Originally published in May, 2010
CHRIS TOLLES DECLARED WAR ON NEWSPAPERS, JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA ETHICS
Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix.com, a huge, International Internet Forum website and news aggregator, Topix CrunchBase profile, bears a stricking resemblance to Napoleon who is apparently a hero and role model. He spelled out his vision for a New Media Empire to replace newspapers in his 2009 Topix blog post The Bad Guys Win.
Note the battle terminology:
"But Jeez, why is it that all the old newspaper guys think there's some giant pile of money at the top of the trust pyramid? There isn't. All the money is at the bottom. In the muck."
"Sigh.""I guess its time for another crop of news products from journalists. Why is it that when these guys all go onto the field of battle "once more into the breach" style, they don't understand which side of the Agincourt analogy they are on. They face superior weapons and a difference in culture and ethics. They are the French in this battle. They die."
- Chris Tolles, The Bad Guys Win
In this post, Chris Tolles spells out his media philosophy, rationale, dislike of journalists, views on profitability in media and reflects in general, on the take-over of print media by internet media. He makes very clear, that he is little interested in "another crop of news products from journalists", he reflects that they do not understand the "battlefield" which he compares to the Battle of Agincourt where the outnumbered English defeated the French in the 100 years war.
I have a few questions for Chris related to this post:
Is this a battle Chris? If so, who are you trying to kill? You do use the word "die". Are you trying to kill off newspapers and "old newspaper guys" i.e. journalists?
And what are you proposing to replace them with? Citizen journalists? Trolls? Are you proposing to elevate the comment to the place once held by newspaper editorials? What do you propose to replace reporting with? What do you proposed to replace investigative journalism with? What do you propose to replace fact-checking with?
Do you propose to replace news with opinion, which on Topix many times, means gossip and bullying?
A quick glance, at any time of day or night, shows what passes for content on Topix is very rarely news.
Chris Tolles, can you explain this sentence from your article: "They face superior weapons and a difference in culture and ethics." Do you mean no ethics? Is that the difference?
Are trolls what you mean by "superior weapons"?
Topix has an exceptionally weak terms of service for its users, no rules at all to follow, no guiding ethics beyond a request to be "nice", a request that is routinely ignored by both the trolls and the moderators. Its forums are often mosh-pits loaded with slanderous gossip. Therefore, if one is to take what you have written here seriously, you are proclaiming the superiority of media without ethics to guide it save those within the posters themselves?
A world which, without a verification system of what is true or false, without rules to guide it, one which places brutality and meanness at the utmost pinnacle of persuasion? A world ruled by moderators that are not impartial?
You have clearly advanced your support for this type of persuasion and media, by your statement all of the money [in media] is to be found in the "Muck".
Money matters more than people??? Not when you are running a people business and promoting citizen journalists as the future of Media.
A Vehicle for Slander
My question to you is, what about the posters who are guaranteed to be harmed by this climate of brutality? Words are powerful weapons and used as such. Is this your objective?
What about the thousands, who never post on Topix but are having their names dragged through the mud there, since the climate you are advancing here, sets up the perfect stage for slander?
There are threads loaded with slander on almost every Topix forum across the Country and World. How long will it be before Topix deals with this mounting problem and stops brushing it off? What they refuse to understand, is that just because a crime cannot be tried, does not mean it did not happen. Why would they want to create as many enemies as they have? Why would they want the number of people to be harmed as are being on their site?
Topix is sticking its finger into a dike about to burst. The problem of slander on Topix is something they are going to have to deal with.
What About the Truth
What about the truth? Should bottom-feeders be encouraged and supported? What media philosophy, besides yours, supports this and if America understands that this is the philosophy Topix supports, how well do you think they will tolerate it? Since when does it not matter if people are being defamed? Since when can media exist without ethics?
How can a company that advertises itself as a media company and all about citizen journalists, be so indifferent to the people who post there?
Tolles is declaring victory in The Bad Guys Lose for the very Opposite scenario, a scenario where the Bad Guys clearly, win.
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Journalism isn't a profession, it's a religion.
Chris Tolles advaces his idea for Topix to replace newspapers as a source for local news in a Streetfight interview. He again lashes out at journalists:
In it he claims Topix is " the best news site" providing local news. Local news? Nope, mostly slander.
