Category Archives: news

the use of Aaron Swartz photographs

After Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January, and in the months since then as issues of internet freedom and his own tragic story have continued to make news, there’s been a lot of demand for photos of Aaron. I had three photos of him up on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, from a 2009 Wikipedia meetup.

(I went back to my archives and found several more from that meetup.)

When I got contacted by photo editors who wanted to use these photos, I tried to get them to follow the terms of the CC-BY-SA license. In two cases, Rolling Stone and New Republic, I got a chance to explain how to use a Creative Commons license in print. For most photo editors, free licenses are a big unknown, but lately (in my anecdotal experience) they’ve been more willing to use and follow the licenses than in years past. Here are the spreads.

Top: The New Republic, 11 March 2013. Bottom: Rolling Stone, 28 February 2013

Top: The New Republic, 11 March 2013. Bottom: Rolling Stone, 28 February 2013

I’ve tried to follow how these photos have been used online, as well, to understand how–and how well–freely licensed images are used by news websites. Of the 42  uses I’ve looked at there are:

  • 6 that follow the license, or come close enough. (If they include a link to the original on Commons or Flickr, I count it as close enough, since others will be able to find all the attribution and license info, even if the reuser isn’t following the license to the letter.)
  • 9 that provide attribution to me, but do not follow the license (ie, there’s no indication that the file is freely licensed).  Among these is the long Slate profile that is also sold as a Kindle ebook… but with no attribution in the ebook that I can tell.
  • 9 (most of which credit me) that add an illegitimate attribution to photo agencies: DPA/Corbis, DPA/Landov and such. Among them: Business Week, New York Magazine, New Scientist, and Two from did not initially credit me, only the photo agencies, but the credits were updated after @wikisignpost contacted them. A few others still don’t. I’m not sure how the photo got appropriated into (I assume) DPA’s collection, but they seem to be distributing it widely and internationally.
  • 18 that provide no attribution. In addition to the Amazon ebook version of the Slate piece, the more significant places that don’t use any attribution include the Boston NPR station, Democracy Now, and a Fast Company piece by the project lead of Creative Commons Brazil.

Probably the most interesting use is this mixed media derivative (unattributed, and with no free licensing that I can tell) from a Hungarian website. If anyone knows the language and wants to try to get them to release it under a free license, please do.

Aaron Swartz mixed media portrait


The writer put me in touch with their photo editor, who sent me a screenshot from the Landov website, showing how my photo appears in the photo licensing database.

Landov screenshotThe last part of the Caption section reads:

Photo: Sage Ross (Editor’s note: usable only under consideration of Creative Commons Lizenz CC-BY-SA 2.0 and will full reference) DPA/LANDOV

But the Comments/Restrictions section is blank, and the Photographers/Source line that news orgs would typically use just says SAGE ROSS/DPA/LANDOV. So basically they are charging news organizations for this photo and hiding away the fact that it’s not their photo to license in the normal way, and that if their customers want to use it, they actually have to follow the same rules as everyone who gets it for free from the original source.

How can so many people be so wrong?

Is this a representative sample?

I came across an interesting and disturbing poll yesterday: a post on The Daily Beast reports the results of a new Harris poll that finds staggering levels of disconnection from reality among Republicans: 67% think Obama is a socialist, 57% think he’s Muslim, and 24% think he might be the Antichrist.

I dented (like tweeting, but with a free network service) my initial reaction:

57% of Republicans think Obama is Muslim, 24% think he may be the Antichrist? Really? I just can’t wrap my head around it.

American public political discourse has gotten bad, but is it really that bad?  As a friend reminded me, you should always be skeptical of “scientific” data presented in unscientific ways.  I’ve been to a Tea Party; there really are a lot of people who believe that stuff, even in Connecticut.  But 57% of Republicans, and 32% of all Americans, think Obama is Muslim?  It just doesn’t compute that in an age of such powerful and ubiquitous media, so many people could be so wrong.

Fortunately, it looks like unreason and willful ignorance aren’t so widespread as this poll indicates.  In short, the poll is surely crap.  Pew polls in October 2008 and March 2009 found that a stable 17% of Republicans and 11% of all Americans thought Obama was Muslim.  It’s still depressing that there was no decline in misinformation between the campaign and the early months of Obama’s presidency, but 17% is a far cry from 57%.  And it’s just not believable that it could have gone from 17% to 57% in the last year.

