TLF at the Chicago’s Journalism Town Hall Meeting

K’s note: TLF is neither a journalism blog or a Chicago placeblog, but the issues of the online content and media economics are relevant here, so I crossposted this from my other blog.

Forget the Oscars, for media folks in Chicago last Sunday’s big event was Ken Davis’ (former public radio dude) Chicago Journalism Town Hall meeting.

There was an air of exclusivity around this event at the start, even though the word is it was due to space issues (the room at the Hotel Allegro was pretty small) rather than wanting to keep certain people out of the dialogue. Apparently if you didn’t get a personal invite, you had to e-mail the organizers and give then a short “justify your existence” professional bio. How egalitarian. I don’t think anyone was turned away, but I also don’t think “town hall” and “invitation-only” are words that should be used together.

When I first heard of the event, I must admit I was expecting a hot mess of epic proportions. With both the Tribune and the Sun Times spiraling towards bankruptcy and the media industry in Chicago becoming a daily bloodbath of lost jobs, people are understandably on edge. The fundamentals of print(and broadcast) media economics have changed, so I don’t think it’s “doom mongering” to talk about the future of news media in Chicago as a no-newspaper town. It may happen, possibly by the end of this year.

So the event itself, at least the first couple of hours, was a much needed and long overdue dialogue that include many top players in Chicago news media, and I think a big dose of reality for some folks, especially from veteran John Callaway, who broke it down: “Let’s assume that the newspaper industry as we know it is dead, and let’s figure out what to do from there.” he said at one point early in the discussion, which I know was probably heretical speech for some in the audience, but it needed to be said, and by someone like him, a print junkie who “wants to die of ink poisoning.” I think it freaked people out, and it was kinda of awesome, because the print agnostics probably wouldn’t take anyone else seriously.

There were some interesting ideas about alternatives: an investigative journalism co-op model, where groups of journalists would pool their resources, while not being bound to one particular publication. There was talk about micropayment models, a non-profit funding model, that presumably would be spearheaded by the foundation world, until some foundation dude rolled up (I didn’t catch where he was from, unfortunately) and basically said, “we may willing to fund something like this in the short term, but don’t look to us forever.” which honestly, I appreciated. I don’t think many media folks realize how foundations work. Foundations are not leprechauns. They do not have a giant pot of money to throw around ad infinitum.

There was discussion of bringing back the old news bureau model and a discussion of just how much it would cost to run a start up news room. Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News said somewhere in the ballpark of $2-4 million, but then mentioned that he didn’t have a City Hall desk and then people seemed to brush him off.(Actually I think they brushed him off when he mentioned journalists making an average of $30k a year, which honestly, I don’t seem to know many journalists who make more than $35k, so I don’t know where the scoffing is coming from.)

The second half of the event seemed to turn into a WWE Smackdown style set up with bloggers and journalists smack talking (“Screw the Tribune! I don’t have any sympathy for anyone on this panel” said the dude from the Windy Citizen), laid-off and freelance writers spewing bilious rants (including two people I recognized from AWJ, hee.)Carol Marin tried to bring back some civility to the exchange, saying that we all have something to learn from each other, but to be honest with you, the same old “the Internet is killing journalism/print media deserves to die” debate still seems to rule the day with a lot of folks, and both of those perspectives are short-sided.

I’m actually pretty ambivalent about it all. I have been forecasting the slow death of print for several years now, after watching so many indie mags go under, and there’s some bitterness, I admit on may part, as I believe there was a lot of hubris and self-importance on the part of some old-school traditional print journalists who thought their jobs were untouchable and that media economy issues had nothing to do with them. At the same time, the new media profit model is not much of a model at all. I don’t really care that Obama called on the Huffington Post during his first press conference; Huffington Post doesn’t pay their writers, and people need to eat.

There’s no one solution for this problem, and certainly one meeting of 300 or so media professionals won’t do anything. This is a complicated, weighty issue, and also the major players in this game, the Sam Zells of the world who have print media by the balls (pardon my indelicacy) were not at this event so one wonders how much could even be accomplished in this situation.

But it’s the start of a dialogue — the old newsroom stalwarts and the Twitterati were actually in one room, in real life, hashing things out, and it was a refreshing (and entertaining) thing to see. Could go for more women included as experts next time, but what else is new!

The discussion continues on Michael Miner’s Hot Type blog at the Chicago Reader website, and you can listen to the Town Hall meeting at the Chicago Public Radio website.

You’re in the jungle, baby!: Book Review: Terms of Use: Negotiating the Jungle of the Intellectual Commons

In her “sequel” to No trespassing : authorship, intellectual property rights, and the boundaries of globalization, Eva Hemmungs Wirtén’s  Terms of use : negotiating the jungle of the intellectual commons discusses the idea of an information commons in a unique applied theory way, analyzing the way that cultural interpretation is a form of intertextuality.

