Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Sky is the Limit in the Air Force...Unless You Want to Read a Blog

Wired's blog on National Security, Danger Room, reports that now the Air Force is tightening its restrictions on which blogs its troops can read. This comes recently after my post about how Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV is calling for less restrictions on blogging for soldiers in the Army. Caldwell encourages soldiers to blog and send videos to their friends and family saying in his blog that it has an "overwhelming affect."

Any independent sites with the word "blog" in its web address are blocked and apparently, Air Force officials in the Air Force aren't so happy. Wired reports that one official said the restrictions are "utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream."

Even more disturbing, in my opinion, is the claim by the Air Force that blogs aren't legitimate media outlets. Clearly this is an awful cop-out meant to reinforce its reasons behind the tightened restrictions that blogs shouldn't be read on official time. As one Air Force official against the restrictions pointed out:

I'm certain that by blocking blogs for official use, our airmen will never, ever be able to read them on their own home computers, so we have indeed saved them from a contaminating influence. Sorry, didn't mean to drip sarcasm on your rug.

It's amazing that if blogs aren't considered legit media outlets they're creating such a stir. Blogs are what have the mainstream media shaking in its boots and now, a blogger has won the prestigious George Polk Award. Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo was awarded for his coverage of the firing of eight United States attorneys. So, I guess there's no need to take bloggers seriously, right?

Making a statement such as that makes the Air Force look a bit ignorant but it's refreshing to see that a lot of officials are frustrated with the limitations.

The military is touting security issues for keeping a tight leash on soldiers in the Army when it comes to blogging and the Air Force is also on the bandwagon. Of course there are security concerns but blocking every independent site with the word "blog" is not the way to go.

The military's battle over blogs started last year and has continued so it will be interesting to see any developments now that the Air Force is jumping in.

Blogs are making a quite big splash for not being a legitimate media outlet.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It got me...

Whatever illness has been floating around out there has finally gotten to me...

Complete with coughing, body aches, chills, sweats and sore throat (and who knows, maybe even a fever but I don't have a thermometer!), I've been battling something awful since this past Thursday night which has kept me away from posting here and functioning in any part of society. Up until today--I've managed to gain some functioning back--it has also kept me from writing my mid-term paper for this class unfortunately.

So, my lack of posting within the last few days is a result of me being ill and my lack of posting within the next few days is due to attending classes, going to work and getting this paper done.

I'm still coughing up a storm but I'm on my way to getting better.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Regaining Trust For a Healthy Relationship

The press has always had a shaky relationship with the public, especially after the Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke debacles. Can you really blame the public for losing its faith in American media?

Revisions of codes of ethics such as the New York Times was an attempt to ensure the public that it would never happen again but the mainstream media might need to find new ways to win over the hearts of the public as they turn to alternative ways to find news.

That being said, I'd like to commend the Spokesman Review from Spokane, WA on its efforts. I stumbled across this article on Poynter noting the Review's attempt to lay everything on the table for its readers.

It's called the Transparent Newsroom and consists of blogs, briefings and live webcasts about everything the newspaper is doing. Editor Steve Smith discusses coverage in the blog, News Is a Conversation, notes from daily news meetings are shared, live webcasts of its weekday meetings are streamed on the Web site and discussions from the editorial board are shared along with other blogs giving insight into the inner workings of a newsroom.

Talk about being able to keep a watchful eye. What more could readers ask for? It's a clever way of using new media and driving reader participation as readers are encouraged to give feedback. In fact, managing editor, Gary Graham just introduced a new reader feedback feature on Feb. 15 in addition to his regular commentary on journalism issues. He writes:

More than 30 Spokesman-Review readers have agreed to participate in a little experiment.

Continuing the Spokesman-Review's commitment to transparency and bringing more readers into our daily conversations, I've asked this group to respond to a series of questions about the latest edition of the newspaper. Their comments will help us understand more about reader preferences and reactions.

Each morning, I will email three or four readers of the group a series of questions. After all of my volunteers have had an opportunity to answer questions and critique the paper, I'll recruit a new group.

Our morning news meeting opens with a critique and comments about the paper from various editors, reporters and photographers. This is my attempt to expand that conversation.

Let there be no mistake about this. It is not a scientific method of reader research. I'll not pretend otherwise.

This direct approach is perhaps the best way to rebuild the relationship between the mainstream media and the public. Sure, peering in on the latest news meeting might not be the most exhilarating part of someone's day but the option is there for those who are concerned about the media.

