Lessons of Sago Disaster–For New Media and Old

Editor & Publisher just put up an op-ed of mine* about the media lessons of the twin disasters at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Again, I think what I say here applies to all forms of media.


By David D. Perlmutter/Editor&Publisher.com (January 05, 2006)

In the wake of the Sago mine disaster, perhaps a new category of Pulitzer Prize should be created to honor the journalists or news managers who caution that a story is not ready for prime time or publication. We must re-evaluate how journalism produces and delivers the “first draft of history.”

“Journalism,” claimed former Washington Post publisher Philip Graham, “is the first draft of history.” But when I set my students, as an exercise, to factually verify initial media reports of major news events they are shocked. From the Tiananmen uprisings and government crackdown to the flooding of New Orleans, they find the same sad tale. The first draft is full of errors.

The need to reevaluate how journalism produces and delivers a first draft of news is made even more imperative by the twin disasters of Sago, West Virginia. First, there was the explosion in the coal mine, which apparently led to the eventual death of at least a dozen trapped miners. The second calamity was the false story that most of the miners had survived and were being rescued.

In perspective, the media did not create the rumor that the miners were safe. Miscommunication, misheard phone exchanges, and optimistic gossip probably lay at the root of the bad information. Officials, too, were at fault for not immediately clarifying what they knew and what they did not. But the fact is, most Americans, including probably people who knew the miners, believed the three hours of saturation news reports on television and the Internet that the miners were “rescued.” [Read more…]

Perlmutter Blogging Radio Interview

I was interviewed about blogging on The Jeremy Taylor Show in Lawrence Kansas KLWN (1320 AM). The interview is podcast here.

Originally posted September 9, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

Perlmutter Speech at the Society for Scholarly Publishing

David Perlmutter gave the Keynote Speech at the Society for Scholarly Publishing Top Management Roundtable Conference, Philadelphia, PA, September 4. The topic: ” How Blogging Is Changing Our World: The Lessons from Politics.

Some links:



Originally posted September 16, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

Perlmutter Speaks about Medical Blogs to New England Journal of Medicine

While political blogging gets lots of attention, there are many kinds of blogging that are equally or more popular. I have posted here in the past about the types of medical blogs and even suggested a “Hippocratic Oath” for medical bloggers. I had the opportunity to twice speak on the subject for the New England Journal of Medicine.

David D. Perlmutter. Featured speaker on “Medical Blogging: Challenges and Opportunities for Health Professionals,” New England Journal of Medicine New Horizons Conference, Wellesley, MA, October 24-25, 2008.

David D. Perlmutter. Featured speaker on “Building an Online Community for Professionals: The Lessons of Political Blogging.” Massachusetts Medical Society & New England Journal of Medicine Committee on Publications, Waltham, MA, October 22, 2008.

David D. Perlmutter speaking to young doctors and medical students at the New England Journal of Medicine New Horizons Conference.


Photo [above]: David D. Perlmutter & Douglas Langdon of The Anvil Group who moderated the New England Journal of Medicine New Horizons Conference.

Originally posted October 29, 2008 at PolicyByBlog 

A Slow (or Bright) Blog Manifesto

It ought also to be said that he was immensely painstaking. [When he made] Broad and powerful statements…they were no mere assertions, but the product of countless hours of research into the minutiae of the subject. Even by the usual scrupulous standards of comparative philology, Tolkien was extraordinary in this respect. His concern for accuracy cannot be overemphasized, and it was doubly valuable because it was coupled with a flair for detecting patterns and relations. ‘Detecting’ is a good word, for it is not too great a flight of fancy to picture him as a linguistic Sherlock Holmes, presenting himself with an apparently disconnected series of facts and deducing from them the truth about some major matter. He also demonstrated his ability to ‘detect’ on a simpler level, for when discussing a word or phrase with a pupil he would cite a wide range of comparable forms and expressions in other languages.*

I have been thinking lately about these words written by a biographer of J.R.R. Tolkien, the master-builder of the Lord of the Rings universe and great scholar of language. For the past several months, I have been traveling, giving speeches about blogging and other online social-interactive media (OSIM) and Campaign 2008. Either in person or in tele-video or Webchat connections, I have spoken to groups in Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. In the United States, my audiences have varied widely, from high school teachers to the New England Journal of Medicine.


All ask the question: Where can we go to get trustworthy information?

