Why Net Neutrality Matters to Writers

Net Neutrality supporters at FCC Meeting, May 15, 2014

Wednesday, September 10 is Internet Slowdown Day, when this site and a whole bunch of others gave you a taste of what the World Wide Web might look like if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approves new rules governing how you can participate and contribute to the Internet for public discussion. These rules, commonly referred to as “net neutrality,” require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like phone and cable companies to treat every bit that travels through their networks to be treated equally.

Need some basic understanding of what’s at stake here? Have some links:

Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now, at Free Press

A pair of pieces from Mashable

What I want to focus on is why this is important to writers and other content creators.

Let me start with this lovely tweet from @EdPlocher:

The Internet allows for an unmediated relationship between creators and audiences. Ending ends that.

https://twitter.com/EdPlocher/status/467046362698514433

Let me also offer some other reasons why net neutrality matters:

Writers need web space they can control

One of the central themes Carole Jelen and I stress in Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules is now important it is for writers to have your own website, what we call “home central.” It’s the place where all your social activities point to.

If the fast-lane is implemented, how long does $100/yr web hosting for small businesses and lone creatives last? How long do the new free blogging tools like Medium and the like exist as free? ,  Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter are wonderful places to visit, but I  don’t want to live in any of them. Corporate sites just don’t do enough for us to communicate with readers.

Too many websites don’t pay their “content creators” already.

If the telephone and cable companies get to be first in line to demand money from websites that offer content, guess who moves further down the queue? Too many writers get ripped off already by content mills like Demand Studios, and sites that offer “exposure” instead of cash. As much as I’d like to throttle  the content mills’ bandwidth, that is not how this would work in practice. If anything, the mills would pay the toll and suggest to writers they were the only game in town!

More media consolidation

The central premise of fast lanes and a non-neutral net is easy to understand: Big corporations can pay to play, not so much you and I. What might be easily missed: there isn’t enough competition in the media industry now! In the future, good ideas and good web design won’t be enough for smaller publishers to compete on the web.

Harder for self-publishers/indie authors

More than a few people think self-publishing is the future for writers. Net neutrality is really key for that argument to hold. My guess: Amazon gets even bigger, and writers (eventually) lose!

What to do?

A Kid’s First Memory: JFK’s Funeral

If you’re in the United States (or elsewhere in the English-speaking world), you’ve probably heard by now: 50 years ago today, they buried John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC.

Now many people a bit older than me can tell you where they were when they first learned of the president being shot, or dying from his wounds. I can’t really do that; I was five years old, in the first weeks of (I think) afternoon kindergarten at 35th Street School on the north side of Milwaukee. Since so many recall being let out of school early that day, I’m inclined to think I was too, but that’s not what this post is about.

One of the first things that I have a conscious memory of happened today. It’s a little funny, but may also tell you a lot about me, and how I became a news junkie pretty early on. Here’s how I remember it:

The initial CBS news bulletin of the shooting ...

The first CBS news bulletin of the shooting interrupting a live network program, As the World Turns, at 1:40 p.m. (EST) on November 22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mom and I were living with her parents at that time. I always watched a lot of television as a kid, and that weekend, there was literally nothing else on but coverage of the assassination and its aftermath. It was the birth of live TV news, for better or worse. As part of the anniversary coverage, CBS News streamed its round-the-clock coverage (and ABC News ran its coverage on Friday) in real-time this weekend; the CBS stream is still running as I type this, but may be broken by the time you read this.

English: Publicity photo of Rosemary Prinz as ...

English: Publicity photo of Rosemary Prinz as Penny Hughes from As the World Turns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Monday, my grandfather was a little tired of it all. A retired letter carrier, strong union man and Democrat, he still was a little cranky at times. Definitely a creature of habit. And so it was that my grampa turned on the TV Monday afternoon as he always did. Instead of seeing his favorite daytime soap opera, As the World Turns, he saw the late president’s state funeral and started sputtering. Don’t remember his words, but he was not happy. My rather emotional response, however, I remember clear as a bell. “But Grampa, the president is dead!” I may not have been entirely clear on what that meant, but I sure got why people cared. We kept the TV on that day.

We can always debate what news is, but sometimes there’s no question about what ought to be on the air. I guess this incident suggests I always had a pretty good news sense.

English: The eternal Flame at President John F...

English: The eternal Flame at President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Truly the Day of the Doctor

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection)

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection) (Photo credit: ChocolateFrogs)

As a writer, I’m not crazy about two consecutive blog posts on the same topic, but on a day where the temperature didn’t get much above 20 degrees F (with chill factors never climbing out of single digits on either side of zero), there’s not much to write about!

