inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #26 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Mon 25 Jul 11 13:32
    
Great point, Peter. I was going to mention that in the previous post
-- part of news orgs being financially sustainable is having the
institutional backing to absorb huge legal fees (as well as travel
costs, health insurance and other benefits, etc.) that comes with the
territory of hard-hitting investigative reporting. It does seem that
too often there's too much emphasis placed on the technology of the
delivery devices and not enough focus on the necessary institutional
factors.

And I couldn't agree more about emphasizing how journalism produces
information that should be treated as a "public good." Public goods are
rarely sufficietntly supported by market relationships - a kind of
market failure - and therefore need to be subsidized. 

I also agree that it will take spectacular failure - perhaps a major
daily paper going under (in a one-newspaper-town) - before it will be
politically feasible to make the case for reinvesting in public
broadcasting. Ideally this also would include reinventing public
broadcasting as public media (to include not just PBS and NPR but
community radio and other independent news orgs using multiple media
platforms, including digital media). 
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #27 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 25 Jul 11 14:54
    
A lot of good, new and innovative things being done here in Phoenix,
especially at the Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU:
http://cronkite.asu.edu/
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #28 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 25 Jul 11 17:13
    
speaking of new ideas, here's one today from the Knight-Mozilla
learning lab:
http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2011/07/prototypes-visualizations-take-shape-in-kni
ght-mozilla-learning-lab204.html
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #29 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 25 Jul 11 17:23
    
And from the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, winners of the Knight
News Challenge:

http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2011/06/knight-announces-2011-news-challenge-winner
s172.html
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #30 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 25 Jul 11 17:59
    
Thought I would take this pause to post links applicable to the
conversation so far...last one from Clay Shirky, Why We Need the New
News Environment to be Chaotic:
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2011/07/we-need-the-new-news-environment-to-be-ch
aotic/
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #31 of 88: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 25 Jul 11 19:00
    
Just a note to our off-WELL readers. If you want to post a comment or
question, just email your post to inkwell@well.com, just put Will the
Last Reporter . . . in your subject line.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #32 of 88: Angie (coiro) Mon 25 Jul 11 21:55
    
With the references to public media here and in the book, I'd like to
hear about its polar opposite: the for-profit broadcasting and news
entities. I'm particularly thinking of last week's dismissal of Cenk
Uygur from MSNBC, and the story he had to tell in its wake:

<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/21/cenk-uygur-msnbc-leaving_n_905415.htm
l>

There was a time when the production of news was considered a public
service performed by a station or network, and so-so ratings were good
enough. Now it's all down to ratings. Our primary sources of news are
compromised by the need to bring in the bucks. So our "journalists", to
touch back on that last question, are: Nancy Grace. Al Sharpton. Bill
O'Reilly. 

Where do the big news/media conglomerates fit in to this discussion,
Victor? Problem, potential solution, some mongrel of the two? And what
of the fact that these are the guys with the biggest pockets?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #33 of 88: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 26 Jul 11 08:07
    
Maybe I can sneak in a response to Clay Shirky's piece posted above
(#30) and especially in the book.  The piece in the book concludes, "No
one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the
demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new
experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need." The
answer to our journalistic problems, he writes earlier, "could be some
nineteen-year-old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we
won't recognize as vital until a decade hence." 

OK.  Maybe.  But is this a serious approach to a vital public good? 
Would we approach national security (another public good) this way?
Maybe a 19-year-old out there somewhere will solve the problem?  Also,
it's a little irksome that Shirky dispatches with a public option in
one sentence by noting that it's "politically fraught."  It feels like
mystification to say that we don't yet know to provide for good
journalism when a) every other industrialized democracy seems to
manage, and b) public support was massive and politically acceptable in
earlier periods of U.S. history.  Shirky also dismisses postal rate
subsidies as if they were negligible.  Steve Coll has noted that a
spectrum tax today could perform a similar service. 

I agree with a lot of Shirky's analysis but don't love the defeatist
political assumption.  It's exactly the kind of resignation
conservatives dream about. Victor, can "politically fraught" sometimes
means "where the real action is"?   
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #34 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Tue 26 Jul 11 09:58
    
Ted links to a number of interesting experiments above. At least two
of our book contributors are associated with these projects: Len
Downie, on faculty at ASU's j-school, and Clay Shirky. 

