CISPA = SOPA 2.0?

Remember the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)? This controversial privacy act was up for a vote in the House and the Senate respectively at the beginning of the year and caused a huge uproar, an internet blackout by more than 115,000 websites, an outpour of comments and discussions on social media and more than 3 million e-mails to Congress, urging lawmakers to change their vote. Read my recap here. On January 20, 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith postponed plans to draft the bill: “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation … The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

Now comes CISPA. The so-called Cybersecurity Bill, or by its official name the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act“, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 26 by a vote of 248 to 168. The Senate is due to vote on the bill in the coming weeks. Obama has vowed to veto the bill. (You can follow the voting process of the bill in the House here). While SOPA was about intellectual property, CISPA is about cybersecurity.

Propublica offers this rundown on the debate and explains why you should care:

“CISPA’s liability shield has sparked concern based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. Opponents contend the law would make it too easy for private companies and the intelligence community to spy on users in the name of cyber security.”

Here is another take how CISPA would affect you, via Cnet:

“For all its flaws, SOPA targeted primarily overseas Web sites, not domestic ones. It would have allowed the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore Web site that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear. It was kind of an Internet death penalty targeting Web sites like ThePirateBay.org, not sites like YouTube.com, which are already subject to U.S. law. CISPA, by contrast, would allow Americans’ personal information to be vacuumed up by government agencies for cyber security and law enforcement purposes, as long as Internet and telecommunications companies agreed. In that respect, at least, its impact is broader.”

More resources: http://www.privacyisawesome.com/

 Feel safer yet?

SOPA/PIPA: It’s Not Over Yet

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), two controversial privacy acts that were up for a vote in the House and the Senate respectively, have caused a huge uproar, an internet blackout by more than 115,000 websites, an outpour of comments and discussions on social media and more than 3 million e-mails to Congress, urging lawmakers to change their vote.

The bills were designed to stop online copyright infringements by cracking down on websites that offer copyrighted material abroad and block Google search from displaying them. For now, it seems, the two attempts to stifle internet piracy by censoring website abroad, has been put on hold with many representatives switching sides. The proposed bills have not been, however, outright cancelled. 

I understand the need to protect copyrights. As a writer and “content provider,” I’ve had my fair share of articles and quotes “stolen” reused, quoted out of context and copied by others. That said, I still don’t want the government imposing censorship, and it doesn’t matter if the censored sites are located abroad or within the United States. Once we start policing the web, we go down a slippery path.

For more background info, read Wikipedia’s entry on the Stop SOPA/PIPA Initiative and excerpts of a primer on the bills via ReadWriteWeb:

“The Internet is in an uproar over the Stop Online Piracy Act. The battle lines are drawn. Big Media (the record labels, movie studios and TV networks) support the bill while Big Tech (search engines, open source platforms, social networks) oppose it. The bill, introduced to Congress by Representative Lamar Smith, is ostensibly supposed to give the Attorney General the ability to eliminate Internet piracy and to “protect U.S. customers and prevent U.S. support of infringing sites.

There is a lot that may be wrong with SOPA, but putting the power to censor the Internet into the hands of the government is chief among citizens’ concerns. The law would force Internet Service Providers and search engines to cut off access to infringing sites as well as give the government the ability to stop payment to those sites.”

Below is a recap of the events. Combing the web in the past weeks, I have gathered links to the best articles that I could find on the topic. Keep this as a reference tool, because it is not over yet. And make sure to sign this petition by americancensorship.org, who states on its website that more than 24 million internet users have had their voices heard in a “collective flexing of internet muscles”. Be one of them. Because backers of both acts are “still working on backroom deals” to get similar bills passed.

Feb. 2

Jan. 31

Jan. 20

Jan. 19

Jan. 18

Jan. 17

2012 Previews and 2011 Reviews

At year’s end and the new year’s beginning, I suppose it is inevitable to look back to forge ahead. Here are some interesting takes on the past, present and future. Expect longer blog posts about some of those trends throughout the next months. Let me know which topics interest you most.

