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The Future of Government-Funded Journalism

Before panelists at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum conference could even begin to debate the role the government should play in “saving” American journalism, a litany of terms needed to be defined.

“Government” was broken down. Do we mean Federal or local government? Does this mean public supported projects or just official mandates? “Journalism” got a little bit further toward being defined – the panelists agreed that it’s not the same as media or news or information.


Of all the terms thrown around, “market value” and “market failure” became the central fighting weapons of this emotional discussion.

Josh Silver of Free Press said the market value of journalism remains high, so the government must play a role in providing for public demand.

Andrew Keen, an advisor to TBG-developed Arts and Labs, doesn’t think there’s room for government in making media decisions.

“We must let the market decide,” he said. “We are living at an exciting time. We have no idea what journalism is. You’ve got to let the market chose.”

In contrast to Keen’s views, the BBC was brought up as a shining example of public-funded journalism that was not market-driven.

“You’d also want to have the royal family in America!" Keen retorted. “The BBC is a complex cultural institution that wouldn’t work in the U.S.”

After the rapid-fire debate moved off the panelists’ table and into the audience, the conversation took many turns, with audience members offering that new media models and young entrepreneurs are worthy of both private market support and public funding.

Silver tried to wrap up his view by standing by his stance that there is still a role for public support.

“There are going to be many ingredients to the solution, and government is one of them,” he said.

New NewsHour Site Spotlights Multimedia Content and Team

During last year’s election cycle, I worked as the Online NewsHour’s associate editor for the Vote 2008 site, and while the site and show changed considerably during my year and a half there, bold revisions on the site today (and soon, the show) demonstrate an invigorated energy at the organization to keep up with new media during rocky times for traditional journalism.

In addition to a new design layout, some new site features include a new blog, written by both online and on-air employees, and the promotion of online video, something the site’s actually had for a long time but was never given its due prominence.

Of course, one of the most prominent features of the site and show is its new correspondent. Hari Sreenivasan, who comes to the NewsHour from years at CBS News, will be joining the on-air broadcast and working with the Online team to combine new media efforts.

Sreenivasan talked to The Bivings Group about the new site and the strategy behind its design.

… and about new social media and outreach efforts.

… and last, what other news outlets can learn from the redesign.

Blending the traditional program with Online efforts has not been an easy task. It took years to get the teams in the even in the same building, let alone the same work space.

Many of the new initiatives emerge due to pressure from dwindling sponsorship resources earlier in the year.

“Newspapers are thinning, and television has its own crisis,” show anchor Jim Lehrer said in an interview with the New York Times in May.

With the Online changes come revisions to the show format and a new name. Starting Monday, “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” will officially become “The PBS NewsHour.”

All of these changes reflect a struggle within Public Broadcasting to find a place across all media spaces, promoting brand without losing purpose.

Lehrer told the New York Times in a more recent article, that he’s “’very concerned about serious journalism,’ and for longtime practitioners of the craft, ‘we damn well better get with it.’”

New Advocacy Site Maps and Tracks Journalists in Peril

New media journalists around the globe face technological barriers and increasing dangers when reporting from within the boundaries of protective governments. A new site by Global Voices Advocacy maps and tracks journalists who have been threatened or arrested and aggregates the information into a robust map database with real-time statistics and details of each case.

threatened_voices The site, Threatened Voices, aims to raise awareness to the growing number of bloggers and other online journalists being persecuted across the world. While both traditional and new media reporters have faced recent danger, the site acknowledges the growing importance and number of online journalists in the global media.

“Online journalists and bloggers now represent 45% of all media workers in prison worldwide,” Global Voices says in a press release.

The captures of high profile journalists abducted in Iraq and North Korea have called attention to the dangers of the profession, while “the harshest consequence for many has been the politically motivated arrest of bloggers and online writers for their online and/or offline activities, in some tragic cases even leading to death,” Global Voices reports.

The site allows users to enter their own location and anecdotal details, drawing from the international community of journalists to fill the site’s map content.

Outside of the central map, other features of the site include statistics and analysis organized in a timeline or by country. The site lists China, Egypt and Iran as the top three countries, respectively, with the highest number of recorded cases of threatened or arrested bloggers.

Each case is tracked to record whether the blogger was threatened or arrested and if arrested, when and if they were released. Another aim of the site is to allow the online community to call attention to campaigns to free particular journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, one of the partners of the Threatened Voices project released a report in April on the 10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger.

Along with a thorough description of each country (at the time, Burma was listed at the top), the article quotes CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, who emphasizes, “Freedom of expression groups, concerned governments, the online community, and technology companies need to come together to defend the rights of bloggers around the world.”

