April 29, 2005
What Blogs Are, and Are Not

Whatever you’re doing, drop it and go read Doc Searls’ presentation from the Les Blogs conference that recently wrapped up in gay Paree.

Yes, it’s that important.

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at April 29, 2005

So we redefine ourselves as journalists (with all the responsibilities that will entail) to get around the perceptual filters of the FCC and hope we're left alone?

Or, we could agitate to disband the FCC and the speech-regulation activities of the FEC because if there ever were a justification for them, there isn't now.

If we continue to accept the "public trust" argument for airwaves, then anything which has government regulation and rivalry (such as the placement of fiber-optic cable under municipal sidewalks) is vulnerable to the same "for the children" argument.

Sorry, I think Doc Searls misses the point big time, even though he correctly lays out the point in the beginning: the FCC is not compatible with the First Amendment.

Posted by: Sandy Smith on April 29, 2005 11:08 AM

I think you're the one who missed the point, Sandy :-)

The presentation is not a jeremiad against the FCC. It's about the importance of setting the terms of the debate: of figuring out who defines what this new form of electronic communications is, and how.

In other words, it's about "framing" (to give Lakoff his due).

His point is that broadcasting suffers under onerous and increasingly inane regulation these days precisely because the debate about what broadcasting is got framed in a way that is amenable to such regulation.

Whether or not the same thing will happen to blogs will depend in large part on how we collectively choose to analogize them. Analogies have great power, especially in situations where government is being called to extend itself into unfamiliar territory. Using analogies lets policymakers turn the unfamiliar into the familiar. But if they use the *wrong* analogies -- or, worse, if they use deliberately misleading analogies crafted by those with a stake in a particular outcome -- the result can be bad.

Doc is warning us that there are lots of people out there who would love to have blogs analogized to broadcast -- despite the obvious differences -- because that would let them apply levers of control. (And I would add that these are not, mostly, people in government; they are interest groups outside of government -- media conglomerates, activist religious sects, etc. -- who see government as a tool they can use to get what they want.)

Posted by: Jason Lefkowitz on April 29, 2005 11:53 AM

I realize he's all about "framing" the debate, rather than negating the FCC.

And that's framing the debate incorrectly--or at least in a losing way.

*I* am the one saying "do away with the FCC", not Doc Searles. And that's where I fault him. Analogies can be made and unmade as soon as a decision has been taken and a justification needs to be created (e.g. personal vs. private).

If you frame the debate in terms of journalism, there are lots of other restrictions that come with it. And a new article saying "no, wait, the government paid for the internets, so internets journalists are teh suck and we shud REGUMALATE THEM!" will make the rounds and there goes your lack of regulation.

Counting on the good will of Michael Powell-clones because you talk about it in a way that will make them warm their hearts and stay their hands is a strategy, but then so was winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people by framing the debate in terms of body counts.


Posted by: Sandy on April 29, 2005 3:59 PM

Lots of misconceptions you have.

1) "If you frame the debate in terms of journalism, there are lots of other restrictions that come with it."

Journalism is actually relatively free of restrictions. There is no professional licensing of journalists in this country. Anyone can start a newspaper. Beyond the use of public airwaves and the prevention of libel, journalism is actually fairly unregulated.

What codes there are that govern journalists are mostly self-imposed and self-policed. Nobody goes to jail for writing a story without independent confirmation from three sources.

2) "Counting on the good will of Michael Powell-clones because you talk about it in a way that will make them warm their hearts and stay their hands is a strategy..."

Again, that's not his point. The idea is not to find a way to describe blogging that makes the FCC happy. The idea is to drive a consensus in the public mind that blogging is something that the FCC has no reason to be involved with.

Framing an issue means setting the conventional wisdom. If the conventional wisdom is that blogs are personal printed expression, more art than "content", the FCC would have a much harder time imposing regulation than it would if the CW settles down around a conception of blogs as public pipes through which bits flow.

Framing is what the Republicans did with the estate tax. They didn't start calling it the "death tax" to convince Democratic Members of Congress to suddenly hate it; they called it that to move the public mind to a place where _not_ hating it made you seem a little bit nuts.

3) "*I* am the one saying "do away with the FCC", not Doc Searles. And that's where I fault him. "

Hey, ok. If you want to fight a war to repeal the FCC, knock yourself out. But that's a separate issue from what Doc is talking about.

Doc is saying: we live in a country where certain types of communications are heavily regulated, and others are not. That's reality. So what can we do to get _our_ medium in the right one of those two columns?

That's a much more practical problem than trying to uproot the FCC (and, I would submit, a different one). So it's not really fair to take him to task for fighting his war instead of yours.

Posted by: Jason Lefkowitz on April 29, 2005 4:20 PM

Thanks, Jason. You're nailing it.

If we frame blogging as speech, and as (literally) a form of journalism, it's much safer from regulation than if we frame it as "delivering content" or "building sites."

And Sandy, I'd love to do away with the FCC, too. But that's another fight; and not one we're likely to win, even in the long run.

Posted by: Doc Searls on April 30, 2005 4:53 AM
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