Category Archives: assignment

Paying for news

Nontraditional information sources are challenging the value of journalism from traditional newspaper companies, and society as a whole is pointing to the Internet and changing technologies for killing an industry.
With the threat of new media, traditional journalists have spent many words urging new ideas about how traditional journalism companies can make money in a new era. Most newspaper executives continue to say they can do more with less.
Amid the buzz, it’s time to ask a different question. Instead of journalism organizations asking how they can fund their journalism, we need to ask how societies should pay for journalism. That question allows broader analysis and perhaps room for new ideas.
For a class paper, I surveyed recent history of the newspaper business and reviewed experiments in information gathering and sharing on the Internet. A pdf of the paper is linked at the end of this post.
Sources included journalism books: Philip Meyer’s “The Vanishing Newspaper,” Robert G. Picard’s “Commercialism and Newspaper Quality” in the Newspaper Research Journal and the websites of new experiments, from large nonprofits to neighborhood blogs. I asked some neighborhood volunteers for their ideas about how society should pay for journalism.
The results give us reason to hope. Alternatives exist to information solely dependent upon retail advertisers. And it’s clear, as it always was, that society should judge the quality of journalism by paying close attention to the information and money sources.
Philip Meyer in “The Vanishing Newspaper” tried to link quality of journalism with business success. He concluded he could not pinpoint a direct connection, but he was hopeful that varied experimentation would allow truth and fairness to emerge.
“Natural selection will do the job. Maybe we can help it along,” he said.
With a close eye, maybe we can.
Paying for news

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Lessons about technology

Amanda Toler has done an excellent job in her Each One Teach One project in researching the issues of technology in K-12 education.

She has a 5-year-old. I have a 17-year-old. So I offer some perspective, and I hope much of it applies to the use of technology beyond the classroom.

My child entered public schools in 1995, just before computer labs became the flavor of the year at well-equipped schools. She’s wrapping up her senior year now, and she has benefited from online Flash chemistry simulations, turnitin.com verification of papers and online college applications.

Through the years, some themes emerged that apply broadly, to businesses and media as well as classrooms.

GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. An online grade report for students and parents does no good if teachers lack the time or training to input the data.
Hardware solutions to software problems won’t get us anywhere. We can’t just throw money at it. I’ve seen boxes of brand new computers sitting at a school a month after school began, waiting for someone with the time and talent to plug them in. Meanwhile, older printers had been taken away, and students without home computer access desperately needed to print college application forms at school.
TMI (Too Much Information) exists: Email alerts of opportunities and information can be emotionally overwhelming and clog in boxes at the same time. It’s like subscribing to too many magazines or newspapers — if they just pile up at home and make you feel guilty every time you see them, you’re likely to opt out of a subscription, whether it’s paper or email.
Social mores, fads and friends have huge impact: The IM craze of middle school at times degenerated into meanness for some. But a whole generation learned to type, quickly.
Documentation and certification lag behind new developments: The public-school curriculum and testing of technology skills is often outdated before it becomes adopted. Successful students need to go way beyond the basic levels of skills the state of North Carolina currently requires.
One good teacher is a gift to be cherished: In seventh grade, a teacher came up with a class project of planning and budgeting for a trip around the state. Students had to research different cities and the price of hotels, restaurants and attractions in each city, then add up costs for the entire trip. The students mapped the trip as well. (This was before Mapquest. Believe it or not, such a time existed.) This project was a killer, especially with dial-up access, but it gave students lasting experience in finding information on the Internet.

Follow the money: From a movie, to Sunlight

There’s a new movie out soon — “August Rush” — that tells the story of an orphan musician in search of his birth parents (that’s not it in the short Youtube video above — more on that later). The movie is high on my 17-year-old’s list of movies to see, but looks like a fairy tale that glamorizes what is often a quite difficult situation.

Movies hold huge power in determining thoughts and actions on issues such as safe sex, abortion, etc. I haven’t seen it, but know I’ll want to weigh in on the issues whenever the Kid sees the movie.

In light of all that emotion, I appreciate Traci’s fact-based approach in her class blog to issues like these, which need to be discussed and considered before issues arise. Traci’s blog adds greatly to the conversation.

One of Traci’s main concerns involves the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. She thinks it should stop. In my view, federal funds are spent in many other questionable ways. Blackwater and Halliburton get federal money too.

Oversight by our society about how our tax money is spent is crucial. New technology and bloggers can help, if given the tools, and this fact makes Gordon’s focus on e-government hugely important. In 2006, a bill was passed to make a public, searchable database of federal contracts awarded. Bloggers and citizen groups helped pass the bill after some folks in the Senate tried to hold it up. (Reference: Christian Scientist Monitor)

In addition, the Sunlight Foundation is working to give ordinary wired citizens access to information on government spending, of time and money. The foundation is using all the tools at its disposal — Youtube (you knew I’d get to the above video sometime), Facebook, a wiki and a website. And it’s asking citizens to help analyze the data. At least one newspaper is highlighting the information as well. The crowdsourcing capabilities of this effort seem as if they have great potential — as long as someone is watching.

Shifting legal sands

Josh Voorhees at A Newspaper with Infinite Bureaus and David Shabazz at Write for Freedom tackle the changing legal ramifications of the Internet.
Josh focuses on privacy issues and David bores in on defamation.

I appreciate the clear, concise way both writers explained the background of these important issues. I’m also impressed with the quantity and depth of the links they both provide for further study of the issues.

