Sunday, November 2, 2008

The stories we missed

You hear that phrase "the liberal media" all the time. I've never bought it, for a number of reasons--not least of which because I've read/watched the media. But I also know the web of connections between global corporate giants who own most of the major media, and these powerful, concentrated forces are anything but "liberal."

Still, one would think if we did have a "liberal" media, there might be more attention paid to stories like the annual Project Censored announcement. Since 1976, Sonoma State University in California has released an annual survey of the top 25 stories the mainstream media failed to report or reported poorly, culling them from national and international sources.

The project organizers define censorship as "any interference with the free flow of information." Among the top 2008 stories that the media under-reported or failed to cover at all:

1. How many Iraqis have died? The number varies widely. Top estimate: 1.2 million.
2. Security and Prosperity Partnership (NAFTA on steroids)“It’s a scheme to create a borderless North American Union under U.S. control without barriers to trade and capital flows for corporate giants, mainly U.S. ones,” wrote Stephen Lendman in Global Research. “It’s also to insure America gets free and unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources, mainly oil, and in the case of Canada, water as well.”
3. Infragard (FBI deputized business members, who get pre-terrorism warnings before regular individuals. So they can protect their interests).
4. School of the Americas: a training ground for illegal wars in Georgia.
5. Criminalizing the anti-war movement
6. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, designed to root out the causes of radicalization in Americans.
7. H-2 visas and 120,000 immigrants working legally in America ("closest thing to slavery I've seen" Rep. Charles Rangel)
8. "As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse had access to the DOJ opinions regarding presidential power, and he had three declassified in order to show how the judicial branch has, in a bizarre and chilling way, assisted President Bush in circumventing its own power." (Amanda Witherell)
9. Soldiers speaking out against the war.
10. Teaching torture: "Psychologists have been assisting the CIA and the U.S. military with interrogation and torture of Guantanamo Bay detainees—which the American Psychological Association has said is fine, in spite of objections from many in its 148,000 members." (Witherell)

None of these important stories were covered by the mainstream media.Below is a video of an interview with present director of the project, Peter Phillips.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Video Killed The Radio Star

Recently, our Visual Journalism grad class took a little field trip to Arlington to visit the offices of Washington Post interactive (Washington
Below is a brief slideshow I made, featuring our host and guide, assistant multimedia editor, Chet Rhodes. Rhodes made some good points throughout the night, including:

Sometimes "innovation comes at the cost of usability," and we should always be careful balancing the old and new technologies. Or in other words, try to keep it simple for the viewer, but useful.
He also added that their online site was "very profitable" but still not enough to replace the revenue being lost by the print side in downtown D.C.
His overall mission, simply stated: "we want people to come to us for text and video."
He recommended checking out the work of Emmy-award winning MOJO, Travis Fox and noted that when we were filming, "never ZOOM!" and keep the head of the subject touching the top of the screen. Hmmm.
Oh! And he noted that Washington does now have its own You Tube channel, a valuable ally in the attempt to make videos go viral and reach a wider audience.
Stay tuned.

I also included a video of him that I found on You Tube where he discusses some more of the changes coming to journalism, which mostly revolve around the emerging dominance of visual (video )images over print.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Special Blog extra: "Rock Star Politics: Obama in Richmond 10/22"

Saw the Obama train roll through Richmond today. Outside, throngs of people streamed into Richmond Coliseum from all sides, as t-shirt and button hawkers lined up their goods, and a truck with pictures of aborted fetuses drove in circles, with a big sign that read "Abortion is an ObamaNation."
After brief warm-ups from Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, Obama took the podium about an hour late to thunderous applause. I took some pics from high above in the nosebleed section. My old history professor Bob Hiett was down front, and got a few words in with the superstar candidate. The speech was hard to hear due to the poor sound system, but it was mostly familiar ground from the campaign. The atmosphere was electric, unlike anything I've ever seen at political rally.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Changing Media Landscape

Recently, a blog entry on Mediashift posted several video interviews with various j-school professors about what they felt journalism students needed to know today as they enter the workforce. All of their comments seemed to ring true: that is to say, there are a multitude of things journalists must know. They range from the essential, traditional building blocks (fundamental interest/passion in informing the public, maintaining ethical standards) to the modern (understanding new technology mediums and "marketing work" to an ever-changing audience). Journalists today must become more savvy than in the past, without losing critical writing and reporting skills.

When I boil it down, the biggest change in media over the last five years seems to be twofold: a decrease in print and increase in video content, combined with an interactive, personal-based approach to media consumption.
With a plethora of media to choose from, readers are moving to whatever satisfies their personal curiosities/tastes: be they community or national based, hard news or entertainment. People want customized information.

Journalists today need to know how to follow the quickly changing media landscape. They can do this in many ways: staying on top of trend publications, being involved in online settings, and just keeping up with what other media are doing. While doing this, they should always try to be innovative and find new ways to apply the media in their storytelling--no easy task. Creativity and imagination are critical.

Individual journalists should know their audience, and know what they can provide to best serve their interests. If this means twittering info, or whatever the latest trend is, so be it. Basically, they should stay on top of how content information flows online, which means they need to constantly be reading online, following stories and reader communities, and discovering where the journalist can add crucial information and provide services in the interest of the community served.

