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Net Neutrality

Net neutrality has always been a difficult concept for me to understand, and it’s one that keeps coming up in classes I’ve taken this semester. In my Government and Media class we’ve taken a look at net neutrality in terms of First Amendment rights, which is an angle that I’d never considered before. Granted, I’d never considered the issue much at all because it’s always seemed too complicated.

The person who has helped me understand net neutrality the most is – believe it or not – John Oliver. His video on the subject breaks down what can be a complex topic to understand. I feel that if more people were to take the time just to watch that one video they might gain a better understanding of the issue and be more inclined to take an interest in how it would affect them. I remember when various sites like Tumblr and Netflix took a stand against net neutrality and made it so their websites took longer to buffer – since slow loading times are something that could result from the elimination of net neutrality. The websites would then tell users why the sites were loading slowly and provide them with a link where they could learn more about the current situation regarding net neutrality. Some people actually took the time to read about the issue whereas others (myself included) simply got annoyed and decided to wait to use the website until the next day when they knew things would return to normal.

The argument that the Internet should be treated like any other utility makes a lot of sense when trying to understand this issue. The companies that own these utilities should not be able to play “favorites” when it comes to deciding who receives what – in the world of net neutrality this would allow internet service providers to restrict or limit access to web content as they see fit. Restricting the openness of the internet would essentially be a way of regulating freedom of speech, which is something that we as journalists should be particularly concerned about. The internet is a remarkable place where people can come together to share their ideas and opinions freely, regardless of status or affiliations. With net neutrality, these ideas and opinions can all be accessed equally. If fast and slow lanes were created for information, it would be more difficult to access blogs and even things like small independent media sites that aren’t as well-funded/popular. This is a danger to freedom of speech and I definitely think it could be a slippery slope if these rules were to be implemented.

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality has always been a difficult concept for me to understand, and it’s one that keeps coming up in classes I’ve taken this semester. In my Government and Media class we’ve taken a look at net neutrality in terms of First Amendment rights, which is an angle that I’d never considered before. Granted, I’d never considered the issue much at all because it’s always seemed too complicated.

The person who has helped me understand net neutrality the most is – believe it or not – John Oliver. His video on the subject breaks down what can be a complex topic to understand. I feel that if more people were to take the time just to watch that one video they might gain a better understanding of the issue and be more inclined to take an interest in how it would affect them. I remember when various sites like Tumblr and Netflix took a stand against net neutrality and made it so their websites took longer to buffer – since slow loading times are something that could result from the elimination of net neutrality. The websites would then tell users why the sites were loading slowly and provide them with a link where they could learn more about the current situation regarding net neutrality. Some people actually took the time to read about the issue whereas others (myself included) simply got annoyed and decided to wait to use the website until the next day when they knew things would return to normal.

The argument that the Internet should be treated like any other utility makes a lot of sense when trying to understand this issue. The companies that own these utilities should not be able to play “favorites” when it comes to deciding who receives what – in the world of net neutrality this would allow internet service providers to restrict or limit access to web content as they see fit. Restricting the openness of the internet would essentially be a way of regulating freedom of speech, which is something that we as journalists should be particularly concerned about. The internet is a remarkable place where people can come together to share their ideas and opinions freely, regardless of status or affiliations. With net neutrality, these ideas and opinions can all be accessed equally. If fast and slow lanes were created for information, it would be more difficult to access blogs and even things like small independent media sites that aren’t as well-funded/popular. This is a danger to freedom of speech and I definitely think it could be a slippery slope if these rules were to be implemented.

Ethics, Ethics, Ethics

After learning about the different ethical theories during the time I’ve been in college, I most closely associate with the ethical theory of utilitarianism. This theory ultimately comes to the conclusion that the decision which benefits the most people (or the “greater good”) is the correct decision to make. I feel that this is extremely applicable to the field of journalism because our job is to hold people accountable and expose injustices/wrongdoings. Oftentimes that means publishing something about an individual that may be damaging to his/her reputation but ultimately provides the public with important information that benefits more people than it harms.

