Twenty years ago today, I gave a talk about “Journalism 3.0” at the O’Reilly Emerging Tech conference, which in those days was a don’t-miss annual gathering in the tech world, or at least the part of it where I found my professional tribe.

When I suggested that mobile-phone cameras would revolutionize our view of the world (they were years away from becoming ubiquitous), Cory Doctorow zeroed in on my notion that we were creating a “former audience” that would become participants, not just consumers.

I’m at Dan Gillmor’s talk on Journalism 3.0. He’s just said something that galvanized me: “The former audience.” As in “Some day soon, there will be a major, newsworthy event in Japan and there will be 400 photos taken of it in the first minute by cam-equipped cellphones. Those 400 photos will make their way to news organizations and to individuals and we will have 400 visual perspectives of that event from the ‘former audience.’”

After the talk, he urged me to turn it all into a book. Surprisingly, this hadn’t yet occurred to me, even though I’d been assembling the evidence — as a participant, not just an observer — for some time. But Cory’s imagination has always been superior to mine!

Ultimately, “We the Media” happened. And I have Cory to thank, in a major way.

A terrific film about journalism disappeared almost instantly when it was released several years ago. It’s called “Shock and Awe” and is now on Amazon Prime.

It’s the story of how one major news organization — Knight Ridder’s Washington Bureau — bucked the nearly universal bended-knee cheerleading for war (in Iraq) that prevailed in the American press after 9/11.

It’s not a great film, but it’s a fine and meaningful one. Rob Reiner directed and co-starred with Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Tommy Lee Jones, and others.

Knight Ridder was up against not just a relentlessly dishonest Bush administration back then.

KR was also up against a relentlessly dishonest journalism establishment, led in particular by the New York Times, which was headlining government lies as a matter of routine “coverage” that helped start a futile war in Iraq that did so much damage there and here. There was some sporadic contrarian coverage in American journalism, but the overwhelming message was the one the government wanted the public — still traumatized by 9/11 — to hear.

Portraying KR’s John Walcott, Reiner says: “If every other news organization wants to be stenographers for the Bush administration, let them. We don’t write for people who send other people’s kids to war. We write for people whose kids get sent to war.”

I was working then at the San Jose Mercury News, part of the once-great Knight Ridder chain. What our DC bureau did back then was profoundly important.

Knight Ridder had its flaws (and so does the film). But I’ve never been so proud to be part of an organization.

Note: This is an exercise I assign to students in my Digital Media Literacy course at Arizona State University. I ask them to keep a record of how they use media in a 24-hour stretch.

5:30 a.m.: Wake up and (I should not do this) check emails on my phone to see if there’s anything urgent. There never is. So far, anyway.

6:30am: At breakfast, after we watch the first few minutes of a morning TV news program, I browse a number of journalism websites including the home pages of the New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Japan Times. Because I care a lot about the technology scene, I look at several of the best tech sites, notably ArsTechnica. The other regular media check-in each day is the private Facebook group for my small town in Northern California; that group is the closest thing to news we’ll ever have in a town that’s too small to support a news organization and is almost never noticed by the bigger media organizations in our vicinity.

7 a.m.: At the desk after breakfast, I usually have several Zoom meetings.

9 a.m.: I launch TweetDeck in a web browser to see what’s up on Twitter. The people I follow there always send me to a variety of other sites, via links they post. Twitter isn’t a great spot for original content, but it’s superb (if you follow the right people) as a place where people will point you to articles, videos, etc. that help you understand the world.

I get more serious reading done at the desk, using my personal computer, than on my phone. Among the media organizations I’ve bookmarked are the Atlantic, which has become a must-read for coronavirus information. (It was sad to see that the billionaires who own the Atlantic felt it necessary to lay off roughly a sixth of the staff in May; if they can’t see this through, who can?)

9, 10, 11 a.m., 12, 1, 2, etc. p.m.: Like many others at this point, I spend several hours a day in my email, Slack channels, and other communications venues that are critical to my work. Those often lead me to other reading — research papers, news articles, and more. It never stops, and I will never reach the fabled “Inbox Zero.”