The ABC polling blog has a helpful analysis of the methodological flaws in the Harris poll:

The purpose seems to have been to see how many people the pollsters could get to agree to pejorative statements about Obama.

It’s still astounding (and depressing) that poll wording and plausible-sounding but biased methodology can so distort public opinion.  Not to mention that so many people are happy to run with it.

The history of the future of journalism?

In the wake of the Iranian election, lots of the people who focus on the changing journalism landscape have been talking about the significant role Twitter and other social media are playing in organizing and spreading news about the protests. Two of the leaders of the broad journalism discussion are Dave Winer and Jay Rosen, who have a weekly podcast called Rebooting the News. In the latest edition, Winer looks back to September 11, 2001 as the first time when the online social web foreshadowed the kinds of citizen journalism that Winer and Rosen see as a major part of the future of news. As he explains, he had no TV at the time but strictly through the Internet he was just as informed and up-to-date as he would hae been following the events of the day through traditional media.

Around 2001 is also the horizon for historians; for events after that, the archival richness of the internet accellerates from then until now in terms of the experience of ordinary people in major historical events and trends.

In that vein, here’s a paper I wrote in 2005 for a course on narrative history with John Demos, about the usenet traces of the kinds of the thing Dave Winer reflects on from 9/11. (I tried to weave in the pop psychology framework of the five stages of grief, to mixed results.)


We historians like to think that things develop gradually. Yet, in the microcosm, the events of the following months and years were foreshadowed there in the cyberspace of New York City on September 11. All the questions of “why?” and “what now?” were hashed out in the hours following the attacks by net denizens as they struggled to come to grips with the grief of the nation.

After one hour thirty-six minutes of denial, the messages on the NYC General internet discussion group started with a comment calculated to jump-start conversation, going straight to bargaining:

Tues, Sep 11 2001 10:20 am

WTC: Bound to happen

I wonder if this will change our assistance plans to Israel?[1]

Circumspection was the word for the first few replies; questions not answers. Who is sending us this message? Was it “internal” like the Oklahoma City bombing, or was it the Palestinians or someone else? Is it just a coincidence that this is the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords?[2] Whoever it was, they were clearly well-organized; they knew they had to use large planes with full fuel tanks to take out the World Trade Center Towers.

Just after noon, they were on to bin Laden as the likely culprit; it seemed like “his style.” Rumors that he had foretold an “unprecedented attack” two weeks earlier, including information from one woman’s unnamed friend from the intelligence community, provided one focus for the rising anger of the discussants. Israel and the celebrating Palestinians on TV were also popular targets of ire. Anger got the better of more than one:

Tues, Sep 11 2001 2:05 pm

Anyone cheering at thousands of Americans being murdered is a declaration of war as far as I’m concerned.

Tues, Sep 11 2001 6:02 pm

Did you all see the Palestinians dancing for joy today?

SCUM. Burn them all.

Calmer voices prevailed quickly, defusing talk of an indiscriminate crusade. But few seemed to doubt that war was on the horizon, even if not everyone had a clear idea of whom (or who) to fight:

Tues, Sep 11 2001 1:51 pm

>>>This must mean war.

>>With who?


Any particular reason, or are you just starting [with] the A’s?

The possible complicity of Iraq was mentioned as well, and the failure to capture Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War illustrated how hard it might be to get bin Laden (if he was even the right target) in an Afghanistan war. But waging war on the Taliban, at least, might yield some human rights dividends, considering the way they treated their women.

The depressing, fatalistic seeds of the prolific conspiracy theories that developed in the months and years after the attack were there in the first hours too:

Tues, Sep 11 2001 11:39 am

I would not think (but I’m NOT an expert) that such impact would so weaken the structure as to cause both to collapse, without further destruction at a lower level.


Tues, Sep 11 2001 1:22 pm

I am just pointing out that I don’t think we can take out Bin Laden because if we could we would have done it long ago.

It would be months before online groups like the 9/11 Truth Movement would spin such speculation into elaborate tapestries of lies and manipulation, in which the strings are pulled by the man by behind the man behind the man (with three U.S. Presidents, at least, in on it), with bin Laden as the fall guy who was working for the CIA all along. But common sense prevailed quickly in this particular cyber niche; the combination of fire and impact would be able to take down the towers, with all that weight above the impact points, they reasoned.

