by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XLIII

This Week's Clue: Profession?

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This Week's Clue: Profession?
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Whither Wi-Fi?
Serious Mobile Tools
Click Fraud
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of October 25, 2004

Back in the late 1970s I was trained, at Northwestern University, in the "profession" of journalism, earning a Master's of Science from the Medill School, class of 1978.

It was a fraud.

That's not because of anything Medill did or didn't do. What made it a fraud was how it pushed the very idea of journalism as a "profession."

Professions, like the law or medicine, have two points in common. First, the professional is an independent actor, trusted and in control, not just credentialed. Second, that control is mediated by a code of ethics, which can be enforced and send you spinning out of the field.

Journalism has neither. The canard of the "liberal media" is based on the idea that liberal journalists control what goes into the paper, or onto the TV screen. That is a lie. Publishers control it, business owners control it. Some owners, in the past, left those decisions to editors because it was in their financial interest to do so, but this was always their decision. Those who don't believe in the idea of a "journalism profession" are free to load up their ranks with hacks and polemicists, ignore facts and demand lies. There is nothing the so-called "profession" can do about this. The hacks are called "professionals" and those with skills or education who lack jobs are defined out of the game.

We've seen this at Fox, we've seen this at UPI and the Washington Times. Have the "journalists" who work for these Pravdas paid any price? I sort of had this out with Peter Roff of UPI recently. He was thoroughly dismissive of me, as a journalist and as a human being. So I looked up Roff's work - he's a right-wing hack. But is Roff, because he takes a single paycheck from a single source, Sun Myung Moon, more of a journalist than I am, because I'm a freelance who sometimes can't get work? He believes he is. And, despite the fact that he's a polemicist who will always support one side and has no pretensions of fairness, those who control the "profession" think he is a professional, and I'm not.

Where is the price for violating ethics? Where is the price for lying? It's easy to go after a Jayson Blair. But what about Judith Miller? What about Robert Novak? Yes it's harder to run-off powerful doctors and lawyers than beginners, but if you can't do it your claim to professionalism is a sham.

What brings this to mind is a panel about blogs I spoke on recently for the Atlanta Press Club . The room was filled to capacity (it was a small room) with paid journalists, most of whom work for Cox Enterprises (which is headquartered here in Atlanta).

There was horror expressed when I pointed out that blogging software, by its nature, eliminates the gatekeepers of Web design and editing. My audience saw these gatekeepers as essential to credibility. And bloggers were predictably attacked as being non-journalists.

I got a little testy. There are no longer barriers to entry in the marketplace of ideas, I said. Deal with it.

This didn't go over well.

The reason, I think, is because young practitioners lack confidence in their own ability, and so like to wrap themselves in the mantle of their employers, just as graduates of top colleges wrap themselves in alma mater. (I've been guilty of this last myself.) Like children they can't imagine their employers having feet of clay, or (worse) a political agenda which treats them as pawns on a chessboard.

But you can fool some of the people all of the time, and the ideological press has convinced millions that objectivity is political opposition, and that ideological purity is somehow balance. You can't fool all of the people all of the time, so we have a growing movement against the ideological press, although that movement carries its own blinders.

Blogging software has impacts far beyond journalism. Writing into a database, with instant delivery of content, can transform how businesses are run, or how any research projects are done. The blogging metaphor is perfect for a store that wants to bring people back every day. It's just narcissistic bias that makes journalists feel blogging is aimed solely at them.

But what blogging does to journalism is drop the cost of entry to the floor. That's the cost of entry, not the cost of competing. You can set out your own lemonade stand, and it might draw a crowd, but if you want to have a business it's got to scale beyond you. It's got to become a community, and that community must gain a business model. A lot of people who write because it's in their blood (as it is with me) don't understand that. We need publishers and agents to make our living.

This need, this dependence, is what really defines journalism. If we had gone to Northwestern to become publishers we would have gone to the Kellogg School of Business , not Medill. In my time we defined journalists as people who work for people who buy ink by the barrel. What my career has taught me is that the key phrase here is "work for people." And a job, by its nature, is always controlled by the employer, not the employee.

That's why the profession of journalism doesn't exist. There's a craft to it, even an art, just as there are crafts and art in cooking. But if you put Emeril Lagasse into a Steak and Shake you're still going to get a beefburger, french fries, and a chocolate malt. Put an artist into a coal mine and all you'll get is coal. The difference between a chef and a journalist is a chef can find the business sense needed to make him a star - a journalist can only become a star as someone's minion.

