Thursday, April 30, 2009

May 3: World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. On its website, the UN describes the purpose:
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on 3 May worldwide. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

While we're lucky to have a very free press in the U.S., people elsewhere are actively celebrating the day. It's a fun bit of trivia given some of our class discussions.

Update on Newspaper Woes

Here are a few more recent examples of newspapers facing problems:

The Baltimore Sun had to cut its newsroom staff by almost a third because of increasing costs. You can read more about the impact here.

A story in the LA Times mentioned that Independent News & Media, Ireland's major newspaper, is expected to default a $265 million debt after sales fell 11.8 percent because of the decline in circulation. The company is seeking a bailout.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Media Takes a Glance at its Navel

The New York Times ran an article on its website yesterday titled "How ABC Interview Shaped a Torture Debate." The article contrasts claims by an ex-CIA operative (broadcast by ABC in a report on interrogation in 2007) that waterboarding was effective with the information in a recently declassified Justice Department Memo. The article points out that the ex-CIA operative's claims got a lot of reverb in the media and helped shape the debate on torture, but also argue that his claims were false.

The article brings up a few important questions: To what extent can people rely on the media to use accurate information to guide public debate? We have looked at conditions under which the media has trouble reporting the full story accurately, but once the media has reported on a story how well can the media return to an issue and correct itself? If false or heavily slanted information is reported by the media and heavily influences public debate, can the media correct itself or is this left to media scholars several years down the road? In either case, what does this mean for how we remember the past and view the present?

This is also a good example of a self-referential media story (hence the title). An ABC interview and its subsequent media reverb is the subject of a New York Times news article.

Obama Coverage

From the Center for Media and Public Affairs (Lichter's outfit):

The media have given President Obama more coverage than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined and more positive coverage than either received at this point in their presidencies, according to a new study by researchers at George Mason and Chapman Universities. But the study also finds that Mr. Obama’s positive media image hasn’t precluded heavy criticism of his policies. Continue reading

Dumbest Photo Op Ever

And a CMC trustee becomes Keith Olbermann's worst person in the world:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Making the News

Interviews: The Classic Case of Manipulating Time Limits and Playing Head Games

The Ethics of Photoshopping a Shirtless Obama

The Washingtonian is generating a lot of buzz for featuring a shirtless pic of Obama on their cover. Here is an interesting discussion on photo ethics, prompted by the discovery that the paparazzi photo on the cover had been altered.

Said Leslie Milk, the magazine's lifestyle editor, "I know we changed the color of his suit to red, and dropped out the background." In the original photo the president is wearing a black suit and walking from what appears to be sliding glass doors leading to a living room. What also appears to be altered from the original image is the contrast and the color balance of the president's skin. On The Washingtonian's cover the sun striking Obama's chest makes him appear more golden, almost glistening.

In the world of news, that's unethical. The rule of thumb is, if you want to change what's in the photo, choose another photo. Making Obama into a man wearing brilliant red surfer trunks, instead of a more modest black pair, making the image more dramatic by having him walking out of darkness, and changing the exposure so he looks more gilded changes viewers' ideas about who the man is.

The cover shot:

The original shot:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Take-Home Final

CMC Government 115
Professor Pitney
20 April 2009

Take-Home Final

Answer one question from Part A and one from Part B.

Part A.

1. You lead a group of Claremont students who want more government aid. You may either:
a. Lobby Congress to increase Pell Grants; or
b. Lobby the California Legislature to maintain current levels of Cal Grants
Drawing upon what you have learned in this course (especially Salzman), do one of the following:
a. Lay out a plan for getting media attention for your cause. Consider logistics and the qualities that make a message effective.
b. Create a video news release in support of your position. Where would you send it? How would it advance your goal?

2. Drawing on everything else that you have learned in the course, write a postscript to the Salzman book that revises and extends its analysis. That is, what did he miss, botch, or fail to anticipate?

Part B.

1. Evaluate a proposed reform of the mass media. (See Iyengar & McGrady, chapter 11, Farnsworth & Lichter, chapter 6). Drawing on what you have learned in the course, identify both the costs and benefits of this reform. Would you support it? Explain.