In some ways, the great communications conceptual issue of the 20th century was that of access: Up through the early 1990s, to speak to large audiences, to have any real voice in public life, you either made do with an audience of your peers in a Norman Rockwell-like town hall meeting or you had to be a discourse elite. These latter were journalists, politicians, government staffers, celebrities and influential rich folk who made up the Golden Rolodex of who appeared and spoke on the narrow range of news, information, and political outlets then available. Now, hundreds of millions of people have potential access to a global audience through OSIM from blogs to MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr and many, many other venues. Not only can we create content—that is, be both a sender and receiver of information (what I call an “interactor”)—but also we can affect the popularity of other content through interfaces ranging from blogrolls to our google search histories to thepreference engines of DIGG and others. [Read more…]

Mumbai Terror, Citizen Journalism and New Media

Online Social-Interactive Media affect all aspects of life now–and death. Famously, journalism was called “the first draft of history” by Washington Post publisher Philip L. Graham. But now, with cell phones and pocket still and video digital cameras, OSIM and internet access, the initial reports from news scenes (especially breaking news) tend to be from citizens on-the-spot, not reporters.* We first witnessed this phenomenon’s power in video from the South Asia Tsunami and stills from the London Bombings. In politics, recall the stumble of the George Allen Senate Campaign over the “Macaca moment,” and then in the 2008 primary Barack Obama’s “bitter” comments. Politicians know (or should know): everyone in room is a potential journalist (or at least recorder and uploader of information) and nothing can truly be off-the-record. As a consequence, pols are more guarded than ever–this was true in the New Hampshire primary, typically a time for folksy engagement.

In such a light, some media tech notes from the Mumbai Terrorist attacks:

TERRORISTS USED GOOGLE EARTH TO RECON MUMBAI: According to a Mumbai crime branch official, the ten terrorists had not come to Mumbai before this to conduct any ‘recce’ and they had learnt about the locations with the help of Google Earth.

TWITTER UPDATES 0N TERROR HELP OR HURT?: News on the Bombay attacks is breaking fast on Twitter withhundreds of people using the site to update others with first-hand accounts of the carnage. The website has a stream of comments on the attacks which is being updated by the second, often by eye-witnesses and people in the city. Although the chatter cannot be verified immediately and often reflects the chaos on the streets, it is becoming the fastest source of information for those seeking unfiltered news from the scene. In the past hour, people using Twitter reported that bombings and attacks were continuing, but none of these could be confirmed. Others gave details on different locations in which hostages were being held. And this morning, Twitter users said that Indian authorities was asking users to stop updating the site for security reasons: One person wrote: “Police reckon tweeters giving away strategic info to terrorists via Twitter”. [Read more…]

Twitter Rules

I was interviewed for separate articles on the Twitter phenomenon that appeared on the McClatchy News Service and in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper. I talked about the origins of Twitter, how much it has caught on, and its effects. I further noted how Barack Obama’s Twittering will have a downballot effect on other politicians running for office who want to emulate him.

Some quotes:

“There’s definitely tech envy,” said Perlmutter, author ofBLOGWARS, a book about how political blogging changed elections. When politicians hear about their peers successfully using other media, he said, “you’re going to want to try it yourself.”

“When I first heard about Twitter, I couldn’t possibly come up with a use for it,” said David Perlmutter, professor of journalism at Kansas University and author of the book “Blog Wars.” “I thought, ‘Why would I want to alert everybody that I’m having a tuna sandwich?’ It seemed like something you didn’t need technology to do.” But Perlmutter is amazed at how Twitter has become what he calls “this phenomenon of utility. . .So much of our life now these days is fast-moving, fleeting, and that describes Twitter.”



By Alex Parker


By Lisa Zagaroli


Twitter was also in the news lately in how it can scoop the news. The Hudson river plane crash was tweeted by a witness who took pictures on his cell phone–and beat all the professional press to the story.


Update on Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 04:45PM by Registered Commenterdavid.d.perlmutter

More and more businesses are using Twitter for employees and customers. A recent USA Today article talks about Twitter and travel agencies. One travel agent compared Twitter to an “information booth.” Another (in the comments) calls it a “mini-megaphone.”

Originally posted January 20, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

Texting Ourselves to Death?

 [Image: Scott Frederick Starrett]


I hosted a conference and co-wrote the report for a summit of experts on the TOP TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY ISSUES FACING THE NATION* sponsored by The University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU TRI), presented by The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and theUniversity of Kansas School of Engineering, and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration & Federal Highway Administration.

Our main point was that America has tried many times to create a national transportation policy over the last century, with the latest and most comprehensive attempt in 2000-2001. None of these ventures was conceived or executed at the presidential level save possibly President Eisenhower’s “National Defense Highway System.” Now humankind confronts interrelated crises of energy and transportation in a rapidly changing world where we must deal with spiking petroleum prices, decaying bridges, growing congestion in all modes, an aging and inattentive driver population, a shortage of adequately trained transportation engineers, and the diverse ramifications of global climate change. The next president and next Congress of the United States of America will need to tackle each of these challenges immediately. Their decisions will affect the fate of the species and the planet.

The summit then identified (a) a “top 9” list (see below) of the most pressing problems facing the nation and (b) a range of options for government and industry to consider. Some of the items on the menu of options reflected disagreement on courses of action, but everyone agreed that for each of these crises, America needs to take some actions immediately.










