J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Archive for June, 2006

More on “What Democracy Looks Like” from the AMC

Posted by chanders on June 26, 2006

As opposed to my somewhat incoherent note taking, Paul from Mediageek has posted a good summary and analysis of the media democracy panel.

From the post:

"All of the panelists directly addressed the challenges of making media that is responsive and accountable to communities, activists and organizers. There was critical discussion about the relationship of more radically grassroots projects to Indymedia as well as the liberal/progressive mainstream media that is primarily published by and for white middle-class progressives."

And Brownfemipower has a series of good observations of the AMC on her Woman of Color blog.

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AMC in Bowling Green: Panel Four, Independent Media in New Orleans

Posted by chanders on June 24, 2006

From the Panel Overview:

Independent Media Responses to Katrina

panelists: Mayaba Liebenthal, Critical Resistance New Orleans; Jordan Flaherty, Left Turn Magazine; Royce Osborn, National Black Programming Consortium. moderator: Nijmie Dzurinko, Philly IMC Media Mobilizing Project

Corporate media coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the government response to the disaster has been much analyzed. But what of independent media’s coverage of the disaster? How has independent media responded to the human rights crisis in the Gulf Coast? Has this response effectively supported demands for justice and accountability? How do we prepare for the next major disaster and for the ongoing Katrina of racism and poverty in the US?

What has not been good with regard to Independent Media Making? Indymedia New Orleans has not worked very well. All in all, much of the independent media making in N.O. has been of the reportorial variet, rather than allowing people in the city to document and tell their own stories.

What has worked? Jordan says that there’s really nothing wrong with people just coming down and doing their stories, but there’s more that can be done. Media makers need to be accountable to the communities there, and what that means is to be accountable to the community groups.

Some discussion of the non-profit industrial complex and its role in New Orelans.

The "pornography of disaster" in some New Orleans media making.

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AMC in Bowling Green: Panel One, Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

Posted by chanders on June 24, 2006

I’m at the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green for the third year in a row … and somewhat (though not entirely) sadly, the last one to be in Bowling Green  for at least a while (it’s moving to Detroit). Instead of live blogging the entire thing, I figured I’d take some notes in interesting panels and post them more or less verbatim. If anyone from the conference is reading this, please remember that these are my off the top of my head notes … they may not be entirely complete or exact. Feel free to comment or correct me in the comments.

Panel One: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

From the descrip[tion: We are moving into a new era of participatory communications – cell
phone cameras, blogs, myspace, YouTube – where the line between media
producer and consumer is disappearing. In that sense, part of the
independent media mission has been accomplished. Yet with all of this
access and direct interaction, we seem to be living in an increasingly
undemocratic society with worsening racism and class oppression. This
panel will examine new models for media activism that go beyond
reporting to the integration of media and organizing in the movement
for social justice.

Shivaani Selvaraj, Philly IMC Media Mobilizing Project
Francesca Fiorentini, WRL / Left Turn
Susana Adame, Radical Women of Color Bloggers, INCITE! Network
Betty Yu, MNN

Moderator: Joshua Brietbart

What was the problem with independent media you identified before you began your media work, and how have you tried to fix it through the work you’ve been doing?

Selvaraj: Media mobilizing project, closed collective within the Philly IMC. Still quite new, still trying to figure out how to talk about what we’re doing.

No one who is at the core of this project has a history of doing IMC work; prejudice against Indymedia, have had bias against it: “white, isolated from the people and issues I’ve chosen to care about.”

Doing this project within IMC was both accidental and deliberate. Inheriting an Indymedia history yet trying something new.

Closed collective within an open structure ‡ “energizing tension.”

Adame:  Blogging: Seems to be the perfect place to create safe spaces for women of color … yet, blogging is not a blank medium, there is actually a really strong structure there that women of color have had to fight against and battle against; there are not “no rules” … cultural structures and rules are very much in place.

Fiorentini: Going beyond reporting. Why does the term reporting seem awkward to Left Turn? LT does not consider itself a media outlet that much. Not coming from a journalism background, and the workers at LT are not worried about being journalists so much.

