Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I thought Kellan’s proposal for Fandangle.com was the strongest indy media pitch in the class. While I doubt this is a site I personally would frequent because I’m not exactly a big sports fan, I know fantasy sports is huge for the people who are into it as a hobby/interest — which means there is actually a need in the market for something like Fandangle, and fantasy sports followers would probably respond well to it. It’s a realistic, workable niche in the online independent media market.

That said, because I’m not into this kind of thing I have no idea whether there are already Web sites out there that are too similar to Fandangle… I have a feeling someone must have thought of this same thing already, but Kellan did do a solid job of acknowledging the competition in his pitch.

I liked his idea to make Fandangle by college students, for college students. With something like this, that so many students are already into, they would probably care to read what their buddies are predicting about Team X this week and how they’re going to do in Monday night’s game. A staff of eight people is on the high end of reasonable… maybe for its start-up, it could work with half that.

That was one thing that stood out to me about this proposal in light of all the others — it actually seems doable and realistic. It was well thought-out, and Kellan fleshed out all the necessary aspects of the pitch.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

But these are MY mystery chemicals! You can't have them!

That's what Halliburton spokespeople are saying (in not so many words) to the big, bad EPA that must be intending to expose the company's trade secrets in gathering information for its comprehensive study on hydraulic fracturing — because the agency of environmental protection couldn't possibly be looking to protect the environment, right?

In the same way it is the duty of the FDA to keep record of the chemicals in our food, it is the EPA's duty to log the names of chemicals being released unto the ground in many Americans' backyards. But those Halliburton guys don't see it that way. And who can blame them? They have been exempt from the rules for some time now.

The good news: The findings of the EPA study affect Congress' decision about whether to repeal the Halliburton loophole.

The bad news: Those findings won't be available until late 2012.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Google's hypocrisy

Generally speaking, individuals don't like to admit when they're wrong. It takes a certain level of integrity to admit to making a mistake or consciously committing a wrongdoing. Maybe I'm jaded, but it seems that often a natural human instinct is to make excuses and displace fault, rather than to retract a decision and apologize.

In this way, decision makers at search engine giant Google are no different than anybody else. After ousting the small news corporation Inter City Press from Google News for its criticism of the UN in 2008, Google used every weak excuse in the book in its attempt to distract from the reality — which was blatant censorship.

Google's initial reasoning: Inter City Press was a one-man operation, which violated Google News' rule that outlets it lists must have two or more employees. According to Inter City Press' founder, Matthew Lee, the site has at least one full-time employee other than himself, plus many other volunteeers — making Google's first claim dead in the water.

When Google began to see backlash (from the non-profit Government Accountability Project, among others) for de-listing Inter City press, it offered to retract its decision and reinstate the site... but a Google representative said that would involve a weeks' long process because of a technical error; thereby placing fault on a glitch, instead of an individual, and saying in not so many words, "It's out of our hands." Anything to avoid taking blame.

But what bothers me most about this entire ordeal is Google's hypocrisy. Before the company's controversial deal with Verizon in August, Google was an open advocate for net neutrality and very much a part of the Free the Internet movement. It sold out and left that ideology behind before the ink dried on the Verizon deal. (Though Google of course dismisses that claim as a "myth.")

Yet another example of Google's hypocrisy — the company maintains that it "generally [emphasis mine] does not sign petitions or join coalitions." However, in November 2007, it announced a partnership with the Ugandan People's Defense Force (part of a UN program) but did not sign a global human rights and anti-censorship compact as part of the UN's Millenium Development Goals.

Why the double standard? Why break the "general" rules to join one coalition and not another — especially when they both come from the UN? It seems to me that Google breaks the standards it sets for itself just as easily as it makes them, and uses them to its advantage whenever applicable.

Today, Inter City Press shows up as the first listing on a general Google search, but fails to appear on a Google News search. At least now Google seems to have chosen a side, and that side is not net neutrality.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New media, new rules

All's fair in love and war — and journalism, in the age of the citizen reporter, and if the subject of that journalism happens to be a candidate for president. Or a former president, for that matter.

Public figures (especially government public figures) should always be on their A-game, saying nothing to the average citizen that they wouldn't say to a reporter — because thanks to Huffington Post's Off the Bus and other projects like it, it can be difficult to know when the two are one in the same.

