Friday, January 28

Object Lesson in Why the Participant-Observer Is a Useless Parasite

Assinine Blog of the Week: The World Economic Forum Weblog.

Actually, Barney Frank's contribution are refreshingly off-the-cuff, and there are some other appealing voices here, but this post from self-appointed, grant-supported, ex-CNN producing blog apostle Rebecca McKinnon is the putrid apple that poisons the whole barrel.

Of course, many (probably most) bloggers are not trying to be journalists or to produce "news." Instead, they're sharing a conversation about what they find important with whoever might be interested. Take this Forumblog for instance. It's not a "news site" or newswire about the Davos Annual meeting. You can get the official news here. The blog is where you go for a sense of the meeting's "personality." It's a place for participants and a few WEF staff to share their own personal thoughts, impressions, and opinions about the sessions they've been attending. We want to share these things with the rest of the "blogosphere" and believe our own thinking will be enhanced by holding a conversation with people reading and watching from around the world. That's what blogging is all about.

Give me a freaking break. "Personality" in quotations marks? This is the level of analytic intelligence of a leading light of the blogosphere? A kind of loopy, impressionistic, star-struck celebrity access journalism, where the journalist is grateful for being made a participant so she can get busy "schmoozing"? Page 6 for the jet set? This is the vanguard of the blogging revolution, successor to that great, doomed mission of the Fourth Estate, to speak the truth to power? McKinnon is actually impressed that the WEF trotted out some hand-picked dissenters for a photo op. Too busy schmoozing to know a Potemkin village when she sees one, I guess.

How can you take anyone seriously who has a Harvard-hosted Web log and a professional posed photo who refers to herself, even semiironically, as an "evil, kitten-eating cyborg"? And that's "with whomever," you semiliterate television subpersonality turned Harvard fellow. If you are going to take money to tout the virtues of naive amateurism, why should I afford you the professional courtesy of skimming lightly over your shortcomings as a self-promoting, self-styled kitten eater? No wonder you don't have a real job.

(Above: "You are leaving the democratic zone"--Police presence at this year's WEF, via Indymedia)

The fact is, you still can't get in and blog Davos unless you are the kind of person who gets invited to Davos, although Davos still trots out its tame invitee-bloggers as evidence that it means what it says about transparency and all that bullshit, and so they can have some Web chic on their side to counter the likes of and the carefully-chaperoned MSM ('mainstream media'), who have as many minders and restrictions as they did in Red Moscow back in the day, from what I'm told anecdotally.

And just you try to figure out how to get press credentials as an independent freelance human being, other than to e-mail for your polite, semi-automated "thank you in advance for fucking quietly off" in reply.

God forbid that anyone should ask Bono or Thabo Mbeki or John Thain of the NYSE an embarassing question their minders have not rehearsed them on. Must ... stay on message. Must ... outlaw the curveball so I can ... score scripted points with ... domestic audiences using ... media ... my government ... controls.

Wow, I guess I sound a little like one of the anarchists in the streets. I'm not really, although I did find it very easy to earn a spot in the state-of-the-art press room at Porto Alegre--the hated MSM insist on calling it "the anti-Davos"--when I was down there a couple of years ago, blogging, being a cultural tourist in ga�cho Brazil, working up freelance pitches no one wanted to buy, and filing stories for Project Ciranda. That's transparency--they didn't care that I might be an intelligence agent of a foreign power or some schmuck just there to pick up girls. And oh, those ga�cha girls ... My wife was extremely jealous at the time but now knows I am a one-bunda man.

I got to meet the young Cuban revolutionary vanguard--smelly, arrogant, pampered, vain, the Castroite equivalent of the ass-kissing yuppie climber--and have some very interesting conversations with Indian open-source geniuses and the like, as well as observing the flack corps of the new Brazilian government in action. Where else in the world can a scruffy freelancer like me get a candid closeup of the president of a nation of 180 million, and one of the government's Karl Rove counterpart, Z� Dirceu, to boot? Chomsky was there, of course, more or less just phoning it in, taking publicity shots with the MST at the Brazilian equivalent of a pancake breakfast grip-and-grin.

The great thing about it was I didn't have to run oblique strategies on everyone to find out what they really thought, the way it often is in the course of doing my day job. At the moment, I personally don't really agree with about three-fifths of the agenda these folks are putting out, but I was able to see that they are running a very effective global public opinion campaign that the Davos crowd should really be concerned about.

Those World Social Forum people--well, not Fidel's little stooges, but most of the rest--really believe in the power of the open information society, and they have concrete plans for putting it into action. Ever hear how Microsoft lost tens of thousands of Brazilian government desktops to Linux? Case in point.

The Davos crowd talks about transparency in order to placate that global public opinion I'm talking about and trots out its tame bloggers, but see the photograph from this year's conference above--like U.S. public diplomacy in the Arab world, they don't really seem to know a public relations disaster in the making from their ass in a hole in the ground, dodging mortars and running the insurgent gantlet through the Temporary Autonomous Zone that links the Green Zone (less mortar fatalities per capita than anywhere else in town!) to Baghdad International Airport.

Trotting out Charles O. Prince of Citigroup to promote the theme of corporate accountability strikes me as something akin to trotting out Neville Chamberlain as a champion of anti-fascism.

As always, my hastily typed and no doubt misguided screed, not the opinion of anyone that gives me money. This is just between me and anyone who might give a damn what I think, as Rebecca says. Frankly, I probably should stick to the art of headlines, the tactics of the lead paragraph, and my efforts to keep on up the best practices of people who do my same job. I could tell stories about relations between editorial and manufacturing, but I don't gossip here about the internal workings of the organization as a substitute for working things out with the people involved, who might actually read this. This is just my personal space where I get to be sloppy and imprecise and socially inappropriate to a degree, since I'm on my own time now.


Speaking of spontaneous Q&A, I can say that I'm totally proud of our Shanghai correspondent, who VoIPed into the Sun Microsystems conference call this week and asked some tough (but fair and entirely relevant) questions of Scott McNealy (who gave some straight answers, to his great credit). Very interesting development: OpenSolaris under the CDDL license, and the release of 1,600 patents into the public domain. To tell the truth, personally, I know that professionaly I'm not supposed to be impressed, but I kind of am. This does actually count as money where your mouth is, and as obnoxious as I find Jonathan Schwartz's blog--I bet you ten dollars he has flacks helping him plan his spontaneous, off-the-cuff, disintermediated remarks--I have to admit the appeal to the values of the open-source world is a daring gambit. I just don't think Wall Street will go for disintermediation and the values of open source, beyond the fact that it costs them less if the fools want to give it away. The more I read up on it, the more I see that the Wall Street value chain is all about secrecy, stealth, and parlaying inside information. That's why the intellectual property wars have their front lines in our industry, though not many realize that, I think. Of course, I'm the not the one who really knows this stuff: I just sign their expense account vouchers.

In our Shanghai correspondent's honor, I agonized over the headline, and came up with a nice one:

Sun Tries GNU Tactic

Rim shot, please.

The answer is, yes, somewhat drunk and tired. Wanna make something of it?


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12/13/2005 09:17:00 am  

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