The Izzy’s

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Izzy Awards at Ithaca College, where Naomi Klein and David Sirota were honored for their exemplary contributions to independent journalism. Klein was honored for her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and Sirota was honored for his series of exposes on corruption within the U.S. pension system.

The Izzy Award was named after I. F. Stone, a muckraking journalist and legendary independent journalist.

As a senior journalism student, it was really exciting to go to the Izzy’s because both Sirota and Klein made comments about journalism that made my career options look a little less bleak. Sirota said, “News is not journalism” and he made the distinction between reporting on a press release and digging for a story. He made an interesting point and I can agree with him not all news is journalism, simply restating something doesn’t make it journalism, it can be news, but that doesn’t make it journalism. He also told the audience that as a journalist you don’t have to “hit a home run every time,” that it is perfectly fine if your articles don’t always make a huge impact or create an important discussion every time. I just really appreciated how Sirota took a moment to recognize that not every story has to be a big scoop.

Klein’s speech had a number of fantastic one liners, and of course I took notes. She discussed the importance of “looking for the dirt behind the shine” and how important it is to make sure your stories are accurate. Klein discussed how journalism is more than just telling a story, its using the facts to start a conversation with the wider public. She joked about the traditional journalistic values like objectivity and how objectivity is used to quiet an argument. “Objectivity mean I object to your activity,” Klein said. I think one of the most important comments Klein made last night was about how she became an independent journalist. She said that her work involved a great deal of digging and a passion for the subject and because main stream media outlets don’t allow journalists to care about the issues, they have to become independents in order to be free to report passionately. That point really resonated with me.

It was great to hear someone speak about journalism as something other than a declining field, so thank you to both Naomi Klein and David Sirota for your dedicated journalism and your inspiring words.

Corporate Internet Complaints

In an age where people can not only work, socialize and shop online is it really surprising that the public was outraged by the fight for net neutrality. As I have discussed in previous blogs, the internet can act as someone’s livelihood, so when the public began flooding the FCC’s website with comments on the FCC’s proposed plan to allow online companies to pay more for “internet fast lanes” caused the website to crash.

The FCC plan essentially made it so very few would have access to faster internet that would only benefit the wealthier corporations. “This portends a future Internet where the 1% get to drive on the fast lane and the 99% are left in the slow lane,” warned Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner. In an time where corporations are given the same rights as people, it’s not really surprising to see that the government was willing to benefit big business.

Interestingly enough American internet is not great. American internet users will tell you the its not great but when compared on an international scale, the U.S. is looking pretty lousy. According to this study, the U.S. is ranked at a measly 31 for internet download speeds, even Estonia is faster than the U.S. American upload speeds are even more depressing, Lesotho is faster than the U.S.

Americans can blame corporations for their internet lags and the never ending loading circle of doom. Susan Crawford argues that “huge telecommunication companies” such as Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, and AT&T have “divided up markets and put themselves in a position where they’re subject to no competition.” Without this competition the big internet providers can provide subpar internet service and without a better alternative consumers are expected to just deal with it.

 “We deregulated high-speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we’ve seen enormous consolidation and monopolies… Left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight,” Crawford said. 

Why is this continuing to happen? Why haven’t American internet users rose up to claim their better internet? Maybe they’re used to it. Maybe they’re unaware of how U.S. internet ranks internationally. Maybe they don’t expect America to be number one for anything other than incarceration rates. I really don’t know, but perhaps if the corporations were more regulated than U.S. internet could be better. Like the Newsroom clip I included in this article states, “America is not the best, but it could be” (I’m linking it again because I really enjoy the Newsroom).

The Art of Being Informed

Being an informed citizen is an art form. It involves a willingness to utilize multiple news outlets in order to get a fuller grasp on a story. It also involves not blindly trusting everything you come across when you’re flipping through headlines. I’m saying this because the media is not infallible, it often falls prey to band-wagoning the news. By band-wagoning I mean that main stream media outlets will often just report what has been reported and will attribute the content to the outlet that broke the story without conducting their own reporting on the issue.

