Your Medium Is Dying; Journalism Is Not

In Opinion on October 21, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Change is the one constant in life. It can also be seen throughout history that whenever a new technology gains wide use, society adjusts, often in a major way. It is hardly surprising that the advent of the internet and its adoption by a large portion of the population has lead to major disruptions in traditional structures, from the music industry to the halls of government and institutions of journalism. Journalism and newspapers in particular have taken a major hit by the internet. Institutions once held as the protectors of democracy and truth are now viewed with the same pity as the terminally ill. Rumors circulate of the closing of major newspapers and journalists hardly hold the same position in society that they once did.

The internet has, among other things, drastically reduced the barriers of entry to publishing. Where reporting and commentary was once reserved for a select few who had proved themselves, the widespread adoption of online publishing platforms, particularly blogging, now guarantees a megaphone to anyone willing to speak. Some will claim that this will inevitably lead to disorder: a room full of shouting miscreants makes it difficult to get anything done. In this however it is important to note that not all voices are equal and that online publishing is steeped in a naturally occurring meritocracy, created by the link economy . The presence of disorder and the infamous “noise” is merely an issue of filtering; good filters have allowed quality material to rise to the top of the muck, through methods employed by the ecosystem as well as the end consumer. This problem has to a certain extent already been solved. One can unfollow people on Twitter if they report the contents of their breakfast instead of the news. The use of commenting on blogs has provided greater fact-checking than newspapers have the personnel or time to provide and greater exposure than a correction box at the bottom of page A2. Distortion of the truth by writers leads to quick discredit.

On the flip side, there is value even in the mundane. The opinions of the many have implications for decisions made by those in power. Democracy’s strength lies in the diverse solutions that arise from all people having a voice. There is hope then that the shift of the means of publishing from the few to the many will lead to a richer political environment. After all, journalists undertake a vast number of functions that could be performed by those with less expertise and more time, freeing the expertise of journalists to be employed in the most important situations. Another benefit is the incorporation of readers and other actors into the practice of good journalism, something now labeled the mutualization of journalism . The internet has introduced into journalism a “layered stack” approach to reporting, with millions of eyes at the bottom, a smaller group in the middle that disseminates stories and the top section, full of sources, both niche and general that compete for trust every day.

So why is journalism important for political scientists? Journalism is not the trade of a select few, but the responsibility of all citizens; not necessarily as a career, but certainly as a vocation for all with the desire to see democracy flourish. Journalism is not a business model. It is not a distribution of information. Journalism is an occupation, an indicator of healthy democracy. It is not going anywhere.

For more information on the present state and future of journalism, check out these sources.

Jay Rosen, professor of journalism, mindcaster

Twitter, PressThink, Rebooting The News podcast,

Dave Winer – inventor of RSS and blogs, media critic

Twitter, Scripting News

Patrick LaForge – editor of the New York Times’ City Room blog


Jeff Jarvis – journalism professor and watcher of new media

Twitter, Buzz Machine

by Jesse Randall


The War Of Willpower

In International, Opinion on October 21, 2009 at 9:57 pm

The war in Afghanistan has brought up strong emotions over the past eight years and people are wondering if it is ever going to end, as more troops die and national morale slowly slips away. The situation there is not pretty. There are not enough soldiers to provide stability to the villages and mountainous regions outside of Kabul, the capitol. Kabul, more importantly, seems to be an even bigger problem than the insurgency throughout the country. The central government is weak and has very little control and influence outside of Kabul and some other large cities. The mountainous and rural regions are controlled by tribal leaders and farmers, who, if aren’t in fear of being killed by the Taliban, are supporting the Taliban in their campaign to defeat American and international forces.

Not only is the Afghan government weak but it is also highly corrupt. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has failed, if not avoided, to take on the corruption that is rampant on almost all levels of government, and reports of his running mates in this past election being greatly entrenched with some of the more notorious actions can only support these claims. For instance, Muhammed Karim Khalili, the former vice president, was once the leader of a militia that was known for using brutality and often torture. President Karzai’s current running mate, Muhammed Quasim Fahim, has several links with the nation’s poppy trafficking. The poppy, one of the nation’s largest cash crops, is also used in the international heroin trade. Some reports suggest that the Afghan government only controls around thirty percent of the population, which leaves the other seventy percent to the influence of the Taliban.

The rugged terrain of the nation also plays a great role in limiting the ability of one central government to maintain security for the entire nation. The Taliban is not only a problem on one side of the Durand Line, but also a big problem in Pakistan as well. Despite the Pakistani military success in forcing the Taliban from the Swat Valley in May, it has yet to really deal with the Taliban in an effective way that helps American and international forces destroy them in Afghan side of the Hindu Kush mountain range. This is important because the Taliban still organizes and trains within Pakistani borders. Pakistan has traditionally been an ally to the United States, but many Pakistanis are sympathetic to the Taliban and this relationship goes back to the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

These happen to be some of the problems that need answering to and politicians in Washington are debating what courses of action to take regarding almost all aspects of the regional situation. General Stanley McChrystal, President Obama’s appointee to fight the war in Afghanistan has requested up to as many as 40,000 more soldiers to be deployed within the next few months, to the dismay of many of the President’s advisors and cabinet. Resistance to the general’s recommendations has come from many significant figures in the White House, such as Joe Biden, who requested a counterinsurgency plan only with the use of airstrikes and the use of unmanned drones. Nancy Pelosi has also publicly denounced the idea of the increase of troops to the region, along with many other democrats.

