Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Define "Open"

During the discussion about unnamed sources a few weeks back I brought up the idea that creating further protections for journalists just makes the process less transparent and that has a negative impact on how journalism is viewed by the public.

Media consumers, I argued, want more transparancy, not less. Shelley Murphy had talked at length about how she hated giving more definition to her unidentified sources. I can see her point, as she's trying to protect her sources. But speaking for the readers, I think it's important to have as much definition as possible in order to decide whether to trust what's in print.

Charlie Kravetz responded by simply pointing out that a shield law just puts in place many of the protections that have already existed thanks to the courts. Fair enough. I don't agree, but it's a good answer.

The problem came as he continued the conversation, talking directly to NPR Reporter Richard Knox about how that organization has shown its openness by reading listener letters on the air, even when those are fairly critical.

If this is how the media define openness, then they have a problem. Just reading a sampling of critical letters is a start, but it's not truly open. A news organization needs to listen to its customers, and then respond to them. Not just from on high, with an ombudsman (which should be a standard part of any newsroom) but all the way down to the reporter level.

The whole thing reminded me of a story that I've heard Nat Friedman tell. Nat founded a former client of mine called Ximian, an open source company which was later sold to Novell. While at MIT, Nat spent a summer doing an internship at Microsoft and through that had a chance to talk with Bill Gates. They were discussing open source and the Apache server, which was growing in popularity.

Gates couldn't understand why developers would need access to the source code. He offered that if it's functionality that people wanted then Microsoft should just add that functionality to its servers. Nat came away feeling that Gates just didn't "get it," that the openness of the code WAS the draw. While many of the developers and users may never take advantage of the code, they wanted the option to peak under the hood and make changes and adjustments, should they feel the need. I've rarely, if ever, looked under the hood of my car, but I certainly wouldn't purchase one that didn't let me in.

Microsoft's armor is much thicker than big media's, but open source has been successfully chipping away at that causing the software giant big headaches. Big Media better learn these lessons fast, or their headaches will be much larger than they are already.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The School Paper Evolves

It seems that I'm not the only person thinking about how the traditional school paper can benefit from the blog interface.

A middle school in Watertown just launched its newspaper blog. I'm curious to see how this develops and whether its a supplement to the traditional paper or a replacement for it.

There is also the OldeSchoolNews in Colorado that looks interesting as well.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Union Leader on the Shield

Today's New Hampshire Union Leader came out against the national shield law. While few people I've spoken with seem to think this will pass, the fact that it's even out there in its current form is somewhat disturbing. I keep hoping newspapers and other journalists will begin to look at the flaws in this legislation, rather than just trying to focus on the purported need for it.

The Leader apparently agrees with me, saying:

Furthermore, Lugar's law would require that Congress define "journalist." That would violate the spirit of the First Amendment, which was intended to protect all citizens, not just those who made their living with ink and paper. It also could lead to the licensing of journalists, which is a wholly unacceptable expansion of government power over the press.

Here come the HBS Guys

Harvard Business School asks "Does Your Company Belong in the Blogosphere?" The article isn't significant, in fact, it's a little behind the times. It holds up the GM Fastlane Blog as a prime example of how to handle a corporate blog.

I obviously disagree.

However, it is siginificant on one thing: it's there at all. This means a bunch of newly minted HBS grads are probably going to try to figure out how to make money on blogs. These guys also liked Dot Coms.

Blogging's PR Problem

While entertaining guests last night friends told us about how their son is taking part in a very highly regarded school paper at the local middle school. I asked about whether the paper has started moving into more interactive media such as blogging.

They haven't.

But the response surprised me. The parent, who also happens to be in the media industry, once working for a wire service and now handling PR and marketing for a prominent local hospital, said that the problem with blogs is that it doesn't teach kids about editing.

Many blogs, including this one, exist without editors. But that doesn't mean all of them do or even should. This is the classic genre vs. medium debate. Blogging is a medium, not a genre.

