On the Media

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ON THE MEDIA: America’s Local Newspapers Might Be Broke – But They’re More Vital Than Ever

Local journalism is doing great work across the country while fighting cutbacks and tight budgets. But we need people to stop expecting news to be free

By: Kathleen McLaughlin, September 11, 2017, for The Guardian

The Texas Tribune’s coverage of Hurricane Harvey wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

More than a year before Hurricane Harvey crashed into Houston, the Texas Tribune dug deep into how climate change and unchecked growth created a sprawling city vulnerable to devastation if the perfect storm hit.

In their investigation, the Tribune explained the factors behind Houston’s dangerously heightened exposure to hurricane disaster. In the days since Harvey flooded the city, ruined homes and businesses and killed at least 70 people in its path, the Texas Tribune’s work has been hailed as “oddly prescient”.

In fact, it was the natural outgrowth of great journalism by reporters who know their subjects and communities well and have covered these issues extensively.

One of the Tribune’s reporters, Kiah Collier, explained that she and her colleague Neena Satija reported at length on Houston’s debate “over how, and whether, to build some kind of storm protection system to block the devastating storm surge that would accompany Houston’s ‘perfect storm’”. When Collier moved to the Tribune from the Houston Chronicle in 2015, Satija was already in talks with Pro Publica about the project and she jumped aboard.

“This previous coverage was definitely important; I had a grasp on the issue from the get-go and a bunch of sources,” Collier told me over email.

Collier says she and her team knew the story would be predictive, but not so soon. Rather than being spooked by the Tribune’s accuracy and ability to foresee what was coming to Houston, let’s consider instead the years of hard work, digging and trust-building it took their reporters to get to that story. It wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting.

In the face of massive cutbacks and tight budgets, this kind of reporting is happening all over America. I’ve been working this summer with the Guardian and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project on their new On the Ground project and I’ve been doing what might be the most fun part of the work. My job has been to create partnerships with local and regional news outlets like the Texas Tribune.

One of the goals of the project is to get these important stories about inequality in front of the people affected by them. We know that nobody does that better than local and regional press. Talking with dozens of editors, from Atlanta to Wyoming and Texas to Tulsa, has reaffirmed my belief that a massive share of the most important journalism done in America today is from reporters and editors committed to improving their own communities, not in amassing empty praise or followings on Twitter.

From beautiful new magazines to old-fashioned small-town daily newspapers, local journalism is still fighting a tough financial battle, but doing incredible work.

Missoula, Montana. Photograph: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

In Atlanta, the Bitter Southerner has turned gorgeous reporting, writing and editing, wrapped under a killer brand name, into a battle against negative stereotypes about the American South. In Fargo, North Dakota, the alternative weekly newspaper High Plains Reader is investigating racism and violence in one of the only states in America without a hate crimes law. In Oklahoma, the online outlet Oklahoma Watch picks one or two topics each year that its top-notch staff can dig into at great length, with consequential reporting and insights.

These are just a few of the outlets I’ve had the pleasure of exploring this summer. All across America, I’ve spoken with journalists who are committed, working their butts off and forever looking for new ways to keep their organizations going financially. There’s no shortage of the will to do solid journalism, to help people better understand what’s happening in their towns and cities. But with the death of traditional newspaper funding and the ongoing corporate consolidation of American local press, the situation can seem grim.

Even over the course of the summer, the media landscape in my home state of Montana changed yet again. (I wrote about Montana’s media and the dire state of local news in America earlier this year). Missoula’s only independent newspaper – the Missoula Independent – was bought by Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based company that already owns four of the state’s largest daily papers and several smaller outlets.

The Independent was probably Montana’s lone remaining widely read critic of Lee’s cutbacks and coverage in the state and though its management has promised to keep it independent, the truth remains to be seen. Separately, the Lee chain scaled back yet again on its political coverage, moving one of its two remaining state reporters into a local education beat. The change went unreported in their pages.

Montana’s shrunken press is but one example of what happens to journalism when the ultimate motive is profit. In a report last fall, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that since 2004, more than a third of US newspapers had been sold at least once, and that the largest newspaper companies continue to buy up papers and squeeze out cash.

“Concerns about the role and ownership of newspapers have been voiced and debated since the founding of the country,” they wrote. “However, the dramatic shift in ownership of newspapers over the past decade – coupled with the rapidly deteriorating finances of community papers – brings added urgency to a new version of an age-old question: In the digital age, what is the civic responsibility of newspaper owners to their communities?”

Yet it’s wholly unclear whether non-profit models are better at serving the public good. A new report from New York University questions whether foundation-funded journalism is just creating more reporting for those who already have journalism – the wealthy (sorry, I can’t use the word “elite” as it’s almost always a misnomer), who live in clusters of America where media remains relatively strong.

So what can you do? The simple solution lies with you, dear reader. Find a news outlet valuable to your life and pay for it. Plain and simple. It’s not a long-term solution, but we need people to stop expecting the news be the same as air and sunlight – absolutely free.

On Sunday, we got some very sad news that a potential partner for On the Ground was going away, for an indefinite period. The editor of Indian Country Today – an invaluable source of news and information and the Native American diaspora in the United States – has gone on hiatus to figure out a new funding model. This month, the Guardian published a beautifully reported and written piece by one of their journalists on violence against Native women. Without her deep grounding in the issue, built through years of reporting, it’s hard to imagine how writer Mary Pember could have done the issue such justice.

ICT editor Chris Napolitano told me he thinks there are ways to get people to support journalism again, but we may be well beyond the era of subscriptions supporting reporting. What lies ahead, he suggests, is in adding value, going beyond the headlines and daily news.

