The Detroit Auto Show: "At this point, what we need from cars is less"

Just a tiny chunk of the show floor at the Detroit Auto Show. This photo is taken at the Honda stand looking out over the Ford display. Photo: David Akin

I was one of the cheerleaders, to use the parlance of The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Easterbrook doesn't exactly sound like he's the kind of guy you want to hang out with at a show like this:

The cheerleaders, I mean automotive press, have departed, and over the weekend the annual North American International Automotive Show was opened to the public. You can gawk here at the flashy cars on display; detailed reporting on the event can be found here at The Detroit News auto show site. The theme of this year's cars was more: more power, more gizmos, more weight, more cost, even more safety features. But at this point what we need from cars is less.

If you're at all interested, one of my stories was about the struggle the Big Three (a misnomer now since Toyota is now number two in the world to General Motors) are having in the North American car market. (Click on the video links on the right-hand side.)

Guess who's back? (And it's not just because of the iPod)

[From today's Globe and Mail] It was no less an expert than Michael Dell who forecast the demise of Apple Computer Inc. In 2001, the chairman and founder of the computer company that bears his name said Apple had sealed its fate by failing to build computers that used Intel Corp. microprocessors and software from Microsoft Corp. In sticking with its own proprietary technologies, Apple could not survive. “We know how the movie ends,” Mr. Dell, now 39, said. “It's just a question of what happens in the middle.”
But three years later, it is Apple — not Dell Inc. — that some say is now the best bet for investors interested in backing a computer maker.
Long an ugly duckling for investors, the Cupertino, Calif., company has been the soaring swan of the market for the past year. Its stock is up 176 per cent in the past 12 months (it closed yesterday at $70.10 U.S.), compared with 13 per cent for Dell. Apple already rivals Round Rock, Tex.-based Dell in manufacturing efficiency, and is poised to beat it on profit margins, earnings and revenue growth. On new product innovation, analysts say, Apple is unrivalled . . . [Read the full story ]

Dean paid bloggers

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Daily Kos and another blog received $3,000 (U.S.) a month for four months from the Howard Dean campaign.
The story reports that both bloggers disclosed at their blogs that they received funds from the Dean campaign.
The Journal's story began with a post by Zephyr Teachout, who worked on the Dean campaign.
Neither The Daily Kos nor MyDD, though, contains disclosures now about how they pay their bills, something I think is important if you want your views on whatever issue to be taken seriously.
The guy behind the Daily Kos, it should be noted, received hard-to-get press credentials for the Democratic National Convention, the same kind of credentials normally reserved for those who are not being paid by the politicians they are ostensibly reporting on. The guy behind MyDD quit his blogging while he worked for the Dean campaign.
Now, it's one thing for bloggers like Kos to provide a forum for political discussion but it's quite another to be given press credentials when the group accrediting you is the group paying you. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other independent journalists and bloggers had their applications for credentials to this event refused. I wonder what those who couldn't get credentials think of the Democrats for credentialling someone who was on Dean's payroll.
Some Kos fans are, erm, a little hot under the collar about this whole issue. Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has some good discussion, as well, around this issue.
But whether you agree with Kos politics or not, what did he and his supporters think would happen? Bill O'Reilly, Bob Novak and other political opponents of Kos' worldview were bound to impugn his ethics and accuse him of being on the take.
Here's a response, from Teachout's blog:

How about a dislaimer or graphic that says I can be bought and have been. Then folks would know what they are dealing with. For a graphic I might suggest a hand out, palm up. Or a makeup laden lady of the night, her lips puckered and a eyebrow raised. We would then know the blogger is interested not in just donations, but bribes as well. It could become the latest thing in copy cat blogging protocol.

Daily Kos has lots to say on his site about this as do his readers/contributors.
Jerome Armstrong, who is behind MyDD, also has an explanation/thread on this.
This, incidentally, is not an issue about politics. This is an issue of vital importance to the craft of journalism and the challenge to that craft from bloggers. Readers need to know who pays the bills or how the bills the get paid.

Mac Mini creates maximum buzz

[From today's Globe and Mail] As soon as The Mac Station opened for business yesterday, the phones at the Vancouver computer store lit up with requests for information about the new Mac Mini (pictured left), a tiny but full-powered desktop computer that Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif. had unveiled hours earlier at an annual trade show in San Francisco.
Like its popular iMac consumer desktop computer, the Mini turns the world of computer design on its head. Just five centimetres tall and about three times that wide, it weighs a little over a kilogram. It is also the most competitively priced Apple computer ever, with a base model starting at about $630.
That is still more expensive by as much as two or three hundred dollars than the base models from other computer makers such as Dell Inc. of Round Rock, Tex. and Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif.
And so, the first question about the Mini was the same one asked of Apple when it introduced the iMac in 1998: Will it sell? … [Read the full story]