I believe that blogging can be used to help teach students about journalism. It enables students to get their stories out without forcing them to deal with the significant cost pressures associated with creating a printed product.

That said, I still think the students need to learn the basics of journalism, including multiple sources, proper editing, AP Style, etc.

The problem for the blogosphere is helping people understand the possibilities of this medium, not its limitations.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Education of the American Media Consumer

Growing up in the New York metro area, I regularly heard commercials for Syms clothing stores where Marcy Syms would claim "An Educated Consumer is Our Best Customer." The company continues to live by the same slogan.

But that's not so true in media. Everyone thinks they're an educated consumer, but in fact they're not. People seem to want more insight into how TV is made, how else can you explain the constant tours that go on through TV newsrooms? People line up to tour NBC, CNN, CBS and even WHDH here in Boston (I remember watching the tour groups come through), but would anyone line up to go through an H&R Block office? How about a tour through my own PR firm?

Not likely.

That's what makes this supposed controversy about the "X" over the Vice President's face during a speech so amusing. A number of conspiracy buffs are out there saying how this is CNN's way of disparaging the current administration.

No, it's a technical glitch. It happens all the time. I see "slates" come up on channel 7 on a regular basis, and I often see the wrong video flash up on the screen even during national news broadcasts. Some glitches are small and you only see if them if you've worked in the industry. Other's are obvious. To CNN's credit, they did try to educate viewers as to what happened and why.

Back in the days of a slower news cycle when you had all day to polish and shine your show to a high gloss, all with highly skilled workers, glitches were more rare. But with a faster news cycle and more people, some of whom are relatively new, mistakes happen. Just this morning I heard a story on WBUR in which a scratch track on one of the pre-produced stories obviously got on the air. Not a conspiracy, just someone not paying close enough attention.

If you're a truly educated consumer then you should understand when you see a mistake and when there's a concerted effort to distort the news.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

PR Protection?

As I'm reading and thinking about the Massachusetts Shield Bill I'm starting to believe that it offers protection for public relations and investor relations.

Technically, our jobs are about collecting information in order to disseminate that information. We have clients tell us things all the time that may or may not be "public" and that we must hold under wraps. Also, we're constantly told that in the case of litigation, our emails and other notes may be subpoenaed.

During the discussion last week, First Amendment Lawyer Robert Bertsche pointed out that in many cases divorce lawyers come to journalists asking for information to help their clients. He gave the example of a magazine that develops a list of fast growing companies, many of them private, and how that last always brings out divorce lawyers who say their client's spouse is claiming poverty but in the magazine, and they want financial information to make the case. Of course, the magazine always says "no."

This struck me as quite interesting since it's not a criminal matter, which is what most journalists fear, but a civil matter.

But what if PR people could contest handing over their notes, emails and other documents in a corporate case? What if we could tell the lawyers "sorry, we're protected under the shield"? Certainly our clients would feel a little freer to share information with us knowing that it would be, potentially, protected. We may gain more insight into our clients' operations.

This is obviously not the intent of this bill, but if it becomes law I'd be curious to see how far some creative lawyers can push it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cranking Across the Digital Divide

While American journalists spent much of the past week navel gazing and worrying about what it means when Bob Woodward gets embroiled in the Valerie Plame mess, they spent precious little time noticing what may be the biggest story in communications: efforts to cross the digital divide.

In Tunisia, people from around the world gathered for The World Summit on the Information Society. It's bold effort was to cross the digital divide and bring Internet communications where they had never been before. But in an ironic twist, the Tunisian government shut some people out, including the head of Reporters without Borders, and turned others off. The conference ended with some toothless speeches promising more progress but offered up little by way of true action or funding to get anything done.

Lots of talk, little accomplished. But credit where credit is due. At least there was talk.

