A New York Times reporter uses the dreaded ‘c’ (for cooperative)-word and finds his enthusiasm premature, just like post-Gutenberg’s … in 2010-11

Screen shots from ‘Medieval Help Desk’: 4.6 million views on YouTube, so far — NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation)

The painful birth of the book: screen shots from ‘Medieval Help Desk’: 4.6 million views on YouTube, so far
NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation)

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 00.15.37


[ a curious WordPress software bug appears to be interfering with linking to some earlier post-Gutenberg entries. Follow the asterisks to the bottom of this post for those missing links ]


Well done, New York Times, at last … for letting one of your sharpest technology reporters advocate turning Reddit into a ‘user’-owned cooperative to end the fight about the news-aggregator site’s comment moderation policies. We had yet to come across Farhad Manjoo’s missionary zeal for this possibility when we made the same suggestion two posts ago: ‘The media ownership structure that dare not speak its name? Or is it the writing on the wall that new media, too, are deciphering too slowly?’. We could scarcely believe our eyes when we did.

Think of our last post in 2011, ‘Will 2012 be the year of a great leap forward into media’s future — even at The New York Times?’*. It contained this passage:

My personal high-water mark for the media establishment’s resistance to the new dates from the spring of 2010, when I emailed a question to an editor near the top of The New York Times.

The press has been critical to the success of democracy as a form of government; how is it responding to its own democratisation, and how far would it be prepared to go on that road — voluntarily? If you could recommend the right person at the paper for these questions, I’d be immensely grateful.

Zzzzzzzzzing! … the editor’s reply came fast enough to set heads spinning:

I don’t know that anyone would have a specific opinion on this, at least not one that represented the Times in general. You might look to see if an editorial has ever been written about it. If not, I suspect your question doesn’t have an answer. [my ital.]

No search engine brings up any such NYT editorial. What that response was surely supposed to impress on me was that ‘our’ never having addressed the question meant that it was inherently unanswerable.

Which is patently untrue …

Still, that was a gracious and munificent response, certainly by comparison with The Guardian’s — which had banned a suggestion along the same lines, a few weeks earlier. We reprinted the censored comment in a 7 November 2011 post, ‘Why is The Guardian censoring debate about press reform and ignoring the Lord Chief Justice’s endorsement of citizen journalism?’** Here is what the axed comment said, in part (see that archived blog entry for the complete version ):

‘postgutenberg‘s comment 29 September 2011 9:34PM

This comment has been removed by a moderator.’

What the censored comment said:


29 September 2011 9:34PM


Addressing Whealie‘s point, what if the Guardian were to try out an experiment in which commenters become part-owners of a section of the online newspaper and helped to decide on policies, including moderation?

More details here: Wanted: a brave newspaper, for an experiment in which readers become stakeholders.***

The lapse of four years has not made much of a difference. The cringing reaction to the idea of co-ownership today, of many ordinary people — not just of famous newspapers like the NYT and Guardian – was in the tweets replying to @fmanjoo’s advertisement of his piece on Twitter. A sample, not necessarily in the right chronological order – from tweeters who sound pessimistic even when they believe in the dream of democratised management and shareholding:

Jul 14

Michael Moeschler ‏@moesch

@fmanjoo baguettaboutit

Jul 14

Arlo Gilbert ‏@arlogilbert

@fmanjoo @nytimes the phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

Jul 14

LornaGarey ‏@LornaGarey

@fmanjoo @nytimes Commie.

Jul 14

Jonathan Harrop ‏@harropj @fmanjoo Most redditors ALREADY think the site should bend to their whims and turn on a dime. This would be a terrible shit show.

Jul 15

Mark Devlin ‏@sparkzilla

@fmanjoo @nytimes But no mention of ethical issue of companies making millions/billions from the free work of contributors.

