• Take control of the media with this media and news literacy course

    This was the theme of my last book, Mediactive (here's Cory's super-kind review; blush…), and it's at the heart of my online teaching and much of my recent writing.

    So it was logical to extend the mission — and next week (July 6) we're launching a "massive open online course" (MOOC) on media/news literacy in the digital age. It's called "MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload."


  • A Bit More Music…and So Long for Now

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    At the beginning of this guest-blogging stint at BoingBoing, I posted a song from my days in music some years back. Several of you asked me to post some more. Okay, on my last post for now, here goes. 

    Our music, in a band called Road Apple, ranged all over the map, from 20s jazz to rock to country to whatever we felt like. We wrote a lot of our own material. I learned the secret of collaboration: Always work (or play, in this case) with people who are better than you are.

    Music was a joy, not a job. I miss it, and miss my musical compatriots and friends who are either distant in geography or who've left us entirely.

    These songs reflect my folky tendencies, and are from two albums we recorded in the 1970s; you'll have to decide whether they've held up or not. I wrote the first two. The last is by David Batteau and it may be the best of all the tunes we recorded.

    "I Stayed Behind" — One day I decided to write a lonesome country song:

    "California Plane" — It can be a bad idea to go back home unannounced:

    "Space Cowboys" — A beautiful song, and I think we did justice to it:

    It's been an honor and pleasure to be here, sharing a space not just with the incredible BoingBoing team but with all of you as well. Your ideas and comments reinforced what I already knew, that BoingBoing readers are a rare breed. Thanks to all…

  • Web Software Seller Won't Take No for an Answer


    A promotion arrived in my email, offering 40 percent off on products from a company I'd done business with in the past. I was interested in a website construction tool that's gotten good reviews, and clicked the Buy button:

    rv buy dg22.png

    Without my asking, the company had added "Extended Download Service" for an extra few dollars. I dislike this kind of thing — unrequested add-ons that have little utility in any case– and I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

    backupdownload dg22.png

    In any case, I clicked the trashcan to remove the extended download service (something that any user could do at no extra cost with any remotely serious kind of backup system), and got back here:backup removed dg22.png

    I entered the promotional code and clicked "Apply" — and what shows up again on the next screen? You guessed it: that extended download service:

    backup restored dg22.png

    At this point I closed that tab in my browser.

    I realize we're in a recession, but this kind of behavior doesn't win new customers.

    UPDATE: See this comment from the company in response. Apparently the retailer in question is the US reseller for the company that makes the product. Hope they'll straighten out their reseller, which seems to be the intention based on the comments.

  • E-Voting's Continuing Scandals

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Brad Friedman at the Brad Blog has been keeping up on the latest too-real news about the nation's voting machines and the people who sell, buy and operate them. Two recent postings send the outrage meter way into the red.

    First is California's continuing effort to clean up the mess it's made over the last few years. It's going to be harder than anyone imagined. As we learn in this post:

    Even the audit log system on current versions of Premier Election Solutions' (formerly Diebold's) electronic voting and tabulating systems — used in some 34 states across the nation — fail to record the wholesale deletion of ballots. Even when ballots are deleted on the same day as an election. That's the shocking admission heard today from Justin Bales, Premier's Western Region manager, at a State of California public hearing on the possible decertification of Diebold/Premier's tabulator system, GEMS v. 1.18.19.

    Then there's the incredible charges in Kentucky, where officials are said to have literally changed votes after the fact:

    The Kentucky officials arrested and indicted today, "including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officers" of Clay County, have been charged with "chang[ing] votes at the voting machine" and showing others how to do it!

    It all makes you wonder if we're ever going to have voting we can trust.

  • Calling Tech Show Bloggers: Please Cover Al Gore's 'Off the Record' Keynote Speech


    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest blogger.

    Former VP Al Gore is speaking at the CTIA Wireless show on April 3. But the giant trade show says:

    Special Notice: Photography, recording, webcasting and any other reproduction of Vice President Al Gore's speaking appearance is strictly prohibited.

