AP Warms Up to Blogs, Citizen Media at NowPublic

    by Mark Glaser
    February 14, 2007

    i-29106d786fce63b305644da46e72a46f-AP NowPublic MBA.jpg
    There’s something bland and homogeneous about an Associated Press wire story. Just the facts, ma’am, in classic inverted pyramid style. The satirical newspaper The Onion has made a mint mocking the news wire style, and the blogosphere has targeted the AP and Reuters for hidden agendas in their oh-so-perfect objective style.

    How do the staid wire services play in a world where our attention is increasingly shifting toward the commentary and eyewitness reports of blogs and citizen media? Changing their very nature is difficult, so the major news wires have chosen to take small steps toward something bigger. Reuters sent a reporter into the virtual world Second Life and made alliances with blog aggregators Global Voices and BlogBurst. And now the AP has made an alliance with the Media Bloggers Assocation (MBA) for blog coverage of the Scooter Libby trial, and a wider deal with citizen media site, NowPublic.

    The recent news of AP teaming with NowPublic was announced at the We Media conference in Miami, where the focus was on how the suits in media could adjust to the new decentralized world of citizen journalism. Jim Kennedy, vice president and director of strategic planning for the AP, told me the wire service has been seriously looking at citizen media since 2004, and has distributed iconic images shot by average citizens for many years.

    i-58e780425af467950b82062ca85a964a-Jim Kennedy AP.jpg

    Jim Kennedy

    “From the Oklahoma City bombing, there’s the famous picture of the fireman carrying the baby out of the rubble, captured by a bank clerk,” Kennedy said. “The space shuttle breaking up over Texas was captured by a cardiologist shot from his back porch. And we’ve had people capture shots in the Twin Towers during 9/11 and in the tunnel during the London bombings, and the tsunami images and video.

    “The bottom line is this: You can’t continue to approach the news in the same way as you always have, in a world where everyone is equipped to capture some of that news. In the days when only the professionals were equipped to do that, then you had one approach. In a world where people have the tools at their disposal to contribute on a regular basis you’d be foolish not to tap into that. The potential here is that you have someone on the scene of almost everything, and as a news wire that’s a really rich resource to tap into.”


    So what does NowPublic offer the AP in such an alliance? The site was launched in March 2005 but has built up a registered base of 60,000 contributors, who can upload text, photos, audio or video to the site. NowPublic co-founder Michael Tippett told me the site’s active participants are “in the thousands,” uploading material on a daily or weekly basis. The site has improved some past usability problems, according to Tippett, and NowPublic’s board now includes longtime online journalist Merrill Brown as chairman.

    “NowPublic has a presence where [the AP] doesn’t have it,” Tippett said. “If news happens, chances are we have someone [there], more people than [the AP] does. [Our users] aren’t trained journalists, some of them are, but they can take photos and video and make phone reports and cover things that [the AP] just can’t cover. The other thing we do is make sense of all that stuff. That is a big problem for a lot of mainstream media organizations. If something happens, and a news organization tells readers ‘send in your coverage,’ they’ll get 20,000 emails, and what do you do with that? We have some filtering mechanisms to help them sort through stuff.”

    As for figuring out hoaxes or inaccurate material, Tippett says the community can leave comments about stories or flag something if it doesn’t pass the smell test. But NowPublic is taking an open newsgathering approach where people in the community see raw material and help sort the good from bad. If something important breaks on NowPublic, and the AP is alerted to it, the wire service can then purchase the text or photos or video, and will pay the content creator — with a cut going to NowPublic.

    “The AP gets the content, the creator gets paid and we would get a percentage of that,” Tippett said. “It’s the first time the AP has gone about this with an organized system.”

    Bloggers Handcuff Themselves

    Not long before the NowPublic alliance, the AP made an agreement with the Media Bloggers Association to point to their member bloggers’ coverage of the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The MBA made waves by getting press credentials for 18 bloggers — conservative and liberal — to rotate in to two slots in the court’s press room to live-blog the judicial proceedings.

    [Full disclosure: I am a member of the MBA. Plus, the MBA will be running blog posts on the PBS Frontline site related to the News War documentary.]

    i-47afeb927757c882a5b9e0505d906341-Robert Cox MBA.jpg

    Robert Cox

    Blogger Robert Cox is the president of the MBA, and is focusing on getting press credentials for bloggers at high-profile events, while also offering legal protection for bloggers. Cox told me some people at the AP had concerns about running unedited blogs from the courtroom, so he got the bloggers to agree to some basic ground rules of conduct.

    “I called around to all the bloggers, and said, ‘There’s a time and place to be edgy,’” Cox said. “This is not the time to write a post titled ‘Dick Cheney is a [expletive deleted].’ We sought to address [the AP’s concerns] by saying we have a vetted membership of bloggers who’ve agreed to ascribe to certain ideals of what they’re trying to do. [The AP] has the kind of accountability that they want. I’m not going to control what the blogger writes, but if they get way out of line and embarrass the AP, they can be pulled from the feed.”

    The AP is limiting the distribution of the bloggers’ posts from the trial, only including a pop-up box off their main Libby wire stories that run on about 750 medium- and small-market newspaper sites. So if you go to the Des Moines Register home page, you have to click on From AP Wire and then find the wire story on the Libby trial. Then you go down that page and find a box on the sidebar titled, “Posts from the Media Bloggers Association.” Clicking on that box brings up a pop-up page with headlines and the first few sentences from each blog post, which then links through to the blogs themselves.

