China and its Discontents

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Multiperspectival News

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In his conclusion, Gans is annoyed by what are relatively common complaints against journalism: that journalists are prone to charges of distortion, that they don’t select the right facts, they don’t ask the right questions, and they don’t inform a lay audience in the right way. He also makes the point that these inherent problems with journalism arise because as Karl Mannheim said, “all knowledge is relational to the knower’s perspective.” Our perspective determines what facts we recognize, what questions we ask.

Gans’s solution to this, what he calls “Multiperspectival News,” is both an unworkable solution to an impossible-to-solve problem, and fully realized in the modern internet. Let’s start with the fully-realized bit. His described solution, and especially the “two-tier model” is the internet and modern media landscape. The internet consists of a multitude of heterogenous news outlets that “devote themselves primarily to reanalyzing and reinterpreting news gathered by the central media…adding their own commentary and backing these up with as much original reporting, particularly to supply bottom-up, representative, and service news…” (318) What Gans describes sounds like the blogs I read every day.

Modern media does of course fall short of Gans’s ideal: even though it is structurally similar, no outlet is really multiperspectival in the ways Gans wants them to be. And as I said before, I don’t think they can be. Gans briefly mentions my critique on page 311: you cannot add up every perspective together. If you try, you end up with nonsense and incoherence. As he says, “One cannot be a Marxist and a libertarian concurrently.” And we can’t each adopt only a single, pure perspective either. That is too limiting and not realistic to our life experiences. Instead, every person must synthesize, and this involves blending perspectives together. And once you do that, you automatically leave some things out of your perspective. That’s why no individual journalist can ever approach the ideal of “multiperspectival news”, and why collectively no journalistic organization will reach it either. We just have to live with this limitation; and we might do better for ourselves if we didn’t view it so much as a limitation, dropped the goal of “multiperspectival news”, and asked a different set of questions!

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:42 pm

What is Progressive Journalism?

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Herbert Gans presents the news as telling two different, contradictory stories: a story that affirms the status quo social order, and a story that pushes for Progressive reform of the type we read about in the readings last week on journalism in turn-of-the-20th-century Detroit. I cannot analyze the news environment that Gans deals with from personal experience, because I was not alive during the 60’s and 70’s. But I can relate Gans’ conclusions to the modern media environment. Given the way the news acts today, it seems far more likely that the news is interested, albeit unwittingly, in preserving the status quo.

This seems an unlikely conclusion to make given the national mood since the recession started. The amount of muckraking journalism to expose corruption and malfeasance in the public sphere, and especially in private industry and finance, seems to have risen extraordinarily. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are not treated unsympathetically as mindless violence, a la the “ghetto violence” and war protests Gans mentions from the 60’s, but as serious movements with admirable policy platforms.

In theory, journalistic outlets are progressive because they identify the “moral disorder” of elites (per Gans’s terminology). But this is, I think, very much a facade. Gans already identifies the ways in which the news does not reflect what I would call “true” progressivism: it mainly allies itself with the values of the upper-middle class, professional elites that make up those news outlets’ readership. It doesn’t pay attention to the plight of the poor. It does not truly question authority.

That might be a naive standard to set. But journalists have to question authority to conduct true journalism. Journalists failed in their charge after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq War precisely because they failed to question authority and allied themselves with the predominate moral and political opinions of those in power, politically, economically, and socially. The examples of this malfeasance of the journalistic class abounds and are too many to continue.

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:29 pm

The Internet and Libel Law

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Should the internet be subjected to historical libel laws? Can they even be applied in the same ways? One of the biggest obstacles to applying libel law to the internet is anonymity. Of course many websites and blogs are attached to a specific name or organization, and even if they are not, the IP addresses of libelers can be identified. But certain software, such as TOR or VPN services, can conceal a user’s IP address. TOR isn’t just used for this purpose in Western countries–it’s also used by journalists and protestors in undemocratic countries to disseminate news. Furthermore, websites or internet service providers might not want to disclose their users’ IP addresses and even if served with a court order they might not be able to if they intentionally do not store that information.

Libel law seems out of place in the Wild Wild West of the Internet not just because “internet message boards are so filled with outrageous postings that no reasonable person would interpret such a posting as a true statement of fact.” (150) People online do not just commit mild negligence; they often intend actual malice. Social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter are prime examples of websites that could attract massive libel suits against its users, and yet the two are rather tame compared to other examples. 4chan is an infamous message board that is known for being crude, puerile, offensive, and at times libelous. One can also assume a large portion of 4chan users are underage. The internet, by disconnecting a person from their identity or any real-world consequences, frees some people from all inhibitions. The cost of publication is free and it’s anonymous–why not post it?