  • Here is Time Magazine’s list of the 50 Best Websites of 2011.
  • A list of The Best of TedGlobal 2011.
  • Poynter discusses 3 trends from 2011 that will reshape digital news in 2012: “Storytelling is more than an author’s words; Facebook means news and e-readers and tablets go mainstream.”
    …Now, if impoverished editors and writers only could afford those…
  • The Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Predictions for Journalism 2012: Numerous renowned authors and media analysts predict that social media will get boring and its bubble will burst, the dawn of “appification media,”  the control of free-flow information, credibility will be back, pay walls will increase, streaming home pages will be the norm, the rise of the tablets will bring about personalized platforms, mobile payments and big data will be the next big thing and the focus will return to the writer (!!). Good times.
  • Some good news about the future of news in 2011 offers the Canadian Journalism Project: “It’s possible that 2011 will come to be seen as a watershed year; the year that saw the emergence of a business model that might actually allow risky, time-consuming and expensive journalism to be pursued, allow journalists to get paid a living wage, and allow media companies to make a reasonable return on their investment.”
    …Pinch me, I’m dreaming…
  • CNET‘s 2012 predictions: “News readers” — “It’s a long way from 3D printers and Kinects to tablet and smartphone-based news readers, but in the world of tech culture, aggregators [and apps] like Flipboard, Zite, and Pulse are growing in importance every day.”
More to come.

WikiLeaks to Old Media’s Rescue!

The implications for journalism could be immense. After WikiLeaks unveiled yet another batch of secret and not so secret documents — this time revealing the State Department’s pretty tame musings about foreign dignitaries — the public led out a collective cyber-gasp (at left, the cover of the German news-magazine Der Spiegel with its headline “Revealed: How America Sees the World”).

Was this just a tempest in the usually rather tepid teapot or a poisonous arrow in the quiver of new media enthusiasts aimed at top-down journalism? It may have been both.

The fact that we can upload everything, anytime and anywhere onto the web has stark repercussions for all media, old and new: Now, more than ever, we need old-time editors and investigative journalists, who can weed through the vast amount of data and hunt for the relevant among the irrelevant, filter the important scraps from the noise and the fluff. The ability to find any type of data, classified or not, on the internet and to dump every piece of information into cyberspace still doesn’t make it factual. That’s why the New York Times, the only U.S. newspaper, and four other foreign print publications, among them the British Guardian, were given first-access to the more than 250,000 documents, maybe in an attempt to give the data credibility. Not the blogs, or the ever-present Huffington Post, but old-fashioned print media were the first to have a go at the information. How ironic.

The New York Times explained why it decided to publish the secret diplomatic documents (under the headline State’s Secrets), saying that they represent “a mammoth cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the last three years [that] provides an unprecedented look at bargaining by embassies, candid views of foreign leaders and assessments of threats”. The Times also devoted a page on its website to answering readers’ questions about the publication. And it went on:

“The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.”

Investigative journalism is back with a vengeance, and sites like WikiLeaks are a new, cheap and increasingly important tool in its tool box. Seems the watchdogs that were asleep at the wheel are barking again. The Genie is out of its classified bottle, and as long as no lives are endangered or people are put at risk, I believe that is a good thing. But what does that mean for the free flow of information?

The limitless dumping of information and data will make old-school journalists and old-time journalism ethics relevant again. We still need someone who is trained to dissect the truth from the lies, the substantiated from the irrelevant. Nothing can stay secret, yes, but at what price? Is info-dumping good for a democracy and a society or could it backfire? Will soon all news stem from hearsay and gossip, from pieces of documents that someone secretly scanned, faxed or uploaded? Someone who may have a hidden agenda? How will that affect the exchange of information in the future and people’s willingness to be named a source or to give an eye-witness account? How do you assess what is true and what is manipulation in this free-for-all? How do you verify sources? And should we care, as long as it is entertaining?

