12/31/2008 12:32:07 PM
Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet access in the world, with only 1.7 percent of the population able to go online regularly. According to Boris Moreno, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Telecommunications, the telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba is inadequate because the U.S. embargo prevents Cuba from connecting to the neighboring United States via underwater cables; instead, they depend on less reliable, expensive satellite connections to friendlier countries like Italy and Canada.
As a result of their limited bandwidth, Cuba treats Internet access as a limited resource, restricting its use to government, educational, and cultural groups—and, of course, tourists who can pay for it. Cuban citizens who can go online generally have access only to Cuba’s intranet, not the World Wide Web. While internet access is available in cyber-cafes and the lobbies of luxury hotels, the $6/hour price-tag excludes most Cubans, whose average salary is $20 a month. Black market connections are available, but strictly punished. Despite these challenges, Cuba is experiencing a proliferation of independent bloggers, many of whom are clamoring for less restricted, more affordable internet access.
In efforts to increase connectivity, Cuba and Venezuela are constructing a 1550-kilometer underwater fiber optic cable, which will connect northern Venezuela with east Cuba. (Connecting to the Cancun-Miami cable, which is only 32 kilometers from the Havana seawall, is not an option due to the U.S. embargo.) Construction will begin in January, and should be completed by 2010. With a 640-gigabyte capacity, the cable will increase Cuba’s transmission capacity by 3,000 times, and eliminate its dependence on satellite communication from other countries.
While the cable should make internet use more affordable, many wonder whether it will benefit the average Cuban. The government’s official position is that internet access is restricted due to limited capacity, but Cuban bloggers like Cuba Verdad and Generation Y wonder if the restrictions are in place to control Cuban’s access to information. At Generation Y, Yoani Sánchez writes, “To all of us who complain about the poor connectivity found on the Island, they have an argument to shut us up: ‘We have to wait until the cable is ready’… I hope that at least a small fiber of its content reaches my freelance blogger hands.” According to Sánchez, the cable will only be worth the wait if it brings internet access for all Cubans.
12/31/2008 9:53:48 AM
Have you heard much about Iraq lately? Chances are you haven’t: Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review reports that coverage of the Iraq war typically fills less than 2 percent of the news hole. That statistic alone is deplorable, but even worse, according to Garber, is the scarcity of “nuanced treatments of Iraq that would flesh out our simplistic things were bad but they’re getting better narrative into something more substantial and therefore more valuable.”
Garber describes the current attitude of the press toward the war as largely apathetic, and all too willing to report nuggets of conventional wisdom—like "the surge is working"—with little critical analysis.
Whether the quality of Iraq coverage will improve is an open question. The quantity, however, is certain to keep dwindling. ABC, CBS, and NBC have all pulled their full-time correspondents from Iraq, according to the New York Times. CNN’s former Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, told the Times, “The war has gone on longer than a lot of news organizations’ ability or appetite to cover it.”
12/19/2008 4:14:07 PM
How many browser tabs do you have open right now? On most work days, I’m switching between at least eight. According to journalist Maggie Jackson, I’m not alone: Apparently, the average office worker changes tasks every three minutes. Jackson is the author of this year’s Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, and as the title suggests, she’s a bit worried about our tendency to divide our attention. In a recent interview with Columbia Journalism Review, she talks about how this distraction affects our ability to process the news.
Namely, it becomes difficult to fully absorb the news. We only process stories superficially when we try to juggle so many—we fail to “create knowledge out of data.” Jackson marshals plenty of studies to back up her claims, like one that found that people remember 10 percent fewer of a newsperson’s words when there’s a crawl on the TV screen. But she’s at her most compelling when she characterizes the problem and its effects in her own words.
For Jackson, the abundance of news stories is not necessarily the main problem, and neither is the profusion of technologies designed to get us news faster. The issue is the pride we take in our ability to multitask—we’ve “elevated it to a national pastime” and treat it “as a value system.”
The beauty of her analysis is that it allows us some room to change. We can’t really alter the fact that we live in an information economy, but we have some choice in our reactions to it. Jackson notes that researchers are just recently beginning to understand the science of attention, and she’s optimistic that their work will help us find ways to stay focused in a world that promotes distraction.
