Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ignore the anonymous trolls; the mob are alright

Paul Carr (formerly of the Guardian, now of TechCrunch and the Telegraph) has long railed against the anonymous trolls of the comments section. In a recent column he dug up posthumous intellectual support for his argument, quoting a passage from Schopenhauer’s The Art of Literature on the evils of anonymity:

“Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and journalistic rascality. It is a practice which must be completely stopped. Every article, even in a newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of its author; and the editor should be made strictly responsible for the accuracy of the signature.”

…and so on and so forth.  Carr is implying that anonymity is rubbish therefore anonymous comments are also rubbish. Belatedly, here’s why I disagree.

We’re still in the early stages; idiocy is inevitable
It’s a general rule of life – and therefore, the internet – that when you like something you tell 3 people, and when you don’t like something you tell 10. When open, anonymous comment sections started appearing all over the web, it gave the latter the latter a platform for their anger. You could immediately add your tuppence to the thoughts of esteemed writers, and your comment would be tied to their thoughts forever more. Suddenly, the Chapel of High Thought was democratized. Brilliant.

The same, of course, goes for the idiots. Open comments allows them to immediately associate their faceless idiocy with a piece of wonderful critique, and it would be there forever more. Mr or Mrs Big Columnist could write a seminal essay in the intricacies of fiscal stimulus, and the first comment, forever more, could read “yeah, but tax is just a load of willy, and so are you.”

This is very annoying, and certainly not what the internet democratisers intended. And one can understand Carr’s annoyance… it’s a modern interpretation of a schoolground foible: if you want to say something about me, what not say it to my face (in comment land; with a face)? 

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Events, my dear newspapers, events will never be the bread and butter

Interesting column by Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian, in which he argues that newspapers should learn from the music industry in turning their attention to live events:

The key must be to learn the lesson of the most tightly competitive medium of all: popular music. It has cast off its enslavement to recording studios and recast itself, almost in Victorian mode, as a mass movement for live audiences. Music online is all but free. Live costs a fortune… Newspapers should not be investing in fancy printing presses but in the “long-tail” economics of live enterprise, with the printed word as a mere core activity.

It’s a model being tried elsewhere. As I tweeted a month ago, the web is becoming a bit like music industry… live events are increasingly profitable, but the subject matter isn’t. Have a look at Twitter right now… someone you follow will be probably be tweeting from a web event somewhere, accompanied, of course, with the customary hashtag. Indeed, as Robert Scoble mentioned in a recent panel, the biggest of the tech blogs, TechCrunch “makes the majority of its money from charging admission to its conferences.”

And yes, this model can apply to any publishing business that is finding its primary revenue stream – ads – declining; a pain the newspaper industry is feeling very sharply. So, Jenkins hypothesises, newspapers could become a “club”:

Whatever the point of entry, somewhere behind a paywall [is] a beckoning club, privileged access not just to news and comment but to a galaxy of media brands, events, concerts, courses, seminars, conferences, tours and related discounts and dating agencies. To pay [is] not to read, it [is]to join.

The problem with the events “club”

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How Big Broadsheet should deal with Big Blog: The ground rules

Great big media fuss across the pond this weekend. In brief: A couple of weeks ago Ian Shapira, a Washington Post writer, penned a 1,500-word piece on a silly “Generation Y” guru. Gawker picked up on it, cherry-picked the best quotes, and applied their customary snark. Normal.

But then the Shapira got pissed off, and this weekend wrote another 1,500 piece on how Gawker “stole” his story. A big hullabaloo ensued, most of which laid into Shapira and the Post. It’s a very timely hullabaloo. I’m writing this in my lunch hour in the offices of a broadsheet newspaper, where everyone around me is feeling a bit shifty about the the future. When livelihoods are at stake, people will hit out. But fights should be picked very carefully.

Here’s some suggested ground rules for Big Broadsheet when it comes to dealing with pesky Big Blog. Ground rules that Shapira and the Washington Post would have done well to heed.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1) You can’t beat the link economy…so join it.
Pieces I’ve written for the Guardian and the New York Times often get linked to from blogs. This makes me very happy. It increases page views. This makes my editors happy. It makes their bosses happy. It makes the coffers of the companies incrementally better off through ad revenue. The link will help the page’s Google page rank and searchability. This increases the companies’ brand equity. Yippee!  Everyone wins.  Jeff Jarvis nailed it in a tweet: It’s the link economy, stupid.
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