LA Times (reg req): "News" Video Extols Gov.'s Plan. Using taxpayer money, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has sent television stations statewide a mock news story extolling a proposal that would benefit political boosters in the business community by ending mandatory lunch breaks for many hourly workers. The tape looks like a news report and is narrated by a former television reporter who now works for the state. But unlike an actual news report, it does not provide views critical of the proposed changes. Democrats have denounced it as propaganda. Snippets aired on as many as 18 stations earlier this month, the administration said.
So it spreads. California's show-biz governor is mimicking the Bush adminisration's misuse of taxpayers' funds to pay for propaganda.
There are any number of villains in this story. But I want to single out the TV stations that are playing this garbage and pretending it's news. They are party to deception, and they aid the crowd that wants to debunk all journalism as part of a campaign to turn news into whatever the people in power say it is.
I'm a passionate partisan for citizen journalism. But it is not, anytime soon, going to be a replacement for the valuable work done by the pros -- and the more people like Bush and Schwarzenegger and their allies try to devalue honorable journalism, the more they're devaluing democracy itself.
Jay Rosen: In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press. Creating "Jeff Gannon" as a credible White House correspondent, and creating radical doubt about the intentions of mainstream journalists (in order to de-certify the traditional press) are two parts of the same effort, which stretches beyond the Bush team itself to allies in Republican Party politics, and new actors like Sinclair Broadcasting, or FreeRepublic.com, or Hugh Hewitt, or these guys.
It is this larger picture that accounts for a professional tribe of journalists who, as Lemann said, "collectively felt both more harshly attacked and less important" in 2004. The more harshly attacked part comes from the Culture War rumbling below, while the message "you're unimportant" is sent directly from the top.
A group that wants to assist free speech in authoritarian nations is looking for a technically savvy person -- a CTO or lead engineer type -- who can do a short term study, possibly leading to a longer-term job. This is a paying gig for the right person.
The project is intended, in its intitial form, to make possible blogging that is impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to trace. One of the people involved calls it an "anonymous, anti-tyranny blogging service."
Salon: See no Gannon, hear no Gannon, speak no Gannon. "It's stunning to me that there are questions about the independent press being undermined and the mainstream press doesn't seem that interested in it," says Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary during President Clinton's second term. "People in the mainstream press have shrugged their shoulders and said, 'It's a whole lot of nothing.'"
David Lazarus (SF Chronicle): Shifting Sands in Data Leak. ChoicePoint holds an estimated 19 billion public records pertaining to virtually every adult in the country, although not one of us has authorized the company to profit from our personal info. ChoicePoint is duped into releasing reams of confidential data to identity thieves. And as far as the company is concerned, this is a crime against ChoicePoint but merely an inconvenience for all those whose privacy was violated.
I had lunch yesterday with several Google folks including Marissa Mayer, the company's director of consumer Web products, to discuss the new Google Toolbar, which is now in beta.
Like several other people, I have raised serious questions about this product's new "AutoLink" tool. It strikes me as an intrusion into people's browsers by a company that commands great market share.
She listened to my concerns. And she explained Google's stance -- nothing new there, and it amounts to "this is all for the users' benefit" defense. I am not convinced, however, that Google will end up doing the right thing in the end.
As Search Engine Watch asks in this piece: "Why are publishers upset? Can they block the feature that adds links to their web pages? Who rules over content, users or publishers?"
Good and fair questions -- but Google hasn't sufficiently answered them.
At the very least, Google needs to make some changes in the installation process. As users install the toolbar they should be asked if they want features that change content on web pages. There should be an opt-in process, not an opt-out process, for such things.
I have trouble with Search Engine Watch's Danny Sullivan's view that publishers of Web sites should be able to opt out of the toolbar changes. In theory, once I have content on my desktop it should be my right to "remix" it in the way I choose.
What Google isn't taking into account is that its market power, and the tendency of users to accept the default -- to eat what's on the plate someone puts in front of them -- will tend to create Google's version of the Web, not the users' version. We all hates Microsoft's Smart Tags idea because it gave more, unearned power to Microsoft. Google doesn't have that same dominance, but it has enough to worry about.
Will Google do the right thing? This is a big test.
(By the way, Mayer said that while Microsoft's former Smart Tags guy is working for Google now, he's not involved in the Toolbar project.)
Evan Williams gave me a demonstration yesterday of Odeo, an intriguing new application for creating audio content for the Web and mobile devices. It's going to help make podcasting more successful, because it'll make it easier to create them.
Personal Democracy Forum: Daschle, Thune and the Blog-Storming of South Dakota. The blogging efforts on behalf of Thune's Senate campaign didn't cause greater civic participation or bring in piles of small donations. Instead nine bloggers -- two of whom were paid $35,000 by Thune's campaign -- formed an alliance that constantly attacked the election coverage of South Dakota's principal newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. More specifically, their postings were not primarily aimed at dissuading the general public from trusting the Argus' coverage. Rather, the work of these bloggers was focused on getting into the heads of the three journalists at the Argus who were primarily responsible for covering the Daschle/Thune race: chief political reporter David Kranz, state editor Patrick Lalley, and executive editor Randell Beck.
This well-reported piece shows the danger of hidden interests in journalism. The game played by the pro-Thune blogging campaign should have been known before the election, not after, because it might well have changed the outcome had voters known what this crowd was doing.