Thursday, January 25, 2007

David/s vs. Goliath?

The face of media is changing. In January 14th's post, I talked about how bloggers are seeking validation as serious journalists.

My youngest brother is a columnist for one of the 25 largest papers in the United States (btw, in case you're wondering, the top three are USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times). Because of this, he and I often discuss journalism and journalists.

The industry has many rules under which it operates. A few of the hard and fast ones are: (1) Always get confirmation of a story (which usually means at least two sources); (2) Report both sides of a story; (3) Reporters report; only columnists or editorial editors are permitted to offer opinions.

Most bloggers have not yet embraced any limits on their activities. In fact, they seem to delight in pushing the envelope. In my January 14th post, I quoted the Washington Post's interview with Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school: "'The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It's wild, it's crazy and everybody's got a gun . . . There are no rules yet.'"

An example of what I'm talking is occurring in San Francisco. KSFO-AM is a conservative talk radio station in that city. It is an affiliate of ABC Radio, which in turn is a division of the Walt Disney Company.

You can imagine what it's like to be a conservative voice in the middle of a liberal city in the middle of a very blue state. According to Wikipedia: the KSFO-AM "early morning schedule since 1997 has included a trio of humorous, hardline, and vitriolic conservatives, Lee Rodgers, Melanie Morgan and Officer Vic." Like many radio personalities, they go for the exaggerated comment, the sound bite that will attract attention.

One blogger took offense. More than that, he decided to take action. In 2005, a blogger who goes by the online name Spocko began recording the show and posting portions of that audio on his website. He encouraged readers to contact the station's advertisers to complain about the content being offered by KSFO.

Among the examples: On October 25, 2006, Lee Rodgers said, "Indonesia is really just another enemy Muslim nation…You keep screwing around with stuff like this, we're going to kill a bunch of you. Millions of you." (Wikipedia) posted an excerpt of Spocko's letter to AT&T:

Thanks to radio hosts from KSFO your brand is being associated with torturing and killing people.

Would your marketing people be happy to hear your commercial ran after Lee Rogers said this about a black man in Lincoln, Nebraska?

“Now you start with the Sear’s Diehard the battery cables connected to his testi*les and you entertain him with that for awhile and then you blow his bleeping head off. ” (Audio link)

You should know the person calling for the execution and torture of the black man in that clip READS THE AT&T commercials on the air. Right now on KSFO Lee Rogers is THE VOICE of AT&T to the SF Bay area. (Audio Link)

It should come as no surprise that AT&T pulled out as an advertiser of KSFO.

Other bloggers and blog readers picked up on Spocko's campaign and began to do the same thing. More advertisers, including Bank of America, Netflix, Visa and MasterCard, also dropped their spots on KSFO. Naturally, this caught the attention of KSFO's owner, ABC Radio.

According to Wikipedia, "On December 22, 2006, Spocko received a 'cease-and-desist' letter from ABC lawyers, insisting that he remove [the] audio clips of KSFO radio hosts [and] claiming that he had violated copyright law. Spocko refused, claiming he was within the legal definitions of the fair use doctrine. On January 2, 2007 his Internet service provider, 1&1 Internet, took down his website."

The blogosphere rallied around Spocko, who quickly found another Internet provider and resumed posting here. According to USA Today, "more than 500 blogs posted the audio clips and asked viewers to forward them to advertisers" in what was described as a "blogswarm."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit advocate of Internet free speech, offered Spocko free representation. In response to ABC Radio's complaints that Spocko was violating its radio hosts' First Amendment right to free speech, Matt Zimmerman spoke for EFF in a January 12 post on their website:

As ABC's lawyers know, the brief audio clips posted on Spocko’s blog are classic examples of protected fair use, the right to use copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary, parody, education, or artistic expression . . . While such radio personalities certainly have a right to air their views, the First Amendment says nothing about a right to advertiser-subsidized speech. Even if advertisers choose to pull their ads because Spocko has a more convincing argument -- even if advertiser revenue dries up completely and shows are cancelled -- it doesn't necessarily follow that anyone's free speech rights have being violated.

The Internet has provided a new voice to millions of ordinary citizens, giving them a chance to fight back against the growing centralization of media. Increasingly today, bloggers act as watchdogs, voicing alternate opinions to the ones expressed in traditional media. I will confess a slight uneasiness over the lack of any rules governing the blogosphere, but I expect this will shake out over time.

Oh, one more thing. Disney has announced the sale of 22 radio stations (including KSFO) to Citadel Broadcasting. The sale is expected to close by the end of this year.


spocko said...

Hi Maya: First, Congrats on your novel!
Second. One trouble with even sources like Wikipedia is that they don't always get the story exactly right. I in fact COMPLIED with the ABC/Disney request via 1&1 to remove the KSFO audio clips. And I did it with in 6 hours. I have the records to prove it. But they STILL SHUT ME DOWN. So my speech was silenced. I had to find someone who understood the issues and the bogus copyright infringement claim to stand up for me in the face of ABC/Disney and EFF and the web host
saw this was a bogus claim and helped me out.
So what this means is not only DID I comply with the originial request (even though I knew it was bogus) they still used their power to shut up my speech.
Keep that in mind no matter what your political views are.

And as for sourcing. I provided the journalists and writers/bloggers with names and information so that they could independently verify the story.
Something that many on talk radio have no need or desire to do so.

Nice post btw, best to your brother.

Maya Reynolds said...

Spocko: Thanks so much for your clarifying comment. I greatly appreciate your willingness to share more details of the story. You might want to edit that Wikipedia entry--I've edited more than one incorrect entry over the years.

It sounds as though ABC Radio was counting on their size and name to intimidate you and your ISP into submission. Hence the "David vs. Goliath" theme of my post.

Best wishes to you and yours.