Class reflection #6

19 08 2008

One of the more interesting discussions we had in class yesterday was related to the iPhone being a closed system. Apple seems to defy the idea that monolithic, closed systems are dead, as suggested by the authors of Wikinomics. Despite logical thinking that a closed system would be unattractive to people, along comes the iPhone, just like the iPod before it, to defy convention.  The iPhone is:

  • Only available on one carrier (AT&T) in the US
  • Only available in one form factor (touch-screen; no flip phone or QWERTY keyboard)
  • Only available in two colors (previously just one)
  • Only allowing users to access content and applications through iTunes
  • Moderating which applications are available to users
  • Relatively expensive in terms of both price point with contract and data plan

Compared to other smartphones from BlackBerry, Microsoft and Nokia (Symbian), which offer multiple phone styles, carrier, applications and services, the iPhone is greatly limited. Yet, it is the fastest selling phone of all-time, attracting mobs to AT&T and Apple stores when the latest 3G iPhone was made available. It was TIME Magazine‘s “Invention of the Year.”  The iPhone is adored by consumers and press alike because it trumps its limitations with an unprecedented user experience and has become a status symbol.

The iPhone’s success begs the questions: Do people really want an open system if an alternative closed system can provide better experiences? Do people want variety and flavors (as suggested by Yochai Benkler and Chris Anderson), or do they want a single product to be like everyone else? The iPhone is yet another example of Apple challenging logical economic approaches to markets with products that provide experiences that trump all other purchasing decisions to gain market share from competitors.


Questions for We’re All Journalists Now

18 08 2008
  1. How should we qualify who should receive preferential press treatment when dealing with non-traditional journalists?
  2. What are the advantages/disadvantages of federal shield laws for journalists?
  3. Is journalism actually a practice, rather than a profession, as Gant asserts? How can “professional journalists” define themselves beyond the pay stub?

Review: We’re All Journalists Now

18 08 2008

We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age.  Scott Gant.  New York: Free Press, 2007.  240 pp.

On the 2008 US presidential campaign trial, a select group of journalists follows the candidates and gains special access for interviews and photo opportunities. Whether it be a press conference, sporting event, or parade, the pack of journalists has greater access to the candidates than average American citizens. Rarely does anyone ask why.

We see the same privilege granted to journalists in presidential press conferences, sessions of Congress and Supreme Court trials. With technology advancing the ability to create and disseminate information online and quality of online journalism on the rise, who are “journalists” today anyway?

“Although we are not all engaged in the practice of journalism, any one of us can be if we want to,” says Scott Gant, a distinguished Washington attorney and constitutional scholar. “In that respect, we’re all journalists now.”

In his book, We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age, Gant explores press privilege within the context of US law and politics. Through thorough examinations of court rulings and how each branch of government regulates press access and privilege, Gant argues that this “more perfect Union” has a less than perfect system for regulating the freedom of the press.

“Preferential treatment for professional journalists is so common today that we often don’t even notice it,” Gant says. In our passive state, Gant argues that we’ve wrongly misidentified journalism as a job rather than an activity.

Gant takes a historical, methodical approach to supporting his argument. He reviews the rise of the American press system and points out that although recent technological advancement has pushed the need for updated rules of engagement for journalists, it is only the most recent catalyst. He says freedom of the press, since its inception, has been narrowly bestowed by government branches to professional media companies, wrongly excluding individuals, book authors, freelancers, libraries and other publishers of alternative media. Gant says online journalists are only the latest group to be left out.

He reviews how the courts have defined press freedoms as constitutionally guaranteed by “The Press Clause” in the first amendment in the Bill of Rights and identifies the ambiguity of 1972 Branzburg vs. Hayes Supreme Court decision, which rejected reporters’ contentions that they should be exempt from compliance with subpoenas, as the cause for confusion about press freedoms today. He faults the Supreme Court for evading the hard questions about the nature of press freedom since Branzburg and avoiding to evolve the definition of journalism despite renewed urgency by online journalists. Gant says journalism is “in flux” with traditional media organizations and online journalists at odds and trying to determine how they can exist harmoniously and if they should enjoy the same privileges without direction from the courts.

Gant is not shy to assert his own opinion. “There is virtually no historical support for the claim that that the Press Clause bestows rights on the ‘organized press’ that are not enjoyed by others,”  he says. “Moreover, attaching constitutional significance to judgments about who is a member of ‘the press’ would invite one of the few things we now the First Amendment was designed to avoid: conditioning of speech on securing a license.”