2. Prof. Joseph Bessette has defined deliberation as reasoning on the merits of public policy. In recent years, have technological and organizational changes in the mass media improved or diminished the quality of deliberation on national issues?

  • Exams should be typed, stapled, double-spaced, and between six and seven pages long (including both answers). I will not read past the seventh page.
  • Cite your sources. You may use either endnotes or parenthetical references to a reference list. In either case, put your documentation in a standard format (e.g., Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style). The endnotes or reference sheet will not count against the page limit.
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return exams to me no later than May 6. Papers will drop a gradepoint for one day’s lateness, a letter grade after that. (Since the deadline for senior grades is noon on May 8, two days’ lateness will mean a failing grade for graduating seniors.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Senate to Hold Newspaper Hearings

HuffPost reports: Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin holding hearings on the state of the newspaper industry beginning May 6, 2009. This should be fun...

Going over the media's head

Americans also try to bypass the media and their representatives to directly contact Obama. A Times article describes the director of the White House Office of Correspondence, Mike Kelleher's, daily task of choosing 10 letters from the public for Obama to read. The Times reports that Obama takes the letters seriously and even responds to some of them with a handwritten note. Since the letters are intended to offer a sampling of what Americans are thinking, it would be interesting to learn more about how he chooses the letters. Apparently, so many letters are sent to Bo (the 1st dog), that the dog has a mailbox of his own in the White House.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

YouTube falling just like newspapers + Let's get rid of the WH press corps!

Slate parallels YouTube and Newspapers as both the new and the old try to maintain profitability:

Everyone knows that print newspapers are our generation's horse-and-buggy; in the most wired cities, they've been pummeled by competition from the Web. But it might surprise you to learn that one of the largest and most-celebrated new-media ventures is burning through cash at a rate that makes newspapers look like wise investments...

YouTube's troubles are surprisingly similar to those faced by newspapers. Just like your local daily, the company is struggling to sell enough in advertising to cover the enormous costs of storing and distributing its content. Newspapers have to pay to publish and deliver dead trees; YouTube has to pay for a gargantuan Internet connection to send videos to your computer and the millions of others who are demanding the most recent Dramatic Chipmunk mash-up.

Read the full article here.

Also, an interesting Op-Ed in the Washington Post today, Anna Marie Cox, of Air America says that we should get rid of the White House press corps. Cox argues that top journalistic talent is wasted in the WH press room, where scoops are simply "doled out."

Tea Parties

The GOP's decision to hold tea parties all over the country have been attracting the national press, because of their creative ideas. The tea parties are reminiscent of the Boston Tea Harbor events when people claimed "taxation without representation." This latest attempt by the GOP to highlight what they call excessive taxation and pork-barrel spending (which they deem lack of representation) has been very creative in its attempt to replicate a historical event.

Rahm Emmanuel does damage control

This weekend featured some interesting interaction between the White House and the media. The New York Times has pointed out that since Obama is out of the country, his aides are trying to influence the weekend news in his absence. At least one aide, Rahm Emmanuel, had to do some damage control after The New York Times ran an article yesterday (on the website), today (in the paper) expressing doubt as to whether Obama is willing to take strong stands on issues. On ABC's "This Week" George Stephanopoulos challenged Rahm Emmanuel to respond to the story. You can see his reaction here.

This is a good example of the back-and-forth that goes on between the media and the White House. Rahm has to do some damage control and try to prevent the NYT article from defining the frame through which the media analyzes Obama's first 100 days.

A little later on in Rahm's appearance on the show you can see him struggling to adhere to one of our mock press conference rules: do not embed the words of the question in your answer. You can see this especially well in his answer on bank nationalization (between 3-4 minutes before the end).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Canada YouTubes

This morning, millions of Americans woke up to discover that they were now Canadian citizens. An amendment to Canada's Citizenship Act reversed an old policy of forcing emigrants to renounce their Canadian citizenship.