I believe that many people who oppose the increase in troops are just giving up on the war. I don’t think they understand the importance of this war and what its impact could be if we don’t win here. People seem to have a short memory because I believe they are forgetting the 9/11 attacks and who was responsible for them. Just leaving the region and giving in without properly stabilizing the Afghan political structure will have immense effects on the United States. This war has many fronts, and to only address one goal of the war, like Vice President Biden has done, will result in failure just as pulling out would ensure. The Taliban is becoming ever more present in the political realm of Pakistan and if it does manage to seize control of the Pakistani government and military resources that will mean over 100 nuclear weapons will be under the control of some very dangerous people. We as a nation cannot allow that to happen. Not only that; Al Qaeda, the main opponent in the region, will have unlimited stomping grounds to devise future attacks against our country and many others in the name of their jihad against the western world. It may take five, ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty years, but if we don’t succeed in this war they will come to hurt us, as sure as the sun rises every morning.

Many people are losing their stomach for the war and are suggesting withdrawing from the region in general, but this is not an option. Hope is not lost yet and many advisors to the situation in the region do not believe so either. A mix of advisors for General Petraeus and McChrystal, along with the generals themselves, have generalized a plan that would secure the people away from the Taliban, strengthen the government of Afghanistan, build and strengthen Afghan security forces, and help the Pakistani government deal with the Taliban and Al Qaeda within their borders. All of these solutions include a large influx of troops. Some say up to 600,000 soldiers will be needed to secure Afghanistan, and to many, that seems like more than necessary. It really isn’t, however. The big problems soldiers are having in Afghanistan is securing the people away from the Taliban, but since we don’t have enough soldiers deployed, it’s like a circus. Once we clear a town from the Taliban, they move to the next town, causing us to follow, but also allowing them to come back to the town we just cleared. With more troops, it will give our soldiers to branch out to other areas and clear the Taliban nationally instead of regionally. If we have this stability in the country, we can then focus on ridding the national government of its corruption so it will be more accountable to its people. Simultaneously, Pakistan will then begin to focus on clearing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from its own country, giving these groups very few places to hide.

It’s not necessarily a matter of whether we can win the war in Afghanistan or not, it’s more about whether we’re ready to commit the necessary resources.

by Ian Lynch

The President of Broken Promises

In National, Opinion on October 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm

The presidential campaign of President Barack Obama was loaded with inspirational speeches and promises. The campaign slogan, “Yes We Can” was a representation of Obama’s movement for change. Promises were made concerning health care, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, taxes, and gay rights. But how many of these promises could the president keep? Supporters of Obama argue that the promises made on the campaign trail will still come to fruition. But based on the president’s shrinking approval rating, which is currently at 53% (Gallup) those supporters are disappearing, and fast. With the recent events concerning gay rights it is obvious that President Obama will not be able to keep his promises. The real question is: did he ever mean to?

Flip Flopping on Gay Marriage

During the 2008 campaign President Obama stated that he in essence supported gay rights. He supported equal rights and full civil unions that were essentially the equivalent of a marriage, while not straying from his religious conviction that marriage is “between a man and a woman”. His voting record supported this ambiguous stance as well. President Obama voted against the so called Defense of Marriage Act during his term as a US Senator. During the same term he supported legislation that promoted equal rights among the gay community and worked against discrimination.

The President’s recent response, however, to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act is an action that contradicts his statements. California has passed legislation that not only provides rights to civil unions usually reserved for marriages, such as the right to assist a partner in emergency, but also amends the definition of marriage to include same sex unions. The legislation neglects to include a clause similar to that of Massachusetts that prohibits same sex couples from other states from getting married within Massachusetts borders. The lack of such a clause will no doubt be far reaching as couples return from California to their home states and seek recognition of their marriage. Not only does this legislation affect other states in the projected increase of lawsuits enacted on the state government, but it also goes against the 2008 referendum vote in which the people of California voted against gay marriage.

The president’s response to this entire fiasco was his respect for the decision of the California Supreme Court. There is an argument in support of the sovereignty of states in these situations, but for a president who claimed to not support such actions to issue a supportive statement in favor of the California law is absurd. Especially because of the national repercussions of the lack of a clause limiting the marriages to residents, the president has a platform to oppose the California legislation. Yet he has decided to support it, despite what he promised on the campaign trail.

A question remains concerning the president’s motives. It could be that with the ever decreasing number of supporters, the president is attempting to gain favor by not “stepping on anyone’s toes”. But is this the right course of action given what he promised to stand for? Speculation states that his ambiguous voting record on the topic existed merely to provide the option of changing opinions if support fell. Regardless, a level of accountability is necessary, and so far President Obama has not been held to his promise to not support the legalization of gay marriage.

What this means for Obama’s other policies

If the president is not willing to keep his promises concerning gay rights, why should the public assume that he will stand by his other statements? Already, there are problems stemming from health insurance reform and tax cuts. The public outcry is demanding that there be an increase in employment and a stabilization of the economy, something that has yet to be seen. Perhaps the nation needs to wait longer to see the outcomes of the president’s actions, or perhaps to re-evaluate and adjust their expectations to better suit the new direction of the nation’s policies. Regardless gay rights can now be added to the list of promises the president has failed to follow through on.

by Casey Madden