    The total distance from the Des Moines Register front page to the full blogger posts is at least four clicks. “The bloggers are literally being kept in a box,” Cox noted wryly.

    i-74055afe255c701e21c07063a307654b-Steve Johnson AP.jpg

    Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson, online editor at the AP who is overseeing the deal with the MBA, said the AP had to create this amount of distance to make sure its editors — and AP member newspaper editors — were comfortable with running the content.

    “There was a certain amount of distancing we had to do,” Johnson told me. “The MBA is intriguing to us because they have some standards, they have a balanced group, with liberals and conservatives. They have an informal agreement about how far they would go with trashing people. It’s funny that what happens when people say they want legitimacy, they will put handcuffs on themselves. When you go to a court and say ‘I want to be certified to be a reporter,’ then suddenly the court administrators and lawyers see what you write about them. And you’ve crossed a threshold and it matters, because they can kick you out of the courtroom and keep you from coming back.

    “That was a key selling point. We want to keep doing this with other trials and other events. And that means there’s certain language you can’t use. If you’re covering a beat, you can’t burn your sources.”

    So far, no bloggers have had their credentials pulled, though Cox did have to remove a comment on the very first blog post about the trial. That comment was aimed at the AP for using Iraqi policeman Jamil Hussein as a source, a long-running feud the wire service had with the conservative blogosphere. Cox told the blogger to remove the comment, and she did.

    But just as some bloggers are trying to become legitimate members of the press, other bloggers are wondering if that’s the point of what they do, and are opposed to creating a new elite for bloggers. Law blogger Tim Gebhart lauded the MBA’s efforts, but noted that many bloggers can already cover live events and that credentials work against the bloggers’ ethos. Here is part of Gebhart’s argument:

    Any effort to proclaim one segment of a group of similarly situated individuals as an “elite,” entitled to advantages over the others, should raise red flags for all bloggers. Designating an “elite tier” of bloggers seems particularly contrary to one of the best concepts underlying blogs — they allow almost anyone a low-cost means of participating in the marketplace of ideas by distributing ideas, analysis, and criticism worldwide…

    Don’t get me wrong. Adhering to certain ethical standards behooves bloggers and their readers, but it isn’t just what the [Washington] Post calls “this experiment of free expression” that is guilty of ethical lapses….An “elite” stamp from any particular organization does not guarantee anything. It certainly should never become the determinant of the legitimacy or value of any individual or collective blog.

    Social Networks for News Junkies

    So now that the AP has taken their baby steps into citizen media and blogs, what comes next? Cox hopes the MBA bloggers will move up the food chain at the AP and eventually have their content run directly on newspaper sites and perhaps in print. NowPublic hopes to gain more exposure for its site and its army of citizen journalists, who could get paid for their work.

    Jim Kennedy at the AP says that wire services will become part of an online social network of news hounds, and says that professionals will still be needed.

    “The Internet audience will evolve into a big social network of news junkies,” he said. “Instead of sitting in front of a television at 6:30 pm or reading a newspaper religiously every morning, the next generation of news junkies will be connected to the Internet through multiple devices and multiple networks, and news will surface through those networks. Working with people and letting them participate will become a built-in part of the consumption patterns. Connecting with users in a personal way will be part of what we’ll do. If you want to be the most comprehensive source in news you’ll have to connect to that resource or you won’t access the kind of news that you need to have.

    “The professionals will still be on the big stories, and there will be a value to that and to editors and to setting the agenda of what the top stories are. But there will be this whole new visibility of other things, a Long Tail of news that’s impossible to capture now with what we’ve developed as mainstream tools, so we need to develop new tools and new networks to expand our reach. Everyone will do that. The kind of things we’re talking about now will be absolutely routine and expected in a couple years. It sounds really new and risky today, but if you’re not game to get in and work through the risks then you’re going to lose the opportunity, and that’s finally what we came to.”

    What do you think about wire services stepping their toes into the citizen media waters? Are these the right steps, or should they be looking at more radical reinventions? What do you think the future holds for wire service stories, photos and video? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    UPDATE: David Bauder, the TV writer at the AP, didn’t appreciate my stereotype of all AP writing as being bland. Here’s what he wrote to me in an email:

    As the television writer at the AP, I appreciated reading your smart, perceptive piece on the AP’s alliance with bloggers. All except the lede. There are a lot of people at the AP who take great pride in their writing, and a lot of examples of good, and different, writing on the wire. Sure, there are plenty of stories like you suggest, either due to time pressures, necessity (a story that doesn’t need much more) or lack of creativity. But it’s a sterotype I think we’re moving beyond, and it makes me wince to see it reinforced.

    Fair enough. I think there’s a bit of tension on where the AP would go if it went beyond the bland and simple inverted pyramid. With so much opinion and snark in the online world and blogosphere, it might take a cultural leap for wire writers to go that far. And perhaps the fact that the AP is so focused on being bland and geting it right sets it apart from the ocean of online rants.

    Tagged: associated press weblog wire services
    • Nice piece, Mark. As a journalist and blogger I’m very optimistic about future collaboration.
      Wendy Hoke
      MBA member

    • Hi Mark:

      I am quite troubled that Robert Cox has self appointed himself the mediator of good taste, as you write here:

      “We sought to address [the APs concerns] by saying we have a vetted membership of bloggers whove agreed to ascribe to certain ideals of what theyre trying to do. [The AP] has the kind of accountability that they want. Im not going to control what the blogger writes, but if they get way out of line and embarrass the AP, they can be pulled from the feed.