To inform emigrants of their newfound dual citizenship, the Canadian government made expert use of YouTube. This online WSJ article has more detail, as well as the YouTube video. Aside from using new media, the Canadian government showed mastery of Salzman's news-making principles; press coverage generated by the ridiculous video is helping inform the public of their potential Canadian citizenship.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Absence of Malice

The clip I mentioned in class today:


Seek the Truth
Act Independently
Minimize Harm
Be Accountable

Citizen Journalists

The Huffington Post is using citizen journalists to cover the GOP tea parties in every state. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mark DeMarino Undercovers Bus Drivers Neglect

In this news article, the reporter, Mark DeMarino from the Cleveland Leader, uncovered through disguise that bus drivers were making stops to pick up girlfriends and do errands. If it weren't for undercover filming, this wouldn't have been revealed.

This article does not say exactly how he was undercover.

Saberi's Trial

A NYT article reports that American journalist Saberi's trial began in secret yesterday and that the verdict was expected within two weeks. A dual Iranian-US citizen, Saberi moved to Iran 6 years ago. She has worked for the BBC and NPR, but her press credentials were revoked 3 years ago. Saberi was initially arrested for working without press credentials, but she now faces the the very serious charge of spying for Washington.

The verdict could sour the positive turn that US-Iran relations have taken on the nuclear issue.

Life Imitates Class

Two back-to-back stories in the New York Times:

The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

In abandoning longstanding restrictions on the ability of Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to family members on the island, President Obama demonstrated Monday that he was willing to open the door toward greater engagement with Cuba
— but at this point, only a crack.

Bias, Ethics, and CMC Student Publications

I wouldn't normally post my own journalistic work on this blog, but the recent debate sparked by my piece in today's Port Side issue echoes exactly what we have been learning about media bias, ethics, and sources.

My article on conservatives at CMC focuses on the strained relationship between the Claremont Independent and the Port Side, whose opposing ideological views often breed mutual accusations of bias and inaccuracy. The Claremont Conservative responded to my article, claiming that my quoting the Port Side Editor-in-Chief violated journalistic ethics. I addressed these criticisms on the Port Side's blog, the Compass; to achieve a balanced portrayal of the relationship, I needed to quote our Editor-in-Chief in addition to both the Claremont Independent's Editor Emeritus and current Editor-in-Chief. The Claremont Conservative then tried to give me a lesson in "Ethics 101."

Throughout this ordeal, I kept thinking about how applicable our course is to real-life media politics, and I just wanted to share this experience as an example.

Monday, April 13, 2009

US Press Freedom Ranked 36th in 2008

When writing my paper last week, I came across an published on March 30, 2009 from The Nation (one of Pakistan's leading English newspapers) with the headline "US Ranked 36th Freest Press in World." This article caught my attention, and after having read it, I realized that the article was not written by The Nation reporters, rather, it was taken from other sources but published in The Nation (no mention of Pakistan's 152nd rank also was a clear indicator that The Nation reporters did not write this article). I did a Google search to find the actual report, and saw that the Huffington Post wrote an article on this back in October, when Reporters Without Borders first released the information. Pakistan was a bit late in revealing this to its readers. I could not find any major US publication that had an article discussing this information (talk about agenda setting!) Instead, a lot of foreign news sources and the AP covered the findings of Reporters without Borders.

Two reasons for US improvement in the ranking (2007 US ranked 48th) were:
- The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj
- The number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison.

One of the main takeaways Reporters Without Borders had in this report was the freedom of the press was oftentimes associated with the country's peacefulness.

Furthermore, this is relevant information given the discussion we are going to have on Wednesday regarding ethics in the media and press freedom.


Some bias is situational, that is, it stems from availability of information or natural affinity for certain sources (e.g., consider embeds and local news)

Liberal Media Bias
Conservative Media Bias?
Business Media Bias

Sunday, April 12, 2009

NYT Op-Ed on Getting News Online

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "The Daily Me," Nicholas Kristof discusses the effects of the increase in getting news online.

