Blogging in shades of clear gray

Since I did not do a good job at explaining my reasonings of the postings, I spent some time talking about them in the Free Press column this week titled "Blogging in shades of clear gray". Below is a slightly fatter version of that column. The Free Press had to get a certain word count so this one is a bit heavier.
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Welcome to the 21st century. On March 2, I created a good amount of 21st century debate on what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior online by posting once-private blog entries from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s spokesman, Jason Webber, on my public site, Swampbubbles.com. This stirred discussion online and in offices around the city; some of it was not flattering of Webber and some of it was not flattering toward me.

Someone asked me if I would do the same thing the next time this situation came up. I told them if it was this particular case, I would.

When I became alerted to the issue, my first thought was that there could be something of public interest: some insight to know what is going on in our government.

I also became aware last week that Webber's postings were not such a secret, and this was also confirmed even after I posted this the blog entries. Once I heard in a conversation last week that someone else knew about it, I knew it was only time that it was going to come out. And who knows, it may have come out by an anonymous poster on my site or on another blog. Since I was more interested in the transparency aspect of this case, I decided to go ahead and only post the unflattering blog entries, in which Webber described his initial days on the job.

People have high expectations of me and I know that some people are disappointed by my actions. There is a knowledge gap between what is posted versus the full situation, but because I am unable to fill in that knowledge gap, I am willing to accept the consequences of this decision. I think the online community is particularly vocal on this because of the belief of privacy rights, and I do respect that debate, people should be assured that I am not trolling to try to find the latest dirt on someone to make the latest story.

If a public person is talking about an elected official or things that go on in our government, and if that information is disclosed in a legal format, I would side more on the side of disclosure than not. Too many times, government loves getting the last word in, playing tricks with public information, making sure that you only get what they want you to get. When you have the opportunity to get something that provides insight into how our government operates, there is a case that it should be disclosed, especially if someone is posting it in a way that can easily become public. Of course every case should be weighed on its own merits, but I do think that these blog entries were worth putting in the public discussion because there are not too many first-person accounts of what goes on the 22nd floor before a usually unfriendly departure.

If you post something that you think you could get you fired, but you are under the false confidence that it will not get out because it says “private” or only your trusted friends will see it, then you already are on the wrong track. There are many ways that things could be accidentally or intentionally disclosed including accidentally allowing someone access, technology failing through a bug or improper access. Of course your friends may come and go and you never know which ones may harbor evil or naive intentions. You or your friends could accidentally forget to log out of a computer disclosing private information.

If you are public person or official talking about the details of what goes on in a lighthearted way, in a serious or criminal way, you cannot sit there and think that won't draw interest. If what you said is obtained legally, we have the right to see it because your comments/commentary in front of an audience about your public job is an extension of what you do for a living. Asserting a public right to possibly private comments is a unique perspective, but it is one I intend to pursue and establish as fair game.

There is no middle ground on this issue and I am sure some of you will remain disappointed, but that is a consequence of my decision to do this and one I will live with.

http://www.toledofreepress.com/2009/03/06/blogging-in-shades-of-clear-gray/

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There is a knowledge gap between what is posted versus the full situation, but because I am unable to fill in that knowledge gap

Why are you not able to disclose the full situation? Or at least disclose as much of the full situation as you know?

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

'but I do think that these blog entries were worth putting in the public discussion because there are not too many first-person accounts of what goes on the 22nd floor before a usually unfriendly departure'.

What does this all mean? Departure? What/whose departure? Carty's?

Tell us again about the 'insight' here. That he yells? Sounds funny when he yells? Works long hours? Expects his people to work long hours? Says and does dumb things that keeps his name in the public eye and gift-wraps fodder for his foils in the media, principally WSPD and the Free Press?

Is this a tempest in the teacup called Toledo?

There was nothing in the writings you callously revealed that would have been remotely of interest or concern to the public no matter how many times and versions (stick to one story!) you have attempted to spin it.

As someone else eloquently put it:
You are simply the 21st century equivalent of a class nerd who intercepts a note and hands it over to be read in front of the class, by the teacher, in order to embarrass those you dislike.

Explaining yourself away via blame directed at Webber doesn't whitewash your actions.

The silver lining is you have blown your load on a NON-story, exposing yourself as the tacky, untrustworthy person you are--today versus later on with a story actually of note. And that's a consequence we can ALL be happy about.

