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Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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Two stories were prominently on display this past week: Jon and Kate; and the protests in Iran. They aren’t comparable, of course – except in their ubiquity.

To catch you up: Jon and Kate Gosselin had sextuplets, which, in addition to their two older children, gave them a family of eight to raise. They are currently doing a fifth season of a reality program, during which time they’ve apparently been adversely affected by fame and paparazzi, though they seem to enjoy the money. Monday night on their show, they announced they’d filed for divorce, which surprised no one who cared in the first place. Now you know as much as I do and no, I have not watched a single episode. jonkatex-largeI know what I know because other forms of media seem to think this is an important “celebrity” story. We can bicker about whether any celebrity story is important, but I can think of about fifty such stories that would be loads more entertaining and less painful to follow. I managed to have a little fun with this story because Open Salon, a blog to which I contribute, sponsored a contest to come up with what the announcement really ought to be. I wrote a  fake press release noting that Jon and Kate were giving their kids away to needy families.

The show will apparently continue. Fortunately, there are other forms of escapist fare,  from several terrific shows on USA Network or TNT, or any number of quality fiction books.

The other major story of the week: the protests in Iran. Is there any international story more deserving of the dominant place in the news? We here in the U.S. are likely sick of the endless bickering over health care (do something already!), or the sight of state governments from California to New York imploding, and we don’t want to play “Where in the world is Governor Mark Sanford?” any more. Besides, this election, the result, and this protest are important in a number of tangible and symbolic ways, not the least of which is that we can learn what’s happening, despite the typical post-election government crackdown on outside communication.  The fact that the news coming out of Iran is mainly via Twitter has not only thwarted government attempts at media suppression but also has the talking heads talking themselves blue in the face about what Twitter means for the future of journalism. As fantastic a tool as it obviously is, especially for people denied many freedoms (see my post below), Twitter isn’t perfect; a tiny number of observers are noting that these instantaneous messages, even those accompanied by visuals, are hard to verify or put in context.

 6That isn’t the point, of course; neither is the fact that the 3 million votes that appear not to have been counted might not by themselves be enough to change the outcome of the election. The point is, a large, educated, heavily female, mostly young group of citizens is standing up to a repressive government and inviting the world to see what that means. That’s a form of reality television you can be certain isn’t scripted.

It’s understandable everyone wants to report on, analyze, discuss, and dissect the events in Iran.  A variety of issues intersect with this event: how democracy and a particular interpretation of Islam will work; what the U.S  relationship with a nascent nuclear power can be; how women’s quest for equal rights may be affected; and, of course, how communication technology promotes a sort of freedom that can’t be contained.  But there’s another point to be made: While mainstream media tries to chase the Twitter phenomena, while alt media shakes its head at how out-of touch mainstream media really is, and while a shrinking corps of journalists risk their necks to get stories, I hope everyone will notice there’s a lot going on, not just with the Gosselins and not just in Iran.

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TwitI am not the most backward person I know when it comes to technology but neither am I in the vanguard. Some of that relates to my skill set (not innately tech-focused  and my age (the dark side of fifty). I also find the immediacy of certain kinds of high-tech communication leaves a lot to be desired in the in-depth department. Texting is fine when you are running late (or L8) and sending a tweet that says “help” when you’re sinking in quicksand might make sense, but as for reporting (not to mention analyzing, deciphering, dissecting or opining on) the news, I want quality, I want depth and I want complete sentences.

Let me now revise that.

protestIn the space of a few days, Twitter, that ubiquitous and previously irritating form of communication favored by second-strong celebrities, has become a force for real revolution: the kind that allows ordinary (or extraordinary) citizens a voice even in the midst of a government crackdown on communications. Of course I’m referring to Iran, where young protesters are broadcasting minute by real-time minute about their protests in a way that CNN has been absolutely unable to do.

There are a number of reports that talk about this new use for this new medium, including today’s New York Times and a recent post by Andrew Sullivan online at the Atlantic Magazine.

But what I’m most excited about is not just the on-the-spot, heartfelt reporting (one demonstrator sent a tweet that proclaimed “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.”) but also the response of the other social networkers around the world. They are providing support both emotional (a large Facebook group as well as a number of followers around the world plugged in to “listen” to the opposition reports) and practical (supplying proxy server addresses for Twitter accounts when the government shuts down local Internet access).

Think about it: a democratic uprising takes place in one part of the world and people all over the globe can mobilize world opinion and perhaps more in a nanosecond. Are there young people in North Korea who, drawn to the social power of Facebook or Twitter, will also be drawn to protest1the power of freedom? What about Cuba? What about Saudi Arabia? Moreover, what does the involvement of twitterers say about the potential to interest an entire generation in the politics of communication and the possibility of change?

Twitter will still be used for inane reports about the breakfast habits of wanna-be A-listers and as a cruelly simple way of engineering a breakup, I suppose. But the idea that it can be used to sustain a social democracy movement has me as excited as I’ve been in years. I’m ready to open an account if I can sustain the required manual dexterity; I want to keep up. peace

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A friend of mine was reviewing his work week, which he felt had gone very well. A high school history teacher and varsity coach, he was pleased because his cross country team had swept its division and his Comparative Government students, involved in a model UN exercise, had been named best large delegation. “And to top it all off,” he announced, “it looks as if we won’t be dealing with World War III.”

Ah yes, WWIII. That was what we were promised last fall as a consequence of Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons, a push that is apparently not taking place, according the latest National Intelligence Estimate. The report indicates that Iran had actually halted a covert nuclear weapons program back in 2002, contradicting a 2005 intel report that Iran was developing said weapons. Got that, or do you need a scorecard?

The problem, as I see it, is not whether Iran would or would not like to have nuclear weapons.  It’s safe to assume they would. Anyone who aspires to be a player on the world stage wants the same “toys” the big boys (and girls) have. It’s also logical that more “mature” superpowers want to make certain less stable regimes don’t have access to items that, in the hands of a fanatic few, would reduce the globe to rubble. It’s fair to say Iran is almost as volitile and unpredictable as, say, Pakistan, a country that already has nuclear capabilities.  Oops, back to the scorecard.

The real problem, as I see it, is the stream of exaggerated, inflammatory and downright careless pronouncements that eminate from this country’s leadership. From WMDs to WWIII, such proclamations don’t inspire confidence in our ability to arrive at practical approaches or solutions to problems in the world. And if they’re designed to inspired fear, they’re less effective than they used to be.  Mostly they just make us look thuggish or foolish – not at all like a mature superpower.

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