He argues that people who get their news online tend to stay away from arguments they disagree with, choosing instead to read only sources that reaffirm their opinions, whereas traditional media is more likely to expose people to opinions from the other side.  This is particularly harmful because it is just one more way in which Americans are becoming more insulated in like-minded groups.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two pioneers of the new media review the changing landscape

A great writeup by Arianna Huffington on the changing shape of the media, in a column appropriately titled "It's the Consumer, Stupid."
The key question is whether those of us working in the media (old and new) embrace and adapt to the radical changes brought about by the Internet or pretend that we can somehow hop into a journalistic Way Back Machine and return to a past that no longer exists and can't be resurrected.

The great upheaval the news industry is going through is the result of a perfect storm of transformative technology, the advent of Craigslist, generational shifts in the way people find and consume news, and the dire impact the economic crisis has had on advertising. And there is no question that, as the industry moves forward and we figure out the new rules of the road, there will be -- and needs to be -- a great deal of experimentation with new revenue models.

But what won't work -- what can't work -- is to act like the last 15 years never happened, that we are still operating in the old content economy as opposed to the new link economy, and that the survival of the industry will be found by "protecting" content behind walled gardens.

Consumer habits have changed dramatically. People have gotten used to getting the news they want, when they want it, how they want it, and where they want it. And this change is here to stay.
Here's Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, one of the earlier innovators of the new media, talking about newspaper execs' resistance to making the changes Arianna described as inevitable. He points out that contrary to what many newspaper execs are arguing, investigative journalism will always remain as someone will fill the void. Moulitsas also counters the notion that newspapers deemed as more "credible" should get search engine preferences over blogs, aggregators and opinion websites. He says that what it should come down to in terms of gaining readership is the quality of the content, not brand image. Let the consumer decide, not corporate decision-makers.

It seems as though many traditional outlets view the media transformations of the last decade as an unfortunate result of undesirable, exogenous events that we must fight for the good of journalism. But what Arianna and Markos argue is that these changes have been brought about by improvements in the landscape of news, which consumers have knowingly and willingly adapted to. In essence, the consumer is now more in control than ever and as Arianna warns news outlets, "Evolve or perish. Resistance is futile."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wikipedia and old media

Here is an interesting Wall Street Journal article about Wikipedia. It highlights Wikipedia's reliance on old media for its entries. The article relates to the discussion we were having earlier in the course about the role of new media. While Wikipedia itself might be considered new media, it bans people from using other new media sources to edit entries. Wikipedia's reluctance to cite new media suggests (or at least suggests that Wikipedia thinks) that new media can't stand alone and needs old media in order to function.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Will the Last Journalist Please Turn Out the Lights?

From the Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert:

April 9, 2009
Team Whitman lures veteran political reporter
The gubernatorial campaign of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has hired Silicon Valley's top political writer.Mary Anne Ostrom, a longtime politics and government reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, signed on with team Whitman. In a memo to the Merc staff, Assistant Managing Editor Bert Robinson lamented the loss of a journalistic pro who "is one of the most relentless, most thorough, most passionate reporters I have ever known."Whitman campaign spokesman Mitch Zak said Ostrom will be an adviser on policy, media and on-line outreach. "Obviously, Mary Anne has tremendous experience and will play an senior role in our communications effort," he said.Ostrom's new gig was another blow to California's dwindling political press corps. Respected politics veteran John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle is taking a buyout. Zachary Coile of the Chronicle's Washington bureau is going to work as communications director for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. And Jordan Rau, state capitol reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has signed on with the Kaiser Family Foundation's new Kaiser Health News.

Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times:
This will be my last column for the L.A. Times. After four years, I'll soon be starting a stint at the Pentagon as an advisor to the undersecretary of Defense for policy. Some might say I have a "new job," but because I'll be escaping a dying industry -- and your tax dollars will shortly be paying my salary -- I prefer to think of it as my personal government bailout. Like everyone else whose livelihood is linked to the newspaper industry, I've been watching, appalled, as newspapers continue their death spiral, with dwindling circulations and thousands of layoffs. Here at The Times, the editorial staff is down to almost half the size it was in 2000. Often, as I've watched talented colleagues get the ax, I've suspected that I've only lasted this long because as a freelancer -- with no benefits and minimal pay -- I'm just too cheap to be worth firing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Knowledge and the Agenda

