Response to – Is the authority of the press really weakened by the Internet? Hold your thoughts!

In the post, “Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press,” Jay Rosen discusses three regions that according to Daniel Hallin explain journalism in the United States.  Although interesting, I find that his argument is at times too limiting.  For one, I don’t think that journalism in this country can so easily be divided into three spheres.  Although he does mention that the “three spheres are not really separate; they create one another, like the public and private do.” (pg. 2), making the model less rigid, I still find this three part model rather rigid. For one, it doesn’t take into account, like Rosen mentions, the significant influence of digital news platforms.

Considering that Rosen wrote the post in 2009, we can perhaps accept that he didn’t expand on this last point.  However, in 2012 we can no longer have a legitimate discussion about any definition of journalism without discussing the effect of the internet and digital platforms.

On this subject, I agree when Mariana says that, “The difference between a journalist and a political “apasionado” and bloggers in this point is that a newsman will always rely on official, known, proven to be reliable and accurate sources to get the facts straight and will always rely on checking the accuracy of those facts.”  Nonetheless, there are legitimate journalists that write for blogs and who certainly fact-check what they’re reporting.   They might certainly not be the majority, but like any other relatively new media platform, we need to allow time to show us the shape that it will ultimately take.

Political Players

In her post, Mariana also discusses the following quote by Rosen, “one of the problems with our political press is that its reference group for establishing the “ground” of consensus is the insiders: the professional political class in Washington.” She responds by saying that, “Truth is, if a journalist is writing about politics, who are supposed to be his sources? The players. Who else? A journalist cannot interview the whole American public, that’s why it relies on research and studies done at the different respects.”  I agree with her that as political journalists we often rely on “the players,” those in the political professional class that are immersed in the subject.  But I also appreciate Rosen’s criticism.  As journalists, counting on a “reference group” can make us too comfortable, and let’s be honest, even lazy.  It’s imperative that we look outside the established political insiders and at least consider others that might present a distinct dialogue.

The historian and the journalist

The last point I’d like to address is Mariana’s statement comparing history to journalism.  She states that, “…journalism can be a lot like history, since both analyze facts and interpret them…the historian bias due to his social, cultural, familiar, educational, health related, socio-economic, geographical background will interfere deeply and directly in his interpretation of the facts, whether he is aware of it or not.”  I agree that it’s human nature to be biased in some way.  As journalists, even in trying to remain unbiased, our experiences will undoubtedly affect how we report on a story.  However, I am not sure that this will ever change or that it should.

Overall, I’d like to know how Rosen would discuss Hallin’s three-sphere model in 2012.  What has changed?  Mariana on her end, did a good job in presenting Rosen’s most important arguments while also adding some though-provoking elements of her own.

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Book Review: The Digital Origins of Dictatorship & Democracy

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy
Information Technology and Political Islam
Philip N. Howard
Published 2010

As part of my participation in the MCDM course on Digital Democracy, I am providing a review of Howard’s book on the social media revolution as it relates to the Muslim world.  My review covers four high level findings and observations:  The four key takeaways that I have taken from the book.  Then I fast-forward to the events of 2011 and 2012 to see what the last two years have brought for the Muslim world and digital democracy.

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy is a fascinating look into the complexity and evolution of the Muslim world.  It is a very complex analysis of a very complex subject.

For most Americans, the scope and lack of homogeneity of the Muslim world is a mystery.  Unfortunately, most Americans are predisposed to think of Islam with some sense of tunnel vision.   For me, I only knew the basics.

  • Islam is a huge religion (22% of the world’s population).
  • There are many sects, each with the same core understanding of the religion but with different practices and specific beliefs.
  • Governments have varying degrees of influence on the religion with their citizens (from Saudi Arabia, which is a religious state); to Malaysia (with a multicultural secular view of religion); to the United States, with many Muslims but little understanding and embrace by non-Muslims of the religion in the mainstream.

Read the full post »

Book Review: Drew Westen’s “The Political Brain – The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation”

Republican strategists have recognized since the days of Richard Nixon that the road to victory is paved with emotional intentions.

Drew Weston is a clinical, personality and political psychologist and neuroscientist.  In his book “The Political Brain” published in 2007, he lends his expertise in psychology to address what he sees are core failures of the Democratic Party to reach the White House just 3 times in 30 years.

Even though Democrats were more aligned philosophically with the middle class, they were losing elections because they were not able to emotionally connect with their constituents.

What he terms as the “dispassionate mind” – where decisions are made by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusion  – he sees as old-school thinking that bears no real connection to how the mind and brain really work.

