For the Week of September 5, 2005
There's a saying that bloggers are journalists who won't make a five-minute phone call, while journalists are bloggers who won't spend five minutes on Google.
Both views have something to them, although I'd say that Google keeps getting better, while the phone doesn't.
But there's a bigger secret neither side tells you.
We seldom leave our desks.
It's a question of efficiency, one I learned as a very young reporter.
If I went out to cover a meeting, or conduct a single interview, I lost about a half-day, minimum. You have to drive there, and back. Things may not start right away. You've got to transcribe your notes. (I started this life before laptops existed, and took my notes on an IBM Selectric, believe it or not.)
So you have to make hard decisions. How important is it to "be there?" How vital is it to look that person in the eye?
Bloggers are, if anything, worse. We're not bound by journalism's ethics. Many of us aren't pretending to do journalism at all - we're ranting. So if bloggers do anything, they spend a few minutes online collecting links. That proves it!
Not exactly, in either case. I have learned this first-hand recently, while preparing for the launch of atlanta.voic.us.
It was an easy story, but I chose to do it in a new way. The local paper said that the Jackson Square condominiums down on Buford Highway were going to be bought by the government, after flooding numberless times over the previous five years. The federal government would give $3.8 million, the locals $1.2 million. The residents would not get the market value of their property, nothing like it, but they would get something.
In order to make the story more interesting, I went to Google. I found several listings for Jackson Square Apartments, but none of the addresses were on Buford Highway. I saw that they were condos, so I tried Jackson Square Condominium. There was a cached listing with an address.
I trotted out Google Maps and a new tool they've got, the hybrid mode. I clicked around and found what looked like a creekbed to its south. I followed the creek east and found, what do you know - a lot of dirt scraped out for a new apartment development.
The paper made it seem that the flooding started five years ago, which makes some sense, since before that Georgia was in drought. The last few years we've been in flood. And with every rain Jackson Square has flooded.
What's changed in the meantime? That scraped dirt was turned into another, more valuable apartment complex, by another developer. Some more Googling revealed it's called The Gables at Druid Hills. It was originally called The Reserve at Druid Hills, according to an apartment rental listing. Entering that name, plus the word "developer," revealed it was built by Atlantic-Realty http://www.atlantic-realty.com/about.html, an Atlanta company which is quite proud of its work.
Atlantic Realty is run by Richard Aaronson, who started the company in 1995. He's listed as a Bush contributor in 2004. His other local connections, however, are obscure.
So we have questions. Did Aaronson know his construction plan would flood-out his neighbors? Did anyone who granted him permission to build know that? What else don't we know, about the impact of hydrology on building?
The only way to get real answers is to go out there with a camera, maybe a surveyor, and document the flow of the water. Then interview both Aaronson and the planning authorities of DeKalb County, face-to-face.
That was what I originally meant to write about, the need to get out into the field and do some real field work, as journalists and as bloggers. But what the links above have just illustrated is just how much Google Maps, and its new hybrid mode, can actually do. The evidence of change in the flood plain is there, and it's pretty easy to find out who likely made that change happen.
Google Maps may be the most far-reaching, important tool journalists and bloggers have ever had. Especially when you can use the hybrid mode to see the lay of the land, you can get a ton of mileage out of this.
And a ton of new stories are just waiting to be written as a result.
I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of mediator for mobile phone users.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Best of the Week
Women are not property. They do not belong to men. They do not belong to a religion, or their families, or their nations. They are all their own individuals, every one of them, and have a basic human right to make their own choices, about who they will see, about what they will learn, about what they will wear, and about their bodies.
One sad headline from this year is how Google has become so opaque and observers so suspicious that its moves are now studied the way Microsoft once was.
It's now clear that wireless technology defines this decade. Mobile phones are opening up Africa as never before. WiFi is making networking truly ubiquitous.
The island has immense stores of natural energy -- waves, wind, and vulcanism.
The fact is that best-seller lists are compiled based on black arts, which are opaque to outsiders (and even some insiders). Even the best list of final sales, that of Nielsen's BookScan, doesn't include results from Wal-Mart, which sells more books than anyone.
It's ironic, but my first invitation to use Google Talk came from Pakistan. From Karachi, actually.
Where Bill Gates bests Steve Jobs, and always has, is in his willingness to build ecosystems.
By Frankston's calculations, for example, Verizon is reserving 99 percent of its government-ordained right of way (in the form of bandwidth that should be available to us as well as its competitors) for itself so that it may compete in the IPTV market.
Birds are twittering about Verisign's moves to integrate WiFi, VOIP and cellular over campus-wide networks.
Managerial efficiency and quicker time-to-market from a $100/unit investment that also carries PR and (possible) sales benefits?
The fastest way to save energy in this country is to build-out the Local Web.
The next U.S. recession will start in earnest on October 17. (If it hasn't already.)
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is Jon Stewart, whose interviewing techniques just get better with practice.
Clueless is a study claiming to show there are no media monopolies because the stock market hasn't rewarded lazy monopolists with higher stock prices.
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