Monday, May 9, 2011

Politicians are Celebrities - Is Palin to blame?

I was reading a Newsweek article from 2008 entitled, "The Hot New Celeb? Sarah! The tabloids have discovered the appeal of politics." This article was striking because a) it painted Palin in a rather flattering light, even going so far as to say her speech at the Republican National Convention was "Oscar worthy" and b) it credits Palin for the politicians becoming celebrities phenomenon.

Is it really Palin with her $150,000 clothing budget that allowed regular readers of US Weekly to suddenly become interested in politics or at least politicians (literally) on the surface? Personally I feel this phenomenon began long before the 2008 campaign. It seems to be the spirit of the age to focus on the externality of all the figures we surround ourselves with, politicians included.

So the question is - is this negative or positive? Since politicians have gained celebrity status, they are talked about more in pop culture circles and this does give them more exposure. But do we even want this? I guess I wonder as time goes on, if political figures will drift even more toward Hollywood and perfectly capable politicians will not thrive because they lack that external image and politics will then become entirely issueless. What do you think?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Life After WikiLeaks

Last night I attended a panel event for my journalism class at Columbia Journalism School entitled, "Life after WikiLeaks: Who won the information war?" The panelists were: Mark Stephens, British lawyer, well known defender of free expression and Julian Assange's attorney. PJ Crowley, former US state department spokesman who resigned recently after calling the treatment of Bradley Manning, "Ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid." Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist on domestic and foreign affairs and is quoted as describing WikiLeaks as "contemptible." Andrei Soldatov, Russian investigative journalist. Emily Bell, well-known British journalist and now is a major faculty member at Columbia Journalism School. John Kampfner, British journalist and chief of Index on Censorship, the organization which sponsored the event and he acted as moderator.

All in all from this bunch of experts: lawyers, politicians, journalists there was rather scattered feedback of what the status of free information is in a post-Wikileaks world. Now I didn't expect a tidy, uniform response since it was a panel made up of experts with very assorted views on the topic, but I sensed there was even some confusion and indecision within each individual panelist. So if the experts are undecided and therefore unprepared for a post-wikileaks world, it will be even harder for the rest of us.

Some general points from the event were:

*Wikileaks has made it so traditional journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of news, a fact which columnist Richard Cohen mourned greatly, but something many people considered imminent anyway.

*The paradox of Wikileaks - the goal of the non-profit organization is freedom of speech and the free flow of information, but by releasing those classified documents it might have put journalists all over the world in danger, or made their jobs much more difficult and sources much less trusting and these are the very people who were working toward that free information goal.

*Maybe the government has a right to some secrets and complete transparency shouldn't be a goal or maybe they should only be allowed secrets if in keeping those secrets they are directing protecting the people.

What do you think some of the effects of Wikileaks are - immediate or otherwise?

Friday, April 15, 2011

British Journalists Arrested for Phone-hacking

NYT reports that a 3rd British journalist has been arrested for phone-hacking voice mail messages of British celebrities and royalty. All 3 journalists were from the tabloid, "The News of the World," so we could be thinking, ok tabloids, their employees obviously have lower standards and virtually no journalistic integrity. And this is in Europe so we could fall back on our patriotism and say Americans don't rely as heavily on tabloids for their news and our journalists wouldn't sink so low. But as the Times article points out this tabloid is, "one of Britain's most widely circulated newspapers." So people are getting their news from there as opposed to more prestigious publications just like many people get their news from blogs and The Daily Show today.

This provokes us to ask several probing questions: Aside from obviously illegal activities such as these British journalists were caught doing, how low can standards be set for such "news" sources? Some of these like Jon Stewart don't consider themselves "real news" so he can escape from such standards and restrictions and really get to the heart of the matter. But conversely like the British journalists, if these news sources don't have restrictions they could really begin to infringe upon people's privacy. What do you think? Do you think these "news" sources need some standards set?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bloggers Creating Issues in Education

We read about blogs, bloggers and blog readers for class this week and we discussed the influence most blogs have on the political world. They inform citizens by linking to various news media websites and other blogs and they also have an advocacy function and some (mostly liberal apparently) urge their readers to take some sort of action, - write to their local politician, attend rallies, etc.