    The press, whatever that is these days, has been barred from coverage, too, according to a letter on the Romenesko media blog: No one with a press pass will be allowed in.

    (UPDATE: The press has now been given permission to attend. Perhaps the idiocy of this policy got Gore's attention.)

    This calls for a) lots and lots of blogging of the event by attendees who are not registered as press; and b) "official" press interviews of attendees and publication of those interviews. (I might also note, just for the sake of noting it, that you don't have to be obvious about waving around a smart phone with a video camera; audio and video recording gear has gotten really small and cheap.)

    It would be great if the good folks attending this trade show could help make clear to Al Gore and others in similar positions that a speech to 4,000 people is not off the record no matter how much they may wish it to be so, not anymore.

    My own suspicion about Gore's reasons: He probably imagines he's saving the material for a new book or movie. Otherwise the only possible explanation is that he's giving the dullest speech in history and knows that already.

  • Many Restaurants Remain Oblivious to Mobile Web

    A few years ago, for reasons that are still unclear, restaurants that created web pages went wild for Flash and graphics. You'd go to a restaurant's website and be forced to watch some lame animation or other alleged art, and then have to endure even more of it just to find out what was on the menu. You still do, in many cases.

    This customer-unfriendly system is made worse with mobile phones. I'm heading to North Carolina early next month to give a couple of talks and was looking for places to eat in Chapel Hill, one of the stops. Bad move (on an iPhone, anyway). I did a Google map search and got a link to a place that, when selected, produced this image:


    Not terribly helpful. But aha — when I expanded the page I noticed a link called "Menu":

    restaurtant 2 dg20  

    This was promising, until I clicked that link and got this:

    restaurant photo 3

    Maybe they'd have more customers if potential patrons could actually see what they have to offer.

  • Utterly Nuts, but Sane Enough to Execute in Texas

    A court ruling for the (dark) ages:

    A condemned Texas inmate who removed his only eye and ate it in a bizarre outburst several months ago on death row is "crazy," yet sane under state law, a judge wrote in an appellate court ruling today that rejected his appeals.

    Andre Thomas raised 44 claims in his petition to the state's highest criminal court, challenging his conviction and death sentence for the murder of his estranged wife's 13-month-old daughter five years ago in Grayson County in North Texas.

  • Paying for News: A Mega-Merger Thought Experiment

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Time for some radical thinking in journalism business models, right? OK, try this thought experiment (wait a second while I put on a flame-retardant suit):

    What would happen if some top English language journalism organizations simply merged and started charging for their breaking news and commentary about policy, economics and and other national/international topics. That is, what if they were to combine for critical mass and keep most of their journalism off the public Internet for a few days after publication but then make the archives freely available?

    Before you spit out your coffee (or whatever) in rage and/or laughter and/or derision, let me happily concede that this approach would raise all kinds of questions — about elitism, fundamental business issues, the Internet's linking culture and more. But it's already sparked a great offline conversation. And who knows, it might even work (though as you'll see below, some colleagues have pointed out good reasons why it might not).


  • Violating Terms of Use by Default


    Buried in the Terms of Use of a very interesting and potentially valuable site called Newssift, a just-launched service from the Financial Times that uses semantic-web ideas to help sort through the news:

    You may be granted a limited, nonexclusive right to create a hyperlink to Newssift.com Web provided (i) you give FT Search Inc. notice of such link by writing to privacyofficer@newssift.com, (ii) FT Search Inc. confirms in writing that you may establish the link, (iii) you do not remove or obscure the copyright notice or other notices on Newssift.com Web, (iv) such link does not portray Newssift.com Web or any of its products, software, content or services in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise defamatory manner, and (v) you immediately discontinue providing a link to Newssift.com Web if so requested by FT Search Inc. You may not use an Newssift.com logo or other proprietary graphic or trademark of Newssift.com to link to the Newssift.com Web without the express written permission of FT Search Inc.

