11/28/2007 11:47:52 AM
In spite of the violence, intimidation, and emergency-rule restrictions set on the Pakistani media, many citizens within Pakistan are managing to stay connected to the international news. When the government cracked down on TV news, banning cable providers from showing private local and international news, many Pakistanis started looking to other news sources. Writing for BBC News, Syed Shoaib Hasan reports on a fast-growing demand for websites, blogs, and satellite dishes to pick up outside news broadcasts.
The ban, and subsequent scramble to digital, highlights a shift in the way information is disseminated and suppressed. The international blog aggrigating website Global Voices Online has a page devoted to the bloggers in Pakistan piercing through the suppressed media veil. Judging by the number of posts there, the government’s attempt to stanch the flow of information may prove futile. —Morgan Winters
11/27/2007 4:12:55 PM
Electing the top science blog of 2007 should have interested only the nerdiest sector of humankind—who else would care about the wonky overlap between blogs and science? But no, throw in global-warming denialists, zombie vote robots, and a lot of name-calling, and what seemed like an average everyday blog contest became the bloody front line in a battle between the conservative and liberal blogospheres.
The players are Steve McIntyre, creator of Climate Audit, a site that fact-checks scientific claims that global warming is caused by humans; Phil Plait, an astronomer who writes about science and amateurish astronomy at the blog Bad Astronomy; and the 2007 Weblog Awards, the “world’s largest blog competition” that garners more than 500,000 votes each year.
Buoyed by strong support from the conservative blogosphere, Climate Audit surged forward early on (votes were tracked by a running tally on the Weblog Awards site). This was at least in part because Climate Audit, with its distinct anti–global warming slant, was being trumpeted by conservative blogs like NewsBusters. So, the only rational response was to have bastions of opposing blogs—like BoingBoing, Think Progress, and a host of science blogs—to urge their readers to vote for Bad Astronomy, which was running second. Voters on both sides used computer programs called “bots” to mechanically and repeatedly vote for the blog of their choice. (Whenever you have votes, it seems, you’ve gotta have hanging chads.)
The votes ballooned to unprecedented levels, and for a long while, Bad Astronomy and Climate Audit ran neck-and-neck. But no matter who emerged the winner, the contest was compromised: The Best Science Blog wouldn’t really be the best, or even the most popular, but rather the blog whose side had mustered up the most efficient robot voting program.
Two people managed to stay somewhat above the fray. McIntyre and Plait—the actual blog writers—took the brouhaha in good stride, and decided to share the award between the two of them. Which is a nice ending to an acrimonious process.
11/26/2007 11:03:42 AM
The world can be a lonely place—especially when you’re a TV geek. But late at night, when you’re thinking fondly of the ‘70s TV series Kung Fu, with questions like “Is Caine, the kung fu master, destined to wander this earth alone, seeking justice all by himself?” swirling through the empty caverns of your soul, listen closely. You might hear TV buff Thom Holbrook’s voice whisper in response, “Worry not. Caine teams up with Kenny Rogers to kick racist butt in the 1991 made-for-TV movie The Gambler Returns.” This surprising connection and many, many others are documented with loving care on Holbrook’s staggeringly thorough list of television spinoffs and crossovers, which proves once and for all that everything is connected—on TV, at least.
11/20/2007 3:07:32 PM
Imagine paradise: The nightly news would expand its coverage beyond “This popular brand of soda could be giving YOUR dog cancer—find out which one after the break!” to offer meticulous deconstructions of politicians’ semantics. Imagine that journalists didn’t take press secretaries’ mendacious word choices for granted. Imagine that American newspaper-readers could have the tools to cut through political spin and perfidy. Imagine, if you will, the rhetoric beat.
Brent Cunningham suggests in the Columbia Journalism Review (Nov.-Dec.) that the rhetoric beat would help keep “political discourse as clear and intellectually honest as possible, and to make readers and viewers aware of how the seemingly benign words and phrases they encounter daily are often finely calibrated to influence how they think about ideas.”
Word choice holds a lot of power over the way we think. Politicians exploit this by using “linguistic framing”—consciously choosing just the right phrases to sway the public onto their side of an issue. For example, it makes a significant difference if you talk about Iraq as a sectarian conflict vs. as a civil war, or if you debate a death tax instead of an estate tax. So, if the politicians are busy fine-tuning their language, it might be appropriate for journalists to keep an eye on how they’re doing it. And thus, the rhetoric beat. “[U]nless this bad language is outed, so to speak, it can dominate public discourse on a given subject and preclude the serious consideration of other possibilities,” Cunningham writes.
The rhetoric beat would be useful, no doubt, but would it capture the public’s interest? I’d guess that the bulk of the U.S. newspaper-reading Republic cares less about politicians’ stances on the important issues than they care about last night’s episode of Scrubs. So why would they suddenly step up and get excited about the ultra-wonky field of semantics?
