Bloggers were the big media story of 2004. Journalists have taken notice. Here's hoping we keep each other honest.
UNC journalism professor Philip Meyer wrote a piece in USA Today on Jan. 17 that says journalism isn't falling apart, but "taking a new form"--and bringing humility to the newsroom. The journalism scandals of the past year, particularly memogate over at CBS, demonstrate not that journalistic standards have sunk, but that there is a "new transparency." Publishing unverified information is, in fact, an old investigative reporting trick, a smoke-them-out-of-their-holes approach that sometimes yields confirmations and new sources. It's far less palatable to readers today, however. "Before the Internet... journalists could get away with more because they weren't watched as closely," Meyer notes. Bloggers can also set the agenda of what's news, and that could be a good thing.
A Harvard conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility brought together the biggest names from the mainstream media and the blog world to hash out old media/new media concerns last month.
Jack Shafer of Slate, one of the original online publications, came away a little disgusted with the "preening" of bloggers who predict the demise of the mainstream media and underestimate the online habits of journalists. In his Jan. 26 column, Shafer pointed out that what he's been doing since 1996 is a lot like what bloggers do; he just gets paid for it. "The biggest difference between me and conventional bloggers is that I usually pause between first thought and posting." Meow. Shafer says "the alleged divide between the old media and this new whippersnapper media of blogs has never seemed real to me."
But Jay Rosen, one of the big thinkers of the blogosphere (how long before that term sounds ridiculously dated?), fired back, saying that Shafer misrepresented what the bloggers had to say. "Bloggers versus journalists is over," Rosen says, and he links to an essay with that very title which he presented at the conference. So do they agree? Can't tell.
Meanwhile, the ranks of Triangle bloggers are growing by leaps and bounds. On Saturday, Feb. 12, ibiblio and the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication will host the second annual Triangle Bloggers Conference. Organizer Anton Zuiker, a fellow in journalism and public health, says the list of participants is 82 and counting and represents a healthy mix from the Triangle and the Triad. "Some blog about technology, others about music, others about family and kids; about a dozen are journalists or journalism educators," he says. "I'm striving for dialogue, and will moderate it like other bloggercons across the country that have been open forums, in which conversation and ideas flow one to the other. Our Triangle Bloggercon will give people a chance to meet face-to-face--that's the delicious irony of blogging and online communities," he adds. "We seem to jump at a chance to meet in the analog world."
Building community--both online and offline--is the theme of the conference. Zuiker hopes the Triangle will develop the kind of community that's been going strong in the Greensboro area.
The conference is free and open to the public. It starts at 9 a.m. and officially ends at 12:30 p.m., though conversations are sure to follow at Franklin Street eateries. Special guest Dan Gillmor, a blogger from the Bay Area who's become an evangelist for grassroots journalism, will also give a free public presentation on Monday, Feb. 14, at 3:30 p.m. in Carroll Hall at UNC-CH. Go to Zuiker's blog, mistersugar.com, for conference info. Tear it up Wired Magazine and Creative Commons have launched a contest that dares music makers to steal. Well, not really steal. The November issue of Wired included a CD of music by the Beastie Boys, Zap Mama, Spoon, Le Tigre, Paul Westerberg and Chuck D. Each song on "The Wired CD: Rip. Mix. Sample. Mash. Share." is licensed under one of two Creative Commons licenses: "Sampling Plus," which allows noncommercial sharing and commercial sampling, but restricts advertising uses, and "Noncommercial Sampling Plus," which allows noncommercial sharing and noncommercial sampling. You can freely download these songs at the contest Web site: ccmixter.org/contests/wired. It's a good album.
You can make something new by building on the work of others. That's the big idea, and the contest aims to illustrate that by inviting music producers, deejays, composers--anyone--to do more than listen. The "Freestyle Mix" contest invites original works made from samples of 15 songs on the CD. The top 11 entries will go on the follow-up CD, "Ripped. Mixed. Sampled. Mashed. Shared." which will be promoted at this year's South by Southwest music festival, the M3 Music Summit, the World Social Forum and the Creative Commons Web site (creativecommons.org). Even more interesting is the "Militia Mix" contest, which offers up the track "No Meaning No" by Chuck D and the Fine Arts Militia. The single best entry sampling it will go on the Militia's next album. The deadline for both is Feb. 12.
A winner in the "Moving Image Contest" sponsored by Duke Law School's Center for the Study of the Public Domain was announced at a screening two weeks ago. Organizers Jennifer Jenkins and James Boyle, both law professors who work on creative solutions to intellectual property issues, showed the top five short films in a contest challenging filmmakers to illustrate the problems they face when trying to navigate the legal maze of intellectual property law in getting their films produced, edited and distributed.
The winner was Duke undergrad Daniel Love, whose short film Powerful Pictures looked at the difficulties of clearing the right to use images from the Civil Rights Movement--protestors sprayed with fire-hoses and attacked by police dogs, footage of MLK's historical speeches--and the threat this poses to the preservation of our vital history.
My personal favorite was the strange and amusing Music for Our Grandchildren by Alek and Kuba Tarkowski of Poland, in which black-and-white cartoon children bemoan the effect outrageous copyright laws and entertainment industry lawsuits will have on the music of the future. You can watch all of the finalists' short films at www.law.duke.edu/cspd/contest/finalists.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out
Michael Powell's exit from the Federal Communications Commission is a scrap of good news as Bush's second-term administration changes over. The press has already written the epitaph on Powell's chairmanship of the regulatory board: As an extreme anti-indecency, anti-regulatory crusader, he fought for big business interests at the expense of consumers and competition, and made a mountain out of an exposed nipple.
More good news: Powell's major accomplishment turned out to be a failure. Last week, the Bush administration and the FCC announced they would not appeal a federal court decision to hold off loosened media ownership rules that the commission passed in the face of massive protest in 2003. If you are one of those who protested, give yourself a hand.
But who's the next FCC chair? One of the two leading candidates is Kevin Martin, a Republican FCC commissioner from Charlotte who occasionally breaks with the party line. But he's even more hell-bent on stopping indecent broadcasts (a category that's as vague as it sounds) than Powell was. The other is Becky Klein, a former chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission. No one expected her to win her run for Congress last year, but the generous campaign contributions she accepted from telecom companies suggests that many expected her to take the reins at the FCC. Gee, do you think she and W. ever ran into each other when he was governor?
Leadership on the FCC matters because a lot is changing right now. Besides the ongoing consolidation of media companies, new technologies--from digital TV to cellular broadband Internet service--are shaking up the way we use the broadcast spectrum, and the FCC will be handing out access to airwaves that, nominally at least, still belong to the public. At least Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein still believe in that idea.