Media Convergence

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Journalism Selections #2

Romenesko

Again, it's impossible to sum up Romenesko's blog into one paragraph, so I'm just going to write my thoughts one particular instance that caught my eye this week.

Last Sunday, The Miami Herald (as well as, I imagine, El Nuevo Herald) ran an editorial by publisher Jesus Diaz Jr., in which Diaz defends his paper's decisions to fire three writers who were also working for government-sponsored TV and Radio Martí:

I approved the dismissals because, as the publisher of these newspapers, I am deeply committed to the separation between government and a free press. Further, our employees violated our conflict-of-interest rules. All of our journalists acknowledge and agree to adhere to our policies, which include this statement:

We demonstrate our principles by operating with fairness, accuracy and independence, and by avoiding conflicts of interest, as well as the appearance of conflicts of interest. Our news operations will be diligent in their pursuit of the truth, without regard to special interests.

Our decisions, painful as they were, reaffirm our commitment that reporters and editors at our newspapers are free of even the hint of a conflict of interest.


These programs - basically pirate radio and television programming - were a part of the federal government's anti-Castro campaign and received a considerable amount of backing from federal agencies, including funds and aid from the Pennsylvania National Guard. The decision to fire these writers was the source of major controversy within Miami's Cuban community as well as within the papers themselves.

The dismissals, coupled with the decision to run a pair of editorials - one by Ana Menendez and the other by Carl Hiaasen - that "may inflame sentiments in the Cuban community", are an affirmation of the high journalistic standards all media outlets should strive to attain. I wrote about my concerns regarding corporate-controlled media last week, and I think it's fair to say that I hold the same concerns regarding government-sponsored media. For instance, over the past few years, columnists and journalists such as Maggie Gallagher and Armstrong Williams were found to have accepted money from the government in order to promote controversial programs like No Child Left Behind and the Bush administration's marriage initiative. Not only does it cheapen any other statements by these columnists, but it further muddies the already murky waters of public discourse.

The role of journalism is not to serve as a tool of the government's policy-making agencies. It is not to act as a microphone for the State Department or the Department of Education or any other government body. (That is what public relations is for.) It is ironic, as Diaz notes, that the rabid anti-Castro crowd is happy to support the elements within the US government that most resemble those of the Castro regime - disinformation campaigns, government control over the media and the like - when they feel it serves their interests. Good for The Miami Herald for refusing to cave into such irrational sentiment.

(Here's a related article from The Hartford Courant, which recently announced that its Washington bureau chief would no longer appear on Voice of America, which is operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.)

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Altercation

Over at Media Matters, which is the new home of Altercation, Eric Alterman is back in top form. This past Friday, he posted a link to this essay of his, which links the aforementioned Radio Martí with Kenneth Tomlinson via the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, in addition to Radio Martí. Ken Tomlinson is a controversial figure in journalism, known for calling secret investigations of "anti-Bush" and "anti-DeLay" political bias in Now with Bill Moyers and other highly partisan activities during his time in as the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He's in the news again, this time with allegations of corruption while serving as the chairman of the BBG. He is accused of paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars in public funds for to one man for undocumented work (I imagine he might be one of the lobbyists mentioned in this article), as well as operating his side business - a stable of thoroughbred horses - from his office with the BBG.

It's a sad, and not just a little alarming, state of affairs when a man such as Tomlinson, who is so clearly unfit to hold any sort of job in the public (or really, any) arena, can be allowed to maintain his considerable amount of power, simply because he is a major supporter of the Republican Party.



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PressThink

The major news at PressThink is that Reuters gave Rosen's new "open-source journalism" project, NewAssignment.Net, enough funding to allow them to a full-time editor. He calls it pro-am journalism, where the skills and the expertise of professional journalists can combine with the specialized knowledge of "amateurs", or non-journalists. As an example, he cites a blogger at TPM Cafe who matched her expertise as an accountant with an assignment provided by the Sunlight Foundation , a non-partisan group whose work is:

committed to helping citizens, journalists and bloggers be their own best watchdogs, both by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to pool our intelligence in new, and yet to be imagined, ways.


The blogger utilized the internet, her own specialized knowledge, and an "assignment" to produce a remarkable piece of investigative work, in which she ferrets out a million-dollar-plus pork-barrel project set up by a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and involves members of the Democratic Party. (In a later post, though, this blogger complains that the Sunlight Foundation is creating an inherently biased platform by focusing on relatively small potatoes like Health and Human Services and ignoring the big spenders that are rife with corruption, like defense and homeland security, something which I think should definitely be addressed.) A lot of the corruption in within the government depends on the perceived inability of the media and the citizenry to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and internet-savvy projects like the Sunlight Foundation and NewAssignment.Net make it that much easier to keep track of what politicians are doing with public funds.

USA Today's Informational Graphics

The informational graphics used to illustrate the United States' looming population milestone are effective and pleasant to use, and they do a good job of illustrating information that would otherwise be very boring if written out or displayed in tables and lists. Plus as someone who has built Flash graphics for a few years now, I liked seeing another use for this technology beyond marketing and web promotion.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Journalism Selections #1

Romenesko

Instead of summing up his blog over the past week, which would be pretty much impossible to do in the space of a paragraph or two, I’m going to write about a couple of items I found through his links that I found to be pretty interesting.