This tactic has occurred many times, for instance the Drudge Report posted an article claiming that Bill Clinton had an illegitimate child with a prostitute in Arkansas. After Drudge reported on the potential paternity claims, other news outlets followed suit. When the paternity claim turned out to be false, Drudge refused to acknowledge that he had misreported the story.

When Shirley Sherrod was accused of being racist and denying help to a farmer because of their race, the media had a field day in misreporting the news. The story first broke on a blog and ended up on all the major network news shows with reporters referring to Sherrod as a racist and with those closely associated to Fox News calling for her resignation. After the farmer in question spoke out and said Sherrod had helped her, the media tried to back peddle and attribute the blame to the blog they lifted the story from.

So where is the public supposed to turn for news if the media can and sometimes does distribute misinformation? I would say that the public needs to learn to take their news with a grain of salt, that they need to question what they read and that they should depend on several outlets for information instead of just one or two. The public should also take stock of what they’re hearing/reading – if CNN is the only outlet reporting that a suspect has been captured, but no one else in confirming it, then maybe CNN got it wrong (like they did with the Boston Marathon). If multiple news outlets are reporting the same story, but its the exact same story from the same person being reported everywhere, take the time to question why these outlets haven’t taken any steps toward publishing any original reporting with this issue.

The people who operate within the media are actually humans, they mess up. It is the public’s choice to determine whether or not they’re going to blindly believe whatever the media reports. Take the initiative to see what different organizations are saying, don’t be a sheep and just take one outlet’s word for every story. If you do that, you’re only going to get a piece of the puzzle instead of the whole picture.

Citizens Breaking News

Citizen journalism is a sticky subject, when you speak to individuals who have studied journalism there is a tendency to have a sense of hostility toward citizen journalists. Citizen journalists are viewed as useful, but also as outsiders because they lack formal training or exposure to the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics. They are private citizens that predominately write online and they tend to get picked on by the mainstream media because they are seen as lesser journalists.

Despite this hostility, citizen journalists are just as capable of breaking big stories as any other journalist. Mayhill Fowler is a citizen journalist that broke two major stories during the 2008 campaign trail for the Huffington Post. She wrote about elitist comments Obama made at a closed event and snagged a fantastic rant from Bill Clinton where Clinton spewed vitriol about a Vanity Fair writer, Todd Purdum. Fowler would not have been able to get either of these stories if she wasn’t a citizen journalist. She was able to get the Obama quote because she was at an event for Obama supporters and was in attendance as a donor to his campaign. She was able to get the Clinton rant on tape because he just assumed she was a Clinton supporter and was being open and conversational with her.

Fowler managed to break these huge stories because she didn’t have major press credentials, because she was seen as a citizen and not as a threatening reporter. She was able to slip in and get the stories because she wasn’t viewed as a professional journalist.

Objectivity Vs. Transparency

Let me begin by making my opinion known – I don’t think a journalist can ever be 100 percent objective when they are reporting on an issue, they can be balanced and they can be transparent, but they cannot be completely objective. (<– Oh look an example of transparency)

As a journalism student I have had it drilled into my head a thousand times over that a good journalist must write objectively. The problem with this is that people have opinions and journalists as people (I know, weird right?) are going to have a certain perspective on whatever they’re reporting on. That’s not to say they can’t craft a balanced story, but presenting all of the arguments in a story is not going to make the article objective. It makes it balanced. I believe that if a story is balanced and the journalist is transparent with their opinions about the issue they are reporting on then their work is acceptable. It’s not realistic to believe in the traditional echo of objectivity in an age where information is so readily accessible.

According to this article, “transparency is the new objectivity” within journalism. This blogger, suggests that with the rise of the Internet and the usage of links to support different claims that the media’s transparency is becoming more important than their objectivity.

