Thursday, May 29, 2003

Coming Out Party

"It seems this morning that bloggers have taken over the world. Or at least the 2004 presidential campaign...The pundits are blogging. The journalists are blogging. And now the candidates are blogging. Who needs television? Let's just eliminate the middleman."
--Washington Post media maven Howard Kurtz, April 29th, precisely one month ago today.

"We've lived so long under the notion of the Web as a space of connected documents, it seems almost unthinkable that it could be organized any other way. But it could just as easily be assembled around a different axis: not pages but minds. The explosive growth of blogging is creating the opportunity to do just that"
--Steven Johnson

"'s just as important for sign painters to write well for their industry as it is for professional writers to write well for magazines and newspapers--and just as gratifying...Writing isn't a skill that some people are born with and others aren't, like a gift for art or music. Writing is talking to someone else on paper. If you can think clearly, you can put what you think and what you know into writing."
--William Zinsser, in On Writing Well

And the significance of those observations? You'll just have to be at Flannery's tonight to see, hear and find out. Actually, by the time you've read this (cause it's due to begin in just one hour), you'll either have missed or enjoyed (one would hope) it. Maybe you'll have learned a little about blogging and bloggers (we're just going to have to find a word that falls more gracefully on the ear), certainly you'll have seen and heard from some masters of the trade. But most importantly, perhaps your mind will have opened to some new possibilities--of radical or not so radical new forms of collaboration, conversation and learning--that you scarcely could have imagined before.
Least wise, we hope so...

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Countdown to Flannery's

With just a little more than a day to go before the blogger/e-journalism gathering Thursday evening at Flannery's in the Gateway neighborhood, it looks as though we'll have at least 100 folks on hand. Which is a heartening turnout, one that suggests the groundswell of interest in these e-publishing tools is real, and not simply a figment of the sometimes painfully self-referential blogosphere's wishful thinking. But as my friend and colleague Jay Miller (of SPJ) pointed out the other evening, in our final planning conversation, "it'll be interesting to see how many writers come." Of course, he meant people who are primarily writers, primarily in print, and only incidentally bloggers... For my part, I'll also be interested to see the ratio of writers to webheads to bloggers to merely interested parties, but I'll be far more attuned to the hopelessly blurry distinctions between all those categories, as these worlds increasingly converge (at least from where I sit).

But with the push on for tomorrow's event, I've of course neglected you some, dear reader. And so here's a roundup of some small items I've kept in the pantry, awaiting my next post.

One item is directly tied to tomorrow's event, and that is the growing outrage over the FCC's vote next week on new rules that would make it easier for large media conglomerates to further consolidate, leaving fewer media voices. The three Republicans, led by chairman Mike (I am not my father's man) Powell, have already signaled their intention to vote yes, ignoring the FCC's clear mandate to pay attention first to the public's interest and not simply to media companies' understandable urge to consolidate. Nevertheless, the two Dems are making a valiant effort to barnstorm the country with their own public meetings (which the arrogant Powell has dismissed as akin to a 19th century whistlestop tour), doing their best to stir up righteous grassroots indignation. And it's beginning to work.
The Center for Public Integrity and its relentless chief muckracker (former ABC producer Charles Lewis, who just might be the most effective investigative reporter in the country) has banged away with some good work on the FCC's coziness with the industry it's supposed to regulate. Most interesting of all, it has developed a searchable database of ownership information on virtually every radio and TV station and telephone company in the country, searchable by ZIP code. That means we now have an web-based successor to the venerable book Media Monopoly, by Ben Bagdikian, now in its sixth edition even as the poor old guy is past 80 and thus hard-pressed to keep up on the ever-consolidating media giants. And the wonderful (funded by a national treasure, the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, which also backs PBS's Frontline series, Bill Moyers' stubbornly brilliant work and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others) has spent lavishly on a barbed ad on the op-ed page of the Times, pointedly challenging Powell's credibility and independence. has helped inundate Capitol Hill in hundreds of thousands of petitions on the subject.
And this Washington Post story hit the front page today. Reluctant to rely solely on short media dispatches about the most recent hearing, at FCC HQ, I rose just before 5 a.m. this morning to watch the full C-Span coverage of the hearing (thanks to another national media treasure, C-Span founder and oft-ridiculed non-sophisticate Hoosier Brian Lamb). And it was an eye-opener. In all my years of watching capital goings-on, I've rarely seen a minority member of a usually-collegial independent agency lash out so furiously at a fellow member, as did commissioner Michael Copps at Chairman Powell, who of course wasn't in attendance. He characterized Powell's dismissive response to the growing opposition as "telling them to go pound salt." He also openly invited opponents to either take his own agency to court or try to stir up Congressional opposition to overrule it, or both. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary tactics, it would seem.
Still, the American media has been quite late to cover this outrage, a decision that's been slowly simmering toward a bad outcome for well over a year, given that it delves so deeply into its own ownership structure. And without coverage, citizen participation is far tougher (which is of course the point of more ownership diversity): when the two dissident commissioners took their road show to Phoenix recently, the advance publicity had been so muted that they found but a lone citizen on hand. Asked how he learned of the event, the fellow responded that he'd seen it on the BBC!!