Reporting ‡ Distances the subject and the object. The reporter is not the reported upon … the reporter swoops in and observes. Print media is especially difficult, because there are established print magazines that can be very exclusive.

Left turn creates a space for intra-movement dialog … also very difficult to set up in a print media context.

Yu: MNN / Save Access Coalition. Schism between media justice activists, independent media makers, and social justice organizing. Also, there is no accountability of independent media makers to their community.

Additional problem with the save access campaign ‡ too inside the beltway. Need affected communities to take control of the public access fight.

Breitbart: Themes.

1. How independent media can come from communities and be accountable to them?

Brietbart: Creating space? How do we redefine space?

Adame: How did white male culture create the blogging culture and technology that excludes women of color? Example:
a. Linking. Paradox. No one links to alternate perspectives; either established communities or the communities themselves, and when there is linking there is usually an influx of hate mail, etc.
Create a bloc. More than a “single individual of women of color” (the lone individual  needed to change and challenge these perspectives.

Some discussion about how to balance the need to be inclusive and how to balance the needs of individual communities. “Need to center our experiences.”

Space within the blogosphere.

*** Nubian (find this blog): I’m not going to change what I have to say just because I want to “appease white supremacy.”

Shivaani: Philly IMC Media Mobilizing Coalition is half white and half people of color.

Media is only a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Media for what? Information for what?

Why do women of color not blog? “I don’t have anything to say.”

Chris’ Comments:

Theme: Retrenchment and re engagement.

Women of color, social justice organizers are facing a system that promises an “unlimited freedom” that can lead to justice; nevertheless, the freedom of the digital internet is not unlimited and may paradoxically be responsible for larger inequalities. Some form of reorganization is needed, whether in “reality” (MMC within Philly) or virtual within the internet. Once some form of internal solidarity has been achieved, there can then occur a process of re-engagement?

Chris: But how and when do the re engagement half of the equation occur? What happens if one occurs and not the other?  Which is more important?

Susana answers: I had a long dialog with someone on my site who called himself “poor white boy” and who portrayed himself as totally opposed to what we were saying. The key in dealing with, dialoging with, and in some productive way coming to terms with him was:

1. Having white allies who constantly engaged this guy and got him to a point where we felt like had something in common with us – ie, poverty.
2. Could then utilize our strong, organized POC community to continue the conversation.

a. this could never have occurred offline
b. this also never could have occurred without being organized in the way that they already were online

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‘Outsiders In’: Yearly Kos, Boundary Lines, and Border Zones

Posted by chanders on June 12, 2006

Well, the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas got press attention that probably exceeded everyone involved’s wildest dreams. Beltway Blogroll has the best press roundup that I’ve seen (Part One here, Part Two here.) It’s a perfect political story, and a few possible journalistic frames include: nerdy bloggers leave the computer behind and venture into the real world, blinking in the glare of slot machines and dancing girls with conical metal brassieres; friendly faces are put to hitherto cryptic screen names; or, finally, formerly rambunctious and  angry outsiders are slowly absorbed into the Democratic Party establishment, leaving their radical views and integrity behind, but sacrificing the passion of youth for the power and cynical wisdom of middle age.

It’s this last frame which has dominated coverage … not surprisingly, of course, as its an old, old story (going back at least to the overthrow of the thuggish Titans by the Athenian gods, who then went on to become crackpot dictators in their own right). The "outsiders become insiders" frame actually was launched a few weeks ago with Matt Bai’s article in the New York Times Magazine, but reached critical mass with Maureen Dowd’s column and Adam Nagourney’s write up.

Dowd: "As I wandered around workshops, I began to wonder if the outsiders just wanted to get in. One was devoted to training bloggers, who had heretofore not given much thought to grooming and glossy presentation, on how to be TV pundits and avoid the stereotype of nutty radical kids."

Nagourney: "They may think of themselves as rebels, separate from mainstream politics and media. But by the end of a day on which the convention halls were shoulder to shoulder with bloggers, Democratic operatives, candidates and Washington reporters, it seemed that bloggers were well on the way to becoming — dare we say it? — part of the American political establishment.