I don't fault Mayhill Fowler for seizing the fleeting moment in asking President Clinton for his reaction to a then-recent (and particularly scathing) piece on him in Vanity Fair. I would not have expected her to precede her off-the-cuff question with "Hi, I'm Mayhill Fowler, a citizen reporter with Off the Bus of the Huffington Post, and I was wondering..." Had it been within the context of a sit-down interview in which time was not pressing and she chose not to identify herself, I would question Fowler's motives. But she was behind a rope line, no doubt grappling with a crowd for Clinton's attention, as he left a rally, and time was of the essence. There was no room for pleasantries.

Besides, political figures have too long enjoyed the luxury of being prompted before being questioned by reporters. All too often this leads to the revelation of half-truths, self-censorship and lies. One of the most fundamental roles of journalists is to be watchdogs of the government. How can they carry out that role if the government sometimes gets a break from being watched? Heads of state do not enjoy the same rights to privacy as average citizens — especially not on the campaign trail.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bye, bye Columbia?

In re-examining Radiohead's independent selling of its 2007 album, "In Rainbows," by reading this NY Times article, I have to wonder why more well-known bands have not similarly sidestepped recording companies since.

Maybe they are afraid to take the risk. Because despite having already garnered the fame, capital and fan base to be equally successful as Radiohead in the independent endeavor, bands like Dave Matthews Band and Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, may prefer to rely on a system they already know makes them millions.

But I predict that in the very near future, the recording industry will become virtually obsolete. Jon Pareles' offers the idea that maybe big independent bands can directly help new ones get their start by linking to them online or taking them on as opening acts — versus the indirect way established bands currently support green ones, through the cut the recording companies receive and use in part toward funding the "flops."

I have faith enough in musicians — and those 1,000 true fans — that this model will become the future standard. Sure, too many so-called "artists" with no talent are scooped up by an industry that treats music as a product for profit, not as art. But the real artists are out there, and so are the real fans. And they can break the status quo.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why everyone should take Government and Media

Or a class like it. And I don't just mean "everyone" as in every student at Ithaca College, which requires the course for journalism, integrated marketing communications and television-radio majors. I mean everyone who uses the Internet, or a cell phone, or a TV. Arguably, that could be broadly defined as everyone.

Because in September 2007, communications giant Verizon blocked a text-message subscription service by NARAL, a pro-abortion rights group. "Subscription" is key here — people had to sign up for the service, so they could only receive the texts voluntarily. In its rejection, Verizon cited its policy against services that may be seen as "controversial or unsavory" to Verizon users.

But, as anyone who has taken a basic course in media law will know, unprotected speech — under the U.S. constitution — includes only "lewd or obscene" speech; not merely "controversial or unsavory."

The bigwigs at Verizon must not have felt too strongly about the issue because all it took was some reporting by The New York Times for the company to take back its ban (the same day the Times first reported on the ban, actually). Good thing, because from what little I know about the ins and outs of the court system of this country, ridiculous amounts of time and money could have been wasted in pushing a hypothetical court case all the way to the Supreme Court, just for the majority to rule in favor of the simple point I just made.

Did I enjoy waking up at 7 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday to sit in a class and listen to a professor lecture on about media law ad nauseum for nearly two hours? Not always. Am I glad I did? Absolutely.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don't shoot the messenger

Be critical of him always. But to shoot the messenger is only to distract from the message — and speaks more of the character of the shooter than it does the messenger.

In this case, following the leak of 40,000 classified Iraq War documents Friday by WikiLeaks, the shooter(s) are the establishment media, specifically the New York Times. The messenger, naturally, is Julian Assange, WikiLeak's founder.

It is human nature to attack when viable, logical means of approach have been exhausted or simply do not exist — fight or flight. If a viable, logical critique of the man behind the release of thousands of Iraq war logs existed, I'd like to think the Times would have found it. After all, it is the role of media to be critical, as they are of Assange. But because that viable, logical critique does not exist — the authenticity of the documents is not in question — the critique is nothing more than sensationalized, tabloid "news" regarding irrelevant matters of Assange's private life.

Corporate media have been increasingly flailing in their role as government watchdogs since Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers, and arguably even before (though comparison with the current situation paints a rather rosy, nostalgic picture of 1971). The Times was the first to publish the Pentagon Papers, on its front page. Today, rather than publishing excerpts from the Iraq war logs and further exposing government corruption, it is in the midst of waging its own war against Assange, the man.

The outlet that ate the Pentagon Papers right up in 1971 has moved to the other side, taking down the very breed of whistleblower it once celebrated. Fittingly, the comment by Dan Ellsberg in his talk Wednesday at Ithaca College which keeps repeating itself in my mind is that the Patriot Act has made legal each one of Nixon's security breaches in his campaign to discredit Ellsberg, which were illegal in the '70s.

Also in that case, the unquestioning yet powerful establishment media are to blame.