And finally, I bring you a brief but meaningful exchange from NPR's All Things Considered, the day after the NBA lottery in which the Cavs won the right to pick Lebron James first in the draft. In that casual way that even the most earnest bi-coastals can write off all but 10% of the country (prompting Roldo Bartimole to once grumble within earshot that even a magazine called The Nation ignores most of it), host Robert Seigel asked his guest, Wall Street Journal sports reporter Stefan Fatsis "is it bad for the NBA that this newest superstar, if he's indeed to be that, will be playing in Cleveland rather than New York or L.A.?" Stefan completely rejected the premise. Not at all, he said. "It's great, cause a league is only a strong as its weakest franchise...and now the NBA has one more franchise whose jersey it can sell all over the world."
And Chris Thompson, please note: you won't find the term NEO or Northeast Ohio anywhere on that jersey...

Monday, May 19, 2003

Rumblings of Change from the Capital

Two big developments from D.C. today, one a done deal, the other merely an informed speculation just now. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is stepping down soon to begin cashing in on his fame, or should we say infamy. In my book, he'll go down in history as one of the most impressive obfuscators in a long line of people in that post who were pretty good at it. I recommend this now-classic take on the Ari Method. In his more than two years on the job, I can't think of a single thing he said that made any situation clearer or caused one to think that he might be adding some even microscopic insight into the workings of the government. But you can't blame him--he worked for a president who has no interest in engaging citizens in any kind of adult conversation about their government. As a telling front page story in last week's Times put it, the Bush White House has been even more brazenly accomplished in its TV staging of the prez than was the Reagan White House, which is saying something.

But far more important in the grand scheme of things is a changeover in the Supreme Court that might be about to occur. While some progressives still consider the 2000 presidential election to have been little more than a political coup engineered by the Supremes, you don't have to agree with that to understand how important the high court is. And if Bush gets the chance to fill not just one but two seats, as this piece suggests, we could be in for a hell of a fight in the Senate over court nominees who will almost surely be deeply conservative and who will easily tip whatever tenuous ideological balance the court now has.

A part of me, I must admit, has never stopped being a reporter in Washington. That's how I broke into the business of journalism. I left college in the middle of a terrible recession--doubly so in the Rust Belt's Buckle of Cleveland--and thus figured that I would try my hand at finding a job in a bigger place that also might be somewhat more immune to the bad economy. So I threw what little belongings I had into my ancient brown Chevy Impala ('72, I think), took the $400 I had in the bank, and moved to Washington, D.C. I didn't really have any idea of what I was doing. But my then-girlfriend's (now wife) sister Monica was good enough to let me crash in her house for a week or two, which allowed me to find free room and board at a nearby house of a single parent. In return for the roof under my head, I watched Cliff's two kids for a couple hours a day. Eventually that led to a room at a group house, where the rent was just $170 a month, and in turn that led to a tip about a job at a small magazine just two door from the White House.