Mark Warner’s$50,000 party was the icing on the cake for a lot of the mainstream press, and even my parents’ local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, got in on the act. Wrote Dick Polman: "Moulitsas wrote recently that the party insiders can either work with
the bloggers, "or get out of the way." Yet there’s always the danger
that the outsiders might wind up seduced and co-opted."

Even the normally indefatigable Jeff Jarvis seemed momentarily stumped by the whole affair (unless, of course, he was just rhetorically playing dumb). Notes Jeff:

"What is the line between insider and outsider? In one breath, you hear the attendees talking about taking over the party. In the next gasp, you hear them talk about supplanting both parties […] So is this a party? A caucus of the party? A splinter from the party? A new party? A gathering of bloggers or media? A gathering of media or activists? A candy mint or a breath mint? Life is so confusing now."

The question of insiders versus outsiders isn’t a new one for social scientists; indeed, it comes into play every time you have to define a population to study and then extrapolate that population from the "real world":  who, in other words, is in the group that we think is important enough to spend a few years studying, and what characteristics do they possess that differentiates them from everybody else?  One of the major sociological moves in recent years has been to deny that the boundary between inside and outside is self-evident, or, in fact, that it even exists at all.  Bruno Latour probably puts the point most provocatively, writing in his chapter "Outsiders In" from Science in Action that we must "leave the boundaries [between inside and outside] open and close them only when the people we follow close them.” Or, as Collins and Evans note in "The Third Wave of Science Studies," "one could say that the tendency to dissolve the boundary between those inside and those outside the community reaches its apogee in ‘Actor Network Theory’ [ANT], as first adumbrated by Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. Here even the boundary between human experts and non-human contributors to the resolution of conflict is taken away."

While there has been some retreat from ANT within sociologies of science in recent years, its notions about insiders versus outsiders are still enormously productive, in my opinion, especially when it comes to analyzing occupational, social, and political categories upended by the internet. The most provocative application of ANT to online journalism, for instance, comes from Turner, who argues that "the boundaries of journalistic practice have long been more porous than professional norms might suggest … [we need a theoretical model] in which the sociological concepts emerging in and around the study of science and technology can be usefully applied to other professions. These concepts make it possible to identify new sorts of journalists."

So, getting back to the Yearly Kos, its possible to argue that the boundary lines between "insider and outsider," "activist and operative," "rebel and party hack" aren’t nearly as clear as Dowd, Nagourney, and, indeed, the Kossacks themselves, would like to believe. Instead of a sharply defined boundary line we might better imagine a thick, poorly defined "border zone" made up of proliferating hybrids, shifting social and occupational roles, and networks of expertise. To at least some degree, there is no important empirical difference between the outsider Kossacks and  the insider party establishment; or, at least, such a difference cannot be productively imagined by drawing sharply defined borders between the two.  (This, of course, begs the question as to whether there is some sort of "core" beyond either side of the border zone.)

We can’t stop here, though– because as we’ve seen, while the empirical and sociological utility of sharp lines might be questionable, there’s still a rhetorical value to fixing your own borders, on the part of the social actors themselves. In other words: the Kossacks, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media– all these groups find it useful to define themselves and others as insider or outsider, as part of "our" group or part of "the other guy’s" group." This is where the  Bourdieuean notion of the field, distinction, and the "real as relational" can still be valuable, perhaps not as a description of actually existing social reality, but at least as the description of a rhetorical and "professional" strategy by which insiders are distinguished from outsiders.  And yet, the very fact that such categorical definitions find such little purchase in "actually existing" social life renders them supremely flexible and, indeed, potentially incoherent. This, I think, is what Jarvis is getting at when he writes of the Yearly Kos attendees that:

"they are the outsiders who want to be in and who decide who’s in and who’s out. When asked about whether Hillary Clinton would be welcome at his event, Kos said, “Oh, my God, no way!” Nagourney said she declined an invitation. The outsiders declare she’s in the wrong crowd so she’s out with them.

In other words, the insider / outsider rhetoric changes all the time, depending on who is talking, when, about whom. But the deployment of this rhetoric is both strategic and essential to the identity of the various social actors involved.

And of course, all this can apply equally to mainstream, professional, and online journalism, as I tried to get at in my discussion of the NORG movement in Philadelphia.

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The Perils of the Blogging Academic?