Jul 15

Mark Devlin ‏@sparkzilla

@fmanjoo @nytimes In the same vein: http://newslines.org/blog/reddit-and-wikipedia-share-the-same-disease/

All that will have been déja-vu for readers with excellent memories. The first post-Gutenberg.com entry, on 5 September 2011 — ‘Wanted: a brave newspaper, for an experiment in which readers become stakeholders’*** — offered this anatomisation of objections to publishing enterprises co-owned with ‘reader-commenters’ (‘users’, for @fmanjoo).

In January of last year, I outlined a scheme that a newspaper could run as an experiment in sharing ownership of a part of its site with reader-commenters. […] There were, broadly, five reasons for their reluctance to try it out:

  • ‘Too new’ – the scheme diverges too far from their ideas about the future evolution of media.
  • Protectionism. The mistaken belief that the scheme would entail paying commenters at the same rates as professional writers and journalists. That is not what the proposal says at all. The idea is that the arrangement would work very broadly in the way insurance does: people contributing more or less equal sums into a pool of money from which disbursements would be made in accordance with merit and need.
  • Semantics. Interpreting the scheme as ‘socialism’. There is no precise counterpart for the proposed arrangement – certainly not in publishing, as far as I know. But to convey the idea of shared ownership I used the word ‘cooperative’—which unfortunately spells ‘hippie’ utopianism or bankrupt socialist idealism to many people. It says something else entirely to me. For nearly 20 years, I have been a member of a rural electricity cooperative founded 75 years ago by a group of farmers – after the local power company refused to put them on its network. This organisation runs so beautifully that my electricity bills have always been a small fraction of sums I have paid for the identical usage patterns in other places.
  • Fear of losing power. Most publishers of the print era cannot give up the idea of journalists and editors performing on a stage for readers – the audience down in the pit, which is where they would like them to stay. They cannot accept that technology has made it realistic for readers to want – indeed, expect – to share the stage with them, even if only in walk-on parts, in most cases, at the start.
  • Pessimism. Publishers cannot conceive of making a bigger pie – that is, expanding revenue, and even earning profits, with luck – through sharing ownership with reader-commenters. They can only imagine being forced to accept smaller slices of an unchanged or shrunken pie.

Ah, well … none of that would be in the least surprising to anyone who lived through the 15th-century transition from scrolls and illuminated hand-made manuscripts to the printed book. The scholar Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance is a richly detailed, gripping account of that revolution. Many fell by the wayside in the quest for a workable economic structure (‘business model’) by entrepreneurs keen to use Gutenberg’s press to replicate manuscripts by the hundred — for citizens just as eager to become readers and acquire libraries of their own:

The investment that a printer made in type, paper and wages was all directed towards a clear goal: the production of a finished artefact. But unless the edition was supported by a wealthy sponsor or patron, the costs could only be recouped once the books had been sold. For many printers this demanded skills for which experience in a workshop offered little help, and a network of commercial contacts they did not possess. The pool of potential purchasers was large, but often widely dispersed. The desire of many printers to publish eye-catching, luxurious or innovative publications accentuated this problem, since books like this were most difficult to sell to a clientele dispersed around Europe. Printers would often have to hold stock for a long time before the edition was sold out: this again, was a problem not anticipated by those familiar with the retail manuscript trade …





Will there be a half-pint Pulitzer for The Guardian’s Snowden job, like the Paul Foot ‘special investigation award’? … & A Guardian overseer acknowledges ‘mass surveillance’ of readers

Secret, shadowy, tunnels into our lives, 2 - photograph: postgutenberg@gmail.com

Secret, shadowy tunnels into our lives, 2
– photograph: postgutenberg@gmail.com

‘Our tap’s been phoned.’ Neil Bennet, 1989, Private Eye: A Cartoon History

‘Our tap’s been phoned.’ Neil Bennet, 1989, Private Eye: A Cartoon History
– ( the subject of a staged National Theatre conversation: video clip)

In Britain the question of whether the barrage of banner headlines about the Snowden leaks deserves the highest journalistic honours has already been decided – but only, on the evidence, with deepest ambivalence.