It was a weekly magazine that, I found out later, was literally won at a poker game in the '30s. And by the 1980s, they had an elegant business model: each year they hired a couple of journalism-wanabees fresh out of college for the not-so-princely salary of $11,000. They then threw them in with a couple of older journalism veterans who edited from the office, and who in turn sent us newbies up to Capitol Hill to begin covering and writing about legislation (despite our physical proximity to the Reagan White House, about 500 feet away, we didn't send anybody there for the daily spoon-feedings of p.r. drivel, which now look like substantive briefings compared to Ari's subsequent evasions) . And when we got the hang of that, you'd be assigned to another beat.

I was lucky enough to have been sent in my second stop to the hushed, collonaded confines of the Supreme Court, where I spent a great year or more learning about the law and legal issues, poring over legal filings in which various pleaders were asking the then-Warren Court to review lower court opinions. I found a desk in a corner of the press room and dug in. I began by picking up a helpful manual, the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Guide to Legalese, which served as my Fodor's guide to the language of the local natives. I then called and interviewed lawyers on both sides of various cases, who were only too happy to explain the salient legal issues. In time, I even got up the nerve to ask a few resident senior writers, journalists who covered the court for papers such as the Baltimore Sun or the National Journal, for more advice. I never summoned the nerve to approach the court's media doyenne, the formidable Linda Greenhouse, who then as now covered the court like a Talmudic scholar. She was duly revered by her peers for bringing her great learning and historical insight of the court to bear on whatever cases might have been just set for argument or whose opinions had just come down. And in more than a year, I can't say I ever saw her crack a smile or any other suggestion of a human emotion. She just went about her task every day, as quiet as a church mouse, diligently plowing away on her next installment in her series, which I now think of as periodic prose poems to American justice.

Happily, if you're a Times reader, you'll be able to judge Linda's work yourself in coming days, because May and early June mark the high court's annual end rush, when it issues opinions almost daily on the way to taking its long summer break.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Almost 2 Out of 3 Online

I mentioned in an entry not long ago that I've recently written a trio of magazine articles about topics especially dear to my heart--executive education at CWRU, entrepreneurial awakenings at John Carroll and a salute to a publication and its creator that did much to form me as a writer, The Cleveland Edition and its founder Bill Gunlocke. I'm happy to report that the latter two are now online. Well, mostly, that is.
The new spring edition of the John Carroll Magazine, while it's all but invisible to the average visitor to the university's website, is buried way down deep in the recesses of the site. You'll find a link to the first half of the issue here, and my piece about the John Carroll Collaborative with Industry and the Lighting Innovation Institute begins on pg. 22.
My homage to the first of Cleveland's alternative weeklies, the Edition, appears here. Northern Ohio Live magazine was kind enough to honor a request to do something it never does: post a full article on their site. They nearly got it all in, too, but in the end did just a little condensing. But I'm pleased that if you don't see the May issue in print, this online version gives you most of it, and it includes a special photo, never before published, that I've been saving for about a decade of Bill G. in the Arcade, cradling his paper. I hate to sound like those old, fussy New York writers who can't abide other, lesser papers after their exacting New York Herald Tribune closed--my meta-mentor Bill Zinsser being the foremost example--but if you were a reader of the Edition, you probably understand what I'm talking about. It's pretty hard for later attempts to measure up.
Alas, presumably the most technologically sophisticated of these three publishers, Cleveland Enterprise Magazine, a joint project of the Weatherhead School of Business and Enterprise Development, Inc., hasn't even gotten around yet to posting on the web outakes of the latest issue, which came out nearly a month ago. And when it eventually does, there won't be full-text, if past issues are any guide.
On the other hand, this article was improved immensely, thanks to another sublime design engineered by the brilliant graphic artiste Brian Wilse of New Bomb, in Cleveland's Creative Corridor. And Brian, too, was touched early in his career by one Bill Gunlocke. So the spring thus far has brought with it a feeling of happy, interlocking convergences, you might say. Here's to many more where those came from.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

A Thought to Frame Your Day

"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it."
--Henry David Thoreau

What's that you say? Thoreau hasn't generally been understood to have been the overly busy type, but more of the patient, peaceful guy out of step with the rest of the hustle-bustle world? Well, as his contemporary Emerson would have said: "Do I have contradictions? That is because I contain multitudes..."

(And don't forget to reserve the evening of May 29th--see announcement below)

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Okay, Save This Date!