You can watch more of the interview below. Also check out CJR's feature on journalism and information overload here.
Image courtesy of Mo Riza, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/19/2008 3:39:27 PM
Numerous journalists are joining the ranks of the unemployed. Can the federal government help put them back to work?
In an essay for the New Republic and an interview with On the Media, Mark Pinsky suggests that it can—by reviving the Federal Writers' Project, an initiative established in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration.
Jerrold Hirsch, who wrote a book about the Depression-era project, told On the Media that it enlisted out-of-work writers, journalists, librarians, and others “[t]o rediscover America, to give us a new and broader knowledge of the very country we lived in and not to see it in narrow, exclusive terms of just the dominant culture.” They recorded music, conducted oral histories, collected slave narratives, and worked on creating thorough guides to each state.
Pinsky’s vision for the project's 21st-century sibling isn’t quite as extensive—he described it to OTM’s Brooke Gladstone as the “Federal Writers’ Project Light.” He told her the program would give small grants for “research projects, mostly interviews, that would be approved and put out by community colleges and universities,” and would document important aspects of American life like “the modern immigrant experience” and “the transition to a green economy.” The public benefit, he writes in TNR, would be documentation for the ages of “those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media.”
12/17/2008 3:25:17 PM
Everyone makes mistakes, and journalists are no different. Some, however, go beyond the occasional typo and into the truly astounding. The website Regret the Error compiles all the best corrections from journalistic organizations, and every year gives awards for the most notable screw-ups. Among the 2008 winners was this gem from Reuters:
Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has apologized after accidentally recommending a potentially deadly plant in organic salads.
Another outstanding contender was this unfortunate mistake from the New York Times:
A picture last Sunday with an essay about a crack house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was published in error. The three houses in the picture are on the same street as the crack house, but none of the three figured in the essay.
12/16/2008 9:33:07 AM
A new Congressional report charges FCC chairman Kevin Martin with “egregious abuses of power” during his nearly four years at the helm. In the 110-page report, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who helped lead the inquiry into Martin’s leadership style, faults him for the FCC's “dysfunctional” climate.
While it doesn’t appear that Martin broke any rules or laws, the probe levels some damning criticism. As Portfolio observes, he’s accused of manipulating reports that conflicted with his agenda. In one instance, he allegedly altered the conclusions of a report to Congress on à la carte cable pricing; in another, he drew on questionable data to justify increased oversight of the cable industry, and suppressed the study after it was rejected by other FCC commissioners.
Martin is also blamed for fostering an atmosphere of "fear and intimidation" at the Commission. Workers complained of a lack of transparency in decision making, extreme micromanagement, and retaliation for dissent. Last March, some FCC employees wore black in a silent protest against what they viewed as an increasingly bitter, politicized work environment.
Martin is expected the leave the FCC when Obama assumes the presidency, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), another head to the investigation, says Martin has left the new chairman “a blueprint of what not to do” in the future. Free Press hopes to involve the public in the conversation. They’ve organized a site where you can vote on the issues you’d like to see the Commission tackle, and the organization will present the results to Obama’s FCC transition team in the coming months. Also check out "Big Media Meets Its Match," a 2007 Utne feature on FCC commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, either of whom could be appointed to replace Martin.
12/12/2008 12:15:23 PM
When my mom arrived at work in Chicago on Tuesday morning to news about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, she immediately picked up the phone and called her sister in Springfield to gush. Finally! The dirty governor was going down. They crossed their fingers that the story would get national play.
Boy has it ever. A good political scandal doesn’t have to work too hard to capture public attention, and in this case, the connection to president-elect Barack Obama gave Blagojevich’s take-down extra currency.
Not surprisingly, the governor’s attempt to auction off Obama’s Senate seat emerged as the dominant storyline in news about his arrest. What has received less attention is a brewing journalistic scandal in the laundry list of complaints against Blagojevich. For anyone concerned with media ethics, it can’t be overlooked.
