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Media Issues Symposium

Welcome iMedia’s pseudo Media Issues Symposium!

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

Below you will find the opening remarks to the Symposium from four of media’s renowned scholars, and below that, a short redress of their remarks. Please feel free to jump into the conversation!

The Danger Facing the Fourth Estate
Robert McChesney, Author of The Political Economy of Media

We are in dire danger of losing our voice. As more and more huge global media conglomerates take over the voice of the press, controlling what we see and what we hear, what we are told and essentially what we know, we are losing our voice as citizens. This is because if we are not informed, if we do not know, then how can we possibly have an opinion, or at least a correct assessment of the situation? Simply, we cannot.

The founding fathers of our country understood that the press was essential to running a government that was supported by the decisions of the people that were being governed. They understood that citizen participation in government is essential but that in order for participation to occur, someone or something must inform the public. That information system was to be the press.

The press has been failing miserably in this function since the beginning of the twenty first century when reporters were told that they must not show emotion or bias, and that everything must be fair and balanced. From this time forward, journalists stopped seeking out stories and instead began reporting on stories that landed in their laps. Investigation became a thing of the past.

What has compounded the problem is the fact that as the public has become more and more interested in celebrity journalism, the press reports on it more and more, leaving behind the stories that the public might be interested in if they were actually reported on. Moving from stories that were important only to the business class to stories that entertain but provide no information has only jeopardized the industry more. Journalists do not posess the drive for this sort of news, and people have no motivation to do anything by hearing about it. Celebrity news will not change the problems that exist in the world, in the government. It will not unveil corruption, it will not show where improvements can be made. It fails to perform the essentail job of the press, that of the watchdog. And if no one is watching the government, if the press isn’t looking out for where the money is spent (maybe on big bridges to no where in Alaska?) how are we to know, and more importantly, how are we to do anything to stop that?

But what now? How do we solve this? How do we bring real stories, informative stories back to the people? What’s next?

Some people are arguing for collaborative journalism, where journalists and non-profits team up to pay for the funding for large stories. Others are encouraging public funding, in which I am in full support. As a fundamental part of the government, journalism mus have access to the resources for it to do its job, and do its job well. Though the cost may seem high to taxpayers now, the cost that they face in the future will be much greater if they sit back and let the corporations take control.

On the Waves of the Future
Ken Auletta, Author of Googled

The future of the internet depends on the next wave maker. Because in the world of technology, there are people who create the waves and people who ride the waves. The riders do well enough, they create products that the mainstream wants and are successful at it. Companies like Dell, arguably Microsoft, are wave riders. But its the wave makers that make the changes, that bring along new products and new ideas to change the way we work and live.

Google is one of those wave makers, and perhaps the wave maker of the past decade. They have completely revolutionized the way that we go about our lives, both online and off. They have given us tools that make access to information so easy that some scholars are worried that we are changing the way that we think and actually becoming dumber as a species, though that is a subject for a whole other talk. The heart of the matter is that Google must continue to be a wave maker if it hopes to continue its success. And by creating the wave, they are creating an economy for wave riders too, growing not only their own company and revenues but also that of others.

Companies need to learn from Google, and perhaps the number one lesson to learn is trust. Google trusts their employees, and lets then know it. By giving them time to explore their own projects, Google has developed new products and also given back to the community, as many employees choose to volunteer during this time. But companies also have other things to learn from Google, and those are mainly lessons of doing things the right way and listening to the numbers, two things that Google stands by in every project that they undertake.

Other than the wave makers changing the game, there is one other thing we’re going to have to fight through on the way to the future of the internet: free vs. paid. The problem stems mostly from economic reasons, but also in the way that the internet has been developing so far. Right now, as it stands, most content on the internet is free. Which seems like a really good plan, especially from an economic perspective: free markets regulate themselves best, and not just in terms of the no rules market. But the problem comes in when we take into account the content creators: how do we pay the creatives if everything is free? Can we lobby all internet content as a public service, a public right? That seems to be the way the net is viewed right now, but it isn’t an ethical view. So, why not just pay them, right? We can pay for content? The bigger problem arises when you tell the generation that grew up with free access to all content that they are going to have to pay for that content now. Sort of like how we’re all outraged that Ryan Air will be charging customers to use the in flight toilet, something that most see as a free right.

In conclusion, we have to watch out for the wave makers, and stand behind them. They are the ones who will be solving the paid vs. free content war.

Deciding the Fate of Privacy
Daniel Solove, Author of On the Future of Reputation

As a society, we must decide where we stand on the issue of privacy on the internet. Much like we had to make decisions on public dress and public attitude, on what’s acceptable to say and what’s acceptable to give as gifts, we now, as a society, have to make the rules of the internet, to prevent chaos and confusion.

Currently, as it stands, the internet is mostly an open forum with no governing rules. People of the internet community have attempted to apply the rules of the real world communities to the virtual world and have run up against walls, have discovered that people and relationships can’t and don’t function the same when anonymity is allowed and accepted. That is is not to say that there is no place for anonymous within the internet community. The rules just have to be developed first, just as they have in every real community around the world.