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ON MIGRATION: The Stories Behind DACA, the Now-Ended Program for Young Undocumented Immigrants in the US

By: Amanda Lichtenstein, September 11, 2017, for Global Voices

Activists protest the end of DACA in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017. “Deport Hate, Not Dreamers” and “United We Dream/#DefendDACA.” Photo by Molly Adams on Flickr, permission under CC BY 2.0.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Trump administration would terminate a program that grants two-year renewable work and study permits to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without papers.

In the days following the policy shift surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACAprotestswalkoutspetitions, “resistbot campaigns” and calls for impeachment have flooded the internet and the streets of the US. Critics accuse the White House of being cruel, as many DACA recipients self-identify as Americans.

DACA was put in place through executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. A legislative version of the policy, known as the DREAM Act, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.

Nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who are often called “dreamers” in reference to the DREAM Act, now face the possibility of deportation when their permits expire in six months if Congress does not act.

The decision triggered a renewed debate on the very definition of what it means to be an “American,” in this case referring to a citizen of the United States, with organizations like Define American at the forefront, using stories to put a face to the numbers.

Founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, Define American’s mission is to use the power of story to “transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American also invites undocumented people and their allies to create and upload text and video testimonials about the immigrant experience in the US.

Giovanni Amado, 23, arrived in the US in 1998 from Mexico City when he was just 3 years old. In his video testimonial, published a few days before the Trump administration’s announcement, Amado talks about his work as a fraud specialist in a bank and says he does not understand how terminating DACA helps anyone:

“The term American should not be defined by a document or the lack of one. It is more so the willingness to contribute to the country and help others out whenever possible.”

And Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old woman from Belize who came to the US at the age of 7, says DACA allowed her to finish her university studies. She defines American as:

“..an individual — immigrant or otherwise — who has lent their skills, knowledge, education, business acumen as well as labor that lends to this nation’s positionality as a hegemonic power.”

In addition to crowd-sourced testimonials, Define American recently launched#UndocuJoy, a social media campaign designed to combat victimizing representations of undocumented people by “flooding the media with authentic images of happiness.”

The campaign features a video in collaboration with poet Yosimar Reyes who narrates his poem “I Love Us” throughout a series of images of everyday undocumented people getting up, going to work, dancing, making breakfast, and being human:

“I love us / because we have constantly had to prove our humanity / and constantly done it beautifully / Because to stay human / Under these conditions / you have to have an understanding of / Beauty.”

The struggle for permanent sanctuary

In Attorney General Sessions’ speech announcing DACA’s termination, he referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

His choice of wording recalled Define American’s campaign #WordsMatter, launched in 2015, which urges journalists to stop using the word “illegal” to refer to people:

“Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions.”

“Being in the US without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one,” the campaign continues.

Given Trump’s past disparaging comments about people of Mexican origin, as well as a series of controversial executive orders, pardons, and proclamations that involve minority communities, the move to end DACA and the language used to justify the decision have reinforced accusations that Trump is purposefully stirring mistrust and hatred in society.

Even before Trump’s rise to the presidency, the federal government’s deportation priorities led certain areas of the country to limit their cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico), as well as 37 cities and counties, have declared themselves as so-called sanctuary cities.

Following the DACA decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel doubled down on his city’s commitment to offering sanctuary, going so far as to declare Chicago a “Trump-Free Zone.”

But sanctuary cities aren’t a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Their fate now rests with Congress. Perhaps hearing the personal stories published by initiatives like Define American will remind lawmakers that there are real people behind the statistics and that being American is more than just a piece of paper.

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ON THE MEDIA: U.N. Human Rights Chief Condemns Trump’s Attacks on Media

By: Nick Cumming-Bruce, August 30, 2017, for The New York Times

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, said the president risked inciting violence. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief said on Wednesday that President Trump’s repeated denunciations of some media outlets as “fake news” could amount to incitement to violence and had potentially dangerous consequences outside the United States.

The rebuke by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Geneva was an unusually forceful criticism of a head of state by a United Nations official.

Mr. al-Hussein was reacting to Mr. Trump’s recent comments at a rally in Phoenix during which he spoke of “crooked media deceptions” in reports of the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.

In Phoenix, the president’s words also appeared to whip up audience hostility toward journalists.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only a cornerstone of the Constitution but very much something the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president himself,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “It’s a stunning turnaround.”

Asked for comment, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in an emailed statement, “We believe in free press and think it is an important part of our democracy, but the press also has a big responsibility to the American people to be truthful. Their job is to report the news, not create it.

“Is it not ‘dangerous’ for the media,” she continued, “to create false narratives and overzealous attacks against the president that the American people chose to be their leader? The president is focused on growing our economy, creating jobs, securing our border and protecting Americans. Since those are also the priorities of most Americans, hopefully the media will make covering them theirs.”

In an attempt to deflect criticism that he had stoked racial divisions by failing to unequivocally condemn the actions of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville as racist, Mr. Trump had accused the news media of giving a platform to hate groups.

He singled out by name The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post.

Mr. al-Hussein said that the violence in Charlottesville was “an abomination.” The Nazi salutes, the display of swastikas and the anti-Semitic chants had no place in the United States or anywhere else, he said.

“To call these news organizations fake does tremendous damage,” Mr. al-Hussein added. “I believe it could amount to incitement. At an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very, very bad people — you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

Mr. Trump’s relationship with the news media has veered from lobbing labels like “dishonest” and “enemy of the people” at certain companies to agreeing to cordial sit-downs with those very outlets, like a wide-ranging interview with Times reporters in July.

President Trump speaking in Phoenix last week. Photo: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

He was criticized for retweeting a short video meme showing him wrestling with and punching a figure whose head had been replaced by the logo of CNN, a network he has called “garbage journalism.”

But the president has shown a strong preference for programs on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox network, like Sean Hannity’s program and “Fox & Friends.”

Before the presidential election, Mr. al-Hussein had warned that Mr. Trump could be a danger to international stability, but on Wednesday, at a news conference to discuss Venezuela, the human rights chief focused mainly on more recent domestic events.

