From Audience to Allies: Building a Public Movement for Press Freedom

After British authorities detained the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald for nine hours and forced the Guardian, where Greenwald works, to destroy its computers, The Columbia Journalism Review declared this a “DEFCON 2 journalism event” — a reference to the code used when the country is one step away from nuclear war.

And they weren’t alone. A number of leading journalists have weighed in over the past week arguing that we have reached a crisis moment for global press freedom. Amy Davidson, in The New Yorker, writes that the events of this week remind us that we are “lucky in this country to have a press with a better shot at avoiding prior restraint.”

However, she argues, both the Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden cases raise doubts about that “better shot.” Indeed, many saw Manning’s 35-year sentence, handed down this week, as yet another effort to chill the newsgathering process. All of this comes on the heels of a long string of press suppression and intimidation that came to light in the United States this summer. Taken together, argues Davidson, these cases show “why it’s worth pushing back, and fighting.”

That sentiment was echoed by Philip Bump at the Atlantic Wire: “In the battle with the security state, those who might commit acts of journalism have three choices: acquiesce, push back or step away.”

Continue reading

Security, Secrecy and the Democratic Demands of an Informed Public

The American experiment is premised on the idea that an informed public is central to self-governance and a functioning democracy. But today that fundamental idea is being challenged, at times by the very people – journalists and the media – who should be its staunchest defenders.

In a new post, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen traces how the debate over Snowden and the National Security Agency has sparked what amounts to a de facto effort to “repeal the concept of an informed public.” This is a critical point, and I want to draw a few more threads into the debate.

“My sole motive,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in his first public interview, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” Rosen describes Snowden as “the return of the repressed.” He writes: “By going AWOL and leaking documents that show what the NSA is up to, he forced Congress to ask itself: did we really consent to that? With his disclosures the principle of an informed public roared back to life.”

However, since that moment, there has been a profound effort by politicians and even some journalists to close down that debate. This opposition has taken many forms. Journalists and politicians have attacked Glenn Greenwald and tried to undercut the legitimacy of the Guardian. They have tried to write off NSA programs as balanced and well within the law. And most of all they have used fear and the threat of possible terror attacks to argue that any real debate about the details of America’s surveillance programs is simply a “discussion the public cannot afford to have.Continue reading

Putting People at the Center of Journalism

I saw a tweet last night that went something like: “People must love biased news because CNN is doing so poorly while the other networks are doing great.” This was inspired by new reports of CNN’s second quarter ratings, which New York Times reports, “plunged by 40 percent from a year ago,” for its prime-time shows. We can all debate about definitions of doing well and doing poorly, but in general I think a lot of people agree with this sentiment that bias drives views.

I don’t.

CNN isn’t plummeting in the rankings because people love “biased news.” However, what MSNBC and FOX News understand, that I think CNN doesn’t, is that people want to see themselves in the stories they consume. This is as true of novels they choose as it is of the news they decide to watch.

This aspect of the debate over objectivity has received too little attention, but it is fundamental to how stories function. For a long time objectivity was a source of trust – (i.e. “You can trust me because I don’t have a dog in this race”) – but it also had a cost. The cost was journalists’ relationship with their audience and their communities.  Continue reading

A “Flying Seminar” on Solutions Journalism

In today’s New York Times there is a piece by David Bornstein entitled “Why ‘Solutions Journalism’ Matters, Too.” Here is a clip:

“Journalism is a feedback mechanism to help society self-correct. We know from behavioral science that information about a problem alone is rarely sufficient to generate corrective action. People need to know what they can do ― and how. That doesn’t mean including a little “good news” now and them, but regularly presenting people with innovative ideas and realistic pathways and possibilities that remain outside their view frame. In this sense, solutions journalism needs to be interwoven with traditional journalism ― it rounds out the story, so to speak.”

There are a lot of reasons I think this idea is important, which I get into more below, but in general I think it’s vital that those of us who are working to remake journalism are able to describe the kind of diverse news ecosystem we want to create. As Bornstein points out, it is not enough to simply describe the challenges and problems facing journalism, we need to also be exploring and experimenting with the solutions.

A few years back Jay Rosen published a “flying seminar on the future of news,” a short round-up of one conversation from one month in March 2009. Today, I want to offer my own flying seminar on “Solutions Journalism.” Consider it a reading list for those who want to dive deep into this idea and continue the conversation in the new year. There are quotes from each post below, but be sure to read each post in full and add your voice to the conversation.

Continue reading