This TFP OP-piece and a temporary jump in traffic to your blog will be gone next week, but you'll not easily separate your name from this little fiasco in the collective Toledo memory.

I was just wondering how does Chris personally benefit from high traffic volume? There are no advertisements on the site, right?

The man hasn't benefited monetarily, do you think it is possible he believes in what he is doing? Go ahead and disagree with Chris for posting whatnot, but attacking the man as practically amoral is a little over the top.

but of course his dear friends at the Free Press could well do so by printing his 'explanation' of why he did what he did, ditto any segment he might do with his other close associates on WSPD on this topic.

Cozy relationships abound. All of his other media buddies will get a piece of the action and they'll all help to cover his tracks and keep his version of the story alive.

been unabashedly pro open government the whole time. If I wanted to make it personal I could have posted everything which would have caused many more problems. I said pretty much this on 13abc, but they choose not to run it. Since they did not I wanted to get it out there since it was missing from the beginning.

So Chris's "version" of the story is kept alive, and all the comments still remain here on Swamp Bubbles. Are any comments disappearing? Chris certainly has the ability to erase the "trail" of the questions and outrage others have expressed.

I still have yet to understand how posting the MySpace blog has benefited him personally. Are you planning to sell the site Chris? I'm sure if he did, he would lose a lot of users.

And if Chris has a "version," where are the other versions?

I do recall some people wanting to bring more users into the SB community a couple months ago, talking about passing out business cards with the website on them. If anybody else has any more juicy stuff like the Webber posts, I encourage you to post them here so we can get more publicity and traffic. LOL.

I buys him mana with the likes of Moody and Wilson.

As a media vehicle with significant intellectual property and labor via Chris, this blog has a demonstrable monetary worth. Any blog with some decent traffic has such a value, though Chris might be choosing to avoid overt advertising or other related revenue-generating schemes for the time being.

There are quite a few blog valuation calculators on line, some of which are garbage, but this one seems pretty accurate. Punching in 30,000 monthly uniques with a Gooogle PR of 4 and an eCPM of three cents makes my main blog worth about $10K, which is less than I can earn on a good year from advertising on my site.

Given his PR of 4 and estimating 60,000 unique visitors and a very low eCPM of a penny, SwampBubbles has a value of over $37K.

You might scoff at such an idea, but blogs are becoming big business.

Now, does Chris keep the financial value of his website first and foremost whenever he makes a decision? Probably not. In my case, it never enters my thoughts, since I could never "sell" my site - it would be worthless without my writing (and some would say it is worthless WITH my writing, but that is a separate issue).

SwampBubbles, though, could conceivably be spun off to a new owner, since the community is the draw at least as much as what Chris writes. Suppose John or Jane Doe wanted to buy SwampBubbles, while keeping Chris as a figurehead moderator. A few banner ads, some in-text paid links, and this site could generate $2K a month without batting an eye. Add some paid posts and SwampBubbles could easily bring in $5K per month.

So, though a bump in traffic might not mean doodly squat to Chris in terms of immediate payoff, there are definite long-term financial possibilities should Chris make the site commercial.

Personally, I decided a few months ago to limit advertising. I used to whore out my site for almost any advertiser waving $25 or $50, but now I place greater value on aesthetics than monetization. I doubt I will make more than $6K in 2009 from blog advertising, and my site looks better because of it. I recently deleted over 300 paid posts from my archives, leaving only the Amazon banners.

Anyways, that's my personal take on site valuation.

This is very similar to the Salinger v. Random House case. IANAL, but you can't publish someone's personal correspondance without their authorization. You can paraphrase the writing, but you have no legal right to post screenshots and may not be allowed to reprint the text of Webber's post.

There's a city full of walls you can post complaints at

Salinger v. Random House involved unpublished letters from the writer to individual recipients.

Webber's posts were published, although to a limited number of "friends" on a social networking platform. No one has yet publicly stated how many "friends" Webber listed on the site, but many folks have hundreds or thousands of online friends for their "private" MySpace and Facebook pages.

Some courts have ruled that the act of publishing a "private" blog post to such a wide number of friends means that privacy is therefore undermined, and that social networking sites do not share the same privacy expectations as confidential communications, despite the presence of a "privacy" setting.

