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New Media and the Future of Journalism

Topic Overview: If this topic were assigned its own week, the readings would focus on the question surrounding the future of journalism and the reality that this may be one of the most pressing problems this country faces. The media landscape is changing dramatically; we see shifts in terms of how people access information, how information is produced and reported, and how it is distributed. Some observers point to the rapid decline in readers of the print-based news and the lack of quality TV journalism as evidence that the commercial media is dying. Many look to emerging and growing numbers of nonprofit organizations focused on investigative reporting, hyper-local blogging, and the use of citizen journalism and see a new golden era. The current discussion on the future of journalism extends beyond debating what the substance and funding of journalism should entail and also includes a discussion about what it will take to make the transition.

“How to Save Journalism” by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

In addressing potential solutions to the journalism crisis, McChesney and Nichols argue that in order to have an educated and informed public, we must firmly advocate for a functioning and independent press. They advocate the importance of advocating journalism subsidies and increasing support for public media, and they show that these efforts do not lead to censorship or threaten private and commercial media and that this country actually has a strong history in supporting these kinds of efforts.

The two also discuss more potential solutions to the crisis of journalism, including potential tax vouchers for independent and community oriented media, an AmeriCorps type program which would put thousands of young people to work, perhaps as journalists on start-up digital “publications” covering underserved communities nationwide, and the LC3 model (LC3 stands for low-profit limited liability model – a sort of hybrid for profit and non-profit model for newspapers). Shifting newspapers away from a high-profit commercially driven structure to low-profit or nonprofit ownership would potentially allow them to keep publishing as they complete the transit from old media to new.

The two don’t undermine the importance of digital technologies and do believe that the digital revolution “has the capacity to radically democratize and improve journalism”, but they do advocate for paid staff that interact with and provide material for the blogosphere, and argue for the continued professionalization of the press. The overarching theme of the book and this article is that the journalism crisis is solvable; there are solutions and they have mapped out a clear road of what it takes to get us there. McChesney and Nichols have turned their ideas into a book called “The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again” which was published in early 2010, where they discuss this issues more in-depth.

“Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” by Clay Shirky

Shirky’s piece, written in March of 2009 discusses the nature of changes happening to society, newspapers and journalism. He argues that society doesn’t need newspapers, but it needs journalism. In that way, the crisis is more than just about the demise of newspapers or magazines etc, it’s more about the institution of journalism itself. He really argues to say that nothing will necessarily save old media, it’s dying and its business model is failing and nothing (pay walls etc) will “save it”.

His underlying point is that because basis for the conventional newspaper model has gone away, we need to experiment a lot more in order to understand what is going to replace it.
Shirky also explains that print media does a very important job, or as he calls it, “society’s heavy journalistic lifting” and that this kind of coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers (mostly because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers). And while he may not have the answer as to who or what is going to replace it, he also points out like McChesney and Nichols that journalism has a long history of being subsidized.

This may not be so surprising to many people who have studied what is going on with respect to journalism, but in this piece Shirky articulates the crisis and what may come next very well, and puts the entire debate into some historical context. He concludes by arguing that we need to shift our attention away from “saving newspapers” into “saving society” and that by doing so, the imperative will change from preserving institutions that no longer are viable into doing whatever it takes to make sure journalism will survive.

“Saving the News: Towards a National Journalism Strategy”

This report, which can be downloaded in its entirety from http://www.freepress.net/media_issues/journalism is written by Victor Pickard, Josh Stearns and Craig Aaron, for the national media reform organization Free Press. In it, the authors lay out several ideas for saving the news, and address the crisis from a policy standpoint. The ideas include:

- nonprofit, low-profit and cooperative models
- community and municipal models for future journalism
- foundation and endowment support
- public and government models
- news commercial models
- public subsidies and policy intervention

In this paper they also discuss several short-term and long-term strategies that are necessary to move towards a national journalism strategy. Some of the short-term strategies include new ownership structures, incentives for divestiture, and a journalism jobs program. Longer-term strategies include research and development for journalistic innovation and exploring options for new public media.

It also includes several figures which detail the decline in newsroom employment by year (there’s a huge drop for 57,000 in 2007 to 46,700 in 2009; the 2009 figure is the lowest in history). They also illustrate the percent decline in daily and Sunday Newspaper circulations (it’s like a walking down a steep cliff) and the numbers of US Daily Newspapers.

“Old and New Media Go to Washington”, On the Media, hosted by Brooke Gladstone

In this piece from May 2009, Gladstone discusses recent hearings that a Senate committee held on the Future of Journalism, which illustrates that this issue has received national attention. John Kerry (who is the Committee Chariman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which held the hearing says that the purpose of the hearing was to examine and figure out from people in the field where new media is going and what to do to help existing media), Jim Moroney publisher of The Dallas Morning News, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), who introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act, and Arianna Huffington.

