Sunday, April 20, 2008

The "New" new Journalism

The new journalism is networked in the blogsphere. Unlike traditional journalism it is cheap, bottom up, and boundary spanning. The new journalism relies on new media. There are two network levels. One remains corporate and structured. It is expensive and supported by a business model. This means profitability, cost containment, and stories that produce such are a guiding principle. This level of news and opinion organization is typically responsible for initial stories and information. This top-heavy level of organization is populated by media stars, celebrity journalists, and corporate executives.

The new journalism is powerfully influenced by new media such as the internet. Stories and information are gathered and organized from other sources through electronic media. Startup costs are minimal (e.g. a blog) and boundaries are blurred between ordinary citizens providing information (digital video, sound, websites) and established news sources. The new journalism promises a greater variety and democratizing of information, but information that is less reliable and vetted. An individual with a laptop can collect and distribute information that reaches potentially vast and dispersed audiences. The use of podcasts, for example, to distribute informational, entertainment, and educational content from radio programs has increased access and created new audiences. Interactive discussion is easily available online. This might change some journalistic roles from reporting the news to contributing to news flow and initiating discussion and debate.

It is now possible for the public to be involved in such stories by contributing discussion, data, information, and debate. Future issues of quality and standards will have to grapple with the tradeoff between the public diluting information and the advantages accrued by depth and diversity.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Obama and the Elitism Charge

Obama made a big mistake by referring to small town Pennsylvanians as clinging to guns and religion. It probably did betray an elitist attitude that he better keep under wraps. No democrat has won the Presidency in recent history without winning the values voters; those democrats who work hard at regular jobs and still hunt and pray. Comments such as these combined with his wife’s seeming disdain for America is the kiss of death. The shine on Obama will wear off soon but there must be enough glow left to dim the rising star of McCain. There is a difference between being right and getting elected. The republican answer to social and political needs has been disastrous and it is crucial that Barak or Hillary get elected. But a charge of elitism and disconnect with the American people will be more damaging than any of Hillary’s often tortured attempts to be relevant, tough, hip or sensitive.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I recommend the article at the site below. The intellectual terrorism of Fatwas is an important issue and must be considered unacceptable.

I know this sounds abstract and even naive, but a key question for democratic communication is how people participate in the world. Although this is a complex question it remains true that situations define communicative choices. Intellectual terrorism in the form of fatwas is a way of relating to others that is considered so threatening that relations and ideas must be destroyed. But the U.S. and others fail to respond properly to this terrorism because we continue to see the war on terror from a macro level that emphasizes the distribution and access to communication rather than the communicative individual level. It remains the case that terrorist group use fatwas as a communication mechanism of minority power. It is the only resource they have available to them in what they consider to be an asymmetric conflict. Maybe one way to respond is by giving them other resources.

What I mean is that terrorists are defined as power or cultural units that must be managed (mostly militarily) rather than as communicative units subject to dialogue. I do not mean dialogue in the “shared listening” of the term but in the sense of engagement, which includes developing ideas and finding direction that reduces inflexibilities. As of now, the U.S. as a collective relates to terrorists as a collective with resultant group distortions. We have habitualized a set of behaviors that have become counterproductive. I am clearly not drawing simplistic suggestions about “just sitting down and talking” to terrorists. But at least beginning by finding new ways alignment and perspective.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

To Intervene or Not

I believe it was right to remove Saddam Hussein. The matter of when to intervene in the affairs of others, and what justifies such interventions is currently one of the great divides that separate political opinions. Do we sit back and just tend to our own knitting? Or, do we step into the affairs of others when morally justified and how do we come to such moral decisions. Do we stand by and watch as the Janjaweed in Darfur slaughter Africans? Do we ignore genocide (remember Rwanda) because the victims are “far away” and “different?” The Jews of 1940s Europe were “far away” and “different.” If we could travel back in time, would we have intervened to stop Hitler sooner? Answers to these questions seem to be part of America’s dirty little secret. We desperately want to avoid foreign entanglements but also recognize the responsibility to respond to injustice.