      Of course, you are aware, as Grayson Daughters, has been making clear that Cox is the managing editor of the far-right Olbermann Watch : http://www.olbermannwatch.com/

      He has an agenda. Why not take a careful look at it. Starting with the commentary here on this post: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/podsandblogs/2007/01/show_notes_libby_lessig_and_ri.shtml

      Plus here is a direct quote from the Media Bloggers Association charter:

      “The Media Bloggers Association believes in the independence and freedom of expression of our members. We recognize that our members are autonomous agents who take varied approaches to blogging. As a result, it’s not the place of the MBA to create a code of conduct for bloggers or to enforce such rules. When we blog, each of us is accountable for our own actions, and we own our own words.”

      I think it is extremely dangerous when we start turning over who is and who is not a journalist to one person or one group of people.

      This doesn’t bother you?
      “if they get way out of line and embarrass the AP, they can be pulled from the feed.

      Guess what? According to Cox’s creed, Olbermann would get pulled off the feed.

    • Hi Mark…

      well, these are interesting developments indeed–yet I keep thinking of two things:

      British journalists raised a concern over citizens sticking themselves in dangerous situations just to get scoops. The way they structured there argument made a good point about the wrong people being in the wrong place at the wrong time…

      Yet I also think of a caution that friend Jeff Hess, a former journalist, who now teaches and blogs at Have Coffee Will Write once brought up: the Wal-Marting of journalism…

      Are deals like the AP deal with Now Public really just a way for AP to get cheap content? I know this may sound jaded, but are they banking on what they perceive as the egos and vanity of ‘citizens’ who will give away their content just to have a byline? Will there then be any room not just for journalists, but for ambitious bloggers to move out of what could become a “citizen journalism” ghetto and into paid jobs in journalism? (to that effect, I’d hate to see just one group or agency being the “credentialling” agency for bloggers. That’s kind of like having a bloggers union to some degree….)

      Or is all of this a way to professionalize journalism in the U.S. without having to give out licenses: namely, it will be de riguer for a newsroom journalist to have a Master’s degree and anything below be consigned to the ranks of unpaid “citizen” work?

      What’s missing in all of this, too, is the idea that bloggers are often simply wanting to stimulate conversation around what they’ve found and read. That for many it’s not really about becoming reporters. This notion, to me, comes from an inability to understand that not all blogging is, nor needs to be, journalism.

      Also, Jim Kennedy tips his hand on what he’d like to see AP become: a giant social network. Do we the people need the AP to become a newsy social network, or is that the AP’s dream *for* us? Perhaps it’s just another way for big media to absorb any sort of media innovation going on–just like a bully taking your lunch money.

    • Bob Fay

      The primary purpose of media news is to sell. Any news that would lessen advertising is the news that we have never seen. The editing that ABC is talking about has nothing to do with nouns, verbs and sentence structure.

    • Len,

      It is no secret to Mark – and many other people that I have a blog called Olbermann Watch. It has been around since 2004. Mark has written several articles that have mentioned it. I have been quoted as Editor of OlbermannWatch in publications including the American Journalism Review, the Washington Post, The New York Observer, The Hartford Courant, The Miami Herald and many others as well as making numerous radio appearances.

      It is also no secret that I am a right-of-center blogger. The animating event behind the creation of the Media Bloggers Association was the New York Times decision to bring legal action against me to shut down my old blog, The National Debate. I ran that right-of-center media criticism blog for three years and achieved a somewhat substantial readership. As Editor of The National Debate I was quoted in hundreds of newspapers and made numerous radio and television appearance. Dan Gillmor wrote about the affair in his book We the Media. Other authors writing on the development of blogging and citizen media have also mentioned the affair. It was even mentioned in The New York Times itself, in an editorial by then-Public Editor Dan Okrent.

      In fact, through the magic of Google all of this information is quite readily accessible to anyone with Internet access.

      I am not really sure I understand you point about my having “an agenda” as if my right-of-center politics is some sort of state secret. I can tell you that I do not have any particular interest in the opinions of the woman who blogs at ” Grayson Daughters” who recently described herself as someone “not to be trusted”. I have communicated with her in the past and found her to be a bit odd. You might also want to note that this women is a “far left” blogger who has her own axe to grind with me quite apart from the subject of Mark’s article. Not exactly the best source if you are looking to make a case against me.

      What my experience with The New York Times (briefly) successful attempt to shut down my blog taught me was that free speech isn’t free and that if bloggers from the entire political spectrum do not work together in mutual self-interest to advance the First Amendment rights of bloggers and citizen journalists then all bloggers run the same risk of encountering a deep-pocketed litigant such as the Times and having their rights trampled upon. That is the principle on which the Media Bloggers Association was first formed and what informs the activities of the association today. The primary “agenda” of the MBA is to defend the First Amendment rights of bloggers. We have been involved in numerous cases defending these right with a team of pro bono attorneys and we do not discriminate in providing legal advice and legal defense services to bloggers based on their political points of view. We value ALL blogger speech and do not discriminate based on some political litmus test.

