Friday, December 28, 2007

Blogging and Marketing in Japan and the U.S.

In a New York Times article published yesterday, blogging is touted as a “low-cost, high return marketing tool” for small businesses and certain guidelines like transparency and frequent updates are laid out.

Wal Mart and its PR firm Edelman came under fire in October when it was revealed that two bloggers writing positively about Wal Mart stores across the U.S. were actually hired to promote the company.

An article in Free Internet Press compares America’s “abrasive self-promotion” with Japan’s “conformist culture” which the article claims is apparent in the blogosphere. The article refers to Junko Kenetsuna, who reviews restaurants in her blog, “I had my lunch”:

In all the blog entries she has composed at home and in cybercafes over the years, Kenetsuna has never written a discouraging word - not a single critical reference to bad food, lousy service or rip-off prices, she said. Such harshness, in her view, would be improper and offensive.

"If I think the food stinks, I don't write it," said Kenetsuna, 43, who makes a living writing advertising copy for a weekly newspaper for female office workers in Tokyo.
"There is a part of me that feels sorry for the restaurant, if it were to lose business because of what I write," she said. "I don't want to influence the diners."

Although politeness is generally considered ethical, isn’t honest criticism more important for customer reviews? Is self-censoring negativity about another company more or less transparent than self-promoting oneself under a guise?

There’s a similar dilemma posed by blogs hosting advertisements. Japanese venture capitalist Joichi Ito recently began an online marketing tool in which bloggers choose the advertisements that appear on their sites. According to Business Week:
[AdButterfly] aims to put marketers directly in touch with bloggers. Like Google's (GOOG) AdSense and other similar services, AdButterfly relies on complex algorithms that automatically place ads on relevant Web sites run by bloggers who sign up. Marketers can also manually search for blogs whose subject matter is a good fit with the brand or products they're advertising.

AdButterfly, unlike AdSense and other rivals, gives bloggers the final say on the ads that appear and also allows blog owners to comment next to the advertisement. Ito believes this to be more “authentic” than “sly behind-the-scenes marketing techniques.” But the article also warns against filtering ads:
There are, of course, drawbacks to advertising on blogs, which don't have the long reach of mass media. And analysts worry that AdButterfly muddies the divide between paid-for endorsements and grassroots buzz. Not all bloggers are likely to come clean when there's a conflict of interest. "This model is both unique and murky," says Pete Blackshaw, executive vice-president of market researcher Nielsen Online Strategic Services. "My guess is that a set of informal rules will emerge."

Business Week says that despite the potential threat of bloggers running advertisements for companies they dislike just so they can criticize them, this has not yet happened on AdButterfly. This may be due to the “conformist culture” or the fact that the service is only used by about 2,000 Japanese bloggers as of yet.

With the growing trend of merging marketing with blogging, what role will cultural differences play? Japanese and English are the two most-used languages in the blogosphere and users of the two languages appear to have different marketing approaches.

Will Americans, who are supposedly more self-promotional and less averse to offending, abuse Japanese advertising tools? What sort of guidelines for online marketing might help bridge the alleged cultural divide?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Online at 30,000 Feet

On this blog, we have explored the codes of Internet conduct in various environments--in a free country, in an oppressive state, or in a family plagued by abuse. How does one conduct one's self on the Internet while in the air?

Some airlines such as Qantas and AirFrance are exploring various online services on their flights. See AP article "Airborne Internet might bring turbulence."

These services could potentially bring etiquette, openness, and freedom of speech issues into these close quarters. But like the Internet in general, the result will very much depend on whether customers can self regulate.

AirFrance is going to try out new services before they start to regulate:

AirFrance, which plans to start allowing cellular calls through OnAir within months, said it would see how people use such services before crafting rules.

"Are you going to reach your wife to tell her what you did the entire day or just tell her, 'Can you pick me up at the airport?'" Air France spokeswoman Marina Tymen said, adding that passengers might tell the airline that data services fulfill all their needs.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Citizen Curators" at the Met

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post all reported today on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Blog.mode: addressing fashion.”

From the WSJ:

Fashion criticism has long been the exclusive realm of an insular band of journalists who traveled the big runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York and seemed to speak their own esoteric language. But the Met's new exhibit, "Blog.mode Addressing Fashion," is inviting anyone with an Internet connection to critique the clothes on display. With its new blog,, which went up this week, the august museum is also acknowledging that traditional fashion criticism is over.
WSJ quotes designer Hussein Chalayan: "At the end of the day when you have a critic write about your work, it is just one person who is supposed to be an expert," he says. "Why is this taken more seriously [than a blogger]?"