The first is New West, which describes itself as “a network of online communities devoted to the culture, economy, politics, environment and overall atmosphere of the Rocky Mountain West.” The site is organized into topical categories, with each topic boasting original RSS-powered reportage, most of which is contributed by freelance journalists. New West has the immediacy and the dynamic content that makes a good blog while maintaining the kind of journalistic standards usually associated with the print media. At the same time, it’s very localized. Unlike other online news ventures, such as Slate and Salon, which are produced with a national audience in mind, New West focuses on a very specific audience. They have a philosophy that puts a lot of emphasis on citizen journalism, which seems to fall in line with the type of material they cover - issues of public interest, like politics, environment, growth, and culture. I found the site’s concept to be very unique, and I really like the way they take advantage of all the benefits of technology and online journalism without sacrificing standards or lapsing too often into op-ed territory.

I clicked over to a link from Poynter’s Amy Gahran in the comments section of one of New West’s articles, where she listed her three must-have tools for online journalists. Because I am quite nerdy, I was already aware of RSS feeds and feed search engines, but I hadn’t heard about Furl. Furl is the answer to my prayers. According to the site, “Furl will archive any page, allowing you to recall, share, and discover useful information on the web.” It’s a wonderful resource for someone like myself, who has folder files and boxes full of articles and news clippings I’ve printed out for fear of never finding the article again. In addition, it utilizes social networking, RSS feeds and tagging to create an infinite archive of readily accessible online material. It’s like NewsGator, deli.cio.us and MySpace smushed into one spare yet powerful tool.

I would recommend checking out the rest of the tools listed on Amy Gahran’s link. She touches on each of the most contemporary issues facing journalism today, from net neutrality to podcasting to social bookmarking. (Plus, she recommends using Firefox, which I second wholeheartedly. Internet Explorer is a nightmare for end-users and media creators alike, and we will all be better off once we’ve abandoned it to the wolves.)

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Altercation

It figures that the week after I select Eric Alterman’s Altercation as one of my selected blogs to follow, MSNBC would fire him. Alterman was uncharacteristically rage-free at his former employers, although he did raise an issue that I think about quite a bit:

“[T]he good folks at MSNBC.com and GE/NBC can, I’m sure, give you good reasons why dumping Altercation is the right thing to do from a business standpoint —though the natural speculation that arises is a damn good argument against the kind of media concentration that allows a company like GE to own NBC in the first place.”


While I do appreciate MSNBC for being one of…well, the only mainstream media outlet to give access to outspoken liberal commentators, such as Alterman and Keith Olbermann, I do agree that it’s hard not to find these sort of collusions rather suspect. Should the news be seen primarily as a for-profit enterprise? Or is it more like health care and education, which are theoretically undertaken with no higher goal than the public good in mind? While proponents of for-profit education and health care believe this system promotes efficiency and accountability, it’s my opinion that the actual results of such policies fall far short of their projected objectives, and I don’t think the news media is any different. After all, why would GE, for instance, want to allow MSNBC to cover any of its nearly 80 Superfund sites (a designation given only to the most hopeless cases of pollution)? The corporate ownership of the media doesn’t necessarily break down according to left/right, liberal/conservative biases as commonly thought; rather, the bias is in favor of corporate profits and against anything that stands in the way of posting those profits. This doesn’t mean I think news media outlets need to bleed themselves into oblivion for the sake of journalistic integrity, but I do think there need to be checks and balances that limit the consolidation and ownership of media outlets so they can retain the independence that is such an essential aspect of their social role.

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PressThink

I always love the stories about the mythical masses of bloggers (usually referred to as the “blogosphere”) who materialize out of nowhere to drag the nation’s attention to otherwise ignored stories. Jay Rosen’s most recent posting discusses the latest instance of the internet watchdogs. He writes about the role of blogs and citizen journalists in uncovering the identity of the “secret senator” who used a little-known loophole to put an indefinite hold on Senate Bill S.2590, which is a highly popular bipartisan bill meant to authorize the creation of the first-ever online database of federal spending. In an unusual show of Net unity, bloggers from both sides of the aisle, such as GOP Progress, Instapundit, Wonkette and TPMmuckraker, mobilized their audiences to contact their senators in order to get an answer to the question: “Did you put the secret hold on S.2590?” The bloggers were able to contact 98 of the senators, all of whom answered “no”. The two remaining senators? Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, both of whom eventually admitted to placing the holds on the transparency bill. I thought this was a very innovative use of the internet as a tool of investigative journalism.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Journalism Blogs


My first blog is Jim Romenesko's blog over at the Poynter Institute. I've been reading this blog for a little over a year now, and I'm always impressed by how thorough it is. No aspect of journalism goes uncovered. Links to business articles about mergers and bankruptcies share column space with links to op-ed pieces about the role of journalism in democracy. The entire Poynter site is great, really, but I read Romenesko's blog more than anything else.


Blog #2 is PressThink, which is maintained by Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU. Again, I'm blown away by the sheer volume of information he processes. He covers the same ground as Romenesko; however, unlike Romenesko, who generally sticks to posting excerpts with links, Rosen will sometimes flesh out his posts with more of his own personal analysis.


Finally, I chose Eric Alterman's Altercation. I've been a fan of Alterman's writing for a while, but I didn't realize he had a blog until I started hunting around. I'm choosing his blog because, even though he does a lot of politically oriented writing, he also provides critiques of the media. Plus, he's just fun to read.