      Part of being a blogger is expressing a distinct point of view. In my case, I happen to be a right-of-center blogger. The Media Bloggers Association has members from all across the political spectrum including many left-of-center bloggers and even more who express no overt political content in their blog. Bloggers of all stripes who join the MBA are supporting a simple mission – to “promote, protect and educate” bloggers and blogging. Or as the mission statement puts it to extend the power of the press as described in the First Amendment to every citizen. Would you prefer that the MBA President be a left-of-center blogger? Or perhaps express no opinions at all? What kind of blogger would that be exactly? It seems inherent in the very nature of blogging is that bloggers are opinionated so asking that I not have personal opinions seems more than silly. Our board is comprised of members who are also very outspoken in their politics. Should they be removed so that we can replace them with milquetoast “bloggers” who your or your pal at Grayson’s Daughter find more palatable? Should we have a policy that officers, committee members and board members may not write anything on their blogs that you or others might find objectionable?

      That said, I make it a point to keep my work on behalf of the MBA separate from Olbermann Watch. I cannot recall every promoting or even referencing Olbermann Watch on the MBA site. On rare occasions I have linked to an article I have written or a media report in which I have been mentioned from Olbermann Watch where my role as President of the Media Bloggers Association is mentioned but as a general policy I seek to maintain a “chinese wall” between the two.

      I am not sure what you are attempting to link on the BBC web site but the quote from the MBA’ Statement of Principles that you have cited was drafted by a committee led by MBA Board Member J.D. Lasica who, last time I checked, was not exactly a card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I had no role at all in the writing of what you have cited and looking at it in your comment I cannot for the life of me imagine what it is you find objectionable about these words:

      “The Media Bloggers Association believes in the independence and freedom of expression of our members. We recognize that our members are autonomous agents who take varied approaches to blogging. As a result, it’s not the place of the MBA to create a code of conduct for bloggers or to enforce such rules. When we blog, each of us is accountable for our own actions, and we own our own words.”

      Perhaps you feel that we SHOULD create and enforce a code of conduct for bloggers? I will be fascinated to hear how you think such a code might work and what would be done to ENFORCE such a code. Why not write that up and send it to J.D. I am sure he will find it amusing.

      Regardless, the MBA’ Statement of Principle is not MY creed but one adopted by the board of the MBA after months of discussion and debate among a committee which was formed by inviting ALL members of the MBA to participate.

      What I find perhaps most strange about your comments here is that you know all of this already. You have been a member of the Media Bloggers Association (I am gathering from the tone of your post you no longer wish to be). You were on the MBA List Serv where the invitations were sent out to serve on this committee. You were on the MBA list serv when the committee reported out its recommendations. And you were on the MBA list serv when we announced that the board had unanimously adopted what became our MBA Statement of Principles. I do not recall a single objection from you at any point in this process, a process which went on for nine months.

      Just a few months ago, you sat about 10 feet from me at Dan Gillmor’s one-day conference at Harvard Law School the day after WikiMania 2006. You were there when Dan and Phil Malone of the Harvard Cyber Law Center discussed the efforts of the MBA’s Legal Defense Initiative and there intent to partner with the MBA on providing legal services to bloggers. How is that this seems to have slipped your mind? Why is that you did not chat me up during the breaks to express your concerns about the MBA’s nefarious policies encouraging bloggers to aspire to be accurate, honest, fair and transparent.

      As for your concern that it is “extremely dangerous when we start turning over who is and who is not a journalist to one person or one group of people”, I could not agree more. I would be very interested to hear exactly how you feel that convincing the federal courts to treat bloggers as journalists is “dangerous”? Perhaps you are not aware that the DC Court did not ordain the Media Bloggers Association as the credentialing body for the federal courts but simple provided the MBA with two seats in the Media Center at the courthouse? Perhaps you are not aware that at least six seats our of 100 were reserved for bloggers at the Scooter Libby trial so that the MBA was given just 1/3 of the available blogger passes and just 2% of the total media credentials given out by the court. Perhaps you can explain how that meshes with your scaremongering.

      You might also be interested to know that every MBA member that requested to use the passes was given a slot on the trial schedule. Several non-member bloggers asked to take a turn at the trial using the two seats assigned to the MBA and those bloggers were given an expedited membership in the MBA so that they could participate. Given the facts, I am sure we would all be interested to hear more about how this represents an example of turning over the decision of who is a journalist to one person or one group of people.

      As far as the Associated Press is concerned perhaps you are unaware that this was the first time that the AP had even considered carrying blogger content on the AP wire. Maybe you imagine that I was in a position to dictate terms to the AP and that I should have told them they were going to be required to syndicate MBA member content regardless of whether it violated AP’s own editorial/legal guidelines? I am sure that at your recent SoCon07 “unconference” event you were more than happy to permit participants to engage in sort of behavior they chose regardless of university policy, right? Because you ran a conference for BLOGGERS, I am sure the University would have understood that the rules that applied to all other students, faculties and guests on campus were suspended during your event. And I know for certain that since this is such an important point you would have gone out of your way to condemn the University had they dared to require participants at your event from respecting the University’s policies? In fact, you would have resigned from the faculty in protest, right? Or have I got that wrong?