The Washington Post is more critical of what it fears may become a trend in “citizen curating”:
Museums need to be attuned to the communities they serve and should strive to attract as wide an audience as possible. Museums don't own culture, but they sort through it, rank it and attempt to make some sense of it. Theirs aren't the only valid points of view, but they are especially valued because they're the result of research, dispassionate analysis and intellectual curiosity.

Should your next-door neighbor's opinion of Rei Kawakubo sit side-by-side with the point of view of the Costume Institute's curator? Should they be given similar weight?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Direct Dial Democracy

Worried about a bill under consideration in Congress? Think twice before emailing your rep. As Garrett Graff noted recently, these abundant virtual missives tend to provoke only an auto-reply. In the real world where scarcity and effort influence value, real letters and telephone calls are holding their own. Enter Committee Caller. This automatic calling service dials all the congresspeople on a committee of your choosing, one right after the other without hanging you up. It was developed by Fred Benenson, a student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University.

Committee Caller is a new project, so there's obvious room for improvement. I'd like the site to display the Congressional calendar, perhaps even link to C-SPAN in some capacity. A connection to the biographies and voting records of the Members of Congress would also be useful, maybe in connection with a wiki like Congresspedia. And perhaps version 2.0 can replace the robotic narrator with a celebrity voice-over. (If James Earl Jones is busy I nominate Monica Lewinsky.) Overall, though, Committee Caller seems like a necessary innovation for the motherland.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Using Facebook as Data Source Ethical?

A team of researchers from Harvard and UCLA are monitoring the activity of an entire East Coast college’s Facebook activity, reports the IHT today. Scholars are examining the ways in which people connect with one another. But, partly to keep the data clean, the Facebook users do not know they are being watched. Is this kind of study ethical?

One problem is that Facebook is not necessarily representative of the population at large. The IHT article notes that: "Eszter Hargittai, a professor at Northwestern, found in a study that Hispanic students were significantly less likely to use Facebook, and much more likely to use MySpace. White, Asian and Asian-American students, the study found, were much more likely to use Facebook and significantly less likely to use MySpace."

In my mind, this sampling issue came up the other day during Garrett Graff's talk here at the Carnegie Council on his new book “The First Campaign” (listen to his talk here). Graff was talking about how the 2008 U.S. presidential elections will be the first campaign in which technology as both the medium and the message will determine the outcome. But doesn’t that also beg the obvious question:

Won’t those who are more technology-savvy therefore have relatively more influence in the political arena?

A sample bias may also occur in that people who are engaged in politics online might be peculiar in a certain way. Do these people have more time on their hands than do others? It reminds me of a polling data problem: Polls draw from surveys conducted over the phone… What kind of person answers the phone call from a stranger? Related, the people answering the phone surveys are probably the mirror of the techo-savvy since the surveys can only legally be done on land-line phones—something many of the savvy netizens gave up altogether for mobile services.

Another problem with the Facebook study is that the subjects have not given the researchers permission to study them. Feelings are mixed on this issue reports the IHT:

Most researchers acknowledge these limits, yet they are still eager to plumb the site's vast amount of data. The site's users have mixed feelings about being put under the microscope. Katherine Kimmel, 22, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, said she found it "fascinating that professors are using something that started solely as a fun social networking tool for entertainment," and she suggested yet another study: how people fill out Facebook's "relationship status" box. "You're not really dating until you put it on Facebook," she said.

But Derrick Clifton, 19, a student at Pomona College in California, said, "I don't feel like academic research has a place on a Web site like Facebook." He added that if it was going to happen, professors should ask students' permission.

Clearly the data would be skewed if the subjects knew they were being studied. If the identify of the particular subjects is withheld in the research findings, it would seem OK. But that is very difficult to do, as researchers discovered last year after AOL made available the search queries of 650,000 users. From the New York Times:

Although the 650,000 AOL users were not personally identified in the data, the logs contained enough information to discern an individual’s identity in some cases.

