began his talk by explaining that the Downing Street Memo website had
been his wife's idea while he was away on a business trip. She had been
one of the bloggers that exposed the Jeff Gannon story, so she knew
something about how blogging worked. Also, being a Silicon Valley
website designer, it was not hard for her to build the site. After
getting the idea, she quickly found out that the Downing Street Memo
address was available and snapped it up. When Bob got home from the
trip he found the thing was already going.
Internet Powered Citizen Journalism
Bob and Gina Fesmire of Sunnyvale are the
driving force behind the web site
created in May of this year in response to the
lack of media attention in this country to a series of leaked British
documents that shed light on the Bush administration's intentions for
war with Iraq.
The documents include minutes from a meeting between British Prime
Tony Blair and his top aides in July of 2002 (8 months before the war
discussing talks with Bush administration officials about Iraq. The web
become a phenomenal sparking point for expanding awareness about the
memo and providing a place where citizens can voice their concerns.
Bob will describe how he and Gina went from
being persons interested in the
lack of media coverage about the memo to citizen journalists using the
of the internet to escalate the awareness of what could turn out to be
the Bush administration lied about its intentions and fabricated the
case for war.
The website basically started as the text of the Downing Street Memo,
essentially the minutes of a meeting between senior staff in the
British Government after the Foreign Secretary came back from
Washington with news that the Bush Administration felt that war with
Iraq was inevitable, despite their public pronouncements that it was "a
last resort". Since then they have added a lot of supporting material.
The authors try to keep a balanced journalistic tone, so that viewers
can read it with an open mind.
The first big surge of hits came when Tom Tomorrow linked to it from
his blog. Then there were a series of mentions on other sites, the peak
of which was "the Krugman moment", when a mention in Paul Krugmans
column got the site 70,000 hits in a single day. During that timeframe
it seemed like everybody wanted to talk to them. There were several
articles about the site in the mainstream press. Things have calmed
down a lot since then.
For Bob, the whole thing has been a lesson about what the media can and
can't do. The deafening silence about the Downing Street Memo was
partly caused by the fact that there were no reporters available to
cover it. In April he googled "Downing Street Memo" and found most of
the hits were letters to the editor asking for the subject to be
covered. He remembers visiting the NBC building in San Jose and finding
out it was mostly just empty. His solution is for citizen media to play
a bigger role in our public debate, going forward from now.
During Q&A a lot of other points came up:
Bob's family background is essentially Republican/Libertarian-ish. This
experience has been his introduction to liberal politics, and he was
surprised by what he saw. For example, at the Downing Street Memo town
hall meeting in Oakland there were many people that made political
statements during Q&A that had nothing to do with the topic, and
didn't even end in questions.
Bob's boss has no problem with his journalism hobby, but senior
executives at the company expressed some displeasure about it. However,
the company's ethics department said it was fine. He has avoided
mentioning where he works, and that has kept the complaints down.
The site has now gotten about 700,000 hits. During June the average was
10,000 per day. During July it was more like 2,000 per day, and now it
is about 1,000 per day. However, the amount of time the average visitor
spends at the site has gone up, so that now the average visitor spends
at least a couple of minutes there.
DowningStreetMemo.com costs $19.95 per month to keep on the air. There
were some additional startup costs, but it was all easy to afford.
For more information, please visit