Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Mon 1 Aug 11 07:44
Sharon, that is a real concern -- it's not so much the trend toward partisanship that we should be worried about (some would even argue that this is a welcome change from the old American-style of "objective" reporting), but it is the abandonment of fact-based reporting that is extremely troubling (and that this kind of reporting is financially rewarded with few consequences, as in the case with much of Fox News). As the foundations for traditional journalism are further weakened, they are vulnerable to political hacks like O'Keefe and Breitbart who rush into the vacuum created by the loss of real journalists. O'Keefe's misleading expose on the community activist group Acorn, and Breitbart's advocacy for a misleading video of Shirley Sherrod are examples of where mainstream media ran with -- and helped amplify -- dubious allegations. There are many factors that go into these productions, but one is certainly the decrease in fact-checking and other vetting processes that have been trimmed back due to cost-cutting in traditional news rooms. So, in other words, this is all symptomatic of larger structural problems in journalism and we will likely be seeing much more of it. Laura McGann has an excellent chapter in our book that focuses on the rise of right wing "muckraking," specifically that being funded by conservative think tanks.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 1 Aug 11 08:15
Following that last comment, what do you think about such a small group of people determining the content on the Web with respect to media, etc.? It's the same six or ten guys at every gathering, at the top of the tweet lists, etc. Not that they don't have a lot to say, but the fact that they are so 'wide-cast' at the moment and the top "influencers". Is that just part and parcel of a transition and will we eventually get the diversity of opinion necessary for real public discourse? I mean, they are their own 'filter bubble'.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Mon 1 Aug 11 08:32
I just posted this elsewhere, but it fits right into this discussion. I'm watching C-SPAN at the moment just watched a perfect thumbnail of what's wrong. "I'm listening to two reporters, one from Politico and the other from Bloomberg, dancing as fast as they can NOT to deal with a very articulate caller's point that the media refuses to hold politicians responsible for their facts, or to back up their opinions, and that since they have no real historical background, all they can do is report a horse race with no context. The two professional reporters immediately ignored her and began talking about the horse race. They haven't a clue what they're reporting on."
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 1 Aug 11 08:41
Victor, one of the pieces in the book (McChesney & Nichols) refers to Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget. The quote casts journalists (and creative types in general) as "the new peasants." Many start-up and online operations seem to be counting on writers who will work for peanuts or even for free. I suppose the Huffington Post story has encouraged this approach--get your content for free and then sell to AOL for big money. I've never looked at HuffPo much, but as Ross Perot used to say, it's good dog food if the dog will eat it. A similar approach in broadcast television--lots of dance contests, karaoke, low-budget "reality" shows, etc.--has attracted viewers without big outlays for talent. Do you think this approach is sustainable when it comes to journalism? As I say, I buy your definition of political journalism as a public good, and I don't think this is a sound approach to its provision. But I also accept McChesney and Nichols's claim that we'll always have news--headlines, weather, scores, etc.--which may mask the absence of journalism. It may take some people a while to realize they're not getting quality stuff, and millions more may be quite willing to live on screed.