Ultimately, the tension on the internet that day was between anger and acceptance, and with the bombers apparently dead and the looming possibility that there might not be anyone left to blame, the discussants turned on each other:

Tues, Sep 11 2001 8:10 pm

[On the subject of celebrating Palestinians and possible PLO involvement in the attacks]

>>Gosh, you don’t suppose the Isreali blockade has anything to do with it, do you?

>And what does this have to do with just buying food???

Don’t know how the blockade works, do you?

>>>They aren’t feeding their people, giving them housing or water – no

>>As a matter of fact they are, as much as they can. But when Isreal takes their land

> Of, forget it. You’re brainwashed.

This is coming from someone who can’t tell the difference between the PLO and other arab organizations.


Tues, Sep 11 2001 8:31 pm

> I’m not the one advocating bombing anyone.

Ha. So you just want to let them do this and get away with it, eh?

This was the worst of that first 111 message-long thread—tame compared with many of the other virtual shouting matches that developed that afternoon. And ultimately, the feelings of anger won out on NYC General, coming into line with zeitgeist of the rest of the nation as President Bush announced plans to hunt down the terrorists and those who harbor them. But elsewhere on the internet, then and now, every possible response from denial to acceptance has a place. And the stories will still be there waiting for us, for when we are ready to move on.


[1] This and all following quotes come from the USENET archive of nyc.general, as archived by Google Groups ( This discussion thread was started simultaneously on nyc.general, nyc.announce, alt.conspiracy (where it superseded such hot topics as “Moon Landings: Fact of Fiction?,” but did not change that group’s absurdist conspiratorial tone), talk.politics.misc (which was rapidly inundated with separate posts, preventing any sustained discussion), and soc.culture.jewish (where the endemic Zionist/anit-Zionist rhetoric drowned out this relatively moderate thread), and soon spread to other groups, fragmenting and spawning new discussions. There are probably hundreds of preserved usenet discussions documenting the immediate response of thousands of people on September 11.

[2] Actually the Camp David Accords were reached on September 17, 1978, making 9/11 just shy of the 23rd anniversary.

Reply to a tweeted link

Clay Shirky tweeted a link to this essay on the future of journalism, from Dan of Xark!. It isn’t accepting my comment, so I’m posting it here:

This is an interesting vision of the future, but I don’t see how it could possibly be the future of journalism.

For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that collecting news data and maintaining a usefully-organized database of it is a viable business model. I agree that it would not be newspapers who led this, but more likely a web-only company.

But newspapers (and to a much lesser extent, television) are the organizations that have an institutional commitment to investigative journalism (the kind that isn’t database-friendly and that is the main thing people fret about losing). Why would a news informatics company, which would lack that institutional commitment, use its profit to subsidize investigative journalism that isn’t itself profitable?

For newspapers, there have been two jobs that only meet economically at the broadest levels: to sell ads, and to create compelling content for readers. Economics didn’t figure in directly in the choice of whether to send a reporter to the court house or fire; rather, that choice was made within the editorial sphere. For news informatics, every choice of coverage has economic implications: which kind of data will people be paying to access? In that environment, in what is sure to be a tough market to establish, would news informatics companies fund investigative journalism out of sheer civic responsibility?

Stanley Fish’s take on science vs. religion

Stanley Fish has a really eloquent column, “God Talk, Part 2“. Nominally about “science vs. religion”, it also speaks to why Wikipedia works and why even for partisans (in politics, in fighting popular pseudoscience or religionism, etc.), really embracing neutral point of view is more effective as a rhetorical strategy than shutting out the views one opposes.

One good bit:

So to sum up, the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a naïve and untenable positivism. And the critique of religion’s content — it’s cotton-candy fluff — is the product of incredible ignorance.

As Fish’s own worldview should make clear, none of this should be taken as a defense of (any particular) religion or a rejection of science. But theological, philosophical and historical arguments have done far more to erode religious authority than scientific ones ever did. The ‘rally the faithful’ approach of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins does more harm than good.

