Transparency Vs. Objectivity

New media certainly seems to be more biased than traditional journalism. Bloggers have a clear point of view and are not afraid to express their opinions, whereas bigger news organizations remain objective at all times… but are they really being objective? No one is capable of remaining objective as they take in more information; it’s human nature to develop a point of view, even if you choose not to express it. Is it truly better to claim you’re unbiased if, in reality, you’re simply avoiding your point of view? Objectivity is almost impossible, as points of view will inevitably come out in speech, tone, body language or phrasing of an issue. Would it be more honest, and therefore more fair, to simply state what your point of view is before discussing a topic?

Some would argue that transparency is the new objectivity, claiming that it would be better to acknowledge any hidden biases before moving on to discussion. “Objectivity without transparency increasingly will look like arrogance. And then foolishness,” the article states. Perhaps the most important message to get from this is that the two values go hand in hand. Objectivity is an unreachable goal, and journalists who don’t use disclaimers regarding their personal opinions might end up writing (or speaking) with a slant if they’re not careful. However, transparency alone does not make a writer believable. The audience still needs the facts; research, evidence and quotes from knowledgable sources. One without the other would be simply ineffective. “The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark.”

Another issue with objectivity is that it’s becoming more and more easy to find out how journalists feel about certain issues. With social media becoming less of a simple trend and more of a necessity, every good journalist has some sort of online presence. Some have separate accounts; those for professional updates and others for personal musings, but even still, it isn’t hard to hunt down the personal pages that are most likely linked to the professional accounts either directly or indirectly. An article from the World Association of Newspapers reminds us that “all this social media activity means that it is becoming ever harder to deny the fact that journalists are people. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. Journalists are people – and people are not objective.”

Some journalists like Jeff Greenfield of Yahoo News chose to remain more objective than others. He stated that he didn’t vote  for years in order to remain unbiased. Does this mean that he was unbiased? Most likely not. Simply because he didn’t express his opinions does not mean he didn’t have them. The issue is certainly one worth debating. Is it fair to ask journalists to do something virtually impossible by removing any sort of opinion within them? “In the long run, it’s worth asking what we can gain by allowing reporters to be human beings while they do their jobs, instead of only asking what we lose by doing so,” journalist Matthew Ingram points out in the New York Times article. What’s the best balance one can achieve between these values? It may take quite a lot of debate before we can decide that for sure.

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Censorship

Though journalism was once designed to expose corruption and wrongdoings in government, it would seem the government has gained the upper hand. Our media is being censored to keep us in the dark, both through internet providers and mobile services. From blocked text messages to erasure from online databases, the media is losing the battle against the world’s leaders.

Anyone with a mobile phone can be affected by governmental censorship. In September of 2007, Verizon blocked any messages coming from pro-abortion group NARAL. Though many phone companies boast the service of blocking unwanted spam, those who were receiving these messages had to sign up to get them, meaning they were not unwanted. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch states that “Verizon cited its policy against services that ‘promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.’ This is the phone company acting as your mother.” This article is right. Companies are now deciding for us what we can and can’t know. It’s important for every citizen to stay informed, especially on important issues of interest such as this. Controversial or otherwise, we must not remain in the dark simply because a corporation wants us to. This is violating our basic freedoms as American citizens.

Internet providers are just as guilty of censorship. Journalist Matthew Lee wrote about several abuses of human rights in the United Nations, and has now been delisted from Google News. Google sent him an email saying “We periodically review news sources, particularly following user complaints, to ensure Google News offers a high quality experience for our users. When we reviewed your site we’ve found that we can no longer include it in Google News.” Why would such a trusted database keep the truth from coming out? Lee believes the company was pressured by the United Nations in order to cover for their mistakes. After asking Google why they failed to sign the anti-censorship compact upon partnering with the UN, he received a “less-than-friendly response” from the corporation. Lee said “I think that Google got involved with the U.N. on these Millennium goals and thought, this is the United Nations, if they tell you some small Web site is a thorn in their side and there’s a credible reason you could remove them from your news service, you do it.”

This is not the only case of online erasure. In China, dissident professor Guo Quan found that his name had been blocked from search engines like Google and Yahoo after speaking out against the Communist Party. He claimed to be a leader of the  New People’s Party with 10 million fellow members both in China and abroad. Since citizens are not allowed to speak out against communism, it’s clear why the government wanted to block Quan from online databases. “They have infringed my right to my name, and also the rights of anyone called Guo Quan because you can find no information for this name,” Quan says. Not only had Chinese search engines like baidu.com been coerced by the government to take down his information, but  foreign companies had done the same.