Posted by chanders on June 8, 2006

Leaving aside the hoopla surrounding the death of Salafi Jihadiist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for the moment (a quick perusal of some of the links I mentioned in this earlier post will give you far more information on what it all means than I ever possibly could) I wanted to talk about another Middle East related event: the decision by Yale University not to hire well-known academic and University of Michigan professor Juan Cole for its open academic position on the modern middle east.

There’s a lot that could be said about the royally screwed up right-wing political attacks in Middle Eastern studies departments right now, indeed, I have had my own brush with this two years ago as the MEALAC controversy bubbled over at Columbia. But for the time being, I’m going to try to leave the larger philosophical questions about the appointment behind and focus on one specific aspect of it: the role Cole’s blog, Informed Comment may have played in the decision surrounding whether or not to grant Cole the job.

Leibovitz quotes a Yale "university insider" who provides three reasons why senior Yale faculty on the "tenure committee" might have blocked Cole’s appointment after it was approved by the Sociology and History departments. The first was that his specialty is 18th and 19th century Baha’i faith; the second had to do with  concerns over Cole’s collegiality "as his penchant for combative blog entries and personal spats with detractors might make him an unnerving fixture on Yale"; the third factor might have been his politics.

In other words, two out of the three reasons given by this "university insider" (and its important to note that Leibovitz discusses a lot of the macinations behind the Cole appointment in his article that go beyond these stated reasons) as to why Cole’s appointment was blocked revolve around his blog. Most likely, Cole would have remained a fairly unknown specialist academic had he never started blogging (a search fole Cole’s name in Amazon reveals a publication list that is largely scholarly; certainly, there’s nothing in the printed record that documents the career of a dissident public intellectual like Edward Said, for example), and his politics (reason three) would be unknown. And the second reason, "his penchant for combative blog entries," seems to imply that the  character, rather than simply the content of his online postings played a role, too.

There’s been a fair degree of discussion about the relationship between blogging and getting a job in the mainstream press; one of the most recent articles was "Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply." in the New York Times (behind a firewall, sorry, but here’s a good blog dissection of the article at LexBlog Blog). But getting an internship, though, or even getting kicked out of a PR firm, is substantially different from not getting a prestigious academic appointment at Yale. Or at least it used to be.

This all comes in the wake of two recent blog posts by Susan Crawford which discuss the relationship between academia and the blogosphere. Crawford a law professor, asks if "a blogger who is a law professor [is[ always a law professor, even when he/she is blogging?  What’s the relationship between blogging and scholarship?  Should tenure committees consider blog posts?" Providing her own take on the question, she notes that "I see scholarship and blogging as separate endeavors, and I enjoy getting the chance to speak here without footnotes.  I feel as if I’m part of an enormous collaborative and creative endeavor online.  I don’t expect for a moment that my colleagues will consider my posts when I’m up for tenure." Jarvis argues that maybe the academy should start taking blogging more seriously; while not calling for the elimination of traditional tenure questions, Jarvis rhetorically asks: "isn’t the link the new and improved footnote? Doesn’t Technorati provide a new and open form of peer review? And isn’t it wonderful to get a professorial perspective in a timely manner?" He adds that, as a soon to be blogging professor, "I will be aware that they may see what I say here [in my blog] and if they do, I hope they challenge me on it. I’ll also be aware that fellow faculty may read it and may have cause to argue with it. I’d relish that, and I’d bet the students would … if that were a discussion via links among mutual blogs."

In theory, I agree with Jeff. But what about the Juan Cole’s of the world? And what about those of us with unpopular opinions who really are the equivalent of academic interns? (What about me, for instance?***) Juan Cole certainly did exactly what Jeff argued for, didn’t: took his knowledge, added his strong opinions, and shared it with the world. It turns out that that a large part of the (Western) world (and apparently at least a few bigwigs at Yale) didn’t like what he had to say, and it cost him his job. And it had little, it seems, to do with his scholarly credentials. So what about it, academic bloggers? Should we all shut up?

