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Keeping Track of Government Web Page Changes

Nice: ProPublica is launching ChangeTracker — “an experimental new tool that watches pages on, and so you don’t have to. When the White House adds or deletes anything— say a blog post, or executive order—ChangeTracker will let you know.”

The site leverages Versionista, a service that monitors sites for edits.

This is a much needed project. Let’s see how it works.

Law Firm's Utterly Arrogant Trademark Suit

Consumerist: Lawsuits: Law Firm ‘Jones Day’ Usurps Monster Cable For Stupidest Trademark Lawsuit Ever. Jones Day is a law firm that doesn’t want anyone else to use standard, everyday formatting for links in news stories about its staff, and it succeeded in forcing a small start-up to cave in to its demands.

This is so absurd (and wrong) that you have to wonder how the judge in the case could be so utterly misinformed, not just misguided.

And Jones Day (no links from here, ever) should be ashamed of itself. Stunning arrogance and power-grabbing from people who should (and probably do) know better but probably don’t care.

Position Announcement: Executive Director | Center for Media and Democracy

The Center for Media and Democracy is looking for an executive director. More in this Position Announcement.

Journalism Education's Future: Broader, Deeper than its Past

Accepting an award from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School for Journalism & Mass Communication several months ago, former PBS NewsHour host Robert McNeil called journalism education probably “the best general education that an American citizen can get” today.

Perhaps he was playing to his audience, at least to a degree. Many other kinds of undergraduate degree programs could lay claim to a similar value; a strong liberal arts degree, no matter what the major, has great value. Still, there’s no doubt that a journalism degree, done right, is an excellent foundation for a student’s future.

Even if McNeil overstated the case, however, his words should inspire journalism educators to ponder their role in a world where these programs’ traditional reason for being is increasingly murky.

Our raison d’etre is open to question largely because the employment pipeline of the past, a progression leading from school to jobs in media and related industries, is (at best) in jeopardy. Yet journalism education could and should have a long and even prosperous life ahead — if its practitioners make some fundamental shifts.

Some of the shifts are already under way, especially in how journalism educators do their jobs. The Cronkite School, where I’m teaching, is one of many journalism programs aiming to be part of the 21st Century. The school understands at its core that digital technology has transformed the practice, though we hope not the principles, of the craft. This is welcome, if overdue; if newspapers have adapted fitfully to the collision of technology and media, journalism schools as a group may have been even slower.

But that recognition, while valuable, isn’t nearly enough. Journalism educators should be in the vanguard of an absolutely essential shift for society at large: helping our students, and people in our larger communities, to navigate and manage the myriad information streams of a media-saturated world.

We need to help them understand why they need to become activists as consumers — by taking more responsibility for the quality of what they consume, in large part by becoming more critical thinkers. And they need to understand their emerging role as creators of media.

In both cases, as consumers and creators, we start with principles.

For media consumers:

• Be Skeptical
• Exercise Judgement
• Open Your Mind
• Keep Asking Questions
• Learn Media Techniques

For media creators (after incorporating the above):

• Be Thorough
• Get it Right
• Insist on Fairness
• Think Independently
• Be Transparent, Demand Transparency

(See this recent paper, part of the Media Re:public project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where I’m a Fellow, for a fairly lengthy description of the principles and an explanation of why I believe they’re important.)

The principles underpin everything I believe about modern media consumption in general — entertainment being the major exception — and journalism in particular. Especially for the creators of media, they add up to being honorable.

If the principles are the foundation, the practices and tactics are an evolving superstructure. Journalism education needs to deal with both.

This applies not just to students studying the practice of journalism. The same issues are roiling public relations and advertising, the teaching of which is often housed in schools of journalism and communications. Not surprisingly, because modern commerce has been so much about selling things, those industries have been considerably more innovative, in the professional ranks, than journalism in recent years. Key leaders in advertising and PR are surely making their needs clear to educators, and one suspects getting results.

As noted above, journalism schools are starting to embrace digital technologies in their work with students who plan to enter traditional media. Too few are helping students understand that they may well have to invent their own jobs, however, much less helping them do so.

Still, the experiments are growing in number, in scope and in potential. What’s more, they’re involving not just newcomers to the journalism education ranks, but faculty members who’ve been on the job for some time. The News21 Initiative, funded by two major foundations, is an example. We’re working on entrepreneurship as a core mission, and so is Jeff Jarvis at City University of New York, among others. Rich Gordon at Northwestern University’s Medill School is helping computer science students understand the value of journalism, and how they can help create tomorrow’s version. And so on.

But I keep coming back to the issue(s) that should trouble anyone who cares about the future of self-governed societies. We’re not turning out the critical thinkers we need in a time when that skill has never been so important, particularly when the avalanche of data — some of it bogus and much of it irrelevant — has never been so difficult to handle.

One experiment, at State University of New York’s Stony Book campus, is notable. Howard Schneider is leading another foundation-funded program (so many of these are, raising an interesting question that I won’t go into here) that aims to make better news consumers and critical thinkers of all students, not just those enrolled in journalism courses. This goes only part of the way to what I’d like to see in journalism education, but it’s a very useful start.

