Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Selling out is selling out

Federated Media, the blog advertising network, recently got caught using its bloggers to help with an advertising campaign.

What's wrong with that? What's wrong is that these bloggers have presented themselves as independent voices in the tech world. That's a journalistic function. Yet they lent their names, and words, to advertising in exchange for money. In this case, the client was deep-pocketed Microsoft, which wanted to push its meme of "people-ready".

In the old-fashioned print media world, this would be an obvious no-no for ethical journalists. We journalists are not supposed to tie what we write to advertising dollars. And we most definitely are not supposed to get paid for lending our names and journalistic prestige to ad campaigns.

Some people on the Web like to call this old-fashioned idea outmoded. The new paradigm, they recite with a numbing patter of marketing jargon, is to bring in advertisers along with journalists and the public. It's a win-win-win.

Some call this an example of "conversational marketing", which its advocates say is a way to benefit all parties ---- journalists, readers and advertisers ---- by getting them talking with each other to find out the others' needs.

But conversational marketing is also a convenient way of sugar-coating an attempt by advertisers to control how journalists write. Nick Denton of Valleywag deserves thanks for exposing this campaign. Now that it has been exposed to the light of day Federated Media has hastily retreated from its conflict-laden plan.

Jeff Jarvis, one of the most far-sighted media types, forcefully made this point about Federated Media's plan.

Jarvis, who had a long career in print media, said the case reminded him of similar attempts to buy him.

"In each of these cases, the advertiser’s effort is to get more closely associated with us, our content, our reputations, our brands," . . . Jarvis wrote. "They want us to speak their names. Nicely. Or at least be near them, associated with them. This happens at every editorial product I know and it becomes incumbent upon their editors to resist and to protect their integrity from integration. . ."
Read it all.

Jackie Danicki provides more perspective.

Some of those involved in the Federated Media debacle, such as tech guru Om Malik, reacted honorably. They recognized the criticism had validity. Their reputation for integrity was too valuable to tarnish.

John Battelle, founder, chairman and CEO of Federated Media, honorably took responsibility for the debacle. However, he still doesn't seem to get it. He gives a straw-man version of the criticism:

"Microsoft was trying to do something new, but the overwhelming presumption behind many of the critics of this campaign has been that Microsoft was being evil. That it was trying to pull the wool over our eyes. That it was, in short, a bad actor. Why? Why this knee jerk assumption that an important character in the conversation happening in our world is evil, wrong, malicious? And that all the authors associated with the campaign are dupes, fools, schills? Are we really still stuck in 1996, where every single thing the company does is presumptively evil?"

This has nothing to do with Microsoft being evil. This has everything to do with an advertiser's attempt to get involved in the editorial process. Once you've said it's okay for journalists to help advertisers with their campaigns, you've broken a crucial ethical barrier that is there to prevent undue influence. It is a bad precedent.

Microsoft was just doing what many advertisers would do, if given the opportunity. And Microsoft was not breaking any ethical barrier; it is not a journalistic outfit. It is not Microsoft's duty to obey standards of editorial integrity and trust. That is the duty of journalists.

Still, Battelle deserves credit for wrestling with the matter. Much of what he writes about the value of conversation with advertisers has validity; it is referenced in the classic ClueTrain Manifesto. He just needs to remind himself that technological advances do not necessarily invalidate ethical considerations.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, who evidently doesn't value his reputation as much, was less responsive than Battelle. Arrington told his critics to "go pound sand."

"People understand that if there’s text in an ad box, someone is paying for it to be there," Arrington said.

But people don't expect that a supposedly independent journalist is being paid to provide the text. They don't expect, and shouldn't have to expect, that the journalist is being paid by an advertiser to advance a pet theme.

This is no new media paradigm. It's an old-fashioned conflict of interest. (Judging by the numerous blinking, tacky animated ads on his site, Arrington is desperately doing all he can to kiss up to advertisers, even at the expense of annoying his readers).

Give the man credit for openly admitting he doesn't see an ethical problem with advertisers buying his words. Now the onus is on Arrington's readers to figure out which words are really Arrington's and which words are from advertisers using Arrington as a ventriloquist's dummy.

And some in this sordid mess don't seem to take their own "conversational" schtick too seriously, at least when they're on the defensive. Chas Edwards, Federated Media's vice president for sales and market development, posted a weasel-worded defense of his company's campaign, "Does Relevant Advertising Mean Selling Out?"

Of course, the headline is misleading. The relevance is not in question; it's editorial co-operation and pay for taking part in advertising.

Yesterday, I left a comment on Edward's blog saying so. It hasn't been posted. Indeed, no responses have been posted.

Perhaps Chas Edwards doesn't like what the public is telling him and has decided to shut down the conversation.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thanks, Rocky, and Tony!

As a native San Diegan, I'm very grateful to the city of Los Angeles for its fine choice in elected officials. Namely, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky "The Clown" Delgadillo and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio "Romeo" Villaraigosa.

These two jokers have made Los Angeles the laughing stock of American cities, the Cleveland of the Left Coast. That takes the prize away from San Diego, with our own oafish misadventures, such as a city employee pension fund that is costing billions more than anticipated. The New York Times gave San Diego the dubious title of "Enron-by-the-Sea".

We San Diegans also had an incompetent chucklehead of a Mayor, Dick Murphy, who campaigned on a platform of "20-20 vision", yet couldn't see the debacle. Murphy ignored the advice of the city's pension board and got rid of a pesky member who warned of the ongoing catastrophe. Thankfully, Murphy had the good sense to resign.