From another perspective, this could be helpful in a different way. To piggyback on Professor Kennedy's discussion about how journalists need to be more open, the Review's Transparent Newsroom is a great way to do this.

Normally, journalists hoard their ideas (I'm guilty as charged myself) for fear of someone else running off with it but by throwing it out there on the Internet, we may be able to improve that story and make it even better than it would have been if we hadn't been so greedy. This can even be a result of posting those news meetings for everyone to see. Readers can suggest ideas, propose sources and help build a better story. Readers want to be heard and want to participate...this is what has led to citizen journalism.

Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore suggests this could be a possible downside noting:

The downside to being so transparent is that the paper opens itself up to criticism from the industry, and it becomes easier for newsroom competitors to see what the paper is up to.

But she also points out the benefits outweigh the risks according to Ryan Pitts, the online director for the Review:

People will criticize the paper whether editors know about it or not, so it's better that editors be aware of the criticism, Pitts said. If it's good, thoughtful criticism, then the paper will consider making changes. If it's inaccurate, the paper works to counteract it with the truth.

The blogs are a bit bland in appearance and could probably use a little sprucing up but it's the idea that matters the most and it seems like the Spokesman Review is onto something. Poynter also made sure to shed some light on a few other mainstream media outlets that are experimenting:

Similar to The Spokesman-Review, WFTX-TV, a Fox-affiliated station in Cape Coral, Fla., addresses the public's concerns in its "Viewers' Bill of Rights" and its "Viewers' Voice" feature, which gives viewers a chance to discuss their thoughts on the station's recent coverage of events.

At The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., members of the community are invited to attend the paper's page one meetings. The number of people who attend the meetings fluctuates, and sometimes no one attends, but the invitation is always there, says Linda Williams, senior editor for news at The News & Observer.

The paper also hosts a readers' panel, which the paper's public editor, Ted Vaden, oversees. The rotating group of readers who make up the panel meet with various editors on a monthly basis to talk about what they do and don't like about the paper.

Keeping the mainstream media on a tight leash might be the way to gain back the public's trust and give them the good feeling of having the upper hand--just like any other healthy relationship.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm not one to usually cover politics, not because I don't think it's important--it's just not really my niche. But I ran across this tid-bit of information at Poynter about a new political website known as and thought it was worthy of a little discussion.

The basis is a national network that provides local political news tailored to each state. The project was launched by New York Observer publisher, Jared Kushner and is off to a solid start with 10 states including:

New Hampshire
New Jersey

Eventually Politicker will have individual sites for all 50 states (Kentucky is scheduled to go up this week) and a national site aggregating the local content.

It's a nice way to pull together information and present it in a nice, convenient package but Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism professor at New York University makes a valid point in this New York Times article. The majority of the content is pulled from local newspapers (at least from what I noticed on the New Hampshire site) and it could use a bit more original reporting. But, that's probably in the works as the site is in its beginning stages.

As far as local ties go, James Pindell, a former political blogger for The Boston Globe, is the managing editor for Politicker and will be hiring young journalists with the responsibility of building each state site. Seems like a great opportunity for up-and-coming journalists looking to get their foot in the door.

Editors for the site will be anonymous and consist of "lawyers, lobbyists and former officeholders" which makes me raise my eyebrow with a little bit of concern. Kushner insists that the site will have no political agenda so I guess that makes me wonder why there is a need for any anonymity at all. I like the concept of this site, but this whole slew of mysterious editors rings a slight warning bell.

For those interested in the site for the upcoming election, the Times reports that plans to have 20 states with sites by Election Day and then will expand to all 50 states by the end of 2009.

No word on when Massachusetts' site will launch.

Update: James Pindell was nice enough to comment on my post, noting that there is plenty of original content on I perhaps was not clear in my observations when I said that the site could benefit from more original reporting. While I did see some original reporting along with the local content pulled from newspapers, I think the site will prove to be even better as more original reporting comes through. The wording of my original comments may have led some to believe that there was no original reporting at all, so my apologies and thank you to Mr. Pindell for his comment.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pains of Dial-Up

I just wanted to post a quick note about the lack of posts over the last few days and within the next couple of days.

I've returned to my parents home in Rhode Island for some family birthday celebrations over the holiday weekend and yes, it pains me to say, my parents still have a dial-up Internet connection. Due to the painstaking slow page-loading, I can't even stand to stay online long enough to continue my normal posting.