Read the full post »

Book Review: The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov

Barely twenty-eight years old, author and fellow at the New America Foundation, Evegny Morozov writes with the kind of Internet skepticism that someone 40 years his senior would. In his book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Morozov argues that the Internet isn’t really something that actually helps to democratize authoritarian regimes as so many have claimed networks like Twitter have done.  That said, Morozov, a native of Belarus, is a talented and gifted writer and he makes his case for Internet pessimism clear in his 400+ page book and early on he sets the tone with this:

“Most disturbingly, a dangerous self-negating prophecy is at work here: The more Western policymakers talk up the threat that bloggers pose to authoritarian regimes, the more likely those regimes are to limit the maneuver space where those bloggers operate.” (p.26)

In the opening few pages of the book, Morozov basically explains that it’s his mission is to beat back “cyber-utopianism,” at least as it relates to international affairs and diplomacy.  He defines cyber-utopianism as “a naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its downside.” Who does he blame? He blames “the starry-eyed digital fervor of the 1990s” and the “former hippies… [now] ensconced in some of the more prestigious universities in the world” for giving rise to the notion that “the Internet could deliver what the 1960’s couldn’t” in terms of building a better, more peaceful world. (p. xiii) Read the full post »

Response to Campaign Finance 2012: Buddy, can you spare a $1

How a campaign is financed – and how transparent that financing is – are critical to democracy. Linda’s discussion about Ellen L. Weintraub’s and Jason K. Levine’s “Campaign Finance and the 2008 Elections: How Small Change Can Really Add Up,” had great examples of what is supposed to be transparent but is in fact really hard to find, as well as what is transparent, but nobody seems to be talking about it.

First, how John McCain’s 2008 campaign was funded was difficult to track down. I set to looking further into this after class and spent a couple of hours reading news reports with lots of accusations of flip flops, but very little on context and the big picture of “who did what.” In summary, what my online search of news reports, OpenSecrets, and then verification through the FEC, found was that McCain accepted public financing for the primaries, then opted out part the way through because he didn’t want to stick to the spending guidelines once he had spent more money than the limits allowed. However, in the general election, according to the FEC Summary of Contributions, McCain appears to have stuck with public financing and used the $84,103,800 in federal funds. The FEC has a fairly solid presidential campaign data visualizer, however, their search fields turned up nothing when the key words “McCain” + “2008” + “public financing” are used, which I found frustrating when trying to get financing information from the site.

Next, was the incredibly telling Obama vs. Romney Contributor’s table that Linda showed in one of her slides. It was impactful not in its surprise factor, but the clarity of the category of backers for each candidate. The top five contributors for Romney are five major banks. The top five contributors of Obama’s campaign are two tech giants, two universities, and a global law firm, which represents mainly tech companies. I wish we were seeing more journalist-written stories and analysis and what that means and why it matters. A Google search for these kinds of reporter analysis turned up a couple of blog posts and one PolitiFact article confirming a Facebook post which listed the top 6 contributors for each candidate. I think political journalists can do better and I certainly hope as the election heats up, we will see more in depth reporting on who is backing who and what it means.

Note: This was originally posted as a comment directly to Linda’s piece, but I realized there was an actual category for response to discussion leader so I’m posting it here, as well.

Session 4 – Global Systems, Watchdogs and What Comes Next

Agenda

  • DLs
  • Book Reviews
  • Discussion
  • Lunch
  • ElectionEye session (short)
  • FactCheckWA session (long)
  • Goals for next week (finals week)

Read the full post »

The Web Whisperers

“If you want to liberate a country, give them the Internet.” Famous words from Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and Egyptian who surreptitiously launched a Facebook page that many associate with the origins of the Egyptian revolution in spring 2011.

It’s hard to believe that just eight years earlier, when the use of the Internet was much less ubiquitous, McLaughlin (2003) published his research, “The use of the Internet for political action by non-state dissident actors in the Middle East,” predicting with a prescient line in his conclusion, “As Internet access grows around the world and diffuses to poorly connected regions, it is likely that Internet-based political dissidence will grow and evolve as well.”

ImageAnd so it did, during the Arab Spring, where revolutions were catching on like wildfires, and country governments toppled one after the other. At the time, there was heightened debate online about the role social media and the internet actually played. Devin Coldewey of TechCrunch downplayed social media’s role, “Twitter and Facebook are indeed useful tools,” he said, “but they are not tools of revolution—at least no more than Paul Revere’s horse was.”

