When is sharing a password a federal crime? And when isn’t it?

By Carole McNall

Korn-Ferry_Hay-Group.jpgI glanced at the sexy headline: Sharing your Netflix password is now a federal crime, court rules.

Intrigued, I read the story. Then I read the court case, United States v. Nosal.

I discovered, within a page and a half, that the headline writer had created his or her own legal precedent. The blunt statement that made a sexy headline was far less nuanced and far more definitive than the actual decision.

The story I read was bylined, which I always take to mean a reporter actually does something to gather the information. But for many reporters, “gathering information” for this story seemed to mean finding it on another website and doing a little rewrite.

So let me offer some context for evaluating the sexy headline.

Who was sharing passwords and why? The password sharing happened when David Nosal and two others decided to leave the executive search firm Korn/Ferry. Before they left, they began downloading information from Korn/Ferry’s confidential database of search candidates. Even after their access to the system was revoked, they continued downloading, using the freely given password of someone still working at Korn/Ferry.

The firm emphasized the confidentiality of the database through messages ranging from a required agreement for all new employees to a pop-up message every time someone did a custom search.

Eventually, Korn/Ferry discovered the access and criminal charges were filed. This month’s decision was the second appeal of Nosal’s conviction on those charges to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

OK, there’s the federal crime. But what law did they violate? Continue reading


So you want a ‘robust, independent press’? Good luck with that.

Given fragmentation of audiences, diversity of media platforms, frequently clueless ownership, and devaluation of journalism by the public, what should journalism schools be teaching today?

From time to time, especially during election seasons, this phrase is often uttered:

America needs a robust, independent press.

Examine the critical words. A robust press? Meaning a press “strong, healthy; vigorous … able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions”? An independent press, one “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority”?

CATEGORY: JournalismIf reasoned people are calling for a robust, independent press, then they must be arguing that America does not have one.

The press, defined by me as journalism practiced primarily by the nation’s daily newspapers, has been eviscerated by changes in technology and ownership over the past few decades — as well as by the erosion of display advertising, its principal revenue machine for more than a century. The press’s robustness and independence are challenged by those fiscal and executive realities.

To paraphrase Bob Garfield, “The future of the journalism we actually consume hinges on the ability to somehow underwrite it.” It’s clear, sadly, and has been for at least two decades, that mass-market advertising will no longer pay the bills as well as allow for investment. Worse, news companies have been giving away news for free. Consumers expect that now. They resist attempts to charge them for news.

So what about this “robust, independent press?”

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State of the news biz in 2016? Oh, my god … it’s really bad.

Newsies dread this time of year. It’s when the Pew Research Center releases its annual State of the Media report. And the findings, for print newsies, are bad, bad, bad.

Ad revenue down. Trust measures down. Newsroom staffing down. Circulation down.

CATEGORY: JournalismOh, look — digital ad revenue up. You remember back in the early Oughts when newspapers began to chase that digital ad revenue, right? They were hoping as print ad dollars fell, digital ad dollars would offset the loss, maybe even bring the same high profits. All would be good.

Well, Pew says digital ad revenue is up 20 percent to nearly $60 billion. Wow. Continue reading


Newspapers’ big problem: failure to distinguish meaningful from meaningless

Warren Buffett, the newspaper-loving Oracle of Omaha, isn’t loving newspapers quite as much these days. Speaking of the industry’s attempts to create a viable business plan, he told USA Today’s Rem Rieder, “We haven’t cracked the code yet.”

Said Buffett:

Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace. The easy cutting has taken place. There’s no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way.

JournalismWell, duh, Mr. Buffett. We’ve known about your first two sentences for a decade. And the third? The New York Times is the only “national paper” I pay to read, as a digital subscriber. But I routinely read stories in The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — as I’m doing this morning over breakfast. The Times gets a ten spot from me every month. Everyone else gets squat.

Unlike millennials, for whom all information must be free, I’m willing to pay. That’s because at my age, I have a long history of paying for news. That’s how newspapers operated: Pay us and read our ads, and we’ll provide you the news you want and need. That was the fair exchange under the previous, and now failed, business model newspapers rode to riches (well, at least their owners) for more than a century.

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Race & Gender

‘Total Frat Move’? More like Total F*cking Misogynists

You may have seen your favorite celebrity like Taylor Swift or Gigi Hadid sporting one of these babies [referring to high-waisted bikini bottoms] on their latest social media post … either way, you’re not them. These girls have the body to pull it off. You do not. Snap me photo proof if you think you can.

