Finally, a Constructive Response from Bluehost

Yesterday I wrote about a spectacularly unpleasant and unhelpful message I received in response to a query I sent to my web host, Bluehost, on Jan. 22. (The response arrived yesterday, 11 days after my query.)

Here’s an update — someone there in possession of both a brain and manners (Brandon West, Level 2 support) finally responded to me with an answer to my problem.

On the technical side, Bluehost customers should note that they can, in fact, access Bluehost’s shared SSL for secure login to add-on domains.

Unfortunately their Level 1 support people seem utterly unaware of this fact, and will insist that it’s not possible. (Note that shared SSL is something different from buying an SSL certificate for your domain — a service they may try to sell you and which you may not need, so look out.)

Regarding the delay, thoughtlessness, and condescension I’d experienced from Bluehost support earlier, Brandon said this…

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How and why to get started with blogging: The REAL answer

afkatws, via Flickr (CC license)
Don’t just start blogging. Spend some time scoping things out first.

Almost daily, people e-mail me to ask me for advice about their online-media careers. I just got such an inquiry this morning. It started out pretty typically:

“I found your recently. I’m very interested in online writing as a career. Can you tell me something about it? How do you start, etc.”

OK, after I explained that I needed his question to be more specific so I could offer a meaningful answer, he offered a bit more detail: He’s about to graduate with a sociology degree, likes writing, and wants to combine those skills to earn a living. Still an overly generic inquiry — but since it’s a basic question many people have, here’s my honest answer:

Don’t assume in advance that being a writer (in any medium) is your ultimate career goal. Often, media is merely a means to an end — I guess that’s why they call it “media,” since it’s usually “in between” real stuff happening.

In my experience, it’s more useful to pay attention to what’s really going on, what people really want or need, and what you really have to offer, than to assume you already know what you “should” be doing. You can’t really be in business by yourself, since business is about the exchange of value. Who are you going to trade with, and what do they need?

Increasingly, participating in online, conversational, and social media (from blogs and forums to Twitter and Second Life) can help nearly anyone find their niche and their path. Because ultimately, these forms of media are about PEOPLE (especially binding communities) — not technology.

On the practical side, here’s the advice I offered this reader…

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Webcast tonight: It’s a conversation, stupid!

Greetings from Los Angeles, where I just flew in because in a couple of hours I’m speaking at a cool event at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. And you can watch — and participate!

Michelle Nicolosi of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I are co-chairing a panel at 5pm Pacific. It’s called “It’s a Conversation, Stupid: Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, UGC meet Journalism.”

UGC…. UGH!!!!! I loathe the term “user generated content.” It smacks of mechanism, hierarchy, and just plain condescension.Unfortunately it’s common among mainstream-media types, and you can bet I’ll have something to say about that! Like: Why don’t we just call it “contributed content?”

…Ahem… Anyway, this is part of an intriguing seminar at the Knight New Digital Media Center. (because “new media” ain’t new anymore) called Journalism in a 24/7 World: Decision-making for the Online Editor. Tonight’s event is offered in partnership with the Online News Association. If you go to this page at 5pm Pacific, you’ll find a live link to the webcast.

You also can submit questions during the event via this form. I’ll ask them on your behalf during the event as time permits. No softballs, folks!

Here’s the official blurb for the event:

“What happens when the audience becomes content producer on the nation’s top news web sites? Do you ‘moderate’ or let ‘er rip? How do journalism values and standards survive a User Generated Content world? Hear how and USA Today executive editor Kinsey Wilson, Yahoo! News editor in chief Neil Budde and vice president and senior producer Mitch Gelman are opening their web sites to their audiences as never before. Get a chance to weigh in from your cell phone and laptop as Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson paints the future of collaborative journalism. Moderators will be Michelle Nicolosi, assistant managing editor for interactive at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Amy Gahran, conversational media consultant and editor of Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits.”

Hope to see some Contentious readers there. Please say hi!

Teaching Online Skills: Journalism Prof Wants Ideas
MSU prof Dave Poulson wants to lead his students into the murky waters of online media.

(NOTE: I’m cross-posting this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, since I thought Contentious readers might find it interesting as well.)

Today I received an intriguing query from my colleague Dave Poulson, associate director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. With his permission, I’m excerpting and answering it here.

Poulson wrote: “…I’m going to take your concept of coming up with a toolkit of basic online stuff a reporter should know and turn it into some class assignments. I’ll have them pick a beat and set up Google Reader to [subscribe to] relevant feeds. I’m not sure how I’ll evaluate the result.”

That’s a great idea, Dave! Make sure they practice subscribing to search feeds (about topics), as well as feeds from specific sources (like blogs). And here’s a short video tutorial on Google Reader I made for one of my clients. The first half of it is the bare basics, most applicable to what your students would be doing.

To evaluate this assignment, you could have student export their feed list as an OPML file and send it to you. In Google Reader, that’s under “manage subscriptions,” then “import/export” (choose the “export” option there.) You can then import that OPML file into your Google Reader (or many other feed readers) to see what they’ve subscribed to.

Poulson continues…

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Interviewing a blogger? You’re BOTH on the record

Amy Gahran
Interviewing bloggers is a two-way street. Get used to it.

Almost daily I get interview requests from mainstream media outlets and independent bloggers. That’s fine, I’m happy to share what I know.

But — at least for me — it works both ways.