As Americans, it’s easy to dismiss problems like this to be something only found in strict communist regimes like China. However, if big companies here at home like Verizon and Google are following suit, it becomes obvious that America is just as susceptible to censorship reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. The government is gaining complete control over what we do and what we learn. It is crucial to keep the government in check, but if they take away our rights to freedom of press and freedom of speech, it will be impossible to avoid collapsing into the hands of corrupt, power-hungry leaders. Censorship can easily be the first step to the formation of a dictatorship; the most important thing for any of us is to stay informed and not back down to the firm grips of our leaders.

Defining Journalism

Can you truly restrict the definition of “journalist” to a specific group of people? Google describes a journalist as “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television.” However, in the age of technology, much of journalism has moved online, both in the form of professional online publications and amateur blogs. So how can we really decide where the line is? Many bloggers are serious about their work, while several “professional” journalists have proved to be frauds. Does this mean that the fraudulent writers are more credible than the serious amateurs?

The government has been working to more closely define the true meaning of journalism. This means that anyone who does not meet their specific credentials would not have the same rights as one who does. For example, in Lake Oswego in Oregon, real media is being defined as “‘institutionalized,’ ‘well-established’ and producing at least 25 percent news content” according to this article from the Oregonian. Citizen journalists, bloggers and any journalist who works for a publication that produces less than 25 percent of content will be shut out from city council meetings and other closed gatherings. This definition dismisses serious journalists as simple, insignificant bloggers who are not worthy of covering this kind of news.

The city council argues that, if our society continues to expand its definition of journalism, then anyone could be considered a journalist. The meetings would practically become open if they were to allow anyone in. While their argument is logical, it’s hard to see why anyone who isn’t serious about journalism would attend one of these meetings. It certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of event one goes to for a night full of entertainment.

The proposed media policy states that “media representatives would be allowed to attend executive sessions if they provide evidence that includes ‘proof satisfactory to the City Council that the person is gathering news,’ along with a press badge, a recently published news article with their byline or an editor’s note on letterhead.” However, according to the Oregonian, the council meetings are often called at the last minute, meaning it would be hard for anyone, professional or otherwise, to scramble to get their credentials in order. It would seem that, with such strict rules, the council is trying to block everyone out of their meetings. It would perhaps be simpler and more just if the council were to allow admittance on a first-come-first-serve basis. If they let in the first five or ten people who wanted to report on the meeting, they would not need to focus so much on defining something that is so clearly situated in a grey area.

Senators in California are working to define “real journalism” as well. They have decided to leave out nonsalaried reporters and WikiLeaks employees. This means that even freelance journalists who have done professional work would be left out. Those who do not fit this strict definition would not be protected under the shield law, which protects the confidentiality of both the reporters and their sources. Given this information, WikiLeaks reporters and their sources would be susceptible to court orders and severe punishment for simply doing their jobs. Whistle-blowing is one of the most important features of journalism, and by denying protection to those who want to expose wrongdoings in government, the rest of the nation would remain ignorant to serious problems happening in their own country. The government would continue to become more powerful.

Another issue is that news itself can hardly be easily defined. What counts as news? The definition seems arbitrary, and the government is going to great lengths to narrow it down to a precise meaning. The government should not be putting restrictions on journalism or trying to control those who practice it. The point of journalism is to keep the government in check, but how can that be possible if they are shutting everyone out? As the definition becomes stricter, the government gains more power; this is dangerous. Without journalists to keep politicians in line, who will?

True Fans

In the technology age, it’s easier than ever to develop true fans of your work, whether you’re an artist, musician or writer. The industry is no longer all-or-nothing; you can find a niche and develop a cult following somewhere between the lines of “famous millionaire” and “starving artist.” According to The Technium, all you need is 1,000 true fans to support your living expenses.

A true fan is defined in the article as someone who will buy all of your merchandise, go to your shows or conferences, buy your books or artwork, or attend signings anywhere you’ll have them. This may seem a little unlikely– that no one is that dedicated– but really, it’s not as intense as it sounds. Merchandise is not terribly expensive and is often very unique and highly coveted by the community of true fans. It is not hard to believe that a fan will want a souvenir from a concert or conference. It’s also not so far-fetched that a fan will drive hundreds of miles to attend an event; after all, it’s not often that one of your personal idols comes to the area to do a meet and greet. People take advantage of exciting events like these.