After he argues that press freedoms should be extended to individuals practicing journalism rather than just blanketed over the traditional, professional media industry, Gant transitions to define what privileges the freedom of the press should guarantee. He dedicates the discussion to shield laws and criticizes state shield statutes for being “woefully outdated,” and limited in scope. He uses as example the 2006 Connecticut shield law that only protects an undefined “news media” and does not expressly cover blogs or nontraditional media.

Regardless, Gant says even if more specific or amended state shield laws arise, “…The absence of a federal shield statute leaves an enormous gap in protection for journalists.” He blames the ambiguity of the Branzburg decision for limiting support in Congress or efforts by media organizations to pass a federal shield law in the past and the current Bush administration for undermining renewed efforts and believing that “a shield law would undermine national security by tipping the scales in favor of journalists…”

Gant concludes that we need to overhaul the structure of press privilege and freedoms, which do not meet today’s demands. “We need a thorough reexamination of existing laws to debate how they should be changed to properly account for the reality that we’re all now capable of being journalists, and to avoid relegating non professional journalists to second-class status,” he says.

Gant’s assessment of press access and privilege is timely and thought-provoking. At a time when the boundaries between professional and amateur journalism are blurring, we have an increasing need to determine to whom, why and when, preferential press treatment should be granted. With a presidential election in the horizon, the need is immediate. Gant provides groundwork for the greater discussion about the role of press in democracy and the definition of journalism looking forward.

As Gant points out, our pervasive system of press preferences has created “a journalistic caste system, in which those working for established news organizations are given priority over others sharing information and ideas with the public.” He demonstrates that this system no longer alone serve the interests of the networked, connected public, which has more diverse, specific demands for information, and has greater access to create its own content and dialogue. Citizen journalism can help fill the void.

“Journalists are not a priestly class. They are citizens just like the rest of us,” Gant says. He makes a compelling argument through detailed examinations of constitutional interpretations and legislative, judicial and excutive precedent to prove his point. Any student of media, law or US politics has something to gain from reading and realizing We’re All Journalists Now.

Abstract: Everything Wired Must Converge

10 08 2008

Christopher Elliott’s article “Everything Wired Must Converge,” is outdated, and not just because the article was published in the Journal of Business Strategy in November 1997. Referencing CompuServe and Prodigy as converged networks that are “beginning to behave like the public Internet,” and introducing VPNs as a new technology also date the article and contrast the technological landscapes of 1997 to today.

However, the article was ahead of its time, identifying network convergence as a turning point for business efficiency and online social interaction alike. Yochai Benkler expanded on the importance and magnitude of network convergence in “The Wealth of Networks,” published nearly a decade later.

Elliott ‘s expert sources in the article also forecast the “Supernet” – a hybrid of what we consider intranets today that would be “faster, safer and more pervasive than today’s Internet.” Article sources say security is the only impediment between the Internet connectivity of the day and the “Supernet.” Today, the Supernet as described in the article, has not yet manifested, but business’ adoption of network convergence vehicles such as intranets, extranets and VPNs has expanded. Consumers have not adopted these vehicles, but features of the preexisting closed networks (Prodigy, primitive AOL) have spun off to primary mediums for this audience: Instant messaging and forums are now mainstream communication tools. More importantly, the maturation of networks and this direction toward a Supernet is enabling access and content creation for all.

This idea of increased access and content creation, namely by individuals, is the driver behind Scott Gant’s book, “We’re All Journalists Now.” He argues that converged networks are skewing the media landscape and threatening some of the rights and privileges (shield laws) traditional media previously enjoyed. As the importance of blogging as a source of news and opinion grows in terms of quality, readership and thought-leadership, courts will have an increasingly difficult time deciphering what news sources should be granted confidentiality and privacy. If these privileges are withheld, a downward domino affect could occur: Journalists will have less access to sources and thus have less to report, resulting in a less informed public.

Often we think about converged networks, as presented by Elliott and Benkler, as positive evolutions, but, as Gant points out, the mostly positive affect of converged networks on media has repercussions, too.

Response for The Wealth of Networks

6 08 2008

This is in response to Sarah’s review of Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.

I’m glad you share my disdain for Benkler’s writing style! It was a little painful at times.