The site was also built in collaboration with the BBC, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.

The CIO and Journalism

In the past we have profiled the innovative work of people like Adrian Holovaty who does some exciting things through programming that allow data to tell their own stories.  For instance, he set up the Campaign Tracker for the Washington Post, and he is now running his own site Everyblock – the database driven hyperlocal news site.  Further, in our newspaper studies we have examined how news organizations use the Internet.

While at the CIO Perspectives Forum here in Washington, DC last week, I was wondering about what kind of role CIOs should play at news organizations.  Their organizations may already use them as I am thinking (at least I hope).  However, it is important to note that in an October 2008 white paper titled “The CIO Profession: Leaders of change, drivers of innovation” IBM reports that most organizations mainly view and use CIOs as implementers and not as strategists.  Hopefully, news organizations turn to CIOs for planning and strategy and not just technical execution.  Of course, a CIO with a journalism background could help even more; Adrian Holovaty is so innovatively partly since he has a background in both programming and journalism.

If CIOs are involved in strategic planning, they can help the business and editorial staffers not only understand what is realistic, but they can also introduce them to new ideas that someone without technical expertise would know.  Further, a CIO could also identify potential problems and other issues in advance and help either avoid them or prepare other organizational stakeholders in advance. 

Here are a few examples of how a CIO can help news organizations strategically plan: 

  • Broadcast journalists are now going out to the field with recording and editing equipment with fewer producers and camera people accompanying them.  Before such equipment and software is purchased, the CIO could help determine the requirements for such equipment and software and then help identify applicable products.
  • A CIO with a decent understanding of database management could help find new application ideas like the ones that Adrian Holovaty has developed.
  • During our newspaper studies we look at the website features that news organizations use by examining the different features (i.e. blogs, RSS feeds, video sections, etc.) they harness.  A CIO would have a valuable perspective on helping developing a strategic plan on what the organization’s website should do. Further, he or she she can help evaluate content management systems (CMS), applications, and vendors to determine how well they meet the organization’s needs and desires.
  • A CIO can help an organization envision and deploy an API – like NPR’s API — which allows members of the public to use its data in interesting ways that the organizations itself did not image.  This is one way that a CIO can work with the business and editorial people at a news organization to help them find ways to profitably exploit an API.
  • The CIO could help find ways to organize content for the public in many different ways.  For instance, tagging enables people to find information in ways other than the traditional divisions like News, Sports, International, etc.  In fact, The Guardian newspaper wanted a tag editor back in October 2007.  This would help make the news organization’s site more easy for the public to use.

These are just a few examples of aspects of journalism in which news organizations can turn to their CIOs for strategic planning, and considering the dire state of media companies, they can use all of the help that they can get.

How else can news organizations harness their CIOs to help strategically plan?

Bloggers to be Subject to FTC Endorsement Disclosure Laws

The Federal Trade Commission Monday released revised regulations holding bloggers responsible for disclosing any freebies or payment associated with their writing.

“The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement,” the FTC said in a statement. “Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

The regulations may have widespread ramifications considering the millions of bloggers and the variety of their audiences. The Associated Press reported Monday bloggers who are caught without providing this disclosure could face $11,000 penalties after the regulations go into effect Dec. 1, 2010.

The disclosure is very similar to the Federal Communication Commission’s Payola Rules for broadcast media, which state that “all sponsored material must be explicitly identified at the time of broadcast as paid for and by whom, except when it is clear that the mention of a product or service constitutes sponsorship identification.”

This update to the FTC’s regulations on testimonials and endorsements is the first since 1980. While the regulations don’t declare how disclosures must be made, they must be “clear and conspicuous,” the AP reported.

Some bloggers touted the new regulations and welcomed recognition of their presence in mass marketing. Others, however, worried the rules would be too difficult to enforce and would lead to favoritism.

MediaBistro’s GalleyCat blog listed several difficult questions and potential problematic areas with the new regulations, including questions about liability if a blogger is writing for a news organization.

“If an unpaid blogger at the Huffington Post ‘endorses’ a consumer product without meeting the FTC guidelines for disclosure of ‘material connections’ to the makers of that consumer product, who’s liable: the blogger or the Huffington Post?” the post asks.

While the new regulations specifically refer to the expansion of regulations on blogs, the FTC also tightened rules on celebrity endorsements, which include mentions in Twitter streams or social networks.

“Along with advertisers, stars can be held liable for making false and misleading claims about a product under the new rules,” the New York Post reported.