The FCC’s Public Problem

Yesterday, Gigi Sohn, a senior advisor and legal counsel for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, took to Twitter for an extended Q&A with the public. And remarkably, by most accounts, the discussion was actually useful.

The Twitter chat was prompted by the enormous public outcry in recent weeks regarding Chairman Wheeler’s plans to implement a “pay for play” system on the Internet. That push back from the public has now forced Wheeler to revise his proposal, which would have dismantled the idea of net neutrality and undermined the level playing field of the Internet  (but even this rewrite may not solve the problem). As I have written before, this is particularly troubling in terms of people’s access to news, information and a diversity of voices and viewpoints online.

Sohn should be commended for her willingness to listen and talk honestly about these important issues, but it may have been too little too late.

In the past week more than 50 artists and entertainers have joined 50 investors, 10 senators and huge coalitions of public interest groups and tech companies in blasting Wheeler’s proposal. In a rare move, two of Wheeler’s democratic colleagues on the Commission released statements acknowledging their concerns.

This reversal is just the most recent in a long line of policy moves where the FCC has been caught off guard by public protest and broad-based pressure. For an agency that was established, in part, to protect the public interest, it has an enormous problem with the public.Continue reading “The FCC’s Public Problem”

Security, Secrecy and the Democratic Demands of an Informed Public

The American experiment is premised on the idea that an informed public is central to self-governance and a functioning democracy. But today that fundamental idea is being challenged, at times by the very people – journalists and the media – who should be its staunchest defenders.

In a new post, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen traces how the debate over Snowden and the National Security Agency has sparked what amounts to a de facto effort to “repeal the concept of an informed public.” This is a critical point, and I want to draw a few more threads into the debate.

“My sole motive,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in his first public interview, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” Rosen describes Snowden as “the return of the repressed.” He writes: “By going AWOL and leaking documents that show what the NSA is up to, he forced Congress to ask itself: did we really consent to that? With his disclosures the principle of an informed public roared back to life.”

However, since that moment, there has been a profound effort by politicians and even some journalists to close down that debate. This opposition has taken many forms. Journalists and politicians have attacked Glenn Greenwald and tried to undercut the legitimacy of the Guardian. They have tried to write off NSA programs as balanced and well within the law. And most of all they have used fear and the threat of possible terror attacks to argue that any real debate about the details of America’s surveillance programs is simply a “discussion the public cannot afford to have.Continue reading “Security, Secrecy and the Democratic Demands of an Informed Public”

Three Ideas: Testing Legislation, Newsroom Archives, and Technology Playgrounds

I took advantage of my holiday time off to catch up on my Instapaper read later list. As I read I try to tweet out the best articles, or key ideas I’m grappling with, but some pieces demand more than a tweet (but less than a full blog post). Here are three articles whose ideas I’m still mulling over and that I think deserve more attention.

Washington Post – Stop guessing whether a bill will work. Instead, test it.
Political reporter Dylan Matthews proposes a federal agency dedicated to running experiments on public policy proposals before legislation is adopted. The idea here is to test what will and won’t work in the real world and bring that research to bear on political debates. While I like Matthews’ idea of testing legislation, I also wonder how this might be built into solutions journalism that would be dedicated to helping us address wiked problems. This idea also seems like a powerful way to counteract the trend of hindsight journalism. It may not be an either/or, I’d like to see both governments and news organizations taking up some of these ideas and challenges and adopting a model of creating legislation that looks a bit more like agile development and participatory community planning.

Reporters’ Lab – Creating a newsroom ‘answer machine’
I’ve long been deeply interested in how news organizations can better leverage their archives to help serve the public, add context to current events, and drive new traffic to their site. Tyler Dukes’ proposal for using news organizations’ archives to help create a newsroom “answer machine” is superb, while not without its challenges. He focuses on how this type of project could help improve reporting but I can see wonderful applications of this kind of app in politics and education as well. For another great project focused on better using media archives be sure to check out the recently launched Pop Up Radio Archive.

Designing for Diversity – Designing Creative Technology Playgrounds for Families
I have been thinking about the role of play in my own work as well as in the lives of my two sons. My life has been animated by a healthy tension between my fascination with technology and my affinity for wilderness and the outdoors. Where these two passions intersect is in the realm of play and exploration. Whether it was dismantling kitchen appliances and putting them back together or building wilderness shelters and treehouses, I loved to make things and engage actively in the world – both natural and manmade. I want to nurture that same passion in my sons, regardless of what their interests are – music or machines, art or airplanes, trees or technology – I hope they’ll approach it all with playfulness and a sense of wonder. This post, a summary of a discussion at MozFest in London, touches on some of those themes.

A Solutions Journalism Response to Gun Violence

Today on Twitter I asked “What would a journalism dedicated to helping communities solve complex social and political issues look like? Who is already doing it?”

This, to me, is the question we face as the nation tries to not only come to terms with the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, but also look ahead at how we can respond. Already we are seeing demands for a national conversation about gun violence, for new gun control legislation, even for a repeal of the second amendment. Each of these ideas is composed of a complex and interwoven web of policy, beliefs, and culture. How can we better report on those complex webs and forces?

In a post from a year ago Jonathan Stray asked a similar question about journalism and problem solving. He observed that “The modern world is built on a series of vast systems, intricate combinations of people and machines, but our journalism isn’t really built to help us understand them. It’s not a journalism for the people who will put together the next generation of civic institutions.”