And yet the factors that make it difficult to sue for libel on the internet also add the greatest unique value to the internet. The internet has succeeded as a revolutionary technology precisely because the entry barrier is low and it is so easy to publish. While the internet has provided a platform to conspiracy theories and Obama birth-certificate claims that are most certainly published with actual malice, it has also turned the tables on the way information is distributed. With older forms of media, information is produced and consumed in one direction. With the internet, consumers become producers, and vice-versa. The average citizen is free to produce new creative works, remix old culture, and yes, libel his fellow citizens with abandon. If we “fixed” the internet so that every user had to conform to journalistic standards, we would destroy the essential characteristics of the internet that make it great.

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Public Journalism vs. Ideologically-Committed Journalism

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Installment #2 of the journalism class blog posts.

You could not have a more bigger shift in tone between “The Idea of Public Journalism” and “The Death and Life of American Journalism.” I guess that’s what happened in the intervening ten years between the two books’ publication dates. Compared to the more optimistic takes on journalism’s future in “Public Journalism,” McChesney and Nichols paint a dire situation. Not only are the newspapers failing, but nothing will ever replace it absent state intervention (we’ll address that next week). The alternative is bleak, where PR firms dictate the content of every media outlet (one almost senses they would go even further to say PR firms will start dictating what we think, too). The corporations, the rich, and the status quo win.

Here’s the problem I have this argument: the authors blatantly argue for a press that supports their political preferences, without stopping to think of alternative rhetoric they could use. Wanting more partisan coverage is not necessarily bad. I, as a Democrat, would certainly like journalists to more positively cover Democrats and their policy preferences. But I know that that is an unrealistic expectation and probably not in the best interests of the country as a whole. Even if I think those policy preferences would be in the common good, I do not think we should design a press establishment that is biased in that way.

McChesney and Nichols, despite their protestations to the contrary, romanticize some standard of journalism that never actually existed. They hark back to the Framers of the Constitution to justify a “take-no-prisoners, speak-truth-to-power journalism that has as its end not a recreation of the old order of empowered elites and cowering masses but a new order in which the will of an informed and emboldened people shall be the law of the land.” (XXViii) Further, they want a press “that regard[s] the state secret as an assault to popular governance…” (2) Finally, they claim, “The business of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (8)

This is all a bunch of hogwash. This type of journalism, despite their claims to the contrary, has never existed, nor can it ever exist. Journalism has always been status quo, and nominally pro-government. I also don’t see how the United States could function without a commitment to political and religious pluralism. The truth is, the kinds of changes the authors want to see in American journalism are highly partisan. A large portion of the electorate does not have the same social justice sensibilities as the authors.

Any time anyone has attempted to create this sort of ideologically-committed journalism, it has descended into something that is not journalism: Fox News, most cable opinion shows, Media Matters, etc. These outlets may be socially useful–but they are definitely not journalistic outlets.

What kind of rhetoric could they use instead? I was a big fan of many of the articles from “Public Journalism.” In many of those articles, the authors referred to “convening communities” and “problem-solving.” This is the right way forward. It avoids the partisanship of “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” while still acknowledging failures in and proposing solutions to currently-practiced journalism.

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:11 pm

What is News?

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I’m taking a class on journalism that requires us to blog (not a journalism class, but a class on journalism). So I thought I would put those posts here too. Readings from the class will be referenced (but don’t worry, the references are quoted and explained).

In asking, “What is news?” I was reminded of a question recently posed in the form of a blog post by Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times Ombudsman: “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” Should newspapers point out that X politician made Y and Z false statements? The obvious answer is yes (Jim Fallows at The Atlantic generally summed up my views). Fallows’ critique of the media is common today, and has been common for a long time: that many journalists engage in superficial “horse race reporting” (where facts are presented without context and meaning) and “false equivalence” (where two opposing truth claims are treated as equally plausible). This critique is even mentioned in one of the readings, “If you call to mind the topics which form the principal indictment by reformers against the press, you find they are subjects in which the newspaper occupies the position of the umpire in the unscored baseball game.” (Lippmann, 50)

Some of our readings make the opposite case. According to Halberstam, news is not about providing context or explanation: “News reports, on the other hand, need not be explanatory and those explanations which do appear in news account are often adscititious intrusions.” (Halberstam, 13) Halberstam’s definition of the news would seem to rule out a lot of important news. Financial reporting on the recession, for example, would be useless without context and explanation of the causes and actors involved in the crash. Similarly, Halberstam’s emphasis on events as news would rule out most news stories concerning global warming, or other long-term patterns that impact us in dramatic ways.