But our new mayor, Jerry Sanders, seems more competent than Murphy and his predecessor, Susan Golding (although that's admittedly a very low bar). We also have a city attorney, Michael Aguirre, who's aggressively investigating alleged corruption.

But mostly, San Diego has been helped by our colossus to the north, which has entertained the country, indeed the world, with the comical mishaps of its leaders.

If you've been on Mars recently, Rocky the Clown has been caught lying and dissembling about his wife's use of his city-owned vehicle. She got in an accident with it, when she was apparently using it improperly for a personal errand. Rocky the Clown billed the taxpayers. He has now reimbursed taxpayers.

His wife also was driving without auto insurance for a while -- as was RtC himself. For the full, hilarious story, read Steve Lopez's columns in the Los Angeles Times.

Romeo's contribution was his own dissembling about his marital woes. Earlier this year, he denied a report by blogger Luke Ford that his marriage was on the rocks.

Here's Luke:
On Jan. 29, 2007, I reported the following on this blog:

The mayor and his wife Corina haven't been seen together in public in about ten months (since the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, visited in May 2006). Villaraigosa no longer wears his wedding band (not since the first week of September 2006). His wife does not live with him in the mayor's mansion (I don't think she's ever lived there with him).

"So, will he be reverting to his maiden name?" asks one internet commenter.

Connie was recently spotted cleaning the couple's home at Mt. Washington.

Around 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, a journalist at City Hall finally worked up the courage to ask Villaraigosa after his press conference, "Where is your wedding ring? What's the deal?"

Villaraigosa said that he had lost weight and hadn't had the time to have it resized. The mayor said he was still together with his wife Connie.

In June, the mayor conceded he was separating from his wife, Corina.

Guess the exercise program didn't work out. Or, perhaps his wife objected to the kinds of exercises Mayor Romeo was performing.

Blogs such as Mayor Sam have reported a rumor that the reason for his marriage's breakup is that Romeo has fathered a little bundle of joy -- but not with Corina.

This is unconfirmed, but if true, one suspects the evidence will show before long.

Then there's the debacle with Paris Hilton and Sheriff Lee "Xenu" Baca, which should need little explaining.

Although San Diegans are supposed to be jealous of L.A.'s higher profile, this is one category in which I'll gratefully concede precedence.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Microsoft hooks Linspire

When you shake hands with Microsoft, count your fingers afterward. San Diego's Linspire may find that out, courtesy of an agreement it signed with Microsoft to make their computer operating systems work together better.

The deal was promptly attacked by prominent Linux supporters, who see it as part of Microsoft's long-term strategy to neuter a rival operating system it sees as a growing threat. Linspire sells a version of the non-proprietary, open-source Linux operating system. Microsoft, of course, sells its ultra-proprietary Windows operating system.

"Through this agreement, the companies will work to advance office document compatibility, enhance instant messaging interoperability and reinforce existing collaboration on digital media," the companies said in a June 13 press release announcing the deal. "In addition, Linspire will be providing its customers with the option of acquiring a patent covenant from Microsoft for customers operating the Linspire desktop."

Microsoft has been threatening legal action against Linux users, claiming that the non-proprietary software includes its intellectual property. The deal with Linspire is the latest in a series of non-aggression pacts Microsoft has signed with Linux makers, including Novell, Xandros and now Linspire.

Microsoft claims that Linux and other open-source software violates 235 of its patents. However, Microsoft has not identified the allegedly infringed patents. Defenders of Linux say Microsoft is attempting to scare companies away from using Linux by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt, known by the acronym "FUD".

In the press release, Linspire chief executive Kevin Carmony said the agreement will make it easier for Linspire users to share documents and technologies to make Windows and Linux work better together. Read the entire press release here.

“Linspire has always been about choice, and this announcement continues our tradition of offering options for improved interoperability, enhanced functionality and confidence," Carmony said in the press release. "Over the years, in an effort to expand choice, we have entered into dozens of agreements with commercial software vendors. It certainly made sense to collaborate with Microsoft, one of the most important partners in the PC ecosystem."

However, Groklaw one of the foremost Web sites devoted to defending Linux and other open source software, said the deal is really about Microsoft's attempt to lock down all Linux competition. Microsoft will use these agreements to intimidate those using other versions of Linux not covered by its agreements.
Groklaw's post: "Linspire joins the plot:" is recommended reading. Find it here.

If you want to support Linux against Microsoft's suspiciously warm bear hug of an embrace, there are numerous other versions of Linux to use. There's Debian and Ubuntu Linux, for starters.

For those who don't understand how Linux works: take this Linux 101 online course..


Thursday, June 07, 2007

More Patterico on Flight 327

Patterico has just posted a very detailed article with more information from current air marshals who think Flight 327 was a terrorist dry run or probe.

This is precisely what I like to see in a story — plenty of meat on the bones. The readers know where you got your information from, what the sources told you, and why it is important. When you had to keep sources anonymous, you said so, and why. We weren’t left to wonder. Facts are spelled out, not just implied. And you have some unexpected eye-openers. (The unwritten policy of ignoring illegal immigrants is indefensible and incomprehensible).

The article also distinguishes between a probe and a dry run. A probe is simply looking for weaknesses. A dry run is a rehearsal for a plan already well advanced. Obviously, the latter is more serious.

Congratulations, Patterico, for doing the work the Washington Times didn't do.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Apology to Patterico

I unfairly used harsh language in challenging blogger Patterico's claims about a Washington Times story on reports of terrorist dry runs. I apologize to him. Patterico did a very good job of providing the evidence the article did not provide. I should have known he would come through.

Read my fuller explanation at The Festering Swamp.


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