There are several issues mention in this piece that are of importance to the debate around journalism, including whether it’s possible and/or realistic to monetize online content (for example the now defunct New York Times “Times Select” option), the idea of the Kindle and other electronic readers as the “solution” that publisher’s should be going for (but really that’s not actually viable because of the split revenues they come down somewhere on the in of Amazon receiving 70%and publishers receiving 30%). There is relevance from that debate to the iPad as well, even though the iPad hadn’t been invented yet! The piece also discusses the emergence of new non-profit investigative journalism websites, like Voices of San Diego, which Huffington argues is having real impact investigative journalism.

New Media and the (Uncertain) Future of Journalism

Potential Topic in New Media: “New Media and the (Uncertain) Future of Journalism.” We touched on this briefly in the beginning of the semester, but I think it is an area that is very rich and could benefit from a deeper discussion. How bad is the existing journalism “crisis”? What are potential solutions? What will it take to get us there? What is the appropriate role (if any) for government funded journalism? I tried to make these required and recommended readings reflective of the debate more generally, and what is happening currently in the field.

Required Reading/Viewing:

Recommended Reading/Watching:

Electronic Waste: A Conclusion

Here’s my concluding podcast on E-Waste. Enjoy!



Micah Sifry Updates “Social Networking, New Governing”

This was his e-mail back to me (as I reminder I had forwarded him Juliette’s question about whether or not a year has changed whether or not Facebook was issuing a new kind of governing).

So here’s his response (short and sweet).

Elizabeth,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The more I thought about it the more I don’t think there’s much to update on to be honest. I can pretty much sum up how I feel about it in one line:

Facebook is still a Truman Show style democracy.

You can quote me on it.

Micah

Electronic Waste: Part Two

Here’s part two of my podcast and slideshow about E-Waste. Enjoy!



Also, here are the transcripts from both last week and this week as  Word Documents if you are interested to read them - you may have to click through twice to download them.

Electronic Waste Part 1

Electronic Waste Part 2

Electronic Waste: How Do We Stop It?

Hi everyone, super early with the posting since I’m traveling for work until right before class next week. Here’s my podcast/slideshow on the problem of electronic waste. Also, SlideShare has been giving me some problems, so please let me know if you can’t access this (there are slides and sound). Enjoy!



Electronic Waste: An Intro

Thanks to everyone who responded. It seemed like there was some interest in electronic waste, so here goes!

Ideas for Travelogue #4

I have three ideas for our next travelogue. I’d love feedback on what people think would be interesting and doable.

Mobile Applications: Specifically, I’m interested in the process for developing mobile applications for existing websites. As everything seems to go mobile these days, I really think this is where the future is headed. There are several services out there that make this process more seamless than one might expect. For the “rich media” aspect of the post, I’d complete the process for developing my work website (www.overbrook.org) into a mobile website. I looked into one specific way that this can be done through a service called MoFuse.com (they have a WordPress plug in which would be helpful for integrating it into this site.) Mushon pointed out that this might be a fairly technical travelogue, but it’s something I thought I should at least look into.

Skype and Voice Over Internet Protocal (VoIP). I mentioned this as a potential topic for my last travelogue and I’m still interested in it.  I learned that telecom industry is pretty heavily regulated, whereas the Internet isn’t. This could a dilemma for the FCC and I can look into what it’s said on this issue. For the rich media part, I could do a podcast or videocast.

Electronic-Waste: I’m pretty interested in the growing problem of electronic waste.  Although one may not think of this as a digital media topic, I’d argue that there are serious environmental consequences to the rise in available technology and how our drive towards consumption can have negative effects. Several states have e-waste legislation laws, and others are looking into making them. I could also do a podcast or experiment with flash animation about some of the problems of this issue, make annotated maps of environmental impact of e-waste, slideshows, etc.

Any feedback on these ideas would be appreciated! Thanks in advance.

Where’s the Transparency in the White House Visitor Logs?

In September of 2009, President Obama announced that he would release the names of White House Visitors. It was hailed both by the White House administration, as well as several reporters, newspapers and civic ethics groups as a landmark for transparency. It was “proof” that this administration would be more open and honest, and the first step towards releasing information that was formerly secretive. The decision to release the records was claimed to be voluntary, and it was announced that the visitor logs would be made available online.  And true to his word, beginning on January 29th, 2010, the White House did in fact begin to release the names of its visitor records. Since that time, names of visitors (which includes not only tourists, but also names of union leaders, Wall Street executives, lobbyists, party chairs, philanthropists and celebrities), have been released. The names are released in huge batches up to 75,000 names at a time. However, as I will show, within the sheer quantity of this data lies the problem.