Perhaps I should hold my cynicism: The problem may just lie in Cunningham’s own linguistic frame. Rhetoric beat sounds a bit stolid. How about the blabber beat? That sounds easy enough to swallow.
11/16/2007 1:44:09 PM
At this point in the Hollywood writers’ strike, fans of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart are likely experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms including headaches, uncontrollable shaking, and severe nausea. The show has produced no new episodes since the strike began, and countless satire cravings are currently going unfulfilled. The writers must be getting bored too, since they just released a video on YouTube making fun of the owners of their parent company, Viacom, and explaining the reason for the strike. You can watch the video below:
(Be sure to wait for the cameo by correspondent John Oliver at the end.)
(Thanks to OpenCulture.com for the tip.)
11/15/2007 5:31:45 PM
There’s good news for the icy-hearted cynics in all of us: Protests actually work! A new study shows that protests against misbehaving corporations can send a company’s stock prices tumbling—just as long as the New York Times is there to cover it.
Writing for Columbia Journalism Review’s business-media blog, Elinore Longobardi discusses a new study that analyzes how media coverage impacts protests against corporations. The paper, written by sociologists Brayden G. King and Sarah A. Soule, will appear in the next issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.
King and Soule examined New York Times coverage of protests from 1962 to 1990, and discovered that while boycotts didn’t make much difference—nor did the size of the protest—Times exposure caused the defamed company’s stock value to drop between 0.4 and 1.0 percent (on average). The effect took place within one day, and the longer the Times article, the bigger the loss.
The study cites prominent examples from the time period, including protests against Dow Chemicals over its role in the Vietnam War.
The data for this study ends in 1990, but King and Soule are moving forward with additional research through 1995, which will introduce companies like Gap and Nike into the mix.
As for only choosing the Times, King and Soule found that it was the only paper worth analyzing—the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post gave paltry space to protests by comparison.
For more on protest, check out the cover story from our May/June 2007 issue: Protest is Dead. Long Live Protest.
11/12/2007 3:53:51 PM
So-called crime analyst Rod Wheeler appeared in June on the O’Reilly Factor to sound the alarm: There was, he claimed, an “epidemic” of violent lesbian gangs sweeping the United States.
The O’Reilly website’s synopsis of the interview quotes Wheeler as saying, “There’s a national underground of women who are actually recruiting kids as young as 10 years old to be members of their organizations. Some of the kids have reported that they were forced into performing sex acts. Some of these groups carry pink pistols and they cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people.”
Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse followed up a month later with a report posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website and recently published in the Fall issue of the organization’s magazine Intelligence Report. Their investigation found that Wheeler’s “national underground” network was a fantasy constructed by piecing together and exaggerating a handful of otherwise unrelated incidents.
In the O’Reilly segment, Wheeler, a former Metropolitan D.C. police officer, cited D.C.-area incidents to support his claims. But Detective Patrick Word, president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, told Intelligence Report that his 400-member group “reports only one lesbian gang” in the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia area. Most of the other details Wheeler cited were based on sensationalized or falsified media reports; some, like the pink pistols, were made up entirely.
Buchanan and Holthouse’s investigation helped drag hasty qualifications and retractions out of both Wheeler and O’Reilly. Unfortunately, once such a sensational story circulates, the damage has largely been done.
Rashad Robinson, the senior director of media programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told Intelligence Report, “This type of reporting creates a climate of homophobia and fear and perpetuates dangerous stereotypes of gay people and definitely helps feed into a climate of anti-gay discrimination and violence, which is a true national epidemic, but not one you’re likely to see reported with such zeal by Bill O’Reilly.”
11/7/2007 4:37:32 PM
Internet pornography featuring minors, a business reporter making secret payments, and... the New York Times? In 2005 the Times ran a front-page story exposing the hidden world of webcam porn artists. It followed one boy who, with a webcam in his bedroom, became an underage internet porn star before spiraling into a morass of drug abuse and depravity. In New York Magazine, David France uncovers the sordid story behind this story. Controversy buzzes over the question of why Kurt Eichenwald, the Times reporter who broke the story, paid Berry up to $2,000 while posing as a fan—without telling his editors. Eichenwald has since left the Times, and feels hounded both by marauding journalists and a secret, shadowy gang of electronically-connected pedophiles. Check out the whole story and its tawdry details.
11/7/2007 3:27:40 PM
Before the Santa Ana winds abated and slowed the pace of the wildfires in Southern California, anyone near a newspaper or television got a glimpse of how grave this last fire really was. For a region that lives every day with the peril of natural disaster, this one struck an even deeper chord of helplessness for residents.