A NYT article entitled, "Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing," suggests that a blogger's role extends beyond just informing and advocating already existing issues, but they can actually create issues that the government then needs to address. Education bloggers commented on Obama's speech last week and how he said that there are too many "high-stakes" standardized tests in his school. Meanwhile his Department of Education is producing additional standardized tests that will be administered several times per year as opposed to just once a year.

The bloggers seem to have cornered Obama into addressing an issue that the traditional media outlets didn't think was an issue. Obama and his administration answered the accusations by saying that the additional tests were for assessment and are meant to test how much the students are actually learning, and are not given for grades. This would take pressure off the students for the year-end standardized tests which are graded. It's just interesting how much muscle power bloggers have obtained. Do you know of any other issues that bloggers have created recently?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama's Unfulfilled Promise of Transparency?

The article we're reading entitled "The First Internet President" brought up one of the advantages of new media in politics: transparency. This article written in the second month of Obama's presidency stated that Obama planned to take advantage of these media tools to run the most transparent administration in history. Has he lived up to that promise? Most people would disagree.

It's fitting that we're reading this article now as mid-March is Sunshine Week - a week dedicated to educating the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

According to a recent NPR article, Obama did fulfill some of what he promised. For the first time the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons aresnal was revealed. Also half of the 90 government agencies have changed their approach to sharing information for a more open policy. But is this enough? The article also points out that the Department of Housing and Urban Development had asked lobbyists to sign nondisclosure agreements if they wanted to take part in talks about rental housing. This seems like the exact opposite of transparency.

The article quotes Steven Aftergood, government secrecy expert on the issue: "Expectations were raised so high at the beginning of the administration that some disappointment was almost inevitable." So is the issue that Obama made such a lofty promise and failed to deliver? Can we even expect complete openness from any administration? (I mean, consider the government scandals we know about then think about how many we are probably unaware of.) Because of new media and the ability to have transparent governments, should we hold politicians to higher standards?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Comparing NYT articles: Israel vs. Japan

Many of you have been posting about the media's language usage when covering recent events in Israel. They seem to keep distance when reporting on the Fogel family tragedy and don't seem to want to label the Jerusalem bus bombing as "terrorism." Although I am completely biased in this situation and wish the media would show some compassion, I still like to look at both sides. Take the New York Times, for example. They are one of the few who still try to maintain a high standard of journalistic objectivity. So if they distance themselves from the news and label events as generic "killings" or "bombings," I understand why.
But then I read this NYT article which reported on the sensitive issue of what to do with all the bodies left behind by Japan's earthquake/tsunami catastrophe. The language used here was poetic, touching, beautiful really. And this was not an article in the Opinions section. Yes this natural disaster took far more lives than recent tragedies in Israel, yes maybe the writing style of this one writer could not speak for the standards of the entire NYT, but don't you think the NYT should maintain objective standards for all tragic events or express some humanity in their writing for all?

Friday, March 18, 2011

New York Times reporting on New York Times

There was a New York Times article today that announced its plan to charge visitors who view more than 20 articles a month. Instead of just grumbling and closing the article because I definitely read more than 20 NYT's articles a month, reading the article got me thinking so many different questions.
First of all the irony is if someone wanted to read this article after March 28 (when NYT will start charging) and it was their 21st article for the month they would be closed out.
Second of all, we've all come to terms with the media being a business, but if we start to pay for internet news which until now has been free, are we allowing a new news phase to begin? Will other news companies follow NYT's lead?
Also, what do we make of the NYT reporting on the NYT? Are they keeping to their excellent journalistic standards and reporting on themselves is just keeping themselves in check? Or do we not trust such stories because the reporters can be their own sources and because even if they're giving us the facts, the story will be slanted in such a way that what the NYT is doing doesn't seem so bad? I mean $15 for a month of unlimited news doesn't seem so bad....Am I just following into the biased trap?