I'm talking about fair use. The Blade put the smackdown on a heroic effort by a user at Skysraper City named Bonjour Toledo to catalog development in Toledo because his posts included the entire article. The lesson learned is that without consent from the copyright holder, you can't legally reprint a copyrighted article in its entirety. Salinger v Random House extended copyright protection to personal correspondance, which Webber's posts and private status suggest that he intended his posts to be read by a specified audience. I don't see how posting Webber's entire post qualifies as fair use and I would be surprised if Chris faced a lawsuit in the near future.

There's a city full of walls you can post complaints at

A lawsuit from whom? To what end? The cat is out of the bag for days and is making merry with the catnip and the puggles on the back porch.

While it's true that anyone can file a suit against anyone else anytime they feel like spending a few bucks, the suit may easily be without merit or be thrown out by the judge. Even if the suit gets to trial, which can be a long stretch of real time (as opposed to lawyer time), a lot can happen meanwhile.

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

is exposed like this. Look how Bush was outed on this site and elsewhere. His every word, slight , and step that someone heard was duly posted. His former press secretary joined in this reporting . I didn't see any protesting about that on this site.
I would like to report on my boss too if he were an elected official, because he is often a tryant too.
Tyrants need to be outed like this , they are bullies .
This media is one of the few ways to do that .
Do you guys want to see the 'fairness doctrine ' extended to this media too?

Cogi,
It's all right, man. Everything is going to be okay. Don't be worrying yourself about nothing. Trust us, the tyrants will be outed. The bullies will be taken care of. Everything is going to be all right. Rest now. Take the blue pills.

Patience is a great virtue.

Chris,

How can you say you are not trolling the Internet for information on other people after the email you sent me this week?

Just how often to you get to the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory that you would join a message board for natives and residents of that city 260 miles from Toledo?

Or did you just join it because you found out I was posting there?

Frankly Chris, your email indicating you were cyber-stalking me is scary and should scare others.

Brian,
I've been tracking Myers' computer communications, with some help from other government friends, and also have come upon numerous e-mails pertaining to establishing a colony of "believers" of Myers in the Northwest, possibly in a Canadian province. I don't know this man's motives or intentions, but I am certain he is dangerous to persons immediately surrounding him and to the institutions of our nation. Myers is believed to have drawn at least 12,000 "believers" to his yet unknown outpost on the western continent. The former school board candidate was last seen in North Platte, Neb., purchasing 5,000 packets of Cherry Red Kool-Aid at a 7-Eleven. Video-audio show him muttering "Webber, webber, webber" before he collects his change, thanks the clerk, and leaves the store. Agents are tracking him now. We believe he is still in the United States. Brian, as a former government official, you know where to send sensitive stuff. Do so if you get additional information on Myers.
Mr. Hoover

Patience is a great virtue.

not know you knew about the 5k packets of kool-aid. I am going to have to plea the 5th amendment on this one Don.

Post the email you're referring to. Sounds like it would be in the 'public interest' of Swampbubbles' participants to view it.

watching what you were saying about your job with Carty when you left the 22nd floor in a public discussion forum. SwampBubbles is actually being served up from a company in Houston, through a domain registrar in Canada, so physical locations don't matter where things are talked about. If you read the Free Press column above you will know why your comments were of particular interest and why they are of not interest now. After you sent me a message saying that what you think I did was wrong, I mentioned the irony of you saying that, given that timing prohibited a very similar story coming out 1.5 years before. I also reminded you that if I could find what you were saying, anyone could since where you post is public. You are welcome to paste the whole message here to show everyone what I really said.

'Frankly Chris, your email indicating you were cyber-stalking me is scary and should scare others.'

Pretty serious charges. You made the allegtions in a public forum. So paste the email in a public forum and we can all see what the fuss is about.

McCaskey. Brian should paste everything I said to prove I am "cyber-stalking" since that is such an outrageous allegation that I am sure everyone would want to see. He has my permission.

According to Chris' standard, I don't need his "permission" to post it. I will post it because McCaskey asked: Here is the text of an email Chris sent me .last week after I expressed my disapproval of his actions:

I respect your different point of view. The irony of this was I was following you on the Marrietta Info site for a while and the only thing that prohibited me from posting about that was you resigned, it no longer became a story. It does not matter because it is all old info now, but still. You probably do want to delete the info on why you really resigned because if I could find it, other people can. I think the public right to know and the oddities of this whole case made it worth mentioning. I will accept the consequences of it.