Malcolm Gladwell, also minimized social media’s part in organizing real social activism. In a New Yorker article, he wrote, “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”

McLaughlin’s model analyzing the early days of non-state dissidents’ use of the Internet for political activism shows that “how they do it” is indeed very interesting and critical to truly understanding the evolution of how people depend on the Internet to organize revolutions or press for policy change.

McLaughlin groups the types of non-state dissidents first by objective: are they trying to overthrow the government or just make some policy changes within a current system. Then, he categorizes them by target audience. Are they trying to drum up support domestically, internationally, or trying to erode support for the government regime?

By approaching the study this way, and capturing how each group reacts to various levels of censorship, McLaughlin provides some powerful insights on the delicate balance between a government’s desire to maintain control and a dissident’s desire for equal rights, change, and a free voice.

McLaughlin chose Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia as case studies. Interestingly, when the governments of Egypt and Jordan banned political discourse online, the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in those countries toned down their messaging content and started up new websites that were more based toward religion and charity.

This contrasted with how the Saudi group MIRA reacted in the face of government opposition to their Internet presence. Saudi Arabia, the most autocratic regime of the three case studies, aggressively sought to limit the effectiveness of MIRA’s political activities, first by limiting Internet infrastructure and then by employing a framework of legal and technological censorship.

The reaction from the MIRA was to get around the government by printing their content, making copies, and then passing them out via hardcopies and fax machines. That’s right, fax machines. Just like before the Internet, people take advantage of any tool that helps tell their story better.

But a lot has changed since the McLaughlin article was published. He states that there were less than 2,000,000 total internet users in the Middle East in 2003. Seven years later, there were 20,000,000 users, according to Internet World Stats, and in 2012 there were 77 million. An increase of nearly 40 times.

ImageWith more users, there is more documentation of harsher tactics in Egypt on the part of the government. “In Egypt, the Muslim brotherhood was not only punished by having their websites shut down,” said Canadian videographer and photographer, Sophie Tremblay, who spent six weeks in Egypt after the fall of Mubarek. “I hear stories and saw physical evidence of torture and one of the demands from the military if you wanted to go free was that you swore you would never blog again.”

Further evidence of how threatened the military was of the power of the Internet. Tremblay heard story after story about how the Internet helped ordinary Egyptians realize that there were other people like themselves who weren’t satisfied with the status quo. The Internet allowed them to get around laws preventing gathering, so they were able to share ideas, express their opinions, anonymously, at first, just Web Whisperers, until they felt comfortable and safe, and had amassed enough voices to gather publicly and be heard.

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

The Influencing Machine is a graphic nonfiction book written by Brooke Gladstone, and illustrated by Josh Neufeld. The book tackles the media through the lens of history and modern media theory, offering a dizzying (and sometimes depressing) view of our media heritage as well as her “vision” for the future.

Since Brooke Gladstone has been the host of NPR’s seminal radio Show, On the Media, for over ten years, she’s got great material from countless interviews with reporters, editors, commentators, and media luminaries to draw upon. I’ve listened to the show a lot, and it’s clear that Brooke Gladstone holds journalistic ethics and responsibilities to their highest standard- and is not afraid to ask the tough questions of her guests to make them accountable.

A panel from The Influencing Machine

I was also looking forward to reading this book because it’s a comic book….er, graphic novel, beautifully and amusingly illustrated by artist Josh Neufeld. To me, comic books and radio are a natural fit—they’re both theaters of the imagination, of sorts. The art in The Influencing Machine is rife with creative and colorful interpretations and a cast of vividly drawn historical and real life characters. Because it’s a comic book, it can take you right into a scene- from Woodward and Bernstein’s newsroom to a civil war battlefield- just like a move- but it’s a book. (radio is words and sounds that evoke pictures- a book for your mind, if you will).

The Influencing Machine takes on a wide variety of media-related issues, like freedom of information, media access and ownership, accountability and accuracy, public trust, bias, war reporting, consumption theory, and more. It’s a tough task to pull off, fraught with nuances and controversy at every turn, but Ms. Gladstone’s prodigious experience makes it seem easy to condense all of this material into a worthwhile narrative. There is a wealth of examples to make this narrative unfold.

The best of these examples place media issues in the context of history- a very useful perspective to have when lamenting the deplorable state of the media today. For instance, did you know that Julius Caesar started the first PR machine newspaper, the Acta Diurna, and disseminated it throughout the empire to control information? Good ‘ol George Washington may have never told a lie, but he did invent the ‘political leak’- inviting reporters to fancy dinners to ensure that they reported stories to his liking. And what’s so wrong with using State Department money to fund a newspaper that opposes your political rivals? Thomas Jefferson did it. Apparently, things like plagiarism, PR stunts, tabloid reporting, and unethical alliances have been happening for a long time.