Mr. al-Hussein said the president’s demonization of the news media was “poisonous because it has consequences elsewhere.” If a journalist were to be harmed, he asked, “does the president not bear responsibility for this, for having fanned this?”

Countries that did not recognize the essential role of the news media could be inspired if journalists in the United States were attacked, he said. He noted that Cambodia’s government, for example, had withdrawn licenses from the news media and it had cited Mr. Trump as an inspiration for doing so.

Mr. al-Hussein also condemned the president’s comments regarding Muslims, minorities and transgender people as “grossly irresponsible.”

“It emboldens those who think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.

The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States in the first three months of this year was 86 percent higher than in the same period last year, he said, citing figures from the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. al-Hussein compared Mr. Trump to a bus driver “careening down a mountain path.” From a human rights perspective, he said, “it seems to be reckless driving.”

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ON MEDIA: Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival

By Nick Rice for Clash, 17-07-17

Clash – DocFest 2017, Strong Island

Inspiration overload at one of the international film industry’s most important annual events…

The Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival, or Doc/Fest as it’s widely known, is a welcome highlight on the international calendar of any filmmaker or documentarian and for the vastly growing audience of compelling and crucial non-fiction films.

For six days in June, Sheffield city centre becomes a cosmopolitan heaving hub of activity that celebrates and elevates a palette of film work that is as rich as it is relevant. With swanky boutique, brand spanking multiplex and cosy old favourite cinemas across the city all involved, alongside other venues such as the Crucible Theatre, City Hall and Town Hall – plus free outdoor screens with deckchairs dotted around – the Doc/Fest requires some careful navigation. Thankfully, everything is within walking distance, so every talk, masterclass, screening, live performance, workshop, exhibition networking party or piss-up, is only a quick march away.

For one itinerary-busting week festival-goers are exposed to the latest works of internationally acclaimed veteran filmmakers and vital emerging voices that reflect the world we share. As the CEO and Festival Director Liz McIntyre succinctly puts it, “We’re reeling from seismic change as we witness events that we know will become the most pored over scenes in future documentaries. Doc/Fest 2017 is brimming with documentaries that are funny and quirky, powerful and influential, heart-stopping and heart-breaking”.

The Opening Night film of the 24th edition was the world premiere of Daisy Asquith’s Queerama, coinciding with 50 years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which marked the slow process of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. Given unlimited access to the British Film Institute’s archives, with some material dating back to 1919, Asquith has crafted an eye-opening and entertaining account of gay experiences in the last century.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of the Sun

With a soundtrack by John Grant, Alison Goldfrapp and Hercules & Love Affair the film transports us into the lives of gay men and women throughout the 20th Century. Black and white footage and testimonials from homosexuals in the 1940s and ‘50s offer a rarely seen glimpse into the intensely difficult challenges that society once imposed. The film and its playful editing (staggering given it was accomplished in months rather than years) shines a welcome light on how far society has progressed in the face of ugly prejudice. After the premiere John Grant performed several tracks used in the film and joined Asquith and the prominent creator of contemporary British queer cinema Campbell X for a lively Q&A.

The Talks & Sessions are one of the most popular elements of Doc/Fest and this year the stellar bill continued. Louis Theroux interviewed one of his heroes, Nick Broomfield – the acclaimed filmmaker who during his forty years in the industry has made films such as Biggie and Tupac, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Kurt & Courtney and the hotly-anticipated Whitney: ‘Can I Be Me which premiered at the Doc/Fest. Broomfield and Theroux made for an infectious duo and after a riveting tour through the elder’s career one City Hall audience member shouted out the suggestion that they should collaborate, which quickly received noisy cheers of concurrence.

The redoubtable and always likeable Ian Hislop was also at City Hall in conversation with the BAFTA-winning actor and satirist Jolyon Rubinstein (The Revolution Will Be Televised, Revolting). The pair were intensely amusing bedfellows and unpicked the world of post-truth and satire, lambasting prime targets like the excruciatingly smug Piers Morgan and the sickeningly repellent Katie Hopkins in their stride whilst presenting the modern media landscape encountered by the long-time editor of Private Eye and the only panel member of Have I Got News For You who has never missed a single episode, even when requiring an urgent operation for appendicitis.

Clash – DocFest 2017, A RIVER BELOW

At the Crucible Theatre the legendary director and artist Peter Greenaway CBE, whose work stretches back to the 1960s and includes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, gave an uncompromising speech in which he slammed the need for writers in filmmaking and called instead for a “painter’s approach” to the art. In a densely-filled hour Greenaway championed non-narrative styles of storytelling and urged for more pioneering forms of artistic approach to respond to the febrile social and political changes at hand.

One of the most enlightening talks came from the explorer, BAFTA-Award winning presenter and skilled documentarian Bruce Parry, who discussed his extraordinary career to date with journalist and presenter Katie Puckrik. The Showroom Cinema hosted a packed session and screened sneak previews of Parry’s latest project – the result of four years of work, pleasure and pain – the new feature length documentary Tawai – A Voice From The Forest (due for release in cinemas this Autumn), in which he returns to reconnect with the tribes from his amazing adventures when making the ‘Tribe’ BBC series. Returning to India, Malaysia and the Amazon and to the Penan tribe of Borneo, Parry discussed the film and how his fascinating documentary work and journeys have brought him to a fully rounded re-evaluation of his views on human nature and how humankind relates to the natural world.

The Marketplace segment of Doc/Fest offered a huge programme of initiatives and pitch opportunities for anyone either already making films or eager to do so. TV stations, Production company’s and content providers such as Channel 4 and The Guardian hosted live pitching sessions where audiences observed the entire process from a candidate’s pitch through to the final decision making and filmmaking prizes. This is another one of the numerous fantastic things about Doc/Fest – it’s such an inclusive and supportive environment. Whether you are simply a keen documentary fan, a fledgling filmmaker or a bonafide legend, there is always something to engage and inspire.

