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Archive for the ‘regulation’ Category

Time for a New Theory of the Press?

Posted by prof e on January 12, 2017

Four Theories of the Press, published in 1956, was an attempt to explain the role of journalism in the modern world. Each of the four theories are established on the essential values and norms held by governments and citizens who consider the press an essential component of governance. Values that we hold dear are “normalized” by our policies and behavior. Governments, media corporations, and individuals all play a crucial role in determining which values are advanced over competing values.

Recently I came across a blog post from February, 2007 and a comment that I wrote in response. The blog is no longer being maintained, but my comment seems somehow relevant in lights of the current issues plaguing the profession of journalism. Here is the comment as posted nearly 10 years ago…

Press models have never been very good at describing the real world…and even less so now that access to vast quantities of raw, unfiltered information is the norm. Never in the history of communication has there been such unrestricted access to information…and access to the means of production. However, as we all know, information alone does not make for an informed public.

However, there are signs that the investigative reporting role of traditional media is in for a dramatic upheaval. Memogate was just one example of how the collective intelligence of the masses trumped big media. The Consumer-Generated Media model that makes Wikipedia a qualified success is being applied to a particular role played by journalists commonly known as whistle-blowing. Wikileaks.org is a website designed to give a voice to dissidents and critics of oppressive regimes…but may also be equally helpful at exposing corruption within democracies and Fortune 500 companies. One of the most important roles of the press in the Social Responsibility Model is that of watchdog…and now they have the potential to add hundreds and even thousands of eyes and ears of citizen reporters who already have access to closed systems. Sure there are a host of potential landmines…but if you believe that “information wants to be free” you have to believe that this is going to shake things up. This could get interesting.

I think we can agree that things have gotten interesting.

While watching President-elect Trump’s press conference yesterday I couldn’t help but think that the role of the press has never been more in question, and at the same time it has never been more important. In front of a room full of journalists, Trump declared CNN to be “fake news” and BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.” Just two days earlier Meryl Streep called for public support for the “principled press” to serve as a check and balance to the Trump presidency.*

Journalists are not only trying to figure out how to respond to an aggressive and combative President-elect, they are trying to rebuild credibility that is at an all-time low. At the same time they are divided about whether BuzzFeed’s publishing of the Trump oppo-research file helped or hurt the cause of journalists everywhere. One might argue that if you accept BuzzFeed’s rational for their decision it makes journalists unnecessary.

Which takes us back to the point of the blog comment above…the growth of citizen journalism, the explosion of social media, and an ever-more partisan press have created a perfect storm that makes the Social Responsibility function of the press much more difficult…if not impossible.

*For the record, I support the “principled press”…the challenge is figuring out who they are.

 

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Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, politics, regulation | 2 Comments »

Free Speech for All in a Fact-Free Era?

Posted by prof e on December 2, 2016

Overheard in a newsroom: “What is journalism even supposed to be now? We reported the facts, but they didn’t matter.” In case you didn’t hear, “post-truth” is Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. Here’s how they define it on their website. post-truth

The challenge for journalists, and really anyone who get to the bottom of things, is sorting out fact from fiction, reporting from commentary, and bias from perspective.

The problem with the newsroom quote above is that too many “journalists” DIDN’T report the facts. Or when they did, they didn’t put the facts in proper context. Added to that is that reality that nearly anyone can become a de facto journalist thanks to the wonders of modern digital media and social networks. Given a place to stand and a megaphone, the most strident voices have suddenly found themselves with the ability to sway opinions…even, perhaps, influence elections.

If it seems that this blog is stuck on this topic (see recent posts about fake news and fact-checking), you’re right. But this is important…and if we don’t get this right we’ll have to live with the consequences. What consequences you say? Well, for starters how about a future where ideological conflicts spill over into the streets…where discourse and discussion give way to hate-filled rhetoric designed to alienate and subjugate the opposition?

Unfortunately some of the proposed solutions may turn out to be worse than the problem. Giving social media platforms a reason and permission to edit users’ posts is a dangerous and slippery slope. Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm and a team of editors deciding between fact and fiction, bias and perspective? We’ve already witnessed the failure of that approach earlier this year.

Recently Twitter booted accounts from those connected to the alt-right movement for “harassment and ‘hateful conduct,’ which includes “non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes” and “behavior that incites fear about a protected group.”  This led the editors at Slate to ask if Facebook or Twitter might possibly ban President Trump. Twitter responded that it wouldn’t rule it out. As Slate said, “That’s a tough line from a company that once declared itself the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party.’” (BTW, the click-bait headline for this post might have been: “Twitter considers banning President Trump!”)