AOL quickly withdrew the data from its research Web site, but not before it had been downloaded, reposted and made searchable at a number of Web sites. And on Monday, the company dismissed Abdur Chowdhury, the researcher who posted the data, along with another employee. Maureen Govern, AOL’s chief technology officer, resigned.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Democratizing Market Forces

Friday’s Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece by Randall Rothenberg on Facebook Beacon and Facebook’s decision to allow users to opt-out of the advertising program. From the Facebook website:

Facebook Beacon enables your brand or business to gain access to viral distribution within Facebook. Stories of a user's engagement with your site may be displayed in his or her profile and in News Feed. These stories will act as a word-of-mouth promotion for your business and may be seen by friends who are also likely to be interested in your product.
While this may be great for business, and also allows Internet services to remain free to the public, it caused an uproar among users whose Christmas gifts were revealed to recipients via Facebook's News Feed, and when businesses failed to ask permission or even issue a warning before transferring information about purchases made with an email address different from that associated with the Facebook account.

A group of 50,000 signed a petition created by calling for Facebook to add privacy features that allow users to opt-out--and it worked. Rothenberg used a term coined by Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR's On the Media, to describe the phenomenon: “Listenomics,” according to Garfield, means “the herd will be heard.”

Rothenberg goes on to offer an explanation:
Why does the herd have such a powerful voice? Because the technologies that enable people to network to their 10,000 closest colleagues, build a blog or launch a global digital video network are now built into personal computers or available gratis on the Web.
A blogger on expands on the economics part of the equation:
Yes, social media marketing needs to be monetized either directly or indirectly. When the dust settles any marketing organization must remembers its most valuable asset is its community members. Social media is driven by people banded together to form communities, not by technology or informal networks. When community is sacrificed for dollars, organizations lose both. No community equals no transactions.
Just how important of a factor is economics compared to the power of the Internet to mobilize? Will "listenomics" be as effective in politics as it is in business? has another petition demanding that Congress not grant immunity to the telecom industry for its role in illegal wiretapping. Will that matter if companies like AT&T and Verizon are donating tens of thousands of dollars to Senators?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Knol Thyself: The Utility of Wikipedia Rival

A fascinating debate has emerged about the future of Wikipedia and Google’s rival project that promotes bylined knols (or units of knowledge). This is from Google’s blog introducing the concept:

A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

A quick blog search shows many people predicting the “death knol” for Wikipedia. Others warn that we shouldn’t leap to conclusions since other Google products such as Froogle and Google Apps have failed to kill their rivals.

But Google has a lot going for it in this project. As one blogger said, the Wikipedia rival would allow Google to control the three levels of the searching experience: the front door (Google), the search results, and now the content you get when you click on those results. Google would have the money and power to promote its own units of knowledge and with the use of advertising could create a stronger business model than could Wikipedia.

We have debated the utility of anonymity extensively in our blog. Many have suggested that anonymous postings allow people to express themselves or inform the public without jeopardizing their own security. Theoretically, this use of the anonymous post works as long as the topic is not an ad hominem attack. But the weakness of Wikipedia is that anonymous editors post, modify, and even delete whole entries without much accountability.

Google would seek to avoid this pitfall by allowing as many entries as the market produces and let the market decide (through) ranking which entry is best. It better uses the power of the invisible hand.

One thing I have not seen the bloggers talk about yet though:

Beyond the business model, another huge strength of Google’s approach is that it more closely resembles a traditional encyclopedia and in that way becomes more useful in the classroom and citations. If you have credible authors writing bylined posts, you get credible information.

Many teachers and professors have told me that they have banned Wikipedia from the classroom, homework assignments, and paper citations. If Google gives space to acknowledged experts, it is actually eating into the market of encyclopedias. It is spreading knowledge. And when someone asks you where you learned a piece of information, you would no longer have to say meekly, Wikipedia. You could name an expert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wiki Rival: Transparency

Google is in the process of developing a rival to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that allows users to post entries with handles, effectively giving them a degree of anonymity when they post. On the upside, that means someone with intimate knowledge of a subject might be able to contribute even if that person has sensitivities about doing so in public. But Wikipedia also allows anonymous editors to change or delete entries.

It seems that the Google rival service would do away with both of these aspects. First, the service would promote bylined entries:

Google asserts that the Web's development so far has neglected the importance of the bylined author.

"We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content," wrote Udi Manber, vice president of engineering, on the official Google blog.

Second, the entries would not be edited by other users but would rather accumulate. The most credible entries would emerge from Google’s search technology:

Entries can't be edited or revised by other people, in contrast to Wikipedia. However, other readers will be able to rank and review others' entries, which will then be interpreted by Google's search engine when displaying results.