Clint Hendler at the Columbia Journalism Review has a nice, detailed account of what we know so far about discussions between Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, and an unknown “financial advisor” to Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell. The talks in question involve the governor’s request that the paper fire members of its editorial board and editorial page staff, who have published unflattering pieces about him, in exchange for state aid in selling the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, which are owned by the Tribune Company.
Charges against the governor disturbingly indicate that the paper was “very sensitive to the message.” As CJR points out, Zell has a lot of questions to answer if he intends to salvage a smidgeon of his fledgling news organization’s reputation. For instance, “Did the financial advisor make the deal that Harris implied he did?” And a couple of months ago, when the paper almost ran a story about the Blagojevich wiretaps, was Zell involved in its decision not to?
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker sums up the disgrace of it all nicely:
Apparently, the caveat that one should never do battle with someone who buys ink by the barrel has been rendered meaningless by “financial advisers” in the Tribune Tower, where Zell's yearlong reign of error is leading one of the nation's greatest newspaper companies to ruin.
Image by theogeo, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/12/2008 10:40:38 AM
Searching for an appropriate cover for their recent China-themed issue, the editors of the German MaxPlanckForschung magazine agreed that a Chinese poem would set the right mood. Unfortunately, the Chinese script they chose didn’t quite mean what they thought it meant.
Here’s a translation of the magazine’s cover, according to Language Log:
With high salaries, we have cordially invited for an extended series of matinees
KK and Jiamei as directors, who will personally lead jade-like girls in the spring of youth,
Beauties from the north who have a distinguished air of elegance and allure,
Young housewives having figures that will turn you on;
Their enchanting and coquettish performance will begin within the next few days.
The magazine later apologized to its readers, claiming that a German sinologist had been consulted and had incorrectly signed off on the text before publication. Now the Chinese will have some fodder to fight the always funny Engrish blog, and other jokes about bad Chinese English.
(Thanks, FP Passport.)
12/11/2008 10:15:50 AM
A lot of intelligent women find themselves torn between dismantling the superficiality of “women's interest” magazines and buying into it. Wendy Felton is one of those women, and she uses her three-year-old Glossed Over blog to rant, rave, and dissect fashion spreads and stories from publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Felton doesn’t claim to be an expert (she’s a freelance writer and editor), but simply a fan of women’s magazines who is continually disappointed by their contradictory messages and incongruous advice. So why does she bother reading them? It’s a guilty pleasure “that lets me get juiced up on righteous outrage while simultaneously allowing me to ogle lip gloss and shoes.” The right mix of cynicism (one post is titled “Marie Claire editors were the girls I hated in high school”) and acknowledged shallowness makes her commentary, at once funny and incisive, relatable to a broad (if mostly female) audience.
Image courtesy of evans.photo, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/9/2008 9:44:00 AM
Beginning in 2009, the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism will accept submissions from web-only publications that “adhere to the highest journalistic principles” and are “primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories.” (As the New York Observer put it: “Translation: No lowly bloggers allowed!”)
This is good news for the pack of online news outlets that turned out stellar coverage this year—web-only news machines like MinnPost, ProPublica, Voice of San Diego, and the Center for Independent Media sites can seek old-media recognition for their vital pre- and post-election reporting, and for the local stories they’ve stayed on as print newsrooms hemorrhaged staff and resources.
12/4/2008 1:29:32 PM
When photographer Jill Greenberg’s editors at the Atlantic asked her to photograph John McCain for the magazine's October issue, she swallowed her distaste and delivered the benevolent-looking images they sought. But she couldn’t cast her disgust aside, so she snapped a second set of photos that better captured her own feelings for McCain. Compared to the warm, well-lit portraits that ended up in the magazine, her alternative shots make McCain look...well...kind of evil. Greenberg posted the photos to her website, and remained unapologetic when her editors freaked out.