Not least the actual films. A total of 60,856 attendances were enjoyed by everyday cinema-goers and international and UK industry delegates, with a record 250 screenings at 14 screens across the city.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of Ghosts

In its first year at Doc/Fest, the Art Doc Award, which has been created to celebrate new forms of storytelling and recognises bold, innovative non-fiction films, was given to ‘City of the Sun’ by first-time filmmaker Rati Oneli (United States, Georgia, Netherlands, Qatar, 2017). The film moves seamlessly between fact and fiction and lays bare the honest realities and ups and downs of four different sets of lives in what remains of a small mining town in Georgia.

The Environmental Award was taken by A River Below (Dir: Mark Grieco, Brazil, 2017), which highlights the alliance between a renowned marine biologist and a reality TV star who are both campaigning to save Brazil’s pink river dolphin, whilst also posing questions about the ethics of activism in the modern media age.

The Tim Hetherington award, given to films and filmmakers that resonate with the late journalist Tim Hetherington’s legacy, was won by Strong Island (Dir: Yance Ford, USA). Through unflinching testimonials and stylish cinematography we bear witness to the grief endured by a family whose son was murdered on Long Island, New York, and the disinterest of the police in bringing to justice the killer of a young black male.

The Grand Jury Award went to City Of Ghosts (Dir: Matthew Heineman, USA). The film centres on the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and in a heart-pounding 90 minutes it exposes the unspeakable horrors of life under ISIS rule.

Festival Director Liz McIntyre mentioned that “we strive to increase the visibility and accessibility to documentary story-telling for inspiration” and Doc/Fest does that and much more in extraordinary fashion.
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An early bird price of £159 + VAT for a ‘Lightning Pass’ – giving access to all of next year’s films and events – is available HERE.

The 25th edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest will open on Thursday 7 June 2018 and close Tuesday 12 June 2018, with the Annual Awards’ Ceremony and Closing Night Film.

Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival report

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ON THE MEDIA: Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondents

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries. U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred

Source: Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondents

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ON THE MEDIA: In West Bank, Witnesses To Conflict Are Using Video To Document What They See, NPR

This week, Israel will sentence a soldier convicted of killing a wounded Palestinian man last year in Hebron. A Palestinian shoemaker recorded a video of the shooting, which was shown at the trial.

Source: In West Bank, Witnesses To Conflict Are Using Video To Document What They See : Parallels : NPR

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ON THE MEDIA: The View From Room 205

Can schools make the American Dream real for poor students?

ON THE MEDIA: A powerful radio documentary on the appalling state of US education in poor neighborhoods.  From Linda Lutton at WBEZ, Chicago public radio.

Source: The View From Room 205

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ON THE MEDIA: Declaration of Dependence – The Local News Lab

Communities and news organizations working together will transform local journalism. Here’s how.

Source: Declaration of Dependence – The Local News Lab – Medium

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Interested in Haiti? Read this book: Why Haiti Needs New Narratives by Gina Athena Ulysse

A Haitian-American anthropologist makes sense of her homeland in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.

Source: UPNEBookPartners – Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: Gina Athena Ulysse

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ON THE MEDIA: Truth, Fact, and the Future of Journalism (Co-hosted w/Citizen Futures) – StoryCode Boston (Boston, MA) | Meetup

Truth, Fact, and the Future of Journalism (Co-hosted w/Citizen Futures)

Wednesday, Jan 25, 2017, 6:00 PM

Workbar Cambridge
45 Prospect Street Cambridge, MA

20 StoryCodas Went

On Wednesday, January 25th, StoryCode Boston and Citizen Futures will present a discussion on the future of journalismThe Big Idea: What “truth” do we want from journalism? How will we define media and journalism going forward? Is the business model broken? Will journalism still have a voice?Overview // Follow the money: The media landscape is p…

Check out this Meetup →

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ON THE MEDIA: Predictions for (Local) Journalism 2017: Nieman Journalism Labs

Each year Nieman Jourmalism Labs asks people in journalism and digital media what they think is coming in the next 12 months. Here’s a selection of the responses that specifically address the power of local perspectives. Join our campaign: #LookListenLocal #csfilm #MentProdInfor

LOCAL JOURNALISM WILL FIGHT A NEW FIGHT “We will never be able to compete with the national news outlets on scale. So instead, we will acknowledge our strengths: Proximity. Intimacy. Fidelity.” 

LOCAL NEWS GETS INTERESTING “Going deep with local news means creating uniquely valuable journalism, rather than fighting the traffic battle against dozens of hot takes on Washington’s latest twists and turns.” 

JOURNALISM IS COMMUNITY   “Who is consuming our work? Is this audience different from who we would expect? Are there other people who would benefit from our work, and how do we reach them?” by 

STOP FLYING OVER THE FLYOVER STATES  “We have to stop thinking of these people as subjects we cover and relate to them as neighbors, friends, and readers we make journalism for.” 

CHAOS OR COMMUNITY? “Newsrooms must hire decision-makers, not just reporters, who are reflective of the communities we cover.” 

THE YEAR OF LISTENING ““The thing about listening,” some bold newsroom leader will say, standing atop a desk addressing the newsroom, “about really listening, is that it’s not soft. It’s not a kind of nice thing to do when you have extra time. If you do it right, it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And make no mistake: The future of this newsroom, the future of our democracy even, depends on it.””

INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION WITHOUT COLONIAL OVERTONES “So much of the conversation about media internationalization and global expansion uses a lot of conquest language and colonialist overtones — and sometimes not even subtly” 

Find all the predictions here:  Nieman Journalism Lab

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ON THE MEDIA: How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism – Go Local – Medium

If you are hungry for news you can trust, journalism that helps you make decisions about your community, reporting that holds power to account, then this is for you. This is my personal advice for people who want to support journalism that matters.