The Bush administration has advocated spreading democracy in the Middle East. This is a bold even arrogant act but also noble and capable of making a meaningful difference to the future of that area of the world. Nonetheless, no nation can cavalierly decide to interfere with another, especially militarily, just because it carries around the moral hammer of democracy. Interference is justified when taking up arms against blatant violence, but rarely in other circumstances.

Still, the promotion of democracy and human rights is an imperative. Research on democracy promotion explains that human empowerment rather than intentional restructuring of governments is most successful at democracy promotion. The U. S. could be successful at democracy promotion by encouraging self expression and citizen participation and avoiding a militaristic stand. Democratic ideals take firmer root when based in human empowerment rather than aggressive intervention and forcing democratic institutions such as elections.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama and the Discursive Gap

Obama’s speech on race is already being heralded as a great moment in rhetorical history. Pundits are lining up claiming it will be studied alongside Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Deciding to give such a speech was a dangerous political decision. Obama has spent the campaign depicting himself as post-racial or “above” the seamy and sensitive topic of race. Well, it appears as if he is not “above” the matter of race at all because it was race that Obama used to explain away the behavior of Pastor Wright. We were asked to excuse and understand Pastor Wright on the basis of his racial experiences and the time in history in which he lived.

Actually, I have no quarrel with this argument. Pastor Wright, like all of us, is a man of his time. And Obama is enmeshed in his own cultural and political experiences. But Jeremiah Wright’s sermons reveal more than a man simply espousing the political credence of his generation. They represent a profound ignorance and bias that is difficult to fathom. Yet, as Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton noted, these beliefs are rampant in the Black community. White people just do not understand what black people are thinking most of the time. It is the discursive gap between blacks and whites that is interesting here. Apparently, rumors of a post-racial America are premature.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Building Peace in Iraq

The urgent business in Iraq is to build the peace. The war, and all of its physical and political damage, will be for naught if Iraq cannot be transformed into a viable political system.

Building the peace must be viewed as a problem solving activity. That is, the ultimate goal is to transform the political relationships within Iraq, and between Iraq and the United States, and do it in such a way that the needs and fears of everyone are addressed. It would be a mistake for the US to simply force cultural and political conditions on Iraq. A problem solving approach to peace-building begins with the conviction that a true agreement on the nature of post-war Iraq will only be successful if it is perceived as fair and just. There are three ways that this is achieved.

First, when one party pursues its own interests only, or exerts undo power, then the other party is threatened. As a result, the satisfaction and interests of each side are thwarted. By treating the Iraqi people and other interested parties as a partner in the peace process, they will be drawn into the beginning of a cooperative relationship that is necessary for a partnership.

Second, peace-building should be directed toward problems of identity, justice, and recognition. Traditional negotiations are typically oriented toward solving practical problems such as restoring order, rebuilding infrastructure, and apportionment of resources. But peace-building tries to address underlying needs and tensions.

The third component of successful peace building is to treat all efforts to rebuild Iraq as a joint interactive process. Solutions to rebuilding Iraq that emerge out of the contact among many sides are more likely to engender commitment and begin to construct new relationships. People perceive fairness on the basis of what they know about a process and its outcomes. This is why it is important to have as much openness as possible.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Which Comes First--Peace or Security

Which comes first peace or security? Traditional conflict resolution thinking is that true security comes after there is peace. Sensible enough. But it is probably difficult to make peace without security. The Israelis are currently struggling with this. The Israelis pulled out of the Gaza strip because they knew that any peace agreement would not include Israeli control of the Gaza. At first blush, naïve as it was, many thought the Palestinians would move into Gaza and make a life for themselves.

Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained that the Israelis evacuated Gaza and left an agricultural infrastructure that was potentially economically useful to the Palestinians. Moreover, there were future business possibilities. But these opportunities were squandered as Hamas won elections and Palestinians imported violence rather than exported agriculture. The number and sophistication of rockets as increased about five-fold since the summer of 2005. There are more jihadists in Gaza and the West Bank than ever before. Hamas has provided an entry into the territories and Israel is now fighting more imported Islamic extremists than ever before. It sure seems like security has to precede peace.