In the case of citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler, there are a few ethical dilemmas presented. Fowler first made headlines in 2008 when she reported on then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s remarks on the Democratic campaign trail. He made a comment regarding small-town Americans and how they “cling to guns or religion” to deal with job losses. Fowler published these comments and Obama received a considerable amount of criticism. What was so interesting about this situation is that Fowler only heard these comments because she gained access to an event that was only open to mainstream journalists. As a citizen journalist, she technically wasn’t allowed to be at the event. Following the publication of her article some questioned the ethical implications of what she did. Despite the fact that she wasn’t supposed to be at the event, her article forced bigger news organizations to take notice of and report on what Obama said. In a way it made the mainstream media look even worse since they were at the same event but no one decided to report on the comment.

Fowler made headlines again when she recorded Bill Clinton denouncing a Vanity Fair reporter for an article written about him. Although Fowler said that she had her recorder out in the open, she did not disclose her status as a journalist at any point during her conversation with Clinton. Not only do I think Clinton wouldn’t have said what he said if he knew he was being recorded, I also believe that the way in which Fowler asked the question was leading. She referred to the article as a “hatchet job,” obviously leading Clinton to believe that she was simply someone who also disliked the article and wanted to have a casual conversation about it.

In terms of ethics, I feel better about how she obtained Obama’s remarks as opposed to Clinton’s. I think making it so only certain media can attend events is ridiculous in the first place, because it makes it so only certain interests are represented. Most in the mainstream media would be afraid to report on anything controversial which was obviously illustrated in this case because Fowler was the only one who reported on the comments. It was only after a citizen journalist brought it to light that mainstream media felt it was important to address. Since Obama was already aware that he was in the presence of journalists and still said what he said, I think it’s fair game for Fowler to use the quotes. She didn’t prompt him in any way. With Clinton, I don’t think he knew that he was talking to a journalist. In addition, the way Fowler framed the question was prompting him to say something negative that she could then use against him. She should have made more of an effort to frame the question objectively. Although I think citizen journalists are important, I think it’s possible for these journalists to unfairly use anonymity to their advantage which can create an ethical gray area.

British Media vs. American Media

Personally, I found Thursday’s class discussion to be one of the more enjoyable talks of the semester. I knew when I did this week’s readings about “What’s Wrong with U.S. Public Broadcasting” that I’d be interested in the topic, but I found what we discussed in class to be particularly engaging.

It’s so incredibly frustrating to watch the kind of interviews and discussions that can take place in the United Kingdom and know that they would never be allowed to happen here. Watching the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman interview Tony Blair regarding his policy towards Iraq was refreshing – he was able to ask tough questions that weren’t scripted in front of a live studio audience, the members of which were also given the opportunity to grill the prime minister. It would be unheard of for someone to bring Barack Obama into a studio to be essentially cross-examined by journalists and members of the public in the same way that Tony Blair was. Even having shows like “Question Time,” where political figures are invited on the BBC to answer questions about their policies, plans, etc. is something that doesn’t exist here. It just seems like in general there’s a higher level of transparency and accountability that political figures are held to – which is how it should be. The only time we really get to hear from our politicians is in debates leading up to an election, and even then the questions are scripted and we rarely see the candid responses that were seen in Paxman’s interview.

I’d never considered why this kind of free public discourse was unheard of on United States television, but I now realize that it all goes back to corporate ownership (as does so much else). While the BBC is publicly funded, the large news organizations in the United States are owned by giant corporations and wealthy elites. Taking a look at all the media organizations Rupert Murdoch owns is a perfect way of illustrating how the media can be controlled by just a few individuals – which should be incredibly concerning to people! This reliance on corporations and elites is then reflected in what stories news organizations cover and what guests they have on. They are constantly under the thumb of whoever owns them and they’re not willing to take any risks for fear that they could lose funding. This is why the people with “revolutionary” ideas find their voices squandered.