The region's alt weeklies have churned out some really impressive wildfire reporting. To echo the San Diego CityBeat's own admission, their coverage might not have the facts and figures of the exhaustive dailies, but the alt weeklies' focus on individuals and narratives has set its articles apart. CityBeat’s Eric Wolff, for example, chronicled the conversion of San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium into a camp for evacuees, and Pat Sherman followed horse owners as they rushed to remove their animals from the fire’s path.
Check out some of the best alt weekly reporting here:
“The World on Fire,” by Judith Lewis, L.A. Weekly
“Extreme Makeover: Spending the night at an evacuation site means a lesson in organization,” By Eric Wolff, San Diego CityBeat
“Four-legged Evacuees: Horse owners scramble to find emergency boarding space,” by Pat Sherman, San Diego CityBeat
An index to the San Diego CityBeat articles on the wildfires.
Also check out:
A roundup of the ethnic media’s wildfire coverage at New America Media.
11/6/2007 9:52:46 AM
At a forum I attended this weekend, everyone generally agreed that the internet is the most effective mass-communication tool in the history of mankind. Now it’s up to journalists (including citizen journalists) to figure out how to use it. The event, called “Life After Newspapers,” was organized the Twin Cities Media Alliance and attended by the media reform organization Free Press and was held in the Minneapolis downtown public library.*
Most of the people agreed that it’s currently possible to bring more worthwhile stories and voices to more people than ever before. Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of the excellent community radio station KFAI, talked about bringing women and minorities into the media landscape. Her work seems like an uphill battle, but she spoke of a coming generation of media savvy voices, poised to change the face of news.
Not everyone was as optimistic about the power of young people to save the media. Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the lack of skepticism displayed by many of her students. She said she was struck by how many people passively swallow the information they find on the internet without asking the important questions: Who is writing this, what are they telling me, and why do they know what they know? Great journalism isn’t going to stop well-funded spin experts from sending out lies and half-truths over the internet, and without a healthy dose of skepticism, that information can be dangerous.
With everyone talking about where great journalism will to come from, Steve Perry of the blog the Daily Mole, posed a hypothetical: Maybe it won’t come at all. With a heaping mound of cynicism, Perry suggested that good journalism might simply cease to be.
Robert McChesney, the keynote speaker and one of the nation’s premier media experts, struck a middle ground between the optimism and the pessimism surrounding the state of the media. McChesney walked a fine line between realizing the threats to the media and telling people that the threats can be overcome. Local blogger Paul Schmeltzer has posted an interview with McChesney over at the Minnesota Monitor.
McChesney’s point is basically this: There are huge threats to free speech, independent media, and information in general. But that doesn’t mean people should give up. The organization he founded, Free Press, has won significant battles for independent media lately. McChesney said he sincerely believes that independent media is winning and will win the fight for net neutrality. Concerned citizens simply need to step up and make their voices heard.
For more on the fight for media reform, read Keith Goetzman’s piece Big Media Meets Its Match from the July / August issue of Utne Reader.
* Correction: The event was organized by the Twin Cities Media Alliance, not the Free Press as originally reported.
11/5/2007 5:19:28 PM
After 9/11, Al Jazeera immediately assumed a more significant role on the global media stage. The news station’s privileged access to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan—and its position as Osama bin Laden’s preferred videotape recipient—placed Al Jazeera leaps and bounds ahead of sources like CNN and BBC (both of which have relied on feed from Al Jazeera). The station quickly came to serve as America’s primary window to the Middle East.
In the most recent issue of Islamica, Silvia Gaiani dissects Al Jazeera’s rise to international prominence. Gaiani, a Bologna, Italy-based journalist and scholar, credits the station’s prolonged success to its coverage of issues with pan-Arab appeal. It’s also come to be considered an accurate source of local news in countries with highly censored media. If there was a riot or protest, Gaiani notes, the news used to spread by word of mouth. Now, it’s Al Jazeera.
The unexpected by-product of Al Jazeera’s success, Gaiani argues, is that “[f]or the first time in modern history, the flow of information is no longer just from West to East.” This is a point that cannot be understated, especially now that the network has branched out into English, effectively doubling its market from 40 million Arabic-speaking viewers to 70-80 million. And its influence should only rise as Al Jazeera eyes the Urdu-speaking market of South Asia.
Even though the network has yet to broadcast in the United States, its entry could be exactly what American news needs: a voice that forces the hand of top domestic networks to reshape their coverage of the Middle East.
11/5/2007 1:29:31 PM
Michael Gorra offers a personalized tour of New England's town libraries at The Smart Set, weaving history lessons with descriptions of some of his favorite sites. He’s the perfect person to do so: For years Gorra has been stopping to visit town libraries throughout New England, exploring their histories, modern-day collections, and continuing significance for the townspeople. “Every one of the libraries I’ve collected,” he writes, "has had that essential quality, that sense of peace and purpose.” Check out the slideshow, too, for some cool library pics.
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