Bricks and Baseball Bats Win the Day in Toledo

In the Media Law class I’m in this semester, we’ve tossed around lots of fine examples of the First Amendment in action, including your classic cases of the Klan being allowed to march, speak, and get harangued by onlookers.

As I’ve said before somewhere, everyone has the freedom to be an asshole.

The theoretical response to letting Nazis parade through town is to allow them to march because it will make them appear to be foolish in the marketplace of ideas.

Then again, there’s always the Woody Allen response in Manhattan:

“Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y’know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y’know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.”

An intellectual responds something to the effect of “Oh, actually, I read this biting satire piece in the New Yorker about it this week, it was just fabulous.”

Allen assures the thinker something like “No, really, with Nazis, I think bricks and baseball bats are the way to go.”

Some Toledo citizens appear to agree, although the whole thing seems to have broken down into a police riot, rather than a confrontation with Nazis who planned to march through the predominantly black neighborhood.

Does the marketplace of ideas serve well enough to make the speech of assholes irrelevant? Are there occassions where the proverbial bricks and baseball bats serve any sort of positive purpose? What audience can be reached by violence that can’t be reached by biting satire?

[tags]Toledo, Marketplace of Ideas[/tags]

So what was this about anyway?

A Canadian J-School student asks about the purpose of journalism in the context of trying to nail down which elements of print carry over to the online medium.

He chooses “to hold the powerful to account” as his top priority, but I’m not so sure.

For me, it’s something like “to tell truths that wouldn’t otherwise be told.”

Either way, he’s wondering about this as he’s observing a group of (undergraduate?) j-school bloggers and their disdain for the theoretical elements of their education. Damn I made that sound boring.

Folks, we do this for a reason. As I often explain to people, I’m here on purpose. I’m no longer naive enough to believe that everyone else showed up with the same purpose as I did, but what the hell, as long as you’ve got something in mind, that’s good enough for me. But having a reason for wanting to be a journalist will certainly win points with me.

[tags]j-school, journalism[/tags]

Reality Check For the Paper World

These days, gasoline prices aren’t the only thing hitting all-time highs.

Newsprint.

Seriously, do you think this stuff…grows on trees?

Well, okay, maybe it does, but at $625 per metric ton, every inch costs real live money.

Meanwhile, the machines of progress are pushing toward real live e-paper and e-ink.

[UPDATE: Siemens shows off e-paper ready for newspaper and magazine use this week in Frankfurt.]

In my lifetime, for sure, no questions asked, we’ll walk around with a digital screen rolled up in our pocket or under our arm. We’ll run down the stairs to catch the F Train, slide between the doors, wedge ourselves betweeen a few well-perfumed fellow commuters, and snap open our digital newspaper. It’ll bring us text, images, video, and perhaps audio if we bother to put our bluetooth headphones on, but we’ll probably all have those tuned in to our iPods anyway. (Yeah, some things won’t change.)

In this future (ours, soon), wireless Internet access will be everywhere, constant. Your deadline, as a journalist, is Always. The newspaper, television, and radio have all become mobile.

Then again, I’ve complained before that this is a completely elitist, classist deal, unless the access is free and the e-paper is cheap. Hence, my usual disclaimer, that no matter how many suits do the digital NY Times Crossword with a stylus on the F Train, there will still be a whole mess of blue collar folks at the other end of the car with the real-paper NY Post, at 50 cents a pop (and still losing money).

So. What do you think of this future? What skills do journalists need to have in order to be prepared for this future? Let’s take as a given the usual litany of journalistic principles and practices. (Keep teaching those, please.) What’s next on the list of must-teach, must-learn information to survive in a newspaper industry where the elite papers in the world publish only digital editions, accessible anywhere?

[tags]journalism, j-school, singularity[/tags]

Information is not in itself harmful…

As an addendum to a comment I left on a post this morning by Prof. Dunleavy, here’s a bit of Harry Blackmun from Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976).

“There is, of course, an alternative to this highly paternalistic approach. That alternative is to assume that this information is not in itself harmful, that people will perceive their own best interests if only they are well enough informed, and that the best means to that end is to open the channels of communication rather than to close them.”

Blackmun was writing the rationale for allowing pharmacists to advertise the price of prescription drugs, but that paragraph is all about the marketplace of ideas. Information is never harmful in itself. It’s in the way that you use it.

What are your “shining ideals” when it comes to citizen journalism?

Tom Grubisich’s article in the Online Journalism Review this week runs down a list of Citizen Journalism hubs and checks how things are turning out. (Be sure to read the comments for insta-reactions from the proprietors and users of some of the sites.)

His thesis, after reviewing the sites, is that few, if any, live up to the “shining ideal” of what CJ should/could be.

Some CJ sites attempt to be local hubs for soccer scores and city council news, but it looks like most of the postings are just glorified classified ads or recipes. It can’t all be pineapple salsa, though, right?

What do you think a CJ site should be?

A forum for users to post, unedited, unmediated, anything from what their dog did today to why the mayor is a dog?

A news-oriented site with assignments given out to local amateurs by paid professionals?

Something in between?

I’ve been trying to figure out why all these CJ sites look more like a bulletin board than a forum to exchange ideas.

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the News-Record newspaper has managed to incorporate blogs and podcasts of their own making, which is nice, but check out the Town Square section.

The “Local Hubs” part of Town Square seems to consist of just one neighborhood for now, but there are stories here, written by locals, not by pros. Yes, some are just about pie and pancake breakfast sort of things, but there they are.

Far more interesting, of course, is the “Your News” section, with stories submitted by readers. Citizens doing Journalism. I’m pretty sure these are edited, understanding that when I say “edited,” I don’t mean “censored.” I mean an editor has read the submission and given the writer corrections and interacted with them to polish the story for publication. Just like editors do with “regular” journalists.

SO:

It looks like Tom Grubisich is right about the pineapple salsa sites, but, for me, the greatest potential hosts for Citizen Journalism are the local news organizations that already have the readership, the advertisers and the audience. I’d have no qualms publishing my stories online at the Santa Cruz Sentinel or San Jose Mercury News sites, would you?

[tags]citizen journalism, greensboro, ojr[/tags]

Fantasy President Index, a la Weinberger

David Weinberger mulls over the number of fake/fantasy/fictional U.S. presidents on television and asks: How many TV shows about fictitious presidents do we need to get the taste of the current one out of our mouths for at least a few minutes?

Sounds like a fun little research project for someone with more time on their hands than me: track the number of Fantasy Presidents on television since 1954 and look for the relationships. What’s going on when the FPI is high? Wars? Discontent? Disasters? And when the number is low? Peace? Prosperity? Apathy?

I’d be tempted to include movies, but then you’re stuck with every action flick that crosses paths with the Commander-In-Chief’s office.

Who’s your favorite fake president from small or large screen?

And why no sitcom Presidents?

[tags]television, presidency[/tags]

Tom Delay on the wrong side of Dystopia

I just noticed last Thursday’s New York Times sitting around the newsroom. This picture jumped out at me from the front page:

Tom Delay all tied upphoto by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We’ve seen a thousand pictures of talking heads at press conferences, but something looks different in this one. Delay’s pout is a given, the wide angle/low angle seems normal enough, but what nails it for me is the one flexible microphone stand that snakes across the frame. That last horizontal line gives me the impression of a Brazil-esque tangle of bureaucracy and deception.

Of course, Mr. Delay is no longer the man sitting at the tall desk.

[tags]Tom Delay, photojournalism, Brazil[/tags]