No, we do not know any of the judges behind the 2013 Paul Foot Award ‘for campaigning and investigative journalism,’ established in memory of a legendary Private Eye investigative reporter who died in 2004. When we thought to look up its winner, after last week’s post about the argument over a possible Pulitzer for the Snowden story, we made the brow-raising discovery that although the Paul Foot prize was awarded last month to David Cohen of The Evening Standard for a series about London’s criminals, a ‘special investigation award’ went to The Guardian’s Snowdenia saga.

How in Hades could that have happened? Private Eye has had strikingly little – mostly, nothing — to contribute in any form of commentary (not even as cover cartoons or inside drawings) to the Snowden brouhaha. And yet anyone can see that the saga has an infinitude of giggly possibilities. The prize-givers made the predictable nod, in their citation, to ‘one of the biggest stories of the decade.’ But it seemed bizarre that as a compromise between handing The Guardian’s surveillance-consciousness-raising team the £5,000 main prize and the £1,000 that four shortlisted finalists took home, a £2,000 consolation prize had to be specially invented to placate … someone or other.

We took the logical next step, which was to look into the source of the prize money. Ah. The Paul Foot Award is co-sponsored by the Eye and … none other than The Guardian. … Just fancy that. … For anyone as mesmerised as we have been by the hopelessly confused allegations of ‘Orwellian mass surveillance’ – a misplaced cliché that seems mercifully to have been put to bed, in most coverage – the recording of Ian Hislop, the Eye’s editor, summing up l’affaire Snowden on Have I Got News for You, is a must-see. His body language telegraphed irrepressible glee, last October, as he delivered an explanation that seemed to account for his magazine’s lack of interest in the story:

The new head of MI5 has said that The Guardian has acted really irresponsibly in pointing out that we’re spying on people. It’s pointed out that we’re all being spied on all the time. [ … ] It’s a matter of consent, really. You can debate this and say, ‘Yes, I’d like to be spied on.’ I know I would. Anyone showing any interest in my life would be terrific. [Howls from live audience.] I’d be very, very, happy with that. But it’s a matter for public debate. And if we want to pass laws saying we can spy on people, we can. […] It’s just what The Guardian did was point out this is happening and nobody knows it.

Nobody would have needed telling if, as this blog has pointed out with tedious frequency, papers like The Guardian and The New York Times had only been listening to their own technology correspondents – instead of treating them as back-room bores. The public would have been educated about the all-pervasive ‘surveillance business model’ keeping track of everything we do on the internet, all the better to manipulate us for profit.

We complained earlier this month about the failure of the journals of record for the Snowden fount of classified information to acknowledge that it was corporate spying – as by internet giants of the likes of Google and Microsoft and most newspapers – that led to copycat government spying in the UK and US. The lead story in the business section of last Thursday’s New York Times by Nick Wingfield and Nick Bilton on the paper’s technology reporting team was titled, ‘Microsoft Software Leak Inquiry Raises Privacy Issues’. Its opening paragraphs said:

Technology companies have spent months denying they know anything about broad government spying on people who use their Internet services.

But a legal case filed this week against a former Microsoft employee shows the power these companies themselves have to snoop on their customers whenever they want to.

That is still a long way short of shouting about the government’s adoption of people-tracking tools routinely used by businesses, but it reveals Microsoft’s and other technology companies’ protests against NSA monitoring as resoundingly hollow.

Shortly before that, on 17 March, came a virtual admission of reader surveillance by Emily Bell, one of twelve non-executive directors of Scott Trust Limited, which owns The Guardian, and a former director of digital content for that newspaper who is now a senior academic in New York. We suggest reading past her obligatory parenthetical softening of what she had to say last Tuesday:

Using NSA-style techniques (although naturally much more benignly), the Guardian or any other publisher can track every movement you make on an online piece, where you come from, where you go to, whether you are actively reading or whether you have tuned out.

