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Tale of Two News Feeds

30 January 2011 | Category: Headlines, Internet, Media

Protests in Egypt continue to make headlines across the globe today, but not everyone is getting the same story. Take a look at this morning's (8:00am CDT) top story from the web feeds of two leading news agencies on opposite sides of the Atlantic: the AP in the United States, and the BBC in the United Kingdom.

AP "Top Headlines" Feed (archived | live):

Gangs free militants, foreigners try to flee Egypt
"Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn Sunday, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates as police vanished from the streets of Cairo and other cities." (article)

BBC "Top Stories" Feed (archived | live):

Protesters dominate central Cairo
"Anti-government protesters take over the centre of the Egyptian capital Cairo, as armed citizens' groups form to counter widespread looting." (article)

These stories naturally each go on at length, but I've only copied the headline and summary broadcast by each organization's RSS/Atom feed. Often, this is all that subscribers glance at anyway.

Although both reports are rooted in fact, the difference in emphasis is startling. The AP headline, "Gangs free militants, foreigners try to flee Egypt," stresses chaos, danger, and crime. The less sensational BBC headline, "Protesters dominate central Cairo," stresses the scope of protest — a human right. You might say that the BBC emphasizes "civil" and the AP emphasizes "disobedience."

The summaries show even more contrast. The AP raises the familiar American terror of "Muslim militants" freed by "gangs of armed men", whereas the BBC recognizes "armed citizens' groups." These are not instances of using different terms to refer to the same thing; the focus is on different facts altogether. The facts are, however, related: the AP establishes that "police vanished from the streets," stressing a descent into chaos, while the BBC confirms that "citizens' groups form to counter widespread looting," stressing the people's positive attempts to maintain order.

What I've described is only one isolated example of the disparate perspectives that can arise between two supposedly neutral and objective news agencies. The Internet's deleterious effects on our attention spans might exaggerate these differences, for when news writers compress complicated stories into one-sentence blurbs for syndication, they're likely to concentrate their biases too. Thankfully, the Internet also provides readers with mechanisms for dealing with bias: we can subscribe to a dozen feeds like this from around the world and gain diverse perspectives on every issue, we can click "read more" for the full story, and we can discuss the news on blogs or social networks. The Internet gives us more tools for making sense of the world than ever before — and more reason to use the tools it gives us.

Posted By: Joshua | 2 Comments »

Media Management: The Pentagon & WikiLeaks

18 October 2010 | Category: Headlines, Media

Recent publicity suggests that the Pentagon is in the midst of a P.R. campaign to shape media coverage in advance of an imminently expected release of secret Iraq War documents from the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

Founded in 2006, Wikileaks became a household name in April 2010 when it released classified video footage of U.S. troops firing unprovoked at Reuters journalists and even children from an Apache helicopter in Iraq. In July, WikiLeaks followed by publishing the Afghan War Diary, a cache of tens of thousands of reports on military incidents during the War in Afghanistan.

U.S. Military representatives criticized WikiLeaks over these releases, declaring them a security risk and even suggesting that WikiLeaks "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family." WikiLeaks and its supporters have countered that the Pentagon certainly has blood on its hands, and that the documents may even help save lives by prompting public discussion about bringing an end to America's ongoing wars.

Now WikiLeaks is preparing to release a new and even larger set of documents pertaining to the Iraq War. The leak is widely expected this week and may come as early as today. Interestingly, the Pentagon appears to have engaged in a preemptive public relations campaign over the weekend to try and shape press coverage in advance of the release. If so, it's a fascinating example example of government media management.

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Posted By: Joshua | 1 Comment »

Must See: The Most Dangerous Man in America

5 October 2010 | Category: Media

I'm not typically one to rave about TV shows. I cannot help but make an exception for The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It airs this week on PBS, and is available to watch online until October 27.

The Most Dangerous Man in America is narrated by Daniel Ellsberg, a senior U.S. military strategist during the Vietnam War. In his own words, Ellsberg reveals how he became so disenchanted with the Vietnam War that in 1971 he leaked 43 volumes of classified documents — the "Pentagon Papers" — to expose how U.S. officials had systematically lied to the public about the conflict. Ellsberg's action infuriated the Nixon White House, and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America" for divulging the top secret files. Ultimately, Ellsberg's act of civil disobedience led towards the end of the Vietnam War and the disgraced resignation of President Nixon.

Watch The Trailer

I've already seen this film on video, and I can't praise it enough. Ellsberg's story is a highly inspirational example of standing up to tell the truth in the face of grave threats to one's job, reputation, and freedom. You don't have to take my word for the quality — the film has already been nominated for an Academy Award.

The feature-length documentary will air as part of the POV (Point of View) series on PBS, beginning tonight (October 5, 2010) in most markets. The Most Dangerous Man in America will be on Wisconsin Public Television tonight, October 5, at 7:00pm. WPT will broadcast a repeat of the program on Friday, October 8, at 9:00pm.

You can also watch the film online for free at the PBS POV website, but only from October 6 to October 27, 2010. The documentary is also for sale at its official site, Do not miss it!

