International Broadcasting, Public Media, and the News Deficit
On Dec 8, The New America Foundation co-organized a conference titled International Broadcasting, Public Media, and the News Deficit - Mission and Market Gaps. The event was co-sponsored by Georgia State University's Department of Communication and Rutgers Law School's Institute of Information Policy & Law, which is co-directed by CSM Research Fellow Ellen Goodman. Here are a few highlights, plus a more detailed roundup of the final panel, New Roles for International Broadcasting, and Public Media: Curation and Engagement, which relates directly to our research on public media 2.0.
The event, which you can watch here, opened with a conversation between Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University and Susan Glasser the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. Their conversation focused on a variety of subjects, including how WikiLeaks "exploded the definition of First Amendment", how professional journalists are navigating the new media space and the need for the press and universities to be "more powerful than they are now."
The conversation was followed by a panel on International Broadcasting, Public Media, and the News Gap: Mission and Market Gaps. Panelists discussed issues ranging from whether there is a need for publicly funded media insitutions, whether news organizations still need an international presence, the role of documentaries in the news-making process, and how conflicting public and private missions can raise daily challenges for news sites. The panel was followed by a Q&A session led by Jon Sawyer, the executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting with Dana Perino and Jeffrey Trimble from the Broadcasting Board of Governors. They discussed the changing structures and functions of Voice of America, and how to best maintain news standards while still conveying the policy goals of the U.S. government abroad.
The final panel of the day was moderated by Goodman, who opened the forum by asking Ivan Sigal, the executive director of Global Voices, to share what the site does and express his opinion of the role of professional journalism. Sigal said that the role of Global Voices is to "analyze, aggregate and curate the most interesting online conversations found in citizen media contexts" around the world. "We invert the news gathering structure by asking first,'what are people talking about'," he said. He emphasised that the highest growth in media in the U.S. is in ethnic media and that, "the American position has a huge influence around the world, and yet the people with whom we are speaking are not franchised in our system," but are citizens of other countries. He also added, "the news industry is moving towards an abundance of information and the challenge is to contextualize and to find accurate content that is relevant to a place and time."
Beth Curley, CEO & President of Nashville Public Television talked about their project Next Door Neighbours, as an example of "an extremely local local program with global impact." Curley shared that Next Door Neighbours is a series that follows stories of international immigrant communities in the town of Nashville. She explained that early on, after the screening of their first program on Kurdistan, they were asked to broadcast in Iraq and at that point they declined for several reasons. But, as time went on, numerous programs in their series have been broadcast in several countries without their permission. The Somali program was broadcast in Somalia, "which is fine with us," said Curley. The series has also been used in various public settings, for example, the show was screened in a chicken processing plant in Nashville where there is a "lot of tension" between Somali workers and non-Somali workers.
Jason Seiken, Sr. VP, Product Development & Innovation for PBS, opined in his opening statements that "journalism itself has never been healthier," adding, " there is a very large audience for serious journalism." He noted that PBS.org is the 17th most popular site on the web and PBSkids.org is a leader in online educational programming. He pointed out that, given the enormous number of media outlets that are available to kids these days, there is a serious need to raise media literate children. They should be taught how to recognize a reliable site, or an aggregator site, or "opinion disguised as reporting." Seiken observed that "if we don't raise a media savvy generation, then we will see the less serious sites grow and dominate." He also mentioned the rising clout of games, mobile and social media, noting that "word of mouth is the biggest curator" and "if you are not in the social media game then you are seriously missing out on the word of mouth opportunity"
Heather Chaplin, an assistant professor of journalism at The New School, talked about journalism and games. "Play is how primates learn", she said. "Play is... a central 'What If.' If I have a set of rules, I am going to push back against those rules and see what happens." She said that games are being used as the equivalent of an editorial, citing Oil God as an example. In this game, the player's role is to double the oil prices in five years by "wreaking havoc all over the world." September 12th is another game that she described: "Every time you win a new terrorist appears ...so the only way to win is to not to play."
To further emphasise the role games can play in educating and informing users, she compared them to a "model of the system" that "reflects really well the interconnected world that we live in." Chaplin drew parallels between global warming as a system and how one thing effects another, such as in Super Mario Brothers, when you do one thing that leads you to another and so on. "It's a great way to understand interconnectedness," she said. With reference to a movement towards documentary games, Chaplin brought up an example of a role playing game that is "really good at putting you in shoes of someone else": Super Columbine Massacre - Role Playing Game, which called, "incredibly powerful." The game uses a uses a "2-D Nintendo style" interspersed with real audio of the Columbine shooters talking to each other, and visual clips. These kinds of games "take you past the news, into the depth of something so that you can experience it"
But "how do we get people that understand the deepest journalistic values and can translate that into the medium of the game?" Chaplin asked. She suggested that the coming generation knows games as as well as "we know movies" so the journalists among them should be able to more intuitively think of converting news into games.
In a closing discussion on collaborations and partnerships, Seiken suggested that there is not a possibility of success without a partnership in public media. Sigal commented that, "I don't think of citizen media and traditional journalism as necessarily a dichotomy," explaining that Global Voices had started with funding from Reuters, which has the right to republish all the site's archives, and that Global Voices currently has partnerships with many leading media organizations.
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