I see these experiments as promising developments, but I'm sometimes
disheartened by what seems like an over-emphasis on how new
technologies will save us, and an under-emphasis on more structural,
policy-oriented approaches.  While Len Downie, in the essay in our book
that he co-authored with Michael Schudson, has proposed a number of
policy approaches (more funding for public media and other subsidies,
tax code revisions, etc.), Shirky is an example of someone who might be
seen as a "technological determinist" -- the fancy academic term for
someone who sees technology as the primary driver for changes in
society.

This gets at Peter's observation (#33) above - with which I totally
agree (McChesney and I deliberately sought out views for our book that
we did not agree with in order to represent different positions within
the future of journalism debate). Shirky suggests that we're in a
moment of technological revolution, and during such moments things get
broken and people tend to freak out until new things replace the old
things (I'm oversimplifying here, but not by much). 

Even though Shirky invokes a lot of history, this smacks of an
ahistorical view of how major social infrastructures like information
systems develop. The Internet, for example, did not just happen. It was
heavily subsidized by government, especially through the military and
through research universities. 

As Peter mentioned, various contributors to our book show that both
the international record and the United States' own historical record
demonstrate that government can and should play an important role in
sustaining a vibrant press system.

What's more, when a major social problem emerges, we do not just sit
back and let the magic of the market and new technology run its course.
We intervene via policy to try to encourage the best possible outcome.
This is why the journalism crisis is at base a policy problem. (Many
of the contributors to our book arrive at this conclusion one way or
another). 

So, to get back to Peter's provocative question--I agree that Shirky's
approach is not a serious treatment of a vital public good; it's
ahistorical, apolitical, and amounts to a thinly-veiled libertarian
narrative that there's no legitimate role for government intervention. 
"Politically fraught" should also mean "subject to debate," and we
should be having serious debate about journalism's future, not
resigning ourselves to vague technological promises and market failure.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #35 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Tue 26 Jul 11 10:38
    
Responding to Angie's point above (#32): I watched Cenk's public
statement about his dismissal a few days ago and, without knowing all
of the particulars, I was reminded of Phil Donahue's experiences as an
MSNBC host (before it rebranded itself as a liberal alternative) when
he was told to tone down his anti-war views. 

I think the Cenk episode brings to light at least two limitations
endemic to most commercial media: an over-reliance on official sources
and an aversion to anything overly controversial (in terms of political
positions - public scandal is of course irresistible for commercial
media). In order to appear objective, commercial media need to be able
to have access to and be able to quote from elites within the two major
political parties. These elite positions usually define the parameters
of debate and commercial media rarely stray beyond these bounds. 

Based on Cenk's version of events, it sounds like he ran up against
these constraints. As we discussed earlier, some of these norms might
be weakening -- especially as media become more niche-oriented and
therefore more partisan (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) -- but
these media are still profit-driven and therefore obsessed with
ratings. 

And this all is transpiring within a deregulatory context where there
are increasingly fewer public interest safeguards (media ownership
restrictions, programming guidelines like the Fairness Doctrine) that
attempted to ensure a healthy public discourse.

To address the last part of Angie's question -- having so much of our
news discourse given over to these big personality commentators and
other talk show formats is primarily dictated by profit motives: it is
inherently dramatic, which attracts the eyeballs that advertisers pay
for, and it is ultimately cheaper than actually doing real news
(dependent on teams of investigative reporters, foreign news bureaus,
etc.). 

That it's being conducted by huge media conglomerates means that
commercial pressures will be only greater, and there is even less
incentive to cover local issues of import to diverse communities.
Ideally we would design policies to encourage non- or low-profit news
entities that were responsive to local community issues as well as
international news coverage.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #36 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 26 Jul 11 12:27
    
#34 Something you said rang a bell in me about two other things I'd
like you to discuss that run alongside all this new technology and
platforming:

1) Journalism as a craft -- it doesn't happen overnight, and the
skills required to be a good journalist, while aided by current
technologies and medias still have to be developed outside them, and

2) Journalism as a service to the public -- from the range of a Walter
Cronkite style of presenting the facts ("and that's the way it is") to
a mature reflection on trends and events (more of the Edward R. Murrow
school of thought and commentary that engages the public in dialog).
 
