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Friday, November 22, 2002

Revenge Of The Blog: Featured Speaker Mickey Kaus

Highlights from Mickey Kaus' talk: The question "Is that enough to go with?" is not an issue for the blogger. Half-finished ideas are sort of the point. Put the idea out there, let people tell you if it's good or not. The shift away from more traditional, print technology press practices: Mickey probably couldn't write a "lead" or "billboard" paragraph anymore if you asked him to. There was a very bad editor at the L.A. times who said: "Do it once, do it right, and do it long." This is a really dumb philosophy for a newspaper, and this is why the L.A. Times failed to break any scandals while this guy was editor. In blogging, you don't do it once, you do it repeatedly. You don't do it right, but through feedback you eventually get it right. You don't do it long. Six questions: Will blogs displace conventional media? No. Next question. (Audience laughs.) Follow-up discussion regarding access point Henry Copeland made earlier. Will blogging make money? No. "This RSS stuff, I assume this will kill us completely." But it doesn't really matter if blogging makes money; not really why it's done. Why are [political] blogs so right-wing? Theory that the right wing is just more pissed off than most will be tested, because the left is now getting more and more pissed off. Mickey favors the media bias theory. The New York times is still very important, and as long as it's there, there'll be a reaction on the Web. Will blogs change black letter first amendment law for everyone? There are a bunch of hidden assumptions under first amendment law, e.g., once something's printed, it's hard to correct. Many factors militate toward changing the libel law, making it harder to sue, easier to speak: (1) Changing definition of what is the "press." Traditional corporate view was wrong before the advent of blogging, but now it's wrong and untenable. Journalists have a harder time claiming they have "special" first amendment rights, when more nonprofessionals are doing similar things. Things we talk about in our daily lives could never survive if the libel law were strictly applied to "over the back fence" conversations taking place on the Web. (2) The technology of correction is much better than it used to be. Should change the underlying balance of how grievous it is to say something inaccurate about someone on the Web. (3) There is a different ecology emerging of how the truth comes out. It's becoming more of a dialogue; the truth comes back via return email. Mickey feels comfortable engaging in rampant speculation, knowing that he will be corrected very quickly and that he has the ability to flip completely if appropriate. If we think this is a good way to find out the truth, our notions of what is negligent shift. Mickey doesn't call everyone for a reaction the way he did when he wrote for the conventional media. Almost always it's a useful call, but you tend not to make it in blogging, knowing you'll get a corrective email if it's in order. Relaxation of the front-end standards, but the end result is just as efficient at getting to the truth. (4) Speed. Mickey, when operating as an unpaid blogger, was quoted $20k for libel insurance (Glenn Reynolds pays much less under a rider on his homeowner's policy). Under the Microsoft umbrella with Slate, this is no longer such a concern. Concerning Mickey's situation with Microsoft, and whether corporations can do blogging: ABC's The Note is a good example that technically it can be done. But corporate liability considerations may keep corporations from being as "fast" as this medium demands. Will blogging lead to more tribal cocooning, only reinforcing a reader's preexisting world view, hermetically sealed spheres of thought? No. Mickey agrees with Glenn Reynolds. Blogs are the antidote to living within one's own secluded world. Cocooning is a danger in our society, and the Web and talk radio can exacerbate the tendency. A couple of things about blogs, they are wormholes to disparate viewpoints, and they force you to actually grapple with an opposing argument and not dismiss it with a cliche epithet. There are Darwinian forces in play that motivate civil dialogue between parties in disagreement. Remember Mel Brooks' routine about the liquid Prell commercial? Shampoo falls on the shower floor, daughter says "you broke it," mother says, "it's unbreakable." 2000 year old man identifies liquid Prell as most important innovation to mankind, because mom and daughter "are talking again!" It's hard to tear down people you have a relationship with, even if you are diametrically opposed to their beliefs. Is blogging a good thing? Mentions the Lagniappe blog, maintained by Derek Lowe, immediately to my right. A blog by a medicinal chemist with an unnamed phara firm about issues pertinent to his industry. You can envision Detroit equivalents for the automotive industry, etc. Good ideas come from bad ideas...the Blogosphere is a world of bad ideas! Web ---> complexity, interdependence, freedom. Blogging helps that process get here faster than it otherwise would. [Aside: James Grimmelmann and I earlier were discussing the uptake of blogging in various industries, wondering about medicine and pharmaceuticals in particular. Derek's blog, and links from there, start to answer our questions.] Questions: Concerning drawing first amendment distinctions between professional journalists and others writing on the Web: The Blogosphere, as a whole, corrects inaccuracies quickly. Two possibilities: one assumes a reader is getting information from just one (inaccurate) source, or a reader (as blog readers do) grazes, and have the harm corrected from other sources. No easy answers, but these factors need to factor into the liability analysis. Glenn Reynolds mentions Google. The availability and access of all this information matters to how we evaluate things like libel and disclosure. Example: when writing about music issues for Fox, Glenn tried unsuccessfully to include in his tagline his involvement in technomusic, etc. Someone emailed, "you should have mentioned that." His response: "Yes, I tried. But it really doesn't matter, someone sufficiently interested could Google me." Concerning private self-sensorship out of concern for one's reputation or the Darwinian forces mentioned previously: Not too troubling to Mickey, better than it was before. Before there were hundreds of people Mickey worried about offending; now there's only one (Drudge). There's always some conflict of interest, it's a mistake to assume traditional journalists are any more immune.

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