Source: How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism – Highlighting Generosity – Medium

#MentProdInfo #CSFilm #LookListenLocal

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ON THE MEDIA: Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?

By Will Self, www.theguardian.comNovember 25th, 2016

Neuroscientists who insist technology is changing our brains may have it wrong. What if we are switching from books to digital entertainment because of a change in our need to communicate?

A few years ago I gave a lecture in Oxford that was reprinted in the Guardian under the heading: “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)”. In it I argued that the novel was losing its cultural centrality due to the digitisation of print: we are entering a new era, one with a radically different form of knowledge technology, and while those of us who have what Marshal McLuhan termed “Gutenberg minds” may find it hard to comprehend – such was our sense of the solidity of the literary world – without the necessity for the physical book itself, there’s no clear requirement for the art forms it gave rise to. I never actually argued that the novel was dead, nor that narrative itself was imperiled, yet whenever I discuss these matters with bookish folk they all exclaim: “But we need stories – people will always need stories.” As if that were an end to the matter.

Non-coincidentally, in line with this shift from print to digital there’s been an increase in the number of scientific studies of narrative forms and our cognitive responses to them. There’s a nice symmetry here: just as the technology arrives to convert the actual into the virtual, so other technologies arise, making it possible for us to look inside the brain and see its actual response to the virtual worlds we fabulate and confabulate. In truth, I find much of this research – which marries arty anxiety with techno-assuredness – to be self-serving, reflecting an ability to win the grants available for modish interdisciplinary studies, rather than some new physical paradigm with which to explain highly complex mental phenomena. Really, neuroscience has taken on the sexy mantle once draped round the shoulders of genetics. A few years ago, each day seemed to bring forth a new gene for this or that. Such “discoveries” rested on a very simplistic view of how the DNA of the human genotype is expressed in us poor, individual phenotypes – and I suspect many of the current discoveries, which link alterations in our highly plastic brains to cognitive functions we can observe using sophisticated equipment, will prove to be equally ill-founded.

The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has been prominent in arguing that our new digital lives are profoundly altering the structure of our brains. This is undoubtedly the case – but then all human activities impact upon the individual brain as they’re happening; this by no means implies a permanent alteration, let alone a heritable one. After all, so far as we can tell the gross neural anatomy of the human has remained unchanged for hundreds of millennia, while the age of bi-directional digital media only properly dates – in my view – from the inception of wireless broadband in the early 2000s, hardly enough time for natural selection to get to work on the adaptive advantages of … tweeting. Nevertheless, pioneering studies have long since shown that licensed London cab drivers, who’ve completed the exhaustive “Knowledge” (which consists of memorising every street and notable building within a six mile radius of Charing Cross), have considerably enlarged posterior hippocampi.

This is the part of brain concerned with way-finding, but it’s also strongly implicated in memory formation; neuroscientists are now discovering that at the cognitive level all three abilities – memory, location, and narration – are intimately bound up. This, too, is hardly surprising: key for humans, throughout their long pre-history as hunter-gatherers, has been the ability to find food, remember where food is and tell the others about it. It’s strange, of course, to think of Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses as simply elaborations upon our biologically determined inclination to give people directions – but then it’s perhaps stranger still to realise that sustained use of satellite navigation, combined with absorbing all our narrative requirements in pictorial rather written form, may transform us into miserable and disoriented amnesiacs.

When he lectured on literature in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov would draw a map on the blackboard at the beginning of each session, depicting, for example, the floor plan of Austen’s Mansfield Park, or the “two ways” of Proust’s Combray. What Nabokov seems to have understood intuitively is what neuroscience is now proving: reading fiction enables a deeply memorable engagement with our sense of space and place. What the master was perhaps less aware of – because, as yet, this phenomenon was inchoate – was that throughout the 20th century the editing techniques employed in Hollywood films were being increasingly refined. This is the so-called “tyranny of film”: editing methods that compel our attention, rather than leaving us free to absorb the narrative in our own way. Anyone now in middle age will have an intuitive understanding of this: shots are shorter nowadays, and almost all transitions are effected by crosscutting, whereby two ongoing scenes are intercut in order to force upon the viewer the idea of their synchrony. It’s in large part this tyranny that makes contemporary films something of a headache for older viewers, to whom they can seem like a hypnotic swirl of action.

It will come as no surprise to Gutenberg minds to learn that reading is a better means of forming memory than watching films, as is listening to afternoon drama on Radio 4. This is the so-called “visualisation hypothesis” that proposes that people – and children in particular – find it harder not only to remember film as against spoken or written narratives, but also to come up with novel responses to them, because the amount of information they’re given, together with its determinate nature, forecloses imaginative response.

Almost all contemporary parents – and especially those of us who class themselves as “readers” – have engaged in the Great Battle of Screen: attempting to limit our children’s consumption of films, videos, computer games and phone-based social media. We feel intuitively that it can’t be doing our kids any good – they seem mentally distracted as well as physically fidgety: unable to concentrate as they often look from one handheld screen to a second freestanding one, alternating between tweezering some images on a touchscreen and manipulating others using a remote control. Far from admonishing my younger children to “read the classics” – an utterly forlorn hope – I often find myself simply wishing they’d put their phones down long enough to have their attention compelled by the film we’re watching.

The Great Battle of Screen … a teenager triple-screening. Photograph: U Baumgarten via Getty

If we take seriously the conclusions of these recent neuroscientific studies, one fact is indisputable: whatever the figures for books sales (either in print or digital form), reading for pleasure has been in serious decline for over a decade. That this form of narrative absorption (if you’ll forgive the coinage) is closely correlated with high attainment and wellbeing may tell us nothing about the underlying causation, but the studies do demonstrate that the suite of cognitive aptitudes needed to decipher text and turn it into living, breathing, visible and tangible worlds seem to wither away once we stop turning the pages and start goggling at virtual tales.