I couldn’t help but be struck by a certain tone of cynicism in most of these examples. While she does justice to people like war reporter Ernie Pyle and Jacob Riis, for the most part media history seemed like a string of lies, betrayals, and misrepresentations. I could have used a couple more positive examples, not to mention some women and people of color. No mention of Nellie Bly (one of my childhood journalist heroes), whose pioneering work writing an expose of the mistreatment of patients at mental hospitals changed public health policy in the United States? Or Langston Hughes, the American poet and writer, who bravely reported on The Spanish Civil War “for the colored press”?

According to Gladstone, reporters are a sorry lot- the government will always try to control them, the public will never trust them, and they are constantly prey to editors, a hungry audience who wants their news fast, and the purse-strings that tempt them to say things that aren’t true.

Hanging over the book like the albatross of every reporter who wants to be worth their weight in salt, is the myth of objectivity. Objectivity, Gladstone insists, “is impossible.” Biases are inherent: gender biases, race biases, political biases), as several scientific studies cited in the book have proved. If you don’t believe me, try this test.

As one salient quote in the book points out, we as journalists are in fact responsible for everything we see as well as everything we do. But ‘advocacy’ journalism is relegated to the sphere of ‘deviance’, outside of the donut-hole sphere of consensus. A media consumer should watch for media biases, but a reporter can’t help but have them- no matter how much they try to make up for it.

So what’s the solution? According to Gladstone, in a time of public online identities and opinion-oriented journalism, transparency is the new objectivity. Reporters must earn people’s trust and assume that the public is savvy enough to sniff out the real truth in this age of information (re: don’t end up like this guy, duh). They should always link to their sources, open themselves to comments and criticisms, and even disclose their voting records, affiliations, and biases openly. Founder of Entertainment Weekly Jeff Jarvis does. Then, after all that disclosure, still make kick-ass quality journalism that is reliable, documented, and committed to the truth.

In the end, ‘the influencing machine’ spins its course on us, fragments us into pieces of incomplete knowledge, and challenges our identities. Technological changes ensure we’ll biologically develop into how we consume media- our brains are already changing to handle this new global universe of rapid news and information. The final panel of the book shows a group of people staring up at you, holding cell phones and microphones, as Gladstone says, ‘We get the media we deserve.” For better or worse? I guess it’s up to us to find out.

More:

Read Brooke Gladstone’s Media Manifesto on Transom:
http://transom.org/?p=7004

Watch an animated Video on The Influencing Machine:
https://vimeo.com/23867276

Buy The Influencing Machine at:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Influencing-Machine-Brooke-Gladstone/dp/0393077799

Six Provocations of Big Data – August 11

Joe Provocations Of Big Data

What is the hottest topic on the technology circuit today?  It’s not Facebook.  It’s not the next Apple iPhone.  It’s the explosion of Big Data (which deserves a Big B and D throughout this essay) and what that means for just about every human on the planet.  Big Data is exciting.  It holds a world of promise for everyone from engineers to marketers to the bean counters.

Big Data refers to data sets that are so large that they break traditional IT infrastructures.  More and more, companies, academic institutions and governments are finding the path toward answers leads to Big Data.  But where analytics historically have led to the supercomputer to analyze Big Data, new analytics tools and technologies (including virtualization) are making Big Data a business tool for all.

Enter Boyd and Crawford who do not dare to denounce or renounce the Big Data revolution, but offer six thoughtful counterpoints or warnings to everyone who is jumping on the bandwagon of Big Data.  And by analyzing this article I learned to respect opposing opinions, question the hype of business (including my own employer, EMC), and realize that there are big implications to Big Data.

The first and deepest revelation from the authors that is Big Data will force a new way of learning upon those who analyze it.  I agree.  EMC is sponsoring an entire curriculum around Big Data – coursework and certification that focuses around Technical Ability, Analytical Ability, and Business Acumen.  The EMC Data Scientist certification is meant to be what Microsoft Certification was at the turn of the century – the gold standard of certification.

The next provocation revolves around claims to objectivity in Big Data.  For example, let’s examine the ability to take a quantitative approach and apply it to social spaces.  And the fact that in the end of the day, a human being will be taking analytics and interpreting those analytics for the end customer/user.

Boyd and Crawford continue with another provocation entitled, “Bigger Data is not always Better Data.”  They use Twitter as the example of Big Data that cannot always concisely be analyzed.  Not at Twitter users and tweets are the same!   In a nutshell, the authors really implore the reader to recognize that size isn’t everything when it comes to data and an inquiring mind must still impart his/her knowledge to provide the correct, rich analytic experience.