It seems like these are getting lost, or at least not as well
emphasized it the transitions taking place.

Thoughts and comments?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #37 of 88: Angie (coiro) Tue 26 Jul 11 20:45
    
And I'll get in line behind Ted with a follow-up question, on the idea
of public funding.

Agree with you here, Victor:

>>Even though Shirky invokes a lot of history, this smacks of an
ahistorical view of how major social infrastructures like information
systems develop. The Internet, for example, did not just happen. It
was heavily subsidized by government, especially through the military
and through research universities. <<

I find myself wondering if the fledgling internet could get funded
today. We have the economic crisis, obviously. But perhaps
longer-lasting than that is a complete breakdown of the concept of a
shared good. In large part due to conservative posturing (and the
right's superb skills at controlling the public dialogue), "government"
is seen as not by us, or of us, but against us. And "the media"
(whatever that means in various minds) has been effectively demonized
as well. The idea of tax money funneled via the government ("them") to
the "lamestream media" - oh, my. We think we've seen a polarized
dialogue already, wait til that one hits the burner.

So while the concept of publicly-funded media has great merit, how in
the world could it happen today?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #38 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Wed 27 Jul 11 09:53
    
Ted, those are both great points. As far as journalism as a craft
goes, it's a thorny question because professionalism is often equated
with elitism or paternalism (i.e. only educated, often white, people
can decide what's news and how it should be told to the rest of us). At
the same time, though, there are some professional norms that we may
not want to throw out (like being fact-based) and there are many
journalistic techniques that are not intuitive but must be learned,
which cuts against the idea that anyone can be a journalist. 

My view is that we can still have journalism treated as a craft, but
if we change the institutional structures (i.e. transition from
for-profit to nonprofit models), over time journalistic cultures will
also change, and mostly for the better. This would include returning to
more of a public service tradition of journalism. News orgs would be
far less obsessed with ratings and with racing toward the lowest common
denominator if they were not fixated on their profit margins.

Murrow and Cronkite were both coming from for-profit media, of course
(and the media system of that time was also still very flawed even if
we're inclined to romanticize it), but the high profit
expectations/calculations were different then, and the threat of
government regulation was also more real.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #39 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Wed 27 Jul 11 10:29
    
Angie, in your above post (37) you've put your finger on the core
problem, which is that clear thinking and substantial evidence points
to the justification for significant public subsidies for a public
media system. But politically this is often assumed to be a
non-starter. 

Indeed, the idea of government supporting the press strikes many as
downright un-American. It's seen as a dangerous measure that will send
us on the inevitable path toward a dystopian, totalitarian society
rather than strengthen journalism, freedom and self-government. This is
a recurring refrain in our national discourse and has become so deeply
ingrained in American political consciousness that it requires no
evidence to be asserted categorically and thus end all further debate.
Yet when this claim is actually examined, the evidence points us in a
very different direction. 

One of the contributors to our book, my NYU colleague Rod Benson, has
done extensive comparative research and has gleaned from other existing
comparative studies of other democratic nations to conclude that
public media -- that is, media outlets that are publicly subsidized --
are often times *more* critical of their governments compared to
privately-owned, commercial news entities. There are also studies that
suggest at least correlation between healthy public media systems and
how informed people are.

According to Britain’s highly respected The Economist magazine, which
produces an annual “Democracy Index,” the top four most democratic
nations on the list –- Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden -- are
among the top seven per capita press subsidizers in the world. The U.S.
ranks 17th, and all 16 nations in front of the United States have
generally much larger subsidies of journalism.

A final point: we should also not assume that what political elites
say is politically feasible accurately reflects public opinion -- in
fact, there is often a major disconnect -- and some polls suggest that
is the case with regards to subsidizing public media. 

To cite one recent example of general attitudes toward subsidizing
public media: a CNN poll found that a majority of those interviewed
tend to dramatically over-estimate how much of the U.S. budget goes
toward funding public broadcasting—nearly a whopping $178 billion
instead of the actual $430 million per year—and yet a majority of those
polled believed that such over-inflated expenditures should be
maintained or even increased (!)