Of course, the sidelining of reading narrative (and along with it the semi-retirement of all those narrative forms we love) is small potatoes compared with the loss of our capacity for episodic memory: would we be quite so quick to post those fantastic holiday photographs on Facebook if we knew that in so doing we’d imperil our ability to recall unaided our walk along the perfect crescent of sand, and our first ecstatic kiss? You might’ve thought that as a novelist who depends on fully attuned Gutenberg minds to read his increasingly complex and confusing texts I’d be dismayed by this craven new couch-based world; and, as a novelist, I am.

I began writing my books on a manual typewriter at around the same time wireless broadband became ubiquitous, sensing it was inimical not only to the act of writing, but that of reading as well: a novel should be a self-contained and self-explanatory world (at least, that’s how the form has evolved), and it needs to be created in the same cognitive mode as it’s consumed: the writer hunkering down into his own episodic memories, and using his own canonical knowledge, while imagining all the things he’s describing, rather than Googling them to see what someone else thinks they look like. I also sense the decline in committed reading among the young that these studies claim: true, the number of those who’ve ever been inclined “to get up in the morning in the fullness of youth”, as Nietzsche so eloquently put it, “and open a book” has always been small; but then it’s worth recalling the sting in the tail of his remark: “now that’s what I call vicious”.

And there is something vicious about all that book learning, especially when it had to be done by rote. There’s something vicious as well about the baby boomer generation, which, not content to dominate the cultural landscape, also demands that everyone younger than us survey it in the same way. For the past five years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels that aim to map the connections between technological change, warfare and human psychopathology, so obviously I’m attempting to respond to the zeitgeist using this increasingly obsolete art form. My view is that we’re deluded if we think new technologies come into existence because of clearly defined human objectives – let alone benevolent ones – and it’s this that should shape our response to them. No, the history of the 20th century – and now the 21st – is replete with examples of technologies that were developed purely in order to facilitate the killing of people at a distance, of which the internet is only the most egregious example. Our era is also replete with the mental illnesses occasioned by such technologies – sometimes I think our obsession with viewing violent and horrific imagery is some sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder.

So, it may be that our instinctive desire to kill at a distance is a stronger determinant of our cognitive abilities than our need to tell other humans where the food is. Which would certainly explain why poring over a facsimile of Shakespeare’s first folio is being supplanted by first-person shooters. I’ve referred throughout this piece to Gutenberg minds, and I do indeed believe that each successive knowledge technology brings with it a different form of human being. It’s worrying that our young seem distracted and often depressed, and sad for those of us who have invested so much of our belief and our effort in print technology, that it – and the modes of being associated with it – appear to be in decline. But it may be the case that our children are in the larval stage of a new form of human being, one which no longer depends on their ability to tell the others where the food is. Why? Because, of course, they know where it is already, due to the absolute fluidity and ubiquity of bi-directional digital media. Indeed, there may not be any need to tell the others where the food is in the future, because in an important sense there are no others.

The so-called “singularity” proposed by tech gurus, whereby humans hybridise with machine intelligence, and form a new genotype, subject to evolution by natural selection, may not begin with a cosmic bang; rather, the whimpering of our children as they shoot at their virtual enemies, or are defriended, may be the signal that it’s begun already. Richard Brautigan, the great hippy writer, envisaged a “cybernetic meadow” in which “mammals and computers live together in mutually programmed harmony”. It sounds to me an awful lot like our own current state of storytelling, without, of course, the need for anyone to read poetry, which is the form within which Brautigan did his visualising, and we received his rather optimistic vision.

This is an edited version of a lecture delivered by Will Self as part of Scottish Book Week. His new novel, Phone, will be published by Penguin next year.

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Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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This is about the deep listening that needs to be done and that Community Supported Film wants to nurture and champion…

“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that it is up to our political leaders to unify us. They can set the tone, but it is primarily in the hands of the American people to rebuild a basic level of mutual respect and dignity …
Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear.
Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles.
Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. …
1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.
2. Decide you care what happens to them.
3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation. …”

The 2016 election highlighted divisions that run deep in American society. Here’s what you can do to help bridge them.

Source: Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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ON THE MEDIA: Eight Ways to Strengthen Democracy Beyond Voting

Chuck Collins great post on the work to be done. Community Supported Film particularly encourages us all to evaluate the impact of his point #1 and #2. We must do some “deep listening,” as Christopher Lydon (Open Source) has been saying. We need to hear the perspectives of those we don’t know and don’t understand. The media is not doing this work for us and we must find a new way to hear each other. Community Supported Film is committed to empowering local voices.

‘Especially after the deeply toxic experience of 2016,’ writes Collins, ‘we all need to step up to protect our real democracy.’

Source: Eight Ways to Strengthen Our Democracy Beyond Voting

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ON THE MEDIA: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

voiceofsandiego.org,

At the nonprofit voiceofsandiego.org, ‘From day one our job has been to fill the gaps between what people want from their local media and what they have.’

Source: Defining an Online Mission: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

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ON THE MEDIA: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the killing of more than 800 journalists globally since 2006. A measly seven percent of these murders have been solved. The protection of journalists and fighting against impunity is part of the UN’s 16th Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure public access to information and to protect fundamental freedoms. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released their annual impunity index which ranks countries based on the

Source: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

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ON THE MEDIA: A Twin Cities documentary filmmaking project helps local Iraqi refugees tell their stories

Jameelah Hassoon and Jamal Ali came to the U.S. in 2009.

In Baghdad, Jamal Ali was a U.S.-trained engineer who worked as a UPS manager. In Minnesota, he has reinvented himself as an interpreter — and, in recent years, a fledgling documentary filmmaker.