After posting “Almost the Day of The Doctor” late last night, I watched more of the Season 7 marathon through 3AM. Got up six hours later, and watched another 2.5 hours of Season 7, though I spent a good chunk of that time futilely with today’s Google Doodle featuring, of course, oh… eleven animated Doctors. Ventured out with my wife for a lovely grilled pastrami-and-swiss sandwich with homemade potato chips at a newly opened deli in our neighborhood.

Came home to get ready for the anniversary show, warmed up the social media engine (do y’all know GetGlue?), watched this season’s finale, The Name of The Doctor, followed by the online Pre-pre-show. I was also going to join a Google Hangout, but my wife insisted I step away from the laptop. Honestly, that was probably the right choice. The film itself was spectacular.

No spoilers here

If you aren’t familiar with Doctor Who at all, you don’t want to start with this episode. There just isn’t enough exposition for the new fan to get this story. Instead, watch the shows I referenced in the last post, Doctor Who Explained and An Adventure in Space and Time.

The Three Doctors (Doctor Who)

The Three Doctors (Doctor Who) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For fans who haven’t seen the show, or are waiting for the 3D theater presentation, I won’t go deeply into the plot. What I can comfortably say is that the story focuses on The Doctor’s role in ending the Time War. You’ll see John Hurt, David Tennant, and Matt Smith as different incarnations of The Doctor, a big cameo from another old-school Doctor, two recent companions, and UNIT. There is a monster species (who have not appeared in the modern version to my recollection), and several appearances by Elizabeth I (no, not the current queen). It was amazing!

OK, one clue: the plot revolves around a painting with two titles: No More and Gallifrey Falls.

Based on this blockbuster, the Christmas special, when Matt Smith gives way to Peter Capaldi, and next season should be spectacular! I can’t wait!

 

Another Sunday Grab Bag

It’s been a slightly weird weekend, and I don’t have anything specific to talk about. So here are some random thoughts and descriptions.

Storifying the openSUSE Summit

The openSUSE Project logo

The openSUSE Project logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was fun! I curated every Twitter post and G+ reference to “openSUSE” all weekend, and made a story of it here. Sadly, I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with tweets to choose from. Perhaps the wi-fi wasn’t that good. I hope next year, they can stream it!

Indirectly, the summit also put me into Twitter a lot more this weekend than in the recent past. Upside: There’s always so much to assimilate, and fun to have.

Monday is the release date for openSUSE 13.1. Watch for the announcement here, and then go get it.

New shoes and jeans

My wife took me shopping yesterday. I think she had more fun. My work shoes have pretty much worn out, so I got a new pair, plus a belt and four pairs of jeans (buy one, get one half-off) at Kohl’s. It had to be done, but it took too long.

Making Real Progress on the book

It’s still not quite ready, because I keep adding things that readers need to know, but my to-do list tells me I’m around 90% done with Chapter 9. Perhaps I’ll finish the app developer chapter in time for the Ubuntu Developers Summit this week!

April in November: Weather in the Midwest

Yes it rained pretty much all weekend here in Milwaukee. Thankfully, we avoided the worst of it (kind thoughts to folks in Illinois and elsewhere with tornadoes and such), but I missed getting to walk outside!

Quite a team that Omidyar and Greenwald are assembling

173

Jay Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cast of media reformers that are banding together to create a new media gained another Big Name today: Jay Rosen of New York University and the PressThink blog. I haven’t read this thing through yet, but everything I hear builds my excitement for this project.

Maybe there was something else to talk about, but seems right to quit here. Hope you all had a nice, restful and/or productive weekend.

The Value of Information

English: The logo used by Wikileaks

English: The logo used by Wikileaks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may already know that WikiLeaks released a draft chapter of the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) treaty Wednesday. The leaked chapter deals with intellectual property, but moves far beyond any copyright controversy. The Verge reports that Knowledge Ecology International called it “bad for access to knowledge, bad for access to medicine, and profoundly bad for innovation.”

The Verge’s report is more technical. The Guardian’s story is more mainstream. See this document (PDF) from Public Citizen for a more detailed, wonky summary of “What’s New in the WikiLeaks TPP Text?”

The free trade treaty (being negotiated in secret by the governments of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Vietnam and the United States) threatens to come into force with very little public discussion. One task of serious journalism is to force transparency in government.

