Attack of the Blogs Informed Citizens

In our first discussion of Forbe’s folly (Attack of the Blogs), I was reserved in my criticism. Yes, I mocked Daniel Lyon, the column’s author, titling my post "Attack of the Blogs Dumb Journalists." Regular readers know that I do not suffer fools gladly.

How Ironic that only a few days after Forbes crapped out that cover issue, events would remind us all too well how significant the blogging public has become: not only to the digerati, but to the idea of Democracy and self-rule, and as a counter-balance the powerful monied corporate interests who are the dominant force in America.

One couldn’t have ever asked for a better example of why blogs provide so crucial a counter-weight than Monday’s DRM debacle.

On the same day, 2 posts revealed a rather nefarious scheme by Sony: Mark Russinovich posted a detailed takedown of how Sony’s DRM installed malware into Windows-based PCs (Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far). Simultaneous to that, my own humble effort was to look at how absurd, inconvenient and pointless Sony’s DRM was on a CD I wanted to purchase.

The response from the web was fairly swift. Both posts got picked up by many blogs:  boing boing, kottke, Atrios, Daily KOS, Good Morning Silicon Valley, ars technica, msnbc, Interesting People, ZD-net, engadget, slyck, digg, businesspundit, infectious greed, nerdlaw, etc. It even became the fourth most popular post tagged by This blog received over a 100 comments and a dozen trackbacks — most of which were extremely intelligent, lucid and useful information. 

So, we have a case where private citizens identify fairly egregious corporate behavior — towards both consumers as well as another corporate actor. The press was unaware of the issue. Only after the blogosphere erupted did the mainstream media catch on.

And the best advice one ignorant journo could muster on the subject was to
advise corporate interests to harass, file nuisance lawsuits,
dissemble, and deny.

Understand: I am in favor of corporations. I think that very often,
they can and do make our lives collectively better. However, when they exercise
poor judgement, when they lie, when they behave badly, I believe in
calling them out on it. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said "Sunshine is the
best disinfectant," and that’s more true than ever today. Think of the blogosphere as millions of intelligent agents, all of whom are busy redirecting sunshine to where its needed most.

In George Orwell’s 1984, society is a vision of totalitarian repression, with Big Brother everywhere. But in Orwell’s nightmare, there is no informed, aggressive citizenry, no Little Brothers.

No blogosphere.

Over the past 10 years, corporate owned media has seen their budgets slashed. Where there were once many reporters, there are now few. Where there was aggressive investigation, there are now press releases. Where there were once muckrakers, there are now embeds.

Too often, News Reporting has become this timid, celebrity-obsessed "infotainment."  Ask yourself:  How did the media do in their reporting leading up to the Iraq War? There were very few stand outs. Knight-Ridder, the WSJ, and the Christian Science Monitor. Most everyone else was AWOL.

Nature hates a vaccuum. And so, that void was filled.

The most intelligent and hip members of the 4th Estate have even joined the process. Collectively, citizen journalists can do things that individual members of the media cannot. The blogosphere is simply another 100 million eyes and ears — watching, listening, speaking, exchanging information and ideas.

If it were up to Forbes, none of this would be occuring.

Capitalist tools, indeed.


UPDATE November 3, 2005 1:39pm

An article in today’s NYT notes that Big Media a Tough Sell to Jittery Investors; The piece focuses on  the technological competition from Yahoo and Google.

I would draw a parallel to Radio — if your consumers are happy with your product, then any technology changes shouldn’t be anything to fear, and might even present an opportunity.

If however, you are providing a lesser service for the same price,  don’t  be surprised when your readership feels you have taken them for granted and bolts to mnore interesting alternatives.

Maybe its not the tech why they are leaving; I suspect "Big Media" has already fallen into its the "Hamburger Helper" strategy that doomed radio . . .


UPDATE II November 5, 2005 7:58am

There’s an absolutely terrific read by former Forbes ASAP editor MICHAEL S. MALONE:

Forbes Fumbles the Blogosphere



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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. royce commented on Nov 3

    How did a company trying to make money by leveraging its property rights become “egregious corporate behavior”?

    Fraud, illegal pollution, keeping workers in unsafe conditions- that’s egregious behavior. Not letting you copy a CD? It may be a bad business decision, but it isn’t immoral.

  2. D. commented on Nov 3

    Somebody once posted a question asking what was wrong with letting the economy go through a good recession reasoning that they have a cleansing effect.

    I think the media industry is in deep need of a consumer recession.

    Most media businesses depend on advertising. The top 50 advertisers have been increasing their budgets like crazy for the last decade. You can’t walk on a tile without stepping on some companies logo anymore.

  3. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 3


    I didn’t say immoral — I wrote egregious.

    The end goal of DRM is to prvent you from using your property as you would — everything from how you use your computer to books, films music, etc. There ar elements of asking corporate permission versus the freedom to tinker.

    This isnt merely “copying a CD” as you blithely noted. It is the control of your own assets, and your technology .

  4. cm commented on Nov 3

    royce: The fraud is that a product that purports to be a media carrier secretly installs a covert facility that goes to good length cloaking its existence on your computer, modifying (and arguably, impairing) its operation.

  5. ann commented on Nov 3


    In my recollection Sony once benefited from a ruling in which it was decided consumers had the right to make backups. So what measures do Sony and others have in place to protect “material” not physical objects that cusomers legally own.

    With DVD rot and other problems it’s not (to me) clear (given good lawyers) that Sony’s position is legal without reasonable recourse.