      I am not sure what is happening in Academia these days but in a place I like to call “realityland” you do not get far partnering with another organization when a condition of the partnership is that you reserve the right to defecate all over your partners policies, traditions, brand, ethics guidelines and legal policies. Maybe things are just different at Kennesaw State but in talking to the AP I felt they had legitimate concerns about bloggers potentially using certain vulgar words or otherwise write something in their blog that cause problems for them and the 750 news sites carrying the feed. I felt it was reasonable to assure them that the bloggers in our Libby Trial feed agreed to be bound by the AP’s editorial and legal policies and that if a blogger submitted a post to the feed that violated those policies we had the technical capability to remove the post from the feed and, if necessary, remove an individual blog feed from the aggregated feed.

      For the rest of Mark’s readers, I would like them to know that it was not a simple matter to convince the courts to credential bloggers for the Scooter Libby Trial nor was it a simple matter to get the AP to agree to carry our aggregate feed from the courthouse. The result of the efforts of the MBA was, I believe, a very good one. For the first time, a federal court formally recognized bloggers as journalists for purposing of media credentialing at a high-profile trial. I believe that will be useful down the road in helping establish a form of precedent in future cases that may come before a federal judge and thus the free speech rights of bloggers may be advanced by the decision to credential bloggers. I also believe it was a good thing for the AP to have had a positive experience in their first experiment with carrying content from citizen journalists not on the AP payroll. I was not aware of the NowPublic deal at the time but I cannot help but think that the fact that our members did a good job covering the Libby Trial helped (or at least did not hinder) their getting their deal done with AP.

    • Hi Robert:

      You wrote a lot above, but let’s start with you saying to me:

      “Perhaps you feel that we SHOULD create and enforce a code of conduct for bloggers?”

      Quite the opposite. I don’t think any ad hoc organization should create or enforce a code of conduct. I think it dangerous when we have one organization–personified by one person — saying, who is qualified and who isn’t to cover events or who is a qualified blogger/journalist.

      However, this is a quote from Mark’s story above:

      Cox told me some people at the AP had concerns about running unedited blogs from the courtroom, so he got the bloggers to agree to some basic ground rules of conduct.

      Then this from a Washington Post story. :

      Cox also envisions fostering an elite tier of bloggers and has been in talks with Harvard Law School about online courses associated with its Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which already offers several courses on the Web about various facets of law. By accepting the association’s ethical standards and adopting an official policy for making corrections, members of this group would be credentialed by the association, which in turn would win them access to news and sporting events, advance copies of new books for review and entrance to advance screening of movies.

      How does that square with the mission statement, which reads:

      …it’s not the place of the MBA to create a code of conduct for bloggers or to enforce such rules. When we blog, each of us is accountable for our own actions, and we own our own words.”

      Frankly, the promise of the Internet is that we don’t form “an elite tier of bloggers,” but that we provide access for all the voices who have been left out in the past.

      I am in favor of providing the training you mention, but I just don’t want it to be used as a credentialing process.

      As for our SoCon07 unconference anyone came who wanted to come. They could say what they wanted. And they did. If we followed the AP code of conduct, we would have had to kick several people out, but we didn’t because they had interesting stuff to say.

    • Len,

      Your concerns seem to be shifting. Should I take that I have sufficiently addressed your other concerns?

      Quite frankly, you might be better off you if you stop believing everything you read whether it comes from some kooky anonymous blogs published by mentally unbalanced women – or the Washington Post. I have now submitted a comment to the BBC link you provided with some needed context. If they publish my comment I will post a link below.

      I believe you have my phone number and email address so I am not sure why you feel it necessary to continue to advance straw-man arguments here on MediaShift based on inaccurate and poorly sourced claims. It was my understanding that you were a journalism professor. Is this what you teach to your students? Shoot first and then ask questions later? Would it not be more sound journalistic practice to CALL ME first so that I might have the opportunity to rebut some of the false information before you promulgate it here.

      Regardless, let me address the latest straw-man arguments you are now making.

      First, the MBA is not an “ad hoc” organization so that you “don’t think any ad hoc organization should create or enforce a code of conduct” is not relevant to the MBA. I am not even sure what this means; it seems pretty silly all around.

      Second, the MBA has not created nor does it seek to enforce a “code of conduct”. We have a “statement of principles” which are clearly described as “aspirations” that might serve as a guide to MBA members (or any other bloggers who care to read them). Further, all MBA policies apply only to MBA members who elect to join the organization and be bound by MBA policies. There is not even the pretense that we are in a position to “dictate” anything to anyone.

      Third, the story from the Washington Post and a similar one from the AP have simply got it wrong as have a number of other reports. I addressed this on the MBA site and in a newsletter sent out after the article appeared. I would also be happy to address this if you care to give me a ring.

      The primary goal of the MBA is to defend the free speech of bloggers. That is why we have a legal defense initiative, why we have been involved in over a dozen cases, why we have provided advisory services for hundreds of bloggers who ran into legal problems with their blog, why I attended the same conference as you organized by Dan Gillmor and Phil Malone at Harvard Law School.

      After careful consideration, in consultation with our attorneys, we concluded that the best way to protect blogger speech was to help them avoid legal trouble in the first place or, at the very least, put them in the most defensible legal position. We felt the best place to start was to educate bloggers on relevant legal issues through both self-directed and real-time online training and classroom instruction. The goal was not to turn bloggers into media law experts but to get them to start asking the right questions before they publish something that might land them in legal difficulties. A corollary to that then is that they would need someone to ask questions. Therefore we have sought to establish partnerships with organizations such as Harvard’s Cyber Law Center, The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Poynter Institute and others to make available to bloggers the kinds of ethical and legal advisory services that reporters and authors would routinely get working for a news organization or writing for a book publisher.

