by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XXXIV

This Week's Clue: Open Source Journalism

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This Week's Clue: Open Source Journalism
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of August 21, 2006

A very interesting thing happened recently that you didn't read in your newspaper, or see on your TV.

That's because it involved TV and newspaper journalists, and showed them to be fools.

The major media got beat to death on a major story by a bunch of bloggers. This was not the first time such a thing had happened, of course. Far from it. But this wasn't some right-wing nitwit picking apart a news report and having his words echoed endlessly. This was active, aggressive reporting, using open source methodologies, working together, finding facts and getting them out there.

The subject was an alleged "hack" of the Joe Lieberman Web site by "bloggers attached to the Lamont campaign." The story, put out by the Lieberman campaign on the day of the primary, drew extensive coverage and probably contributed to the narrowness of the result.

Only one problem. The story was a crock.

In past years, such a trick would have gone unremarked-upon. With just a few hours of voting left, it certainly would not have been challenged. But this time there were people ready to go after the truth, with the means to get it and work together. Over the course of just a few hours, using Internet tools, several blogs cooperated (without communicating directly) and systematically refuted the claim.

During this time, and even after, TV and print reporters continued running the lie. The final New York Times story on the result, filed after Lieberman conceded, was the first to get the facts right. It was only correct because the Times had four named reporters contributing to the story, along with several editors and who knows how many uncredited fact-checkers. Yet, even in this story, you only really got a "he-said, he-said" version of the truth. That is, the charge was in the story, and a claim of refutation was also there. The Times did not independently verify a thing.

They didn't have or the resources. The bloggers did.

The day after the primary I got a call from Justin Rood, who works for TPMuckraker. Rood had picked apart the Lieberman story and was preparing to do the same to the blogger-critics.

Wait a minute, I said. What you saw from these people was active, in-process work product. Of course some things are going to be wrong. Of course you're going to see some blind alleys. That's the difference between open source reporting and closed source, transparency. But eventually it gets the j-o-b done. And, partly as a result, Rood's follow-up attacking the bloggers has not appeared as of this date.

But because proprietary shops are lazy, and rely for their copy on other proprietary shops, the Lieberman lie kept going-and-going. Here it is in a trade paper report from Thursday, August 10, two days after it was proven false.

This is a tipping-point. A closed-source process lied, it continued to lie, and it never fully retracted the lie. An open source process saw through the lie, reported the truth, and (finally) the lie's spread slowed down. Closed-source reporting failed on this story while open source processes succeeded.

Why? Internet values like openness, transparency and connectivity all played a part. Another important difference is that open source can put a lot of boots on the ground, just as open source programming can put more people to work on a program than closed-source can. This is the most important point. A New York Times reporter may be highly skilled and professional, but they can't communicate with other organizations, and their numbers are limited by the budget. This is not true in an open source process.

The Clue is that what is true for the software business is also true for the journalism business, and for business generally. It's also true for politics, and for society. The result may look messier, but it actually gets you closer to the real facts, faster, than a closed-source process.

Those who understand, accept, and internalize this Clue are going to succeed in the coming years. Those who ignore it have been warned.


Shameless Self-Promotion

Please do me a favor. DanaBlankenhorn gets fewer visits each week than this newsletter has subscribers. If you could drop by (by clicking your choice of links below) and say hi I'd sure appreciate it. If you have an RSS reader, you can easily subscribe to the blog's feed.

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

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


Best of the Week

The Power of the Boiling Frog

People have gotten used to prices as they have risen, and now shrug them off.

The Need for a Controlling Myth

The Open Source Thesis is that the values of this medium need to be incorporated into policy, that its reach needs to be extended, and that its business models need to be adopted.

Hawley! Smoot!

When Republicans trot out lines about appeasement, or hold the spectre of George McGovern over Democrats' heads, this should be a cause of rejoicing, not wringing of hands.

The 1966 Game: Who's Jane Fonda Now?

Mel Gibson.

The Economic Laws of Content

Japanese researchers report that when broadband is fully available, people download only one-third more than they upload.

Redefining Your Personal Worth

By contributing important concepts and code, by licensing it liberally, these people and companies became rock stars.

Boots on the Ground

The more people you have on a story, people who know what they're doing (or who can learn), the faster you get the story.

The Internet Generation

My daughter, who was just 6 when the Web was spun, cast her first vote last month. She is on the leading edge of this change, because I work in the medium. She assumes Internet connectivity. She assumes broadband. She spends a lot more time in her room, with her PC, than in front of a TV.

Why No One Reads Hofstadter

It's partly because Hofstadter wrote at and for a different time. He wrote in the 1950s and early 1960s, at the height of the FDR era, the third straight generation of American liberal dominance.

The Bernanke Depression

Just as devotion to the 1815 Balance of Power resulted in World War I, so Bernanke's solution to the problems of 1929 will make the problems of 2007 worse.

Eras of Conservative Power

This is, by my reckoning, only the second era of real conservative power.

All I Ever Wanted to Be



Kentucky: Can't Touch This (For Now)

Tech: Making Every Event Political

Georgia: Magic GOP Time Machine

Georgia: Looking for Crazies

Florida: Crist Almighty

Georgia: Low Maintenance Wins

Tech: Proof You Need a Mobile Campaign

Georgia: The Closer, the Uglier

Georgia Democrats Root Home Lieberman

Georgia Democrats Seek Robocalls?

Georgia 4th CD: The Picadors Are Out

ZDNet Open Source

Slashdot the Apache of Open Source Journalism

Should ZDNet Use an Open Source Process?

Intel Playing Catch-Up with Open Source

Open Source Seminars Lead to Corporate Enlightenment

Redefining Value in an Open Source World

Open Source for Open SOX


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is anyone who sees the need for both the U.S. and Israel to change tactics.

Clueless is anyone who thinks Israel won its war in Lebanon.

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