Several times a day I am in Zoom video meetings with colleagues, family, or friends. This is a major shift, and I suspect it may be longer-lasting than I’d originally imagined. Various family members gather each Sunday on video, and we’ve become closer than we were before. The vast improvements in these tools in recent years has made it possible, as has better Internet bandwidth that (so far) hasn’t failed during the pandemic.

3 p.m.: I write a fair amount each day, though not nearly as much as I did when I was a working journalist. Beyond emails, Slack, and other messaging applications that dominate work life, I spend way too much time posting on Twitter. I also write in my personal blog from time to time, and post about once a day — usually a photo — to Facebook.

I don’t listen to much music while I work. When I do it’s usually from my own collection of MP3s, ripped from my CD collection. I prefer instrumentals that aren’t musically challenging to accompany work, because otherwise I’d actively listen to the sounds, defeating the purpose of background music.

Tv muppet show opening.jpg7 p.m.: We often watch videos in the evening — primarily films and TV programs via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. At the moment we’re going through all five seasons (starting in the late 1970s) of the Muppet Show on Disney Plus. It is great.

9 p.m.: My main book reading is in the evening, on a Kindle. Currently I’m immersed in a near-future science-fiction novel (by someone I know) that will be released in a few weeks. I read about two books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Reading gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I wish I could do more.

How do I rate news outlets?

I give the news outlets I regularly follow high credibility scores. That includes the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (except the editorial pages), and several others. They are not perfect — far from it in every case, to my constant endless despair — but they have practices that are visibly aimed at quality and integrity. And they usually correct their errors.

Big Journalism often frustrates me. But I still rely on it.

 

 

Note: This is an update of an exercise I assign to students in my Digital Media Literacy course at Arizona State University. I ask them to keep a record of how they use media in a 24-hour stretch.

5:30 a.m.: Wake up and (I absolutely should not do this) check emails on my phone to see if there’s anything urgent. There never is. So far, anyway.

6:30am: At breakfast, after we watch the first few minutes of a morning TV news program, I browse a number of journalism websites including the home pages of the New York Times, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Japan Times. Because I care a lot about the technology scene, I look at several of the best tech sites including my favorite, ArsTechnica. The other regular media check-in each day is the private Facebook group for my small town in Northern California; that group is the closest thing to news we’ll ever have in a town that’s too small to support a news organization and is almost never noticed by the bigger media organizations in our vicinity.

7 a.m.: At the desk after breakfast, I usually have several Zoom meetings.

9 a.m.: I launch TweetDeck in a web browser to see what’s up on Twitter. The people I follow there always send me to a variety of other sites, via links they post. Twitter isn’t a great spot for original content, but it’s superb (if you follow the right people) as a place where people will point you to articles, videos, etc. that help you understand the world.

I get more serious reading done at the desk, using my personal computer, than on my phone. Among the media organizations I’ve bookmarked are the Atlantic, which has become a must-read for coronavirus information. (It was sad to see that the billionaire who owns the Atlantic felt it necessary to lay off roughly a sixth of the staff a year ago; if she can’t see this through, who can?)

9, 10, 11 a.m., 12, 1, 2, etc. p.m.: Like many others at this point, I spend several hours a day in my email, Slack channels, and other communications venues that are critical to my work. Those often lead me to other reading — research papers, news articles, and more. It never stops, and I will never reach the fabled “Inbox Zero.”

Several times a day I am in Zoom video meetings with colleagues, family, or friends. This is a major shift, and I suspect it may be longer-lasting than I’d originally imagined. Various family members gather each Sunday on video, and we’ve become closer than we were before. The vast improvements in these tools in recent years has made it possible, as has better Internet bandwidth that (so far) hasn’t failed during the pandemic.

3 p.m.: I write a fair amount each day, though not nearly as much as I did when I was a working journalist. Beyond emails, Slack, and other messaging applications that dominate work life, I spend way too much time posting on Twitter. I also write in my personal blog from time to time, and post about once a day — usually a photo — to Facebook.

I don’t listen to much music while I work. When I do it’s usually from my own collection of MP3s, ripped from my CD collection (I even have some old vinyl LP records). I prefer instrumentals that aren’t musically challenging to accompany work, because otherwise I’d actively listen to the sounds, defeating the purpose of background music.