Back in my neighborhood, MIT unveiled a PC that can change everything. A $100 laptop designed for children's fingers, complete with a crank to help it run even when and where there is no power. It has a wireless connection device so the laptops themselves can become their own network, it's rugged and has a screen that can go from color to black and white to be easier to read.

Why can this change everything? Because it enables communications, and that is more subversive to a dictatorship or corrupt government than any weapon. If the US truly wants to help the world understand and embrace democracy, it should be investing heavily in communications and devices such as these.

But a laptop alone isn't enough, it must come with education so children not only learn what the technology is but how to use it. They must gain the math and science skills they need to truly enter the tech economy. This as true in the US as it is in Africa.

The Red Herring, meanwhile, is running a story this week on the untapped telecom market in Africa. I also have a client talking about Africa as the next China. That is, Africa is starting to earn its stripes as a source for apparel manufacturing, shipping directly to retailers in the US. This is the first step in a long journey that the US and Japan have traveled already. It starts with high-volume, low margin goods that offer better pay for the people. They can then earn greater education and move to the next step of manufacturing, such as automotive and electronics, eventually building a tech-based economy.

And it all starts with communications so they can reach out and talk to each other and become part of the global marketplace.

And it all starts with a crank. This story is bigger than Woodward.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Google: Hey, we're digital!

Google changed the name of its "Google Print" program today, now calling it "Google Book Search."

According to a blog post by Product Manager Jen Grant "Why the change? Well, one factor was all the comments we got about how excited people were that Google Print would help them print out their documents, or web pages they visit -- which of course it won't."

Considering the amount of publicity this project had I can't imagine that many people made that mistake. But maybe I don't give people enough credit for creativity.

In a nod to the fact that Google is, in fact, in the midst of lawsuits over the program, Grant goes on to say "No, we don't think that this new name will change what some folks think about this program. But we do believe it will help a lot of people understand better what we're doing."

Yes, Book Search does define things a little more, but I wonder if it's more of an attempt to distance themselves from becoming Google Publisher.

It seems that marketing is ahead of technology, however, since the site remains

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A good journalist shield, but is it worth it?

Massachusetts is currently chewing on a shield bill I actually like.

While debating Dan Kennedy by email, he noted that I fell into a trap by asking the question "who is a journalist" as opposed to "what is journalism."

"I think it makes much more sense to define 'journalism,'" he wrote. "Lisa Williams [of] is not a journalist, but she's producing journalism."

I wasn't quite sure what he meant, as I couldn't imagine the courts trying to define what, exactly, qualified as journalism. But the law currently proposed in Massachusetts comes closest. Dan has the text as a pdf.

(1) COVERED PERSON- The term `covered person' means a person
(A) engages in the gathering of news or information; and
(B) has the intent, at the beginning of the process of gathering
news or information, to disseminate the news or information to the
(2) NEWS OR INFORMATION- The term `news or information' means
written, oral, pictorial, photographic, or electronically recorded
information or communication concerning local, national, or worldwide
events, or other matters.
(3) NEWS MEDIA- The term `the news media' means--
(A) a newspaper;
(B) a magazine;
(C) a journal or other periodical;
(D) radio;
(E) television;
(F) any means of disseminating news or information gathered by
press associations, news agencies, or wire services (including
dissemination to the news media described in subparagraphs (A)
through (E)); or
(G) any printed, photographic, mechanical, or electronic means of
disseminating news or information to the public.
There are quite a few interesting definitions in this. Not the least of which is 1B. I like that it talks about whether you had the "intent" of disseminating news or information to the public. So basically, if you asked questions and collected data with the intent of telling others in some public way, then you have, in fact, practiced journalism. It doesn't matter if you are Brazenberg's "lonely pamphleteer" or David Boeri at Newcenter 5 (one of the most creative writers on local TV), your protection is the same.

Frankly, this may also protect PR people, but I don't want to get into that now.

