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.


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) (more…)

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.

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.

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.

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

First get your facts straight, then plunge at your peril into the shifting hands of interpretation –that is the ultimate wisdom of the empirical, common-sense school of history – Edward H. Carr, “What is History?” (1961).

On his blog post “Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press,” Jay Rosen exposes an interesting diagram – published in 1986 by press scholar Daniel C. Hallin on his book “The Uncensored War”– on the three different spheres that comprises the basic job of a journalist in regards to reporting politics: the Sphere of Consensus; the Sphere of Legitimate Debate; and the Sphere of Deviance.

The Sphere of Consensus, as its name already implies, is that in which newsmen and society agree on a variety of issues. Therefore, according to Rosen’s post a journalist doesn’t feel compelled to do much work because there isn’t really anything to discuss. Things like checks and balances will fall within this realm.

The Sphere of Legitimate Debate is where, then again according to Rosen’s post, the journalistic job really finds it bread and butter. It is here where the two-party system really kicks in, with major political players dictating the news agenda.  Also, this is where the journalism holds high its values of balance and objectivity.


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

While 2008 held the record for election fund-raising – 6 billion in total, Obama’s bid for President has long been hailed as the benchmark of social media success.  Through the power of engagement, he electrified his supporters and was able to collect a record-breaking amount of campaign contributions – over 6.5 million, 6 million of which were in increments less than $100, creating a new category of donor called “micro-donors.”


Slacktivism: Do Networks Make A Difference?

Have you ‘liked’ a political group on Facebook lately? Retweeted for a cause on Twitter? Shared a link to KONY2012 or another advocacy video on Youtube? Think you’re making a difference? Well, hold on to your armchair, because you might just be a slacktivist.

What is a slacktivist? A Slacktivist is someone who engages in “political activities that have no impact on real–life political outcomes, but only serve to increase the feel–good factor of the participants.” “Political Activities on The Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation By Other Means is an academic article by Henrik Serup Christensen that explores whether or not  online activities  really have an effect on political change and actually lead to political participation in ‘the real world’


Brazil…A Model to Follow?

Long before even considering applying to the MCDM, I had a discussion with two of my tech-savvy cousins who were born and raised in Bahia, Brazil. At their young age, they managed political conversations in a mature manner. It was in 2008 that they discussed how they were able to join chat room discussions about political issues that included anyone from perfect strangers, to the “diputados”, State representatives. My cousins didn’t use terms like “E-democracy” or “digital platforms”, but they did understand that they had more possibilities of interacting with their representatives than I did in the United States.


Wake up legislatures, it’s 2012!

“Not everything is political, but increasingly, everyone is.” – Sarah Schacht

For those feeling like they have no say in government, Sarah Schacht, founder and executive director of Knowledge As Power, an online nonpartisan system that helps individuals effectively participate in the legislative process, would like to convince you otherwise. She’s spent the last 10 years of her life embedded politically and she’s made it her personal mission to help the average individual become a powerful citizen.

Her chapter ‘Democracy, Under Everything’ in Open Government is an open call to state legislatures to make government information accessible to civilians in a timely fashion. Arguing that the websites available to us for searching information on bills etc. often are not published quickly enough and done so on archaic public systems, Schacht indeed makes the case that “the tools of our modern legislative process are old and ill-fitting” (Lathrop et. al 2010).