    But then again the claim was never that what Sony did was illegal. I commented on this in the previous thread and I will repeat it.

    Consumer complaints of legitimate hassles are dismissed as calls for illegal piracy. Unlike the Rove slime machine this is almost certain to fail. Al you do is alienate people who often sincerely strive to follow the law.

    Years ago I used to argue with the Warez people. Now I don’t give a darn. I know in time they will build more complete and easier to use systems than the media companies and if grandma finds it nicer to use so much the better.

    I don’t care. This is the third or fourth time Barry has been accused of theft in this and other threads. Your kind has no morality.

    I am personally convinced that the best musicians and media people will migrate to environments that distribute material in a sensible way, that they will get decent living if they are successful through sale of secondary material, special albums, concerts, reasonable micro payment scemes and all the rest. That their cut from saling music will be 40 or 50% of gross etc. The “long tail” will be better represented and the media publicity machine will lose influence.

    I also strongly suspect that the existing media powes will do everything in their power to block independant production. They will try to use protection of *their* material to block distribution of the “peoples.”

    Much of the Republican “ownership society” is in support of this because their vision is feudal. But they are feckless and I doubt if the record companies can win.

    Instead we will have a little niche of consumers who say “I buy my Barry Manilow songs at $68 dollars a piece and 50 cents for each usafe because it’s the RIGHT thing to do!”

    This market niche is limited, but I expect the 6 guys and one buxom secretary running it will make millions a piece.

  6. fatbear commented on Nov 3

    royce – not only what Barry & cm say – seems the code is a very bad thingie, like supplying a roadmap to taking over Wintel machines for nefarious purposes – nothing that we should be concerned about, I guess

  7. donna commented on Nov 3

    Heck, if they make it too hard to get music, people might even go back to making their own, like they used to do!

    Royce, the issue is, if I buy something, it is MINE, to do with what I want. They have NO right to limit how I use it, or even if I want to put that CD in the microwave (whcih I do with really bad CDs I don’t like – the kids used to pick up AOL CDs and do it just for fun) They’re selling something that costs pennies to make for 13 or 14 dollars. They’ve been paid. Once it’s mine, it’s mine, and to heck with this limited copying monkey business. It’s bullshit, plain and simple.

  8. Regis commented on Nov 3

    I’ll add my thoughts on the media. I readily agree with the timid reporting and info-tainment content on today’s news, especially cable and local television.

    The media machine is really a self-serving entity, that only looks out for their own interests. Advertising dollars, sound-bites and subjective spins is what the news is all about these days.

    I view this as a deliberate dumbing down of the people. Fortunately, the blogs are keeping it all honest. You can’t deny the grassroots power of the blogs. They are outside of the insidious influence of the Soro’s and Hearst empires.

    Watching the local news goes something like this; car chase, local parade, weather, freeway traffic and then entertainment (oh, what will the stars be wearing tonight at the emmy’s!). Gee, what did the City Council discuss and vote on yesterday? The County Board of Supervisors? State Senate? Not a clue.

    We’ve become super-saturated in all of the things that Caesar of Rome would be proud of. Bread and Circuses abound! But now it’s Big Macs and Video Games. Keep em’ dumb, keep em’ uninformed, while we work behind the scenes to influence things our way.

    This whole issue has far deeper undercurrents than what’s obvious on the surface.

  9. fatbear commented on Nov 3

    royce –

    A little more info – a very geekful post about Sony’s utilization of malware techniques from a guy who seems (to a non-geek) to have really done his homework – if Napster or any of the PTP folk tried this, Sony would be leading the howling wolves to shut them down – it appears to be a fullblown attack on the sanctity of any Wintel machine owned by anybody dumb enough to buy a Sony DRM’d CD.

    btw, it also appears that the software is poorly written…! Make you feel better about Sony?

  10. fatbear commented on Nov 3

    Oops – sorry Barry – didn’t realize it was the same post by Mark R that you had referred to earlier

    won’t do it again….

  11. Bruce commented on Nov 3

    another member of the 4th estate who has chosen to become a blogger instead: Tom Foremski, formerly of the Financial Times, now covering bleeding edge developments in the internet business:

    (I have no financial or other affiliation with this site)

    Bruce :-)

  12. disgruntalled viewer commented on Nov 3

    As long as you are trashing Forbes for their anti-Democratic, anti-free speech, anti-consumer views, let me fire one more broadside: CNBC’s blog.

    Its an insult to suggest that CNBC requires an “outlet.” Pray tell: WTF does General Electric, one the world’s largest and most powerful companies, need with a goddamned blog? I guess the disenfranchchised voice of owner of NBC and CNBC (with co-owner Dow Jones, who is also no slouch in the media world) needs a way to express themselves.

    Puh-leeze. It is just so much condescending bullshit.

  13. Stephen Hirsch commented on Nov 4

    Calling all lawyers! Doesn’t the Sony DRM thing just scream out class action lawsuit? Surreptiously installing malware on thousands of people’s PCs surely deserves to be punished by enormously expensive litigation. Go for it, guys and gals!

  14. Tom Foremski commented on Nov 19

    “I am personally convinced that the best musicians and media people will migrate to environments that distribute material in a sensible way, that they will get decent living if they are successful through sale of secondary material, special albums, concerts, reasonable micro payment scemes and all the rest. ”

    Ann, you are dead right, you use the internet for the distribution and you make your money on the “packaging.”


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