By Emily Rosman

Above is an example of one of the unsupported claims by The Therapist, an anonymous user on Total Frat Move, or TFM, in an article called “Why Girls Should Stop Wearing High-Waisted Bikinis.”

CATEGORY: RaceGender TFM, a self-claimed “news and entertainment brand that consists of the No. 1 college comedy website on the internet,” is owned by Grandex Inc. Grandex owns other “entertainment” brands like Total Sorority Move, Rowdy Gentleman and Post Grad Problems. Grandex lists 47 executives on its website — only seven are women.

Misogynistic posts like The Therapist’s litter the site, using derogatory language in most articles and treating women as sexual objects.

“Misogyny now has become so normalized,” said Paul Roberts, author of Impulse Society. “It’s almost like we’ve gone back to the Mad Men days.”

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Newspapers founder in habit-driven cultures — so the habits need changing

One morning a few weeks ago, I sat at the end of the counter in my favorite diner, Robbins Nest. Lisa brought tea, Jessica asked, “The usual?” and owner Crystal badgered chef Anthony (as usual).

CATEGORY: JournalismI set up my iPad mini to read. I noticed, however, the house copy of the metro daily from the big city two hours north. I picked it up and leafed through the 10-page front section. You know, the section with meaningful news for someone who lives two hours away.

I looked at story after story, page after page. I saw the metro had 11 — that’s 11 — stories from The New York Times in those 10 pages. That’s not unusual: Newspapers subscribe to wire services. Such services act as consortiums to provide newspapers with material they could not afford to report, write, and edit on their own. My own paper subscribed to The Times’ wire service back in the day. So seeing 11 Times stories in the local metro daily wasn’t a surprise.

But I had read each of those Times stories 12 hours before on my little iPad mini — because I’m one of The Times’ million-plus digital-only subscribers.

How does this metro daily — and others — fare financially if it prints stories many of its readers may have read online the day before?

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Tommy Funderburk, CEO of Muzit.

Muzit: an alternative approach to music piracy

By Amber Healy

Muzit’s policy on people who download music without paying for it is kind of counter-intuitive: If you can’t beat it or stop it, turn it into an opportunity.

Tommy Funderburk is the CEO of Muzit, a Santa Monica, California-based company that has decided to turn the tables on what some would consider music piracy. A musician who has recorded with Airplay, Boston, Whitesnake and other bands, and the founder of PayArtists, a peer-to-peer marketing platform for the music industry, Funderburk says that while there’s an ongoing and evolving conversation about the role big data plays in helping the music industry reinvent itself, his company wants to do something different.

Tommy Funderburk, CEO of Muzit.

Tommy Funderburk, CEO of Muzit.

“We come to big data from the side of the copyright owner, as recording artists ourselves, people who have been in the van and traveled around, playing concerts,” he says. “We think information is great but it’s very difficult for an artist to know what to do with that information at time.”

“We’re not condoning what some people call piracy,” Funderburk explains. “We’re trying to be realistic. We understand every song, every movie, every video game is already shared on the internet. We’ve watched the entertainment industry engage in a futile exercise, to try to find some college student and fine them for thousands of dollars (for downloading music without paying for it)…These are your fans. Why would you treat your fans this way?”

Instead, using a proprietary system that Funderburk couldn’t disclose other than to say it’s similar to the methods used by lawyers to find and track down so-called pirates, Muzit provides that information to artist as a way of opening the lines of communication.
Continue reading

Future Imperfect: SaraRobinson.net launches, just in time for the Y’allQaeda takeover

SaraRobinson.netSara Robinson, who has spent years thinking and writing in places like Orcinus, Our Future, Group News Blog, Salon, Grist, the New Republic and New York Magazine (as well as S&R, now that I think about it), has finally struck out on her on her own and debuted Future Imperfect.

And just in time. Sara has devoted a great deal of energy in her career to understanding the sorts of people currently occupying that rest area (and begging for snacks) out in Oregon, and today’s missive addresses the ways in which the Federal Government’s failure in the wake of the Bundy Ranch debacle led us to our current domestic terrorism drama (and may open the door to more such foolishness in the future if we don’t get our act together). Continue reading

The author, ever analog ...

What cute baby picture posts may lead to …

You know them — the social media parents.