As I mentioned way back in an April 18th posting, we're planning a community event around weblogs, e-publishing, listservs and whatever other flowering forms of web-empowered citizen/community publishing you can imagine.
That's still true. Only, the date and the place have changed. The event will be on May 29th, at 6 p.m. at Flannery's Pub, on E. 4th and Prospect. As this project grew bigger, and more people expressed an interest in taking part, we saw a couple of things: we needed more time to stitch it together and give folks notice. And we wanted to have it in a comfortable, central location that could accomodate a possible large turnout even while keeping costs moderate enough to allow those of modest means (this is, after all, citizen publishing) to attend (the tab is just $10, which includes light munchies). So here you have it: a full three weeks notice to be there.

Here's the announcement that's about to go out from SPJ, the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists:

For centuries, freedom of the press ultimately belonged only to those who actually owned a press-that is, publishers.
Now, with new Internet tools, that's changing. You don't even need to know some geeky programming language to write for the web. You can just do it.
To learn how, come to a panel discussion among some of the area's leading online scribes - "bloggers" - who are leading the way toward citizen publishing and enhancing community conversation and collaboration.
This after-work event is on May 29th at 6 p.m. at Flannery's Pub, in Cleveland's Gateway neighborhood. The price is just $10,
The discussion is convened by the Cleveland chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists and co-sponsored by the Association of Internet Professionals, Fast Company Magazine's Northeast Ohio Company of Friends and the John Carroll University Entrepreneurs Association (with help from

That, in a nutshell is it. We'll be adding some detail as we get closer. And, most importantly, Paul Elliott of AIP and web shop extraordinaire Ideastar has graciously offered the use of their awesome e-RSVP tool, CorpMeetings. That link will soon be up, allowing you to easily register for the event from any one of the hundreds of links you'll be seeing sprout up for this event.
But remember: this is a chance for NEOhio's bloggers, and anyone else interested in community/grassroots/citizen publishing, to pack the room for a multi-layered conversation about how to do more of what we're doing, and do it better. It's also a chance to demonstrate in tangible terms--actual bodies--the tremendous groundswell of interest in these new tools as a way of more easily reaching audiences and connecting more people to a meaningful community discussion, around a host of topics and passions.
So please, save the evening, sign up for the event, and come out and join the conversation that night. Who knows where it might lead you?

Monday, May 05, 2003

Bifurcated Bloggers

There are independent journalists and bloggers, and then there are employed journalist-bloggers. It's beginning to look as though mixing the two animals in one body is going to require a fight.
The blogging revolution, at heart, is really about self-publishing. And self-publishing is a notion fundamentally at odds with traditional journalism--built as it has been on layers of owners and publishers and ad salesmen and editors--in other words, on control. Blogging is all about taking those controls off, plunging into personal takes on the news or events or whatever, none of which passes through external filters like editors who are concerned about the business-side issues and reader/advertiser reactions.
So American journalism is spoiling for a fight over those who blend with the traditional top-down control of journalism. Can both exist in the same person?
The Hartford Courant touched off the latest imbroglio last week by ordering a staff writer to shut down his blog, but there have been others. And there will surely be lots more of these situations in coming weeks and months, as the attractions of blogging become increasingly apparent to more writers even as the technology grows less complex. If you can figure out Microsoft Word, as basically any writer in the world can, you can probably blog on a do-it-yourself basis.
Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News, stationed in the heart of Silicon Valley, was one of the small handful of blogging trailblazers who also had a staff job at a major daily paper. He seems to have mostly managed without incident. Jim Romanesko famously hunted the web for the best stories of interest to journalists, which he assembled for his Media Gossip weblog before heading into work each morning at the Milwaukee Journal. It wasn't long before his site became the de facto water cooler AND journalism review for much of the American media, with thousands of journalists checking it hourly. The nonprofit Poynter Institute of Florida subsequently paid him $80,000 to migrate his blog over to their larger site, where it now resides as Romanesko's Media News. Some people think he's among the handful of most powerful people in the media, and I'm certainly among them. If your story is linked by Romanesko, thousands will read it, but many of those thousands in turn write for hundreds of thousands. It serves as a foghorn for the business.
A healthy debate on the topic of allowing journalists to blog is now going full-bore. Perhaps the best recent piece is here. The author, J.D. Lasica, has been a pioneer in this area, writing a column on web journalism in the American Journalism Review from the mid-90s on, before heading off to the corporate web side for a few years. Now, you'll find him back on the journalism side, weighing in regularly on perhaps the best site for these issues, Online Journalism Review, edited by the University of Southern California's journalism program.