Where would I take it, if I ran a journalism school? I’d start, again, with the principles listed above, and rework the how-to part of the curriculum to be more digital (that is, media-agnostic) and entrepreneurially focused.

I’d also direct the alumni relations director to find out who attended the journalism program and then went onto great things in non-journalistic fields. To the extent that McNeil is correct about our offering such a useful program for students of all kinds, surely we’ll find plenty of accomplished graduates in other professions and crafts. Take a look at the Cronkite School’s “Alumni Hall of Fame” — a listing, begun in 1993, largely comprised of former students who are now employed by traditional media organizations. They are all worthy honorees. Sixteen years from now, I hope, this list will offer a much broader cross-section of affiliations.

Then, tackling the media activism challenge, my colleagues and I would:

  • Persuade the president of the university that every student on the campus should learn them before graduating, preferably during freshman year.
  • Create a program for people in the community, starting with teachers. We should be seeing every student take a basic media activist course at every level of education — not just college, but also grade, middle, and high school.
  • Offer that program to concerned parents who feel overwhelmed by the media deluge themselves. Children especially need to learn to be independent thinkers and not take for granted that what they see, hear, or read is necessarily true or real.
  • Provide for-fee training to communicators who work in major local institutions, such as PR and marketing folks from private companies, governmental organizations and others. If they could be persuaded that the principles matter, they might offer the public less BS and more reality, and they’d be better off for the exercise.
  • Try to enlist another vital player in this effort: local media. The traditional journalism organizations should be making this a core part of their missions, but haven’t yet realized why, namely that their own trust in the community would almost certainly rise if they helped people understand these principles — not to mention the enormous value of truly engaging the audience in the journalism itself. New media entrants would benefit, too, if they embraced the principles of media activism to produce higher quality work and deepen their own conversations with their communities of geography and interest.

All this suggests a considerably broader mission for journalism schools and programs than the one they’ve had in the past. We’re not the only ones who can do this, but we may be among the best equipped. If we don’t, someone else will.

Citizen Media Business Issues: Website Development

(This is the fifteenth in a series of postings about citizen media business issues. See the introduction here. All of these entries are considered to be in “beta” and will be revised and refined as they find a home on a more permanent area of the Center for Citizen Media web site.   To that end, your comments, additional examples, and criticisms are welcome and will be invaluable contributions to this process.)

You have a web host, you have a domain name, and you have an idea for a great site. You might even have a plan to earn a little income with it. The only things left to do before you start writing articles and showing off your vlogs are to design and develop it. That means deciding where the different elements of your site will go, what color scheme you’ll use, how everything ties together, and basically figuring out how to make it look and feel like you want it to look and feel. Continue reading →

Citizen Media Business Issues: Blog-Hosting Sites

(This is the fourteenth in a series of postings about citizen media business issues. See the introduction here. All of these entries are considered to be in “beta” and will be revised and refined as they find a home on a more permanent area of the Center for Citizen Media web site.   To that end, your comments, additional examples, and criticisms are welcome and will be invaluable contributions to this process.)

The last two Citizen Media Business Issues posts concerned registering a domain name and finding a web host. Among the suggestions in the latter was to generally avoid free web hosts, but providing for the notable exception of blog-hosting services. Here we’ll discuss what these are, their pros and cons, and some differences between companies. Continue reading →

McGuire: It's About People

My friend and colleague Tim McGuire says, “Bloodless journalism and mindless stats are not the way to report this recession”.

Entrepreneurship in Media, East Coast Style

Boston Globe: Media entrepreneurs test new ways to get the message across. Boston was home to the first American newspaper. A Medford radio station was among the first to try selling advertising to support its programming, in the early 1920s. Researcher Ray Tomlinson was working in Cambridge when he sent the first e-mail over the Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet, in 1971. Each innovation created a huge industry, and changed the way we communicate.

Now, at this moment of tumult in the media world, entrepreneurs in Boston and the wider New England region are trying to develop the next successful models for conveying information. But even as advertisers and consumers spend an increasing amount of money and time on the Internet, building a profitable digital media business isn’t exactly a cinch. Some local start-ups have already had to reduce their staff, and others will find themselves hunting for additional funding later this year from reticent investors.

11 Papers Run Corporate-Ordered Editorial

Capitol Alert: Eleven papers run A-1 editorial blasting lawmakers, Schwarzenegger.In a rare move, at least 11 California newspapers ran a front-page editorial on Sunday blasting the Legislature and governor for failing to solve the state’s budget woes. “The once great state of California today becomes a national disgrace,” the editorial began. The editorial ran in the MediaNews family of newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press Telegram.

A bit misleading to say 11 papers, since all are owned by the same company, which clearly ordered up this editorial. But it’s good to see a newspaper company taking a real stand, and being activist in its approach to critical events.

Weekend Reading: Fiction About Journalism's Future

Andy Oram’s “Validators” is short fiction “based on the premise that journalism had been replaced by Internet access.” Intriguing…