    Except as expressly approved by FT Search Inc. in writing, you agree not to reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, trade, resell or exploit for any commercial purposes, any portion, or use of, or access to, Newssift.com Web.

    Just curious: Who got permission for these links?

    And since the Web is a giant copying machine, which means that the Newssift results are copied onto my computer screen, am I not exploiting the service "for commercial purposes" if I learn something that serves my own business purposes, e.g. buying shares in a company based on a story they've, um, linked to?

    Newssift has a lot to recommend it, but this stuff — all too common these days — is ridiculous. The FT lawyers are doing their best to stomp on their own bosses.

    UPDATE: See this comment from the company, which says the terms of service were written during the private beta phase and will be updated to reflect the public launch. That actually makes some sense, but did it take a day to figure out? (I ask because I had a call from Newssift shortly after posting this item (more than a day ago from the time of this update), during which I invited the company to explain what it thought it was doing with these restrictions.)

  • Obama's Critical Early Test: Corporate Arrogance

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    This is Obama's air-traffic controllers opportunity.

    In 1981, not long after taking office, President Reagan faced a strike by the nation's air-traffic controllers. He fired them, broke the union and set in motion a generation of anti-labor policies that were a tenet of Republican orthodoxy. Whether those policies were ultimately more positive or negative is still a topic of political and economic debate, (I think the aggregate outcome was damaging) but Reagan's decisive action made a huge difference that reverberated through his presidency and several more.

    Today, we face corporate arrogance that is almost transcendent and vastly more damaging than any of organized labor's excesses. Wall Street's barons, and the people who have been running and allegedly governing many of the nation's biggest companies, have raised a collective middle finger to America even as they've forced us to bail out the enterprises they've run into the ground. When commentators fret about corporate leaders' tone-deafness, they are implying that the executives simply don't get it. Oh yes they do.


  • Puppy Dog Journos Protect Poor Dick Cheney from Criticism

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Media Puppy DogsFar earlier than anyone in his position in the recent past, former VP Dick Cheney has gone on the attack against the new administration. His anti-Obama remarks the other night, prompted by a CNN interviewer, essentially accused the new president of deliberately making the country less safe. Salon's Glenn Greenwald captures the nauseating way some Washington journalists have rushed to defend Cheney from the well-earned disdain his comments elicited from Obama's press spokesman.

    Journalists love to depict themselves as hard-nosed, rambunctious, ornery adversaries of establishment orthodoxies and political power. The reality is the opposite: there simply is no class of people more reverent of the political establishment and more devoted to protecting and defending its prerogatives. Of all people, journalists ought to be embarrassed to publicly play the role of decorum enforcers when it comes to how the politically powerful are treated. They should be the last ones — not the first ones — demanding that controversial political figures be treated with the type of profound reverence typically reserved for religious leaders and monarchs. Identically, in the most minimally healthy political culture, high political leaders would be the least entitled, not the most entitled, to be shielded from cutting political criticism.

    The worst of this is the irony-free zone journalists have created for themselves. Unlike Greenwald, they offer not a shred of context, failing to note the unprecedented (at least in the modern era) way Cheney attacked so early in the new administration.

    The Washington press corps continues to embarrass itself.

    (Photo by omniNate via Flickr)

  • Killing BadWare via a Community

    badware logo dg16.jpg

    BadWareBusters.org is a

    platform for the further development of StopBadware's strategy to bring together people, organizations, and data in new ways to fight back against badware. The site already offers a pretty neat user reputation and message rating system, but we plan to build on this to provide tools that allow the community to express its collective voice. We want to learn from our users, so that StopBadware's research and advocacy activities can be as effective and current as possible.

    In addition to helping users with badware problems on their computers, the BadwareBusters community has helped webmasters of sites that have been hacked to distribute badware.

    The project comes from StopBadware.org and Consumer Reports WebWatch.

    Note: StopBadware is a project of the Berkman Center, where I'm a fellow.

