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Reporting or Readers, which matters more to Jeff Young?

Jeff Young is the technology writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In an article not that long ago he asserted that people were leaving Second Life in droves for opensim options.  Actually to summarize the article that way is unfair, there was a lot of other information there that was not entirely accurate and poorly researched.

Wait, come to think of it, I’m not so sure it was poorly researched.  In fact, it seemed as if the article was designed to do exactly what it did, attract readers and make his article the #1 most read for a few days.

Mr. Young was brave enough to face a quite hostile crowd as my special guest for one of our Virtual World Education Roundtable meetings.  You can read the transcript here.  Please, do read it, it’s quite interesting in how Mr. Young defended what most visitors considered shabby reporting and even worse research.  I was part of Mr. Young’s research, in that I talked to him for almost 45 minutes as he was preparing his article.  In fact, although not by name, he mentioned the VWER and our recent name change.  I’m sure that Mr. young, like most reporters, cherry picked what he wanted from our conversation.  Not that he quoted me directly on anything, but I could see in his article what he was looking for when he interviewed me.

I was willing to give Mr. Young the benefit of the doubt, as you will plainly see in the transcript of the meeting.  I tried to keep it fair and balanced (and NOT in a Fox News way) and tried to make sure our members treated him with some respect.

I remember seeing another short a few weeks ago where, after reading it, I thought to myself that it was clear Young was fishing for readers and not reporting.  I don’t recall the article, I could find it I’m sure if pressed, but I do remember thinking that the title was very misleading.

Today, Young puts out another article about Woodbury University being banned, AGAIN, from Second Life.  I was in SL during the first banning.  A griefer group was using the Woodbury Campus to stage its attacks around SL and, from all reports, Woodbury would do nothing about it (like simply banning the griefers from the island).  SL was forced to take the island down.  It was a controversial decision at the time but most of us, in the end, felt like they handled it as best as they could.

Well, apparently the same thing has happened again and once again Woodbury has been banned and their virtual campus taken down.  Now, Second Life, and the company that owns it – Linden Lab – is in business to make money.  One does not make money by tossing out paying customers willy-nilly.  They also don’t make money when people are talking about THIS crap instead of all the positives of using virtual worlds in education.  So, it must take some real consideration to make a decision like this.  I certainly don’t know, perhaps they just made a dumb decision, but I’d err on the side of wanting the supposed $1000 a month, unless what was being done wrong was so egregious.

This is not my point.  My point is that Jeff Young is clearly trying to get more readers than get the story right.  He’d rather have the most talked about article, even if its got terrible inaccuracies (by omission), then produce good journalism.  When did journalism become about getting attention instead of getting the story right.  Perhaps Young attended the Fox school of journalism – it doesn’t matter if it is right or twisted, it only matters if they read it and talk about it.

As one for instance, Young quotes Edward Clift, dean of Woodbury’s School of Media, Culture & Design, as saying
“The professor said he felt that the virtual campus did not conform to what Linden Lab wanted a campus to be—with buildings and virtual lecture halls.”

Ok, so, Clift may have said that.  Now, wouldn’t it be the job of a good reporter to find out if this assertion is true – that this is what Linden Lab wants a campus to be?  Mr. Young was a guest on the Montclair State University island.  If he had looked around, he would have seen that, although we do have some buildings, we have no virtual lecture halls, and – in fact – our campus looks very little like an actual world campus.  I’ve been involved in the education side of Second Life for over three years and I can tell you that most educators, and institutions, in SL, may have some buildings, and a high-profile lecture hall or two, but the MASS MAJORITY of educational builds in SL are not mock ups of the actual world institutions.

Aside from the very silliness of that thought, Linden Lab is not in the business of telling its customers what their virtual worlds should look like.  The Lab is most concerned with the terms of service and to make sure others do not violate those.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my gripes with LL and how they are moving forward with the SL product, but never, not once has a single person from Linden Lab even suggested what our campus should look like and, in fact, we’ve received quite high praise from the educational team in Linden Lab for our creativity and originality.