The book is divided into four main sections — on the public commons as a physical space, on the public commons of patents, plants, and cultural knowledge, on taxidermy(!), and the public domain (Kipling and Disney). The book will be highly useful to those trying to understand public domain and commons issues from a non-law perspective — for those who are familiar with the names, if not the works of Jurgen Habermas, John Locke (not the one on Lost), and Henry Jenkins. Unlike some other books I’ve read by those without a legal background, the law is not stated inaccurately (Debora Halbert’s Resisting Intellectual Property Law is another great book in this subgenre).

All of the sections were interesting (including the section on taxidermy) and were based around the locus of jungle as place and idea, though I kept thinking of Sepultura while reading the plant/patent section. But considering the focus of this blog, the most useful sections to me involved copyright, cultural preservation, and cultural identity.

Wirtén defines what makes the intellectual commons different from a physical land commons:

The information commons is simply made of a very different raw material than soil, turf, and grass. Information-based resources are both non-rival (my use of information does not hinder yours; in fact, you and I can use the same resource simultaneously with no detrimental effect taking place), as well as non-excludable (intially, information can be costly to produce, but new technology makes it difficult to hinder an infinte number of users at zero marginal cost).(41)

Yet she sees that viewing the information commons with “an aura of utopia” is not a full picture:

Not seeing the internal lacerations, rips, and conflicts of interest contained within the public domain and the commons is more than counter-productive; it is dangerous. …Xenophobia, separating ‘us’ from them,’ is an element of the commons economy that displays its fair share of the ‘parochial and exclusive.” Disregarding the more unsavoury geopolitical realities of the information commons is to underestimate the sophistication of the power relations….(45)

Wirtén discusses the importance of libraries and other keepers of culture:

To answer the question of how precisely copyright affects cultural heritage institutions negatively, we must return … to … use. Libraries … [serve as ] symbolic space [as] both keepers of the material object the book and and in the sense of transmitting the content kept within that particular receptacle.

… At the same time, as libraries keep our books in trust for future generations, however they do this independent of the limitations posed by either material object or building. …Libraries today provide us with cultural works detached completely from traditional materiality.(131)

But she understands that technology is not a panacea or replacement for cultural institutions:

We have an extremely strong faith in the power of technology today — borderline religious zeal, even — to preserve and disseminate cultural expressions forever. We should be more skeptical about the presumption of eternal informational life. Similarly, we must not always assume that the separation of knowledge of use from the resource in question does not have an impact on the information carried by that resource, even when disembodied from its original host and made into bits and zeros that can be shared and reproduced infinitely. (149)

Wirtén discusses the ongoing impact of copyfraud, weakening the information commons:

A web of legal and extralegal control stations are posted everywhere, and if you are not vigilant, or just easily intimidated (which is is not that uncommon, considering the media coverage that surrounds copyright), you might end up paying for access to works that are in the public domain. Unfortunately, museums , archives, and universities whose role is to promote access to their materials, and who are among those hardest hit by and the most vocal opponents of intellectual property expansionism, are found among the offenders. (106)

Highly recommended, especially for those willing to see where the discussions of the intellectual commons can go, looking for the jungle’s “productive, rather than destructive” elements.(9)

Mini book reviews: three important books on the impact of Japanese popular culture plus one

I’ve been reading several interesting books on both the cultural and economic significance of Japanese popular culture, ranging from a general overview, to the business of manga, to the importance of Pokémon to children’s culture worldwide. All of these books are recommended.

Pikachu’s global adventure: the rise and fall of Pokémon (Joseph Tobin, ed. 2004) is a collection of essays about the cultural and economic significance of Pokémon, especially as an overarching brand (or as Henry Jenkins would explain as an example of convergence culture). The book pre-dates the release of the Wii, yet covers the first years of the phenomenon. In a footnote, the reason for Brock’s absence for a year from the television show is explained — the producers were concerned that his features would be perceived as too Asian or foreign in the U.S.;  kids loved Brock and he was brought back.

Roland Kelts, Japanamerica : how Japanese pop culture has invaded the U.S. (2007) — the title is truly inaccurate — the book is an overview of Japanese popular culture and why certain elements of Japanese popular culture are interesting to Americans, but not an examination of the impact of manga and anime outside of Japan.

Sharon Kinsella, Adult Manga (2000) is an excellent overview of the cultural production of  manga, including discussions of the business (publishers, authors/artists, editors), mainstream manga (including on politically significant manga), Doujinshi (amateur manga), economic charts!, and even the legal regulations of and censorship efforts surrounding manga. Highly recommended.

Since I haven’t been able to find another place to mention Anne Elizabeth Moore’s Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity here it is: The chapter on Star Wars marketing and fan culture is recommended for its discussion of the deflector shield Lucasfilm places around Star Wars.