  • Covering a Court Case: Journalism and Law Students

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    An important trial is under way in Montana, where W.R. Grace is the defendant in a case about pollution, conspiracy and cover-up. Journalism and law students from the University of Montana are doing superlative coverage of the case in a blog-based project.

    This is a great model for journalism schools and communities where they exist. It should be a template for others to use and improve on in the future.

    The Grace Case Project is a collaborative undertaking dedicated to providing accurate, timely coverage of the criminal prosecution of U.S. v W.R. Grace and five of its executives and managers. The case is being tried in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont. It focuses on charges that the company and the employees named engaged in a conspiracy and cover up that risked the lives of people in Libby, Mont., by allowing them to be exposed to a type of asbestos stirred up by the company's vermiculite mining and ore processing near town.

    The students are tackling different aspects of the coverage, with one student from each school in the courtroom most of the time court is in session.

    inkwell image

    Journalism students, most of whom are undergraduate juniors and seniors, are working to tell the story that the jury hears. They are also writing background and explainer stories that aim to provide context and clarity to the daily court action. The journalism students work under the conditions of their trade, attributing their information to named sources or direct observation and writing according to AP style. Their blog posts are designated by the use of the inkwell icon, and have a blue background.

    scales Law students, who are in their second and third years at the law school, are charged with explaining the legal nuances and strategies of the trial. Their posts explain why the jurors are hearing the story as it is being told, and the strategy behind the legal challenges and rulings that shape that story. They provide legal background and context in an effort to explain the strategy of the legal teams. Law students labor under the conventions of their field, not those of the journalism students. Their blog posts are denoted by the use of the scales of justice icon.

  • Seattle Newspaper Goes Online Only; World Doesn't End

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    seattlepi dg15.pngHearst's decision to shut down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and go online only is an anticlimax — a long-telegraphed decision. And it's the second such semi-shuttering in the U.S., but definitely part of a trend that will gather strength in the next several years.

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday, ending a 146-year run.

    The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the newspaper, Seattle's oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers.

    The company, however, said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.

    "Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time," Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. "But the bloodline will live on."

    The longer-range issue, in Seattle and lots of other cities, is what kind of journalism will be done, and by whom. There's plenty of reason to worry about the demise of newspapers in the short term, but probably more reason to have some level of confidence that we'll end up with the community information we need down the road.

    How we'll get there is, in some ways, the topic of a new project I'm semi-launching in the next few days — a website/book/etc. that asks how we can make media users, consumers and creators alike, much more active (as in activists) in their use of media. This is a demand-side issue as much as a supply-side question, and I hope, with the help of lots of folks, to work on this hard in the next several years.

    More about this new project tomorrow…

  • Is Obama Finally Pushing Back on the Wall Street Barons' Supreme Arrogance?

    So President Obama is finally waking up to the damage being done to his credibility and authority by AIG, a company that is for all practical purposes now an arm of the government but whose leaders are acting as if the reverse were true. Obama called the hundreds of millions of dollars in new bonuses an outrage and said he'd do what he could to block the payments.

    But this still misses part of the point, and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo cut to the heart of why in a piece yesterday:

    I don't believe the bonuses themselves are the heart of the matter, nor the fact that they're going to the very executives who caused AIG's implosion or even the galling reality that, since all money is fungible, they're being paid with taxpayer dollars. What's really driving this forward — and what makes it such a dangerous moment for the White House — is the jarring image of the administration's impotence.

    Secretary Geithner found out about the bonuses. He told AIG CEO Edward Liddy it wouldn't fly. And Liddy, in a curiously imperial letter, tells Geithner that much as he is pained by the situation — to blow it out his ass. Which he apparently proceeded to do.

    Congress, as usual, is merely whining. Here's what it might do: Enact legislation that imposes a 100 percent income tax on bonuses or whatever the financial wizards want to call them at the companies receiving our tax dollars for their, and the economy's, survival. Congress will continue to whine.