All of this weight should not fall on the journalist's shoulders alone. Management at media companies need to come out of the Stone Age and actually invest money in moving forward into the brave new digital world: hiring web producers, [insert innovative new titles here] and others who can monitor and create new ways to "market" or reach online audiences. Ideally, journalism in today's climate should be a team affair (two or three person teams would do a much better job at providing a multi-pronged approach to a multimedia world).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Phil and Mike's Not-so-Excellent Adventure

As part of MASS COMM week at VCU, I caught a midday seminar on Monday, "Innovations in the Newspaper Business," featuring two recent graduates from VCU who now do contract work in the Publications branch of Media General (the others being Interactive and Broadcasting).

If anything, this was a depressing look at what happens when young, energetic college grads-turned cubicle drones meet the iron fist of corporate, bureaucratic hell. To their credit, they were honest but spent most of their 45 minutes complaining about the lack of budget, vision, and technological savvy of their superiors at Media General.

Clearly, the jobs of these two students revolve solely around bringing in ad dollars through business-friendly projects such as their upcoming "Find A," a new website with a print quarterly component focused around individual and pre-packaged daytrips on a statewide level. Apparently anytime they try to get innovative, it is deemed too expensive. What managers are looking for nowadays is big return on little investment (like IReporters who turn in content for free).

After informing the small crowd of mostly undergraduates that it was important to wear a suit to interviews ... the team of Phil Hillard and Michael Terpak bemoaned the "backwards" old fogeys at Media General who hold "meetings about meetings."
As is becoming the case across journalism, nothing flies unless it brings in money.
Another interesting point the "young Turks" brought up was that they are not evaluated in any capacity. They receive feedback constantly, but no formal evaluation. Perhaps because they are contractors, who knows?

In terms of innovation, both saw a future that involved user-friendly web media and the ability to interact with customers ... but they were mum on specifics, besides mentioning a company called Concursive with "great small business tools" (such as free CRM, or customer relationship management) that Media General is working with. When asked point blank if the corporate politics of Media General stifled innovation, both responded with a hearty "yes."

A more interesting discussion came during the forum later that night in Harris Hall, “The First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism," held as part of the 100th anniversary of The National Press Club.

VCU instructor Jeff South (pictured below) rightfully expressed his worry that local media was losing its watchdog role, ceding that fundamental duty to bloggers.
Meanwhile, fiery Nancy Kent (also pictured), news director at NBC 12,drew cheers from yours truly when she discussed the VP debate and begged the question of when mainstream media was going to "start asking the follow-up question?"
No wonder people are jumping ship with a media as boring, tame and predictable as the one we have now. That young generations are going to Jon Stewart (and my old co-worker Jason Ross, who has written for Daily Show since 2002 and now has somewhere around 400 Emmys) for their news context. A comedy show, mind you, does a better job stringing together facts.

When asked what employers were looking for, Kent insisted that young people know how to write and think critically (be able to research, pull facts from documents) before applying for a media job, something that seems to often be ignored in school programs racing to keep up with technology trends.
If you don't know the basics, it's difficult to be innovative and save journalism from falling off a cliff.

What really disturbs me is the insistence on catering to the lowest common denominator--on allowing the audience to pick nearly all the content. Porn is really popular too, but we shouldn't all move to Simi Valley.

Finding a way to make money is the reality, I understand this. But it can be done without giving up on the fundamentals of investigative journalism and becoming round-the-clock salesmen. Journalism has to be confident that rising generations want real reporting, and they have to do a better job of explaining difficult subjects in a stimulating, more visual way.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Brave New World

A recent Christian Science monitor Op-Ed is the latest in a long line of essays marveling at the sheer interconnectedness of the Internet. Yes, it is the future. We know.
Everyone has a platform. Everyone has their 15 milliseconds of fame if they can go "viral" enough. The author mentions a YouTube video "Charlie Bit My Finger" that he believes has been seen by 53 million people (the view count is now 57 million). I'm not sure of this statement. Views go up when people repeatedly watch, right? Some of the same people probably watched this video 20 times or more. But still, a lot of people watched. Agreed. And it's one of many popular videos that manage to trigger communal frenzy.

I first remember seeing this video as part of one of those ubiquitous blooper TV shows, can't remember the name. Now it's caught on and people--who know the video is popular and are seeking an audience for themselves--are making remixes. Such as the adult remix just below it, which features the children's voices set to men engaging in oral sex [it's been "viewed" over 600,000 times]. Just goes to the author's point that, while the new generations coming up are more connected, more able to comment on each other's "work"--most of the responses are crap. Just like Internet's huge porn audience, the least common denominator of interest is not always enlightening, or constructive. But it has opened a new window to collective work on a massive scale ... that is fundamentally changing the way we interact.

Sometimes there is interesting art, or interesting journalism that you could find nowhere else--and the ability of people to respond and help shape and create information is indeed "the future." Interestingly, it's become easier for people to share influences and appropriate intellectual property as well.
I was reminded by this assignment of my old college friend Kembrew McLeod, an U of Iowa professor and author/activist/journalist (Rolling Stone, Spin, Village Voice) who is an academic expert on intellectual property law. Here is an op-ed he wrote for the LA Times about fair use and free speech. And below is a truly creepy collage mash-up video of Mr. Rogers that You Tube took down, and Kembrew fought to get back up (see his Op Ed for more).

As Kembrew writes: "If YouTube is our new public sphere, we are in trouble, at least when it comes to free speech. YouTube's parent company, Google, is more concerned with its bottom line than anything else, whether it's copyright censorship in the U.S. or political censorship in China.But all is not hopeless. The DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] contains a legal tool for resisting unreasonable copyright claims -- the "counter-notice." That's what I filed after YouTube pulled a satirical collage video of mine that mashed up media from another strange staple of my childhood, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Truthdig interviews Robert Fisk

Essential viewing for those interested in Middle East: