[Blogger’s note: a little explanation to the structure and content of this posting …
COM580A: Final exam
Due: 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Pin to the top of your course blog. I would recommend writing and editing in Word, then pasting your response into WordPress.
– Elon’s iMedia program is sponsoring a Media Issues Symposium titled “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?” featuring Robert McChesney, Ken Auletta, Daniel Solove and Jonathan Zittrain.
1) For each panelist, outline his opening remarks.
2) You have been chosen as a moderator for the event. Critique two of the panelists’ remarks, drawing upon your own expertise and other perspectives on their topics.
If you want to get in groups to discuss the question, fine, but your writing must be your own. Cite other evidence (Zittrain, 245).]
In an effort to encapsulate and present some of the issues us new iMedia folks may likely face as we embark on our new professions, a hypothetical. We assembled the best and brightest when it comes to analyzing media – Robert McChesney, Ken Auletta, Daniel Solove and Jonathan Zittrain – to participate in the inaugural Media Issues Symposium “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?” (sponsored by the charter class of Elon University’s new Master’s in Interactive Media program). In the interest of time and space, I’ll quickly summarize each panelists opening remarks.
Robert McChesney: (commercialism/capitalism/neoliberalism and the media, our democracy)
Per usual, Mr. McChesney is trumpeting the decline of journalism in the United States at the hands of neoliberalism. He lays the blame for the current sorry state of American journalism at the feet of capitalist system in which the U.S. media operate. By relying so heavily on the steady stream of outside funds to keep it operating, journalism has all but killed it’s claim of ‘professionalism’ instead giving way to an inherently corrupt system. The ‘too-close-for-comfort’ link between the advertisers/business interest of journalism and the editorial content interest of journalism has irretrievably opened the content to manipulation, bias and erosion to the lowest common denominator. On that point, because journalism is a business and has had to worry about keeping readers and staying in the black, quality, hard-hitting, investigative journalism has slowly been abandoned for lighter, more sensational, celebrity rumor and tabloid-style entertainment ‘news’ to attract the most people possible.
The other piece of McChesney’s argument is that this decline in journalism is threatening our freedom and democracy. As he explains – “One of the ironies of neoliberalism – as manifested in the Bush-Cheney variant – is that its contempt for government (and much professed love for the wisdom of private citizens) does not extend to encouraging the citizenry to have much of a clue of what the government is doing in its name” (McChesney, 39). The neoliberal system, where market forces reign supreme, is inherently anti-government and pro-people, but its pro-people feeling does compel it to inform the people about what their government is doing – something essential for a functioning, healthy democracy. Because, in his view, a solid press practicing quality journalism is essential to a democratic and free society, the solution is to have the press government funded – vouchers to publicly subsidize the media/journalism. He contends that there has always been some form of subsidy for the newspapers/press – most of it being in the form of postal and printing subsidies. For the sake of our democracy, the security of our freedom and the future of our country, a press that engages in hard news/investigative journalism (often the most expensive, kind with a narrow appeal) is essential, so the government should have a role in supporting the system, ensuring its survival.
Ken Auletta: (information, business and trust)
Auletta comes to the panel representing arguably the biggest player in the new media landscape, Google. Started by a pair of engineers (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) with a simple question – why? As engineers, their first inclination is to look at the way things are as inefficient. Keeping the focus on the user and their experience, zeroing in on the process, particularly by asking things like why it is done this way; how it can be done differently to make it more efficient and what can we do to improve the user experience – that is what is at the heart of Google and their mission.
Key to the success of Google is the degree of trust the user has in the company. Following their mission of “Don’t Be Evil” and always acting in the best interests of the user/public, Google needs its users to believe that about them, that Google is trustworthy. By trusting them with your information – your search queries, e-mails, documents, maps and directions, etc. – they can make the user experience virtually seamless, and that is what Google is striving for. “Thinking that ‘your customer or users are always right, and your goal is to build systems that work for them in a natural way, is a good attitude to have …. You can replace the system. You can’t replace the user” (Auletta, 38). Ultimately, the Internet is free and should be about providing information to people – get the user to what they want as quickly as possible. Through Google search and the rest of the ‘Google Suite’ of programs, they want to open up the Internet and its vast amounts of information to everyone, because that is the right thing to do – making the Internet better, more efficient, more valuable to the user.
Daniel Solove: (privacy and reputation)
Mr. Solove was brought to the panel to address the growing concerns about privacy and personal information as we move toward a more online and connected life. Both the shifting nature of media and the growth of the Internet as the primary means of interaction have left legal protections of privacy and reputation lagging behind those technological developments. Antiquated notions of privacy being an either/or proposition is not fit to cover such concerns when it comes to the Internet. Just because something happens in public doesn’t mean its claim to privacy is voided.
Back in the day, if word got out about something foolish that you had done, or if someone started a negative rumor about you or one of your skeletons got out of the closet, the potential reach of that information was minimal. More often than not, the people hearing the information knew you personally, making judgment of the validity and importance of the information all the easier. Over time, the information faded from the minds and lips of your fellow villagers, their attention moving on to the next interesting topic. Yet, in the era of the Internet, the information doesn’t fade away. Every faux pas, youthful indiscretion, false rumor and juicy piece of gossip is immortalized in the annals of Internet browser histories, forever smudging your good name.
Solove suggests a structure to the legal protection that makes a lawsuit the last resort, instead promoting dispute resolution between the parties involved before bringing the issue to court. Having mechanisms in place to handle claims of privacy invasion without involving the court system – either in the laws themselves or at the level of the individual websites – could help bridge the gap in privacy and reputation protection. There is a need to strike a delicate balance between the freewheeling, wild west mentality of the Internet, where free speech reigns supreme and the standards and practices of everyday life, where people depend upon and expect some level of order, the ability to control at least some pieces of their lives.
Jonathan Zittrain: (generativity vs. locked devices)
Mr. Zittrain was brought to the panel to tell us why the iPad will destroy the Internet. The iPad and other devices like it – non-generative, closed systems, tethered to a central manufacturer/controller – are replacing the open source, open destination, generative nature of the Internet. And that replacement is at the expense of innovation, creativity and development.
Of course, there are pluses and minuses to each. Keeping things open and generative keeps with the original spirit of the Internet, yet the price of that openness is risking exposure to viruses, malware and bad code that could potentially wreak havoc on one’s personal computer or the Internet as a whole. The reverse is the case with a closed, non-generative set-up. There is greater protection against the evils of the Internet, but at the expense of openness, creativity and innovation.
The general consensus is a balance between the two systems. Not everyone will be comfortable with abdicating control to a central organization. Not everyone will be comfortable with everything being wide-open. The key is going to be striking that balance to keep the generative spirit alive while addressing the security concerns.
As the hypothetical moderator of this panel, a moment to critique and examine a pair of the panelists comments …
Up first, Daniel Solove …
Having personally done some research into the issue of privacy, I can’t help but concur with Mr. Solove’s remarks. One of the main tenets that came from my future of privacy research is the shift in ideology from efforts to keep your information secret to being able to control your information. With an increasing amount of our lives being lived online, an increasing amount of ourselves is residing online, leaving us more vulnerable than ever before.
Given the nature of the Internet and online mechanics, once something is out there, it is out there for good. It appears to be that the redefinition of privacy as control over your own information is emerging as the possible operating concept of privacy in the technological future. “Privacy can be violated not just be revealing previously concealed secrets, but by increasing the accessibility to information already available. The desire for privacy is thus much more granular than the current binary model recognizes. Privacy involves degrees, not absolutes. It involves establishing control over person information, not merely keeping it completely secret” (Solove 170).
Take for instance any of the multiple privacy debates centering on social networking sites like Facebook and reframe them in terms of control over information. When users post their information online, they set the privacy parameters on who gets to see what information. A stranger gaining access to your information strips that control from the user – they no longer dictate how their information is viewed and shared, they’ve lost control over their online lives. Currently there aren’t adequate measures in place to address the permanent nature of information once it goes online – can’t put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. Far too often, the behaviors of those who post and share online are viewed in the either/or privacy world – well, they put it online … obviously privacy is not a concern for them. That unfortunately is not necessarily the case. There needs to be a fundamental shift in looking at privacy on a graduated scale with levels of control, not so much being secret vs. being known.
Ultimately, it comes down to control. The notion that privacy equals secrecy doesn’t fit in today’s connected and networked world. Information is going to get out, either by your own hand or by someone else’s – friend or foe. Going forward, mechanisms need to be in place for people to control access to their information. Those mechanisms can be a simple as privacy settings on an individual website or as involved as legal means to maintain control over your personal information.
[As an aside, Solove’s suggestion of a system where the lawsuit is the last resort is one I found particularly interesting. The notion of placing the emphasis on dispute resolution, encouraging the people involved to work out a solution before bringing the issue to court is a solution I hadn’t encountered it in my previous research. I believe it is an intriguing concept, one that may be a bit too far outside the box to gain any traction for the time being. As we move forward, this solution may get another look.]
And of course, Robert McChesney…
So, let’s see … the neoliberal, capitalist system in which the American main stream media lives is killing the press and taking our democracy with it. The press isn’t dying, its just going through a metamorphosis, and our democracy isn’t going anywhere either.
[Before we go any further, it may be beneficial to define neoliberalism according to McChesney – “Neoliberalism, put crudely, refers to the doctrine that profits should rule as much of social life as possible, and anything that gets in the way of profit making is suspect, if not condemned” (McChesney, 15).
OK, so maybe by relying almost exclusively on outside funds (advertising) to survive, journalism in the US has all but killed it’s claim of ‘professionalism’ mutating it into a flawed system where money buys power and influence. Since the very life of the papers/journalism is so tied to the advertisers and the business side of journalism, the content side of journalism is totally vulnerable to manipulation, bias and pandering to the masses. So McChesney’s assertion that quality journalism (the kind necessary for a healthy democracy) is being abandoned for lighter, more sensational fare on its face seems to be true. Yet, one can get into a highly circular ‘which-came-first’ argument about reasons behind this shift. McChesney seems to lay the blame for the decline of journalism at the feet of the capitalism. The system that formed our media structure – regulation and capitalism – is the very thing causing its demise. That system has desensitized the audience so much that they wouldn’t know quality journalism if it hit them upside the head. On the other hand, is the audience responsible, as in being uneducated or apathetic, so journalism is merely providing what the audience wants with the lighter, tabloid-esque content?
The bottom line is well … the bottom line. The business of media requires money and that money has to come from somewhere – be it advertisers, companies and corporations or the government. Someone is always going to be holding the purse strings. And because of that, there will always be the risk of that monetary control turning into editorial influence. It seems to be that there has to be a middle ground, a place to find the answer, between the McChesney ‘capitalism is destroying the media and in turn, our democracy’ and Gordon Gekko from Wall Street “the point is… that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Finding that balance point, that middle ground, will be the key to keeping the journalism ‘vital for our democracy’ alive and well.