    I'm still not certain that Obama gets how bad the situation is — a ward of the state looting the taxpayers' pockets and telling the president to shove it, and, until today, the president and his people meekly saying okay. In less stable nations, revolutions get started with less cause.

    The Wall Street crowd — AIG is hardly the only culprit in looting from the rest of us — remains deliberately oblivious and supremely arrogant. In less stable nations, this kind of stuff leads to vigilantism.

  • Obama Continues Bush-Era Extremism on Liberties, Secrecy

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    secret dg15.jpgThe Obama administration has undone a few of the Bush administration's worst policies, true. Yet when it comes to Obama's increasingly clear disdain for some core civil liberties and his administration's penchant for secrecy despite cheerful rhetoric to the contrary, Salon's Glenn Greenwald arrives at a dismal — but sadly, logical — conclusion:   

    After many years of anger and complaint and outrage directed at the Bush administration for its civil liberties assaults and executive power abuses, the last thing most people want to do is conclude that the Obama administration is continuing the core of that extremism. That was why the flurry of executive orders in the first week produced such praise: those who are devoted to civil liberties were, from the start, eager to believe that things would be different, and most want to do everything but conclude that the only improvements that will be made by Obama will be cosmetic ones.

    But it's becoming increasingly difficult for honest commentators to do anything else but conclude that. After all, these are the exact policies which, when embraced by Bush, produced such intense protest over the last eight years.  Nobody is complaining because the Obama administration is acting too slowly in renouncing these policies. The opposite is true:   they are rushing to actively embrace them.  And while there are still opportunities to meaningfully depart from the extremism of the last eight years, the evidence appears more and more compelling that, at least in these areas, there is little or no real intent on the part of the Obama administration to do so.

    Democrats in Congress and much of the political left have been silent or nearly so despite the evidence. You expect cowardice from Congress, which spent the Bush presidency in a perpetual bent-over posture. The Netroots folks who did so much to elect Obama should be screaming bloody murder by now. Too few are even slightly audible. A shame.

    Maybe the Republicans will re-discover civil liberties at some point. Nah.

    (photo via Flickr by Marcin Wichary)

  • AIG Ripoff Gets More Maddening

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    It's even more disgusting than we heard yesterday. According to the Wall Street Journal, AIG, the financial giant that has taken more than $170 billion of our money to save it from extinction — and given lots of it to other financial companies — is paying almost half a billion dollars in bonuses (my emphasis in first quoted paragraph)

    to employees in its financial products unit. That division was at the heart of AIG's collapse last fall, which compelled the U.S. government to provide $173.3 billion in aid to keep it running….

    Those payments are in addition to $121.5 million in incentive bonuses for 2008 that AIG will start making this month to about 6,400 of its roughly 116,000 employees. AIG, which was rescued in September as it faced potential bankruptcy, is also making over $600 million in retention payments to over 4,000 employees.

    Together, the three programs could result in roughly $1.2 billion in retention and bonus payments to AIG employees.

    Who's worse? The legislators and executive-branch people who let this happen, or the AIG executives who are showing themselves to be supremely greedy, and who must be laughing at the rest of us by now. Close call…

  • Thorstein Veblen, Prescient on Today's Media

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Via Joe Costello, a friend and former colleague:

    While Keynes is all the rage these days, as the way things actually "work" in our society are laid bare for a short period, Veblen keeps popping up in my head. On Stewart v Cramer, I found this from The Theory of Business of Enterprise written in 1915 and as good a critique of 20th century media written, and for anyone who "stickle for truth", remains a major issue to sort for 21st century democracy.