Were her actions ethical? A recent episode of On the Media chats with Greenberg and other photographers about the often murky question of integrity in photojournalism. Greenberg suggests that in some situations, the most ethical way to portray her subjects may not always be the most flattering. Photographer Platon, who captured Ann Coulter on the cover of Time looking, in interviewer Bob Garfield’s estimation, "like a blond praying mantis," agrees. For him, a photographer’s duty isn’t to represent subjects as they’d prefer, but to interpret them, to “pull people out of their reality and into our reality.” Greenberg further justifies unflattering photos (perhaps less convincingly) with the contention that editors sometimes demand them, even asking photographers to deliberately mislead their subjects.
You can take a look at the photos in question, along with some other great (and potentially questionable) shots in a slideshow accompanying the episode transcript.
12/3/2008 3:14:32 PM
A few weeks ago the European Commission launched Europeana, an online multimedia project that aims to make Europe's scientific and cultural heritage universally accessible. Enthusiasm for the project is so high that within hours of Europeana's official Nov. 20 launch, millions of hits reduced the site's speed to a crawl, forcing administrators to shut it down temporarily. The developers plan to have a sturdier version up by mid-December.
The site, which has been in the works since 2005, boasts “more than two million books, maps, recordings, photographs, archival documents, paintings and films from national libraries and cultural institutions of the European Union's 27 Member States.” If it exists in a digital format, whether it’s a book from Hungary or a painting from the Louvre, it will be on Europeana and available in every language of the EU.
And this is only the beginning. For the next three years, the website and related projects will receive millions of euros in funding from the EU to expand the collection and create interactive space for users with specific interests.
12/2/2008 3:59:01 PM
The Obama administration’s transition website, Change.gov, is no longer locked down under a traditional copyright. Yesterday, the website announced that all its content would be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. This means that all content would be free to share and remix, so long as it’s accompanied by the proper attribution.
Regular readers of Utne.com know that many of the images on the site are licensed under Creative Commons. Law and technology expert Lawrence Lessig, a Creative Commons founder, called the Obama team’s move “great news” saying it’s “consistent with the values of any ‘open government.’”
12/2/2008 2:48:13 PM
If you were being paid big, undisclosed bucks by companies directly affected by the issues you commented on as a media personality, would that constitute a conflict of interest? Conventional wisdom says: Of course! But two men recently exposed by the New York Times for being in exactly that situation say: Well, not really.
The supremely well-reported cover story of Sunday's Times was an in-depth report on retired General Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey is an NBC military analyst touted by the network as an independent expert, a characterization the Times calls into question by revealing his tangled web of undisclosed business ties to defense contractors. The story describes McCaffrey as a member of "an exclusive club" that "has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce." They operate in a "deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest."
Another story, published in late November, put Dr. Frederick Goodwin, host of the public radio health show The Infinite Mind, under the microscope. Here’s an example of Goodwin’s questionable ethical judgments, from the Times’ story:
… In a program broadcast on Sept. 20, 2005, he warned that children with bipolar disorder who were left untreated could suffer brain damage, a controversial view.
“But as we’ll be hearing today,” Dr. Goodwin told his audience, “modern treatments—mood stabilizers in particular—have been proven both safe and effective in bipolar children.”
That same day, GlaxoSmithKline paid Dr. Goodwin $2,500 to give a promotional lecture for its mood stabilizer drug, Lamictal, at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. In all, GlaxoSmithKline paid him more than $329,000 that year for promoting Lamictal, records given to Congressional investigators show.
So, Dr. Goodwin, how exactly does that not constitute a conflict of interest? Goodwin conceded that, in that instance, he probably should have disclosed his relationship with GlaxoSmithKline. But he also told the Times that since he consults for lots of drug companies, he has no bias toward any one in particular. "These companies compete with each other and cancel each other out," he told the paper.
McCaffrey, too, has spoken up in his own defense, noting that his vocal criticism of Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t “the stuff of someone ‘shilling’ for the Pentagon.” Glenn Greenwald finds this reasoning unconvincing:
Both NBC and McCaffrey are either incapable of understanding, or are deliberately ignoring, the central point: In those instances where McCaffrey criticized Rumsfeld for his war strategy, it was to criticize him for spending insufficient amounts of money on the war, or for refusing to pursue strategies that would have directly benefited the numerous companies with which McCaffrey is associated.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!