I know that personally, I would like to believe that journalists exist as the fourth estate, uncovering malfeasance and inserting themselves into the political process in a way that makes everyone else more informed and better citizens. This sort of reporting would require context and explanation of events and long-term patterns. Lippmann argues strenuously against this idealistic vision: “If the newspapers, then, are to be charged with the duty of translating the whole public life of mankind, so that every adult can arrive at an opinion on every moot topic, they fail, they are bound to fail, in any future one can conceive they will continue to fail.” (Lippmann, 117-118) That might be a straw-man argument. I don’t think that the media, by fulfilling its public purpose, will hand down the truth from on high to the masses. Every person makes autonomous judgments. Rather, news media should seek to make people better-informed citizens, regardless of the political conclusions those people make. After all, Morson’s example of the degraded conditions at the Ridge Home nursing center could lead someone to conclude the government should improve the center, or that the government should abolish the center.

Written by Will

January 24th, 2012 at 11:07 pm

The White Paper at Trinity and the New Social-Academic Paradigm

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This post is in the way of an apology for not posting for many months. I submitted an op-ed to the Trinity Tripod a month and a half ago, but never posted it here (and it’s not on the Tripod website either), so here it is!

Have most Trinity students read President Jones’ White Paper? No. But if they have heard anything at all, they know he ‘wants to get rid of the fraternities’. What we cannot forget is that President Jones proposed two ‘helixes’, one academic and the other social, “neither of which can be separated from the other.” In other words, it is useful to think of the big picture – the Jeffersonian, holistic, “intellectual village,” as idealized in the paper.

As I was reading the White Paper, several ideas came to me that have been on my mind since I arrived at Trinity in 2008, some of which President Jones touched upon. The first is the notion of belonging. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it rates as the third most basic, behind physiological needs and safety. The kids at Trinity who don’t feel like they belong here or to any particular community on campus transfer. And President Jones mentions this need. This lack of belonging cannot be answered by only an academic or a social solution – it must be a combination of both. We belong to both groups on campus, and to a larger campus community. These senses of belonging are inculcated by a strong academic ethos marked by intellectual curiosity, where students are inextricably tied to professors in and outside of the classroom, and when we feel we are welcome across campus anywhere we go, as President Jones says, on a meritocratic basis.

A couple of months ago I was having a conversation with my father on pedagogy and the recent acts of bigotry and prejudice at Trinity. Out of that conversation, I came to realize that these acts occur because there is a disconnect in values between some students and the larger campus community. The value system exemplified by our mission statement has not been fully institutionalized – our values are not cohesive, our community is dysfunctional. We lack communal norms. This too can be solved by both an academic and social solution. When students come to Trinity “for the right reasons,” when students and faculty are on the same page, we establish communal norms. When we all share certain communal academic and social experiences, such as the first-year “great books” seminar program proposed by President Jones, norms are established. The best academic model is that of the Socratic method, of proleptic questioning: the faculty ask leading questions that provoke knowledge that a student has but has not yet put together in a coherent fashion. Students come to class having done the reading and are excited to engage in difficult material. This is what we must inculcate at Trinity.

Let’s not get lost in the particulars and remember that there is a greater purpose to the intertwined helixes. Let’s move forward, start a conversation, and ask the hard questions. Let’s be present and active in our little “academic village.”

Written by Will

January 3rd, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Susannah Heschel at Trinity College

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Susannah Heschel spoke at Baccalaureate during Trinity College’s 184th graduation weekend, and I thought her sermon was superb. Having grown up in a theologically conservative Episcopal church and having attended the services of many similar churches, I’ve found it so rare to hear a sermon that challenges the parish to action. Heschel framed scripture, drawing on all faiths and traditions, as the foundation for a ‘sacred trust’ that compels us to a ‘moral mission’.

For the first few minutes, I thought she was going to take the predictably boring course of sentimentalism and tired graduation advice. She drew her listeners in to a comfortable place, so that the charge she was to give would be accepted. She related a story according to Jewish oral tradition: a young scholar tells his Rabbi that after much study, he has gone through the Talmud three times. The Rabbi replies, ‘But how much of the Talmud has gone through you?’

