Professional journalism and the advent of Craigslist

October 16, 2009

Last week I listened to a Stack Overflow podcast in which Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood discussed the effects (intended or otherwise) that Craigslist has had on professional journalism.

Joel contends that Craig Newmark has, in effect, stolen classified advertising from the newspaper industry and made it something freely available to everyone. Advertising is the method newspapers use to fund professional journalism. But if people can advertise their stuff for free on the internet and reach a wide audience, they have no financial motivation to pay money to a newspaper to publish their ad in print. Instead, people are taking the money they would have spent on advertising and putting it to back into their businesses or their own wallets.

Professional journalism is something that keeps citizens informed and keeps governments transparent (or at least tries to). While it sounds like an appealing alternative to professional journalism, citizen journalism simply doesn’t work. Bloggers link to each other, tweeters retweet things they like. But amateurs simply don’t have the financial motivation that a professional has to do original research and report objectively. Citizen journalists simply aren’t doing justice to journalism. Their work is useful and relevant, but it just can’t replace professional journalism.

The net effect of Newmark’s decision not to charge for his service is that he’s taking all that advertising revenue out of the pockets of the newspapers and putting it back into the hands of the citizens or businesses, who do with it as they please. That means that a large sum of money is being taken away from an entity that performs a public service essential to a vibrant democracy and freedom of speech.

Newmark says he doesn’t know what he’d do with all that money. But Joel suggests that if Newmark doesn’t want the money, he should put it to use for some public good. After all, that’s where the money would have gone in the first place: the public good of investigative, professional journalism.


Friendship, Part II

October 9, 2009

NOTE: This is the second in a series on friendship. View the first post here.

Let’s consider some of the practical implications of friendship.

What are the deepest desires underlying friendship? You want to love someone, and, in turn, be loved. You want someone you can trust and talk to. You want to help this other human being progress. Indeed, seeing the progress he makes as a result of the influence you have had on him is incredibly rewarding.

But friendship is give-and-take, so to speak. It can’t be one-sided. As such, it takes a lot of effort.

The other day I noticed a train of thought I experienced. It is much easier for me to overlook the faults and foibles of a friend than an enemy. While I may be quick to criticize an enemy (even if not verbally), I tend to be much more patient with my friends. And in such an important relationship, this usually tends to be a good thing. It leads to deep, abiding love despite imperfection. After all, my friends have to put up with a lot of my idiosyncrasies and mistakes. Why shouldn’t I be patient with theirs?

Friendship requires a deep level of trust, which (naturally) takes a long time to develop. Trusting someone could be a rather dangerous thing. Many examples in history illustrate this danger. For example, Julius Caesar is betrayed by his associate Marcus Brutus; Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his twelve closest friends; Lehonti in the Book of Mormon is poisoned by Amalickiah, a man who had professed to have his best interest at heart.

I would trust my best friend with anything I have, from the dark secrets of my inner self to my passwords or bank card. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I have given him all those things, but the trust exists that I would be comfortable doing it, were it to be necessary. This places me in a very vulnerable situation. Should he betray me, I could lose everything. But the value and benefit of the friendship outweighs that risk.

That is, of course, a very objective way of looking at it. Rarely is emotion absent from analysis of important human relationships. When I’m with my friend, I’m not worried about whether he might betray me at some future time. We trust each other, and the emotion of love breaks down the obscuring walls of objectivity.

While there are great risks, there are great benefits to be had in a friendship. I see this as a manifestation of the age-old principle of the necessity of “opposition in all things,” as Book of Mormon writer Lehi phrases it, or as a relative of Newton’s Third Law that there can be no reaction without an instigating action.

Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize?

October 9, 2009

Now, I don’t usually write about politics, but this is an intriguing subject.

Are we awarding Nobel Peace Prizes on credit now? As cited in this article, the committee awarding the prize had a two-fold motivation: to praise the change in focus Obama has had on the world’s political outlook and to point out some of his initiatives “that have yet to bear fruit.” This sounds like the vice that keeps crashing the stock market.

Obama had only been president for two weeks before the nomination deadline of 1 February this year.

Thorbjørn Jagland, chariman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 2009, is quoted here as saying this: “You have to remember that the world has been in a pretty dangerous phase. And anybody who can contribute to getting the world out of this situation deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.”

While America does stand at the forefront of these issues (and Obama ostensibly stands at the head of American foreign policy), there are many political figures in the world who can potentially “contribute to getting the world out of this situation.” Shall we start awarding multiple Peace Prizes for all those people, too?

At the same time, I have no intention of criticizing Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can, and he’s accomplished some laudable things in the short months he’s already been president.

I only wonder a bit about the Nobel Peace Prize committee…

Friendship, Part I

October 3, 2009

I’ve been pondering lately about the value of friendship: What defines it, what makes it different from other, shallower relationships.

In this part, I’ll address some of the spiritual aspects of friendship.

There are a few passages in the Bible that illustrate friendship. The example that most stands out to me is David and Jonathan in 1 and 2 Samuel. Other references to and maxims about friendship can be found in the Writings (e.g., Proverbs, Psalms).

This July, while I was in the Netherlands, I read several passages in Proverbs and composed a poem based on them. It expresses well the feelings I have toward my friends.

