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AUSTIN CHRONICLE RESPONDS

Here is the Austin Chronicle's response to my complaint about their "blog justice" article:

Dear Chuck Olsen,

In terms of quoting from a blog thread, as long as it is comentary I think there are no great legal or ethical considerations. A blog is posted for public consumption, it is not a private or privileged communication, so quoting from it probably violates neither law or ethics. Essentially it is like offering a short quote from any published material.

Do you agree? I do not, entirely. This was not an essay I published, it was a heated conversation.

We will post the link to the blog as you requested for those who want to read more for themselves.

This is very good news. It's not linked yet, although I still have to reply to the email.

Having skimmed the thread, I think much of the discussion a little over the top, the accusation of racism coming before any questioning as to why and how certain conclusions were arrived at, the discussion over the meaning of robbery (yes, this was legally not a robbery but theft) etc. That said, I think your claim that the writer misrepresented your position is extremely over-stated. You made it clear that your hesitation over this group was not because they were strangers, unfamiliar or looked like they didn't fit in but because of their race. In the blog thread, when you further elaborated, you made it very clear that the issue to you is race, that there are, as far as you know, very few African-American bloggers and so what alerted you most was not familiarity, attitude, a "sixth sense," or experience but race. Again, I think the whole blog-thread discussion is overblown and exaggerated but I think the quotes fairly represent your position as you stated it.

I agree that the discussion was over the top. The charge of racism was brought up, and that became the main topic. However, my comments did not focus exclusively on race:

CHUCK: "So they set off an alarm in my head - I was wary of them. I'm *always* wary of party crashers, of any color. I don't generally let guys off the street into my house."

An anonymous poster took offense at my post:
"I don't see how race has to be a factor, Chuck Olsen. People of all races steal. People of all races blog. "

That's why, when I further elaborated, I had to respond to this false notion that we live in a perfect colorblind world. Although here again, I did not focus exclusively on race:

CHUCK: "How would *you* react? We all have race, sex, and class prejudices to some extent. Let's be honest about that.

(I think the short answer is - whatever they look like, unless they were friends of somebody there, my inclination would be to ask them to leave. [...])"

As someone who also regularly publishes my opinion I enjoy the opportunity to express myself without ever lossing awareness that my words may come back at me in ways I hadn't considered.

Louis Black
Editor, Austin Chronicle

OK, but you're the editor of a newspaper! When you publish your opinion as a writer or editor, you do it for publication. When I comment on a blog post, I'm particating in a conversation. I'm not writing an article or editorial for publication. True, blogs are public in that they exist to be read. But there are differences between writing something for publication, a blog post, a blog comment, overhearing a conversation on the street, and so on. Context.

April 19, 2004 at 07:27 PM in Media, Race in the Blogosphere, Weblogs | Permalink

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Comments

Incidentally, in case you didn't click the link above, Louis Black is the founder of the Austin Chronicle and founder of South By Southwest...!

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 19, 2004 8:56:10 PM

Hrm... Regardless of what his opinion of the thread itself is, I don't think it was particularly appropriate for her to quote you without asking. I'm honestly considering asking my instructors about this type of thing.

Also, he spelled "losing" wrong, which is probably a typo, but I still consider amusing coming from a newspaper editor. ;)

Posted by: Ciri at Apr 19, 2004 11:33:13 PM

Oh, oh - could you ask?

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 20, 2004 1:16:24 AM

I do think it's rather lame that the reporter lifted your quotes without your express permission, but my assumption is they went with "implied permission" simply because you posted it to a public forum. I guess it would be similar to speaking at a town hall meeting and being quoted within a news story. Local man blogs, if you will.

You could also argue that it's similar to lifting the Disney logo simply because it was on a public Web site (much like the image you used for your MIA post).

Some blogs are viewed as a news source now, and as such I think blogs need to find a way to segregate the content in some way. There's a reason they don't run editorials on page one intermixed with actual "news" and it's a model that - if not perfect - it at least cover's the news org's ass. I think bloggers need to decide what they want to be. Are you and essayist like Sam Adams or are you just a conversationalist? If you (blogs) want to be taken seriously, a decision needs to be made.

A very simple step would be to create a Terms of Use for your blog. That way, nobody can use anything posted on your site without your permission.

</2cents>

BTW, I still think you're blogtastic. Swing by and we'll drink beer and stare at the smokestack in my backyard.

Posted by: Mike at Apr 20, 2004 10:09:16 AM

After re-reading your post, I've realized I was a little off-base (RTFA). Didn't realize you were quoted out of the comments section. I'll hang up and listen.

Posted by: Mike at Apr 20, 2004 10:28:52 AM

Those are great points though Mike.

Louis responded to me again, excerpts:

"Before e-mailing you I consulted our lawyer who is one of the top media attorneys in the country (he's represented Time Warner and Michael Jackson) and on the cutting edge of web related issues about usage and rights. I think I'll go with him."

"We constantly quote published material without asking permission - quotes from columnist, reporters, politicians etc. Once something is published, to offer a brief quote ... is common practice."

So there you have it. Apparently a blog comment is on par with columnists, reporters, politicians in the town hall. I'm still looking for other opinions.

(Terms of use is a good idea, for my own web site. Or the appropriate Creative Commons license.)

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 20, 2004 12:31:03 PM

Yes, publishing (to old media)from the comments section of a blog is more akin to
overhearing a conversation and then quoting that, rather than a speech,
or a letter to the editor.
Publishing from a blog post is more akin to an article or essay written
for print.
We must define what propper use of blog quotes should be.
What is ethical and what isn't? No more sloppy journalism!

Posted by: Lorika at Apr 20, 2004 12:41:17 PM

Dan Gillmor responded to my email:

If someone makes a comment in a public forum, I can't imagine why it's not quotable elsewhere. My sense is that Web users are savvy enough, as a rule, to understand that.

I guess I wasn't savvy enough, but I am now!

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 20, 2004 4:17:55 PM

Also... I don't think a "Terms of Use" would apply here. Danah has a Creative Commons license on her blog. But I believe the Chronicle's use of my comment is "Fair Use" (not entirely fair IMO) which I think overrides TOU or CC license. But, what do I know?

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 20, 2004 6:42:12 PM

The rules on "use" are hard to find for online sourcing/posting. The thing that gets me is that her article was poorly written, almost like a bad book report; I guess I was expecting something better. I think it would have been a much stronger and better article had she done her work and asked you personally to comment instead of just grabbing text from a post. Just seems lazy to me. Lorika is right--sloppy journalism.

Posted by: Stacy at Apr 20, 2004 7:44:00 PM

Yes, I agree.
If I was mean I might say "ambulance-chaser journliasm."

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 20, 2004 8:16:48 PM

i thought that the "revenge-of-the-nerds tactics" shot cribbed directly from the comments conversation added a nice touch to the story.
and by "added a nice touch" i mean "showed an inability to write her own material."

Posted by: prophet at May 3, 2004 2:32:36 AM