Kermit and Miss Piggy
Disney

7 p.m.: We often watch videos in the evening — primarily films and TV programs via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. At the moment we’re in about to start watching the Muppet Show from the 1970s. Really.

9 p.m.: My main book reading is in the evening, on a Kindle. Currently I’m immersed in several mysteries and a history from the World War II era. I read about two books a week, fiction and nonfiction. Reading gives me a lot of satisfaction, and I wish I could do more.

How do I rate news outlets?

I give the news outlets I regularly follow an A score. That includes the New York Times, Guardian, Journal (except the editorials/commentaries), and my regular tech outlets, especially ArsTechnica. In each case I trust that they have done solid journalistic work, using sound practices. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, because they are definitely not perfect. But they do their jobs and (usually) correct their errors. That’s as much as I can hope for.

My town’s Facebook group ranges in quality from A to D, reflecting the reality that some people there post great material and others do not. However, you’ll notice I don’t rate anyone at F. That’s because we have a moderator who does a great job keeping the group civil, and focused on our town’s issues, not national politics.

(This is adapted from my 2009 book Mediactive.)

My friend and Arizona State University colleague Tim McGuire said many years ago, “The fact is one stupid mistake when you are 19 today can kill your future.”

That’s true—today, anyway, as we learn that what we do online can often be rediscovered years later. Such is the case of Alexi McCammond, who was named editor of Teen Vogue and then dethroned after anti-Asian tweets from a decade ago were uncovered.

It’s been the common wisdom for years. Back in 2009, then-President Obama told 9th graders at a Virginia school:

“I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook — because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you’re young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff.  And I’ve been hearing a lot about young people who — you know, they’re posting stuff on Facebook, and then suddenly they go apply for a job and somebody has done a search and — so that’s some practical political advice for you right there.”

Young people make mistakes and do stupid things. So do older people, of course. Luckily for me and most of my friends, my generation’s youthful stupidities are mostly lost in the mists of time, not preserved on somewhere in the digital cloud.

But the notion of punishing someone decades later for what he or she said or did as a teenager or college student isn’t just wrong. It’s dangerous.

What matters is who you are today. If some said racist things as a teenager and is still demonstrating today that he or she harbors racist beliefs or acts in racist ways, I want no part of that person.

We’re going to have to cut each other some slack. There’s no alternative.

A journalism student of mine once asked if it was advisable to have a personal blog and, if so, to be outspoken on it. He’d apparently been warned that it could put a crimp in his future journalism career plans.

I can’t say how others would react. I do know that if I were hiring someone today I’d want to know what (not if) he or she posted online, not to find disqualifying factors but to see if that person had interesting things to say. I’d take for granted that I might find some things that were risqué or inappropriate for my current world. I’d expect to find things that would be “unjournalistic” in some ways, such as outspoken or foolish (or both) views on important people and issues. But I’d also remember my own ability, if not tendency, to be an idiot when I was that age. And I’d discount appropriately.

This is all about giving people what my friend Esther Dyson, a technology investor and seer, has called a “statute of limitations on stupidity.” If our norms don’t bend so that we can all start cutting each other more slack in this increasingly transparent society, we’ll only promote drones—the least imaginative, dullest people—into positions of authority. Now that’s really scary.

I hope we’ll make more progress on this than we’re showing at the moment. In some ways we are. Recall that it was impossible for a Catholic to be president until John F. Kennedy was elected. It was impossible for a divorced person to be elected until Ronald Reagan won. It was impossible for a former pot smoker to be president until Bill Clinton got elected. (Biden is stupidly undoing this with his firing of staffers who admit they ever used weed.) George W. Bush acknowledged having been a dissolute drunk until he was 40. And so on.

Sometime in the foreseeable future, we’ll elect a president who tweeted regularly, or had a blog or a Facebook or Instagram page when she was a teenager. By the standards of today, such a person would be utterly disqualified for any serious political job. But if we adapt as I believe we’ll have to, we’ll have grown as a society; we’ll have become not just more tolerant of flaws, but more understanding that we all have feet of clay in some respect. We’ll elect her anyway, because we’ll realize that the person she has become—and how that happened—is what counts.

How will her peers know all this? They’ll have figured it out for themselves, but they’ll have had some help, too. They’ll have been taught, from an early age.