Tuesday night at a roundtable on the subject at Northeastern University I heard some interesting things. But what worries me is the reason that journalists are supporting this law: fear. I heard over and over again panelists such as Shelley Murphy of the Boston Globe and Charlie Kravetz of NECN talk about the changing climate of distrust people have for the media and how it's become easier for judges and lawyers to come after reporters to ask for their information. This is entirely a defensive measure.

"The lack of regard of how the public holds journalists reflects in the courts," Kravetz noted. As the person who spearheaded the group that proposed the bill he also led the discussion.

As Bill Kirtz, the lone dissenter on the dias, pointed out many times, the first amendment should be enough to protect journalists. He went on to say that such a law, or lack thereof, doesn't affect the quality of journalism and that investigative reporting hasn't suffered since Branzenberg struck down the reporter's privalege. He concluded with a noncommital waving of the hand, saying "it's not going to hurt, so it's OK."

Even as I like how this law defines journalism, I'm still torn on its necessity. On the one hand the positive reporting that is only possible when a source is willing to talk with protection is important to the freedom of the nation. On the other hand, the shield often is in direct conflict with the Sixth Amendment, meaning that justice itself could suffer. Yes, there is the note from English jurist William Blackstone that states: "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," but while we say that, do we really believe it?

The liberal in me says "yes," but there's this nagging conservative that wants to see the guilty pay for their crimes.

I also worry about altered hindsight. We hear how the days of yore were better for journalism and how reporters were freer to report on stories that mattered. But were they? Or are we just remembering things wrong? I know that the papers were merciless on John Adams, those that were loyal to Thomas Jefferson anyway. Call them the Fox News of their day. Fair and balanced certainly didn't exist. And Ed Murrow still had to host "Person to Person" even as he reported on "See it Now." Which had the higher ratings? If memory serves it was the fluff show. Also, lest we forget, his most notable journalistic triumph came with known sources, not hidden ones.

My issue with anonymous sources remains transparency. People today demand more, not less. People want to know where journalists get their information and whether they can trust it. They are unwilling to simply take a reporter's word that it's true. I brought this idea up during the roundtable and I'll post separately on what was said.

The fact is, real reporters take their craft seriously. There are checks and balances and often they don't want to use anonymous sources, but find they are forced to rely on them. REAL journalists, are what stand between the government and the people, shining lights into dark corners to prevent officials from becoming drunk with power. They are the true check on the full system. People, however, are emerging as the full check on journalism itself.

Elizabeth Ritvo
, a first amendment lawyer and partner at Brown Rudnick who also represents the Boston Herald, gave the following questions that she likes reporters to ask before relying on an anonymous source:
  • Are there other sources?
  • If someone disputes the facts, where are you?
  • what is your experience with the source?
  • What could you say that will show you were reliable, even if you didn't reveal the source?
  • Where do you draw the line?
Murphy made the strongest case for the shield with one of the first things she said: "In 20 years of reporting it has never been more difficult than it is now [to get someone to be a source]." In other words, people are scared. Of those on the panel, her work reporting on organized crime makes her the most experienced in this area.

What I started seeing in this battle is journalism's fear of government. On the one hand are the judges and government officials hiding behind such legislation as the Patriot Act, screaming "yes, we have secrets, but tell us what you know, your secrecy is costing justice!" On the other hand are journalists screaming "yes, we have secrets, but tell us what you know, your secrecy is costing us freedom!" It's as if two gods are throwing thunderbolts, forgetting the people down below who must dodge the gods' wrath.

Yet, it is the people who will decide the end to this battle by one day choosing to believe in neither of them.

And perhaps that is the biggest loss of all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Podcasting Benefits

One of the most interesting podcasts on my iPod is the one from LensWork Magazine. I've read the publication somewhat infrequently over the years and came across the show by searching for photography podcasts on iTunes.

The publication itself is known for its careful printing and in-depth articles. A whole different publication from the tips-oriented Popular Photography (which happens to have a good podcast and some wonderful forums as well).