According to the New York Times article "Google Develops Wikipedia Rival," Google’s project is in the beta phase. Google has a long way to catch up to Wikipedia in this area. Can they do it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former NBC correspondent David Hazinski offers a sharp rebuke to proponents of "citizen journalism."

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists." This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer." Tools are merely that. Education, skills and stanandards are what really make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.

I guess the question is: Is that true? Should journalism schools offer certification, as Hazinski suggests, to citizen journalists? Is too much information necessarily always bad? Must news be passed through the filters of giant media conglomerates before it is offered for consumption?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merging Citizen and Professional Journalism

PRI’s The World reported last night on trends in global news coverage, questioning whether or not foreign bureaus are necessary in the information age. (According to a report by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, the number of foreign correspondents at U.S. newspapers fell 25% between 2002 and 2006.)

Given increased attention to global issues post-9/11, some attribute the closures to the corporate media’s alleged desire to place profits over quality reporting. The program highlighted the Hot Zone, an “experiment” by Yahoo! News in which a single photojournalist, Kevin Sites, “will deliver stories via a five-fingered multimedia platform of text, photography, video, audio, and interactive chat - all available on one website.” Sites travels the world with the goal of covering every armed conflict in one year.

While sending a single person out into the field is notably cheaper than operating entire bureaus, many, including John Schidlovsky from Johns Hopkins University’s International Reporting Project, are skeptical:

We’re missing depth. One reason the American media failed in its job of covering the lead up to the war in Iraq miserably was partly because we didn’t have enough good correspondents who were out there telling the American people what was really going on in the Middle East.

The World highlighted another project, France 24’s The Observers, which has professional journalists and editors gathering, editing, and verifying content on the web submitted by citizens around the world, which is then broadcast as news.

The Shorenstein Center recently published a discussion paper on “Journalism without Journalists,” in which Michael Maier, former Sagan Fellow at the Center, comments on the integration of citizen journalism and open source media into mainstream press:

I would definitely consider bloggers--who dedicated themselves to unconditional freedom early on--to be outside the media. And I hope they are able to stay there, so that their minds can remain open and their speech remain truly free. Several attempts have been made to integrate bloggers into old institutions in order to inject fresh air, but it was not the traditional media that changed through these efforts. Rather, the bloggers lost their spicy language and became tame to please their old-news bosses. The blog as a truly independent, stand-alone format should be kept alive in all it’s uniqueness. [sic]

Bloggers are descendants of the European “Pamphletistes” who in the Age of Enlightenment wrote excessive and unrestrained polemics. The old media would be wise to encourage bloggers to stay independent, but building some kind of connection may be beneficial—the anarchy and irreverence of the blog world invigorates journalism tremendously.

You can see France 24’s editors debate the merit of professionally edited blog content as journalism here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Corporate Bloggers Launch "Blog Council"

A group of big corporate bloggers has formed a Blog Council to "help corporate blogging efforts become more successful." Their press release indicates a little about their mission and method:

The Blog Council exists as a forum for executives to meet one another in a private, vendor-free environment and share tactics, offer advice based on past experience, and develop standards-based best practices as a model for other corporate blogs.

And here are a couple interesting excerpts from the FAQ:
7. Is this an ethics organization?
Our purpose is to help our members develop effective policies and learn from each other. Teaching ethical best practices will be a core part of our program. The Blog Council is a community, not a trade association, so we don't set or enforce polices [sic].

8. Are you trying to 'regulate' or 'police' the blogosphere?
Absolutely not. The Blog Council is a peer community where we learn from each other. We have no intention of creating policy or regulating anyone. The opposite is actually the case ... we help companies learn to work with the existing standards of blog ethics set by the free and open blogosphere.

It being a brand new initiative these are probably QWFAO (Questions We Frequently Ask Ourselves), so I'd like to see them define their terms a little further. A Google search for the exact phrase "existing standards of blog ethics" gave me zero results. A search for "free and open blogosphere" yielded six results, one of which is a fascinating article on "The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere" by J. D. Lasica in Online Journalism Review from the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication. That article was a lucky find because it mentions the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Ethics Code, and WOMMA was founded by Andy Sernovitz, the guy who's also behind Blog Council.