For musicians, it might be a little harder to find someone who is still willing to spend money on their work. Unlike painters or photographers, musicians are easily ripped off by pirating. Many fans would rather get the album for free than support the band by buying it for $10. There is, however, almost always a line of dedicated concert goers that I run into at shows who are eager to buy the newest CD to have it signed when the musicians are done performing. In addition, many bands offer initiative to purchase music on record (for example, I’ve been especially compelled to purchase a CD when the bands have offered free posters or personal phone calls). Sometimes, people just buy the CD for the sole purpose of helping out a talented individual.

This brings up another important point. In order to develop a dedicated fan base, artists must connect with their supporters. Computers make this easier than ever; social media may be the best tool an artist can use to spread the word about their work. Facebook makes it easy to design a professional page, which can then be used to reach out to your friends, then friends of friends and eventually the general public. Musicians can easily put up videos of their songs on youtube, and journalists can blog just about anywhere. Sharing links through other sites makes the word spread even faster. And with websites like Kickstarter, indiegogo and beacon reader, fans can even help fund their favourite creators directly in exchange for a small gift. This way, fans feel that they have contributed to an important cause with only a small donation to someone they believe in.

Direct funding isn’t necessary though, as long as fans have some way of supporting you financially. The true fans will almost buy anything to support their causes. The Technium article states: “Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day’s wages per year in support of what you do. That ‘one-day-wage’ is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that.  Let’s peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.”

As long as an artist can nurture a community of dedicated followers, financial stability is a completely realizable goal. It is possible to become famous without being a billionaire, as long as you’re famous to a certain niche of people. Fame may not even be important; some creators simply want to get a message out. These people have no concern for recognition or fortune, as long as they can inspire someone in some way. With the focus on the message instead of the glory, everyone has the ability to truly make a difference through creativity.

Soultions Journalism

Sometimes it seems like all we hear about in the news is negative. From theft to disease, to murder and wars, we are bombarded by tragedy. After a while, it becomes desensitizing. We start to lose our sympathy for those suffering from whatever crisis is being shoved into the public eye on any given day. What could we possibly do to help? The average people of America have no idea how to prevent mass murders or the spread of diseases, so why should they care? I, too, am guilty of becoming detached from the rest of the world. With so much going on, it seems overwhelming to even begin to care.

The solution? A strategy called Solutions Journalism, which focuses not only on the issues we face today, but also on how we can go about solving them. This is an excellent way to give Americans a sense of hope. It also helps to create a community in which readers are more motivated to make a change and spread the word. Once an active audience is set in motion, it’s possible to work on creating a better world (instead of just dismissing it, as I often do, by saying “wow, this whole world is going to shit” and then going about the daily grind as if nothing had happened). The Solutions Journalism Network, or SJN, has even teamed up with other organizations to start projects in which they highlight the ways people have worked to combat the issues that face their community.

Once we see that people are capable of addressing the issues we hear so much about, we see that the world is not in fact spiraling out of control and into oblivion, like it is often portrayed in mainstream media. There’s always that constant thread of panic spread through social media to keep us ignorant of solutions. “I’m talking about the chronic, contemporary pain of being an informed person. You wake up, reach for the phone next to your bed, start scrolling through Facebook and — just like that — you are immersed in the eternal stream of rubble, corruption, and death that is the daily news cycle,” reads one article from the Solutions website.

Solutions Journalism likes to balance the good with the bad. Not only does the site inform its visitors of major problems we face, it also shows us major problems we’ve solved. However, it is careful to make these accomplishments seem relatable; instead of worshipping the heroes in the news by commending their individual decisions, they focus on the ideas they represent. As an SJN blogger explains, “Solutions stories certainly have characters and focus on how people’s actions are leading to positive changes; it’s just that solutions stories are centered more on the tangible work they do to advance solutions, and less on their (heroic) personal traits.”

Mainstream media can learn from this site. Nothing will ever change if we are constantly subjected to the scare tactics used in corporate media by the government, whose agenda is simply to control us by making us believe that we’re all doomed. If we see that each individual matters and can in fact make a difference, we might be less likely to sit back and watch our society slip through our fingers.

The Power of Progressive Press

We put a lot of trust into the mainstream press. We’ve been told to believe that newspapers and major media companies are reliable sources that remain unbiased and determined to tell the truth. Unfortunately, the mainstream corporations are not what they say they are, but far too many American citizens are quick to believe their lies. After all, why would we want to look further into a subject when all the “facts” are right there on the front page of the newspaper?

Though once intended to keep the government in check and reveal the harsh truths of reality for the benefit of the people, mainstream press has become just another front for corrupt officials to spread the propaganda they deem important. Right before (and during) the war in Iraq, major news outlets disseminated false information fed directly to them from the government, which was of course pro-war. The American people were bombarded with false information that Saddam Hussein had connections with Al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Most major news organizations reported the buildup toward war without adequate skepticism or scrutiny” (Stehle, Paragraph 2). Nation-wide panic is the easiest way for our leaders to control us and make us believe anything. We are natural-born followers, after all~ look where we are now.