I’d like to add a twist to one fear that Josh lists about privacy: identity confusion, as well as identity theft. People with common names run the risk of being confused with someone else — I’ve seen this confusion happen on Facebook for my daughter. If someone with the same name is “tagged” in a photo, the photo can appear on my daughter’s profile. Similarly, some bloggers have taken precautions to protect their online identities, using Claim ID. Here’s an example, from Mindy McAdams, who teaches at the University of Florida.

As the defamation rules evolve and debates continue about anonymous postings at forums and blogs, I’m glad both writers have provided summaries and links with context amid shifting sands.

Second Life: Soma or remedy?

Cindy Anderson at The Write Reason explores Second Life, a place that sounds intriguing but also a little creepy and self-indulgent.

Frankly, I need all my time, creativity and brain power to deal with my First Life.

A few years ago (quite a few, actually), I had the game “Myst” on my home computer, and my family followed that with “SimPark.” Both were incredibly addictive for me, but at least “SimPark” seemed to have some educational value. “Myst,” on the other hand, became a total retreat from reality for me, and could suck up hours of my time without me realizing it. I stopped playing.

I’m afraid Second Life would be the same for me, so I’m just not going to go there.

I must admit, looking around on Youtube this evening (another addiction I rarely let myself do), I can see that perhaps blogging, forums, You Tubing, Second Life and other technical innovations might give people ways of connecting with others when real face-to-face life becomes too problematic. Still, I wonder whether those connections can be detrimental when carried to extremes. Balance seems key, as it is in First Life.

And I can see marketing advantages in being in Second Life, but so far I have doubts about its journalistic value. I’d love to hear more, outside of Second Life, from the Reuters reporter who’s been stationed in Second Life for about a year now. Is his job just becoming a marketing job with Reuters and Acura car partnerships, or is there any real journalism there? Can media organizations afford what looks to me like that extravagance in this economic climate? What about the energy usage that Second Life eats?

Each one teach one: Crystallizing the question

Class discussion helped me figure out how to state my research problem more clearly and succinctly:

What is the best way for societies to pay for their journalism?

Old ways don’t work; it’s not about buying printing presses and selling advertising anymore.

From there, it’s easy to move on and use the global community to look at other models, like the BBC. Or extrapolate into other resources, like asking, “What is the best way for societies to pay for their health care? Or their energy resources? Or their music?”

So if you like, start here. Tell me your ideas on how should we pay. I challenge you to answer in less than 100 words.

Each one teach one: Journalism hope or fear?

Advancements in media technologies have given society new ways to analyze and share information quickly across the globe. But changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of the information problematic.

The problem is analogous to issues in health care: scientists and researchers have developed new tools to fight disease and diagnose health problems, but the costs of paying for and distributing those developments have put their use out of the reach of the average person across the world.

Similarly, changes in the business model for many traditional news-gathering organizations have made analysis and delivery of quality information difficult. Consumers of that information expect it to be free, and they want to be entertained at the same time.

Consumers don’t have to rely solely on traditional media anymore for information, and that’s a good development. But new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.

New funding sources and methods have to be found to get the technology and massive amounts of data into the hands of average citizens in a way that can be useful. At the same time, the valuable, traditional journalism ethics need to be spread to a wider range of voices to ensure quality journalism in the future.

I’m part of the “traditional media,” on the young side of the Baby Boom generation, a group of people who never thought they’d be considered “traditional.” As a group, we’re slowly beginning to adopt the new ideas that entrepreneurs have developed. But years of habit and corporate ownership slow us down. We fear our jobs won’t last until we can retire, and we fear that the future of journalism is threatened, and thus one foundation of democracy could crumble ( Bill Moyers). Some journalists of my generation are moving into new media, but funding remains an issue ( David Boraks).

Here are some major factors to consider:
1. Many traditional media have been slow to adopt new technologies that allow increased engagement from readers and the integration of visual storytelling online. Corporate culture makes it difficult to adapt quickly.
2. Demographics contribute to change — or the lack of change — in the industry. Many newsrooms in the United States are dominated by Baby Boomers, a unique generation of journalists inspired by Watergate o enter an industry they hoped would change the world ( American Journalism Review.) Money was not their prime motivator, but many counted on the industry to provide a living to support families. These boomers are nearing retirement. The values, skills and approaches of new workers will be different.
3. Education of journalists across the world is evolving at an uneven pace, depending on technology access, the institutions’ ability to embrace change and often, the awareness of individual teachers. Technology’s rapid change makes it hard to keep up.
4. Heavy consumption of infotainment skews coverage across the world. Internet users surfing at lunch hit sites with celebrity and sports news, or bizarre stories with little lasting impact. U.S. media dependent on increasing traffic to increase revenue change their mix to satisfy consumers’ cravings, and international consumers of Western media get a distorted picture of a country that seems obsessed with teen idols and celebrity sports stars.

Amid despair and fear, hope sometimes emerges. The 2008 presidential elections in the United States promise increased creativity and increased attention on civic affairs from a new generation. The Baby Boom echo, which grew up with technology, is coming of age and will change our institutions in surprising ways. Foundations and colleges are finding ways to fund new media experiments ( Idea Lab). Technology leaders, new and old, are showing an increased interest in the importance of journalism to society ( Craig Newmark).

And so it goes. See separate “Each one teach one” posts for fears, recommendations and online resources.