My mother decided to play a prank on me when I first arrived and convinced me that she and my father had indeed made the switch to wireless. I was not amused.

Anyway, I'll be returning to Boston tomorrow night where my high-speed Internet awaits and should be up and running at a normal pace.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Filling the Foreign Gap

American news coverage isn't known for being very worldly and the declining circulations and ad revenue of newspapers isn't helping the situation. As this has lead to more and more job cuts, foreign bureaus are disappearing fast. But this isn't just for newspapers. Even broadcast news is lacking in coverage.

According to an article published in 1998 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a 1997 study by Harvard showed that time spent on international news coverage by network television declined from 45 percent in the 1970s to only 13.5 percent in 1995. For newspapers, the amount of space dedicated to international coverage dropped from 10.2 percent in 1971 to less than two percent in 1998.

While September 11 was supposed to be the wake-up call for Americans to start paying attention to the outside world, it seems like we're still stretching out our limbs and yawning. More recent studies discussed in this 2007 Columbia Journalism Review article, show that the overall number of foreign correspondents working for American newspapers fell from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2006.

Philip S. Balboni, president and general manager of New England Cable News, is attempting to change all of this with the launch of his Global News site, the first U.S.-based site devoted only to international coverage. It's expected to launch early next year and will include correspondents from 70 countries. Balboni will be leaving the NECN next month.

Along with wire services for breaking news, the site will also use free content supported by advertising and premium content sections available to users for a small subscription fee.

It's a good step for journalism as it's sad to say that in 2008 the United States still doesn't have a site like this.

Discussions in my ethics class last semester focused around the notion that the media caters to what Americans want to know about and that seems to be the latest Britney fiasco or which celebutante has ended up in rehab. As a 22-year-old, yeah, I admit I love learning about the latest celeb gossip, but only to a certain extent. I'm still aware of the current crisis in the Congo or the recent violence and unrest in Kenya or the disturbing genocide occurring in Darfur. I would hope that the American media could give the public a bit more credit than this and it's encouraging to see plans in development.

Global News could be filling a big void that is not necessarily the complete fault of the mainstream media since, as mentioned before, the dropping circulation and ad revenue is clearly the culprit.

My only complaint is the small fee to subscribe for some of the content. I'm used to getting my online content for free and I kind of like it that way.

The project is a year away so there's no telling right now whether this will bring Americans up to speed with what's going on in the rest of the world but it's at least an attempt. People can't be forced to learn about what they don't want to, but at least we can say it's out there.

The Washington Independent

After posting about gathering news the non-profit way, I stumbled across an interview with Allison Silver, editor of the Washington Independent--the newest of the non-profit start ups--on the Online Journalism Review.

It launched on Jan. 28 under its parent site, Center for Independent Media, and combines news coverage, blogging and commentary. With a strong focus on politics (given the current election), Silver said readers can expect to see a wide array of coverage on the economy, finance, national security and the environment.

She also noted "part of all informed discussion about the future of journalism involves the non-profit model."

It's continuing support for the push on non-profit journalism.

For the complete interview click here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Discovery's Earth Live

I ran across this article on Wired about the Discovery Channel's new visualization tool, Earth Live, which gives real-time satellite data of the Earth--everything from cloud cover to water vapor to sea surface. It's purpose is to help people understand global climate change on a larger scale by allowing users to manipulate different climate features in near-real-time.

The Discovery Channel may not be a media outlet in the way that newspapers and magazines are considered but this new application is something I think journalists can learn from. It includes a combination of interactivity, news stories, videos and research that will keep viewers interested and wanting to come back for more information--which is exactly what newspapers need.

Users can create their own stories by adding different "layers" of clouds, rainfall, water vapor, etc. or read other stories about Hurricane Katrina or the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest earlier this month. Users can also look at different world news from around the globe or look into climate research from around the globe.

Wired's Alexis Madrigal makes an interesting point about the potential an application like this can have:
Combined with new scientific datasets (like maybe Google's stockpile) and a bit of futurism, visualization tools like Earth Live could help make a compelling case about taking action on climate change. Imagine if we could see how some societal change, like the deforestation of the Amazon or a world wide switchover to compact fluorescent lightbulbs or growth in nuclear power, would impact the earth.