The dissident press, however, strives to tell the truth (the actual truth, not the truths we are spoon-fed by our nation’s leaders). Unlike mainstream media, independent publications are not bound by governmental ties and political affiliations; nothing stands in the way of the facts. Organizations like Mother Jones and Democracy Now are dedicated to “raise vital issues like war and peace and wealth and poverty in ways that reflect the public interest” (Stehle, Paragraph 3). While a vast population of our society is blinded by mainstream media, more and more people are going to independent organizations such as these. In 2005, 60 of these progressive businesses came together to form the Media Consortium. Not afraid to approach the tougher issues, they worked together “to harness public attention to the major policy debates of our time by raising issues of economic justice, human rights, and progressive perspectives in national-security debates” (Stehle, Paragraph 7).

These outlets are the ones who, for example, exposed Romney’s infamous quote about the 47 percent (Mother Jones) and brought the to attention of the public eye the plight of the 99 percent. These are issues the mainstream press largely ignored, but were still heard by the majority of Americans. “Individually and collectively, progressive and independent media organizations are having an increasing impact on the media landscape” (Stehle, Paragraph 9).

It’s a little frightening to know that so many people are mindless sheep, taking in everything they see and hear without question or criticism. Where is our curiosity? Our thirst for knowledge? Free thinkers are rare, for some unknown reason, but luckily, we have independent outlets to lead by example and show us that it’s okay to form our own opinions. Somewhere along the line, we got so caught up in appeasing others that we lost our spark for individuality. Dissident press allows us to see only the facts, not getting caught up in allegiance to political parties or advertisers. Publisher André Schiffrin declared “nonprofit news-media outlets are so influential, they ‘are now playing the classic role of fourth estate in our democracy'” (Stehle, Paragraph 17). Funny, isn’t that why the media was first created?

Hopefully this trend of growing independent media will continue. We cannot allow the government to maintain absolute rule over our society. More often than not, government does more harm than good. We’ve been catapulted into wars and financial hardships due to the selfishness of our leaders, and it’s time to start questioning why things are the way they are. Seeing something doesn’t make it true; we can no longer believe our eyes or our ears. We should all look to progressive outlets, like those of the Media Consortium, for the truth about our world~ they are the ones who question the status quo as we all should. “Going forward, when American policy makers and politicians are tempted to embark on unjustified wars, they can expect a more vigorous nonprofit press to provide more critical scrutiny than Washington reporters provided a decade ago. And, let us hope, thousands of lives—and the health of our democracy—will be spared” (Stehle, Paragraph 18).

For more information, see Vincent Stehle’s article: “How a Misguided War Led to a Powerful Nonprofit Partnership.”

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-a-Misguided-War-Led-to-a/137985/

Anarchy- A New Social Order

Why is it we are so reluctant to question the way things are? We are afraid to criticize government and the rules our leaders make for us. The idea of anarchy seems like a radical one, but if we really think about it, is it any worse than the issues we face due to a corrupt government and an imbalance in social order? As the saying goes, the rich get richer. Yet the poor, working-class Americans settle for just barely getting by. Capitalism is harmful in more ways than one, yet we accept it.

Really, the idea of anarchism isn’t as bad as what we’re trained to believe. “A person who embraced this philosophy opposed any citizen being controlled by forces other than his or her own decision making,” (Voices of Revolution; 115). Would it be so detrimental to our society if we were allowed to make our own decisions without the guidance of those who are often corrupt capitalist leaders?

In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, two leaders emerged in an attempt to spark an anarchist movement. Albert Parsons, founder of The Alarm, and Emma Goldman, the creator of Mother Earth, spoke to the nation’s poor, urging them to fight back against capitalism and revolt by whatever means necessary. They supported the use of violence, stating that the only way to create an acceptable society would be to destroy the one already in existence. This is certainly a radical idea, but wasn’t our nation founded on radical ideas, mass uprisings and revolutions?

