Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Sunday CyberSalon: Blogger/Journalist elite discuss elitism...

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 20, 2006

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon and I was taking a rare trip across to the East Bay to catch a panel on elitism in the media. Normally I try to stay away from such things on a sunny Sunday but my friend Suzanne Hartman, a well respected top PR maven from Seattle was in town, and she was delighted to take part in this gathering of our local blogger/media elite, discussing the elitism of mainstream media and the challenge from blogging.

I have to say that Sylvia Paull, the organiser of the CyberSalon, was very impressive in how she handled what very nearly became an anarchic free for all...:-)

Here is the setting, 5pm at the Hillside Club, open to anybody with $10, and hosting a collection of some of the most influential people in the mediasphere--on and off the podium:

A Cybersalon panel of experts – including NY Times technology reporter and author John Markoff, BlogHer cofounders and bloggers Jory des Jardins and Lisa Stone, blogger/podcaster/digital reporter Steve Gillmor, and freelance trade journalist Joshua Greenbaum -- takes a critical look at the concepts of expertise and elitism in the dynamic Web 2.0 world. Our moderator is Andrew Keen, founder of the AfterTV.com podcast.

But we could have picked randomly from the audience and assembled 20 similar panels from the people in the room.

Dan Farber , senior VP at ZDNet, was in the room so was my buddy Tom Abate from the SF Chron ,and Al Saracevic, senior editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and new blog supremo, launching a new tech blog The Tech Chronicles.

In the front row we have Dave Winer next to Niall Kennedy (no longer at Technorati now his own man at hattrickmedia.com ) and many, many, many more known names. Each one in the audience could have been, and should have been, up on that podium.

And that's what made for a great evening because the audience, after a respectful 15 minutes or so of listening to panel members droning on--grabbed control over the means of communication.

Before I could figure out how it happened Dave Winer has the microphone and is patiently lecturing John Markoff on the new media model, and RSS, and Mr Markoff's role in the mediasphere--and berating him for not writing about RSS and Mr Winer's personal contribution to these important things. Then Sylvia Paull manages to take the microphone into the audience and she does a great job making a conversation happen and making sure a lot of people get a chance to talk.

And the people on the podium seemed disadvantaged in some way. They have to fight their way in to the conversation with the audience, even though they have a microphone right in front of them. And that made things all the more interesting.

Suzanne was really enjoying the scene--and it was all classic stuff. The wrestling over the means of communications was fun to see. And it was a mixed crowd, men and women, young and old, many familiar faces,

It was, as Sylvia said, this was like being at our own "Homebrew Club" for the new next big thing--along with our very own, marvelously eccentric, and brilliant set of characters. This is our club and it cost just $10 to gain entry--it is open to anybody.

There is lots to write about what was said that evening but what struck me as shocking was that the mainstream media--in the form of John Markoff and the moderator, Andrew Keen--were so far behind in their understanding of what is happening in media.

However, that will change soon, I hear Mr Markoff is about to become a blogger for the New York Times. That is a good thing because then he will understand the same language as mostof the audience and panel members.

Steve Gillmor, a long time journalist and blogger, stood out on the panel and provided lucid, succinct commentary and kept to the point. Lisa Stone brought gender into the discussion, as always. Jory des Jardins contributions were always interesting, and Josh Greenbaum also made some good points.

But the moderator and Mr Markoff seemed to have formed some kind of alliance, one that questioned the validity of blogs, asked for concrete examples of blogs having any meaning at all--and said that mainstream media was reliable and trustworthy and checked all the facts. As opposed to the lax standards in the blogosphere...

Steve Gillmor calmly took that argument apart. He made the point that bloggers build their reputations by putting themselves out there every day, inviting abuse, ridicule, and challenge. They are risking their reputations every day. Personal reputation is not something bloggers play fast and lose with; there is nothing lax about being a blogger. I would argue that a large media brand provides a lot of protection if you occasionally mess up--bloggers don't have that same luxury.

Then about 16 of us head of to Dave Winer's neighborhood restaurant for an excellent Thai meal and superb conversation. I get to sit next the man himself: DW. And I get to find out a little more about what the future holds for the inventor of the key media technologies that enable the blogosphere and Internet 2.0...more on that later this week.
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Please also see: Dave Winer on the CyberSalon

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