A Faithful Friend

Thy reproach, O friend, is faithful.
What have I to do with the flattery of mine enemies?
They are as naught to me.

The gifts thou hast given me
Endear thy soul to me
And arouse my deepest gratitude.

Though calamity rage and my brother be far,
Thou dost stand close; thou lendest thy strength
To succor me.

What is thy counsel but sweetness to me
That rejoiceth my heart
And sharpeneth my countenance?

Thy counsel, thy strength, thy gifts—
My heart doth soar in thanksgiving to my Maker
For His gift—a faithful friend.

Based on Proverbs 19:6; 27:6, 9, 10, and 17

The counsel, advice, even rebuke of my friends is always done in love. Because I feel that love and know that their intention is to help me become a better person, I accept it gladly. My friends have given me gifts of many types. Most often it was simply spending time with me or giving of themselves in some simple way to help me. They have stood by me in the good times and in the hard times.

Indeed, supportive friends have helped me become the person I am today. They have helped me develop spiritually in the way that was best for me. It has been especially rewarding to reunite with them after we’ve been separated for two years all over the world.

Quandary of decision

September 27, 2009

How does one determine the will of the Lord for one’s life? How does one know what circumstances in life are caused by one’s own bad decisions and which are simply “meant to be”?

The simple (or simplistic) answer to these questions? Revelation and faith.

But what does that really mean in practice?

I had the idea today that the ability to accept simultaneously the will of the Lord and the trials I’m going through would be a great accomplishment of faith. It would require a recognition of the goals I have for myself and those which the Lord has for me. But at the same time, it requires patience in faith while enduring circumstances and trials that make it temporarily impossible for me to reach those goals.

For example (and this is a situation in which many at BYU find themselves), suppose you have an understanding that the Lord expects you to get married and raise a family. That is a worthy goal, which you have accepted for yourself. But at the same time you don’t seem to find anyone around you with whom you’d want to build a relationship that would eventually lead to such an end.

This is where the quandary of decision comes to play. You have to look very carefully at your life and try to determine which circumstances are caused by your own decisions and which are the result of a test the Lord wishes you to pass first. Can you not find anyone you’d like to date simply because you don’t go out and date, or is it because the Lord wants you to wait for something else in life, some new phase or some other change?

If you can come up with an answer to that, you’ve probably come quite close to your solution. But life’s problems so often elude such clear-cut explanation.

At this stage, you must learn to exercise faith in the Lord: faith that His promises will be fulfilled, as long as you prove faithful to His desires. And faith without works is dead (James 2:20). That means you’ve got to do something about it. You can’t sit still and expect something to happen.

A few passages of scripture may be beneficial. The first is one of my favorites:

For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Isaiah 54:10 (cf. 3 Nephi 22:10)

The Lord has no intention of forsaking us in all our trials. Indeed, He stands there ready to help us when we call on Him.

And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
Isaiah 8:17

The term waiting on the Lord implies not idle, dormant waiting but active, trusting anticipation–faith that the Lord will fulfill His promises in His own time.

The well-known declaration of the Lord to Joseph Smith adequately summarizes this type of faith:

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:708

Return to Virtue

September 13, 2009

Just listened to a wonderful talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton, General President of the Young Women’s organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was held at the Marriott Center on BYU campus.

The theme of her talk was “a return to virtue”–the idea that we as youth of this “marked generation” can make a difference in the world.

Mormon writes in the Book of Mormon about how the society of his day had become so degenerate that they had devalued one of humankind’s most valuable possessions: virtue (Moro. 9:9-10). Sister Dalton suggested that our world today has also descended to this degenerate level.

Who will make the difference? If it’s not us, it will be no one. It won’t be easy, but we can have the Lord’s promise, as the Brother of Jared had it: “I prepare you against these things” (Ether 2:25). In order to do that, we need to be virtuous ourselves. Sister Dalton used the example of running a marathon the wrong direction. Once you realize you’re going the wrong way, you want to turn around as quickly as possible. If you don’t, you’re losing valuable time and energy running on a course that, no matter how far you follow it, will never get you successfully to the finish line. The same applies to repentance in our lives. The sooner we turn around, the better off we will be. And continuing in sin will never lead us to the finish line we want to reach.

What are your thoughts? What is expected of us as Latter-day Saints, as the bearers of light to the world?

Following the BYU football game on Twitter

September 12, 2009

Here’s an interesting phenomenon for you. I was never so much into watching football games. But as I was reading through posts on TweetDeck (I just recently started using Twitter), I read this tweet by Phil Windley:

RT @gardenglen: for those who do not have the BYU v. Tulane game on … BYU 34 Tulane 3 end 3rd quarter #BYU #MWC


34-3?!? That was so astonishing I had to search it out. I clicked on the #BYU link, which opened a separate search panel in TweetDeck. This pulled up all the recent tweets containing that hashtag. Most of those had score or play updates.

So, what do I do with this new-found tenchnological fascination? Follow the football game by listening to what people say about it.

UPDATE: Just a few minutes ago, voler tweeted this:

#BYU Rally event page… Within minutes 1,155 invited. 🙂 Bring it, BYU!

A Facebook event was created for the rally at the airport tonight at 9:00 pm to welcome home the triumphant Cougars. And within minutes the word got around to over 1,000 people!

Information travels quickly with Twitter and Facebook, eh?