On American Land and Politics

I appreciated this quote, on the expansiveness of our land and our democracy, from an old NYT blog post

The immensity often gets lost in the superlatives stirred up by the most outrageously scenic sites. But in the aggregate, this is what every citizen owns: 530 million acres, of which 193 million are run by the Forest Service, 253 million by the Bureau of Land Management and 84 million by the National Park Service. The public land endowment is more than three times the size of France.

“Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” That was the encomium for the parks by Wallace Stegner, the Best Westerner. It’s worth noting, at a time when a loud fringe of political life fits the Stegner description of us at our worst, how this miracle of public land came to be.


Measuring the Gap in News and Information

Last year, in his remarks at the Federal Communications Commission workshop on the future of noncommercial media, Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron made a provocative statement:

There is no longer enough private capital — in the form of advertising, subscriptions, philanthropy and other sources — to support the depth and breadth of quality local, national and international news reporting our communities need to participate in a 21st-century democracy.

At the time, the statement was at best an educated guess based on the statistics and trends that were available. The FCC has now released their report on the Information Needs of Communities and in it they spend significant time probing the economics of what we have lost from our media and journalism and how we could begin to fill that gap. The evidence and economic analysis in the FCC report seems to confirm that we are facing a serious gap in financial support for exactly the kind of news we need.   Continue reading

My House is a Rubik’s Cube

In college there was a gang of about ten of my friends who taught each other to solve the Rubik’s Cube. At our most competitive, we’d race each other to see who could solve the puzzle the fastest. Some of us went as far as to spray WD-40 in the cracks to make it spin faster. Other time, when we were feeling more philosophical, we’d sit around twisting the cube into complex patterns and talk about the satisfaction of picking up a mixed up cube and solving it. It was an opportunity to fix something, to create order out of chaos.

These days, my house is a Rubik’s Cube – everyday, creating order out of chaos. Continue reading

Debating Disclosure and Transparency in the FCC Future of Media Report

The recently released FCC report on “The Information Needs of Communities” focuses a good deal of attention on increasing transparency by government and by broadcasters, who get to use the public airwaves for free. Indeed, the FCC recommended that “disclosure should be a major pillar of FCC media policy.”

The FCC has long recognized that providing communities with locally responsive programming is a “bedrock” obligation of every broadcaster. But to hold broadcasters accountable to this promise both citizens and the FCC need data about how broadcasters claim they are serving local communities.

It’s clear from the report that the FCC recognizes that information equals power, and that citizens need more information to judge whether broadcasters are meeting their obligations to serve the public good.  Why, then, did we blast the FCC’s recommendations around “enhanced disclosure”? Continue reading

Citizens, Journalists and Institutions: A Power Shift in Civic Information and News

Changes in media and technology are rippling through our society, shifting the power structures that have traditionally shaped the public square of news and information in America. The old dynamic might be described as a clash of titans – the institutions of news and journalism working to monitor and hold accountable the institutions of government, commerce, and civic life. In this construction, like spectators at a colosseum, consumers of news were little more than an audience.

However, one of the key findings of the Federal Communications Commission’s new report on the “Information Needs of Communities” was that “Citizens can now play a much greater role in holding institutions accountable.” This, in and of itself, is nothing really new. The notion of the “people formerly known as the audience,” and the increase in participatory, citizen driven journalism have been well documented and discussed in-depth.

The report’s optimism about citizen engagement is tempered, however, by another important fact. “While digital technology has empowered people in many ways, the concurrent decline in local reporting has, in other cases, shifted power away from citizens to government and other powerful institutions, which can more often set the news agenda.” The gap between these two ideas animates the entire report. Continue reading

Parenting Together

Ninety percent of the time my son falls asleep with little fanfare or fuss, but occasionally as my wife or I walk out the door he’ll stand up in his crib with his stuffed dog in his arms and cry for us. And sometimes this crying escalates to a wail. It never last long, three or four minutes max, but those few moments are devastating.

Our house is small enough that we don’t need a baby monitor. We stand together at the bottom of the stairs, and hold each other’s hand while he blows off a little steam at the end of the day. Even though we know there is nothing we can do about it, we always go through it together.

My wife and I spend a lot of time parenting together. It doesn’t make a lot of sense really. We could divide and conquer, and sometimes we do. One person doing bath while the other cleans up from dinner. One person reading stories while the other has a moment of quiet time to themselves. It happens occasionally, but more often than not we both hang out in our small bathroom together while our son has his bath, and we all sit together on the floor and read stories. Continue reading