      What we also concluded was that best way to put a blogger in a defensible position was for them to clearly display their contact information and adopt a clearly stated editorial and corrections policy. This is only planned and no such policy has yet been drafted. In my experience, which is extensive in this regard, about 90% of disputes between bloggers and a reader/complaintant stems from a frustration on the part of the complainant in communicating effectively with the blogger and getting simple redress such as a simple correction or clarification, the ability to publish a rebuttal or an apology. In the remaining 10% of the cases, it places the blogger in a stronger legal position if they were offering various means of redress and the complainant chose not to avail themselves of the opportunity (in fact, this point was specifically addressed by the Delaware Supreme Court in “Cahill”).

      Unfortunately, the Washington Post story was written in the context of the Libby Trial so it is misleading. The MBA is not doing all these things IN ORDER TO gain credentials for bloggers. We are doing them to protect blogger speech.

      What is left out of this discussion is an even more complex issue. A starting point is to understand the idea that “free speech is not free”. I often hear proponents of citizen media make the same comment you’ve made here – that citizen media is all about providing “access for all the voices who have been left out in the past”. That’s loveley. A beautiful sentiment. What I rarely hear is how such proponents are prepared to back that up in real terms.

      Where were these people when The New York Times was taking legal action against me in 2004? Where were they when the Tulsa World went after Batesline? Where were they when Apple brought suit against three bloggers? In the Cahill case? In the Maine Blogger case? In the hundreds of other cases that have come to my attention since the MBA was first formed?

      There are forces at work in this country of which most bloggers remain blissfully unaware. It is not enough to proclaim the joys of citizen media. You have to be prepared to do something about it to defend it. You need to be prepared to spend money, to hire lawyers, to go to court, to file motions, to file appeals all the while risk paying out monetary judgments. How do pie-in-the-sky proclamations achieve that? Simple, they don’t.

      All of the steps I have described above have been with an eye towards laying the foundation for developing a new insurance product – blogger liability insurance. Only through this type of insurance will it be possible, over the long-term to provide bloggers with the types of legal services and financial protections necessary for them to publish without fear of deep-pocketed litigants using the courts to silence blogger speech. I regularly talk with people who shut down their blogs or have removed ACCURATE/TRUE postings to their blog after being threatened by well-funded complainants. I am intimately acquainted with the risks bloggers face. I have been on the receiving end of such legal threats and I can tell you that it is a lonely place to be. And it’s not much consolation to a blogger risking financial catastrophe that you or anyone else supports vague notions about the potentials of citizen media.

      Insurance companies are not in the business of running charitable legal defense funds for bloggers. They will only be interested in “blogger speech” issues if they believe there is a profitable “risk pool” of sufficient size and quality to warrant their developing a product. They must believe it will be profitable for them to develop a product for bloggers. I do not foresee that bloggers will be prepared to spend thousands of dollars a year on liability insurance. The path towards lowering the cost of premiums is to create a very large pool of bloggers who have done everything possible to minimize the likelihood of successful litigation against them.

      The goal then is not to create an “elite tier of bloggers” but the exact opposite – to provide support and services that will prevent citizen media from being crushed by those who are threatened by democratization of the media and take hard-nosed steps that will insure (literally and figuratively) that all voices can be heard. The MBA is open to all serious-minded people who care to join and the insurance product we develop will be available to ANY blogger (my hope is that being an MBA member will entitle a blogger to a discount).

      With all of this mind let me now turn to your question: “How does [an erroneous description in the WaPo] square with the mission statement”

      Simple it does not because the WaPo writer got it wrong.

      Why did WaPo and AP and others get it wrong?

      What reporters have tended to focus on are SECONDARY RESULTS of these efforts that they perceive as being relevant to them. Reporters for traditional news organizations are generally not concerned with nor understand the issues I’ve described above. What they can understand is how these efforts have a secondary effect which they may perceive as a threat – credentialing of bloggers and the distribution of blogger content through partnerships with traditional media organization (e.g., the AP-MBA deal). They “get” THAT because those are cases where bloggers are starting to tread on THEIR turf.

      So, why are these SECONDARY results?

      It just so happens that not only do our initiatives put bloggers in a more defensible position but they also happen to make MBA members more appealing to various gatekeepers in our society who want to incorporate bloggers into what they do to work with they perceive to be “safe” bloggers and “safe” content. Now that is THEIR perspective not mine but their reality counts for something too. What they like is that the MBA has a published mission and statement of principles and therefore attracts people who support both, because it vets its members, because it asks its members to aspire to certain principles like truth, fairness, accuracy and transparency and so on. What I have learned through various discussions with these types of gatekeepers is that they are willing to “work” with bloggers in some capacity if they can have some minimum assurances that any such “partnerships” will not blow up in their face. It is easy to say they should just accept bloggers for who they are but when you sit down, face-to-face, with a federal judges or the Executive Editor of a large newspaper you have to show some respect for any legitimate concerns they might have if you are interested in getting your foot in the door. You need to be prepared to address those concerns. Keep in mind that these types of discussions are made more difficult because there are stories out there about how experiments with bloggers and social media technology ended badly. The folks I meet are often well aware of these stories.

      Because of this, I do not view that our “training” being “used as a credentialing process”.