The importance lies not only in creating these community rules but also in developing personal rules to live by. We must recognize, just as we do in the real world, that not everyone in the online community is hoping to change things for the better, for the good. These decisions also extend to the responsibilities of others and also the definition of friend. Whereas it can be easy to keep friend groups separate in real life, it is more difficult and sometimes problematic to keep professional and nonprofessional groups os people separate online.

Schools must educate children, parents must education children, we must all be open and transparent that everything that you see or hear on the internet may or may not be true. Your reputation could be destroyed because of something you did, but it could also be destroyed by someone else falsely accusing you of a despicable act. Then what? How do you restore your virtual reputation? How do you let others know that what was said about you on someone’s blog is not true? What about schools? Employers? Employees?

The incoming class of college freshmen are worried, or at least some of them are. Most have grown up with a facebook profile or myspace page and know all too well the benefits and negatives of living the online life. Many of them are taking steps to protect themselves from colleges that might look at their online life to better judge whether they would be a good fit for the school, things as drastic as deleting their entire profile (which is easier said than done on Facebook), changing their names to nicknames, or simply editing profiles down so that they look more attractive to colleges looking to accept them. These kids are already learning not to take any chances, but what if there was a different way?

Somehow, someway, people need to be more open to realizing that just because its online or in print does not mean that it is true. I look forward to a future where people recognize the best way to utilize privacy in the online world.

Making the Internet Generative
Jonathan Zittrain, Author of The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It

Closed systems will be the end of the internet. The internet was founded on principles of open source ideology and allowing everyone and anyone to take what they wanted or needed, adapt it, and then put it back for others to do the same with. The freedom for anyone to build upon whatever anyone created before let the web expand in ways we never thought it could or would, as a single thinking person or even company for that matter.

The problem with non-generative technology then, is that it does not allow for others to build upon what has come before. It is completely controlled by a company dictating exactly how we should use it. And when that happens, we lose our own ability to create what it is we need, and instead hand it directly over to the companies who are creating the technology this loss of control eliminates any chance of someone who has never created something before but that has a great idea from getting it to someplace new. Think of all of the inventions that we would be missing out on…

Non-generative technologies also lead to walled gardens, places where only some users have access. In a way, these walled gardens are like the social clubs in the South: if you’re not member, you can’t get in. And to be a member, you have to pay a price, thought the price for technology is admittedly much higher than a social club in Chapel Hill. However, its the same concept of only allowing those in who can afford to be in, which really goes against all of the principles that the web was founded on, that open being open and available.

Unfortunately, the latest gadget from Apple that is all the rage both promotes more access and less access, at the same time. While it allows more people to access the net because of its relatively low price, it locks content out by not supporting Flash. In this way, it is something of a walled garden.

In the future, we need to create technology that is generative, that is to say, can be built upon by others. If we do not, we risk creating walled gardens that will stifle the future of the internet and stall our progression as a society.

Linda Misiura
Response to the iMedia Symposium on the Future

The speakers themselves all had really great talking points on things that we should look out for in the future. From that, I would like to address Daniel Solve and Ken Auletta, and for one reason: to give them a challenge.

Daniel, Ken, you both made excellent points in addressing the future, telling us where we might end up and proposing two places where we should be looking to right now so that we can solve the problems sure to arise in the future. Talking is great and your insight is appreciated for bringing these matters to the forefront. But really, we need answers. We need answers to the problems you’ve addressed so that we can move on to the future of the internet safely, both in a social and economic sense.

Solove, you addressed the future of privacy and where that might take us as far as cultural communities. You asserted that we need to find way to inform people about the culture of the internet and also perhaps develop a new culture that differs from that in real life. The rules of reality might just not apply so well to the world of the virtual. TO you, I say this: how? How do you foresee us creating these rules? As a scholar of both privacy and the internet, how do you see us developing new economies of knowledge and trust within the virtual world of the internet? Perhaps it is through a congressional hearing, something like a meeting of all of the great minds of state, which seems gradiose but this is the future of the world here! I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Auletta, your book you wrote on Google makes you the foremost scholar on the the wavemakers of the generation of the internet, which you talked at great length about. But you also brought up the excellent point of the system of pay, which, in my opinion, must be sorted out sooner rather than later to avoid all sorts of unpleasantness. To you, Auletta, I say this: what is your plan for the pay wall? How will we appease the generation that has grown up paying for nothing on the internet and how will we pay the content creators? Both must be done, for we cannot alienate a large part of our audience, nor can we simply hope that the creators will continue to develop out of the kindness of their heart. No, we must make a decision to move forward, and I think that you are a person in position to answer that question.

To all of the speakers, I’d like to thank you for your time and effort at this conference and to assure you that you have brought both valuable material and valuable questions to the table.

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