She also noted that the site is lacking in stories and content, which I agree, but considering this is a new endeavor, I'm giving Discovery the benefit of the doubt that it will beef up the material in the near future. Regardless, it's very innovative--both from an environmental aspect and from a journalistic aspect. Should the site become more involved, users will definitely have an incentive to continually come back for more.

Implementing a similar interactive applications within the journalism field has the potential to bring more traffic to newspaper Web sites and generate more interest with viewers--who might actually stay on the site for a little longer.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Newspapers, the Non-Profit Way

It's no secret that newspapers' circulations are declining and that there is a need for a new standard of operation. Yes, a lot of print publications are reaching to go digital and move into new media but that still doesn't solve any problems for the ever decreasing rate of newspapers.

An interesting approach that I first heard about in my ethics class last semester has popped up recently in the February/March issue of the American Journalism Review and also online at the Poynter Institute. It's the non-profit approach.

While there are new non-profit, grant-funded news projects driving investigative and enterprise journalism, government funding is another route that newspapers may be traveling down. Nicholas Lemann, Columbia Journalism School Dean, sees direct government subsidies as a last resort for newspapers but sees a lot of promise in indirect subsidies from non-profit organizations.

Government funding clearly presents some sticky situations though and may lead to trespassing over the line of the First Amendment, as Amy Gahran states, "Uncle Sam probably wouldn't provide newspaper funding without very strong and uncomfortable strings attached."

But funding from non-profits may be a way for newspapers to maintain quality journalism--if done right. AJR's Carol Guensburg uses NPR as an example of how nonprofit journalism can work, noting that it gained a third of its revenue from non-profit funding in 2005.

The St. Petersburg Times is another example of how this model has worked. Even in a 2006 article by Forbes, attention was brought to the need for newspapers to find a different business model, highlighting the Times' non-profit approach.

The Times is owned by the Poynter Institute, which is a not-for-profit organization, therefore stripping the paper of its corporate ties. But as the article in Forbes points out, the relationship between the Times and Poynter is unique because the paper's owner and editor, Nelson Poynter (who-you guessed it-also founded the Poynter Institute) gave the paper away to the institute. This is not the norm as we all know lots of money is usually involved in buying or selling a newspaper. They're not just given away therefore making this type of affiliation a less attainable goal for other publications.

This relationship saves the Times from the pressure of worrying about producing a profit for its parent company but does not leave the Times without the problems among all publications today--cutting costs due to the loss of readers and the struggle to transition to new media.

Regardless, there may be something to learn from this type of model and it may become more standard practice as newspapers climb this uphill battle to stay afloat. One of the newest endeavors is ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom focused on investigative journalism with lead funding from the Sandler Foundation. With 24
working journalists dedicated to investigative reporting, their stories will be distributed to traditional news organizations, free of charge, for publication or broadcast. Paul Steiger, former managing editor at the Wall Street Journal, is serving as editor-in-chief of ProPublica.

It's an interesting time for journalism and newspapers will have to find a way to adapt. The non-profit approach may not solve all of its problems but it may be able to at least keep newspapers' heads above the water for a little while longer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Whole New Spin On Pitching

For freelancers and editors, making a match for a good story can be rough but once again, new media can help out. Enter,, a "news exchange where freelancers and editors can connect" according to one of its creators, Sindya Bhanoo, a graduating Berkeley journalism school student.

While the Web site is in its beginning stages, it has a lot of potential to bring together freelancers and editors in a whole new way. It gives editors the chance to find stories that are appropriate for their publication and it cuts through the process for freelancers who normally need to wait to hear from editors before pitching elsewhere.

Freelancers can upload their work and submit it to a specific publication where editors have the chance to view the story for two weeks and decide to publish it. After two weeks it can be submitted to other publications. Another great feature is the ability to create an online portfolio where editors can see past work and learn about the freelancer.

In a Q&A with Bhanoo by Jean Yung from the Online Journalism Review, Yung positioned the site as a sort of "eBay" for journalists, asking her if editors can bid for stories. Bhanoo clearly states, "The intention is not to turn it into an eBay." While freelancers can post a minimum price for their story, they can also accept a publication's default price.

This project can also be an interesting avenue for citizen journalists who have no formal journalism training. It gives even those with no news reporting experience the chance to get their ideas out there.

The site was formerly a private site at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism but has recently gone public and is ready to start expanding to journalists from all over. In November, the site collaborated with Media News Group papers including, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times, Times-Herald, Tri-City Weekly, The Piedmonter, The Montclarion and Berkeley Voice.