      Beyond this, what you seem to have missed all together is that the MBA is not the credentialing body for Libby. The court did not outsource this function to us and, as noted we received just two of the six seats offered to bloggers. This exact issue was discussed last fall and I agreed with the court that it would be BETTER for the MBA not to be perceived as a new gatekeeper and that we were not interested (not that it was offered) to become the exclusive source of blogger access to the Libby trial.

      As for your SoCon 07 conference, you’ve missed my point. It’s not about “free speech” at your conference it’s about going to someone else’s “house” and agreeing to abide by their policies. Suppose your school had a policy against smoking anywhere on campus or consuming alcohol on campus. Would you argue that it would be acceptable for attendees at your conference to smoke or drink a beer on campus or would you say that if they want to come to your event they have to agree not to smoke or drink beer while at the conference? Smokers or beer drinkers are not required to come to your conference so they have a choice – to come and abide by university policies or not come and sit and home drinking and smoking. Likewise, no blogger is required to join the MBA, they are not required to participate in the Libby Trial coverage, they were not required to be an MBA member to get access to the courthouse to cover the trial, they were not required to use an MBA credential to access the media room. No member who was part of the MBA coverage was required to publish their posts into the MBA feed, no member was required to publish their posts into the AP feed. What we required was that if you wanted to submit posts from your blog to the AP feed then you not do things like write a head line such as “Dick Cheney is a motherf—er”. Such a headline on a member blog would automatically be transmitted to the AP and through them to hundreds of news sites that would likely find such content objectionable. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable condition for being allowed to publish though the AP feed.

    • Hi Robert:

      You asked earlier why I joined the Media Bloggers Association. It was because I did like the idea of a group working to defend its members legally. You have done admirable work there.

      However, I did not join it, in your words, to be more:

      appealing to various gatekeepers in our society who want to incorporate bloggers into what they do, to work with (what) they perceive to be “safe” bloggers and “safe” content.

      The gates need to come down. The gatekeepers need to learn to work with the bloggers and all the other citizens and not the other way around.

      That, I believe, is the nub of our argument. Your message, at least as I read it, is that the media companies and insurance companies want to feel safe–and you via the Media Bloggers Association are helping provide that seal of safety.

      I want the market of ideas, chaotic and threatening as it may be, to speak out as it may without fear or favor to big media and insurance companies.

      When I write for an Op-Ed page, I play by their rules. When I write for my blog, I play by my rules. I am empowered in ways I never before thought possible. So too are thousands of other bloggers, podcasters, and videologgers. Putting on the reins to make us more palatable to big media and big insurance is giving in to risk-adverse institutions. It is a step backward. Thanks, Robert, but I want to move forward.

    • Len,

      Giving in to risk-adverse institutions? You can’t be serious. I mean, it’s great that you want to “move forward” but running off a cliff is not my idea of progress. It sounds to me like you’ve watched “Easy Rider” one too many times.

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s really “cool” that you you are so empowered by blogging and now “free” to play by your own rules. That is really just so cool. And if the day comes that you are served legal papers for something you published on your blog I hope you will find a judge who is equally cool and decides to replace state or federal statutes with YOUR rules! That will be just awesome, dude and then you will like win your case like so easily and like the judge will be really cool and then everyone will be really happy and will just be so so cool and you will really totally empowered.

      In the meantime, the rest of the world is dealing with the reality that bloggers are not immune to legal action for what they publish on their blog and people like me are trying to figure out the best ways to preserve the freedoms that you find so empowering.

      I deal with these issues every day. Hiring an attorney and putting on a defense costs money. Individual bloggers are do not generally have the financial wherewithal to pay these costs and even less are able to afford to lose a case. Unless Bill Gates plans on writing a big check, the only viable solution is for bloggers themselves to pool resources – a liability insurance product for bloggers. Bloggers working together for their own mutual defense is not seeking the “favor” of big insurance companies. It is self-interest.

      Let me tell you a story.

      I just spent an hour on the telephone with a man who has been sued down in Florida. A small business owner has sued five commenters to a community forum web site over comments they made regarding bad service at his store. The small business owner is looking for in excess of $15,000 plus punitive damages plus court costs and expenses from each commenter. The guy I spoke needs an attorney as will the other four defendants. He needs ten grand to hire a lawyer to appear in court in 20 days. He doesn’t have the money. The other four are going to need attorneys too. Can you and all the other empowered bloggers please send him them a check for 50k? Or maybe I should just tell this guy he needs to learn to play by his own rules and skip his court appearance. Except the last person that tried this in Florida was slapped with an $11 million dollar judgement against them. Total downer, dude.

      Maybe I should tell him to remove the true, accurate things that he wrote about the company in Florida. Then maybe the business owner will drop the lawsuit. Of course free speech is tossed out the window but what the heck.

      Oh, and after you come up with the check for $50,000 I would like you to then line up more money in the event they lose and have to pay off a six or seven figure judgment. And then we’ll need money for the appeal.

      I am all for a vibrant “marketplace of ideas” but just remember what happened at the end of “Easy Rider”. While your playing by your own rules there’s some plaintiff lurking in the weeds with a shotgun – and he doesn’t give a damn how “empowered” you feel.

    • Mario Lavandeira (Perez Hilton) plays by his own rules. Apparently Jennifer Aniston and Universal City Studios don’t share his sense of empowerment.