So where are we now? Some of the ejected Twitter users have moved to a new platform that promises greater freedom of speech. Gab.ai is, according to the New York Times, the far right’s “new digital safe space.” It’s much too early to tell if Gab has any legs, but if it does it will likely do little to advance dialog and understanding between those contending for the future of our country. Amanda Hess of the NYTimes sums it up nicely, “It’s the next logical step after all the blocking and muting on Twitter and filtering and unfollowing on Facebook split America into two social media realities. Where there once was a bubble, now there’s a wall.”

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, politics, regulation, social media | 1 Comment »

The Sky is FALLING…And You Won’t Believe Who’s Responsible!

Posted by prof e on November 23, 2016

misleading-fake-news-sitesThere’s been a lot of discussion lately about the potential danger of fake news. Apparently we’re a lot more gullible and susceptible to misinformation than anyone imagined, and IT IS KILLING DEMOCRACY! Okay, that conclusion may be overstating it a bit, but the number of media and political analysts who are wringing their hands over the outcome of the recent election seems to be growing. And seeking an explanation (or scapegoat), some are pointing the finger at fake news.

The proliferation of satire, fake news, clickbait, propaganda, and commentary masquerading as news is undeniable. While there have always been people with an agenda spreading lies and hearsay, the dynamics have changed in recent years. Social media platforms provide opportunities to people who, before social media, had to work a lot harder to gain an audience. For those familiar with Ryan Holiday’s “trading up the chain” approach to media manipulation, this should come as no surprise.

There have been quite a few excellent summaries of the issue. Some have questioned whether media platforms like Google and Facebook bear responsibility (here, here, and here); others have reported on specific case studies (here, and here), and efforts to combat (or at least categorize) the growing number of questionable sites (here). A new report from Stanford suggests that we have a lot of work to do while MediaShift proposes a role for journalism programs.

I have a few suggestions of my own.

  1. In a world where anyone can be a source of news, what we need is for everyone to behave like a journalist when confronted with new information. Remember the motto of skeptical journalists everywhere: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” We need more skepticism and less single-source research.
  2. For those of you who prefer social media for your news…because it’s free, quick, and often fun…remember that you get what you pay for. Unless you read in-depth from multiple and diverse sources you can’t consider yourself an informed consumer of news.
  3. Learn about confirmation bias and make a commitment to discovering your own vulnerability. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror we have no right to point out the bias in others.
  4. And finally, don’t share anything on social media unless you’re willing to vouch for its accuracy and authenticity. That rule alone will do wonders to improve the overall news IQ of our democracy.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, regulation, social media | 1 Comment »

Stop, or I’ll Record

Posted by prof e on April 17, 2015

StopCSU-Pueblo  MCCNM alum Daneya Esgar (class of 2001) is co-sponsoring legislation before the Colorado state legislature. Before becoming a State Representative, Esgar was a news producer for local affiliate KOAA-TV. In her new role Esgar is promoting legislation that expand protection for citizen journalists and ordinary citizens who may find themselves eye witnesses to law enforcement agencies working in the local community.

HB 15-1290 “would allow a civil suit against a law enforcement agency if an officer seizes or destroys a recording without a person’s consent, possibly resulting in damages of up to $15,000.” Recent incidents in the news have demonstrated the value of civilian video recordings that have brought to light misbehavior by law enforcement personnel.

Body cameras on officers are becoming the new norm and many expect this change to have a positive effect. Now, with nearly every citizen having the ability to record and broadcast (in near real time) video from the scene of the incident, we may have even more evidence of wrongdoing and…perhaps more important…incentive to do the right thing in the first place.

Of course one downside is the loss of privacy that we all will experience as the “surveillance state” expands.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism, politics, regulation | Leave a Comment »

MJ Advertising and the Case for Audience Research

Posted by prof e on March 18, 2015

I teach a course titled, Audience Research Methodology.  Over the years I have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to make the case for the importance and value of applied audience research. Audience research is happening all around us all the time, but it is often invisible to the average observer. But thanks to marijuana advertising, finding applied examples of audience research just got easier.

When Colorado passed Amendment 64 allowing for the legalization of marijuana they also created laws controlling the process whereby legal MJ would be cultivated, processed, marketed, and distributed. One part of the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code governs the advertising of MJ. For the sake of brevity I’ll cut to the chase. The legal requirement for advertisers is that they provide “reliable evidence” that no more than 30% of the consumers of said advertising are “reasonably expected” to be under the legal age (21 years). This provided a teachable moment in class last week when we discussed how audience research methodology might inform the issue of what percentage of a target audience falls within (or out of) a particular demographic range for various media products.

Some have questioned whether this part of the law would stand a legal challenge. According to a news report released March 17 by the Colorado Press Association, a legal challenge to the 30% requirement brought by the CPA and The Pulp (a local independent news magazine) was found to be without standing. In other words, the challenge on First Amendment grounds was dismissed because the parties bringing the lawsuit were unable to demonstrate that they suffered harm imposed by the legal requirement of no more than 30% underage readers. Claims that the law created a “chilling effect” were likewise dismissed.