Equally interesting is the notion that not all Big Data is equal.  Their most vivid illustration of this is the three types of networks analyzed for the article.  Articulated Networks are the most straightforward.  Think about your Outlook address book – we all have one.  How up-to-date and accurate is it?  Are all connections in that address book of equal value?  (Only the creator will know for sure).  Second, there are Behavioral Networks that are derived from communication patters.  Think about how you use your LinkedIn Connections to network.  Finally, the unique Personal Networks that are lurking behind the scenes.  Everything from your local grad school alumni network to my network of high handicap golfing buddies.  Analyzing the personal network becomes more complicated than the larger, articulated network.

The authors then make two very strong arguments for social responsibility and Big Data:  (1) Taking an ethical approach to Big Data and (2) Warning of the impending digital divide of Big Data.

On ethics, it does bring very legitimate concerns.  When there is a wealth of data about each one of us, we lose our ability to give permission for use of that data.  And on the digital divide, will money be a deciding factor on who gets access to Big Data? And while one can argue that Big Data will drive down cost, for some areas like academic or the public sector, access could be restricted by the ability to (1) not have the proper talent to analyze Big Data and (2) not have access to the best technology.

Enter another topic near and dear to my heart but not addressed in the article:  the impending talent shortage of people who are properly trained in Big Data.  Coursework like the Data Scientist certification will help that challenge, but the need to bring more young students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) is real.  And it is a burden that must be shared at all levels.

In summary, the article takes a very new and exciting topic  and puts forth provocations in the way a businessperson like myself views Big Data.  Absolute kudos go out to Boyd and Crawford for effectively putting forth strong, credible arguments to the opportunities in a Big Data world.

What else can we predict? Seriously Considering Leetaru’s Theory.

In reading Kalev Leetaru’s article Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting large–scale human behavior using global news media tone in time and space, I couldn’t help but wanting to run a similar experiment of my own.  I found it fascinating that by measuring the tone of news coverage in a specific region, one can potentially forecast short-term national stability, or lack there of.  Understandably, perhaps conducting such analysis frequently, especially on local levels might not be cost-effective, but the possibility alone is interesting.

Leetaru’s approach could easily be used in analyzing other political events that might have been predicted by the tone set by traditional news coverage.  One of these is the 2009 Honduran coup d’etat.  In this case, President Manuel Zelaya, who was elected as a conservative, formed an alliance with the Leftist party, also joining forces with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.  The coup d’etat occurred when the army ousted Zelaya on June 28, 2009.  Months of political and economic uncertainly followed.  Could the tone of news coverage have predicted the turmoil?  Leetaru certainly has me believing so.

The methodology used in this study can certainly be challenged by scholars. For instance, why didn’t they use additional databases to compare their results?  Were two enough?  Also, some might question not incorporating social media as one of it’s news sources.

Leetaru wrote, “Given it’s importance as an early organizing tool, social media may provide an important compliment to traditional news content as an early precursor of citizen unrest, but the technical and linguistic complexities, especially the need to operate on large number of vernacular languages across the world, made it beyond the scope of this study.” (pg.5)

I especially appreciate two things in this statement.  For one, he is recognizing that social media is important enough as a tool and that it can compliment this study in the future.  After all, the rapid pace at which social media is evolving, leaves room for considering it in future studies.  Twitter, as an example, might continue to develop in such a way that it truly becomes a quantifiable news platform for the purposes of this study.

Furthermore, Leetaru continues to give traditional news outlets the importance it deserves even in these times where we are highly saturated by digital media platforms that are competing with traditional Journalism.  I think it’s important to recognize that television, print, and radio media platforms continue to be solid sources of information and that their content can solidly contribute to theories such as this one.

It’s a matter of adapting new media to the methodology.  Leetaru refers to how Radio in the 1940’s was a communications platform that served a similar role in forecasting an event.  He states, “From the founding of FBIS and SWB in the leadup to World War II, one of their primary tasks was to analyze the tone of domestic radio broadcasts around the world to determine their posture towards the West. The very first analysis report by SWB’s partner service FBIS was dated 6 December 1941, noting that Japanese radio had dropped its appeals for peace and had increased its criticism of the United States. The Japanese struck Pearl Harbor the following morning. While news monitoring will never perfectly predict the precise details of conflict, it can offer critical advanced warning that the posture of a country has changed.” (pg. 6)

As with any study, there is room for different interpretations and for many to refute it. However Leetaru presents a solid theory and perhaps most importantly, makes the reader think of the possibilities new media platforms will contribute in the future.