[thanks @jayrosen_nyu on Twitter for the link]

The Future of Wikipedia (my take), part 2

In my last post, I proposed some major changes to Wikipedia, such as liberalized inclusion standards, increased emphasis on news and the incorporation of social networking and casual discussion features. The aim of these ideas is to broaden the editor base to keep the unreachable goal of “the sum of all human knowledge” in sight.

In the long run, I think Wikinews has as much, if not more, of an important role to play in Wikimedia information ecosystem… especially with the shrinking ranks of professional journalists that will only shrink more as print newspapers circle the drain.

The centerpiece of my ideas for getting Wikinews Original Reporting to critical mass is to hire a professional newsroom manager to point Wikimedians in the right direction. Aside from the fact that Wikinews is a different site, with different policies and a different vibe, the main thing that stops more Wikipedians from doing Original Reporting is that they don’t know what to report on. Professional journalists are given specific assignments; newsrooms have robust systems for identifying potentially newsworthy events and dispatching local reporters ahead of time.

Wikinews could take advantage of Wikipedia’s location-based sitenotice (which lets logged-in users know about Wikipedia events such as meetups in their area) to inform potential reporters of upcoming viable reporting topics nearby. The newsroom manager would use the same kinds of information systems as traditional newsrooms to pinpoint news in progress or likely upcoming news events, and create a constant stream of local notices to attract reporters from the among the editing community.

The main problem, which many Wikipedians are familiar with, is that volunteer resources are not easily transferred. One of the perennial arguments that comes up when well-intentioned editors try to crack down on “cruft” and seemingly trivial Wikipedia content is that all that time editors spend writing about local bands and arcane fiction plot details could be better spent working on articles that matter. Editors who have been around longer just smile; it doesn’t work that way. For the most part, people only contribute in areas they are interested in. However, local news is one area that has a natural interest community… and one that is easy to single out, based on IP location.

Of course, the biggest potential strength of Wikinews (and the strongest area of original coverage now, aside from interviews) is not location-limited: internet news. Coverage of Scientology and Project Chanology is a case in point. Many Wikimedians are actually more competent than professional journalists to understand and investigate online happenings and stories related to internet culture. This is an area of coverage that I think will expand naturally once Wikinews reaches critical mass (the point where large numbers of users visit Wikinews regularly just to see what is there, because, like with the main newspapers or the professional blogs, they can always count on new and interesting content, much of which isn’t found elsewhere). There is enormous scope for tech and digital entertainment news, investigative journalism and human-interest news based on online communities, and this kind of content could take off once Wikinews reaches a certain level of confidence as not just a project that reports the news, but a project that makes the news in the same way traditional media does.


My suggestion in the last post of increasing news coverage on Wikipedia, and eliminating all but Original Reporting from Wikinews, drew some fire from Jason Safoutin (DragonFire1024): “Wikipedia is NOT news and the quicker they realize that the better.” Part of my response is that Wikipedia can be whatever the community and the Foundation want it to be. But I should clarify; what I propose would more along the lines of a merger of the non-original reporting of Wikinews with Wikipedia. It would still be acceptable (as it is now on Wikinews) to cover local news events of primarily local interest, and ways of sorting and organizing news coverage could be implemented. The main difference would be that news coverage on Wikipedia never reaches a certified (and protected) final published form.

Another Wikinewsie, Steven Fruitsmaak, noted that “community reporting is not something that sets Wikinews apart: look at Indymedia, OhMyNews, NowPublic, … Wikinews can bring NPOV and collaborative editing to grassroots journalism.” This is an important point. Right now, there several other citizens journalism sites; citizen journalism sets Wikinews apart from mainstream media, while the Neutral Point of View policy sets Wikinews apart from other community reporting websites and the increasingly sophisticated amateur and professional blogosphere. Nevertheless, I think the market is still wide open for a citizen journalism project that has both the independence and interactivity of new media and something approaching the breadth, volume and neutrality of traditional media (i.e., something like a thriving Wikinews).


In my next post, I discuss some possible ways to attract more subject-matter experts (e.g., academics), who so far have been reticent contribute.

The Future of Wikipedia (my take), part 1

The future of Wikipedia is a perennial topic of discussion among Wikipedians and Wikipedia critics. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while (see my prognostications from early 2007). I apologize in advance for a long post.