My question is, what was Chris' interest in the current and former residents of a southeastern Ohio town (Marietta) chatting, arguing, informing, and sharing with each other? I can't think of any other reason other to spy on me.

As far as compromising posts, I invite you to look. The page is www.mariettaohio.info . The history goes back pretty far. My handle is BES. Since the webmaster sells advertising on the site, I'm sure he'll appreciate the new hits.

I understood then and understand now that those words were not private. However, there is nothing incendiary either.

So what was Chris' purpose? Maybe he just happened to be interested in my hometown. Somehow I doubt it. Marietta is beautiful, but hardly the hotbed of political intrigue. Furthermore, at that time, you had to join the site as a member to view the posts. So, Chris couldn't have just "happened" upon them. He had to join to see what was written there.

What Chris did was peep through an open window. Shame on me, I guess, for not closing the curtains. But is a man who stares through a window at someone just because the curtains are pulled back just curious, or is he a voyeur?

Or maybe Chris thought I would find his words intimidating and I would not criticize him anymore. In any event, I invite you all to visit the website and read my writings.

So

I don't see how that message transfers into cyber-stalking. You can view the posts there without registration, at least that was the policy back when I was watching while you were working with Carty. That means that that site is no less private than this site because readers will see that you do talk about Toledo and the mayor on your posts. It does appear the site is different now so I don't know if registration is still the case. No longer a story and old news usually means that people move on. If you read above, I take particular interest when our government is being talked about on the Internet, and your activity was no exception.

It would appear that if I wanted to get people to stop criticizing me, that I have quite a long list right now :) and that everyone else would know about it.

From Chris: There is a knowledge gap between what is posted versus the full situation, but because I am unable to fill in that knowledge gap

Again, why are you not able to disclose the full situation? Or at least disclose as much of the full situation as you know?

That's an easy question.

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

Chris,
Please answer MJ's inquiry. It's cool to talk about openness and the wonderfulness of truth. As a good Republican, as you say you are, how can it be that you are "unable to fill in that knowledge gap."? Wha da fu dat mean? Chris, you're sending me back in time, man. I see you testifying before a Congressional panel and blowing their minds with "filling in that knowledge gap." Oliver ain't got nothing on you.
Peace and love to you, snitch.

Patience is a great virtue.

If

I wanted to MJ, I would have already filled it in.

DW, I have not sought protection of the 5th amendment and would never need to do so in this case.

as is often the case with this individual, the reply here leads to more questions than answers. He might be saving it for another FP piece or a spot on a certain local AM station.

I doubt it, but I suppose you never know. One thing I can say for sure is that even if I don't agree with a would-be politico's opinion, the thing that I find repellent is the constant paltering.

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

Tell us the whole story about that myspace bug last year!

Shades of gray - that's when you get to know the true character of an individual by watching how they handle such a situation.

Finally, an answer to my question. Here's the difference, Chris.

You stated because I am unable, meaning you have no choice in the matter. So, irrespective of your own desires one way or the other, this is the limit of you abilities and knowledge on the subject. Which is misleading, because the real truth of the matter is that you are able, you just don't want to.

Now, speaking for myself alone, I don't have a problem with your decision. My position has always been that this entire subject is no more than a pot hole next to the gutter. Like all potholes, eventually it will either be fixed, forgotten or avoided. My objection is that if you are going to take that position (I choose not to) the very least you should do is write or respond with the truth instead of prevaricating, which is what you've been doing.

My observation might mean a good deal less than it does if it weren't for your political aspirations. Such things matter if you hold a political office. As a case in point, look at what happened to Slick Willie when he went in front of Congress. When the lead gas bag asked Slick about playing hide the salami in the Oval Office, instead of telling him to go fart up a flagpole, Slick prevaricated (What do you mean by sex?) then he lied, then he made matters worse by apologizing.

So, if you choose not to reveal the rest of your knowledge, say so. If you choose not to explain or defend your choice, you can say that too and know that it's a perfectly reasonable response. The thing that keeps your critics alive is the tap dancing and carnival level attempts at misdirection.

Mad Jack
Mad Jack's Shack

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