But the honesty about the motives behind this effort as well as its extremely poor execution have been disappointing. There are several key areas that illustrate just how far off the White House is from maintaining an open and transparent effort:

  • There is no justification for waiting between 90-120 days to release this information. This is a huge burden that puts investigators at a serious disadvantage when accessing records. By the time the information is made public, it is clearly too late to do anything about it.
  • There is no ability to tell what visitor logs are considered “confidential” and therefore have been intentionally left off of this list, additionally, personal guests of the first family are left off – yet there’s no clear definition of what that means. There’s absolutely no indication of how many names have been left off – is it 100? 500? 1000? It may be cynical, but my guess is these aren’t all visitors whose names aren’t being released due to “security concerns.”
  • The data as its released is often incomplete. Although it logs the visitors first and last name, as well both the time they signed in and out, and who they met with, often times the reasons that they met with a particular person is left blank. Additionally, there is no affiliation of the visitor’s name listed. This is a serious problem, because unless journalists or activists know the name of the person they are looking for, it’s unlikely that they could identify anything of substance due to the sheer quantity of the data they are presented with.
  • Although the White House claimed the data release was voluntary, it’s looking more likely that the policy was the result of the Justice Department settling lawsuits brought by the “good government group” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) which had sought visitor’s logs from both the Obama and Bush administrations.
  • There is no accountability to the process. Citizens and journalists have no authority to request the names of unreleased visitors.
  • A conservative public interest group called Judicial Watch (which “investigates and prosecutes government corruption”)  filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Secret Service for denying Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for access to Obama White House visitor logs from January 20 to August 10, 2009. According to them, the Obama administration continues to advance the erroneous claim that the visitor logs are not agency records and are therefore not subject to FOIA. As Judicial Watch noted in its complaint, this claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by federal courts. Their complaint is that even though the Obama White House did voluntarily release a select number of White House visitor logs to the public, other records continue to be withheld in defiance of FOIA law.

Although these are some serious points of contention, there are reported instances where journalists have worked to troll through these lists to find valuable information, because there are certain examples of it, but as Mushon pointed out, it’s usually in a case of “gotcha journalism”, that is, journalists were  able to use the logs to prove a theory they already had about who visited Obama and when. In these cases the lists became valuable sources that investigative journalism could use to prove that President Obama or his advisers met with various labor union leaders, business executives, or specific members of Congress. However, even in cases where journalists have been able to pull out some important names, they’re linking them pretty tightly to policies or actions taken, but to a certain extent it’s largely speculation. In fact, it’s possible the whereabouts of these meetings would have been known without the White House visitor logs because so often people who meet with Obama disclose this information themselves. To be fair, the Obama administration made these searches available online and has made them fairly easy to navigate and to download and this marks a visible shift from previous administrations. This has allowed for innovation, such as the following networked map  put together by a blogger “The Networked Thinker” which showed some of meetings individuals had with certain members of the White House staff (click the thumbnail to enlarge or click here to see the original blog post).

Some would argue  it’s not the White House’s job to help the public go through these lists, and that they’ve done enough to release the data, but I feel strongly that they do have a responsibility to make sure they are accurate representations of who is coming and going and why!

The Obama administration may want to point these logs as examples of openness and a willingness to open its inner workings to the public, but so far, that transparency does not exist. Mainstream media has yet to seriously question both the validity of the information on these lists, as well as the White House’s motives and it’s sad that so very few are willing to ask the tough questions. Not until the administration can release the records in a much more timely and manageable way can we even start to understand this as an effort for to be more transparent. If the White House were to release the visitors at the end of each week say, it would be a much more manageable list that citizens and journalists could go through. Additionally, the White House should list the affiliations of the visitors, not only their names, but also who they work for. Perhaps have various types of visitors (eg Class A refers to tourists, Class B to lobbyists, Class C to political figures, etc) so that investigators would have some sort of reference to start looking for patterns, or particular visitors etc.

I have to say that I finish this travalogue at a very different point from where I started. When I first began to investigate this issue, I was pretty clearly the side of the Obama administration. I knew that there were going to be some problems with the data, but overall I did feel this was a good thingbut not anymore. In fact, the lists are so problematic that I fear the Obama administration has done a great disservice to the public by  claiming to have several values, which if evaluated solely on this project, they do not appear to have. Unfortunately by doing so, they’ve cheapened those values dramatically.

