There is an interesting discussion taking place in the blogosphere about who first broke the news to the English-reading world of the protest letter against Sina.com written by several prominent Chinese lawyer-bloggers, who brought attention to it, how and why. Here is a full chronology of my actions during the time period in question, to clear up any misunderstandings about what I did or didn't do, when, or why:
- Letters From China blogged an excerpt on Friday. (Regrettably I did not see it.)
- Meanwhile over the weekend I received links to the Chinese original from several list-servs I am on.
- I see the story on Sunday morning in the South China Morning Post as I'm going out the door for a hike. I make a mental note to find a translation of the full letter - or translate it myself if necessary - later that evening.
- Unfortunately I couldn't blog the original SCMP story because it's password-protected for paying subscribers only, and if I copy and paste the whole thing they could go after me for copyright violation. So when I get home that evening I go online to see if I can find an online version of the SCMP story or whether the news agencies have picked it up. The wires had not picked it up. Then I checked the Asia Media site because they often re-run SCMP stories on a site that is freely accessible and can be blogged. However, it was still Sunday morning on the U.S. West Coast where that website is based and while eventually they did post the article, they hadn't at the time I was looking for it. And anyway, it didn't include the full translation.
- I look on my Skype buddy list and see Roland online. I figure I might as well ask him whether he is planning to translate the lawyers' letter so that I won't be duplicating his (faster and better) efforts. So I drop him a line. (Roland has since reproduced our exchange on his blog so you can read it there if you are interested in the detail.)
- I do some other things then check back a couple hours later. Lo and behold, Roland has indeed posted a translation.
- At 12:45am Monday morning, I publish a post about the letter on my blog.
- The next day I exchange e-mails with BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin, with whom I communicate from time to time on free speech issues. I had originally e-mailed her about Isaac's letter to Google and she says she's going to write a post about it. I thank her and give her the link to my post about the lawyer letter as well, since it's a related issue.
- Xeni does a big post about the lawyer letter and Isaac's letter. I am thrilled that she has helped bring attention to the views of the lawyers and of Isaac, and that I have managed to play a useful role thanks to the help of many others.
A discussion then ensues in the comments section of Letters from China about who had brought the story to the attention of the English-speaking world, and the role that Roland may or may not have played. Daai Tou Laam wrote a post titled SCMP Gets It Before ESWN to set the public record straight. Then Roland published our Skype chat transcript to clear the air on his side.
Hopefully this post serves to clear the air even further, as I am certainly not taking credit for anything in particular, other than being a conduit. I don't pay attention to my blog's traffic numbers. I just felt it was important to bring more attention to that letter by the lawyers (and to Isaac's open letter to Google). I had the ability to do so, thus I did.
This entire sequence of events highlights why it is such a bad strategy for a newspaper like the SCMP to put its content behind a paid firewall.
As LfC pointed out in his comments thread, the SCMP has made itself irrelevant in the global blogosphere:
... SCMP is a gross failure on the web. It requires subscription; its articles cannot be linked to; nor can they be googled! How many subscribers does SCMP have?
ESWN is open to all and linkable. Rebecca MacKinnon apparently picked up the protest from Mr Soong. So did the Time Blog. Boing Boing then stepped in. They invariably point to ESWN’s translation and comment.
It's true that the SCMP played a significant role in the story getting out. But they get little credit and no traffic to their website as a result of their role - which if I was them I would consider unfortunate.
I hope the SCMP's revamp includes opening up their site so that their hard-working journalists will be able to gain the same global relevance and impact that some Hong Kong bloggers have achieved singlehandedly with no marketing departments.
Joining the worldwide online conversation - from which they have so far excluded themselves - is good for the SCMP's business and brand in the long run, I believe. Especially since, as I understand, their online paid subscriptions have hit a plateau and are not expected to grow substantially.
Another lesson learned from this whole episode: Obviously I need to re-arrange my feed reader and move LfC's blog up to a more obvious position :)