Angie (coiro) Mon 1 Aug 11 10:10
Excellent post, Peter. Complicating all of the above is the coming of new generations of both consumers and documenters of news. Crowdsourcing to them will be the norm to those who try to work in the field, and the standard applied by consumers in years to come can only be guessed at. I'm falling to some extent into the trap that faces all elders: bemoaning the folly of the young. It's still a valid concern, IMO - my parents watched Cronkite and his ilk; the young now see Andrew Breitbart as a welcome commentator on somewhat respectable news venues. The effect can't be dismissed.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 1 Aug 11 13:31
Interest point Angie...I was thinking after reading Rik and Peter's posts that there might be some pressure applied by all the new media, bloggers and citizen journalists applied on the traditional outlets via simple competition, but after reading your post I'm not so sure...perhaps it will take a combination of competition and adaptation as the old merges with the new.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 1 Aug 11 13:36
Victor, I'm thinking it might be helpful to view the areas of factual reporting and public discourse as a Commons and develop collaboration and cooperation strategies accordingly. e.g. what's going on in Seattle: http://journalismthatmatters.org/blog/2011/02/18/seattles-bold-plan-for-a-jour nalism-commons/ and what's going on within Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/tag/journalism
Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Tue 2 Aug 11 08:37
I think Ted and Rik in the posts above offer important insights on increasingly prominent trends in our news media ecology -- more uninformed commentary and less hard reporting and analysis. The recent debates over the debt ceiling have been a great case study in the false equivalence I mentioned earlier - both parties equally to blame and an emphasis on their political maneuvers as opposed to historical context, what it will do to our social services and economy, etc. Ted has pointed to a number of new models and initiatives -- all promising, IMHO -- but I'm not convinced they will, even in combination, provide an antidote to the shrilling and trivializing of our national news discourse. Nonetheless, I love the Commons idea, and I hope to see more collaboration and cooperation in future journalistic models.
Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Tue 2 Aug 11 08:52
Peter has added to the discussion another great post (#54). Tom Frank in our book also gets at this labor aspect of journalism -- some commentators have referred to part of it as a "de-skilling" process in news production. Others have dubbed it the "hamsterization of journalism." But basically it points to a downward trend in paying journalists increasingly less an increasingly degraded final news product. (Imagine if this same process was happening to, say, medical doctors). This doesn't bode well for the future of news for obvious reasons. To get at Peter's last point, will people notice that they are consuming a shoddier product and will they care? It's hard to predict, especially since it's a gradual process and it is increasingly hard to discern the differences between different types of content, especially online. It also lends itself to the facile critique that media simply "give people what they want." Even if this article of faith neglects the fact that people cannot know what they are missing if they haven't been exposed to different kinds of media, for us to argue that people should be receiving a particular kind of news diet opens us up to the age-old charges of paternalism. Nonetheless, it's not elitist to point out that our news media are, by and large, amplifying a lot of misinformation. And these processes are being driven by profit motives and little else.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 2 Aug 11 09:02
"Nonetheless, it's not elitist to point out that our news media are, by and large, amplifying a lot of misinformation." Boy, does that beg to be repeated. It became obvious during Gulf War II that the media was part of the problem. When we were years into this fiasco, a huge percentage of the US population still thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Not only was the truth not getting out, the media misinformation was continuing unabated.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 2 Aug 11 10:45
The digital generation seems to have moved from "I want my MTV" to "I want my mobile". Back to what Angie said, this generation of Millenials seem to be more concerned with who had what for lunch, saw what movie, and checked into what pub last...my point is that it does us no public good to cater to their data hunger - it's a calorie free diet of internet junk food. Hopefully the news media will target where the larger populations are: Boomers and Seniors...who still like a richer info diet. I suppose it all comes down to disposable income and disposable time. Marketers and advertisers are going to chase the money. I understand that, someone has to pay the bills. So the struggle seems to be won on the side of the purchasing public...who is willing to put their money where their data wants really are? That will take some creative pushes to reach and cultivate those audience awarenesses. Meanwhile we should be concentrating on educating the kids coming up to appreciate the richness of information available on all media platforms and to think reflectively...to question their futures and the importance of being informed....we should be getting them involved in data acquisition and creation as soon as possible. Many Millenials aren't going to get too serious until they have children of their own. Creative Pull articles are probably most effective in drawing them into broader interests. Boomers and Seniors are already pissed and concerned about what's going on, we should fan the flames.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 3 Aug 11 04:26
According to this article the reason people still read newspapers is for local news and coupons...doesn't bode well for that platform: http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-why-people-still-subscribe-to- newspapers-2011-8?utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=SAI%20Chart %20Of%20The%20Day&utm_campaign=SAI_COTD_080211
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 3 Aug 11 09:28
I think local news, like local politics, is incredibly important and deserves attention. Misinformation and ignorance on the local level hurt us too, all over the world.