Photography is my main hobby, as I love how everyone can have a camera, but only a few people truly know what they're doing with it. Also, just snapping a picture isn't enough, it's what you do later that makes it go from simple picture to "art."

This podcast is from Editor Brooks Jensen and each short piece is infused with his observations as an experienced photographer. Frankly, there is probably more that he can do with it, such as putting examples of the work he discusses up on his blog. But overall it's a great example of how to produce complementary content using a different form of media.

But what struck me yesterday was that I realized I had a desire to know more and wanted to subscribe to the publication. That's right, I want to spend money to have the old school ink-on-paper publication in my hands.

I'm now negotiating with my wife about our magazine budget.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Don't Blog Just to Blog

My wife is a lawyer and part of a newsgroup that includes a number of other solo practitioners. Many have discussed whether blogging would be a good idea for their marketing.

One lawyer, a blogger herself, piped up and asked the others if she could convince them that blogging has financial benefits, would they do it? Conversely, if she couldn't convince them of it, would they avoid it? She has actually seen some financial benefit from blogging.

Lawyers aren't very good marketers and, in my experience, often aren't interested in outsourcing marketing to someone who actually knows what they're doing. They also, in general, don't like to accept advice, at least not those who run their own firms. Larger firms are a whole different story.

That said, these are the wrong questions. Blogging is a tool, one of many. Take a walk into the tool section of Home Depot and you'll find different hammers, saws, levels and a host of other tools for different jobs. Each has a purpose, some specific some general. But if you want to build a house, you're going to need a combination of them.

The same rule applies to marketing. The right tools for the right job will go a long way.

To make this very simple, a lawyer, or any company, needs to ask two questions: "who is my audience?" and "how do I reach that audience?" Now that you have asked those questions, look for the right tools.

Blogging may be one way to do it, but it's certainly not the only way, nor is it for every lawyer. If you are focused on criminal defense in a tight geographic area, a much better marketing move is to have an office across from an active courthouse. Many lawyers have already done this, but it's effective. A sign in the window is often enough to grab a few clients.

If you want to focus on a niche like women's divorce issues in Massachusetts with a focus on an upscale audience, then perhaps a blog would work since part of your marketing should be a thought-leadership message.

If it's the right tool and the right message, the financial benefits will follow. But don't rely on blogging alone.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

French Bloggers and the Riots

You will often hear journalists in America and other free nations lament the treatment of journalists in some more oppressive countries. Reporters Without Borders, for example, speaks out regularly on behalf of reporters who try to find the truth, even when putting their own lives, and those of their families, at risk.

But I wonder if this commitment to free speech around the world trickles down to bloggers. The French Government arrested two bloggers today for what is seen as their roles in the Paris riots. The charge being "inciting harm to people and property over the internet" seems particularly troubling to me.

I have not read their blogs, as I don't speak French, and I can't judge whether they took part in other actions that may or may not be illegal under French law. But if they are in jail only because they wrote things that the government finds inflammatory, then that is just wrong. Should the government start to crack down on everyone with a computer, for fear they'll spread thoughts that are determined to be against the best interest of the country? Haven't we been down this road before?

This is why I'm not a fan of the federal shield law as it is currently written. Because it specifically ignores bloggers, it creates a "second class" of journalists, sanctioned by the federal government. Yes, I know this technically applies to only specific situations and limited circumstances. But the concept just leaves me feeling a bit nervous. I'd rather the law be inclusive, like the one proposed in Massachusetts (I'll post more on that later).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

iTunes-ing of TV

If you want to watch your shows for free, watch the commercials. If you want to watch your shows later with no commercials, pay a buck.

That's what the TV networks are saying with this new distribution idea of selling TV shows after the first broadcast. Of course, if you have a TiVo you don't really need the buck a show to watch it later, but who knows how much longer that's going to work as it is.