The site's blog reported:
All the editors were receptive and told us that there is a definite need for relevant freelance work. We've already had more than five stories purchased through reporterist since that meeting, and many more articles uploaded by freelancers.

As the word spreads to editors and freelancers, Reporterist could definitely carve a niche within new media and the journalism field. As a student getting ready to enter into the "real world" I see this as a useful tool and an easier way to get into freelancing.

Only time will tell as Reporterist branches out but it looks promising.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Blogging From the Battlegrounds...of WWI

My previous post regarding soldiers blogging from the battlegrounds reminded me of an interesting blog that I ran across in January. I've been meaning to write a little blurb about it but managed to get a little sidetracked. Now it seems fitting to tie it in with my previous post.

William Henry Bonser Lamin is a blogger from England...well, sort of. He's actually a WWI soldier from England whose war letters are being brought to life through new media. His grandson, Bill Lamin, has taken William's letters from the battlegrounds and is posting them on a blog exactly 90 years after they were written.

Here is some coverage from ABC News.

It's interesting to see these letters being revived and to reflect on how far communication has come. While soldiers today have access to the Internet and blogs, soldiers back then relied on the old pen and paper method as family members anxiously awaited the next letter to arrive in the mail. Even though that eagerness is still there with those who have loved ones in the war today, the instantaneous communication has got to be somewhat of a relief.

Lamin is combining the old school letters with the new method of blogging but is still keeping the anticipation by only posting letters on the exact dates they were written. The last one was from January 29, 1918 which seems to bring some confusion as Lamin notes at the end of his grandfather's letter:
This is a strange letter that doesn't quite make sense. I've indicated the ends of pages so that the reader can make their own judgement as to any interpretation. I wonder whether there's a page missing or the rum bottle that was "left out" has something to with it. I hope the latter!
Lamin won't disclose anything about his grandfather's fate during the war leaving readers waiting and wondering. And he has received a good amount of hits for this blog. Lamin wrote:
A Milestone. Yesterday, 28th January, Harry's blog recorded its millionth page load! While not too exceptional in WWW terms, it is way beyond anything I imagined when I started publishing the letters.

It is a clever way to use a blog and the letters are a great reminder to how far we've come.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blogging From the Battlegrounds

During the first Gulf War in 1990, war coverage as society knew it changed forever. For the first time, war was televised live, most notably in CNN's coverage from the Al-Rashid Hotel during the first night of air strikes. While televising these events live brought forth concerns about protecting sensitive military information from Iraq, it also brought about instantaneous coverage that was unprecedented in previous wars.

Fast forward nearly 20 years later while we are again at war with Iraq, and once again, the media has changed. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who previously commanded the 82nd Airborne Division and now heads the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, one of the Army's main intellectual centers, is encouraging soldiers to share their stories using new media.

Caldwell wants soldiers to blog and post their videos on YouTube to friends and family in an effort to get soldiers to expose everyday military life in Iraq. He writes in his blog Small Wars Journal that not only will this have an "overwhelmingly positive effect" but will also play a critical role in how the Iraqi media portrays American soldiers. Caldwell writes:
The enemy video tapes operations and then distorts and twists the information and images to misinform the world. What if we had documented video footage of the same operations which refuted what our enemies say? By the way, that is not enough, we have to get our images out FIRST! The first images broadcast become reality to viewers. If we wait until we see the enemy’s images, we are being reactive and we have already squandered the opportunity.

It is an interesting concept as we move away from the traditional media roles. There will always be a need for traditional war reporters but adding the military view straight from the horse's mouth adds a whole new dynamic to the media.

However, as Wired notes in its coverage about Caldwell's statements, the military has a variety of restrictions when it comes to the media due to concerns about leaking restricted information. Even though official sites haven't been immune to leaking official information (as Wired points out), YouTube has been banned on military networks, influential blogs are blocked and everything that soldiers post online must be reviewed by commanding officers.

This type of media coverage poses security concerns but only if it is not approached in the right manner. It can still be a positive way to inform the public about the war and proper rules and regulations should be implemented but the current restrictions should be loosened a bit.

This is not a new issue as soldiers have been blogging for a couple of years but seeing a top military general encouraging blogging is sure to help step up the efforts to make it easier for soldiers.

It is definitely an interesting turn that has given a completely new point of view in war coverage. It has the potential to do a lot more with better military support.