For further reading, here's a Technorati page collecting the blog buzz on the Blog Council. There's definitely some skepticism floating around about why this initiative is proceeding mostly behind closed doors, and if that's even useful for the participants given the messy, public, interactive nature of blogging. But I guess that strategy is not so farfetched in light of the sensitive proprietary information that companies deal with and the uncertainty some must feel when opening up to blogs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

China's "Mental Firewall"

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported on bloggers in China and touched on two important issues discussed previously on the Ethical Blogger: trust and credibility on the Internet in China and the blogger Zola’s influential corruption coverage. The main emphasis of today’s WSJ article, however, was on the role of self-censorship, rather than government controls, as a hurdle to free speech on the Internet:

China’s 162 million Internet users are a largely young and wealthy set who typically aren’t engaged in politics. Most don’t seem intent on accessing the sort of content that would upset the authorities. They are busy amassing virtual weapons in online games and posting photos to blogs.

But when content does get political, the government doesn’t have to do all the censoring itself…

China’s Confucian values teach respect for authority and the subordination of the individual to the family and state. In China’s rigid education system, young people rarely are encouraged to express their opinions. And people have learned to keep quiet as political orthodoxies changed with the wind over the decades, with leaders coming into power, then falling out of favor as new regimes installed themselves. Finding yourself on the wrong side could lead to punishment, including exile and jail.

The Chinese government has made it very clear to the public that the tradition of harsh punishment for dissidence extends into cyberspace. In addition to placing rigid barriers to market entry on Internet companies, making it difficult for independent Internet service and content providers to compete with State controlled entities, the Chinese government has laid out rigid regulations for companies and individual Internet users to follow. Companies that skirt the rules can be subject to fines of up to RMB 50,000, closure of sites, and revocation of business licenses, while in extreme cases, individual cyberdissidents have been sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. This alone has deterred a number of Internet users from pushing their limits.

In some instances the line between self-censorship and government censorship is blurred. A May 2006 New York Times article entitled “As Chinese Students Go Online, Little Sister Is Watching spotlights Hu Yingying, a student at Shanghai Normal University who monitors the university’s discussion boards and steers conversation away from politics or other sensitive topics:

Part traffic cop, part informer, part discussion moderator — and all without the knowledge of her fellow students — Ms. Hu is a small part of a huge national effort to sanitize the Internet. For years China has had its Internet police, reportedly as many as 50,000 state agents who troll online, blocking Web sites, erasing commentary and arresting people for what is deemed anti-Communist Party or antisocial speech.

But Ms. Hu, one of 500 students at her university's newly bolstered, student-run Internet monitoring group, is a cog in a different kind of force, an ostensibly all-volunteer one that the Chinese government is mobilizing to help it manage the monumental task of censoring the Web.

These tactics haven’t completely eliminated sensitive political discussion. Cyberdissidents in China use email spamming techniques to dispense information. Li Hongkuan, who goes by the alias Richard Long, began sending a newsletter called VIP Reference News out to roughly 250,000 people in via email. His newsletter is actually a banned website, but Li is able to provide his otherwise unavailable information to the masses because email recipients can claim that it was unsolicited and avoid punishment (although some suppliers of email addresses were jailed). Other modern communications tools like text messaging have been crucial to organizing protests, and since cell phone use is more widespread than the Internet in China’s rural areas, this may for now be a better tool for disseminating information and mobilizing the masses.

So perhaps blogs don’t provide complete insight into the spectrum of controversial activities going on in authoritarian regimes, as dissidents may be finding it more beneficial to spread their influence through multiple communications outlets.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Baghdad Fabulists, Left and Right

In August, covered the conservative mil- and political bloggers' outrage by the possibility that Army private Scott Beauchamp, who had been sending dispatches to the New Republic, had actually fabricated his horrific and vivid accounts of life as a soldier in Iraq. Since then, Scott has supposedly recanted his statements; then not recanted; then admitted to simply wanting to 'use his experiences to enhance his writing and provide legitimacy to his work possibly becoming the next Hemingway'. Since then the New Republic has come under intense scrutiny from conservative bloggers, calling a clear violation of ethical reporting of the war; how could a publication with the credibility such as TNR fail to do an adequate fact-check before publishing Beauchamp's dispatches? With multiple accusations of censorship, editor Franklin Foer recently published a 14-page long explanation of the events as understood by those involved at TNR (including, somewhat famously, Beauchamp's wife):