Since this 30% requirement appears to be the law for the time being, any retail MJ establishment (or the media company hoping to sell MJ ads) will have to secure the services of audience research companies who can provide “reliable evidence” that can be used to meet the legal requirement. Companies such as the research giant Nielsen can provide data for TV and radio broadcasters and their Scarborough audience analytics for print media can provide reliable data (for a fee). According to the CPA news release, “the [Colorado Department of Revenue] found Scarborough research to be ‘reliable’” for the purpose of legal justification.

Mass Communications majors sometimes (and, I believe, unfairly) think of themselves as math-challenged. But understanding basic data analysis is not a luxury anymore. Nearly everyone working in or around the media industries will, at some time or another, be expected to make sense out of a spreadsheet or graph or table that contains or summarizes data. Quantitative illiteracy is not a reasonable alternative, and MJ advertising is just one example that brings that home.

Posted in 1st amendment, print, regulation, research | Leave a Comment »

Net Neutrality and the Jester

Posted by prof e on February 6, 2015

Net neutrality, the idea that the internet should be an open network where internet service providers cannot restrict or prioritize content from any particular source, is one step closer to becoming the law of the land. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined his position in an editorial published by Wired magazine, and barring any last-minute hijinks it now appears that the Obama administration will prevail in a long, drawn-out, battle with those (mainly large telecom providers) who have argued that net neutrality will stifle technological innovation and reduce incentives for expanding service.

In late 2014 President Obama staked out his position in a short video calling for the FCC to act to implement net neutrality regulations. In order for the FCC to step in they would need to reclassify the internet as falling under Title II of the Telecommunications Act–essentially treating access to the internet as a public service utility not unlike your phone, water, or electric service. Many argue that the internet has become such an essential part of our daily lives that to be without it is unthinkable.

As I was reading an article in the WSJ about the ongoing debate I came across a paragraph that caught my eye…

At the same time, Mr. Ammori tried to build wider public support for net neutrality. Last May, he spoke with a researcher for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, ” the HBO comedy series. On June 1, Mr. Oliver unleashed a 13-minute rant in an episode of the show, comparing Mr. Wheeler to a dingo and encouraging viewers to bombard the FCC with comments.

If you’re not familiar with John Oliver, he was a former correspondent for The Daily Show.  Now that he has his own show he continues to poke fun at serious topics, just as he did when he worked for Jon Stewart. Below is the video by Oliver.

The video was produced and posted in the summer of 2014, so the framing of the debate does not take into account the developments that have transpired since. But the video does two things very well: 1) it explains in easily accessible terms the nature of the debate, and 2) it allows us a few laughs in the process. That may be the genius of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and now John Oliver. Like court jesters of old, they make their point and wield tremendous influence while we laugh along; while all too often remaining oblivious to the subtleties of their arguments.

Posted in media industry, new media, politics, regulation | Leave a Comment »

RIP Peggy Charren

Posted by prof e on January 22, 2015

PEGGYCHARRENA powerful advocates for children’s television died today. Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television (ACT), passed away after a long life of advocacy for quality TV programming for children. Dismayed by the rampant violence and commercialism that marred children’s programming in the ’60 and ’70s, Charren became a crusader and reformer. Her steadfast devotion to the cause led to the Children’s Television Act which was passed into law in 1990. The legislation limited the amount of commercial content in children’s TV programming and required stations to show evidence of the educational value of its programming.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, Charren’s group seized upon “one tiny clause in the 1934 Federal Communications Act that required broadcasters using the public airwaves to serve the public interest if they wanted to keep their licenses. Ms. Charren’s group, which grew to 20,000 members, insisted that federal authorities and network executives take that mandate seriously.”

Current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler was quoted as saying,

Parents across America owe a debt of gratitude to Peggy, who single-handedly turned the vast wasteland that was children’s television programming in the 1960s and 1970s into the plethora of educational, informational and entertaining programming families enjoy today.

Peggy Charren was recipient of a Peabody award, an Emmy award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Posted in media effects, regulation, tv | Leave a Comment »

Uber’s Image Problem

Posted by prof e on November 29, 2014

UberPerhaps you’ve heard of Uber, the smartphone-enabled ride-sharing alternative to traditional taxis. Uber, along with Lyft and Sidecar, work on the premise that a person with a car can offer a service to someone who need a ride, and make a few bucks in the process for both the driver and the company. Now that most everyone has a smartphone–and with real-time location services knowing your every move–connecting drivers and riders is really pretty simple.

But Uber, like the other start-ups, has a few natural enemies. Taxi cab companies don’t like having their business syphoned off by competitors who are not licensed and have little to no overhead.