The impact that tea partiers and their ilk have had on our political
discourse is daunting, but perhaps advocating for greater public
subsidies for media is not as doomed as we might expect. And maybe it's
a political fight worth having.  
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #40 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 27 Jul 11 16:25
    
As it happens 'objectivism' and ethics came up in a PBS Media post
from our own Walter Cronkite school of journalism today;

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/07/rethinking-journalism-ethics-objectivity
-in-the-age-of-social-media208.html

Not so sure I agree....I get that new media platforms require new
thinking, but I don't think Aristotle's view has changed much with
regard to ethics.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #41 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 27 Jul 11 16:27
    
Alongside Angie's point about subsidizing public media and government
funding, would you talk a bit about the Corporatization of Media
problem and the power their monies have over the industry? How much
pressure for the advertising dollar is exerted on what we imagine as
fair reporting...are we always going to be seeing the 'talking heads'
read the police blotter and report the weather 5 times during a
"newscast"?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #42 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Thu 28 Jul 11 06:55
    
Ted, I agree that our sense of journalistic ethics should not be
radically different even if the technological landscape has changed.
The ethical debate that we *should* be having is around the question of
what is the role of media in a democratic society, and what should we
as a society be doing to make sure that media perform that role. 

I do think "objectivity" should be re-evaluated -- this norm emerged
at the dawn of the 20th century largely as an effort to compensate for
an overly commercialized media system (there had been a public backlash
against "yellow journalism," and by the 30s and 40s there was even a
viable threat that the government was going to intervene against some
of print media's excesses). Not only is it an unattainable ideal, it
often treats complex issues as having only two official sides, and
encourages a false equivalence (the public debate on climate change is
a great example) of he said/she said stenography.

The corporatization of media is really just a larger and meaner
permutation of this commercial logic that drives for-profit news. It's
commercialism on steroids. We see it most clearly expressed by Rupert
Murdoch's News Corp empire where the profit motive trumps everything
else. Cheaply produced formats like talk shows and reality tv replace
programs that are more costly (like actual news produced by
journalists). The aim is to entertain not inform. 

Another important consequence is that concentrated media power
translates into significant political power -- not just in the ability
to shape the national discourse on key policies, but also in lobbying
for beneficial policies. Media corporations maintain legions of
lobbyists who pressure law and policy makers to do their bidding, like
loosen media ownership restrictions.

Also, campaign contributions: Leading up to the 2010 elections, News
Corporation gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association and
another $1 mil to the Chamber of Commerce. 

So these are just a few of the problems that emerge with the ongoing
corporatization of media. 
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #43 of 88: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 28 Jul 11 09:12
    
Victor, I was glad to see the essay by Leonard Downie and Michael
Schudson in your book, especially since Downie was a key player at a
major newspaper.  (Most of the other contributors are professors or
journalists at left-of-center outlets like The Nation.) As you say,
Downie is open to the "public option" approach, as is Steve Coll, the
former managing editor at The Washington Post.  

But in my conversations with working journalists, many seem uneasy in
principle with that kind of funding.  They think the government will
inevitably use that financial leverage to discourage critical stories.
You've already noted that the evidence from other countries doesn't
support that suspicion, but I don't see how that option will get the
hearing it deserves if the journalists themselves don't see its
advantages.  Do you get the same kind of skepticism from working
journalists?  Or something else perhaps?  
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #44 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Thu 28 Jul 11 14:34
    
Peter, you're absolutely right - a terrible irony is that those who
stand to lose most - journalists themselves - are often the most
skeptical toward the potential of government support. David Simon's
essay in our book is a great example. He describes what is being lost
with the erosion of professional journalism - and critiques the flaws
in assuming that blogs will save the day - better than anyone. But he
then sees salvation in pay walls (online subscription models) instead
of considering a policy approach. Even many liberal journalists become
libertarian when it comes to the notion of subsiding the press.

I do think some journalists and former journalists are gradually
coming around to the idea that government can help support journalism
without controlling it. Len Downie and Steve Coll, as you note, are
great examples, but there are others who at least see a strengthened
public media system as part of the answer to the journalism crisis -
like Alberto Ibarguen, currently president of the Knight Foundation and
formerly the publisher of the Miami Herald.  

