Shooting War

071106 Shooting War coverJust published, graphic novel Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman: it’s 2011 and anti-corporate blogger Jimmy Burns is working as an embed for Global News – ‘Your home for 24-hour terror coverage’ – in President McCain’s Iraq… And boom. The beta online version is available here.

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Net Costs

… conned by the numbers from their web departments and aided and abetted by laughably inconsistent web metrics… newspaper owners will strip newspapers of the resources they need to reinvent themselves in order to nurture an internet beast that they believe is a rottweiler puppy but is, in fact, a fully grown poodle. They are barking mad.
– John Duncan, former managing editor of the Observer, 1999 to 2005, Press Gazette

Virginia Tech @ The Social Web

The public spaces on the internet served as the most important arena for exchange of information on the events yesterday. Almost every news story cited a Facebook or Myspace page or a livejournal entry as a source. The Wikipedia entry and discussion on the event hashed out validity of sources and the semantics of tragedy. And then the jarring cell phone footage on Liveleak was among the realest indicators that this gruesome event had actually happened. The events as documented on the social web became the authority.

… These past two days have made it ever so much more apparent that our social lives on the web are intractable, crucial, and part of the news and the historical record.
booktruck

Cookie-Cutter Journalism

Flip away from the enthusiasms of the Web 2.0/participatory media crowd; the future suddenly loses its shine.

In a paper published last year by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Robert G Picard gives a detailed account of what’s gone wrong with American news journalism:

Many of the challenges of news organization today exist because the professionalism of journalism and journalism education have determined the values and value of the news, commoditized the product, and turned most journalists into relatively interchangeable information factory workers. Average journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. Few journalists encounter skills-related problems changing from one news organization to another and the average journalist is easily replaced by another. This interchangeability is one reason why salaries for average journalists are relatively low and why columnists, cartoonists, and journalists with special skills (such as enhanced ability to cover finance, science, and health) are able to command higher wages. Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.
Robert G Picard, Journalism, Value Creation and the Future of News Organizations
(Google’s cached version; click here for pdf)

Of course, it takes two to dumb news down to its lowest common denominator. Hart Van Denburg, an online news editor in Minneapolis, agreeing with Picard, adds:

Americans treat their news the same way they treat their road trips. They could get off the interstate/internet for five minutes to visit a local diner and meet some local folks and get a sense of whether they’re in Brooklyn, N.Y., or Brooklyn Park, Minn., but they won’t. This is a country wallpapered with tens of thousands of square miles of beige suburbs populated by millions of fearful field mice with no desire to experience anything more unique than a sesame seed out of place on a Big Mac bun. Can we really expect such folks to give a hoot about anything outside their cul-de-sacs?
Hart’s Big Picture, Picard, Sameness, Passion

Hail the New Democracy?

Avoid any easy hype about the potential of the internet to usher in a new age of democracy, warns Jackie Ashley.

Murdoch and the better-off are mapping their monopolistic powers over to the new digital medium while the old medium’s powers to question these elites are being sidelined:

We should be nervous when politicians start boasting, as they are, that the net allows them to bypass irritatingly persistent, difficult interviewers such as John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman. Obviously, they need to be scrutinised and cross-questioned by well-briefed interrogators, secure enough in their jobs to push the point. Democracy demands it. Putting up your own website, conducting online question-and-answer sessions, is a doddle by comparison. They allow the politician to control the terms of the exchange and never face a public challenge on questions they don’t want to answer.
Jackie Ashley, Guardian

Journalists, Generalists

We’ve spent a lot of time, post-Enron, criticizing the flaws in the investment community’s gatekeeping activities. But I think we should also recognize what the Enron case tells us about the value of newspaper journalism. Maybe, in other words, we have underestimated the value of impartial, professionally-motivated, under-paid and overworked generalists in tackling the kind of information-rich, analysis-dependent “mysteries” that the modern world throws at us.

All of which, of course, points out the irony of what’s happening in the newspaper business right now. We are dismantling the institution of newspaper journalism precisely at the moment when it seems to be of greatest social value.
– Malcolm Gladwell: Enron and Newspapers

Blogs v Newspapers

Millions of websites will aggregate what we do, syndicate it, link it, comment on it, sneer at it, mash it, trash it, monetise it, praise it and attempt to discredit it – in some cases all at once. But no-one will actually go to the risk and the expense of setting up a global network of people whose only aim in their professional lives is to find things out, establish if they’re true, and write about them quickly, accurately and comprehensibly. The blogosphere, which is frequently parasitical on the mainstream media it so remorselessly critiques, can’t ever hope to replicate that.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian

When News Meets PR

From the department of kicking the US mainstream media while it’s already down: it’s not unusual for US TV stations to run corporate product pitches as straight news items, according to a new report by a media watchdog.

Over a ten-month period, the Center for Media and Democracy found 77 TV stations guilty of airing video news releases (VNRs) created by PR companies for corporate clients.
Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed

What happens is that the news anchor stops talking about murder and mayhem on Main Street and cuts to a colleague who talks about a great new product by Acme Corp. The viewer has no reason to think that what’s on show is an advert.

The report finds that while videos were routinely altered to look as though they originated in-house, most stations failed to disclose their promotional nature.

Television newscasts—the most popular news source in the United States—frequently air VNRs without disclosure to viewers, without conducting their own reporting, and even without fact checking the claims made in the VNRs.

Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price, Center for Media and Democracy

But Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, warns against government legislation against undisclosed TV promotions: “Where does it stop? It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.”
NY Times

The problem with this is that business self-regulation generally doesn’t work without sticks and carrots, whether from government or the wider community. The bottom line will win out.

Here, US TV viewers are being bamboozled; they don’t have enough information to make an informed choice. The government has to intervene or at least look as though it’s going to intervene in order to nudge media companies into behaving in the public interest.

Where government regulation stops is a matter for discussion. But media freedom, as Cochran seems to acknowledge, doesn’t include the right to run snake oil shows – not yet.

The placing of uncredited news stories by the US military in Iraqi newspapers led to a government inquiry. Surely US corporations and media doing the same at home should be held to a similar or even higher standard of accountability?