Acts of citizen media

For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been saying that the ability of everyday people to communicate across the bottom of culture is a disruptor that will completely alter the modernist world. This is because those influences that have always spoken from the top-down are no longer the only ones capable of speaking to everyone. The price of participation in the process is no longer reserved only for the elites. Dan Gillmor was the first to really explore this with his brilliant and prescient book “We, the Media.” In his book, Darknet, J.D. Lasica coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to define the phenomenon of everybody functioning as a media company.

I’ve long used the Middle East as an illustration of this, and while the subject truly angers those who unconditionally support Israel, citizen media in the region is making it harder and harder for Israel to maintain the narrative that it is always the victim. In the news today is a report from a human rights organization that describes the matter perfectly. From its press release:

While the Israeli government has to date escaped serious accountability for repeated human rights violations, “citizen journalism”—in which excessive acts of force are caught on camera—now is making it more difficult for the acts to be obscured or brushed aside, says the report.

“Thanks to the courageous acts of activists, family members and bystanders, Euro-Med has collected video footage and eyewitness testimonies documenting numerous, egregious abuses by Israeli soldiers during the last few weeks, which we believe is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Daniela Dönges. “In our report, we name eight of them, because they are not just numbers. They are human beings with stories that must be told.”

Here’s the video itself. It’s not easy to watch.

The Middle East is a laboratory in which this cultural disruptor can be studied, and yet, very few do. That’s because it shakes us to the core and raises the difficult question of the permanence or reliability of anything.

That may be discomforting, but this is only the beginning.

Deconstructing The Associated Press

apThe trade of journalism is facing trouble on all sides these days, mostly because its source of funding — primarily advertising — is going elsewhere. This squeeze is bringing out the worst in people who we used to believe dedicated themselves to the pursuit of truth. Not so today. It’s simply easier to embrace biased narratives than pursue facts, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East, where truth takes a whole lot of work.

But difficulty is simply an excuse, for if I can spot this stuff from my office in Alabama, it ought to be obvious to those still involved in the trade. With that in mind, I need to deconstruct (that tool of the postmodernist) a story by the Associated Press published yesterday that functions as a press release from the Israeli office of information. Oh, there’s a smattering of an opposing point-of-view, but the overall content, writing, and presentation represent the pro-Israel perspective.

The piece is structured in five chunks, so that’s the way I’ll present it here. My commentary will follow each “chunk.”

No end in sight for latest Israeli-Palestinian violence, raising fears of uprising

JERUSALEM – For nearly a month, Israel has been dealing with a wave of Palestinian unrest that shows no signs of stopping. Beginning with clashes at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, the violence has spread throughout the city, across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Since the Jewish New Year last month, five Israelis have been killed in a shooting, a stoning and a series of stabbings. At least 26 Palestinians been killed by Israeli fire, including 10 identified by Israel as attackers and the rest in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in such confrontations.

The violence comes at a time when prospects for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear nil.

While Israelis are on edge over the random nature of the current wave of attacks, many Palestinians feel hopeless because all paths to statehood and ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation appear blocked.

The long-running diplomatic deadlock coupled with the current violence has raised fears that the region is on the cusp of a major new round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Anyone schooled in the practice of propaganda knows that how the message is framed determines where you can go with it. Here, the first paragraph frames the whole piece by announcing that what’s happening is a “wave of Palestinian unrest.” Those darned Palestinians, right? If they’d just stop it, everything would be fine. Moreover, the writer explains that this began in Jerusalem and expanded outward, even reaching the West Bank and Gaza strip.

This is entirely false. The “unrest” is a response to Israeli terror, last year in Gaza and this year in the West Bank, where a family, including a sleeping baby, were killed in a firebombing by Israeli settlers who operate as an armed militia with impunity in the occupied territories.  Then there are extrajudicial executions by the IDF that have become commonplace, the latest being an 18-year old girl at a West Bank checkpoint.

Let’s also make clear here that this “unrest” involves mostly stone-throwers and an occasional stabbing, whereas the full military might of the government is used daily against Palestinians.


Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was secretly plotting to take over the spot.

The compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Jewish Temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Israel captured the site from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, but it remained under Muslim administration. Under a decades-old arrangement, non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but not pray there.

A growing number of Jewish visitors in recent years, coupled with calls by religious Jewish activists for a greater presence at the site, have stoked Palestinian fears that Israel is planning to change this arrangement.

Palestinians fiercely defend the site as both a religious and national symbol. Growing Palestinian fears that the shrine is in danger triggered unrest across the region.

Israel has repeatedly said it is committed to the status quo and has accused Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders of inciting violence.

Two things. One, the presentation of this as being started by a “rumor” is absurd on its face, although it fits the Israeli narrative that Palestinians are psychotic. There’s nothing new here, because Israel has always “wanted” all of Jerusalem. What did happen this year was that Israeli security forces aggressively stormed the mosque prior to the Jewish New Year in order to make it safer for Jews to visit the site. Firing stun grenades and rubber coated bullets, many Muslims were injured, and the Palestinians responded. Each year it appears to get worse. This year, Arab men under the age of 50 were forbidden from entering the Mosque.

Moreover, this mess didn’t “start” in Jerusalem. It’s been ongoing, and the current atmosphere was created by Israeli actions in the West Bank. One simply cannot understand the situation without accepting this knowledge, for to do otherwise is to utterly embrace the Israeli narrative in the region.


While some Israeli commentators have begun to call the unrest a new intifada, or uprising, it is premature to say so.

The violence has some things in common with the second Palestinian uprising. In 2000, a visit to the hilltop religious site by Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, helped trigger what turned into an uprising.

Some argue that Palestinian anger over living under Israeli military occupation for nearly 50 years, the collapse of peace efforts and the lack of hope for gaining independence has made the region ripe for a new bout of violence.

Still, there are key differences. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence and has maintained security coördination with Israel to prevent the clashes from spinning out of control.

During the previous intifada, organized Palestinian militant groups were behind much of the violence, often with tacit support from their leaders. Most of those groups have been disbanded or their members jailed. The recent stabbings have been carried out by individuals with no known political affiliation acting on their own.

These “lone-wolf” attacks have made it hard for Israel to find a military solution to the unrest, or to predict how long it will continue.

Firstly, the “uprising,” if there is one, is a Palestinian response to the apartheid state within which they live and the escalating violent actions by the IDF in maintaining the status quo, which, again, includes permitting bands of armed Israelis who simply attack (and kill) whoever they like and for whatever reason in the occupied territories. These acts are carried out with absolute impunity.

The “collapse” of peace initiatives is tied to recent statements by the prime minister and defense minister that there will never be a two-state solution in the region. Hopeless? Well, I guess so.

Oh, and let’s leave the Palestinian “leaders” out of this entirely. The idea that any one person or group speaks on behalf of or “for” the oppressed is a straw man used entirely for propaganda purposes. This is entirely a grass roots response to actual Israeli behavior, which can only lead one to the conclusion that Israel does NOT want peace with them.


The stabbings have caused widespread panic in Israel, prompting Jerusalem’s mayor and other politicians to encourage licensed gun owners to carry their weapons.

Israeli leaders say the country’s large number of well-trained military veterans provides an extra layer of security. And after several stabbings, assailants have been quickly shot by either police or armed civilians. But critics say such talk only increases tensions, raising the risk that over-eager gun owners or troops will shoot to kill, even when unnecessary.

In one case caught on video, a young Palestinian man wanted in a stabbing was gunned down by a police officer as an angry crowd screamed for him to be shot. In the video, it is not clear whether the youth was armed, and the police car was far away from him, raising the question of whether the youth could have been subdued without being killed.

The “widespread panic” is a response to how this is portrayed in the Israeli media, especially television, because isolated incidents in various places that are then strung together to support a narrative can be and usually are terribly misleading.

The last paragraph points to just one of the many incidents that Palestinians are using to plead the case of Israeli aggression. The boy (not a man) was running TOWARDS police and away from the Israeli mob. Only in Israel — and against Palestinians — is it acceptable to shoot first, ask questions later, and not be held accountable for it. “Wanted in a stabbing” is not justification for extrajudicial execution. Or is it?

Finally, the headline of this section is right out of the Hasbara playbook. Read it. “How has Israel responded?” Again, the narrative being presented is that innocent Israel is, once again, being forced to defend itself against those who would do it harm. If anything, this is a Palestinian response, but that is completely disregarded in a blatant attempt to present the Israeli narrative as “news.”


Both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could play key roles in ending the unrest, though both have been limited by external pressure.

Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from the public, and hard-liners in his coalition, to take even tougher action. In addition to his tough rhetoric, the Israeli leader has already beefed up the level of forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and loosened the rules on when troops can open fire at protesters.

Yet a severe crackdown risks triggering even more violence and international condemnation. For this reason, he has also taken steps to ease tensions, such as banning lawmakers from visiting the Jerusalem holy site.

Abbas is also interested in restoring quiet. But after years of stalled statehood negotiations — paralysis he blames on Netanyahu’s hard-line approach — he is deeply unpopular. Containing the violence and openly continuing the security coöperation with Israel risks promoting the image that he is weak and ineffective.

In any case, it remains unclear how much control either man has when the violence is emanating from the ground up, carried out by angry teenagers who have little hope for the future.