Friday, May 02, 2003

The Texas Tornado

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure! It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us."
--Nelson Mandela, opening his '94 presidential inauguration speech

That stunning nugget comes courtesy of my favorite Texan, Karen McCullough. Actually, she's my second-fav Texan, after the tough-talkin-tougher-writin-six-foot-redheaded writer, Molly Ivins. Well, let's put it this way: Karen's my favorite transplanted Texan (she a former Clevelander).
The point, really, is this: Karen is simply the best, most passionate, energizing, soul-stirring motivational speaker I've ever seen. And that's no small pool. She takes an audience and moves it through an emotional experience, whips it to a frenzy, gets its collective butts out of their collective seats, moves them, shakes them and leaves them subtly different people. I would liken the experience to this: say that you're sitting one hot, drowsy summer afternoon on your sidewalk, on a quiet dead-end street, watching your child wait for customers for their lemonade stand. There's no one around, and it's so quiet you can hear the crickets chirping. Suddenly a Formula One race car comes blasting down your street, passing you at 180 mph-plus. In short, it gets your attention, and leaves a chill running down your back.
Okay, so what the hell, maybe I exaggerate, wrapped up in the sheer thrill of describing her, but only a little. You simply have to see her to believe her.
All of which is by way of introducing her to you. I have the good and great fortune of repping for Karen in Cleveland, and perhaps elsewhere, along with one of my oldest and dearest buds and now partner/colleagues, Mary Brown, Cleveland's leading sustainable urban retail guru (whose similarly fascinating story I'll leave for a future entry, where she can shine alone). Can't point you to Brownie's web presence, but that will come sooner rather than later.
Anyway, check out Karen's newly relaunched site. Maybe even send away for a demo tape. And if she seems like a fit for your next event, or an event you know about or have some influence over the selection of speakers for, give us a holler. We'll summon the Texas Tornado northward, and see that she rocks your world.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

May Day

In the military, it signals disaster--either your plane's been hit and you're going down, or some other emergency is fast upon you. In what little remains of the Communist world, it's a chance to strut your stuff, with leaders perched up high, reviewing a parade of military hardware passing by. But in our house, May Day, May 1st, means just one thing: Patrick's birthday.
My son Patrick, that is. It's official: as of today, Julie and I now have not one but two teenagers--13-year-old birthday boy Pattie, as he's known, and his big bro Michael.
So the day, as well as the day's blog entry, is reserved for him.
Patrick's is a 7th grader, a hard-nosed, organized, pay-attention-to-the-rules, get-your-homework-done-first A student. In other words, nothing like his old man, rather more like his mom. On the baseball field, he's a catcher--the unsung, hardworking, involved-in-every- play guy.
But it's on the stage that he really shines. He makes his grand debut--wonderfully and coincidentally timed along with his new status as a teenager--in St. Gregory the Great's rendition of the play Footloose, due for worldwide opening one week from tonight. Tickets? Fuggedaboudit. They're impossible to get--tougher than courtside Lakers finals. The play has been in practice/production since January, and they even had grueling two-a-day practices (just like football two-a-day summer drills in the NFL) during spring break. Patrick has reluctantly shown us a few sample steps in his dance routines, but mostly he's put us off till the big night. The ham in him doesn't want to spoil the surprise.
Granny, Bubba, Aunt Katie, maybe aunti Jo and a gaggle of cousins, possibly some from as far away as ______ (it's a secret) are coming in for the big event.
There's a pleasing sibling symmetry to all of this: big bro had his moment in the sunshine a month or two ago when his Gesu team racked up a CYO city championship. Now, the spotlight shines on Pattie, and Pattie alone.
Happy birthday, my dear, sweet boy. May you grow to be half as smart, cool, confident and loving as you are today as a newly minted teen. And may you follow your dreams as far as they'll take you...