David Carr (a fantastic journalist) wrote an article where he argues that the line between a journalist and an activist is blurred. He makes the point that this blurring is acceptable as long as the journalist is transparent, that they make it crystal clear where they stand with the issue they are reporting on.Carr makes the point that as long as the reporting is working to reveal the truth and as long as the truth is brought to light the reporter’s ideology is not as important.

“Journalists are responsible for following the truth wherever it may guide them. Both Ms. Gibson and Mr. Greenwald said that they would quickly follow the Snowden story even if it led to something that questioned his motives or diminished his credibility. But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.” So what really should be asked here is: can the journalistic activists report the truth even if it negatively impacts their cause?

Profiting From the Internet

Be honest, at some point in your life you’ve probably watched a video that has gone viral on YouTube. It could be anything, it could be one of those cat in a box videos or an online comedian or even a music video. With the expansion of the Internet people are actually able to make money off the videos they post to platforms like YouTube.

According to this article from The New York Times people are able to make a living off of their online videos and no longer need to work because their income is funded by their online videos. It’s great. People are able to make a living by creating engaging videos, but how long can they keep that up for? Well, if the video posters are Internet savvy they manage to maintain their audience and increase it by adapting and keeping up with online trends. For example, Hannah Hart the creator of the “My Drunk Kitchen” videos went from just trying to cook while she got comically drunk to including other YouTube sensations in her videos. From there she has gone on to act in movies like Camp Takota and is supposed to star in a re-boot of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Hart went from making silly videos in her kitchen to acting for Hollywood. That’s a really cool way to start a career and it also reveals how powerful the Internet can be.

While making money from the Internet seems great, there can be some down sides as illustrated through the backlash Arianna Huffington received after she sold The Huffington Post to AOL. She was called a “sellout” and has been widely criticized for profiting from the work of her unpaid bloggers that contribute content to the site. In fairness, she should have been paying her bloggers since they were creating the content and driving people toward the website.

So while some people like Hannah Hart are supported for profiting from their online content, others like Huffington (who founded HuffPo) are criticized and seen as selling out because they tried to make a profit.

How free are we on Google?

We live in an internet age so people might think that we live in an age where censorship is limited to the corporate media and that what is said on the internet is fair game (legally speaking, i.e don’t slander). Unfortunately that is not the case as the internet is dominated by search engines that are linked to larger corporations.

Look at Google. The internet is rather fond of the search engine. Google has become such a dominant part of the internet age that the search engine is used as a verb. “Go Google it.” While Google tends to be the search engine of choice, it could be argued that it has too much power.

In 2008 Google cut the Inner City Press’s news stories from their Google News page. Why were the stories buried? The Inner City Press was reporting upon corruption in the United Nations. Matthew Lee, founder of the website said, “I think they said, ‘If we can’t get this guy out of the U.N., let’s disappear him from the Internet.” The Fox News story that published the Inner City Press story said Lee received a letter from Google that the search engine would no longer include Lee’s stories in Google News due to complaints they received about the website.

That same year Google China removed Guo Quan’s name from Google search results. He is a Chinese professor who often writes critically about the Communist government in China. After realizing he was being blocked from Google and Yahoo’s search engine results he decided to sue both search engines for denying him his rights.

Mr Guo said that he could not sue Google or Yahoo! in China since they have no formal legal identity, but he would press his lawsuits against the parent companies in the United States. “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.

“They have violated my political rights. I am opposed to violence and dictatorship but these sites have blocked me.”

In 2010 Google came under fire again for agreeing to obey the Chinese government’s censorship demands. In accordance with these laws, Google China cannot link to any material that could be deemed a threat to national or social security.

So what aren’t we finding when we type in a quick search to Google? Should we be utilizing multiple search engines to optimize our results the same way we should rely on multiple news outlets to get a fuller picture of what is happening?