Political Knowledge

The Agenda

Twitter Activism

Twitter is playing a role not only in reporting the news, but in creating the news. Youth in Moldova orchestrated a massive protest against the government by using Twitter, Facebook, and text-messaging. This article is interesting based on our previous discussions of the impact of Twitter and its relation to the new media.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WWF Gets Kids Involved in Framing Climate Change

In this Canadian article, the World Wildlife Fund-Canada is encouraging kids to get involved in the local PR stunt to frame climate change. Through this article, it shows that kids are being used to encourage people that climate change is a real issue with postcards.

Iraq Makes a News Comback!

Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, author of The Fix, illustrates Obama's surprise trip to Iraq as an example of priming (as an extension of agenda setting):

In a mid-March CNN poll, just six percent named the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the nation's most pressing priority -- roughly one tenth the percentage of people who chose the economy (63 percent).

With that as a backdrop, Obama's decision to stop off in Iraq seems to be aimed at reminding people of the struggles and sacrifices still happening in the region as he prepares to ramp up America's military presence in Afghanistan.


This side trip -- coming at the conclusion of Obama's eight day foreign trip -- effectively pushes Iraq back into the front of peoples' minds (at least for a day or two) and reasserts the continued need for sacrifice as the country seeks to deal with its continued economic problems.

HuffPost had this story as their top headline this afternoon, showing a spread of Iraq-related news headlines as the featured picture.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Framing: For Discussion in Monday's Class

Coverage of the recent Binghamton shooting shows differences in the framing of a news story. (See Iyengar and McGrady, pages 219-223.) Some of these differences are a matter of the timing of the broadcasts, but some involve interpretation. If you know of additional distinct takes on the story, please post them.

ABC News (embedding not available)

CBC News (embedding not available)

Fox News:

Another Fox segment:

Sky News:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Day in the Life...

I ran across this story a while ago and our recent discussion of embedded media reminded me of it. Jeffrey Duran is part of the military media and uses a rifle stock to mount his camera. So, when he takes pictures in the field, enemies commonly mistake his camera for a gun. His life as a military photographer seems a bit harder than most. The story focuses on the rifle stock but there are some good tidbits of insight into the dangers media faces on the line.

Pointing a long lens mounted on a stock is indeed a recipe for getting shot if you're not careful. In fact in training at Fort McCoy, Wi., I was "shot" by Soldiers on practice missions.
Full Story Here

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

National Security and the Media

Examples of "A" papers:

Examples of questions from the 2007 senior take-home final:

  • Find a news story on video at
    Why did CBS air that story in that form on that day? In your answer, consider the motives of news organizations, the constraints they face, and the efforts of outside individuals and groups to influence coverage.

  • Prof. Joseph Bessette has defined deliberation as reasoning on the merits of public policy.
    Have Internet news sites and blogs improved or diminished the quality of deliberation on national issues? (Make sure you consider the Sunstein reading, among others.)



Military Media Manual

World War II propaganda film:

The Daily show did a segment yesterday on the Obama Administration's rebranding efforts. This is an example of issue framing using semantics.

Going over their heads

Here is yet another example of how President Obama is using new media to reach out to the American public and pass his legislation without the filter of the media.

BBC Covers Switzerland

Even more than fifty years ago, the BBC was devoting serious airtime to other countries. See:

Information Visualizations and the Decline of Newspapers

The New York Times has put together a nice information visualization of the decline of newspapers in the United States. It's nothing too surprising in light of our recent discussions, but it nicely aggregates the state of all the major newspapers.

"Bad News for Newspapers." New York Times March 12, 2009.

Visualizations like these and other innovative design are allowing some newspapers to distinguish themselves and recapture lost markets. Jacet Utko is an innovative Polish newspaper designer whose clients have not only won awards for their redesigns, but allowed them to increase their circulation by up to 100%. He recently gave a great 6 minute talk at TED. If you have a chance, I'd highly encourage you to watch it.