WH Visitor Logs: Research Continued

Here’s an update on my research over the past week…

Types of Names that Appear on the White House Visitor’s List: It’s not just tourists names who are being released, although I fear they may be the majority. Names of several prominent union leaders, Wall Street executives, registered power lobbyists, Democratic Party Chairs, business leaders, heads of non-profits and philanthropists also appear.

Mainstream Media’s Coverage: There is little mainstream media coverage of the release of the records, and what stories have been done are pretty generic. When Obama announced the release of the names (October/November), it was covered to some a minor extent and it was mostly celebratory, calling it a “huge step.” Most stories/journalists didn’t challenge the transparency claim of Obama. Since the release of the records several months ago, there has been a little coverage of the lists themselves (see below for journalists who have used the lists for reporting purposes). The little coverage has been mostly puff pieces, marveling at how duplicate names have led to people who have the same name as celebrities visiting the White House that aren’t actually celebrities themselves. There has been some minor coverage as well, but it’s mostly reporting who is on the list, not necessarily making any claims about the validity of the lists themselves, or investigation what can be done with the information. Not exactly earth-shattering journalism so far…

Stories That Have Used This Research: Although the mainstream news media has covered the release of these records pretty positively overall, reporters, journalists and activists have dug a little deeper into this information. One interesting thing I noted is that a lot of the stories I found using WH visitor logs are from conservative news sources. For example:

- The Washington Examiner did a critical story at the end of February on the fact that President Obama and senior members of his staff have met on at least four occasions with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, whose organization is the nation’s largest provide of abortion and referrals. The piece was especially crticial because a spokesman for Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) said her boss has not spoken with or visited Obama. The piece goes to list other logs of pro-choice groups/individuals that met with Obama and his advisors to discuss an upcoming WH health care summit and no pro-life groups were invited to participate in the event. To see the full story, click here.

There was another piece written for the Auburn Journal that trolled through the visitor logs to determine that the Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern was the most frequent White House Visitor in 2009. About this they criticized: ”For an administration that promised to renounce interest groups, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) certainly has the president’s ear and is sure to be a major player in the December jobs summit.” Stern visited at least 22 times in 2009.

Liberal sources have also used this data, such as this article from The Huffington Post titled “White House Visitor Logs Show Obama Turned to Business Leaders.” This piece used the visitor logs to show that Obama frequently consulted with leaders of the business and financial communities they were saving from the brink of the financial collapse. The logs showed that Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue visited the White House on ten different occasions, meeting twice with the president, twice with his chief economic consultant, Larry Summers and three times with Obama’s business liaison, Valerie Jarrett. The piece also goes on to report that between January 20 and the end of August (of 2009) lobbyists, strategists and others with a stake in health care reform made 575 visits to the White House. And that’s just the ones that were reported!

The majority of the stories I found that used the data follows a very similar pattern, who met with whom, where, how many times, and speculation as to why, that seems, for the most part, pretty solid. There have also been a few examples of bloggers that have picked up the research and examined it, rather than mainstream media.

Some further questions/musings about these stories. Do they raise the validity of the news stories in each case? Would there have been these kinds of stories without it? How much speculation is involved in terms of what goes on at these meetings?

Other Points of Research

  • Ah, it’s getting  worse! I thought it was 90 days after that visitors were released. Well there are several reports that it’s actually 90-120 days after!
  • It appears that the policy was the result of the Justice Department settling lawsuits brought by the “good government group” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) which had sought visitor’s logs from both the Obama and Bush administrations. This might be the most devastating piece of research I found so far and seriously brings into question the motives behind releasing this data.
  • The data has been known to be released on late Friday afternoons becoming part of the Friday Night News Dump Syndrome!

A Few Points of Growing Frustration: There is no way to tell what’s been censored, what’s been left off due to security concerns. How many names are taken off this list? Is there a clear-cut definition of what is “confidential” and what is not? Not as far as I can tell. And although the list is searchable and downloadable (good things), often the most important piece of information – why the meeting is being held – is left blank. It will often have a very generic description, but it would really help if the list posted the affiliation of the person so as to avoid confusion. You could then also do a search via this field, making it that much easier to find the data you are looking for. Due to the sheer massive amount of names on the list (eg  up to 100,000 have been released at one time), it’s quite difficult to troll through. Which makes the fact that some journalists have used this resources even more impressive. Even if these lists were 100% accurate representations of who visited, when, we still would have a long way in knowing what was discussed, and what influence these meetings had on policy etc. It appears to be just data, and I’m not sure how far that can take us!

I know it’s a lot of information but there is a lot of digging to be done on this issue. Believe it or not I’ve left out some stuff and I hope to include it in my final post. Any thoughts people have before I finish up my research and do a concluding post on Monday would be helpful! Thanks!