In fact Topix has replaced newspapers in many towns across America. He advocates for citizen journalists as a superior method of deciding what is newsworthy:
"While not always great, we do have the best news site for many small towns without their own newspaper, and the commentary is what provides the meat of that coverage...
Tolles has a "beef" with journalism:
"My beef with "journalism" is that the idea that something is or is not newsworthy in 2011 should be decided by everybody. The gatekeeper function of editing really does poorly in small towns where everybody knows everybody else."
He expresses his view that:
"Journalism isn't a profession, it's a religion."
He posts a link to the Topix forum for Pikeville, Kentucky saying this proves the people there are choosing their own news:
"Oh, and who would you suggest should have the right to shut down anonymous gossip in a small town? There are 278 people on Topix in Pikeville Kentucky for example as I write this out of a population of 6,200. Seems like they like it well enough to be there."
Check out the Topix forum Tolles links to:
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Topix is owned by the Gannett, Tribune & McClatchy news corporation. They have protected Topix from almost all press.
"As Robert Scoble points out in his recent post, Topix and our pursuit of a model to deal with hyperlocal news, is one of the online efforts our newspaper investors have a stake in, and also that local is a pretty major part of the future of the news business."
- Chris Tolles, CEO Topix
The company has routinely ignored the copious complaints sent to them about Topix for years now. They have sheltered Topix from almost all exposure.
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You and your ilk have dysfunctional ethics around business
Chris Tolles again turns up here in a comment with his rationale for Topix, lashing out at newspapers for their "dysfunctional ethics":
"You and your ilk have dysfunctional ethics around business which only existed during a narrow time when newspapers enjoyed local monopolies. The idea that it is somehow better for journalists to get to decide what is presented and discussed in public is nauseating.
Our Constitution discusses freedom of the press in the context of the day – when newspapers were directed partisan attack vehicles. The newspaper you worked for was notable in the publishing of anonymous commentary 300 years ago, and the man who built the media empire which bought it, Col. McCormick would likely be much more in tune with my view of the press than yours.
News is a weapon too important to leave to people who can’t even figure out how to run a profitable business.
I employ people and support livelihoods on what we do. The idea that somehow it is immoral to provide a forum for people is just arrogant and foolish.
The world is changing and you and yours are fading and will be forgotten by the billions of people enjoying the interaction they now exercise. The battle is won, the gate is crashed."
- Chris Tolles, CEO Topix
I have a few questions for Chris Tolles regarding this post:
Chris Tolles, you wrote: "News is a weapon too important to leave to people who can’t even figure out how to run a profitable business." Since when is news a "weapon"???
And if, as indeed it can be sometimes, if news is a weapon, are not vitriolic and harsh opinions that much more so? And are you advancing the belief that if one removes journalists and ethics from the equation in media, that will guarantee more profit? How do you propose to advance this theory except by deception, since if the general public learns of it, it is not something they will accept?
You are criticizing "dysfunctional ethics" that don't support your business model, yet ethics are needed in any business model and especially for media. If they are eliminated, as you have proposed in The Bad Guys Lose, and replaced with "new ethics", how do you plan to handle the inevitable human harm, slander, crime and deception that will occur?
Or is this exactly the culture you want to promote?
Again, as before, you are using battle terminology to describe your assault on journalism, yet look what your "new" ethics on Topix have bred. Untold harm is happening across America due directly to Topix harassment, lives are being ruined. Free Speech does not include the "right" to harm people, it is stated firmly in the First Amendment, that free speech does not mean conducting harm. Not to mention, verbal brutality is taking away people's rights, including the right to free speech, on Topix daily.
Free speech is being impeded on Topix therefore the First Amendment cannot be used to condone what is happening there.
I understand the basic premise that adults should be able to speak their mind and give their opinions, using adult language, this is true. But if unlimited free speech is going to be tolerated, then transgressions against the right to free speech of others, need to be taken into the fold and compensated for.
And every single form of censorship would need to vanish from Topix, a condition that does not currently exist there. I have witnessed, for instance, the unequal condemnation of posters by the Topix Mods.
Is a simple dismissal of traditional journalism enough for the floodgates of anything-goes media to be tolerated in America, a tolerance that includes a tolerance for human harm and illegal activity?
Somehow, I seriously doubt it.
The battle is not won, the gate is not crashed.