We do not think it mad to insist that it is time for both our corporate and government spies to admit that they are all equally guilty and proceed to the public debate about solutions — just as Ian Hislop said.

LOOKALIKE ( with thanks to Private Eye for vision-sharpening )


A Pulitzer prize for typing up the Snowden leaks? We suggest the Laziest Journalism Ever award

We saw no fine journalistic instincts unfurled; no dogged sniffing, and above all, no sweaty investigative reporting: only papers playing mouthpiece to boost circulation  - photograph: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

We saw no fine journalistic instincts unfurled; no dogged sniffing, and above all, no arduous investigative reporting: only papers trying to boost circulation
– photograph: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

Preposterous. That is what Politico evidently thinks of bestowing a Pulitzer journalism prize next month on one of the hyperbolic leak-and-spin collaborations between Edward Snowden and journalists who have made the über-leaker famous enough for search engines to suggest that we really want him when we ask them about Snowdon – the Welsh mountain.

We agree especially with the last reason Politico gives for doubting the rightness of elevating the Snowden-and-NSA story above — for instance — the kind of wrenching immersive reporting on the mentally retarded that won the fearless, compassionate Katherine Boo her Pulitzer public service medal in 2000. In ‘Edward Snowden looms over Pulitzer prizes’ its media reporter Dylan Byers argues:

Finally, there is the issue of effort. Though [two reporters who disseminated Snowden’s leaks] have dismissed the suggestion that Snowden’s trove of NSA files simply fell into their laps, the Pulitzer Board could feel conflicted about giving an award to the recipients of stolen documents when other applicants may have dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting on, say, a local government issue. In several instances throughout its history, the Board has honored reporting based to a significant degree on the amount of effort and diligence shown by the reporters.

[… quoting a USA Today editor:] “Not to minimize the role of the reporters — it’s not just stenography. You have to sift through the information, present it clearly, explain why it matters, put it in context, etc. The real challenge would be if you had entries where reporters had to go to extraordinary lengths to pry out information of vital interest to the public, as opposed to having it turned over to them. If you had examples of great magnitude, that would make it complicated. That said, this was clearly the story of last year.”

“There’s a real question about whether this is reporting,” [a veteran Washington Post reporter] said. “It might be a public service award, but it’s not a great reporting coup when a source comes to you and hands you this stuff.”

Post-Gutenberg would also like to remind readers about an … ahem … significant detail – that the Guardian’s and New York Times’s endless column-inches on government surveillance have the story back-to-front, by failing to acknowledge that the NSA watchers in the U.S. and their GCHQ equivalents in the U.K. are only doing what privacy-scoffers at the commercial technology giants and most newspapers running on the ‘surveillance business model’ have done for far longer. (See ‘Spooky yarn-spinning: just how did the Guardian and New York Times get the surveillance story back-to-front?‘ … and … ‘When will the #TeamSnowden newspapers admit to using the same spying tools as the spooks at the NSA and GCHQ?)

Bill Gates, we are pleased to note, has made the same point as we have about Snowden’s lack of judgment and selectivity in what he chose to make public, to snatch his place in history:

‘…[I]f he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of “OK, I’m really trying to improve things.” You won’t find much admiration from me.’

He said that in an interview with Rolling Stone on 13 March – and we recorded the identical objection in a post on this blog last November, with the help of the Mannekin Pis.

When will the #TeamSnowden newspapers admit to using the same spying tools as the spooks at the NSA and GCHQ?

Power – wielded by government spooks or corporate surveillance specialists focused on us -- can be addictive - ‘Willy Bonkers,’ Marzia Faggin, 2011

Power – wielded by technology giants, NSA spooks or media surveillance specialists with sights trained on us — can be addictive
– ‘Willy Bonkers,’ Marzia Faggin, 2013

John Naughton http://memex.naughtons.org/

John Naughton

We offer, in this entry, links that will let readers draw their own conclusions about our belief that the Guardian and New York Times should soon supply full disclosures of their own use of Hadoop, the ‘spying tool’ that the UK and US secret services have been using in so-called ‘mass surveillance’. They must do no less if they wish to hang on to their reputations as great newspapers.