You're invited: The state of investigative journalism in Canada

If you're in Toronto next Tuesday night (Tue Jan 18) and you're looking for some interesting discussion, consider this:
Feeding the Hand that Bites You
What should Investigative Reporters do when the State comes calling?
Four Case Studies

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
7:30 p.m.
Jorgenson Hall – L-72
Ryerson University, Toronto


  • Author Stevie Cameron
  • Juliet O'Neill from the Ottawa Citizen
  • Andrew McIntosh from the National Post
  • Ken Peters from the Hamilton Spectator
  • Moderator: Peter Desbarats, former Maclean Hunter Chair of Media Ethics, Ryerson Polytechnic University

Presented by Poking the State With a Stick Enterprises., in association with the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Ryerson School of Journalism.
There are no rule books and few reliable guides to assist investigative journalists who set out to probe the State – only to find it hitting back via the police, the courts and even CSIS, our homegrown spooks.
What do you do when the State comes calling?
The RCMP turned up at the offices of the National Post's Andrew McIntosh demanding his copy of an allegedly forged document that was a key twist in the murky Shawinigate scandal. His paper fought the search warrant and won a lower court ruling that says freedom of the press can sometimes trump police investigative demands.
The RCMP followed the Ottawa Citizen's Juliet O'Neill, taped her calls, pawed through her garbage – and and then raided her office, her home and her underwear drawer, all in an effort to learn the identity of a source they say may have broken national security laws by leaking her a document
outlining their case against Maher Arar.
A provincial court judge cited Hamilton Spectator reporter Ken Peters for contempt and threatened him with jail before finally fining him $32,600 for refusing to reveal the source of confidential city documents he used in an exposé of a troubled nursing home.
Freelancer, author and investigative reporter Stevie Cameron agreed to meet with RCMP investigators who were playing catch-up to her investigations of corrupt Canadian government officials. Nine years later an RCMP claim that she was a confidential informant became front page news in a national newspaper and came close to destroying her reputation and her career.
In a two hour forum, this quartet of seasoned investigative reporters will answer questions like these:

  • Should an investigative reporter ever turn over the evidence of a crime he/she uncovers?
  • Does an investigative reporter have any obligation to reexamine an offer to protect a source ?
  • Do journalists in Canada need a general shield law that protects them from having to reveal confidential sources ?
  • In a free and open society, what kind of police/investigative journalist relationship serves the public interest best?

Poking the State With a Stick Enterprises is a joint effort of Bill Dunphy, Kimberley Noble and Jan Wong, and has nothing to do with their respective employers.

[What they said] Geist: Digitize everything!

Here's a great idea from Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and an all-around smart guy. He's got a regular column in the Toronto Star and in his most recent column, he says the National Library of Canada ought to scan and make available online a “copy of every book, government report, and legal decision ever published in Canada.” Here's his column (it's been distributed largely in this form on more than a few listservs):