Spoilers spoiling for a fight?: The impact of comment trolling and other unwanted online activities

Every time I login to this blog — or my other blogs — or my email, I need to spend time dealing with unwanted materials. Fortunately, it’s usually a small amount of two-clicks-til-total-removal spam that I need to deal with, but others have had more serious issues to deal with, ranging from the limits of access to a email mailing list, to blog comments, to lawsuits about anonymous personalized statements perceived to be threatening and libelous. Interestingly, all of these issues have recently hit the larger legal community.

These issues were discussed in On the internet no one can hear you turning off your blog: the impact of trolling, including the comments on the University of Chicago law faculty blog and the now-shuttered Patry copyright blog.  The legal community is a microcosm of how difficult it is to contain the internetz regarding issues such as managing the limits of free speech, promoting discourse, community building (and in some communities the related issue of “safe space”), avoiding “true” threats, and the new permanence of the internet — where everything one has ever said or done is still available for perusal.

On Above the Law, a law news source, the new comment policy is:

As the Above the Law community continues to grow, more people are posting absurd, inane, and arguably offensive comments. And more people are complaining about those comments — in the comments, as well by email and other means. . . .[W]e’ll be changing our site design so that comments will default to “hidden.” If you want to see the comments, you must affirmatively opt-in, by clicking a button to reveal them (either the “show them anyway” button within the post, or the “comments” button / counter on the front page).

On a popular law blog, Balkinization, comments have been turned off by default — to be changed by the post author:

[T]he comments sections are populated by regular trolls and many threads have turned into little more than name-calling. There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it.

Commenting within a larger discussion about commenting cultures on Concurring Opinions, James Grimmelmann states that

It’s all about social norms, typically as influenced strongly by early patterns. If people come to a site and see respectful extended arguments, they learn that norm of commenting. If they see illiterate YouTube-ish babble, they add their own bleats. And if they see nasty personal attacks, they say nasty things. Most highly successful online communities with positive norms had someone who took a very active early role in setting a good tone. (Metafilter and Flickr are well-known examples.) Once a norm is in place, it tends to stay in place, because visitors self-select into participating in communities with norms they like, and because regular visitors enforce compliance with the norms.

The details and the nuances of online community moderation are much more complex, of course, but there’s a lot of support for this basic tipping-point story.

Grimmelmann’s observations about the relationship between what is communicated within a community and how that becomes the norm within applies to what is summarized as “The Autoadmit lawsuit”.

As summarized in an article in Portfolio, anonymous comments were posted about actual women in lawschool on the Autoadmit message boards:

When it comes to Heller and Iravani, some of [the comments] were unique all right: uniquely sadistic, subjecting the women to what can only be called a cyber-stoning, in which participants vied to hurl the biggest rock. They wrote, falsely, that Heller has herpes and had bribed her way into Yale—helped by a secret lesbian affair with the dean of admissions—and that Iravani has gonorrhea, is addicted to heroin, and had exchanged oral sex with Yale Law School’s dean for a passing grade in civil procedure. The spectacle was either astonishingly horrific or almost banal, depending on how old and what sex you are, on what you deem funny, and on how much time you spend on the internet. And where.

Posters appeared to be overwhelmingly male; it was women, particularly beautiful women, particularly beautiful women at the top law schools, particularly beautiful minority women at the top law schools, who were most often skewered, dissected, and fantasized about.

I would include some examples of the anonymous comments here, but they are so that I don’t want to repeat them here on my space, where their inclusion will lead to this blog getting more spam comments (if interested read the amended complaint). Feministe has a series of posts detailing the reasons why women discussed on these posts and others believed themselves to be threatened.

The autoadmit comments were accepted and promoted within the online community and therefore continued. To “protect” the autoadmit community after the first series of complaints, many commenters made increasingly disturbing, threatening, and false statements to keep the community “safe” for those who wanted to make such comments; yet the “real world” impact (jobs, emotional impact) was perceived as only affecting those within the community — not those outsiders being commented on — trying to destroy their “fun.”

For websites and blogs (and social media) that want to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable speech, this situation shows why it is imperative to have policies in place before there are problems and to have the policy inforced by the community and the “host.” That is the reason for our policy for The Learned Fangirl:

All opinions in blog posts are our own and do not reflect the views of our employers. Please comment, but this is our space, so we will delete comments that we think are uncivil, off-topic, spam, or otherwise inappropriate.

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And in one additional law-based wrinkle to the Obama’s administration’ s implementation of  social networking similar to the campaign: the First Amendment. If you’ve been on any popular blog or website with frequent commenting, how useful do you think it would be for the government or the public if government websites had comments, yet were unable to edit, suppress, or modify the comments in any way? I would say very minimally useful, so I wish the Obama administration luck in making social networking work.