The global freak-out over Facebook’s (temporary, no doubt) decision to remove Australian news sites from its users’ feeds reflects multiple misunderstandings — some of which are plainly deliberate — about what’s going on Down Under. Here’s my take, which is drawn largely from my earlier Twitter thread:

At the heart of the matter is Australia’s desire to help media companies — at least media companies with political clout — replace advertising money that moved from their inefficient operations to (apparently) more efficient ones. To force this,the government wants Facebook-Google to pay media companies, notably Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, for the privilege of sending traffic to articles on his websites.

This is a tax on linking, though it isn’t called that, and it does more than reward one of the most vile people on our planet. It breaks the open Internet.

No one should have to pay to link to someone else’s public web page. If news organizations want to stop inbound links, they can add a tiny snippet of code. They will never, ever do this.

What the media companies — led by transcendentally cynical people, Murdoch at the front — want is a replacement for the money they once collected when they held substantial control over where advertising appeared, and what it cost.

Their anti-tech propaganda campaign would have you believe that they have a righteous, god-given claim to advertising revenues. Why is that?

Because ads once supported some of the journalism that some media owners offered to some demographics in some communities. That’s their logic (a word that belongs in scare quotes).

That support came at a cost of its own: a market failure represented by the news owners’ monopoly/oligopoly that they ruthlessly exploited. Advertisers got royally screwed in the good old days. Who paid for that? Their customers, eventually.

The news organizations’ advertising dominance also screwed the general public in a direct way. If you ever placed a classified ad in the good old days you paid extortionate prices for a crappy service.

It is absolutely true that some news organizations used some of their monopoly rents to produce something of public value in some places for some of the people who lived there: journalism. That was a good thing, and we still need journalism, more than ever. And we need to do more, much more, to support journalism.

We also need to limit the power of the tech giants, in any number of arenas and in any number of ways. These are separate issues.

Political manipulations to support journalism by forcing two tech companies to give money to a few media companies are just another kind of market-rigging. Australia and other governments in thrall to Murdoch et al would be much more honest to simply tax the tech industry and have the government give the money to the media companies.

I’m not a big fan of direct taxpayer support of journalism, but if that’s what people want to do, go for it. Just be straightforward about it. But the Australian scheme is such a con, and not solely because the beneficiaries are boundless hypocrites.

For one thing, transferring money from new robber barons to old ones won’t do much, if anything, to boost the kind of local journalism we need everywhere, in all communities. And it ignores the much more serious platform issues.

One of those issues is whether online advertising is, as I believe the evidence is increasingly making clear, a giant con game that rips off everyone but the evil ad-tech industry. (See also Cory Doctorow’s red-hot post on this situation.) If this is the case, the advertisers are obviously victims and should be in court yesterday to recoup losses. But if there’s a direct link to news organizations’ decline, that suggests another course of action: To the extent that revenues that had once gone to news orgs, and that provably moved to platforms, were moved there because of fraud — isn’t that a slam-dunk antitrust and/or fraud civil lawsuit? Yale Law School’s Dina Srinivasan says yes, absolutely (h/t Cory for that link).

If Australia’s move becomes the norm, it will entrench the tech platforms even more. If they become the financial lifelines for (some) media businesses, those enterprises will become the platforms’ most ardent defenders. Tech journalism is inept enough already, but this will make it worse.

I’m disappointed that Google has given into the pressure and cut a deal with the Murdoch family. The company has made such deals elsewhere (France in particular), and the company policy now seems to be to fold when Big Media have enough clout with local governments.

Facebook (disclosure: it has funded some of our work) acted with surprising clumsiness in Australia. Yet its stance is closer to the right one than Google’s.

Taxing links breaks the Internet. Don’t do it.

Supporting journalism is essential. Do it, but do it the right way.

Fifteen years ago this week, I had 15 minutes of fame in Japan when my book We the Media was published in translation and the nation’s largest news magazine, Aera, put me on the cover. It was weird, but also gratifying in lots of ways.

Kaz Taira translated the book (and did the same with a follow-on book, “Mediactive” a few years later), and Katsura Hattori wrote an afterword. It was an honor to work with them, and we’ve become friends since. I look forward to the day when we can meet again in Tokyo for dinner, as we’ve done on several occasions in recent years.

乾杯!