“How much of Trinity has gone through you?”

Trinity’s largest major is economics. Many of those graduates, and many others besides, will pursue a career in investment banking. In fact, the commencement speaker this year is John Bogle, retired CEO of Vanguard. But as Heschel intoned again and again, we, as members of the Trinity College community and members of the world community, must be charged with a deeper purpose. One of the readings during the service, from the Tao te Ching, begins, “Reputation. Life. Which cultivates more love? Life. Wealth. Which is worth more? Gaining things, or having nothing. Which brings more trouble and distress?” Those that are not content with themselves alone will never be satisfied.

Heschel connected this moral imperative with all of the progress that she has seen and all of the potential she sees in the world. She matriculated to Trinity during the first year of coeducation. Since then, the civil rights and feminist movements have advanced racial and gender equality in the US. Apartheid has been abolished. A Black man is President of the United States. But these are just a beginning. Shias and Sunnis, Hutus and Tutsis, and people of all color and creed are bound in common humanity.

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos, 5:24.

This passage, quoted by Heschel, left the deepest impression on me. For some time, one of my favorite quotes has come from William Sloane Coffin’s conversation with Henry Kissinger, in which Coffin cried, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, and your job, sir, is to figure out the irrigation system!” Ever since I came to Trinity, I have considered my purpose in my education, and my purpose when I go out into the world. I ask, ‘What is my vocation?’ This rumination started when I went on Quest, the freshman orientation camping trip, and has evolved since then. But it can best be put: to build the irrigation system by which justice and righteousness flows across the earth. That is a far more eloquent statement than where I started out two years ago.

Susannah Heschel charged the Trinity College Class of 2010 with a mission – to bring about justice and righteousness through their daily lives and work, and even be open to changing their current path which might not afford them the ability to do so. Susannah Heschel’s father the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference.” The Class of 2010 cannot be indifferent, and neither can you.

“14 Days” Library Response is Inadequate

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The library has just published responses to a summary of the questions asked during the “14 Days” comment period back in February. I find many of the answers inadequate.

Question after question, the library and computing center staff writing the responses don’t directly address the question, and offer annoyingly vague and unhelpful answers that can never lead to a successful resolution. What do I mean by this? The answers either restate the current policy of the library, or say ‘our hands are tied,’ or ‘we’ll consider this in the future.’ The Trinity community cannot hold the library responsible to these answers – there’s no metric by which we can evaluate success, and thus, no success is likely to be achieved. Let’s take a look at some of the questions and answers:

