep in mind because it’s a point that most journalists are not accustomed to considering. We fret and get all sentimental about how newspapers aren’t what they used to be. But so many of us outside that world don’t consider the ways in which we can create news businesses of our own, as fledgling as most may be during a dramatic period of transformation.

In light of all this, I really needed to read such a level-headed refresher to think and act proactively, with no nostalgia or excuse-making attached:

“If the traditional platforms are sinking ships, then journalists are sailors who need to jump. If they’re not strong enough to get to the new ships, yes, they’re going to drown. But those who are great swimmers are going to sail very, very far. That is the way business has always played and always will.”

Discerning views about the digiterati

One of the biggest developments in the five-plus years since I first began my digital media education in a serious manner is learning how to better evaluate the claims of those I like to call the “digiterati” — especially when they sound absolutist.

I’m generally bullish on the Web, particularly as it applies to the journalism profession. Being among the tens of thousands of those having joined the print diaspora, I know the transformation will take years and decades, and may not save many of us who are mid-career journalists.

On other topics related to the Web, such as the evolution of open societies, for example, I cannot offer a more informed opinion. But that hasn’t stopped some in the digiterati from claiming that democracy is on the march. This is not the case everywhere, as Evgeny Morozov explained recently in “The Digital Dictatorship,” revealing a rather big hole in the ideology of those he has labeled the “techno-utopians:”

“. . . while the American public is actively engaged in a rich and provocative debate about the Internet’s impact on our own society — asking how new technologies affect our privacy or how they change the way we read and think — we gloss over such subtleties when talking about the Internet’s role in authoritarian countries. . . . While we fret about the Internet’s contribution to degrading the civic engagement of American kids, all teenagers in China or Iran are presumed to be committed and engaged global citizens who use the Web to acquaint themselves with human rights violations committed by their governments.”

I recalled Morozov’s argument this week when I was catching up on news about the release of iPad. There’s unhappiness within the techno-utopian set about what some have heatedly labeled a not-so-shiny new toy. All of which made Nick Carr, my favorite critic of the digiterati, rather gleeful:

“Progress may, for a time, intersect with one’s own personal ideology, and during that period one will become a gung-ho technological progressivist. But that’s just coincidence. In the end, progress doesn’t care about ideology. Those who think of themselves as great fans of progress, of technology’s inexorable march forward, will change their tune as soon as progress destroys something they care deeply about.”

Some like to accuse “old media” of getting too comfortable with their own value systems that blind them to what’s happening to the public they serve. Carr calls out the digiterati for the same offense.

Some of the “geek gods” — his term — have gotten so carried away with their own technological worldviews that they don’t consider that many outside of their realm may not want what they do from a new device.

Not everybody wants to be a content creator. Not all are constantly flushed with the compulsion to be all multimedia, all the time, and always, always, to be connected.

Sometimes we just want to sit back and be the audience for a while.

I don’t know what to make of the iPad because I haven’t held one in my hands and played with it. But this might be the invention that gets my 74-year-old mother to ditch her badly outdated WebTV (yes, she still has WebTV!) to surf and check e-mail more easily and conveniently.

Not everything that comes on the market is designed for the “thought leaders,” those so offended by what the iPad represents that in one instance shipping the “Bizarro Trojan Horse” back to Apple was the only appropriate thing to do.

Their certitude and bluster is no different than that of tough-minded literary and restaurant critics. Maybe they’ll be right about the iPad.

But I do find it ironic that those who like to snort at middle-brow technology users have given up on something before it’s been widely sold, or has undergone upgrades and improvements.

Perhaps I’ve been following the digiterati long enough to be better able to discern when they’re dispensing something of value and when they’re just full of hot air.

But when far too many of them sound like overgrown, impulsive, perpetually disappointed teenage boys — not many females here — I tend to think what what they’re serving up is more of the latter.