December 5, 2008

Kevin Rose, The People's Publisher - An Open Letter

Kevin Rose does not want the title of editor. In fact, he's quoted in articles as saying his distaste for the position is partially what fueled his desire to start a site like digg. Allow me to quote from this month's Inc. Magazine cover story about him:
On December 13, 2004, Rose got in front of the camera and offered a pointed critique of Slashdot, a tech news site that would become Digg's chief competitor. "The only problem [with Slashdot] is you're relying on whatever the editor thinks is really cool," he intoned, pronouncing editor in the most disparaging way possible. "So what we've got is a couple of websites that give the power back to the people."
It's a noble quote that speaks volumes about the direction news needs to go in the future, but I fear it could also hold back Kevin's ideal vision. I also don't think he realizes it and so I've decided to write the man an open letter...

Dear Kevin,

The news I'm about to share with you cannot be found in any one place. It's not shared by any one person or from a single article, blog post or entire site for that matter. It's everywhere and no where. I've heard it from a thousand different professors and witnessed it a few hundred thousand time more than that. It's a concept you're probably familiar with but haven't given proper consideration for day-to-day decision-making. It's important, it's powerful and it's simple enough to say in one sentence. So here goes...

At any given time, a person's circumstance prevents true unbiased actions, absolutely.

What that means in your current circumstance is that your ideal of giving power back to the people must evolve or it will shrivel and die. Despite valiant attempts to keep your social news sharing site governed by the community, you find yourself banning the most enthusiastic users and criticized for things you said jokingly under the influence of amusement while in the company of friends.

The comment about female nipple teats you made during an episode of diggnation? You were crucified for it compared with how people would have treated the comment about a year ago. And which of us actually believes you were serious about cutting teats if kicked in the balls? Seriously, most of us can tell the difference and a few of us cannot. Those few, however, are who you've offended to the point of having to apologize for something that was essentially bullshit. And where is your die-hard army of supporters who borderline activism for touting your innocence? Banned, or severely skeptical about speaking on your behalf because of it.

These things are not your least not yet.

What we have here is a line drawn in the proverbial sand -- and pretty soon you'll have to make a choice that I don't believe you've fully thought through. You are not the Editor of but something similar given the scope of information gathering. What's happening is you're become something you swore you'd never be: the world's next mega-huge media publisher in the vein of Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner. You're becoming this figure and you don't want it, have never wanted it and we gave it to you for precisely that reason. However, it's time to face the reality and embrace this role or continue to deny it and risk being criticized to the point of embarassment by the very power users who helped digg rise to the top.

I'm not implying that you simply let the most active people dictate the actions and inactions of your community, that's insane. If you banned people I trust you had good reason but you've got to start handling it differently. I'm talking about the inconsistencies with the mass bans during the last few months. Scripts are banned, therefore if you used a script to artificially vote a submission up or down then your terminated -- except this regulation was not immediately stated in the terms of service yet, it was the justification for terminating several accounts. What it appears like, since I don't really know, is the digg team cherry picking the users they deem valuable and tossing the ones that hurt the site's credibility. It's just one instance, but there are more.

That control you hated about mainstream media? It's manifesting itself as poorly stated justification for user banning and unseen site admins making ethical decisions with no explanation. You're also being manipulated into self censorship because of your status as top guy at digg HQ. Rash decisions and loose words will bite you in the ass as if you were a politician running for office.

If you continue fighting the label of publisher because you're a technology guy, then you can expect the situation to worsen and eventually warp into something you don't want. I'm telling you this because your a tech guy with his finger on the pulse of the next giant media company and I'm a journalist that spends more time explaining tech than reporting. You've opened up entirely new worlds for myself and others. I thought it was only fair to shed some light on the ethics of news publishing.


User: "TSCheredar"

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