Parsons was deeply concerned about issue of race, noticing the inequality that existed even after the abolition of slavery. He wrote, “they are now ‘free men’ without an inch of soil, a cent of money, a stitch of clothes or a morsel of food.” This recognition of injustice among African Americans later extended to other immigrants from multiple cultural backgrounds, many of whom “toiled at the mercy of factory owners,” (Voices of Revolution; 118). Parsons spoke out for better working conditions and higher wages, denouncing capitalism as the root of the nation’s misery. He also pointed out in his publication that work was no longer something to enjoy or take pride in; it simply allowed the rich to control the poor and benefit from their work. Laborers become numbers in the workplace, without individuality, passion or any sense of fulfillment. This is true even today. Work is nothing more than a chore to most people. It puts food on the table and pays the bills– sometimes. Our jobs break our spirits but we do nothing about it. It’s part of life; that’s just how it is.

“Constant repetition of the same minute task benefited only the employer, he wrote, while promoting boredom and frustration among the workers, accentuating the master-slave relationship … Workers were merely hired hands, cogs in an intricate machine, receiving little satisfaction from the monotonous, mind-numbing drudgery performed,” (Voices of Revolution; 129). This is a problem most of us can relate to. Who doesn’t feel bored or drained at work? How many of us truly feel fulfilled in our jobs? The anarchist leaders of the time wanted the poor to benefit from their own labors– an idea that seems like it should be a given, a right for all humans, rather than a controversial, unrealistic goal.

It was perhaps their means of achieving this utopia that concerned the mainstream (coupled with the fact that much of the mainstream was controlled by the government they attacked). Specifically, Parsons encouraged the use of dynamite against the police and other officials. He wrote, “the privileged are not in the least disturbed by argument, protest or petitions. They have but one answer to all appeals– force.” He therefore deemed violence a necessity; if the downtrodden that he spoke to were so often attacked by police, perhaps the only realistic way to fight back would be with equal or higher force. He continued, “We have nothing to lose but our chains; we have a world to win! Lead on to liberty or death.” Such radical speech frightened many of the people who were already afraid to question the world as they knew it.

The mainstream press certainly didn’t help the cause. As usual, they fought against the radicals by exaggerating the truth or fabricating information altogether. At an anarchist meeting in 1886, an unknown assailant threw a bomb into a crowd of police officers, who had come to order the meeting to end (and the speaker did, in fact, step down from the platform as they had asked). After the explosion, which wounded several officers, many members of the police fired their guns randomly into the crowd. Yes, they fired randomly into a crowd of bystanders. The mainstream papers stated that eight police officers had been killed in the incident, and at least as many protesters were found dead as well. They conveniently left out, however, that among the fatalities, only one officer was killed by the bomb. The rest of the victims were shot by police bullets. The press then went on to spread the rumour that this would be the first attack of many, and that anarchists wanted to control the whole nation. “The villainous teachings of the Anarchists bore bloody fruit in Chicago,” a New York Times article began. They insisted that this event was part of an organized plot to destroy America. Not surprisingly, this started a panic that no one had thought to question. Worse yet, the people of America were so frightened that they rejected any sort of progressive thought, much less the radical idea of anarchism.

This is not a new tactic used by mainstream media and our government. We are controlled by fear, because when we are afraid, we will believe anything. When Emma Goldman emerged as a leader of the anarchist movement, she fell victim to rumours put out by the mainstream press. In 1901, when a factory worker who claimed to be an anarchist assassinated President McKinley, leading newspapers held Goldman responsible for the murder (even though she didn’t know him and he wasn’t a member of any anarchist organization). The press stated that her goal was to kill all rulers. In response, she launched her own paper, Mother Earth. Unlike Parsons, she targeted not only the poor, but also the middle-class professionals, who she urged “to come down off their pedestals and realize that they, too, were being exploited by the American aristocracy of wealth,” (Voices of Revolution; 129). The only way to establish unity and equality in America was to work together against capitalism. Even still, her efforts only lead to her eventual imprisonment and deportation.

Though there was never an anarchist revolution, this issue still raises a few good points. Oftentimes, the government does more harm than good. With every law comes more laws until we are bound up in ethical dilemmas and enslaved by subtext. In an ideal universe, we would be moral enough to know right from wrong without corporate chaperoning. We would be individual enough to think for ourselves and not follow the masses into oblivion. We would recognize basic human rights and value fairness and balance among all social classes. Instead, we rely on the government to tell us how things should be, when the leaders of our nation hardly know better than ourselves. We give these leaders power over us, though they are born no better than we are. Worst of all, we don’t question them. We settle. Because that’s the way things are.

Parsons and Goldman envisioned a world where we would all work together and help one another in a free society. Is this a realistic goal in a world plagued by greed, self-absorption and jealousy? Perhaps not, but we could at least work toward a more balanced society. Our nation was founded on the idea of freedom, why not keep it that way?

(For more information, see Voices of Revolution by Rodger Streitmatter, Chapter 7).