*** I’ll be teaching Contemporary Civilization at Columbia University next year, and have been told that one of the first things students do with their CC profs. is google them. Fortunately, Chris Anderson is a pretty common name. But assuming that they google smart, say, and look for "Chris Anderson" and "Columbia University," what will they uncover? Assuming they realize I’m not the Chris Anderson at Wired, they’ll find:

This blog
My NORG report-back (from this blog)
My bio from the IAPE conference at Ohio
My Columbia Bio
My Spectator op-ed

Not very incriminating, I know. But I’m sure anyone who ever wanted to dig up "controversial" dirt on me could do so easily.

(Full disclosure: Liel Leibovitz, author of The Jewish Week article, is a colleague and friend of mine.)

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A Little More on Farnaz Fassihi and the Imprisioned Journalist

Posted by chanders on June 1, 2006

Just to start, I really want to thank Christopher Albritton for engaging with my last post. Again, his response is in his blog and in the comments section of yesterday’s entry. He quotes an interview he did with Farnaz Fassihi where she argues, basically, that despite all the dangers and difficulties in Iraq, and despite the fact that "the security situation may prevent us from getting a hundred percent feel of the place, …  [I] think we have a better idea of what’s going on in Iraq than anybody else."

Then I had one of those "duh" moments: Fassihi spoke at the graduation at my current school, the Columbia University j-school just a few weeks ago. Though I wasn’t there (us PhD students take a long time to graduate!) the text of her remarks are online. Basically, what she says echoes her comments to Albritton, though at greater length. I’m going to quote her in some detail

Not much has changed in terms of our safety since I wrote that email. In the face of all these security limitations, we learned to get creative about reporting. More and more, we relied on the brave Iraqi men and women who work for us.Every where in the world, foreign correspondents are helped by “fixers’’ and ‘’stringers” — young energetic locals who are resourceful, have good contacts and speak good English. On any foreign assignment, the quality of your fixer makes or breaks your trip but this is especially true in Iraq, where the role of the local Iraqi staff has been much more pronounced.

Don’t take me wrong, of course we still venture out but very carefully. We try to be as unobtrusive as possible, staying no long than 30 minutes in any spot. A simple reporting trip requires hours of advanced planning and security checks.We travel in an armored car, followed by a surveillance car with our armed guards. We go out with walkie-talkies and make sure another reporter is aware of where we are going, the roads we take and what time to expect us back.

But the Iraqis go to places we can’t go; they find us stories and sources and conduct interviews on our behalf; sometimes they even convinced people to come to the hotel so I could interview them myself. They buy our groceries and arrange every little detail of our work and living arrangements. They work for us at the risk of their own lives and the safety of their families.

So in sum: journalism in Iraq is beset on all sides, but the news bureaus there are still carrying on, often very creatively, and at great expense and personal danger.  This isn’t a reason to say that the situation for journalism in Iraq is ideal, or even very good, but its much worse to insinuate, as Laura Ingram did, that somehow journalists are "losing Iraq" because they can’t get the story.

But back to my original point: what should the role of the lefty media critic be in a situation like Iraq?  I noted in an earlier post that "it might be nice to see the left blogosphere distinguish itself from the right blogosphere by praising good journalism, by being fair, and by being merciless when, indeed, the mainstream press f—-s up." I’ve certainly penned my own armchair criticism of the Iraq conflict, and have  especially excoriated Judy Miller, but there must be a way to distinguish the crap from the good. Journalism can, after all, me a powerful weapon in the progressive arsenal; it is true, as Fassihi notes, that "journalists have thus far remained the only independent observers of this [Iraq] conflict." But how independent have they been? Either way, they may be the best we can do.

One last thought: I was thinking yesterday about why Fassihi’s letter made such a splash when it came out. Part of it was because here was a journalist who actually had honest-to-god personal opinions about public matters. That resonates with people. But also because, like so much else in Iraq, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Whether you were on the right or the left, a supporter or critic of the war, this conflict was supposed to be the conflict of "embedding," of too much access. Lefty media critics were prepared to blast journalists for being pawns and prisoners of the military. What they weren’t prepared for, as much doom and gloom as they expressed before the war, was that Iraq would become the hell that it has; that journalists would become, along with being the occasional prisoners of U.S propaganda, real-life prisoners of a seemingly endless war.

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