Ali is part of an annual project launched in 2012 that enlists Iraqi refugees to tell their stories on film. This year, he led a team that set out to highlight success stories in the small local Iraqi community and examine the idea of Muslim refugees as a threat. St. Paul’s Landmark Center will host a screening of the documentary and a discussion with the filmmakers later this month.

 “We just want to pass a ­message that [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is not representing Islam,” Ali, the movie’s co-director, said. ISIL “has been denied and refused by all Iraqis.”

Funded with a state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, the “Iraqi Voices” project is the brainchild of a local nonprofit called Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. Since 2007, the nonprofit has brought in visiting Iraqi professionals and supported clean water projects at Iraqi schools.

Ali says he and his family discovered the documentary project at just the right time. He was resettled in Minnesota with his wife and two adult children in 2009 after a stint in Jordan, among the first ­refugees from the Iraq war to arrive in the state.

It was a challenging transition at first. Ali’s wife, Jameelah Hassoon, an anesthesiologist in Baghdad, struggled to come to terms with the realization she would not be able to restart her career because of education and licensing requirements. Getting involved with the project provided a good outlet.

Nathan Fisher, a Twin Cities filmmaker who had shot a documentary about Iraqi refugees in the Middle East, recruited the family to the project. They and other participants — a largely middle class bunch that included a former veterinarian, teacher and entrepreneur — shot three- to eight-minute documentary shorts about their lives. A middle-aged woman dreams of reuniting with her adult children, who couldn’t accompany her to Minnesota. A young man recounts narrowly avoiding a terrorist attack in an Iraqi barbershop during a visit to a barber in ­Columbia Heights.

 Ali’s son, Naser, in his early 30s, created a movie about realizing that not all Americans are rich and happy. The movies have been screened at the Walker Art Museum, on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul and in churches across the metro.

“We wanted to express our feelings to the Americans,” Ali said. “It helped us release some of the stress we had.”

This year, the group of 10 amateur filmmakers decided to collaborate on one longer film.

“This year’s film was about debunking myths about Iraqis: ‘We are here. We are not that scary,’ ” Fisher said.

The film features a family that runs a St. Paul neighborhood grocery with a diverse clientele, where they serve Middle Eastern food and cheesesteak sandwiches. It also highlights Hala Asamarai, an Iraqi-American who won election to the Columbia Heights school board earlier this year.

The Landmark screening Oct. 29 will include a Q&A led by Joseph Farag, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. The free event runs from 2 to 4 p.m.

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: Looking Beyond the Disaster Narrative

Well-meaning people have either emailed or texted me over the past couple of days, with some variant of “how are things going in Haiti?”

Short of people’s prayers, and the question, “is everyone you know ok?” How indeed to respond?

Hurricane Matthew is a Category 4, meaning that winds are gusting at 145 miles per hour. This is the first category 4 since 1954, Hurricane Hazel, which introduced nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to Haiti.

Aside from random notes trickling in here or there, the coverage has been minimal. This is in direct contrast to the earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010.

Anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has inspired a generation of scholars, challenging us with a deceptively simple call: “Haiti needs new narratives.” The coverage of this storm is an urgent case for why.

Disaster aid is faciliated by media coverage. An article inDisastersdemonstrated a correlation in the amount of seconds allocated on prime time news to a particular disaster and the generosity of the response. However, the Haiti earthquake’s high media profile—and the generosity it inspired—came at a price. With stories of devastation, appearing to many foreign observers as hell on earth with phrases like “state failure” often repeated, foreign media coverage also naturalized foreign control of the response.

The media coverage—then and now—highlights the importance of what can be called “disaster narratives.” What is covered, what is not, who is hailed as a hero, whose efforts are ignored, shape the results. I detail this connection in a just-published book chapter.

The story is still unfolding. As I write this Tuesday night the category 4 storm is leisurely moving north, still dumping rain on an already fragile environment. So we won’t know for quite some time the full extent of the damage.

Coastal cities in the southern peninsula, including the largest cities, state capitals Les Cayes and Jéremie, are under water. The main road connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country has been blocked as the bridge in Petit Goâve has been destroyed by the torrent.

The centralization of political and economic power in Port-au-Prince that began under the 1915 U.S. Occupation and accelerated withneoliberal economic policies imposed by the U.S. Government, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others renders getting relief much more difficult.

Once-thriving ports and regional economies, these secondary cities are now dependent on the road to the capital for almost everything. The province of Grand’Anse, with Jéremie as its capital city, is particularly isolated. Its primary economic lifeline, accelerated as the asphalt road has been advancing in the past several years, is charcoal.

Paradoxically because of its isolation, the Grand’Anse has noticeably more trees than other provinces. But this is changing: commentators from all across Grand’Anse have commented on the connection between this road and an uptick in charcoal production. Anthropologist Andrew Tarter is collecting quantitative data on charcoal.

The cutting of trees for charcoal production has rendered Haiti much more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The photos of the deep brown deluge testify to the topsoil being washed away, that would have been otherwise protected by tree roots.

Washing along with the soil is this season’s crops. This summer many breathed a measured sigh of relief as an almost two-year drought ended. These hopes were washed away with the downpour, representing not only food to feed Haiti’s exponentially growing urban population in competition with cheaper, subsidized imports, but the cash to send rural children to school. The high cost of education, and that it comes at once, is a major trigger for individual families producing charcoal in the first place.

With water everywhere in the photos it is easy to forget that clean, safe, drinking water will be an urgent priority in Haiti, still battling cholera brought to the island nation six years ago this month by U.N. troops. While finally apologizing for the disease that killed over 9,000 in five years, the U.N. has evaded responsibility for reparations.

These longer-term impacts are unfortunately not a part of the story. Frankly I would be surprised if news outlets will be talking much about the storm at all after tomorrow, as the focus is on Matthew’s impact on U.S. coastal areas. The governors of Florida and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders. Given the juxtaposition in this several-second media blips, one might well be wondering: why can’t Haiti do that?