It seems like Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation are finally turning the corner in several long-anticipated respects. The two long-heralded software projects, Unified Login and Stable Versions, are functional and moving toward implementation. The professionalization of the Foundation is starting to pay dividends: in the last few days, Executive Director Sue Gardner announced a $3 million, 3-year grant from the Sloan Foundation, followed a few days later by a $500,000 grant from philanthropists Vinod and Neeru Khosla.

Financial stability, and even financial flexibility, may be on the horizon, and the harshest critiques that could potentially derail the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia (in particular, those of Larry Sanger and the recent, ongoing accusations by Danny Wool and Kelly Martin) seem to have spent most of their energy without much effect. That’s not to say that these critiques are entirely unfounded, but it’s becoming clear that the worst of them are either in the past or not of project-killing significance. So it’s a good time to reassess the big issues that will shape the project’s future.

The title and main topic of the newest Wikipedia Weekly podcast is The Future of Wikipedia. The discussion (the “feeback” and “Wii moment” sections, from 21:47 to about 52:52) is primarily about the future growth of Wikipedia; Andrew Lih and Liam Wyatt disagreed in the last podcast about how big we can expect Wikipedia to be in the years to come.

Andrew forcefully states an idea that parallels my own thoughts on Wikipedia’s future: to come anywhere close to “the sum of all human knowledge”, the project needs a “Wii moment”, a reformulation of what it means to contribute to Wikipedia (along the lines of what the Wii did for gaming) that opens things up to huge numbers of people who never would have participated so before. The podcast discusses some of the basic things that will make editing more accessible: what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing, and a gentler culture that is more appealing to people with little patience for revert wars and wikilawyering.

I have a more expansive vision of what Wikipedia and its sister projects ought to become. In this and some follow-up posts, I’ll lay out some of my ideas for major changes.

One of the most promising avenues for expanding the scope of the Wiki(p/m)edia community is news. Right now, Wikipedia has a troubled relationship to the news. One recent example: Obama’s race speech, “A More Perfect Union“, was undergoing a deletion discussion from the evening of March 18 (the day the speech was made and the article was written) until yesterday. In the meantime, the article got 4000 hits the first day, and after the initial news burst has been holding steady around 1000 hits per day. For news topics, people want the kind of synthetic, continually updated neutral view that Wikipedia (at its best) provides. But neither mainstream media nor the new media of partisan blogs and social news sites provide this, Wikipedia avoids this except for “notable” stories, and Wikinews operates no differently from traditional news, calling a story “done” once it’s published.

In my view, most of Wikinews ought to be merged with Wikipedia, leaving only Original Reporting for Wikinews. For big topics that have both ongoing news and a long, broad history, Wikipedia ought to have separate subpages for more detailed explanation of specific news events (a la Wikinews articles, but continually open to update). This will encourage the participation of the thousands of news junkies who, at present, are not particularly welcome on Wikipedia (and don’t want to waste their time writing Wikinews articles no one will read, if they even know about Wikinews).

Wikimedia could do even more with news. News is the subject of continual, massive interest, and the there is a large–and mostly unmet–demand for internet discussion of news. Most internet news sources do not have even rudimentary forums for discussion, and even for the ones that do, much more discussion happens offsite than on. For example, the top link on social news site reddit right now is this article on Time‘s politics blog, which does not allow comments. The reddit discussion is 140 comments long and counting. Even traditional news sites that do allow comments rarely have anywhere near that level of participation, even for articles that are heavily discussed at Digg, Reddit, slashdot, and the blogosphere.

The top social news sites are only modestly popular, and there is still plenty of room for new players. If Wikimedia started a social news site, and melded it on to Wikipedia along with other features that give users more of an outlet for interaction that is not centered on article improvement, Wikipedia could probably go from the #9 site on the internet (down from #8 last year) to the #1 site. That’s not an end it itself, but it would have a huge impact on content in terms of turning readers into discussants, and discussants into contributors. Every article and news story would have a sleek discussion thread (maybe dynamic ones based on users’ Wikimedia social networks, or imported social network data from Facebook, MySpace, and the others).

I realize that bits and pieces of this are being done elsewhere (including Wikia, e.g., with their politics site), but Wikipedia has the userbase and reputation to actually make it work.