I am all for revealing the truth. But I want to cut through the hype and the sensation and be sure that what I read is authentic. I don’t like to be manipulated. As a journalist, I like to do the editing and fact-checking myself. But others may not be able or willing to do so. Should they be protected from the information overload? By whom? And when does censorship really begin? With a government’s calculated release of data to the press corps — or with an editor’s decision to run a story or not? Too many readers or bloggers still don’t see the difference. Many are indifferent, but established journalists and many bloggers and pundits are not. Let’s use their knowledge and skills and get to the point.

That said, I think the following viewpoint given by Huffington Post contributor Derrick Ashong has merit:

“The saddest thing to me about this latest WikiLeaks disclosure is that it diminishes the value of “whistle-blowing” itself. As I tweeted yesterday “you blow the whistle to spread the truth, not to hear the sound.” By publishing these emails not only has WikiLeaks compromised the privacy of state department officials and the trust within important diplomatic networks, it has also undermined its own credibility as a resource for people who have genuinely important information to share with the global community. There is a distinction between truth tellers and high-tech gossip-peddlers. Unfortunately, it looks like this time WikiLeaks has crossed that line too.”

Good point. I agree. WikiLeaks will have to learn that crying “wolf” each time someone somewhere spills something is getting us nowhere.

In July 2010, when WikiLeaks published classified military data on the Afghanistan war, Mashable.com gathered the opinions of journalists under the headline The WikiLeaks Debate: Journalists Weigh In:

“We need people to leak and people to dig and people to consume and explain, and people who care enough to find the documents and bring them to light,” Mike Sager, a respected writer for Esquire, Rolling Stone and The Washington Post was quoted. “WikiLeaks, like most other Internet “news” organizations, doesn’t provide the perspective and understanding the public actually needs,” according to author and University of Chicago and Northwestern University writer-in-residence Alex Kotlowitz. “We need to be careful that we don’t confuse platform with content,” Kotlowitz said.

A bit condescending, but basically I agree.

Mashable also published another article that same month with a similar topic: Why WikiLeaks and the Mainstream Media Still Need Each Other. The gist:

“These leaks signal a seminal change for investigative journalism. The new collaboration model between prominent publications and WikiLeaks is a tactical marriage. WikiLeaks needs the press so that its leaks can rise to the top of public conversation. The press can use WikiLeaks for its unparalleled scoops. Furthermore, because WikiLeaks isn’t entirely understood or trusted by the public, a partnership with established news sources like The New York Times gives its leaks legitimacy. This “asymmetrical journalism,” as David Carr calls it, is a natural evolution for WikiLeaks. […] [A]ssuming there is news to be broken — it’s best if WikiLeaks and the press are on good terms.”

The German writer Rudolf Arnheim wrote in the 1930s: “Human beings will come to confuse the world perceived by their senses and the world interpreted by thought. They will believe that seeing is understanding.”

It seems like his predictions were right. WikiLeaks as media’s wake-up call? You bet.

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The Guardian has a very informative infographic, showing where the diplomatic cables were sent from (click picture to enlarge).

If Print Is Dead, Why Quote It Online?

The gist of this entire blog is my belief that old media and new media are neither clashing nor colliding, nor that new media will soon replace print. They need to meet, especially since most of the material found online is still either a rehashing of what’s been published in print, a commentary on something that was first written for print media, or an “online exclusive” by an old school journalist, who has discovered the wide world behind the newsroom, and then, ahem, social media, and now applies long-established, tried and true old media work ethics online. First those old media folks laughed uneasily about Twitter, now they don’t miss a beat with their tweets. And that is as it should be.

But take away print publications entirely — and with it (albeit shrinking budgets) their readiness to uncover and investigate hard news, to dispatch correspondents abroad and to cover the government branches and the judiciary tirelessly — the information out there on the web would be much shallower and much less.

Most of what’s been blogged about is heavily backed up by extensive links to print articles (as it should be). Take those away and you’ll feel a void. Old media help new media generate content. Nothing bad about that.