Regardless, Forrester has it right when it points out that this is the end of scheduled television. In fact, this was the idea behind TiVo and other DVRs all along, that time no longer matters.

But I think one other thing is missing in this: soon geography won't matter either. Until now, geography bound broadcast television. Yes, we have cable and satellite, but when it comes to true broadcast, rules and regulations are in place to make sure we see certain things: local news, local sports, local weather, etc. But over the last 20 or 30 years, the business was such that local TV stations, once brimming with self-produced children's shows, news, variety programming and even sitcoms, handed over that production power to the networks.

I'm hoping that soon local stations will be able to tap into the same distribution network that the broadcast networks are just learning to use. Maybe even with branded content distributed via RSS. Maybe the world will be filled with stations like WGBH here in Boston, which produces a ton of PBS fare. Maybe the old WCVB will come back, offering innovative shows like Jaberwocky and Park Street Under.

More likely, we'll just have an easier way to buy porn.

99 cents for Jenna Jameson anyone?

Do Lines Still Exist?

About a year ago I got into an online argument with a friend of a friend about whether Saddam Hussein had any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). I contented that none had been found, but this other person kept telling me they had.

I asked her for a link to a credible news source with evidence that there had, in fact, been evidence of this. What she sent me was a link to a right-wing blog which contained a long and well-crafted post that pointed to pictures of some trucks. The author looked, point-by-point at the trucks noting how he believed they were used to produce some kind of WMDs. The author hadn't seen the trucks first-hand, but only the pictures.

This, my foil told me, was a credible source. I contended it wasn't, but realized that I didn't have a good reason why not. It certainly seemed credible, just as credible as any other. My basic argument came down to the fact that if this was real evidence, and if evidence existed, it would certainly appear in a source like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post.

It also started me wondering about how to define a credible source. I've talked quite a bit about trust on this blog, but trust means different things to different people. It also leads to a fragmentation of the news.

During a speech at Brandeis by a woman who used to work for CNN in an Israeli bureau (sorry, can't remember her name), she tried to make the argument that the news reporters don't try to be pro or anti Israel, but then, a few minutes later, noted that she has become more conservative as she's grown older and found herself watching and agreeing with Fox news, pretty much abandoned her old employer. Basically, she's only listening to news that leans toward her way of thinking. I'm guilty of this myself, to a degree, by specifically avoiding Fox News, as it's too conservative for my taste.

Then there is this, today, from Reuters reporter Barry Garron about the recent West Wing episode that ran live, as if it were a true presidential debate:

In some ways, though, the biggest winner was the viewer, particularly those who have seen real presidential debates where rules are negotiated and statements are carefully crafted to stay on point, get out the message and drive home emotions through words that have been carefully tested in focus groups. This episode, though scripted, seemed more real than the actual debates. It showed what a real debate might be if candidates ever decided to risk being themselves and confronting the issues and each other. Odd as it may seem, it gives viewers a basis for comparing actual presidential debates and what is possible.

The episode, with its use of the NBC News logo and the appearance of real-life newsman Forrest Sawyer as moderator, also raised the question of the propriety of blending elements of network news with entertainment. In general, it's not a good idea to blur the two.
So here is the blurring of news and entertainment in a way that makes entertainment seem more real--a scripted show that seemed less scripted than an actual debate. We also have the blurring of media in which some sources are seen as credible, regardless of history. And we have the blurring of opinion and news, which has been going on for some time.

This puts much more pressure on the news consumer to understand the "facts" that are fed to us, but I'm not sure that most people are given these tools. I once wrote a story for a publication called Fresh Cup about a local tea shop. I went in to talk with the owner after it came out and she kept calling it an "ad," even though it was, in fact, an article. She never paid anything for it, I wrote it independently as a reporter.