By presenting this as “Abbas versus Netanyahu,” the Associated Press takes us down a well-worn path that leads to nowhere. Netanyahu could conceivably stop this, but why should he? He was just re-elected by, among other things, scaring voters with last-minute panicky statements that “the Arabs” were voting in droves. He believes he operates with the complete support of Israeli citizens, and there’s nothing to indicate otherwise. Abbas has no power among Palestinians and certainly none with Israel.

Netanyahu is exploiting the response of the “occupied” population to Israeli violence by shoving more violence down their throats in order to maintain control. Sadly, the press — led by articles like this from The Associated Press, and especially the work of the New York Times — is assisting him in getting away with it.

If you believe, as some do, that conqueror Israel has the right to write its own history, then I hope you enjoy your bath in the tarpits. In a networked world, one-sided views of history can’t stand up to scrutiny, because horizontal communications allow us access to the very ground floor that is rising up in the occupied territories.

This will not end well for either “side” unless and until the world intervenes.

I’m not holding my breath.

The Handwriting on the Wall is Now Shouting

A few headlines and items in the news point to the continuing decline of legacy media, now especially television, and yet nobody is reading the tea leaves properly in terms of what to do. This will only hasten the inevitable end.

First up, Ad Age asks Where Did Everybody Go? TV Première Week Ratings Sag As Young Viewers Vamoose. This doesn’t really require comment except to say I told you so. Yeah, I’m going to be pissy here.

Next, the New York Times reports Fall TV Season Opens Onto a Shifting Ad Landscape.

The current television landscape is a challenging one for advertisers. Ratings are down but the amount of programming is sharply up, along with the number of streaming options available, many of which allow viewers to skip commercials altogether.

Now, as advertisers consider the best ways to spend their money, the excitement that once greeted the beginning of the fall television season has given way to anxiety. Industry analysts and advertising executives said the upfront market — the annual ad sales period that begins in May with lavish presentations by the networks — was unambiguously weak this year.

Then a remarkable (for its lack of focus and leadership) Wall St. Journal interview with the head of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, on ad blocking, viewability, and click fraud, none of which he deems a really serious problem for digital advertising.

And, finally, the first of a two-part series by industry watchdog promotional group, TVNewsCheck on digital, Digital Turning ‘Broadcast’ Sales Upside Down.

The digital advertising revolution sweeping through the media world has reached local TV, upending the lives of broadcast salespeople, requiring them to do more and learn more, while sometimes earning less.

In markets of every size, stations and station groups are creating and offering a host of new digital products to prospective and long-time clients to keep pace with the invasion of digital and other media on their turf.

The broadcasters are re-emphasizing training, creating new digital-only positions, hiring digital specialists and even establishing whole new units to sell digital products and consulting services that often have little or nothing to do with selling traditional TV time.

Sorry, one more: TVNewsCheck also reports: FCC’s Lake: Time For Exclusivity Rules To Go.

The comments on some of these articles suggest that at least some people within the industry understand what’s going on. The problem is the industry itself can’t and won’t talk about the elephant in the room — culture is advancing horizontally every day in what is now clearly a revolution against the established way of doing things. Unless we accept this, we will continue to flop around like fish on the dock gasping for oxygen when none is there. Death will come sooner than most think, and I will not be happy when it occurs, because it all could have been prevented.

Marketing in the traditional sense is done. Put a fork in it. It truly is the fish out of water, for the rules of marketing all apply to a mass, and that is quickly going the way of downtown shopping. And here’s the important thing: the people formerly known as the audience are REJOICING! This is what media and advertising people simply won’t accept, because it means the end of their money trees. Instead, they’re pleading with Washington for relief. Mr. Rothenberg’s comments to the Wall St. Journal are oozing with denial, including his assurance that the “sky hasn’t fallen.”

There is a real issue. I’m not worried because the marketing and media value chain has shown remarkable resilience. There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services and vice versa. You need to have that communication. I’m really not worried about whether advertising will be able to find its way through digital channels. I am concerned — very, very concerned — that costs of ads will go up and up and up from this unethical obstruction.

“There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services?” This is delusional, and that’s being kind. As Dave Winer wrote last week, “Advertising is unwanted.” It’s especially unwanted when it’s friggin’ everywhere as if it has some special right to be! One-third of prime time is commercials! One. Third. Why do these people think that viewers are ignoring or skipping them? Why do these people think the same users are blocking them online? Mr. Rothenberg (and others) would be well advised to read what Dave his written here and what The Cluetrain Manifesto published 15 years ago.

Times are changing, folks, but that’s a dead horse I’ve been beating for far too long.

Headlines like the above are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. The industry rejected me and my message, and you’d think I’d find a little joy in watching my prophecies come true. I don’t.

I’m very angry, and I’m very sad.