For example: I honestly believe that the comedian John Oliver is doing some of the most honest and inventive journalism right now in a format that is easily digestible and accessible to the public – but he has to do so as a satirical news host, because he would never be taken seriously on a major news network. It’s upsetting to see people like this covering things that people should take more of an interest in, but not being able to do so because their views are deemed “too controversial.” One such individual who I’ve been following closely is the comedian Russell Brand, and his new venture called “The Trews.” What Brand is aiming to do with “Trews” is evident in the name – truth and news. Brand takes topics being covered in the mainstream media and addresses the different prejudices and hidden agendas that may be coloring how the topics are discussed. Not only do I fully support the idea, I love how Brand is using his celebrity status to expose injustices and deconstruct the prevalent narratives in mainstream media. He mixes his humor with intelligence to provide his audience with different angles that traditional outlets refuse to ackowledge.

Anyways, I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll stop my ranting here. I just really loved discussing the difference between public and private broadcasting and seeing how it affects what journalists can do on-air. Politics and broadcast journalism are two of my passions, and having an American news media that’s more representative of the political coverage that the BBC allows would actually make me genuinely excited about my future career.

Problems with Objectivity

Something I’ve touched on in an earlier blog post is the notion of journalistic objectivity and how much emphasis is placed on adhering to it. With the readings this past week, I got to thinking even more about how objectivity plays such a central role in the lives of journalists, particularly those in the mainstream media.

As a student I’ve learned that objectivity is the be all and end all – when reporting on a story, we need to be careful to not let any of our own opinions be present in our writing, for fear that this could distort the ‘facts’ of the story. This applies to coverage of all topics, but I think it’s especially prevalent in political stories. An interesting point brought up in class is the way the political system in the United States is set up and how that could have an influence on this need for objectivity. Although we technically allow other parties on the ballot, it’s really a two-party system. As a result, there tends to be a strict adherence to keeping balanced between two points of view. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t believe a story is ever so simple that it can simply be broken down into two sides. If you’re doing your job of giving a voice to the voiceless, you should be trying to give as many people a voice as possible. Journalists are often content with just repeating the party line and acting more like mouthpieces for the government instead of holding those in power accountable. This is especially true in the mainstream media where corporations have more of an influence regarding content. Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks perfectly sums up the use of objectivity by the mainstream media in an article published last year by The Independent: “U.S. media has interpreted [objectivity to mean you should be neutral. That’s an enormous distinction. If CNN covered sports, every game would be a tie.” When looked at through this point of view, it becomes clear that objectivity can be damaging to journalism. Uyger refuses to adhere to this standard and instead does independent journalism that holds everyone accountable, regardless of status or importance, and his popularity shows that people value this kind of reporting.

In the “Transparency is the New Objectivity” article, the author points out that objectivity was what set newspapers apart from bloggers when blogging started to become popular. Newspapers claimed that their writers were journalists because they were providing information objectively, whereas bloggers had an agenda. Following this logic, bloggers can’t be trusted because they’re always trying to push said agenda. I found this to be ridiculous because bloggers are known for being more transparent than most journalists. Since bloggers are encouraged to link to other stories/where they get material from it’s easy for readers to follow up on the information being presented. Readers can follow the links to other pieces which they can read on their own and come to their own conclusions about. With newspapers, there really isn’t this emphasis on transparency. The New York Times doesn’t even require its reporters to list an email address that readers can contact them at with any questions/concerns. I feel like this closes off the relationship between journalists and their audience. In the blogging world, bloggers have a more open relationship with their audience. Bloggers encourage their readers to leave comments and constructive criticism that they can respond to and follow up on. In my opinion, combining transparency with this kind of engagement makes for a much more honest form of reporting and should be common practice amongst all platforms.

Guest Speaker – William Johnson of Legal Insurrection

Yesterday our class listened to guest speaker William Johnson talk about his conservative political blog Legal Insurrection and how he’s managed to sustain it. After listening to Johnson speak, there were a few things he brought up that I found to be particularly interesting:

1. Maintaining content – I’ve always found the need to consistently produce new and interesting content to be one of the most daunting aspects of running a blog. I know that I’ve personally tried and failed many a time to keep blogs going outside of those I’ve had to create for classes, solely because I have nothing to write about. Keeping in mind my own experiences, Johnson’s ability to sustain a blog on his own for two years (having never even heard of blogs before he started his) was impressive to me. What was also impressive to me was how he explained his method of generating and maintaining content as a “staircase concept.” Johnson has a dedicated schedule of posting at certain times during the day and he always works to build on what he posts. He adds to topics and ideas that have been mentioned in previous blog posts and works to always create more content than he has been, rather than less. It really made me admire the perseverance and passion that Johnson has put into the blog.