Anyway, this latest example is not really such a big deal.  When coupled with the other reports that use similar language, similar tactics, and, in my opinion, similar tabloid reporting, it shows a pattern that I had hoped-against-hope was not the case when I interviewed Jeff in February.

Dear Chronicle of Higher Education, if you are looking for someone to write National Enquirer type articles about Second Life, keep Jeff Young on the spot.  Let him continue to put into print these one-sided, badly reported snippets that are doing more harm than good.  Those of us in education, working in virtual worlds, are struggling with this new platform and working hard to help it find the legitimacy it deserves in education.  By printing, and supporting, half-baked articles like this, you are unnecessarily alarming some with accounts that are not accurate (by omission) and you also undermine your own legitimacy as a new source as opposed to of an entertainment outlet.

  • pfanderson says:

    AJ, I would say this sounds fair to me. Because of the slant of the article, I felt it necessary to spend quite a bit of my own work time this week addressing the concerns for my own University community. If I had felt the article was fair and unbiased, I would have simply directed my community’s attention to the article. Instead, I felt it necessary to provide a counterbalance.
    I am not a reporter, and I hope I did a fair job, but I surely wish the original article had not first created a problem that needed to be addressed.

    April 23, 2010 at 10:10 am
  • Ignatius Onomatopoeia says:

    Having just survived a rather vile rant-fest with Prok at my blog, I have read all about this Woodbury business. AJ, I think you hit a note I’ve not heard yet.

    I’ve been at the edges of the Woodbury crowd, because of my association with the Alphaville Herald. And, yes, I love making fun of the JLU “superheroes,” partly because it seems pretentious (whatever good work they do at public events) and partly because I just hate DC Comics (‘Nuff said, from this Fan o’ Mighty Marvel).

    Whatever personal buttons this fiasco may have pushed, it’s fair to say that the WU folks included a fair number of griefers who deserved banning. Much of their stuff was asinine, much of it broadly offensive.

    I would also contend that should not be grounds for LL to revoke service to an institution of higher education, even one that is not policing its rented server space and whatever creations reside there. It’s a great argument for WU going OpenSim (let any griefers grief themselves).

    I don’t think Young’s piece raised a few questions clearly enough. If students make offensive content that violates TOS using a university’s rented server space, then deploy it elsewhere, is the university or the student (or both) to be penalized?

    Will virtual campuses need managers who regularly monitor what has been built? I can see that. But how can campus employees see what resides in a student’s SL inventory?

    We could be going down a very dangerous road here. SL inventory is not like a student’s dorm room, which can be searched for firearms given probable cause.

    Linden Lab should answer these questions, even if WU provides an extreme example of what might happen at other schools.

    April 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm
  • rivenhomewood says:

    Thanks, AJ and Pat. When I read the Chronicle article, it appeared very one sided and not terribly concerned with getting at the facts of the matter. I tried to address this on the Chronicle webiste, but I’m afraid that’s turned into a mess that probably did more harm than good. Your article and Ms Anderson’s are the most reasoned comments I’ve seen about the situation.

    April 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm
  • John Carfa says:

    This sort of thing (griefing and the shutting off of a campus) would never have happened on the Education Grid that the Immersive Education Initiative has established for teaching and learning. Avatars that have fake or anonymous names aren’t allowed and better controls are in place for learning space access. Plus you can copy all of your Second Life content into the Education Grid and have a dual presence in both worlds (but the Ed Grid doesn’t cost money). – John

    April 24, 2010 at 7:01 am
  • Couldbe Yue says:

    @ John,
    You do realise that content purchased in SL on the whole (i.e. most of it) is only licenced for use in SL itself?

    Very few content creators licence their items to be taken outside SL and I believe the ToS for SL may also say that, so if I were you (and anyone else who has done this with any other grid) I’d be looking at what you have taken to the Education Grid and go back to those content creators and talk licencing to them.

    April 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm

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