To put the Snowden leaks in proper context, the reporting and editorialising on them should have been shaped by John Naughton – who is not only the technology columnist for the Guardian’s sister-newspaper, The Observer, but an electrical engineer, vice-president of a Cambridge college, and emeritus professor for ‘the public understanding of technology’ at Britain’s Open University. As long ago as last July, he had a small blue fit about media coverage of the Snowden saga – in a column well worth reading, beyond these extracts:

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story. The story is what he has revealed about the hidden wiring of our networked world. […] This insight seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media […] The obvious explanations are: incorrigible ignorance; the imperative to personalise stories; or gullibility in swallowing US government spin, which brands Snowden as a spy rather than a whistleblower. […] No US-based internet company can be trusted to protect our privacy or data. The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system.

We discovered his six month-old protest in a happy accident in which it came up with search terms we used in searching for our last post-Gutenberg entry. Reader, our eyes popped. How, we wondered, had The Guardian not merely buried what Naughton had to say – full fathom five — but marched on with personalising and puffing up the story to such a degree that …

• the technology giants got left out entirely as inventors, enablers and co-operators in surveillance

• newspapers using the identical surveillance techniques conveniently hid this fact behind the Snowden uproar they manufactured

How did The Guardian justify to its conscience avoiding any mention in editorials or reports on Snowden/NSA/GCHQ that in 2011, it actually gave Hadoop, the most powerful surveillance tool – the subject of last week’s post here – a coveted techie award? Curious readers should look up this record in that newspaper’s archive of technology coverage:

Apache Hadoop takes top prize at Media Guardian Innovation Awards

How was conferring that honour explained by the Guardian reporter, Marie Winckler? She quoted one of the software architects responsible for Hadoop: ‘Apache Hadoop pushes data management forward by empowering enterprises to make sense of their increasingly large and diverse collections of data.’ One of the first commenters on this asked sardonically, ‘So what does it do, translated from corporate-speak?’

Ah! He could have found the answer in a 2009 story in the technology section of The New York Times – also a heavy user of Hadoop, and The Guardian’s publishing partner and co-generator of the Snowden hullabaloo. These sections of the piece explained why newspapers find Hadoop so handy for studying their readers, when we click on their sites:

The core concepts behind the software were nurtured at Google.


[Hadoop] opened the possibility of asking a question about Google’s data — like what did all the people search for before they searched for BMW — and it began ascertaining more and more about the relationships between groups of Web sites, pictures and documents.

Some readers will be scratching their heads, by this point – thinking, but isn’t uncovering patterns and interconnections like these in our web searches and private behaviour  on the net the reason why Edward Snowden sentenced UK and US government spooks to the naughty corner? Yes indeed. This 2009 article in the computer magazine Infoworld answers a few more questions:

What’s the New York Times doing with Hadoop?’: A Times software engineer talks about how Hadoop is driving business innovation at the newspaper and Web site

Just innovating for commerce, then, nothing so disgusting as spying … Well, not exactly. Here is what the incredulous reader must study next – even if the verbing of the noun ‘surveillance’ brings on an attack of hives :

How The Guardian is Quietly and Repeatedly Spying on You

It was almost shocking when I first installed a browser add-on called Ghostery and began to click on various articles at The Guardian. With each click, I discovered that this news publication, which has been primarily tasked with reporting on Edward Snowden and top secret surveillance operations conducted by the National Security Agency, has been surveilling its own readers.

[T]hese publications, while taking on the pious, sanctimonious role of privacy purists, are using multiple third party resources to collect detailed information about nearly every visitor who reads one of the various posts about how the use of digital technology should be a completely private affair. … [ … continues …]