We have an opportunity with blogging, all artists do, to either seize the day or simply give of ourselves in new ways. I choose to give, and I accept the personal consequences. I practice my craft in this medium as I would practice it in any other. The difference is that, because the cost of doing business is essentially zero I can do it here in complete freedom. You get what I think here, not what any boss thinks. And I try to practice my craft ethically, honestly, in a way that lets me look in the mirror each morning with some pride, hope, and idealism.

But I'm not a doctor. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a professional. And any journalist, or journalism teacher, or journalism school that tells you different is lying.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Takes on the News

Whither Wi-Fi?

Wireless broadband, defined under the 802.11 and 802.16 standards, is at a crossroads.

Will it become ubiquitous or will it remain, as it was intended to be, a Local Area Networking technology?

SBC sees Wi-Fi as a route toward dominance over its cellular competitors (like Verizon). It wants to combine its paid FreedomLink hotspots with its Cingular cellular service . (T-Mobile has the same idea.) But the actual cost of setting up a hotspot continues moving toward zero, and the financial value of a hotspot seems to be limited to a meal or a cup of coffee. Given a choice between free and paid hotspots, people will choose free.

WanderPort sees Wi-Fi as fill-in capacity , something you can put on a truck to deliver broadband where it's needed. Agere is moving away from stand-alone Wi-Fi toward Wi-Fi as a voice service, integrated with cellular into one seamless whole.

This is happening because, so far, Wi-Fi has failed to fulfill its promise. It's not breaking out of the gadget freak and early adopter markets, so suppliers are turning in desperation to business and carrier customers. Yet In-Stat says the big money over the next four years will come in consumer electronics .

If Wi-Fi is seen only as a way to move around voice, or even video, it will never fulfill its potential. It must be seen as a platform for Always-On applications, as a way to take and analyze new kinds of data, as a way to make your home work better and ease your way of life. For that to happen Wi-Fi base stations must be built on a modular, scalable, robust operating system.

Until someone can sell and deliver this vision Wi-Fi will not reach its potential.


Serious Mobile Tools

Symbian-based phones are not serious mobile tools. As functions are added to them they go from being simply phones (which is a good thing) to being virtual Swiss Army Knives, collections of nearly unrelated parts (which is a bad thing).

A serious tool will bring these parts together into a concrete whole, based again on a robust, scalable, modular operating system. This allows you to combine tools into new types of applications, replicating and (in time) replacing your computing environment.

If VOIP has taught us anything it's that voice is a low-bandwidth application. As bandwidth rises its priority goes down. It becomes valuable only as it is combined with other features, computer-based features, and computers provide a better interface for computer-based features than phones do.

This doesn't mean phones will disappear. The value of a phone is still enormous, especially in the developing world. But that's not where the big money is going to be. The big money is going to be in applications, in the serious combination of applications into useful work, or useful play. Palm, RIM and Microsoft are furthest down this road.

What I wanna know is when will IBM release a mobile operating system, perhaps based on embedded Linux, that can be used to make serious, and seriously small, tools. If it doesn't happen then Windows wins the game. If it does then it's game on again.

Click Fraud

Adam Penenberg complains that the FTC is doing nothing about click fraud, the false generation of clicks on ads meant to generate revenue on the advertisement without generating anything for the advertiser .

It's a big problem, a growing problem, but the answer doesn't lie in government. It lies in the medium, in free enterprise. In this case, it lies with Google.

Penenberg's real story is that Google (and its competitors) are standing helplessly by while gray market outsourcers steal from them. This doesn't have to be the case. Because a click is just one step down a sales funnel, only one point at which an advertiser can pay.

There are other points. You can pay based on a completed form, or a subscription, or a sale. You can wait to pay until these forms, subscriptions and sales are verified, and paid for. These things are very hard to fake, and when they're faked there exist easy ways to go after people. Render onto Caesar only those problems which are Caesar's, and leave the rest to the market.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Russell Beattie who is steadily proving himself as a great new analyst in the world of mobility and mobile platforms. Keep up the great work, Russell.

Clueless is overreaction to a study indicating analog mobile phones may increase the risk of a benign tumor . This should be seen as an opportunity to redefine and reinvent mobile platforms, rather than as an excuse to say the sky is falling.


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