I agree with you that his view of how networked societies will make radical changes in the world is bold, but I disagree that the view leans toward some utopian goal. I don’t recall reading an extensive section about how societies will settle in perfect harmony one day exist because of networks and the Internet, but, hey, I fell asleep reading the text a couple times myself. Ha!

Benkler’s observations of current events seem to ring true. It’s easy to see that radical changes are taking place. The way people interacted 10 years ago compared to today using digital and mobile communications has changed drastically. Access to technology in third-world countries is growing rapidly. The first computers some people use in remote parts of the world are smartphones. I think Benkler’s point is more that these changes in communication and technology are happening, but not necessarily how they’re being used.

You say that Benkler’s “fatal flaw” was “the idea that the networked information economy will make the world a better place and those in it more connected and aware of one another.” Can we determine if this is a flaw yet? Are we too early to determine if Benkler is foolish or prophetic? Considering he’s talking about major societal changes that we’re hardly a decade into, we are probably too early in the game to declare a winner. I also noticed that he and Chris Anderson used many of the same examples of networked societies – probably because there are too few successful examples at this point worth noting.

You’re right to say that Benkler’s observations of these changes aren’t revolutionary.  Overall, I thought Benkler made very few statements that took strong enough positions that were worth considering arguing, which was my “fatal flaw” with the book. He didn’t offer any cutting-edge statements. To your point, he talked a lot about “opportunities” for society, but never went so far as recommending a course of action that societies should take to improve the world.

I think negative reviews are difficult to write because I often veer into tangents that do not support my central arguments, but you achieved listing a consistent flow of reasons why you advise against reading Benkler. Kudos.

Class reflection #5

5 08 2008

Because I was unable to attend class Monday due illness, my comments are based upon two of the videos Kathy linked to for class discussion.

I first watched Benkler’s “Open Source Economics” presentation, which followed closely to the themes in The Wealth of Economics. He says (I’m paraphrasing), “Many think the information society or information economy came after industrial revolution. That’s wrong. For the past 150 years we’ve had an industrial information economy.”

I’m not sure how many people think the information economy came after the industrial revolution, but it’s been my understanding that the industrial revolution enabled the information economy because of the new ability to mass produce the written word. Certainly the information economy is expanding at an exponential rate since the advent of the digital revolution.

Benkler also said that, for the first time since the industrial revolution, information is in the hands of the public at large. Benkler provides the example of SETI@home, which is the largest super computer ever built and nearly double the size of any privately funded super computer. This represents a radical change in production and capitalization of production, Benkler says. Indeed, this is true. Looking at Wikipedia or P2P file sharing, we can see that money isn’t necesarily the motivator online that it is in capitalistic markets.

The second video I watched was Howard Rheingold’s keynote for the OhMyNews forum. Continuing the notion of information in the hands of the public at large, Howard talks to South Koreans about how the public can utilize technological enhancements in peer production and information sharing to make informed decisions and sway public policy.

Howard says every time there’s a new technology for communication, people develop literacies to interact. People dissatisfied with government are able to use new forms of media to rally and protest.

Because South Korea is a young democracy relative to the U.S., Howard believes that, with the way people are mobilizing and citizen journalism is emerging there, Korea could very well be the most advanced democracy in the world.

Howard brings up an interesting point: journalism is a key part of democracy. He suggests that citizen journalism like has the potential to outweigh traditional journalism in political influence. The only problem with the Internet and citizen journalism, according to Howard, is that anyone can publish. We don’t really have a central source besides traditinal media to determine accuracy. Today we have an immediate need for fact checking mechanisms online to make that medium successful.

Howard says South Korea has all the pieces in place to improve policy through an informed public. Considering the limited population and geography of the country, Howard is probably right.

Wealth of Networks Questions

3 08 2008
  1. Benkler suggests the emergence of mass-scale, commons-based information production will not likely affect humanitarian needs. In contrast, can we identify any examples where commons-based, networked information has benefited humanitarian needs (i.e. Hurricane Katrina)?
  2. Does the expansion of technology necessarily make non-proprietary business models attractive? Have the benefits of commons-based, networked information economies in some instances trumped traditional capitalistic goals for businesses and individuals ?
  3. The rise of peer production has enabled non-market motivations and relations to play a much larger role in the production of information than ever before, according to Benkler. With this increased amount of quality productivity, has new peer-produced information devalued traditional information sources? With Wikipedia now available, has Encylopedia Britannica, for example, actually lost its value as a resource?