  • Switching Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps.
    • Computing Center Response: Many educational institutions have moved student e-mail services to Google, and we’ve been monitoring the success of these.  Although we have concerns associated with administration and security of data, Google continues to make upgrades and improvements that address many of these.  We are planning to re-evaluate the use of Google Apps for Trinity this coming fall.
    • My response: Who’s going to evaluate the switch? How are you going to evaluate the switch? Is there going to be any participation across the Trinity community? What exactly are your concerns? Google Apps for educational institutions is completely free. In the collegiate vicinity, Wesleyan and Connecticut College both use Google Apps. As I wrote in an SGA blog post recently, Google even released a tool to migrate all Microsoft Exchange information to Google Apps seamlessly. As has been pointed out before, the library (and the college) could save so much money by not paying licensing fees to Microsoft, server costs, and the additional labor costs of IT administration. This would be a boon for Trinity. Seriously, Google Apps would save us a boatload of money. Check out this website, designed to calculate the costs of Google Apps for businesses, to get an overestimate for the costs for non-profit Trinity.
  • More printing dollars, printing too expensive, more printers around campus, system slow, printers jam.
    • Computing Center Response: We are currently evaluating all components of the printing system (printing hardware, print release stations, and print payment software) to determine if there are ways to make the printers more error-free and shorten the time to print. We do not expect to be able to allocate more funding for printing at this time, but we are working with the SGA to determine ways of keeping printing costs manageable while still providing the service.
    • My response: Again, what is the evaluation process? “We are working…” is a non-answer answer, since “keeping printing costs manageable” is meaningless if you cannot lower the costs. With the money you could save by switching to Google Apps, you could easily give every student unlimited printing and fix every problem associated with printing. We may decide against unlimited printing for environmental reasons, but you could at least increase it back to $25 again. This could eventually have a Google-centric solution too. Just this morning, I was reading about a new Google project to develop a cloud-based printing system, Google Cloud Print, in conjunction with Google’s new operating system, Chrome OS. The system works both with Chrome OS and other operating systems. While the project is still early in development, Google has released the code and documentation as open-source. With the fast pace of development of Google projects, this could eventually be used by Trinity.
  • Open up entrances to the building, especially the long walk doors; find turnstile alternatives; too many non-Trinity guests at night.
    • Library Response: The current building entrances and access policies have been designed to protect 1) the students, staff, and faculty who work in and use the library, and 2) the equipment and collections contained within it. We are attempting to achieve a balance between allowing students the freedom to come and go when they please, and ensuring the safety and security of students and their belongings when they are in the building. At this time, we cannot open up any more entrances without sacrificing a degree of security, but as we plan for building improvements in the coming years, we will bear in mind the desire for easier access.
    • My response: I concede this is a difficult problem. But this post doesn’t identify the specific barriers to changing student access to the library. The Level B entrance is currently opened through an RFID scanner, as is the Level A entrance after library hours. Why can’t this system be implemented in the inner doors on the main quad? This system has costs, but I’ve already identified serious cost-savings which could also pay for this. And unlike other costs, this is a one-time expense. This potential entrance is not staffed as the Level A and B entrances are, but neither are the Level A and B entrances staffed at night. It’s less clear what the barriers are to opening up the glass doors around the main stairwell. There has not always been a turnstile at the main entrance – this was only added in the past few years. I do not have the answers to make the layout more efficient – but these issues must be explicated further, something not accomplished by this response.
  • Enable rooms used for guest lectures (McCook, Washington room, etc.) easy video and audio recording and make recordings available online on the Trinity website or ITunes U (so they can be watched on an IPhone).
    • Library Response: Lectures cannot be taped without permissions from the lecturer, and there are many lectures and events that occur on campus every year. So, at this time we record lectures only upon request. To request that a lecture be taped, please contact Media Technology Services ( Recorded lectures will then be placed on a server for viewing as streaming video.
    • My response: What about iTunes U? This response makes no mention why we can’t do this. It is a great promotional tool, not only for taping lectures, but also for uploading all kinds of student creative output. Student music groups could (and do, at other colleges) upload music directly to iTunes U for distribution. Trinity could offer both a selection of videos from Trinity courses, and guest lectures. The requirement of a permission form is not a major impediment to this. Right now, students and professors have to be knowledgeable about and actively seek out this form and Media Technology Services. The use of the service and form could be advertised and made the default option for major lectures.
  • Creation of a Trinity wiki?
    • Computing Center Response: Anyone with a Trinity login can create a personal wiki at Once logged in, use Site Settings to allow others to edit and view your wiki. This wiki will be viewable only by people with Trinity College logins that you have given permission to access.
    • My response: A personal wiki defeats the purpose of a Trinity-wide wiki. I don’t want a wiki on! I want a wiki on! “Given permission to access?” The idea is that everyone is able to access it!

Not mentioned in any of the questions or responses was that Blackboard could potentially be eliminated through the switch to Google Apps also. This is a far more complicated transition because we currently run the administration of Bantam Bucks through the Blackboard Commerce system. The Blackboard website, however, could completely be substituted with Google Apps. I’m unfamiliar with Moodle and what role it could play in this transition.

This is a long post, I know, but I have only focused on a fraction of all of the comments submitted and responses received.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Trinity College Student Government Association » William Yale

Stop Asking Us to Reset Our Passwords!

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According to the Boston Globe, it is a waste of our time and doesn’t do anything to improve security. Can someone please tell the Computing Center to stop asking us to change our passwords every few months or so?

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Trinity College Student Government Association » William Yale

Written by Will

April 12th, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Switch to Google Apps from Microsoft Exchange?

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Something that caught my eye recently was this post over at one of the many Google blogs, outlining a new tool Google developed to migrate email, calendar, and contact data from Exchange to Google Apps. In the library’s recent 14 Days comment system, I left a note mentioning how I would like to see the college transition from an email system based around Microsoft Exchange to one based on Google Apps. This new tool seems like the perfect way to do that. Google Apps is free and I believe a superior product. The Computing Center ought to look immediately into making this transition, especially with all of the other cost-saving measures the Administration has enacted or is considering.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Trinity College Student Government Association » William Yale

Written by Will

March 20th, 2010 at 8:31 pm