2. Social media presence – Nowadays social media presence seems to be everything. Regardless of the kind of organization/company/brand, utilizing social media to reach an audience is seen as important and necessary in today’s society. Not only is social media supposed to help an individual engage with their audience, it can also be a useful tool for sharing content. Because of the modern-day emphasis placed on social media, Johnson’s aversion to it was surprising to me. He did acknowledge the power of Facebook in generating lots of traffic and being a “more organic” way of bringing in content (as opposed to having others link to your work). Despite this he claims that he has no desire to expand Legal Insurrection’s social media presence. He mostly justifies this by saying that his target audience rarely uses social media platforms and his readers even get upset about using it to push content. While this is a valid approach, I can’t help thinking that Johnson’s blog would see even more success if attention was dedicated to building a social media presence. Not only would it help with disseminating content in general, I think it would be the blog’s best bet at appealing to a different (namely younger) audience.

3. Who you know – Before Johnson’s talk, I’d never thought of networking as a part of blogging. He made it clear that a large part of being successful in the blogging world actually has to do with who you know/who’s linking to your content. Obviously having larger outlets link to posts being made on your blog can help drive traffic to your blog and get your content out there to a wider audience, but Johnson also acknowledged that larger outlets aren’t always beneficial. He specifically cited an instance in which The Drudge Report linked to a story that Legal Insurrection had broken. While it was great for Insurrection‘s content to be featured at the top of a prominent site like The Drudge Report, the traffic from the site was too much to handle and crashed Johnson’s server. By the time the site was back up and running, Drudge had already changed the link to redirect to a more well-known site that had picked up Insurrection‘s original story. This segued into the larger issue of bigger blogs/outlets not directly linking to blogs that may originally have reported a story, which I found to be unfair to the individual who creates the content. To break a story and then find that your blog is not being directly linked to once the story gets picked up by the mainstream can be disheartening to a blogger.

Overall, it was great to hear about the realities of blogging from someone who actually does it on a larger scale. It helped give me an insight into just what it takes to successfully maintain a blog of that size and how rewarding it can be, despite the difficulties.

Thoughts on 1,000 True Fans

The article “1,000 True Fans” seeks to explain a way for individual artists, producers, inventors, creators, etc. to sustain themselves based on the long-tail economic model.

What’s this economic model, you might ask? To be honest I’d never heard of it before reading this article. That may be because I’ve never taken an economics course in my life, but I digress. The Economist does a pretty good job of explaining it in this piece and the model looks like the picture below:

conceptual

Basically what I’ve taken away from the long-tail model is that it’s good for big corporations and that’s about it. But the “True Fans” approach finds a silver lining in this model, suggesting that individual artists and the like can be successful as long as they have – you guessed it – 1,000 true fans.

A true fan is described in the article as “someone who will purchase any and everything you produce.” Obviously this isn’t hard to imagine when we think of giant pop stars and the people that support them. Some superfans have been known to follow their favorite artists around the country just so they can go to as many of their concerts as possible. This kind of success and notoriety seems impossible to attain for these individuals who may just be starting out on their own with no concrete fanbase. The article makes it clear that this is by no means a way to attain stardom and wealth, but rather a way to make an “honest living” – an artist can be financially secure doing what they love without being tied to this economic model.

As the “True Fans” approach suggests, having an intimate following is both supportive and engaging. I particularly like the emphasis that this approach places on audience engagement, as I think it’s an important element regardless of the arena. I support it for journalists, I support it for artists, I support it for inventors. Getting feedback from the people you’re creating content for can help to both strengthen and diversify your work. I think that reaching the 1,000 true fans mark may have been more difficult to achieve in the past, but with the rise of social media and viral content it seems more attainable. It seems like a good way to remain financially stable while still creating what you want to create for people who genuinely enjoy your work.