Along with social networking and free discussion, article policies would have to be liberalized; at the very least, the notability concept should be retired, although a more integrated system of sorting articles based on the level of reliable sourcing could be put in place instead, so that readers always have a clear idea of whether they are reading a biography of a significant figure based on the work of professional historians, or the biography of somebody’s grandfather pieced together from newspaper clippings and family records.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my ideas about Original Reporting for Wikinews; although my above proposals would gut the current core of Wikinews, I envision a future for Wikinews even brighter than Wikipedia’s, based primarily on citizen journalism.

How does Wikipedia affect experts?

Britannica Blog’s Web 2.0 forum is wrapping up this week. On the Wikipedia front, Michael Gorman has delivered his promised Wikipedia post, and danah boyd has an exceptional reply on why Wikipedia, and access to knowledge in general, is important. While Gorman’s posts are consistently vapid and unprovocative (except in the sense that cable news talking points are provocative), some of the other new media critics–particularly Seth Finkelstein–highlight an important issue that I think is at the heart of the debate. Namely, how do Wikipedia and other aspects of the read/write web knowledge ecosystem affect experts/professionals and their traditional systems of knowledge production?

The shared assumption amongst critics is that the effects are largely negative. Finkelstein put it dramatically in a comment directed at boyd. He characterizes the ‘experts should stop complaining about Wikipedia’s problems and just fix them’ refrain as “arguing that “capitalists” should give – not even sell, but give – Wikipedia the rope to hang them with!” He adds, “If an expert writes a good Wikipedia article, that gets claimed as the wisdom of crowds and presented as proof that amateurs can do just as well as experts.” So scholars are putting themselves out of a job by contributing to Wikipedia and the like.

Setting aside the ‘Wikipedia=Wisdom of Crowds’ strawman that so many Wikipedia critics knock down as their first and final argument, Finkelstein (and some of the others) hit on an important argument: amateur-produced knowledge products (often of inferior quality) are free, and this endangers the (political, financial, intellectual, and/or cultural) economies of expertise. But is that true? Is Wikipedia reducing the demand for scholarly monographs? Is writing a good Wikipedia article on the history of biology going to cut into the sales of all the sources I cite? Is it going to fill the demand for history of biology scholarship and make it tougher to find a publisher for my own work? In economic terms, the competition argument against Wikipedia assumes that traditionally-produced expert knowledge and community-produced knowledge are substitute goods with respect to each other (and are not substitute goods with respect to even lower quality knowledge products like cable news, tabloids, and, that either demand for knowledge is relatively static or increased consumption isn’t necessarily desirable, and that knowledge products do not have significant prestige value linked to their traditional pricey modes of production (i.e., they aren’t Veblen goods).

Which of these assumptions holds true differs according to what genre of knowledge we’re talking about. Wikipedia is obviously a substitute for traditional encyclopedias (even if inferior); the Wikipedia threat has been obvious to Britannica and her since 2003. And while consumption of encyclopedia-style knowledge has increased tremendously, critics can argue that the quality is so inferior that it isn’t worth the displacement of traditional encyclopedia consumption. Britannica is also realizing that the mystique of their brand isn’t what it used to be; raising prices in certainly not going to increase demand. So for the encyclopedia genre, Wikipedia is harmful to the traditional expert production system, and possibly (depending on the quality level) harmful to society as a whole.

For original expert research, the stuff of scholarly books and journal articles, the situation is very different. In some cases, Wikipedia articles might act as subsitute goods for scholarly books and journals. However, an encyclopedia article is a fundamentally different knowledge product from an original journal article. The typical journal article is far deeper, and far less accessible, than the approximately corresponding Wikipedia article. My feeling is that rather than act as substitutes, Wikipedia articles and expert research usually contribute to network effects: a good Wikipedia article draws in new knowledge consumers, some of whom then delve into the expert research. In the world of the ivory tower, a humanist scholar usually has to worry much more about competition from the countless other topics out there than about an oversupply of work on one’s own topic. The more people hear about your topic, the more demand there is for your expertise.

