T’was AT&T’s Night Before Christmas

This is my little holiday ode to one of our big victories of the year at Free Press. If you like this adaptation, or if you like public media, quality journalism and using the internet (all issues we work on), please consider giving $25 to Free Press (you can choose my name from the menu). Your donation is tax deductible and will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your gift.

T’was AT&T’s Night Before Christmas

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through DC
Not a lobbyist was stirring, for old AT&T.
They thought that their merger would be wrapped up with a bow
But that just goes to show how little they know.

It all started so smooth, with Jim Cicconi in the lead,
Supporters lined up with remarkable speed,
Filing letters, making statements, it was going so well,
Until people remembered the long history of Ma Bell. 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.

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Your Actions Should Be Your Credentials

Today’s celebration of the 220th birthday of the Bill of Rights comes after three months of journalist arrests and press suppression in cities across America — the most recent of which happened just this week. When the NYPD arrested a group of photographers, live video-streamers and other citizen journalists at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City earlier this week, it rekindled a long smoldering debate over who is a journalist.

The people arrested were all aligned with the Occupy movement, with some serving on the Occupy Wall Street media team, but based on videos and first-hand accounts they were primarily there to bear witness and cover the events. In fact, over the course of the Occupy movement, in many cases when police kept other journalists at arm’s length, the only video and reports coming out of Occupy raids were coming from these kinds of citizen journalists.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The question “who is a journalist” has been raised often over the past two months as reports of press suppression and journalist arrests have spread from city to city. See, for example, the debates here, here and here. I’ve already described my views on this in relation to my own work monitoring journalist arrests at Occupy events: “I decided early on that I wasn’t going to quibble about who is a journalist, and who isn’t. My goal was to account for anyone who was clearly committing acts of journalism when they were arrested.”

But, tangled up in the debates over who is a journalist are very real legal debates about who is given press credentials and what protections those press credentials provide. In general, the press credentialing system is broken — a poor fit for the media landscape we find ourselves in. The courts have already ruled that, as more people gain access to the tools of reporting, “news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.” If the question is not who is a journalist, but rather, what are the acts of journalism that should be protected, then we need to rethink what a “press credential” actually is. Continue reading

NYPD: Elmo Safe, Journalists Not So Much

There is breaking news out of New York City today. The New York Police Department has announced that it is halting its crackdown on Elmo. Journalists, on the other hand, are out of luck.

Just a day after a series of violent arrests of citizen journalists covering Occupy Wall Street, and reports of NYPD blocking and harassing a New York Times photographer, the Big Apple’s police force released a statement saying it would no longer ticket the costumed cartoon characters that frequent Times Square. Continue reading

Journalism as a Service, Not a Product

I came to journalism through community organizing, so for me, news and information has always been important in the context of our communities. That’s perhaps why I was so struck by the way Melanie Sill, executive in residence at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, puts community at the center of her new report “The Case for Open Journalism Now.”

Like many journalism reports released in the last five years, her report begins by asserting that journalism is a “public good.” However, where other authors have used that frame to explore business models or argue for new funding streams (including my own 2009 report), Sill is more interested in how the journalism itself needs to change.

“We need a new orienting idea for journalism,” she writes. If journalism is a public good, she asks, how must it change and adapt to the new digital public sphere and the demands of newly connected (and disconnected) communities. “To bring real change,” Sill argues, “we must reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities.”

Sill sums up this shift under the idea of “open journalism,” a term that doesn’t immediately explain itself. Here is Sill’s definition:

“Open journalism’s core principles are transparency, responsiveness, participation, collaboration and connection. … It’s an idea for making quality journalism a collective endeavor and transforming it from a product driven by factory processes to a service driven by audience needs.”

In this way, open journalism brings together the democratic needs of communities with the increasingly networked technological shifts in media and information. Part argument, part case study, and part handbook for newsrooms, her paper offers a wide range of concrete examples drawn from a diverse set of journalism organizations across the country. As such the paper reads as a study of an emerging movement, one which is gaining steam but still facing very real challenges.

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On The Loss of a River

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time in the Adirondack Park. I went to college just north of the “blue line” (as the border of the park is commonly known) and spent a year after college serving with AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) in the Adirondacks. During that year I worked on a number of week-long conservation projects in the high peaks area of the park outside Lake Placid, NY.

I started many of those trips in Keene Valley, hiking in on a trail that runs parallel to Johns Brook. One week we hiked in and demolished an old lean-to at “Slant Rock” that had grown unsafe. We blazed a new trail and built a new shelter from scratch. I spent another week repairing the Johns Brook interior ranger station, a backcountry base station for park rangers.

Johns Brook wound its way through my summer that year, and has since wound its way through my memory. I listened to it as I slept, swam in it, drank from it, scrambled down its banks. A year after working on that project at the ranger’s cabin, one of my friends who I had worked alongside, died suddenly. The weekend of his funeral I hiked back up there and sat on a rock in the middle of Johns Brook feeling the mighty stream roll over me. This past summer marked ten years since that summer, and I returned to Keene Valley with my wife and son, and we spent long afternoons swimming in Johns Brook and the neighboring Ausable River.

And so, when I received the note below from a longtime family friend who lives in Keene Valley, I was struck by how quickly the landscape of our memories can change, and how profoundly I could feel the loss of a river. Read on to see what I mean.

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Seven Videos of Journalists Arrested at Occupy Wall Street Events Nationwide

It’s been amazing how many of the arrests of journalists have been captured on camera – often by the journalist themselves as they are being arrested. Below are a few of the most dramatic videos of journalists who were arrested at Occupy Wall Street events around the country. See more, and read about all 30 journalists who have been arrested so far, here.

Bob Plain: I was arrested at Occupy Boston

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