At the time he was writing about the global financial crisis, but the quote above could just as easily apply to violence in America. His post sparked a conversation about solutions journalism, a theme he returned to earlier this year. “I see the solution journalist as responsible for the process of public discussion by which problems are defined and turned into plans for the future. This is the moderator’s role.”

At times like this, we need good moderators of public debate, we need caring facilitators of challenging conversations, and we need newsrooms that can create space for communities to talk to each other. I’m not talking about online comments on newspaper websites, I’m talking about a much deeper form of community engagement.Continue reading “A Solutions Journalism Response to Gun Violence”

Don’t Let Murdoch Rewrite our Media History

Back in December at the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on the future of journalism, much was made about the verbal sparring between Arianna Huffington and Rupert Murdoch. It made for good theatre, but an important thread was lost in the blogger-versus-publisher storyline: Murdoch’s attack on the notion of a role for government in the future of media and journalism.

But last week, Patrick Maines of the Media Institute took to the Huffington Post to rehash and support many of Murdoch’s arguments, which are riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and misrepresentations. Apparent believers in the theory that if you say something enough times it’ll come true, these Big Media boosters are attempting to rewrite history to fit their free market narrative, turning a blind eye to the profound impact government policy has had on the corporate media they defend.

For all their points of agreement, Murdoch and Maines actually start from very different places. Whereas Murdoch held up journalists as heroic and defended their labor and their product as vital and worthwhile (ironic, given his cuts to newsroom staff), Maines offers his view on journalists’ stupidity and selfishness . “Despite their general lack of experience or expertise in law, commerce, finance, or technology, people with journalistic backgrounds are these days testifying before Congress and regulatory agencies, sponsoring seminars, and writing papers in a broadly coordinated effort to influence laws and regulations that govern the media,” Maines writes. Continue reading “Don’t Let Murdoch Rewrite our Media History”

10 Journalism Resolutions for 2010

Co-authored by Josh Stearns and Tracy VanSlyke

If 2009 was a year of study and debate about the future of journalism, 2010 must be a year of action. We must come together around a core set of ideas to create a better ecosystem for sustainable and high-impact journalism. Based on the various reports and conferences from the past year, we’ve compiled the five most important areas that journalism organizations (and those invested in the future of journalism) must tackle in 2010—and suggest some initial steps to begin moving forward.Continue reading “10 Journalism Resolutions for 2010”

Celebrating the Life of C. Edwin Baker

We at and Free Press learned today that the eminent communications law scholar C. Edwin Baker died this week at the age of 62. Baker was a passionate defender of the First Amendment and a longtime advocate for media and democracy.

Baker took part in the early planning meetings before was launched, and his ideas have helped to shape much of our work. Robert McChesney and John Nichols, the co-founders of Free Press, offered remembrances of Baker.Continue reading “Celebrating the Life of C. Edwin Baker”

Is the Future of Journalism a Drought or a Flood?

Journalism students may be short on jobs, but they certainly aren’t lacking reading material about their industry. In the last twelve months, there have been a number of landmark essays on journalism written by academics and journalists. In addition, at least six major textbook-sized reports on the future of American media have been released, as well as innumerable lectures, conferences and roundtables on the topic.

The list of materials produced this year could easily make up a respectable “open-source” syllabus for the aspiring journalism innovator. But until a week or two ago, this makeshift seminar wouldn’t have been complete. Just when I thought little else could be written about the future of news, a coalition of independent media outlets – The Media Consortium – has released a remarkable new report that deserves a slot in your reading list.Continue reading “Is the Future of Journalism a Drought or a Flood?”

Editors Make the Case for Smart Journalism Policies

The editors of the Columbia Journalism Review published an important editorial this week outlining why they feel public policy must be a central part of the discussion about the future of news in America.

They wrote: “The idea that a purely commercial media alone can continue to deliver the journalism we need is becoming difficult to swallow. If we don’t get beyond the rational but outdated fear of government help for accountability journalism—if we just let the market sort it out—this vital public good will continue to decline.”Continue reading “Editors Make the Case for Smart Journalism Policies”

College Media and the Future of Journalism

Today I gave a presentation at the National College Media Convention here in Austin, Texas. I had a great crowd, some challenging questions, and overall a good discussion. All in all, a short one hour conference session is a tough venue to have an in-depth discussion about an issue as complex as the future of journalism.

I’m embedding my presentation here in hopes of continuing the conversation in the comment section of this blog blog. The presentation is below (sorry the videos don’t work at this point, still tweaking those).Continue reading “College Media and the Future of Journalism”

In Defense of Journalism Policy

This was originally posted on Nov. 30th at

Today’s Washington Post op-ed by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols recovers a past too many Americans have forgotten and sets the record straight on the government’s role in protecting journalism.

“We seek to renew a rich if largely forgotten legacy of the American free-press tradition, one that speaks directly to today’s crisis,” they write. “The First Amendment necessarily prohibits state censorship, but it does not prevent citizens from using their government to subsidize and spawn independent media.”

McChesney and Nichols, two of the co-founders of Free Press, are responding to a common misconception about government involvement in journalism is antithetical to freedom of the press. Policy has always shaped journalism, and for a long time it was policy that helped ensure freedom of the press.Continue reading “In Defense of Journalism Policy”