But don’t argue that print is dead.

“To take an analogy from renewable energy sources vis-a-vis fossil fuels, citizen journalism can only do so much to meet our entire information needs as a free society. Finding the right mix will be the challenge of the next decade,” read a post on the “New Media” Blog under the headline “Breaking News! New Media Depends On Old Media” a while back. And further, “If new media kill vast swathes of old media publications, our society may find itself at least temporarily unable to get the information it needs to make informed decisions. Even if plenty of new media news sites rise in the wake of the defeated publications, it is difficult to see how genuine sources of hard investigative journalism will replace the old paid models.”

A study released in the beginning of the year by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, “How News Happens — Still,” offered support for the argument often made by the traditional media “that, so far, most of what digital news outlets offer is repetition and commentary, not new information” (see above graphic). This flow of media sources, the evolution of a news report, how information spreads and who among the media outlets — old and new — set the agenda, can be visualized using Media Cloud, an interactive, user-customizable database launched by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

The same concept is used by Cornell Universities MemeTracker.

New York Magazine published last October a lengthy article “Where News Comes From — Walking Back a Single Day’s Top Stories” by Jeff VanDam that featured a 4-pages long info graphic (Part I and Part II) with a time line on how seven stories traveled from source to source, from print to web and back again.

Nothing more to add, but this compilation is truly fascinating: According to the Technorati Attention Index, the most frequently used sources for bloggers as well as Google News are mainstream newspapers, and traditional news organizations like the Associated Press, the New York Times (rank 1 last year), The Guardian (2) and the Wall Street Journal(3).

More on the ratings can be found at NewsKnife, a website that rates the top sources for Google News in any given month.

And yet, these sources have been shrinking fast, and one can argue that the web is giving them new life — again, collaboration and not collision (click to enlarge graphic; data from 2008 by mint):

Internet Ad Revenue Grows! Really?

The Wall Street Journal quotes a study  in an article published on June 15 that states flatly, the “Internet is set to overtake newspapers in ad revenue.” Another nail in old media’s coffin?

“The Internet is poised to overtake newspapers as the second-largest U.S. advertising medium by revenue behind television, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Entertainment and Media Outlook for 2010 to 2014. […] The online ad business, excluding mobile ads, is set to expand to $34.4 billion in 2014 from $24.2 billion in 2009, according to the report. Newspapers, meanwhile, continue to suffer from a decline in advertising revenue. According to numbers released by the Newspaper Association of America earlier this year, print advertising revenue dropped 28.6% in 2009 to $24.82 billion. The PwC report estimates that print advertising in newspapers will hit $22.3 billion by 2014.”

Yet, The Economist recently wrote,

“Between 2004 and 2007, online advertising revenues doubled from $1.5 billion to $3.2 billion, according to The Newspaper Association of America. But in the second quarter of 2008, they began to fall, just as the loss of print and classified advertisements accelerated.” (The Economist, May 16, 2010)

On June 16, The Economist revisited that claim, stating:

“The Newspaper Association of America reports that print and [my emphasis] online advertising has fallen by 35% since the first quarter of 2008. Circulation has dropped alarmingly too. Yet almost all newspapers have survived, albeit with occasional help from the bankruptcy courts.”

Still, print performs much worse when it comes to advertisement, as written in this June 15 blog post by Reflections of a Newsosaur “Make No Mistake: Newspapers Are Still in Trouble“:

“American publishers missed out on the broad advertising recovery that took place in the first three months of this year.[…] The only positive growth posted by newspapers in the first period of 2010 — which also happened to be the first advance in any category in 24 months — was an increase of 4.9% in online advertising. But this pales in comparison to the over-all industry improvement of 7.5% in the same period, suggesting that newspapers are continuing to lose ground in even the vital interactive marketplace.”

I think nobody really knows what’s going on, and publishing a speculative assessment of what’s to come in online media in the next 4 years as PricewaterhouseCoopers has done, seems utterly useless to put it mildly.

Four years is a life time on the web.