This is why a completely unrelated development is certainly symbiotic. Pierre Omidyar announced the hiring of former Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates for his new journalistic venture, as yet unnamed. This project (dubbed “NewCo” for now) collects storied investigative reporters (Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Milwaukee native Jeremy Scahill) with other journalists to create a serious 21st century media outlet. Omidyar says “Eric will be instrumental in helping us define our editorial strategy for a general-interest audience as well as the editing infrastructure we will need to support our independent journalists.”

I believe that this project could set a new standard for journalism, one that helps us all become better informed, and ultimately, more active citizens. If anyone over there is listening, I’d love to be part of it!

Tracking the Worst Storm Ever

Let me be honest: This was going to be a rant about how cutbacks in international coverage by the mass media in the United States had left folks on this side of the Pacific Ocean under-informed about Typhoon Haiyan. The source of my anger (really) was turning on The Weather Channel last night before going to bed, and finding yet another trivial filler program. Of course, at that time, Haiyan was still just a threat to the Philippines (if a massive one), or perhaps making landfall. Not much news yet.

Speaking of massive, if you haven’t seen pictures of the storm, here’s one that should amaze you, Haiyan from orbit (by way of the Guardian):

Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan from orbiting satellites

This morning, I woke up to this report from NPR’s Morning Edition, but was too groggy to take any of the information in. At this point, the onslaught had definitely begun, but reporters belonged in safer locations. One can only imagine what it would be like trying to stand up in front of a camera with wind gusts approaching 200 miles per hour!

During the day, I followed The Guardian’s rolling coverage when not doing real work (their Minute-by-Minute page is terrific for following any big UK or global story, by the way. You’ll find soccer and cricket matches too.). I usually check the BBC on my iPod for quick updates, too, but they didn’t seem to have much information.

When I got home from work is when I started feeling foolish about my initial coverage assessment. All the old network newscasts opened with the storm, with amazing and disturbing video. A scan of all my iPod news apps brought me largely up to date (though I still think it’s a little weird that the PBS Newshour partners with ITN in Britain for international stories, rather than its fellow public broadcaster, the BBC). Though I haven’t checked yet, I imagine The Weather Channel is doing a better job than last night too.

What remains true is that, unless there is a direct impact on the US, TV journalists usually don’t have “boots on the ground” anymore. I hope that changes soon.

How do you get your international news? How important to you is learning about what happens outside of North America? Do you miss your favorite foreign correspondent?

Feel free to post information on Haiyan relief too.

 

Curating News: MuckRack Shows Off Mainstream Media

In the not-quite-two-decades since I first got online, I like to think I’ve gotten smarter and better informed as a result of tons of reading and interacting with people I’d never met. It’s one of the greater things about a life spent online.

(Digression: On December 25, 1992 I got a modem installed on my first PC, with an install floppy for the Prodigy service–a walled garden co-owned by Sears and IBM that helped many ordinary people get online when AOL only ran on the Mac. Expect a much longer reminiscence of those days in …oh, about a year.)

It might be a cliché by now, but true nonetheless: there is so much information accessible to us with some keystrokes and mouse clicks, it’s hard for an ordinary mortal to keep up. Did I also mention that the same is largely true about misinformation? So a ton of services, sites and software tools have sprung up to help us cope with the firehose of data and help us (ideally) get smarter and better informed in the process. Or maybe just give us more ammunition in the daily debates. They’ve come to be called “curation services,” because like art museum curators, they try to choose the best and/or most representative works for a particular exhibit.

I’m trying to sort through these services to find the One True Source (or maybe the Two or Three True Sources) of curated news. And I hope you’ll find the results of this search useful, interesting, and perhaps even a little entertaining. The chronicle of the journey will be occasional over the next few months, and assuming I get to Post #2, it will have its own category over there on the sidebar.

MuckRack, where you find out what reporters geek out on

[Friday Talk Club] Introducing Muck Rack

For the first experiment in this area, I want to tell you about MuckRack, a two-year-old site I only found recently, but that has proven quite addictive to this news junkie. I could spend hours here daily, if I didn’t have a real job.

The premise here is to aggregate journalist postings on a variety of social media (originally just Twitter, but now all the usual suspects) to “get tomorrow’s newspaper today.” As a business model, they’re looking to pair up PR folks with writers who are actually interested in the pitches.

So as a news consumer, what does this site give you?

