Pitching High and Inside

Media | Familiarity

I was busy on a follow-up of my Talking Points Meme research, and then the bloggers code of conduct story hit me like a Dice-K gyroball. Granted, the gyroball is a media creation, just like the bloggers code of conduct, but the ball was in the air and I had to find my bat. I did some deep thinking and deep linking, and churned out 3,000 words on the larger picture about comment management responsibility.

It wasn't a traditional article; it's a Civilities set piece including all sorts different chunks: reporting, analysis, questions, and a proposal that I assemble into a series. The heart of it was a framework for building a comment management responsibility policy. It wasn't directly meant for the long-tail bloggers (though I welcome their input), but for major publishers who have major communities to manage, and major headaches when all heck breaks loose.

After all, that's where I had thought Tim O'Reilly was going with this. So either I was going to produce something for the grand pooh-bah, or I was going to do one better than he.

Nancy White, a blogger on community of practices (and the very first Civilities subscriber through bloglines) offered these kind words:

"Both Tim's and Jon's approaches have value, but I found myself more drawn to Jon's because he set out a range of options with far more neutrality in the language that opened the door for application in more diverse contexts."

That's very nice. One could chalk this up to "your readers know more than you." But then again, this isn't just a touch-and-go reporter. This is the head of a computer publishing empire. "O'Reilly's radar is legendary," wrote Steven Levy in a Wired profile. He lives and breathes Web 2.0, and his company's sustenance is the active participation of its readership community. The unique value I add is that I've been living and breathing compliance frameworks for the last two years.

Compliance isn't that difficult; it's mostly just getting used to a new set of vocabularly and a new mission in life. We use words like "control frameworks" to explain how you set up organizational processes to minimize risk. (I mentioned "control framework" to a friend unfamiliar with compliance, and she immediately got the impression that it was something Orwellian. Interesting, but not quite.) Whereas the business books popular amongst the Web 2.0 crowd are of the "get a clue" variety, a compliance mindset advises to "get a grip."

I got my grip, and I made a pitch to spread the word about CommResp. I wrote about this general exercise before, in Give Me Props in October 2005. I made 19 pitches over the last two days, mostly over email, and here's how many times they lead to even a measly blog post:

  • Blogging Peers: 2 for 6 (thanks, Nancy and Seth)
  • Bloggers tangentially involved with the story: 0 for 4
  • A-Listers: 1 for 4 (thanks, Dan Gillmor)
  • Computer/Internet Publication editors: 0 for 5
Looks like I'm batting .167, though two editors promised me they'd have a look at it. I'll call those hit by pitches, which would at least bring my on base percentage to a non-embarassing .263. But the hits didn't really start a rally. No follow-up conversation in Dan Gillmor's Citizen Media blog, which is too bad, because he'd love to have a community work on things like that. (By comparison, Tristan Lous drew 52 comments towards trashing O'Reilly's BCOC, and Jeff Jarvis drew 130 comments. Not that the BCOC isn't above trashing. But I at least offered a constructive alternative).

I only cold-called (emailed) five of the 19, one of them being Tim O'Reilly, but not before posting a comment on his latest blog post before emaiing him. Seven went to people I've met; another seven to people I've not met but have emailed. A couple of at-bats took a lot of swings (one over successive emails, one over the phone), but I think I struck out on foul tips. What I found strange was that both professed to learning something new through my reporting. It seemed to me they would have expressed their gratitude through a media placement.

It's not like I produced something derivative or esoteric. It's something many people are talking about. Well, at least a certain segment of people:

I'm not complaining. I'm just observing. Sure, I could observe other things, but does the blogosphere need on another person to weigh in on Imus? (I haven't listened to the I-man since high school, back in the days when the mad cast of voices included John Cardinal O'Conner, Marion Barry, Mike Tyson, and Richard Nixon (alive, and then dead) . It's not that I had an epiphany where I stopped listening because I realized he was a jerk. It's that 660 WFAN-AM didn't come in well in central Jersey (and, granted, brother Fred became a terrific bore very fast). When I graduated college I entered the Morning Edition stage of life. But I can't remember a single thing that really gripped me in the morning beyond Anne Garrels's quivering-yet-brave reporting from Baghdad when the war started four years ago. Imus at least got me up the morning.)

On a programming note (I love that phrase), I've been swinging the bat alone here at Civilities. I like walks on the beach, and when I take my next one, I'd like to have someone lend a hand on keeping Civilities going, you know, just something as simple as managing the comments when I'm not here.

Update, April 13th: Tim O'Reilly acknowledged my work in the comments thread thusly: "Jon, your post at Comment Management Responsibility: A Proposal is very detailed and thought provoking, as well as way more comprehensive than anything I'd thought so far. You've broken things down with a lot of detail about assertions a blogger might want to make about his or her comment policy." I would have guessed that with such high marks, he would have emailed me, or written a new post endorsing it. (He's instead been spending his time countering multiple critics in the comment thread– and preparing for the Web 2.0 Expo, I suppose).

Update, April 15th: Tim did email me on Friday, and cc'ed Angela Beesley of Wikia. I heard back from Seth Wagoner this evening. Slow but steady. And there will be a followup to this piece.