The lesson of Bill Simmons and ESPN

bs_report_300The always astute James Andrew Miller, writing for Vanity Fair, makes an important observation for all media in his “Inside the Shocking, Abrupt Divorce of Bill Simmons and ESPN.”

In the end, one could say with minimal originality, but considerable accuracy, that Bill Simmons simply flew too close to the sun. He miscalculated how much value ESPN put on him and on his unique abilities and talents. He might also have forgotten a cardinal company rule that remains sacred whether it’s ESPN’s Old Guard talking or its new one: Nobody, but nobody, can be bigger than those four initials.

On the other hand, it could be said that Bristol forgot a kind of cardinal rule itself: In an era where fans can get not just scores but highlights, and a ton more, on their smart phones, distinctive and original content is the way to engage and hold onto an audience plopped in front of big 99-inch screens. That content often comes with a big price tag—and with a requirement that the people with unique abilities and talent who create it be treated like the stars you’ve paid for.

In a world of mass media, the single brand of the company rides atop every other marketing concern. This is a core Madison Avenue concept and the truth behind Miller’s statement that “nobody can be bigger than those four initials (ESPN).” In the next paragraph, however, he describes the truth of Jay Rosen’s The Great Horizontal, which is the newer and greater reality of today and, especially, tomorrow.

So allow me to restate what I believe is obvious. Media is increasingly about personal brands, because those are what’s permitted in the revolutionary conversation taking place among the people formerly known as the audience (another Rosen witticism). Even where brands are able to “act” like people, they are not, and this is the harsh reality of doing commerce in the age of the consumer. Harvard’s brilliant Umair Haque noted long ago that companies should be spending money on products instead of marketing, and his justification was this very thing.

This is why I encourage students and people already in the media industries to expend the energy necessary to create and maintain their personal brands. In the end, it’s the only thing that really matters in a networked world, where exchanges of knowledge and information occur at the personal level. The age of slick marketing is drawing to a close. You won’t be able to buy your way into anything downstream, because the process for doing such is slowly disintegrating. In 15 years of trying, Madison Avenue has returned to an old stand-by — one that empowered consumers have already dismissed — the pop-up ad. It’s truly amazing that, just like The Odd Couple, this tired old irritant is back with a vengeance. How true is the old saw that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Commerce in the Great Horizontal will require great products and services and people willing and able to pass them around. There’s already the idea that “influencers” at the personal level are what product manufacturers need to buy, but that’s merely wishful thinking from the hammer known as Madison Avenue. I don’t have a map with the route from here to there charted, but the laws of attraction will be more useful than the laws of promotion.

Enough is enough, saith the people

horizontalHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World:

Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

In discussing what’s happening to traditional media — including at the local level — we need to understand how the culture around us is influencing its disruption. It is culture, not technology, that is fueling institutional disruption in the 21st Century, and it’s going to continue for a very long time. The bottom of culture is rising up to challenge the underpinnings of the ruling class, led by a simple tool of the postmodernist, deconstruction.

UPDATE: Independent Contractors for Media

I’ve been writing about the inevitability of media companies moving to independent contractors for over a decade, and the signs continue to point in that direction. As revenues slow, cost-cutting becomes the only way to maintain margins, and the one-to-many need to wrap employees into one super brand will become less important in the profit-driven minds of managers. Besides, the Net — which is where everything’s going — is more receptive to personal brands than those of industry. So-called “social” media is where you’ll find the people formerly known as the audience, and big brands don’t belong there.

INSEAD’s Knowledge blog uses the Dutch model to make the statement: The Future for Labour Is Self-Employment, validating the ideas expressed in an essay that I published five years ago.

nonemployerIn 2005, we crossed a milestone in this country when the number of people self-employed went over 20 million. Data from the Small Business Administration put that figure over 21 million in the latest year for which the information was reported, 2008. By now, we expect that number is approaching 23 million, as more and more people — especially older people — set up eBay stores or find other ways to support themselves and their families online. These people are well-educated in the ways of the Web and don’t spend their marketing money in traditional ways. This figure bears watching, for while they live and work in our communities and neighborhoods, the money they earn comes from everywhere. They are a part of a new subset of our economy, and…it’s actually growing.

The economy is better than it was in 2008, and much of that has been due to the continued rise of self-employment. A Business Week article in 2011 put the number at 40 million and offered the advice that “To boost the economy, help the self-employed.” As an optimist, I believe this is an issue that Congress will have to address sooner than later. The article notes “By 2019, the self-employed will account for 40 percent of all American workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” How can such a staggering number not include reporters, photographers and other practitioners of “the news” downstream?

Another Bureau of Labor Statistics article  published last year offers the below graph. Note that writers and photographers are already two careers with high self-employment rates.

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