Angie (coiro) Wed 3 Aug 11 10:48
Let me ask the assembled here, then: where do you get your local news? Is it from a mix of old-style professionals and new media? Is it fiscally sustainable, as you surmise? Here in San Francisco, we're lucky on this point: in addition to the more prominent traditional outlets, tiny KALW-FM has made it a goal to pick up the slack from other radio entities*, building and nurturing a local news division disproportionate in its reach and excellence. It's a case study of everything we've been discussing here, defying lack of funding, miniscule resources (small, crowded facilities), and massive competition to produce award-winning deep journalism. As to that *asterisk: not fifteen years ago, every radio station, even the almost 24/7 pop music stations, supported a news staff of sorts, and was required to keep an FCC "good guy" file. It had to be produced on demand - documentation of everything the station did to fulfill its obligation as a holder of a public trust. This usually took the form of Sunday or overnight public service shows, but also included charity events and other "do-gooder" endeavors. We've all but lost the sense that the radio airwaves are owned by the public, only leased to the corporate owners (and still, the odd small company here and there). With that we've lost yet another form of local news and event coverage. It's a bit afield of what we've been discussing here, but relevant to the overall loss of public input on the importance of news. It's analogous to the fragmenting of print media, as well: used to be concentrated in a few hands, which were forced to be publicly responsive and responsible. Now, the local journalism it once supported is cropping up instead in podcasts and pirate stations. Victor, have you any sense that this is an arena where we might regain traction in the future? Some reclaiming of the authority the Fairness Doctrine once covered, perhaps, or some other vision of re-forming the airwaves for journalistic gain?
Michael Zentner (mz) Wed 3 Aug 11 12:59
I listen to KALW every morning, and I still watch KTVU TV, even though too often they get the Fox viewpoint on. Their news readers are just really still first rate. Can't watch any local TV news. Oh, and I listen to Sam Seder's podcast every day. First rate.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 3 Aug 11 13:06
We have a local neighborhood paper that comes out 3 times a week, then our Phoenix paper....add to that the three regional Facebook news pages,Yelp, Kayak and Google News (local) and I'm pretty much covered. That and the local pubs and coffee shops:)
Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Wed 3 Aug 11 14:51
This is a great discussion. As a number of folks have noted, it speaks to the ongoing importance of news, especially local news. Until recently, a major source for local news was local radio (and t.v.) stations. Now broadcast journalism has all but disappeared among commercial outlets. NPR provides solid national radio coverage and under-funded independent community stations continue to try to provide local coverage. This absence is an important reminder that the journalism crisis cuts across all news media, not just newspapers. Angie is right to suggest that there might be some opportunity to recover a public service mission for radio. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (who also contributed to our book) has been campaigning for a public value test that, among other things, would give broadcast policy some real teeth by mandating public interest obligations for broadcasters or they will have their licenses yanked. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/business/media/03fcc.html Unfortunately this initiative has gained little traction thus far, and the FCC recently squandered an opportunity with their "future of media" report by minimizing the FCC's role in intervening in the journalism crisis: http://www.fcc.gov/info-needs-communities For a bit of historical background on trying to convince commercial broadcasters to serve the public interest, I wrote a paper on 1940s efforts to create a public service model for broadcast news: http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/Pickard%20Blue%20Book%20article.pdf To get back to Angie's question, I would argue that we should continue to try reforming commercial broadcasting -- and regain some regulatory authority, as Angie suggests -- by instituting stronger public interest obligations. But it might be more important to try to fund nonprofit alternatives and de-commercialize media in general (by breaking up chains, diversifying ownership, etc.).