The issue that was most obviously related to online social-interactive media and new technological gadgetry was DRIVER DISTRACTION.

What we found was that despite the many safety features and improvements in modern vehicular transport and roadways, about ten times more Americans die each year in car accidents than have been killed in the entire Iraq war. Many causes of roadway mayhem, such as drunk driving, are well publicized. But impairment due to alcohol or drugs is actually a subset of a much larger problem that is becoming a crisis that can affect the lives of any of us and cost the country immense sums in accidents and damage: driver distraction. A wave of research conducted at KU and other universities shows that our gadgets are, when used while driving, killing us.


Some numbers:

— Cell phone distraction—which likely is severely under-measured or recorded—officially causes some 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year. Driver distraction from other factors, both long-standing (children in the car) and recent (video screens in the driver’s view) are also a factor in roadway accidents. For example, cell phone users have been found to be 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. The risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08% blood-alcohol level. In other words, the distractions associated with talking on a cell phone while driving are as or more debilitating than driving legally drunk.

— Talking on a cell phone while driving a car reduces attention in younger adults so that they have an average increase in accident risk of between 200 and 700%. The act of driving while talking on a cell phone is a classic example of a dual task. While on a cell phone, especially in the initial minutes of a conversation, a driver will be almost completely unaware of surrounding traffic.

— Driver distraction due to communications devices can be broken into two components: physical distraction and cognitive distraction. The physical distraction of holding the phone while driving has been shown to have very little effect on driving performance. Cognitive distractions, on the other hand—caused by the conversation rather than the physical factors—have been found to be the primary source of driver distraction. Even with these findings, drivers and legislators tend to focus primarily on physical distraction. [Read more…]

The End of Geoprivacy

Ever have the feeling that someone is spying on you?

Today, it’s more likely that you are broadcasting enough information thatanyone can spy on you.

In the most recent issue of Wired magazine, freelance writer Mathew Honan recounts his “I am here”adventures of a “3-week experiment of living la vida local.” Using all the new technology (software and hardware) especially iPhone apps, he demonstrates how easy it is to be constantly monitoring your environment electronically as well as for everybody to know where you are. For example, with the program WhoseHere, you can send your latitude and longitude location and instantly get responses from other people in the area. The responses, needless to say, range from “I’m looking for sex” to “Really great coffee shop.”

Other interesting revelations: “Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map.” In other words, people will know exactly where you were when you took the picture. Interestingly, Honan concludes the article by describing how he almost got into a car accident because he was so busy getting “better location awareness” through his various geo gadgets that he didn’t notice a car (a Prius, of course!) stopping short in front of him. He concludes that technology cannot replace “look[ing] around the old-fashioned way” and keeping a “sense of place.”

One such app, Google Latitude, is already occasioning controversy.

Let’s call this the question of geoprivacy. [Read more…]

Darryl (From “The Office”): Everyone is a Paparazzo?

On this site and in my classes, we have talked a lot about the changes inpolitics and other parts of life and labor that easy Internet access, online social-interactive media, and the cell phone (with its picture, sound and video capture and upload capabilities) have occasioned. In politics, we know that the personal appearance is different because a politician never knows who in the audience might get them on video or record them in some other way and YouTube a quote or a rant or just a funny picture. Celebrities of other kinds–like athletes and entertainers–have always faced the dilemma of being “outed” while in private by paparazzi. Now in the same way that everyone is a potential journalist, everyone is also a potential paparazzo. What are the privacy rights of individuals anywhere–OUR GEOPRIVACY? Should ordinary fans or witnesses know or care? At a minimum, it is pretty clear that if a celebrity like, say, a star of a TV show, appears in a public venue, the public has a perfect right to and shouldn’t feel any ethical qualms about capturing him/her for wider viewing.

And let’s face it, celebrities thrive on celebrity and are using the new tech (like Twitter) to show off their own backstage lives (or parts of them).

Here is a case study: Below is the narrative description by one of my students, who encountered “Darryl” (actor Craig Robinson) from NBC’s The Office. The ethical nuance here is that Mr. Robinson was not quietly having a drink in a corner but performing for the crowd, so there is even less of a problem with deciding to “YouTube” him.


At the end of December break I went to a bar called Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (Dallas, TX). A dueling piano bar is when two pianists sit at pianos that face each other as they play song requests from the audience. My friends and I were about to leave when we heard commotion and people running in our direction. I looked up from my friends and saw Darryl from The Office on stage. He showed up out of nowhere and began singing on one of the pianos. Everybody began taking pictures and recording him on their cameras and cell phones. It was really exciting to see somebody famous right before my eyes. My friend was taking pictures on her blackberry, and sent me an email instantly with one of the pictures she had taken. Darryl then played the opening song from The Office and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

[Read more…]