But it is Uber’s CEO and a senior VP who may become the company’s greatest liability. CEO Travis Kalanick, whose aggressive leadership has been credited with the quick rise of the company, has ruffled more than a few feathers with his aggressive business practices. Uber has been accused of violating its own privacy policy and tracking users for suspect reasons. (You can read more about that on the ACLU blog.) And recently, Uber VP Emil Michael has suggested that Uber should investigate journalists who have been investigating Uber.

Specifically Michael targeted Sarah Lacy, co-editor of the Pando Daily website. Lacy has been critical of Uber’s treatment of women and has been leading the call for Uber to clean up its act. And for that, according to The Tech Bulletin, “A top executive of Uber explained a Nixonian plan to dig up dirt on the journalists who are critical towards Uber and sully their reputations.”

One doesn’t have to be a PR pro to see that this is not a smart move by Uber. Picking a fight with journalists is seldom a good idea. As Bill Greener, press aide to Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld in the 1970’s once said, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” (Lewis).

Posted in advertising, interactive media, journalism, new media, PR, regulation, social media | 7 Comments »

Copyright Monkeybusiness

Posted by prof e on August 9, 2014

Macaque-Selfie-finalPerhaps you’ve seen this picture of a female Celebes crested macaque. The picture is unusual in several ways. First, the expression is priceless. To peer into the soul of a subject and capture it on film in such a powerful way is truly amazing.

But that brings us to the second way in which this photo is unusual. It is a selfie. That’s right, the photo was taken by the subject. According to an article on the Mashable website, the photographer David Slater was on a trip through the jungles of the Indonesian island Sulawesi in 2011 when he had his camera swiped by the macaque who then turned the camera on herself.

Okay, pretty interesting story so far, but it gets better. Several years later someone uploaded the photo to Wikimedia Commons. Slater, who claims copyright on the photo, asked Wikimedia to remove the photo. Wikimedia denied Slater’s request claiming that Slater did not own the photo since he didn’t take it.

Alex Magdaleno, writing for Mashable, continues…

according to Wikimedia’s licensing report, it remains in the public domain “because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”

There you have it. Once the courts settle this case we’ll know whether animal selfies enjoy the protection of copyright. And what if the courts say that the copyright belongs to the critter who pressed the shutter? In the US, copyright is awarded for the life of the author plus 70 years. If a Giant Galapagos tortoises snaps a selfie it could remain under copyright for upwards of 250 years!

Posted in copyright, global media, interactive media, new media, photography, regulation | Leave a Comment »

Cashing in on Legal Pot

Posted by prof e on February 13, 2014

retail potThe state of Colorado is involved in a grand social experiment. Recreational marijuana is now legal for adults (over the age of 21), and since January 1st is available through retail establishments known as dispensaries. A similar experiment is underway in the state of Washington, but for now I’ll focus attention on the state that I call home.

Plenty of time and energy has been devoted to the debate over the wisdom of making marijuana available over the counter. This post is not about the decision itself, but how media outlets are responding to the opportunity to cash in by carrying advertising for dispensaries. Any discussion about the legality and propriety of accepting advertising is compounded by the fact that marijuana use remains a federal crime. And while federal authorities have promised to look the other way with regard to Colorado’s new law, the fact that radio and TV broadcasters are licensed by the Federal government is having a chilling effect on local broadcasters. According to Justin Sasso, president and CEO of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, the CBA doesn’t think it’s wise for stations “to risk their license–or the legal fees required to fight for their license–if the federal government decides to crack down on broadcasters” (Broadcasting & Cable, Feb 3, 2014, p. 28).

The State of Colorado has a few things to say about advertising retail pot. Last fall the Colorado Department of Revenue issued a 136-page document that stipulates, among other things, that advertisers must have reliable evidence that the audience for the ad does not contain more than 30% under the age of 21. According to the website The Cannibist, the publications High Times and Westword have sued the State of Colorado claiming that the restriction on advertising is an infringement of First Amendment rights. In addition to age restrictions, advertisers may not use outdoor advertising, may not buy out-of-state ads, nor promote marijuana tourism.

Cable TV is subject to different regulations than broadcast TV so if we see TV ads anytime soon we would expect them to appear first on select cable channels. Websites, of course, are subjects to even fewer regulatory restrictions. The Cannabist, a website by The Denver Post newspaper, is staking out territory on the web and will likely become a venue for advertising in the future. The Post even has its own marijuana editor, Richardo Baca.

In some ways this debate is made moot by the fact that marijuana dispensaries have been overwhelmed with business. That, and the free publicity provided by the news media, makes advertising unnecessary for now. However, as more vendors compete for customers, as supply matches and exceeds demand, and the novelty and media attention fades away, advertising will become increasingly important. And then the difficult decisions will have to be made.

Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, media industry, politics, radio, regulation, tv | Leave a Comment »