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 3 Aug 11 15:36
And there's the area of 'voice'....hopefully new journalist's will find their voice across multi-media platforms and audiences will grow around them...they might even form into new digital organizations like the old and somewhat mediated AP and UPI.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 3 Aug 11 16:22
Ironically, the best broadcast TV news channel for SF-Marin-East Bay, is channel 2 in Oakland, which is a Fox affiliate. But it's not Fox News. And they put a new anchor in a couple of years ago to replace Dennis Richmond, who was our best local anchor since Dave McElhatton, and the new guy sounds a bit too much like Kenneth the Page. But the local reporting is, IMHO, the best. The networks are useless for national news. All context-free, horse-race reporting.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 4 Aug 11 03:44
Google+'s Carnival of Journalism, via RJI and the Knight Foundation: http://carnivalofjournalism.com/2011/07/29/august-carnival-of-journalism/ For our August carnival, Id like to talk about Google+ from a journalist (not necessarily news organization) perspective, from a big picture (privacy or open web) or smaller picture (how to manage scale issues with comments) perspective. What does Google+ mean for journalists, today and tomorrow?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 4 Aug 11 03:51
Victor, would you talk a bit about Revisiting the Road not Taken: A Social Democratic Vision of the Press and also your reflections on the Hutchins Commission and the Role of Media in a Democratratic Society?
Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Thu 4 Aug 11 07:46
Sure, Ted. My essay in the book is based on my dissertation/book research (the article that I linked to in my last post focuses on one of my case studies, the 1946 FCC Blue Book). I look at key historical debates that defined the role of media in U.S. society. Drawing from archival research, I analyze current media policies and reform efforts by looking at previous critical junctures, specifically the postwar 1940s when policymakers, social movements, and communication industries grappled over commercial medias role in a democratic society. By focusing on policy formations around the Hutchins Commission and the FCCs "Blue Book," I propose that a suppressed media reform movement resulted in a "postwar settlement" marked by three assumptions: media should remain self-regulated, practice social responsibility, and be protected by a negative freedom of the press. You specifically asked about the Hutchins Commission, a blue ribbon initiative composed of the leading intellects of the day. More than 60 years ago the Hutchins Commission faced many of the same challenges we face today during a similar media crisis, and boldly stated the problem for what it was: the result of deeply systemic flaws endemic to commercial media. But then, at a crucial moment, when equally bold solutions were needed, the commission fell back on palatable halfway measures, helping ensure that future generations of Americans would be forced to face similar media crises. The American public has inherited the legacy of this failed media reform project that left intact a nominally socially responsible, self-regulated, commercial media system. This postwar settlement would impact much of what Americans would see and hear in their media for decades to come. It consolidated an industry-friendly arrangement that contained reform movements, foreclosed on alternative models, discouraged structural critiques of the U.S. media system, and privileged media owners rights over those of the publics a relationship that continues today. For further reading, I wrote a paper on the Hutchins Commission (I also discuss it in my chapter in our book): http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/Whether%20the%20Giants%20Should%20be%20Sla in.pdf In my final analysis, I suggest that we need to undo this "postwar settlement" to save journalism. We need to revisit those debates in today's context and select the road not taken, a democratic vision of the press that sees news media as a public service, not a commodity. In other words, the time has arrived for a renegotiated social contract. The Hutchins Commission, although ultimately failing, pointed the way. We must learn from their mistakes and move forward with bold new models.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 4 Aug 11 09:00
recent documentary 'the front page' --- not just about the new york times --- was heartbreaking. perhaps most interesting was the comment a technophilic friend made about david carr --- who, for his story on the chicago tribune corp mess --- said that he took two weeks to report and one week to write. that seems about right to me for feature writing --- and my friend was agahst! in internet time, that much care and depth cant work... i feel too often in these discussions feature/magazine writing is forgotten about (something i used to do a lot of). and yes, among the things it requires is =time=, and compensation for it...
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 4 Aug 11 10:28
Encouraging...crowdsourcing for fundraising for local journalists: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2011/08/prx-story-exchange-shows-power-of-crowdfund ing-via-public-radio213.html
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 4 Aug 11 10:30
How's the nonprofit/foundation model working out for Harper's and the Nation?
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