When I speak publicly about this approach I normally find journalists
in the audience who agree that government support should be in the mix,
or are at least visibly warming up to it. I should mention that the
newspaper guild has also been an important member in the coalition that
is forming around this reformist approach. But it will probably take
more time - and more jobs to disappear - before we can undo the
indoctrination that prevents many journalists from embracing what very
well might be their last best hope: public subsidies.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #45 of 88: Angie (coiro) Sat 30 Jul 11 01:36
    
There's so much more in the book to talk about, but let me stay with
this for just a few moments longer: Frank Blethen of the Seattle Times
cites the "rapacious capitalists", the Wall Street absentee owners
who've devastated print press by wringing every conceivable cent out of
it, without investing in quality or good journalism. He goes on to
make the case for public funding, as we're discussing here.

Here's the gorilla in the corner: how to get from A to B. What would
motivate the owners of the most influential traditional media outlets
(who are quickly investing in new media as well) to give up the power
of private control? We've touched on the fears of government
controlling messages and access. The flip side of that is the cost to
private owners should the government be more involved in sustaining
media.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #46 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 30 Jul 11 05:18
    
Nice link for citizen journalists, Mobile Media Toolkit:

http://www.mobilemediatoolkit.org/
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #47 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Sat 30 Jul 11 06:50
    
Excellent question, Angie. It will not be easy to incentivize private
owners to give up control, but there are a few potential approaches. 
Policies that help transition failing commercial models of the press by
removing or minimizing market pressures on news media fall into two
categories, short-term and long-term. 

In considering the short-term, hopefully we can assume that as news
media are increasingly unprofitable, it will be easier to convince
private owners (who may be already looking for a way out) to adjust to
an officially non- or low-profit model. One strategy in transitioning
faltering commercial entities into self-sustaining non- or low-profit
news organizations entails the decidedly unsexy realm of tax law. These
laws can be tweaked -- or in some cases, merely communicated to the
right players -- to make it easier for news orgs to qualify as
nonprofits (501c3) or low-profits (L3C). Another potential approach is
through the bankruptcy process to make it easier for newspapers to
become community-owned. 

Other subsidy approaches that would not necessarily displace private
owners have been proposed by our book contributors. These include
vouchers for all taxpayers to allocate toward media of their choice
(Bob McChesney and John Nichols), internet news vouchers (Bruce
Ackerman), and direct government subsidies toward journalists' salaries
(the late Ed Baker). 

For longer term fixes, we would not necessarily have to incentivize
private owners but instead build upon already-existing public media.
For more than 40 years, the United States has supported a successful,
if grossly underfunded and sometimes flawed, public broadcasting
system. 

To bolster this existing infrastructure, in addition to increasing its
resources, funding for public media should be both guaranteed over the
long term and carefully shielded from political pressures. This will
require removing it from the congressional appropriation process and
instead establishing a permanent trust, perhaps supported by spectrum
fees paid by commercial operators, or something equivalent to the
universal service fund that is added to monthly phone bills.

I think we could dare to hope that as this public media system began
to flourish, over time it would replace the journalism now funded by
private capital.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #48 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 30 Jul 11 07:08
    
The next big problem for the news industry: Journalists abandon print:

http://www.simplyzesty.com/journalism/the-next-big-problem-for-the-news-indust
ry-journalists-abandon-print/

I don't see this happening, hopefully, but could be wrong. Victor, any
comments?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #49 of 88: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 1 Aug 11 04:52
    
What do you think about efforts such as conservative think tanks
funding conservative 'news' websites, and people like O'Keefe and
Breitbart? Are they doing journalism? How much more of this will we be
seeing?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #50 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Mon 1 Aug 11 07:30
    
Ted, I think that the "dead tree" version of print news is not long
for this world, though it may be a long, slow death. As is well
lamented, fewer and fewer people are subscribing to the paper version
of news papers. Even though more people are reading news now than ever
before, given the economics (most revenue is still generated by the
paper-based ads, and digital ads will likely never come close to
generating as much revenue),  fewer people will be able to make a
living at doing journalism. 

So unless we find a radically new model, this will lead journalists to
abandon print (and therefore journalism altogether). 
  

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