  • You can see the stories that the mainstream media is following at any given moment. MuckRack offers a Trending Now box in a sidebar, and the individual writers who are the busiest posters in the country.
  • When reporters link to other news stories, you can see the story (and the commentary about the story from the assembled reporters) on the page.
  • Anyone can also view the MuckRack Journalist Directory, organized by media organization. Click through to follow your favorite reporters.
  • You can also sign up for the MuckRack Daily, a cheeky morning newsletter that delivers the hot stories in a very digestible format, along with the “Watercooler” section, where you see what reporters are reading about journalism and the media business.

In short, if you want to learn more about mainstream journalism and the process of creating the news, MuckRack is the place to go. It’s not perfect; as all the weaknesses of “follow the pack” journalism tend to be on display here. Despite naming the site after the original “muckrakers,” known today as investigative reporters, you won’t see a lot of investigative stories here on any given day, but I suppose that’s a reality generally.

You will see the wit and wordplay that come to writers naturally, though. And reporters know how to craft a punchy sentence, a big plus when you’ve got a 140-character limit.

How do you keep up with the news in general, or other topics of interest? Has the Internet made you smarter, or better informed (reasons, please!)? Is there a favorite (or less favorite) curated news site you’d like to see me review in this spot? Comment away…

Happy New Year everyone!

Another Transition: Linux Journal Goes All-Digital

Linux Journal logo.svg

Image via Wikipedia

The word went out Friday: the 208th monthly edition of Linux Journal would be the last of its kind in print. Starting immediately, the magazine would no longer be printed and delivered to newsstands and subscribers. Instead, a plain PDF or enhanced PDF from a company called Texterity will be delivered to subscribers.

Doc Searls described the reasons for the switch thusly in the article linked above:

Just this month, ABC reported that newsstand magazine sales fell 9% in the first six months of this year. The Wall Street Journal reported a drop of 9.2% for consumer magazines, with double-digit drops for celebrity weeklies like People andStar. Women’s Wear Daily reported similar drops for all but one fashion magazine: Vogue, thanks to one Lady Gaga cover.

The big computer-industry trade magazines from the ’90s have either disappeared or gone digital. Of the big three publishers, only IDG is still intact, but relatively few of its old magazines are still in print.

We survived while others failed by getting lean and staying focused. But the costs of printing and distributing continue to go up. We could keep publishing in print if we could raise the number of advertiser pages, but we don’t see that happening.

So, after a fashion, you can see the writing on the wall. The backlash against the decision can be seen in the comment stream. These ranged from the likes of (not actual quotes) “Well, duh, this was inevitable. You gotta get used to it” to pleas for the ability to read the magazine while camping.

One of the more thoughtful critics wondered whether historians and archaeologists of the future might believe humans of our age lost the ability to write, given the lack of tangible artifacts. I suspect there’s a good sci-fi story in that idea; wish I had the imagination to write it.

Now I’ll admit that I lean more toward the side that says “isn’t a printed computer magazine something of an anachronism these days?” But I’ll also admit that I don’t really make time to read all the electronic publications I subscribe to. I find it a little hard to make time for the print publications I subscribe to as well.

I do think that we will eventually everyone will be going all-digital, and probably sooner rather than later. As some folks in the LJ comment thread noted, it’s important to do it right, though. I hope that as this transition proceeds, we can all find the right form(s) for our information.

As a writer, I also hope that LJ remains a paying market for the people who provide the content we all read. To that end, I intend to keep my subscription for as long as possible, and recommend you do that too. I’d give ‘em a raise too, but that’s just me. Disclaimer: I sold a story to the website (not the print version) a few years ago, and hope to do so again one day.

Do you read Linux Journal? Other Linux-oriented print publications? Do you read electronic magazines of any kind? Are print magazines on the way out, and is that a good thing? Just a few of the many questions raised by this decision; feel free to comment here on any or all of them.

WriteCamp2: A Stimulating and Energizing Day

Had a marvelous time at WriteCamp Milwaukee 2 Saturday.

Mercy Hill Church at the Hide House is a fantastic venue, which you can see for yourself in the Flickr feed. The space was broken up into five session areas: Two in the main “sanctuary” area, with plenty of separation, so no one got confused by audio bleedthrough; three smaller classrooms.

The whole conference had a pretty analog feel to it for this techie. I brought my laptop, and lugged it around unopened pretty much all day. I confined my notes to pen and paper.

Sessions were 45 minutes long, with 15 minutes in between to move around. Usually enough time to take another look at the board and pick another location. Take a look at the full schedule. This review will of necessity take up only the sessions I could attend.