In the mid-1990s, Ottawa established a bold new vision for the Internet in Canada. The centrepiece was a commitment to establish national Internet access from coast to coast to coast, supported by a program that would enable the country to quickly become the first in the world to connect every single school, no matter how small or large, to the Internet. Not only did Canada meet its goal, but it completed the program ahead of schedule.
As we enter the middle of this decade, the time has come for Industry Minister David Emerson (left)and his colleagues to articulate a new future-oriented vision for the Canadian Internet.
While the last decade centred on access to the Internet, the dominant issue this decade is focused on access to the content on the Internet. To address that issue, the federal government should again think big.
One opportunity is to greatly expand the National Library of Canada's digital efforts by becoming the first country in the world to create a
comprehensive national digital library.
The library, which would be fully accessible online, would contain a digitally scanned copy of every book, government report, and legal decision ever published in Canada. A national digital library would provide unparalleled access to Canadian content in English and French along with aboriginal and heritage languages such as Yiddish and Ukrainian. The library would serve as a focal point for the Internet in Canada, providing an invaluable resource to the education system and ensuring that access to knowledge is available to everyone, regardless of economic status or geographic location.
From a cultural perspective, the library would establish an exceptional vehicle for promoting Canadian creativity to the world, leading to greater awareness of Canadian literature, science, and history.
By extending the library to government documents and court decisions, it would help meet the broader societal goal of providing all Canadians with open access to their laws and government policies. Moreover, since the government holds the copyright associated with its own reports and legal decisions, it is able to grant complete, unrestricted access to all such materials immediately alongside the approximately 100,000
Canadian books that are already part of the public domain. Creating virtual libraries to complement the world's great physical libraries is already underway. Project Gutenberg, an all-volunteer initiative, has succeeded in bringing thousands of public domain texts to the Web.
Last summer, the British Library unveiled an ambitious plan to digitize and freely post on the Internet thousands of historical newspapers that are now in the public domain. That plan will bring more than one million pages of history to the Internet, including work from a young Charles Dickens.
Last month Google announced that it had reached agreement with several of the world's leading research libraries, including ones at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, and the New York Public Library, to scan more than 15 million books into its search archive.
Once the Google project is completed, the general public will enjoy complete, full-text access to thousands of books that are now part of the public domain because the term of copyright associated with those books has expired.
While digitally scanning more than 10 million Canadian books and documents is a daunting task, the Google project illustrates that it is financially feasible. Reports suggest that it will cost Google approximately $10 to scan each book.
Assuming similar costs for a Canadian project and a five-year timeline, the $20 million annual price tag represents a fraction of the total governmental commitment toward Canadian culture and Internet development. In fact, the most significant barriers to a national digital library do not arise from fiscal challenges but rather from two potential copyright reforms currently winding their way through the system.
First, the federal government is contemplating reversing the decade-old policy of avoiding Internet licensing by creating a new licensing system for Internet content that would create new restrictions to accessing online content.
By proposing a very narrow definition of what can be accessed without compensation, the plan would effectively force millions of Canadian students to pay for access to content that is otherwise publicly available.
Despite opposition from the education community, the proposal is marching forward, constituting a significant setback to the goal of encouraging Internet use in Canada.
Given the Supreme Court of Canada's recent commitment to copyright balance and robust user rights, it is clear that for most uses no license is needed to provide schools with appropriate access to online content such as a potential national digital library. With this in mind, this proposal should be quickly scrapped.
Second, the Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla's (left) Copyright Policy Branch recently announced that this year it plans to launch a public consultation on a proposal to extend the term of copyright in Canada from its current 50 years after the death of the author to at least 70 years after death (authors enjoy exclusive copyright in their work from the moment of creation until 50 years after they die).
Extending the copyright term would deal a serious blow to a national digital library because it would instantly remove thousands of works from the public domain. Although the U.S. and European Union have extended their copyright terms by an additional 20 years, the vast majority of the world's population lives in countries that have not.
Those countries have recognized that an extension is unsupportable from a policy perspective. It will not foster further creative activity, it is not required under international intellectual property law, and it effectively constitutes a massive transfer of wealth from the public to the heirs of a select group of copyright holders.
Given the economic and societal dangers associated with a copyright term extension, even moving forward with a consultation constitutes an embarrassing case of putting the interests of a select few ahead of the public interest.
A new year is traditionally a time for bold, new resolutions. As Parliamentarians return to Ottawa, they should be encouraged to seize the opportunity to establish a national vision for the Internet that will again propel Canada into a global leadership position.
Supported by appropriate copyright policies, a national digital library comprised of every Canadian book ever published would provide an exceptional resource for Canadians at home as well as advantageously promote the export of Canadian culture abroad.

[What they said] Blogs have little influence or effect on mainstream media

“Despite a lot of growth and mainstream media press, data suggest blogs have a long way to go to match the mainstream media in reach and influence.
“One thing bloggers are most interested in reporting is how important they think bloggers are,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit that's researching the Internet's influence. “Bloggers have influenced some media coverage, but the mainstream media still dominate what's going on.
“Blogging is still something that only the most elite Internet users do, and blog reading is done mainly by the most experienced Internet users. It's a small part of the population.” [… read the rest of the story]
-Brian Deagan writing in Investor's Business Daily.

Digital copying, copyright, and artist income

Has Internet-based digital distribution benefited creators of works financially? A new paper published at First Monday looks at that question. The author, a Professor of Information Jurisprudence and Joint Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management at Bournemouth University (now that's a mouthful for a job title!) has a “maybe, maybe not” answer to that question but it's a helpful paper nonetheless, if only because it proposes some questions for new research.
The author, Martin Kretschmer, (left) is looking at the copyright regimes only in Germany and the U.K. Certainly the U.K. regime would be similar in some respects to Canada.
Here's how Kretschmer answer that first question:

The evidence here is contradictory. The often–made claim that copyright supports the creative basis of a society is empirically doubtful. There is a suspicion that copyright underpins vastly unequal rewards.
Creator and investor interests are not the same. Copyright suits investors (music publishers, labels) who are incentivised to market and distribute the works they exclusively control. Copyright also suits creators with a track record of hits who can extract favourable terms from investors.
Copyright does little for new and niche creators who often sign away their bargaining chips cheaply. In the absence of alternative compensation schemes, digitisation so far appears to have brought few financial benefits from disintermediated distribution.
Royalties from performing rights administered by collecting societies (which cannot be individually renegotiated to reflect economic bargaining power) appear to form an important and increasing part of artists’ earnings. They appear to encourage artists at the margins of full–time work.

The paper is titled “Artists' earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies” and here's the summary:

Digital technologies are often said (1) to enable a qualitatively new engagement with already existing cultural materials (for example through sampling and adaptation); and, (2) to offer a new disintermediated distribution channel to the creator. A review of secondary data on music artists’ earnings and eight in–depth interviews conducted in 2003–04 in Britain and Germany indicate that both ambitions have remained largely unfulfilled.