      Lawsuit Over Topless Aniston Photo

      Mario may be able to afford his own attorney but he is among a minuscule fraction of bloggers in such a position. Regardless of whatever bravado he might display publicly he surely realizes that Universal has the financial resources to go to the mattresses on this one. Does he?

    • Hi Robert:

      Did you call me dude? That’s fairly amusing, given my age. Any how, remember what I said in the first words of my last post:

      I joined the Media Bloggers Association…because I did like the idea of a group working to defend its members legally. You have done admirable work there.

      Yes, there are idiots out there that want to sue us, and yes we should be aware of that, and yes we should take action. But what does that have to do with the Media Bloggers Association deciding what is safe journalism and what is not?

      Build coalitions, lobby for our legal rights. I am with you, that’s why I joined. Provide training. Just don’t tell me that the Media Blogger Association will provide some royal imprimatur. I don’t want any unofficial or official body to sanction what is good journalism and what is not. Let the public decide that. And if you think the courts are willing agents of people out to stifle free speech, then go after the courts. Don’t ask me to reign in my speech to save free speech. Because you know what, dude? It ain’t gonna happen.

    • It is the worth of citizen involved journalism, which makes it future of main stream media world wide. Only thing is to well communicate this to citizens and try to safe guard the citizen inputs as and where these are performed.

      I think this combine AP with Now public will do all this for making citizen involved journalism a reliable and serious for social development all around the globe.

      Good wishes

    • A Bloger is the idea creator of citizen media. He/she lived a dream to share his/her Info to knowledge and knowledge to feeling with world without expecting any thing from either side.

      Before and after this movement started this social sharing on entire subjects and issues beyond the definition of good and bad flow uninterrupted.
      Now this and other collaboration for making citizen media more action oriented is just to give its commercialism to the cause.

      It can affect citizen involved media in either ways.
      1. Quality and quality of contents will increase no doubt.
      2. feeling could be missing from them as it will make them competitive with other players , where as earlier citizen media contributors are doing it mostly for their
      Personal information sharing zest without much of market interests.

      It is my strong opinion that citizen media gets it power from citizens and citizens are best judge to see and decide the direction and movement of citizen journalism in days to come.

      Best wiehes from

      (A community news portal run and manage Young Indian research Journalists)

    • >>For the first time, a federal court formally recognized bloggers as journalists for purposing of media credentialing at a high-profile trial.

      I had a blogging seat in the Press Room of the Libby courthouse (the Prettyman) in Sept., 2004, as a credentialed online journalist. The result: I blogged the 9-month trial of USA v. Philip Morris, et. al. (http://www.tobacco-on-trial.com). I was referenced in this capacity in the New York Times on Oct. 28, 2004.

      Similarly, I was credentialed to attend and report on the US Supreme Court session which heard the Williams v. Philip Morris arguments on Oct. 31, 2006.

      Also similarly, I was granted access to the Press Rooms of the Rosen trial (NY Supreme Court, Mineola, LI, 2005) and the Schwab trial (US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, NY 2006).

      I have always been treated with grace and respect by every courtroom officer I have dealt with, and have usually received my credentials within days, sometimes minutes. Not years. I had no need of an organization.


      Gene Borio
      195 Bleecker St. #11
      New York, NY 10012


      Tobacco on Trial

    • Len,

      I cannot contend with someone who will assert that two plus two is not four, then re-assert it, then assert it, then re-assert it again. If the MBA were doing as you claim I would be first in line to agree with you. It’s not. So where does that leave us?

      I have provided details. You have provided slogans.

      You based your alarmist rhetoric on this quote:

      “We sought to address [the APs concerns] by saying we have a vetted membership of bloggers whove agreed to ascribe to certain ideals of what theyre trying to do. [The AP] has the kind of accountability that they want. Im not going to control what the blogger writes, but if they get way out of line and embarrass the AP, they can be pulled from the feed.

      You already know that the MBA has a VETTED MEMBERSHIP because you went through that same vetting process to become a member and remained a member while other bloggers went through that same process.

      You already know that the MBA’ Statement of Principles contains a set of IDEALS to which we hope MBA members will aspire. You know that one of the requirements for membership is to be familiar with the MBA Statement of Principles and support it.

      I have already addressed the rather obvious point that as a condition of carrying an RSS Feed of blog posts from MBA Members at the Libby Trial that participating bloggers agreed not to use profanity or otherwise violate AP standards.

      You also know that no blogger is required to be an MBA member, that no MBA member was required to cover the Libby Trial, that no MBA/Libby Trial bloggers were required to be part of the MBA/AP RSS Feed, that no blogger who was part of the feed was required to submit every post on their blog to the feed.

      How exactly is anyone’s “free speech” reigned in by the MBA-AP deal?

      How exactly is the MBA determining or seeking to determine what is “safe journalism”?

      Provide some specific examples of the way in which your speech was suppressed by the MBA either before, during or after joining the MBA?

    • Things are even worse than you thought. This morning my site Googled on top of page 2. This afternoon it had disappeared completely. Troll favors?

      Please read this…true story:



    • Things are even worse than you thought. This morning my site Googled on top of page 2. This afternoon it had disappeared completely. Troll favors?

      Please read this…true story:



    • Leonard Witt

      Hi Robert:

      This will be my last post on the subject of journalism certification.I am opposed to any step in that direction by anyone or any organization.

      Macworld has an article about France making it illegal for private citizens to publish videos of violent acts. I am concluding with Macworld’s concluding paragraph:

      The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media