Posted By: Joshua | 1 Comment »

Copyright and Copyleft

17 September 2010 | Category: Internet, Media
The Copyright Symbol (The letter C enclosed in a full circle).

The Copyright Symbol

We live in an Information Age. The laws that govern how people use, share, and interact with information are more deeply entwined with daily life now than ever before. As citizens of this era, we have a duty to understand these laws, their applicability, and their problems — and we can profit by our knowledge. Whether we like it or not, copyright law is as fundamental to life in the Information Age as the right to free speech. Like free speech, copyrights in America have a basis in the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Congress used its power to enact Title 17 of the United States Code, which deals with copyright law. Unlike the right to free speech, however, copyright law is far from commonly understood.

At its simplest, a copyright is the right to copy, modify, and/or distribute a piece of information. That information could be a painting, a film, a software program, a textbook, an email, or any number of other things. As the U.S. Constitution stipulates, it is also an "exclusive right." Copyright law in the United States essentially states that the only person who has the right to copy, modify, and/or distribute an original work is the person who created that work. Anyone else who wishes to copy, modify, or distribute a copyrighted work must get permission from the copyright holder, or they can face legal repercussions. Copyright holders can demand special conditions or royalty payments in exchange for sharing their rights with others. This much, I hope, is common knowledge.

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts...

Excerpt from the U.S. Constitution laying the basis for copyrights.

The purpose for copyrights, as the Constitution puts it, is "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." Giving authors the sole right to copy and distribute their creations gives them an incentive to create, for if anybody could copy works freely from the moment they were created, it would be very difficult for creators to earn any credit or rewards for their effort — and therefore, little reason to undertake the effort at all. Copyrights ensure that people have a reason to exercise their freedom of speech and push forward public knowledge and culture.

At the same time, excessive copyright exclusivity can hamper progress. Restrictions on copying, changing, or distributing original works could bring the flow of information to a standstill, or limit the spread of information to elite circles. Those things would hardly be good for a democracy. As a result, the U.S. Constitution stipulated that the exclusive rights that Congress could grant to authors were "limited." They are limited in time, but they are also limited in terms of what kind of information can be copyrighted and by the "fair use" doctrine, which allows exceptions to copyright exclusivity in order to promote the fair flow of information. The result is that copyright law is far from straightforward — it is a balance between rights for creators and the rights of the public. Title 17 is today over 300 pages long. Here are some of the most crucial points of Copyright Law in the United States today: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted By: Joshua | 4 Comments »

Magazines & Newspapers in Crisis

14 January 2009 | Category: Headlines, Media

I learned a few weeks ago that PC Magazine, a periodical to which I have long subscribed, will no longer be delivered to my door. The magazine has ceased printing. It will still be published, but only online. I'm not especially bothered. It's certainly a bit sad to lose a magazine that shaped my attitude towards computers to the extent that I'm blogging at my own website today. Still, I'm subscribed to other magazines; my mailbox won't be empty. Besides, I have to acknowledge that I get most of my computing knowledge online now anyway.

The cause of PC Magazine's transformation is simple, and though it might seem appropriate for a magazine about computers to go all-digital, the real reason has less to do with innovation than it does with cost. A digital publication is far less expensive to produce than an ink and paper one, and PC Magazine's parent company, Ziff Davis Media, declared bankruptcy last spring. The reasons cited were declining subscriptions and lost advertising revenue. This isn't just one isolated magazine publisher falling to the wayside, however. The whole print media industry seems to be in the midst of a dramatic transformation.

Take the Christian Science Monitor, a paper well known for its independent focus on international issues. The Monitor reached its one hundredth anniversary last year only to announce in October that is planning to cease daily publication this spring. A weekly edition of the newspaper will still be printed, but daily reports will only be available online after April 2009.

Consider also the Detroit Free Press, the nation's twentieth largest newspaper by circulation, which declared in December that it will cease home-delivery of its daily papers early this year. The daily will still be available at newsstands and online, but home deliveries will only be made on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Why is this happening? "Economics," answers a FAQ page at the paper's website. "Advertising, including classified, is down. Costs are up. We are changing our model in order to survive in a world that has changed."

A look at newspaper publishers' share prices shows how dire their economic situation is. The Detroit Free Press is published by Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper company, which also owns the USA Today and Wisconsin papers like the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Appleton Post-Crescent. It's share price was $59.63 on January 9, 2007. Two years later, on January 9, 2009, it stood at $8.59—an 85.6% decline.

Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based national conglomerate whose local papers include the Wisconsin State Journal and La Crosse Tribune, has seen its shares fall from $30.32 to $0.53 over the same time frame. That's a decline of 98.3%.

Similarly, shares in the McClatchy Company have dropped from $41.09 to $1.47 during this two-year span, a decline of 96.4%. McClatchy's newspapers around the country include the Miami Herald and Sacremento Bee.

Most strikingly, the Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, declared bankruptcy this December. Only one year before, it had been purchased by investor Sam Zell for $34.00 per share—a total price tag then of $8.2 billion.

What's killing print media?

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Posted By: Joshua | 4 Comments »

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