Entries from May 2010 ↓

A question of privacy

There were incredible discussions of privacy during SXSW this year. Dana Boyd led the entire event with a keynote speech about privacy. (You can read what she told the crowd here… It’s worth the read.) Since then, I’ve seen more and more people discuss and post thoughts on privacy. Even Craig Newmark of Craigslist threw his thoughts into the ring earlier this year. Dana wrote an incredible blog post yesterday. Her thoughts and collection of ideas encouraged me to start blogging about privacy.

I have had a chance to get involved in great conversations about privacy as well. A long time ago, privacy was easier. The majority of our actions were behind closed doors and they stayed there. Work activity stayed at work. Home life stayed at home. But with the ease of sharing and communicating, we are all much more connected. That means we are also a lot loss private. So what is privacy now?

I am okay with parents at my kids’ schools knowing that we spend a lot of time participating in sports and other after school activities, but I wouldn’t be happy if Nike and LL Bean knew about it without my permission because I talked about hiking boots or a soccer game on Facebook. I get creeped out any time strange businesses try to tweet me about services just because I mentioned server space on Twitter. But I know every word I see and every action I mention on Twitter is public. I’m more aware and I’m careful with what I say in that social space. So I’m learning about a new level of privacy. And I think many people are starting to realize there’s a new level of privacy that we may not have control over.

That’s why the changes in Facebook’s privacy structure scared a lot of people. I’m fascinated with the Like Button site… and I have shown it to many people who were shocked by how easy it was to see what our Facebook friends “like.” I added the “like” buttons to this blog and my mommy blogs. But now I feel like I may have made an error jumping into the “like” craze so quickly. Am I invading my readers’ privacy? My fascination may be a privacy invasion to another person.

I have not decided where I stand in my opinion about Facebook. I’m deeply involved in that space. I joined in 2005, I teach my students how to use it as a tool to connect with my newsroom’s audience and how to stay in touch with potential contacts that can help get them jobs someday. I use it to link to people I would never stay in touch with but Facebook makes it possible. I do feel a bit used by the Facebook leaders. But I also feel like I am willing to give up some privacy for the service it provides… I’m just not sure Facebook is transparent enough about what privacy I’m giving up by using the site. Have you seen the New York Times graphic that shows all 170 steps to customize your privacy? Wow.

Where does the news business play in all of this? Well, we need to understand how the general public feels about privacy. The challenge right now is each person has a very different opinion about privacy. Our audience/readers/viewers/whatever you want to label people who consume information you produce are in the middle of such an amazing shift of privacy that we are serving them while privacy expectations range from “Not in my house” to “Please make sure you tell me before you share anything to advertisers” to “Aw heck, I don’t mind.” We need to be mindful. We need to participate in social spaces while being aware of these many different perspectives. We need to be as transparent as possible. We CANNOT do what Facebook is doing. We have to be open at every step. As Dana Boyd wrote as a follow up to yesterday’s blog post, Facebook is a utility. Journalism is a service. There’s a difference there. I think it’s an important one. And it’s a conversation that we need to talk about a lot. And Facebook is just one element of a much larger shift in our culture.

(Image courtesy of Horia Varlan‘s Flickr page)

Another twist in news delivery

This past weekend was full of HUGE news:
The oil leak in the Gulf
An attempted car bombing in New York City
Flooding in Nashville
The White House Press Corps dinner

What was on television. The DC event. Nothing else really.

So how did I know about the rest of what was happening in the United States? Twitter was on it. Facebook was telling me a lot.

The average person in social media was telling the story without layers of people preventing the information from going public quickly. Could I trust the facts? Well, I trust most of my Facebook friends because we have a face-to-face relationship in some way (or family ties). I trust many of my Twitter friends. But for those Twitter people I didn’t know who had some connection to a national news story, I had a friend help confirm it.

CNN, MSNBC or Fox didn’t help inform me this weekend. Social media did.

And when I spoke to my students, the Twitter followers knew what was happening, the others had no idea Nashville was under water.

Is Twitter a must follow tool for news hungry/informed people? I think so.

Is life getting in the way?

We all know journalism is at a turning point. Financially speaking it’s difficult to keep a newsroom running in a traditional sense and journalists have always been underpaid. Add in the lack of profits these days and you’ll find more and more people leaving the industry. Quite often the people who leave are the people who are established, excellent journalists. But they leave because they’re officially in the zone of being called “grown ups.” You know, people who have kids, a spouse, a house, dogs and/or cats. These are people who have to continue to work towards a consistent salary to keep their family under a roof, clothed and eating. It’s hard to stay in an industry that is increasingly unstable.

I keeping thinking back to Kent Fischer who was at the peak of beat blogging for the Dallas Morning NewsDallas ISD Blog – the paper’s beat blog on the city’s public school district. Last year he announced he was leaving because he didn’t feel the newspaper industry was stable enough for his comfort. The site beatblogging.org quoted him saying:

“But the news business no longer provides stability or financial security. If I was young and single and didn’t have two kids under 3 and no mortgage … I’d probably stick around to see how this all ends. But I got all those things and more. So, I’m out…”

Often I talk to people in this industry and we talk about our dreams. It often revolves around the idea that we would work in an untraditional environment where we can try and fail or succeed until we find a way to do good work while making enough money for those shelter, clothing and food needs. But if I was offered a chance to experiment with a new career in an unsure economic environment, I’d probably say no. I have a job that lets me play with technology a bit while working in a traditional news environment AND I can make enough consistent money to pay for most of our core needs. Jumping away from that is scary.

So who gets to play with experimental news environments? Who gets to come up with the greatest and newest ideas and put them into fruition?

It’s those people Kent Fischer talks about who aren’t tied down to responsibilities.

I’ve had a chance to talk to a lot of these people. Most often they are men in their mid to late 20’s who were able to get enough of an investment to launch a small (or big) idea while being able to at least survive with shelter, clothing and some food. Most of these guys are skinny mind you. Either way. They have my dream. They’re brave enough to jump outside the norm and try their hardest to make something work for this industry that we love.

I guess I’m not brave. I can talk a great talk and I’ve tried to take a lot of my ideas into my traditional environment. But if I really walked the walk, wouldn’t I jump and try something new?

I’m not sure.

I know I have the itch to expand into unknown directions. The more I think and try to change my traditional setting, I know more “new” settings need to be created before we all know what is really going to happen to journalism. But I also know my kids need their piano, swimming, baseball, dance, soccer, football… Whatever. And that may keep me away from any of the real industry changes.

Is this fair? Are there solutions? Who can step forward and help big thinkers like me who want to take action, make a difference and make sure I have healthcare for my family? If someone knows, sign me up.

UPDATE: I have heard from a number of current soon-to-graduate students who take this blog as a negative and scary outlook as they head into their career. Please don’t think of it this way. Back when I graduated innovation was me trying to bring a TV newsroom to work with a local newspaper. Now innovation is beyond my wildest imagination. Your imagination is open to do anything and everything. Take this time right out of school to make a change, save the art of journalism in this changing world. Be strong, be brave and have fun.