If she can't distinguish between an ad and an article, how can we ask her to distinguish between fact and fiction? Have we reached the point of simply too much information?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Catching Up and the Future of TV

I haven't had a chance to write in a few days, but I have a lot of ideas that will be coming out over the next few days. This includes a coming post on the shield law, especially as Massachusetts works to enact one of its own (one that appears quite good, actually). But not just now.

In a true blending of media, Yahoo and TiVo today announced a content deal. While Yahoo will provide some content, including TV listings and other such things, the deal does not include video.

We all know that a TiVo box is basically a computer with a big hard drive and some software that records TV. More generically, it's a computer that saves content, only that content tends to come from cable or sattelite rather than from the Internet. Still, the box does have a little-used Internet connection, the feature that Yahoo will be using.

But when TiVo gets interesting to me is when it can take vidoe via RSS from the Internet. The Yahoo deal is a step in this direction.

Why does that become intereting? Well, think about this. Imagine you have a TiVo box and you tell it that you like Star Wars. The way it's set up today the box will feed you the movies and documentaries that are on TV. As George Lucas comes out with the Star Wars cartoons and TV series, those will also show up. But if it's connected to the Internet, suddenly your box will also be filled with fan films, of which there are hundreds, if not thousands. Suddenly, anyone with a camera and some time can create something in the basement, put it on a blog like this one, and reach a massive audience.

What's more, when you turn on your TiVo, the fan films will be co-mingled with the Lucas-produced content. Yes, they're all on an even playing field.

Not scared enough by that? Ok, let's try this.

NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, the WB and UPN spend a lot of money developing programming for specific audiences. They are, in fact, creating a visual brand. You know what you're going to get when you turn on Fox, NBC or the WB.

They see their airtime as precious and produce content that will sell. Of course, there are a lot of great shows that never see the light of day. Maybe they just stink (though soome of those do manage to get on the air), maybe they're just too sophisticated for the audience. Regardless, they're cast, produced and edited, but never seen. So there is talent out there that is not getting its airtime.

What if the producers released it just as the Star Wars fan films do? What if your TiVo, in watching your viewing habits, realizes that you like relationship-based sitcoms: Friends, Mad About You, Will and Grace, etc. Then it finds other sitcoms to feed you, those not necessarily on network television but just hanging around on a Web site. If they're co-mingled and the "brand" of the network no longer matters, how much is ad time on NBC really worth?

I see blogging, podcasting and video blogging as a step toward this eventual reality.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trusting Dan

If you live within earshot of Boston you can't ignore the furor over Theo Epstein and the role that Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy apparently played in the whole mess.

A quick recap goes like this: the Red Sox were close to a deal with their boy-wonder GM when a column appeared in Sunday's Globe giving out details that Epstein realized came from his boss, Larry Lucchino. That set of a chain of events that led to him tossing in his red socks and walking out onto Yawkey Way for the last time as a Sox employee. There' s a lot of he-said-she-said in all this. If you're really interested in the story you should check out some other blogs.

So, what does this have to do with issues I'm writing about? In a word: trust.

The New York Times Company, the parent of the Boston Globe, owns a portion of the Red Sox. Frankly, a small part. Still, it's enough to have people making accusations, like that Lucchino called in some favors to the Globe to get their top columnist to write something for his side.

Is this true? Probably not. But it doesn't matter. In an age when newspapers are struggling to maintain readers and relevance, anything that erodes public trust is dangerous. And that's just what happens when a city's primary publication invests in a business that is so central to the city.

What I can't understand is that while the Globe would never consider making a significant investment in Gillette (now part of Proctor & Gamble) or in John Hancock Insurance, owners were willing to invest in the Red Sox.

Maybe it has something to do with the way we view sports. Not as a business, but just as entertainment.

Even so, I'm curious as to how this plays out over time. The New York Times has already experimented with charging for columnists, as has the Globe's cross-town rival The Boston Herald. What if the Globe wants to consider this kind of move. Will people pay money to read columns by writers they no longer trust?

I'd venture to say that they wouldn't.