The short answer is: they most certainly tried.

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles discussed the efforts of the elected mayor of seaside Cité Soleil trying to offer relocation assistance. Other local mayors refused, except for Pétion-Ville, offering emergency shelter for 200 residents (the request was 10,000). This is among the only accounts of Haitian people, particularly elected officials, doing something.

Given the fragile state of infrastructure and communications, local Haitian governments, the Civil Protection Department (DPC in the original French), have been doing an admirable job of moving people out of the most danger. Residents of Île-à-Vache were moved to Les Cayes, only to be doubly displaced by the deluge. In Abricots, an hour and a half from Jéremie via a very difficult and rocky road, moved residents up the hill.

While we outside of Haiti may not be told, grassroots organizations are doing an admirable job. In Cité Soleil, Konbit Solèy Leve has offered emergency assistance and Sakala, shelter. Peasants associations in Camp Perrin and all over the South province are welcoming people from LesCayes, down the hill.

These patchwork efforts highlight the limitations, particularly lack of resources. Charles reported that the Cité Soleil government was bankrupt. The communication and logistics necessary for evacuation, emergency shelter, and life-saving food and water, are straining Haiti’s already fragile economy.

And yes, there are still people living in what used to be called “camps.” Given official pressure to reduce the statistic, tens of thousands of people living in Karade are not “internally displaced persons” since Karade is now a “village.” Not two weeks ago, residents were newly threatened with violence in an effort to force them to leave.

I hesitate to write this given how Haiti has been politicized in the most cynical way by a candidate who has expressed his hostility to immigrants and black people generally, but frankly, Haiti was not “built back better” by the $16 billion relief effort to the 2010 earthquake, as UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton cheerfully promised.

So, what now? Right after the earthquake I wrote a piece for Common Dreams offering suggestions, which basically boil down to support local efforts, initiatives, ideas, and organizations.

Many people, including Haitian scholars, journalists, and social movements, have taken stock of the lessons learned from thehumanitarian aftershocks. Among them include:

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

The storm will leave, the flood waters recede. I hope the world’s attention span will last at least a little longer, so that we will finally apply lessons at least Haitian people learned.

Mark Schuller

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. Schuller’s research on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti has been published in thirty book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. Schuller is the author or co-editor of seven books—includingCapitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster ReconstructionHumanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti—and co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, Schuller is the board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti and active in several solidarity efforts.

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ON THE MEDIA: To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Bart Cammaerts: 

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Facebook has recently been criticised for banning arguably the most iconic photo from the Vietnam War. The photo depicts children, including the naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from a US napalm attack.

A Norwegian newspaper covered the story and criticised Facebook for its indiscriminate editorial interventions. It also reproduced the famous photo, which they shared on the newspapers’ Facebook page, Facebook subsequently demanded to “either remove or pixelize” the image.

This is turn prompted Espen Egil Hansen the editor in chief of the Norwegian newspaper Afternposten to write a front page editorial voicing his anger about the decision but also touching on a few relevant and important tensions and contradictions inherent to Facebook as a social media platform.

My own take on this debate regarding editorial responsibilities of Facebook is that Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook is not a media company, but a tech company, a neutral tool, is utterly false. Facebook is of course a media company, as much as it is a tech company. The clue is in the name, it is social “media”, not social “tool”. It is high time that Facebook accepts this, as well as the important democratic responsibilities that come with it.

The tension to which Zuckerberg implicitly alludes with his comments relates to the distinction that is often made (also in terms of regulation) between media on the one hand and communication on the other. The postal services, the telegraph and the telecommunication industry have always argued that they cannot be held responsible (nor be liable) for the content that circulates through their networks, be it in a letter, a telegram or a telephone call, whereas “the media” is. However, this stark distinction between media and communication is a thing of the past. The internet and the many platforms and protocols that it offers has increasingly blurred this schism between media and communication.

A good example of this convergence, is how people who say silly or libelous things on Twitter or Facebook are increasingly prosecuted for what they say online. In the libel case of the false allegations against Lord McAlpine, the measure used to sue people was the amount of followers someone had on Twitter. In a way this could be seen as an acknowledgement that social media is also a broadcaster in the hands of elites. Hence, Sally Bercow got sued whereas someone with fifty followers saying the same thing was not.

Another example of this blurring between media and communication is the editorial power which Facebook and Twitter has to and does exercise on the content that circulates on their platforms. I say “has to” because its claim that it is merely an innocent platform ignores the fact that in various jurisdictions the distribution of certain content is illegal. Just one example, in Belgium and Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, regardless of which media platform you use to voice such heinous views. Furthermore, we as an open multi-cultural society – nor Facebook or Twitter – would want to encourage the free and unfettered circulation of Isis propaganda and it is thus right that this kind of content is regulated and ultimately removed from the public space.

However, by saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg also seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to. The press and broadcasters have a lot of power in our society but with that power comes some degree of responsibility. Part of that is the requirement that media organisations abide by certain rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not. In a democracy, such rules or guidelines, which tend to differ between press and broadcasting – are agreed upon by a profession, an industry or democratically through parliaments and enforced by regulators (in the UK: Ofcom and Ipso).

The establishment of the boundaries of what is acceptable as public speech online and what is not, is a very complex and highly sensitive matter. However, just as media organisations do, Facebook is a very powerful actor which needs to assume responsibility for the content that circulates on its network and walk a fine line between protecting its users – including children – from harmful and racist content and promoting an open space for the expression of a radical diversity of views, opinions, representations and identities. This drawing of the line should be done transparently and in respect of democratic values, involving humans rather than algorithms to make decisions and with fair and user-friendly means of appeal and redress in the case of mistakes being made. Acknowledging that Facebook is media rather than a benign “neutral” tool would be a good first step in that direction.

Bart Cammaerts is Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the LSE. 

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