Contemporary Media Issues Final Exam

Elon’s IMedia program is sponsoring a Media Issues Symposium titled “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?” featuring Robert McChesney, Ken Auletta, Daniel Solove and Jonathan Zittrain.

1) For each panelist, outline his opening remarks.

2) You have been chosen as a moderator for the event. Critique two of the panelists’ remarks, drawing upon your own expertise and other perspectives on their topics.

Opening Remarks

Robert McChesney

Robert McChesney, author of The Political Economy of Media

The media today has devolved into a shell of its former self.  Barely recognizable to the brand of writing and reporting that was practiced even a quarter-century ago; today’s journalists have been painted into a corner of uncertainty by conditions beyond their control.

Economic factors have led to the consolidation of power in the media to a collection of extremely dominant corporations. These media conglomerates have blurred the lines between objectivity and profit, which has created a landmine-laden playing field for those trying to report the news. As a result, conflicts of interest have become commonplace and have eroded much of the public’s trust in those charged with accurately disseminating information.

Furthermore, technological advancements have created even more obstacles for the press. With the rise of the Internet–specifically the blogosphere–the very definition of what a reporter is has been called into question. Since anyone with a video camera and an Internet connection can report the news, we must be diligent not to overlook the professionalism and integrity that have always been the cornerstones of the industry.

While the digital age has brought with it many pitfalls, it has also created a platform that allows for a free flow of information, public discussion and debate. There is now an opportunity to level the playing field and rediscover the true role of journalism in America by creating a more regulated system of journalism, thus repairing a broken tool of democracy to its rightful place.

Ken Auletta

Ken Auletta, author of Googled

Don’t be evil. That is the motto of Google, one of the most powerful companies on the planet. We all hope that this axiom holds true as we move forward into an unknown future where every click of the mouse is recorded, compiled and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse of servers.

Google has become essential to the Online lives of millions of people around the globe, so much so that most of us cannot separate one from the other. Going Online is now synonymous with Google. The two are essentially interchangeable. What was once the simple act of searching has exploded to encompass nearly everything we do on the Internet. The company has quietly and expertly created a monopoly through numerous free applications aimed to streamline our Web experience (and put competitors like Microsoft out of business).

The trade-off, of course, for the use of all of these “free” tools is the personal information we give up to get them. Rather than shelling out $100 for Microsoft Office, we use the free Google Online word processor. For that “free” product, we fork over much more than we realize, however.

For now, Google assures us that it does not intend to do evil. It is out friend. But for how long? Corporations throughout history–even those with the best intentions–have always been in business to make money. We have shown a great deal of faith in Google, and up to this point they have lived up to their end of the bargain (for all we know). However, the personal information that we give up to Google on a daily basis has value to numerous corporations and government across the globe.

The question then becomes “how safe will that information be in ten, twenty or even fifty years from now?”

Daniel Solove

Daniel Solove, author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet

The social media explosion that has taken over the digitized world in recent years has created an outburst of information sharing like never before. For better or worse, we are able to instantly communicate with anyone on the planet plugged into the Internet. At this very moment, someone is giving their whereabouts on Four Square or updating their relationship status on Facebook. Someone is calling in sick after a long night at the local pub and joking about it to their friends on Myspace. But the act of plastering this previously private information all over the Web is having some unforeseen real-world consequences.

From handheld mobile devices, to police car dashboard cams and convenience store surveillance, our once private dirty laundry now can be easily recorded and uploaded for the entire world to see. Anonymity is quickly becoming a thing of the past and is being replaced by a culture that values being on stage, all the time.

With the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, people are increasingly posting their thoughts, whereabouts or innermost secrets. The danger lies in the fact that once this information is placed online, it is out of our hands. At the click of a mouse, data is permanently thrown out to sea, never to be taken back. This can have life-altering effects, whether it’s getting passed over for a job, damaging relationships or even creating legal problems. Therefore, web users are advised to take a more cautious–look before you leap¬–approach when posting information.

Jonathan Zittrain

Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of Internet–And How To Stop It

Open-source Vs. closed-source. Collaboration Vs. individual ownership. Generative Vs. non-generative. These are the battles being waged in the world of technological advancement online.

The use of open-source development has been one of the hallmarks of the Internet as we know it. Full of cooperation and freedom, the idea of generativity has fueled some of the most successful online ventures.

However, some non-generative products have also been doing extremely well. The most notable of these ventures is the Apple iPod. With it’s continued popularity and corresponding unparalleled market share; the product has forced developers to play by Apple’s rules. This closed-source approach will eventually harm the principles that the Internet was founded on.

These themes of generative Vs. non-generative technology also come into play in the fight over net-neutrality. If the Web were to become privatized, it would mark a substantial shift in how information is shared, gathered and accessed Online. Furthermore, if a tiered system of were to be instituted, corporations would gain control of the flow of information like never before, resulting in the loss of the collaborative ideals that have been the backbone of the Web since its inception.

Critique #1 of McChesney

I take issue with much of McChesney’s opinion that journalism as we know it is dying because the newspaper industry is dying. No doubt, the printed newspaper’s days are numbered, but I don’t necessarily think that is the end of the world. In the short term, yes, it is going to make securing a writing job at a newspaper very difficult in the coming years. However, just like any other innovation, this will lead to progress. Obviously, it is the end of an era; but I would argue that it will force the industry to adapt and find new ways to survive. Some people might call this progress. I truly believe that an online newspaper can be a government watchdog just as easily as a printed one. Just because a medium is (in this case, the printed newspaper) is being replaced by a better technology that does not mean that the new medium can’t step in and serve the same purpose. Furthermore, I take issue with his assertions that objectivity is lost because parent companies make editorial decisions for financial reasons. I would argue that this fight has been going on since the dawn of the printing press. Today, a company like NewsCorp has a larger affect with its message because it owns numerous news entities over multiple media platforms. Obviously they have an agenda, but name me a news organization that doesn’t. Bias has always been an inherent flaw of journalism. One can strive to be as objective as possible, but the role of a gatekeeper has some level of bias built in. It is unavoidable.

Critique #2 of Auletta

I found Auletta’s comments about the future of Google and the potential issues of having such a great deal of user personal information to be very interesting. What I am most curious about will be what happens when Brin and Page lose focus on the day-to-day operations of Google. The book cites the examples of Steve Jobs of Apple and Larry Ellison of Oracle  (page 334) when they lost focus and then watched their companies suffer. With Brin and Page both being very young, very rich, with budding families and a number of hobbies at their disposal, what will happen to Google’s direction if they decide to put their creative energy elsewhere? How much of the “don’t be evil” motto is tied to them?  What happens when the next generation comes through those doors? Will they have the same morals and ideals? General Motors was a great company in the 1950’s but by the 1990’s they were running the company into the ground.

What happens to all of the information that the company has gathered when, in 50 years Google gets a “Godfather” offer that they can’t refuse? Will they be willing to drop their ani-evil stance for the right price?

This is a lot of faith to be placed in a private company. I just hope it does not come back to bite us in a few decades. Only time will tell.

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