“The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?”

A Fictional Panel Discussion

Opening Remarks by the Panelists

Robert McChesney

“What shouldn’t we be concerned about? The current state of media in this country is a complete mockery of its heritage.  When American journalism was founded, it was as important a system of checks and balances as the democratic government itself. It was the Fourth Estate – the last levy that stood as a shield against our government from becoming anything more than a citizen-serving entity.

“Today, between corporate ownership and political influence, the media has strayed from its investigative roots.  Being threatened by their depleting piggy banks, reporters regurgitate information provided by unchecked government sources, and feel the choke-collar tighten when they publish stories that are sensitive to their corporate owners.  Toss in a poor economy, a declining number of newspaper subscriptions nationwide and readers migrating to the Internet to get their news, and suddenly newsrooms across the country are getting smaller and smaller.  Who has time to investigate or report properly when one reporter is doing the job of what was once the responsibility of three or four people?

“Additionally, the fast-paced media consumption being practiced today doesn’t allow for contextualization in news publication. The public has been robbed of a great service, and in its place we get bits and pieces of news stories that entertain rather than educate, that poorly summarize rather than give a broad look at the major news events affecting our society.  What was once the great Fourth Estate is now nothing more than a propaganda machine bankrolled by the government and corporate America.”

Ken Auletta

“I don’t know about the rest of these guys, but I’m mostly concerned about a small group of web developers working out of a home garage somewhere.  That’s what worries me the most!  (laughter ensues from the audience)

“But seriously, as a society, our biggest concern these days should be cyberwarfare – it’s as simple as that. We have already seen some of our own major news outlets take considerable hits, and what we’ve seen is only a fraction of what a worst-case scenario would look like.

“It used to be that ‘he who had the money had the power.’ That’s all changed since the Internet. Thanks to Google and other major contributors, information has become the coveted golden chalice. We live in a world of widespread terrorism, and yet everyday millions of users do their banking, stock exchanges and private information sharing online. Not only could a cyber-attack cripple our economy, but under certain circumstances it could also cause widespread panic. So yeah, I was mostly joking when I said, ‘I am concerned about a small group of web developers working out of a home garage somewhere,’ but actually, that is a concern of mine – and it should be one of yours too.”

Daniel Solove

“Ken, you make a great point about privacy being a major concern – but one thing that you neglected to mention is the personal privacy we are all putting at risk with the rise of social media and online social networking. As interpersonal communications are being generated from more private settings, the level of moral decency within our communications begins to suffer. Sure, I’ll give a poor review of the local Italian restaurant on my blog or send a nasty email to a store manager – but would I have done these things in person?  Would I dare to be as critical if I wasn’t hiding behind the protection of my computer screen?

“The web has opened a door to widespread libel that is virtually unmanageable, as the sources of criticism and comment are often anonymous in nature.  Corporate identities as well as personal reputations can be ruined in the blink of an eye, or in the sending of a tweet – and on a global scale, no less.

“Additionally, this continuous gossip-blogging only contributes to the confusion of worthy and unworthy sources on the web. With citizen journalism on the rise, how are we to discern what is legitimate and what is opinionated? The line is blurring to a point that it is becoming hard to tell.”

Jonathan Zittrain

“Thus far in the digital revolution, the development of the internet and inherent technologies have been strongly generative – meaning it has taken the labor of many separate individuals working in harmony to achieve this open-source medium that requires little startup cost to take advantage of. If you think about it, though, how long has anything being “free” really lasted in our capitalist society?

“I think one of the main things to be concerned about is the loss of net-neutrality, more specifically the privatization of the Internet.  We’ve been so used to having this library of information at our fingertips, but steps have already been taken in the direction of restricting access.

“Thus far, the Internet has been a great experiment in mildly-monitored social and informational collaboration.  Now that the demand is in place, don’t think for a second that the suppliers aren’t chomping at the bit to put a price tag on access.  AOL and CompuServe aren’t defeated… they’re just lying in wait until they can find a way to capitalize on this colossal information machine.”

Moderator (to McChesney)

“Robert, you make some interesting points about the changes in journalism since it was originally conceived as the Fourth Estate in this country; it surely is not the government watchdog that it once was.  And, yes, corporate ownership and political influence have had a major role in engendering that change. (associatedcontent.com)

“Could it not be argued, however, that capitalism is, and always has, funded journalism, just as it has funded every other industry in our country. Journalism will always need funding to operate. How would you suggest this funding be acquired?  If it isn’t corporate interest affecting the news, than it is political interest. If it isn’t political interest, than it is advertiser interest. The problem that you have outlined in your opening remark is, by no doubt, a conundrum. (newsinnovation.com)

“Perhaps a regulatory system to prevent influence of any kind might bring journalism back to its prestige. Would some sort of tax-exempt, anonymous citizen and corporate donation program be able to sustain the journalism industry as a whole?  If not, what would you suggest?”

(McChesney takes a sip of his water and then feigns a heart-attack. He is then removed from the panel)

Moderator (to Solove)

“Well… moving on.

“Dan, you mention the Internet opening the door to widespread libel through the rise in social media and social networking. We have seen some obvious cases of this, some even being brought in front of courts for actual defamation suits. (www.law.duke.edu)

“But, if what you say is accurate, what stops someone being libeled from using the same widespread form of communication to clear their name, or at least dispute any libelous claims made about them?  The Internet is the ultimate disseminator, so why, then, would the victim of such a crime not use it to their advantage?

Also, as you mentioned, net-neutrality is becoming a hot topic these days. Comcast has even experimented with a tiered service system in some areas of the country. Do you think this is extent of what is in store for our Internet privileges, or just a small taste of what is to come?” (www.businessweek.com)

(At this point in the panel discussion, Solove begins speaking in tongues,  Zittrain starts accosting an audience member for giving him a dirty look and ruining his reputation as an intellectual, and Auletta puts on a jetpack with the Google logo stamped on the back and rockets out the window.)

The End

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~ by dparsonsmedia on May 15, 2010.

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