They learn she’s pregnant with her first child. Joy consumes them. The announcement hits Twitter with abdominal photo or sonogram: “I’m preggers! #thefirst #babybump #joyful”

The author, ever analog ...

The author, ever analog …

Husband and wife create an email account for the unborn child. They send a book’s worth of loving messages for her to read years from now. Husband or wife (usually wife) creates a WordPress blog to chronicle the family journey.

Delivery room photos of happy husband and sweat-soaked wife holding the minutes-old child hit Facebook. Baby clothes choices choke Instagram.

The predictable follows, mostly with photos. Cute baby eating in high chair, face smeared with mushed peas. Cute baby’s bare butt. Cute baby sleeping blissfully. Cute baby in cute baby holder. Selfies (usually by mom) holding cute baby smiling, regurgitating, sleeping, crying (don’t bother to pick one; you’ll eventually see them all). Cute baby with family puppy or kitten.

Then it’s toddler toddling. Kid taking her first steps. First play date. First day of pre-school. Pre-school graduation. First day of kindergarten. Kindergarten graduation. Various religious functions (baptism, bris, first communion, bar mitzvah, aqiqah, etc.)

Continue reading

Mourning the passing of online friends

“We are who we are because of who we love,” said my wife, “and it will always be so.”

We were discussing life, and its transience, off of two years in which far too many of those close to us have stopped.

There are a few people who I met via my Livejournal blog, now more than 15 years ago, who became online friends. One of those people happens to have been Sam, who introduced me into a small group that went on to start Scholars and Rogues. The Rogues are similarly part of the fabric of my friendships. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Facebook’s See Less: the new “feature” that DOES. NOT. WORK.

Facebook - UnshareRecently the wizards at Facebook rolled out a new feature: See Less. It allows you, allegedly, to mark certain of your friends so that fewer of their posts show up in your feed. Intended as a polite way of dialing back your exposure to overparticipaters and people that, for whatever reason, you just aren’t as interested in as others.

Great idea. Great idea. If you’re like most people, you’re probably “friends” with all kinds of people you aren’t friends with. In my case, I’m friends with people I don’t know and couldn’t pick out of a lineup and I can’t actually remember how we “met” in the first place. Which is fine – some of these people are really bright and I enjoy what they bring to my news feed. Serendipity, exposure to unexpected viewpoints – these are good things.

But. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

To your favorite politician, you are merely marketable data

I have given my last dollar to a politician. I will never again “like” a politician. I will never again click the “donate” button. Hell, I won’t even click a link to a politician’s website. I will stop following and friending politicians.

I’m just data to politicians, and they can and do sell me.

Headline from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Political fundraising campaigns manage debts by selling data
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Internet and Social Media

Eight seconds — why the NYT caves, and Facebook wins

An impatient audience wielding smartphones says, ‘We want it NOW.’

Eight seconds.

Count with me, please: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five, one thousand six, one thousand seven, one thousand eight.

Eight seconds. That snippet of time, about 1/300,000,000 of an actuarial life, has driven The New York Times (among others) into the inviting arms of a Facebook lusting for revenue. Eight seconds. That’s the time Facebook says a user endures after she clicks on a Facebook link to a third-party site like nytimes.com.

About 15 percent of The Times’ digital traffic arrives via Facebook. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

End of the semester writing professor blues

Here’s how it feels at the end of the spring semester for a longtime-journalist-turned-college-writing instructor:

I love working with college students, and I hope the feeling is mutual, for at least some of them, anyway. There’s no workplace I’ve ever found that’s more invigorating than the classroom.

But I work with freshmen only, and anymore, they communicate by liking, by following, by tweeting, by texting, and by slinging words and/or photographs and/or video on communications platforms I’ve never heard of. Most of the students I work with don’t understand—or, at best, dimly grasp—the value of what I encourage them to learn. Subject-verb disagreement? Fused sentences? Comma splices? Sentence fragments? The parts of speech? I’ve always (perhaps naively) believed these and related topics are the bedrock of good writing. Continue reading


You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading

Social media usability: Facebook, Flickr and WordPress can blow me

Fuck FlickrFucking bastards, every goddamned one of them.

Starting a few days ago Facebook seems to have “improved” the site again. All of a sudden, when you paste the URL of an image post from a WordPress site into the status box it doesn’t want to auto-load the image. Not only that, there is no way in hell, that I can figure out, how to end-run the user experience geniuses and make it load that image.

Continue reading