In the New Republic case, Foer acknowledged a key "mistake" in checking on whether Beauchamp lied or exaggerated in writing that U.S. soldiers had made fun of a disfigured woman, run over dogs for sport and played with an Iraqi child's skeletal remains. Foer said Beauchamp's wife, Elspeth Reeve, then a researcher at the magazine, was assigned "a large role" in checking the story. While Reeve acted in good faith, he said, "there was a clear conflict of interest."
Ultimately, TNR concludes with the following:
When I [Foer] last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.
After going through such intense public (and online) criticism, TNR may have just had its day: reports are coming in that the same thing is happening over at the National Review Online. The NRO's editor Kathryn Jean Lopez is declaring that this is hardly the same situation as TNR's case of the 'Baghdad Fabulist'. Though the story over at NRO seems yet to be over (despite Lopez's claims), one uncomfortable admission from Lopez seems to be making some waves in the blogging community:
As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.
If Smith was too trusting of his sources, that is a journalistic faux pas of an entirely different sort. It does not, contrary to some bloggers’ claims, make him a fabulist.
Yikes! Is how they write it over at New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer. And Jeff Bercovici over at Portfolio also seems to find this defense troubling, if not altogether racist:

So that's what happened! Here's Smith, doing his job like a good reporter, when along come those Arabs with their "Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate" and trip him up. Gotcha. If only he'd remembered this, NRO-approved simple rule of thumb: Unlike everybody else, Arabs lie!

Oh, and as for that "doing his job" part, that's only true if you define his job as "sneaking into Hezbollah bases and stealing their property, thereby endangering all Western reporters in the region."

I'm curious to know what will happen with this particular case with the NRO, post-TNR debacle. For all of Beauchamp's horrific statements with regard to what he saw and did, TNR initially granted him the freedom to say what he wanted to say without casting judgment upon the content of his own views or stories. But with the NRO, it seems as if the support for Smith goes beyond what TNR did for Beauchamp, venturing into a sticky territory lined with institutionally-based racism. Given conservative bloggers backlash at TNR, I'll be interested to see how leftist bloggers respond to the NRO, for when asked by the New York Times if he was experiencing any joy over the NRO's own troubles, Foer had responded: "I have a feeling of how difficult this situation must be for them, and I wish them luck in resolving it."

Monday, December 3, 2007

South African Journalist Fired for Blogging

South African journalist Llewellyn Kriel was fired from the newspaper Sowetan last Thursday after blogging about the company's mismanagement on Thought Leader. The official reasoning was that Kriel disclosed confidential information about Sowetan, which the company sent out in an email to employees. Others, Kriel included, viewed the decision as an infringement on freedom of expression. Journalist Arthur Goldstuck quotes Kriel:

“Here is an organisation whose entire existence is premised on freedom of expression. It’s an organisation that continually calls on private and public institutions to account for their behaviour. Yet, they don’t want to be measured by that yardstick.

“If a company is putting out a moratorium on new appointments, surely this is something you can argue is in the public interest to be known? Nothing in the email, and nothing in the way it was distributed, gave any indication of sensitivity or confidentiality at all.”

Sowetan published an article just a week earlier on employees' constitutional right to criticize their employer's management practices.

Andrew Trench ponders what the case may signal for the future of intellectual property rights:

WiIl we see employment contracts in media restricting staff from blogging without the permission of their employer, much like freelance writing clauses which are pretty standard in contracts these days?

What if a staff writer developed a popular blog independently within their own time and was able to sell advertising to generate income from it? How would this be dealt with?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Social Networking for the Socially Exclusive

Are you a high net-worth individual that just can't find a place online to connect with people you feel comfortable with? Feeling unfulfilled by the stodgier trappings of wealth and privilege? Want to get in on the social networking phenomenon, but just don't want to mix and mingle with the nouveau riche? Rest assured, there IS a place for you.

There are several, in fact. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, "a new crop of social networking sites has taken aim at the rich, seeking to create exclusive Web communities of like-moneyed friends."

Interested parties should apply to the Diamond Lounge and A Small World. But be warned, the barriers to entry are high. And as with many social networking sites, members find much to complain about.

One member recently posted the question: "Is it just me, but lately I see people on ASW who really shouldn't be there. Who invites these people? We should be selective who to invite. What about quality control?" Another member wrote: "In the real world, we are each discerning about who we make friends with, who we socialize with. There is no reason why when we come online we should have to socialize with truck drivers etc. from hick parts of the USA."
What was it Groucho Marx said about membership in these types of clubs?