    I will say Veblen was a funny SOB, certainly intentionally rare for any economist — though if you look at absurdity as humor most modern economists should have their own shows on Comedy Central. While Veblen was there, the University of Chicago actually knew something about economics:

    200px-Veblen3a dg14.jpg

    The current periodical press, whether ephemeral or other, is a vehicle for advertisements. This is its raison d'etre as a business proposition and this decides the lines of its management without material qualification. Exceptions to the rule are official and minor propagandist periodicals, and in an uncertain measure, scientific journals. The profits of publication come from the sale of advertising space. The direct returns from sales and subscriptions are now a matter of wholly secondary consequence. Publishers of periodicals, of all grades of transiency, aim to make their product as salable as may be, in order to pass their advertising pages under the eyes of as many readers as may be. The larger the circulation the greater, other things equal, the market value of the advertising space. The highest product of this development is the class of American newspapers called "independent." These in particular — and they are followed at no great interval by the rest — edit all items of news comment or gossip with a view to what the news ought to be and what opinions ought to be expressed on passing events.

    The first duty of an editor is to gauge the sentiments of his readers and then tell them what they like to believe. By this means he maintains or increases the circulation. His second duty is to see that nothing is said in the news items or editorials which may discountenance any claims or announcements made by his advertisers, discredit their standing or good faith, or expose any weakness or deception in any business venture that is or may become a valuable advertiser. By this means he increases the advertising value of his circulation. The net result is that both the news columns and the editorial columns are commonly meretricious in a high degree.

    Systematic insincerity on the part of the ostensible purveyors of information and leaders of opinion may be deplored by persons who stickle for truth and pin their hopes of social salvation on the spread of accurate information. But the ulterior cultural effect of the insincerity which is in this way required by the business situation, may of course, as well be salutary as the reverse. Indeed the effect is quite as likely to be salutary, if "salutary" be taken to mean favorable to the maintenance of the established order, since the insincerity is guided by a wish to avoid any lesion of the received preconceptions and prejudices. The insincerity of the newspapers and magazines seems on the whole to be of a conservative trend.

  • Weekend Reading

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Some books and longer articles I've recently been reading or re-reading:

    The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick's masterpiece (IMO). Chilling alternate history, set in an America that lost World War II to Germany and Japan.

    The Snowball, by Alice Schroeder, a warts-and-all biography of investor Warren Buffett. His Nebraska-kid schtick hasn't fooled anybody for a long time, but he's even more complicated than we suspected.

    What Would Google Do, Jeff Jarvis' thought-provoking look at our changing world from a "life is beta" perspective. I don't agree with all of his arguments, some of which strike me as throwing out the proverbial babies with the bathwater, but this book is well worth a read.

    Severance Package, a noir-squared novel by Duane Swierczynski, about a memorable last day at work. Violent, mordant and an absolutely compulsive read.

    "The Gatekeeper," a New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza about Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emannuel. Hugely detailed, but has a more suck-up-to-power story ever been published in a magazine that prides itself on serious journalism? Yuck.

  • Basket Case Insurer Gets $170 Billion from Taxpayers, Still Pays Huge Bonuses

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    In the get-out-the-torches-and-pitchforks category comes this news:

    pitchforkDespite receiving $170 billion in federal aid and recording a staggering loss for the last quarter, insurance giant American International Group is doling out tens of million of dollars in bonuses this week to senior employees.

    While AIG agreed to pay the bonuses months before the government's rescue of the company began, the matter still is a source of anger for government officials. In a phone call on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told AIG Chairman and chief executive Edward M. Liddy that the payments were unacceptable and needed to be renegotiated, according to an administration source.

    The company has since agreed to change the terms of some of these payments. But in a letter to Geithner, Liddy wrote that the bonuses could not be cancelled altogether because the firm would risk a lawsuit for breaching employment contracts. Liddy also expressed concerns about whether changing the bonuses would lead to an exodus of talented employees who are needed to turn the company around.

    "We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers — if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. treasury," Liddy wrote.

    That would be the "best and brightest" sleazeballs who created this train wreck of a company, who were principal culprits in the tanking of the global economy? These people should be drawing unemployment checks, not stealing taxpayers' money.

    I started a #pitchforks Twitter hashtag a while back, and this is precisely why.

    (Photo by blhphotography)