Morning Sessions

First session was with Daniel Goldin of Boswell Books. While mostly focused on fiction, he had great stories about the business of book selling. Best factoid, only peripherally writing-related: you  know how mass-market paperbacks used to be all the same size, around 6″ x 5″? As the reading population has aged, publishers made the paperbacks a little bit taller, so the font could be bigger!

Next up, I went to my only foray into the fiction realm, a session called “Reading as a Writer” hosted by Chris (whose last name I never did get — sorry!), an English prof at Columbia College in Chicago. He brought readings from three short stories (Gogol’s “The Nose,” John McNally’s “The Vomitorium” and something from Katherine Anne Porter). He would pick random people in the crowd to read a page or so aloud, and then we’d discuss the memorable bits of material on the page. Chris emphasized that simply by noting what stands out in a reading will improve our own writing. For fiction writers, the lesson was not to get all hung up on the symbolism and the Great Message behind a story (at least not at first). Just concentrate on the details that pull you into a story and make a story memorable. Good lessons for nonfiction writers too.

Todd Sattersten of 100 Best Business Books of All Time fame led another business-and-marketing session with perhaps the best title of the day: “Venture Capital, Viruses and Versioning: Three Things Every (Book) Author Needs to Know.” Do I need to tell you he knows a bit about marketing? This was the most satisfying session I attended.

The Venture Capital part of this talk is a reminder that publishers are really good for just two basic components of book marketing: Distribution (getting your book into bookstores) and Media Connections (getting media attention for your title). Authors are responsible for connecting with readers. As one publisher explains: “I can’t sell a copy to your mother.” The venture capital analogy works like this: Venture capital for a startup is (when it’s good) about giving your business a chance to succeed. After that, it’s up to you.  As an author, if you’re not conscious of this reality, chances are your title won’t sell, and maybe you don’t get a second chance.

Once you have the idea firmly implanted that it’s your job to market your book effectively, you want to do everything you can to create a buzz around it. Today, that’s often about making your book and its idea(s) viral. Recommending Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick, Todd explained the six basic elements of an idea that sticks: It’s Simple, Unexpected and interesting, concrete, tells a story, and is credible.

The last part of the session was about versioning: Make your content/idea available in as many ways as possible. Find your audience, and let your audience find you. One example: Someone apparently turned a chapter of her novel into a PowerPoint presentation. Building an audience through a blog on the topic. Always put your audience first.

Lunch and Afterwards

The lunch break featured a Slam Poetry demo by members of the Milwaukee slam team preparing to contest for a national title this summer in Minneapolis. You’d also find me feverishly preparing for my session(s).

We had an excellent discussion about “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” based on the book of that title by John Nichols and Bob McChesney. The discussion was greatly enhanced by the presence of Ricardo Pimentel, who runs the editorial page at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He was willing to offer some on-the-ground perspective on the state of the newspaper business. Unfortunately, time ran out just as we were getting into a rather spirited discussion of coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I do think it was a worthwhile conversation.

After running my own session, it was nice to decompress in a smaller session about real-life networking dos and don’ts.

After the networking session, I had a great conversation with Karen Ford, Internal Organizing Vice President of the National Writers Union. She came up from Chicago to see what this WriteCamp thing was all about. We may have more to announce at some point down the road.

At the end of the day, I opened myself up for questions about WordPress. This session was lightly attended, but lots of fun (presumably all the real WordPress geeks were at WordCampChicago). We worked to solve a problem where  commenters weren’t getting notified when someone responded to them. Someone else was interested in the differences between WordPress blogging and wikis. I also talked about some strategies to get more readers.

All in all, a great day! I’m really looking forward to next year. I’m also hoping there’s a way to keep WordCampChicago from conflicting! Reports from that conference sounded great too.

Six Days Till WriteCamp2 in Milwaukee!

Hey folks, there’s still time to make plans to attend WriteCamp2 in Milwaukee next weekend! This camp is for you if your interests lie toward the written (or typed) word. Bloggers, poets, journalists, business and technical writers, fiction and nonfiction writers – we want to see you! Any other writers, and would-be writers I left out – yes, you too!

You can read about what I’m doing at WriteCamp at my other site. In brief, I’ll be leading a discussion about the future of American journalism, and doing something related to WordPress. I’ll have copies of WordPress in Depth on hand, and a pen to sign them with. I’ll also be at the pre-party Friday night, having some fun.

But WriteCamp is not entirely about the published and famous laying out the One True Path to publishing fame, because there isn’t any such thing. WriteCamp is about every participant sharing their passion and knowledge about whatever writing-related topic strikes them.

Hope to see you in my hometown!