Just to be clear: If you want to interview me, my terms are that our discussion is on the record for you as well as for me. In other words, I get to blog it, from my perspective.

I may be willing to coordinate with you on timing so we’re not “scooping” each other, but I won’t have a conversation with you where you get to publish what I say, but not vice versa. Media doesn’t work that way anymore.

In my experience, most bloggers are fine with this. Also, about half the mainstream news orgs who request interviews with me also are fine with it.

The other half of mainstream journalists either claim that their corporate policy doesn’t allow such a level playing field, or they’re incensed and indignant that I’d presume to put them on the record. A few mainstream journalists also say “OK if you submit your post to me for prior approval.” Ha. Like any respectable news organization would agree to those terms.

Clear enough? Cool. Anyone else have similar issues or relevant perspectives? Please comment below.

Tools of Engagement: Links and Notes for Discussion

Minnesota Public Radio got a lot of things about online community right with this "Idea Generator" project.

As I mentioned yesterday, tomorrow I’m giving a session about online political coverage called "Tools of Engagement: It’s a Conversation, Stupid!"

I’ve been collecting a lot of "string" for this talk, and I won’t pretend I have it thoroughly organized. That’s fine — I tend to mostly improvise my sessions based on what the attendees need and want most at that moment.

Here, then, are a bunch of links to site I’ll probably want to mention tomorrow…

READ THE REST OF THIS PIECE, and comment if you like, over at my other blog The Right Conversation

Online Political Coverage: Communities Matter More than Elections

View of downtown L.A. from my hotel window. This town looks better at night.

I’m in Los Angeles right now, where on Thursday I’ll be giving a session at a Knight New Media Center seminar on Election ’08: Covering Politics in Cyberspace.

My session is called: "Tools of Engagement:  It’s a Conversation, Stupid." No, I didn’t come up with that title, but I really like it. My audience will be a mix of journalists, online-media pros, geeks, and political experts. I hope they’re ready to talk, because I don’t really do lectures; I start conversations.

I’ll admit, in my journalistic work I’ve generally avoided covering elections — for good reason. Generally, the way most news orgs handle that assignment bugs the hell out of me.  The press conferences, the pundits, the posturing, the race metaphors… in all that, communities, issues, and the real workings of government tend to get pushed into the background. It feels fake and even counterproductive to me. I’m tired of it, and for the most part I tune it out.

That’s not to say I tune out politics. On the contrary, I follow certain aspects of politics very closely: local, state, national, and international. And I do note how elections affect the politics that interest or affect me. However, I don’t believe elections should garner the lion’s share of political coverage.

It seems to me that the best political coverage is ongoing, not cyclical. Ideally, coverage of elections or other political events should support and enhance the public conversation about issues and communities.

To accomplish this with online political coverage, I think we need to get our priorities straight. Here are some thoughts on how we might do that, so we might collectively avoid turning the 2008 election season into a complete three-ring circus…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, and comment if you like, over at my other blog The Right Conversation

Discussion List Tips: Web Reading and Feeds

One way to cut e-mail overload: Here’s what it looks like when you read a discussion list on the web, rather than by e-mail. (Click to enlarge)

For more than a decade, e-mail discussion lists have been a mainstay of conversational media — and I think they’re likely to continue to remain popular. E-mail is approachable even to total online newbies.

However, since everyone is on e-mail overload, discussion lists end up presenting a problem: clutter. Sure, you can cut down on list clutter via daily digest postings — but if it’s a busy list, scrolling through a digest posting gets to be tedious.

Since I am constantly overwhelmed by e-mail, I find that feeds or web-based reading can be better ways to participate. Of course, these options aren’t available from every list service.

If you value the online discussions you’ve joined but can’t handle the e-mail, here’s some advice…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE over at my other blog, The Right Conversation. You can leave a comment there too, if you like…

Buh-Bye Old Stars, and Good Riddance

Independent music journalist Michael Kirk.

This morning I was having an interesting conversation with my friend, independent music journalist Michael Kirk. We were tossing around observations on how the conventional "star system," at least in the entertainment business, appears to be waning with the rise of the internet — particularly with easy access to social and conversational media.

Anyway, with Michael’s permission, here are some excerpts from our conversation…

(READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE over at my other blog, The Right Conversation. You can comment there, if you like.)

Transparency vs. Payola: Weighing Risks

PayPerPost: Worth the risk?

Over at the Center for Citizen Media blog, I’ve joined an interesting conversation concerning the thorny issue of payola in online media. See: PayPerPost: A Cancer on the Blogosphere, or Merely Semi-Sleazy? by Dan Gillmor.

Background: The controversial online advertising service PayPerPost attracted considerable blog and media attention after it recently got $3 million in venture funding. In a nutshell, PayPerPost is an automated system where companies can advertise their sites, products, services, or brands through a network of approved bloggers who get paid $2 per qualifying post. That is, bloggers who sign on to PayPerPost agree to write about those advertisers.

PayPerPost reviews and approves those posts, which can be required to be positive. Although PayPerPost urges its bloggers to be "honest," it discourages them from disclosing their relationship with PayPerPost. So, ethically, everyone involved appears to be on thin ice — but when did ethics ever have much to do with the advertising business?

…Anyway, Dan Gillmor’s post on the PayPerPost flap nudged me to consider the issue of payola more closely. Here are a couple of comments I contributed to that discussion…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE over at my other blog, The Right Conversation
— If you wish to leave a comment on this post, you can do so there.