News is the other main genre to consider. The newspaper industry has been in a downward spiral for years. Television news is a powerful competitor, and it’s plausible (though by no means obvious) that Wikipedia, citizen journalism, and the blogosphere are contributing to the slow death of the newspapers as well. (Sadly, it’s not plausible that Wikinews is contributing to the downfall of print journalism. At some point, the disintegration of professional journalism may reach a critical mass, and citizen journalism will step up to fill the holes left by the shrinking New York Times. Wikinews has the potential to become the most important media organization in the world, but at this point it still has virtually no impact beyond the Wikimedia community.)

But it seems that the shift to the web (with its drastically lower ad revenues) and the competition among newspapers that can now compete across the country (or even globally) is the main cause. Papers used to have more-or-less local monopolies for print news; they would buy national and world news from the wire agencies (for which they were the only local suppliers) and pour most of their revenue into local and regional reporting. But now, any paper can use the internet to hock national and international news, and consumption of that kind of knowledge product is fairly static (at least compared to encyclopedia article consumption). So competition lowers the price of broad news (with modest increases in text-based news consumption, at best) and restricts the production (and increases the price) of local and investigative journalism.

The situation is much the same as the late-19th/early-20th century steel and railroad industries: there is just to much competition for a stable marketplace, so we’re seeing mergers and increasingly powerful media conglomerates (and the government is more willing to sign off on cross-media mergers). So I don’t think that web 2.0 knowledge products are responsible for the troubles of professional journalism, but if they don’t step up to fill the gaps, maybe nothing will.

Roger Kimball (cultural critic and c0-editor of the conservative literary magazine The New Criterion) has a sharp take on the dangers of cyberspace (hint: they have nothing to do with threats to traditional expertise and everything to do with the real world we’re missing as we piddle around in virtual worlds). Kimball’s points are worth keeping in mind, and on the topic of journalism and web 2.0, one of the key ways to avoid some of the dangers of cyberspace is to create and participate in online communities that are focused on the real world (e.g., Wikinews and the parts of Wikipedia that are not about entertainment).

(P.S.: I don’t actually know anything about economics, so treat my analysis like you would a Wikipedia article)

Bonus links:

Protesting Bush at Coast Guard Academy

Yesterday, I went to New London to participate in an anti-war protest as President Bush spoke at the Coast Guard Academy commencement. It was a worthwhile experience, and I took over 200 pictures (33 of which I put on Wikimedia Commons) and wrote my first Wikinews article (“Protesters demonstrate at US Coast Guard Academy“). Next time I go to something like this I’m going to take extensive notes, write down quotes, and do full-fledged original reporting.

There were about 500 spirited protesters (one news article put it at 1000, but I doubt that), and a much less formal (i.e., Democratic Party line) slate of speakers than the politician-led rally in Hartford on March 17. For most of the protesters, both speakers and the crowd, impeachment was emphatically not off the table, and the main organizing group, ANSWER Coalition, has a bunch of real-life socialists and other assorted radicals. There was also a sizable group (ca. 50-75) of counter-protesters, mostly combat vets and family members (of which there were also a fair number on the anti-war side). As one kid remarked, the counter-protesters (organized by Gathering of Eagles) were way more metal than anything the anti-war side could manage. This guy was the most interesting: he was hurling insults and provocative statements through his loudspeaker almost non-stop. Choice quotes:

“Don’t take the brown acid!”

“I like the women’s movement. Especially from behind.”

“Freedom. It’s not just for white people anymore.”

“War freed the slaves! War saved the Jews! Anti-war racists go home!”

He was the perfect example of that weird juxtaposition of conservative political ideology and intolerance in the name of American Christianity.

Overall, the event was pretty disappointing. One seventeen-year-old said something like “there has to an element of transgression, or it’s just more shit in the system.” This was an orderly gathering of fairly orderly citizens, separated by about five times the number of police officers necessary to keep the peace. No civil disobedience, and the designated protest area was well beyond the radius of the commencement activities. We caught a brief glimpse of the President’s motorcade, but mostly it was just reporters (I’d guess at least two dozen, maybe more, with several news vans) keeping us company. I did mentioned in a follow-up article this morning in the Norwich Bulletin:

Yale doctoral student Sage Ross was protesting the president and snapping photos of both sides for the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the Internet-based, free encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

He said this protest was livelier than others, because it was next to the academy. Pro-troop protesters rebuffed him when he approached them to take photos.

“They didn’t quite buy it that I was one of the press,” he said with a smile.

Related blogging: