All’s fair in love, war and journalism

The relationship between a reporter and a company he (or she) is trying to write about is… well, complicated. In some cases, it’s like two hostile nations trying to meet at Camp David, with each side compiling as much information — secret and otherwise — about their adversary, and each side trying to read between the lines to find out what the other party really meant. And sometimes those files get leaked, as they did in the case of Wired writer Fred Vogelstein.

spy vs spy.jpgIn a classic case of mis-communication, Fred got sent the file that Microsoft PR firm Waggener Edstrom had compiled on him. The PDF, which Fred has helpfully made available here, contains 13 pages of notes from interviews, commentary about his reporting abilities, and so on. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you, but still somewhat embarrassing — including comments such as “It takes him a bit to get his point across so try to be patient” and “We’re pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing.” Ironically, the story was part of a Wired cover package on transparency, as editor Chris Anderson describes here.

As Mike Arrington notes at TechCrunch, the fact that Microsoft’s PR firm compiled a dossier on Fred is not surprising. Somewhere, there is an underground server farm the size of the Pentagon filled with minutiae about anyone who has made it past the Microsoft reception desk (I’m only partly joking). That’s how Microsoft — and many other large companies — work.

Frank Shaw, president of Waggener Edstrom — whose blog, fittingly enough, is called “Glass House” — has responded with a post about the event. For the most part, he plays it cool, although he seems (perhaps not surprisingly) a little on the defensive at certain points. Towards the end, he says that in most cases “the interests of a journalist and PR are totally aligned – a great interview is always the best possible outcome.”

Mr. Shaw is right, of course. But what he doesn’t say is that the definition of what constitutes a “good” interview can differ radically depending on whether you are a PR firm or a reporter trying to get a story. Sometimes that relationship is a pitched battle, sometimes it’s an arranged marriage, and sometimes it’s a dance. A PR firm has to be equal parts marriage broker, dating service, DJ and (in some cases) spook. ‘Twas always thus.

Come on out tonight and mesh

Spring seem to have hit Toronto with a bang, and that can only mean one thing: mesh is coming soon (check out all the details here). And that means it must be time for the next mesh social event, which is on tonight at the Charlotte Room on King Street just east of Spadina. Come on out for some cold beverages, warm food and conversation, maybe a little nine-ball or Boston on the pool tables, and some all-around meshing.

We’re planning to get started at about 6 p.m. and keep it going until they make us go home, so be sure to drop by and join us. All the details and some of the attendees can be found at the Upcoming page.

Anyone who came to the last mesh meet-up at the Irish Embassy knows that it was a blast, with about 100 people showing up on a rainy November night, complete with guest appearances by Darren “Problogger” Rowse, all the way from Australia, as well as the guys from ConceptShare (all the way from Sudbury), and many of the usual suspects as well. Leesa Barnes did a great job conducting a bunch of podcast interviews with folks such as Dr. Tony Hung and Bernie Aho, and we’re hoping she’s going to do some more this time.

Knight launches citizen media resource

The Knight Foundation has launched a website aimed at helping “citizen journalism” or community media operations find resources and best practices. Called the Knight Citizen News Network, it’s managed by J-Lab — the Institute for Interactive Journalism — with content created in part by Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media and by Amy Gahran of I, Reporter (as well as Right Conversations and the Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits).

There’s a press release with more info here. The resources at KCNN.org include:

And (gratuitous Canadian reference) the site was designed by Hop Studios out of Vancouver.

Feeling the need for speed

I realize that it’s sort of childish to be interested in going really, really fast for no other reason than because it’s fun to go really, really fast — but I can’t help but be fascinated by this video clip from the UK’s Top Gear show of the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest production automobile, hitting its top speed of more than 400 kilometres an hour.

Kathy Sierra: the dark side of anonymity

Update 2:

Alan Herrel, who (used to) blog under the name The Head Lemur, has written a long email to Doc Searls – which Doc has posted here — saying he was not involved in the postings on meankids that appeared beside his picture and name, and apologizing for his involvement in the site. He also says that someone has hacked his blog and his email accounts.

And for another perspective on Web-based hate speech, check out a post from conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who has been getting similar comments for several years now.

Update:

Chris Locke, one of the bloggers involved in the sites that Kathy Sierra described — meankids.org and unclebobism.com (both of which have been removed) — and also one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, defends himself in this response to a journalist’s questions, and another of those involved, Frank Paynter, has an apology here. There’s a good synopsis of what happened with those sites and Kathy Sierra here.

Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses has some thoughts about anonymity and cyberspace and its effect on behaviour. Danah Boyd of apophenia reflects on her own experience with cyber-bullying, and Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void has some thoughts as well, as does Karoli at Odd Time Signatures, and Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy.

Original post:

Kathy Sierra’s disturbing and heart-wrenching take on cyber-stalking, which is here, is yet another example of how the anonymity of the Web allows — and even encourages — certain individuals to toss aside what we see as normal human behaviour and indulge the worst elements of their nature.

anonymity.jpgIt’s not all that much different from the obscene phone call or anonymous death threat of another era, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing — and the fact that a simple search can find out so much about a person no doubt makes it all the more so for Kathy, who says she has cancelled her appearance at eTech as a result. And given some of the things she found on the sites she mentions (both of which have since been removed), it’s hard to blame her.

As we have all found out to one extent or another — whether through blog comments, or email flame wars, or blog posts about us — the anonymity of the Internet has a tendency to free people from their inhibitions, as James Robertson also notes. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a very bad thing. People will write things that they would never think of saying to someone in person, or saying if their identity could be discovered.

It’s a little like the spell that comes over people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Because the other drivers can’t see them, and don’t know who they are, people feel free to say — and do — all kinds of terrible things they would never think of doing face-to-face. Seth Godin has more to say about the downsides of anyonymity here.

I understand Scoble’s desire to show solidarity by not blogging, but to me the only way to get rid of that kind of behaviour is to shine a light on it. Bravo to Kathy for going public with it.