Monday, March 21, 2005

Comm 226: VNRs and Democracy

Given the suggestion of John that many people may not be interested in democracy (and he may be right, who knows?) I thought I would make a post on VNRs. As it turns out, this isn't a just a Bush technique. According to at least this 1994 post, the Clinton admin was doing somewhat similar things as I mentioned earler....
Congress and the White House have gotten into the act. Congress creates VNRs in its own fully equipped, tax-payer-funded television station in the belly of the Rayburn Building in Washington. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration hires out, paying companies like Medialink of New York--at taxpayer expense--to transmit VNRs by satellite to stations around the country.
Honestly, I don't care who is in power in the government, it seems to me that if we value independent thinking then we should be concerned that governments create VNRs that pass as news and have been for over 10 years!

Call me a curious, but I am always interested in how people are trying to influence the way I think and feel. So I decided to go to's website and guess what I found...
"Our and U.S. Newswire services generally grow in both strong and sluggish economies," Moskowitz continued. ", our joint venture with Business Wire, continued to expand its reach to more than 35,000 registered users, up 32% from the fourth quarter of 2000. The increased reach has carried over to the client base, attracting domestic and international companies, including Anheuser-Busch, National Semiconductor, MG Rover, Kraft Foods, Taco Bell, Motorola, Qwest, American Home Products, Hasbro, Pfizer, Sony Electronics, Novartis, Nextel, Prudential Insurance, Stockholm Stock Exchange, and Universal Studios."

"Additionally, we have seen growth in our U.S. Newswire (USN) service, a leading news release wire service utilized by approximately 1,900 government associations and public affairs news sources," stated Moskowitz. "After previously working with the Clinton Administration, during the first quarter USN began working for the new Bush Administration, transmitting news and information issued by The White House to newsrooms nationwide. In an effort to cost effectively broaden the reach of USN, we have added sales personnel in the Midwest Region and consolidated USN’s operations with Medialink’s Washington office. USN will continue this integration in the coming months, expanding USN’s sales presence with Medialink offices nationwide." (emphasis mine)
So guess what, you and I are paying for Medialink's services, have been for quite a while, and you probably didn't even know about this.

This is where the issue of accountability kicks in. It may be true that the transmission of perfect information and transmission is impossible to get, but the deliberate creation of government-funded information, no matter how noble its intentions, should be labeled as "government funded information". Or should it not? I mean, there is plenty of government information that is labeled. Pamphlets, books, reports, legislation... why not these White House press releases? We know why they are not... executives of all types want to effectively mobilize their agenda to a mass society. The question is, is this the only way to do it? Should we be democratic in our deliberations about policy? Or can we not afford that luxury? Maybe we need to seriously think about John's point that democracies are inefficient at times. Indeed, they are. Perhaps we cannot deliberate in a time of serious threat? Honestly, I don't think there are easy answers to these questions. The truth is that conservatives and liberals alike should be invested in getting the best information possible. If you are a conservative the last thing you want is to grow government and place it in places like our mass media, which these VNRs do. If you are a liberal you would hopefully want to place a check on any misuse of information production and distribution by any government: misinformation distorts the social good according to liberal beliefs in the competitive marketplace of ideas. Wherever you stand politically, the issue of the VNR should at least make you sit back and think.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Comm 226: Rathergate and Gannongate

John noted the power of "bloggers", a community of which you are now part. Congrats! And he noted the Dan Rather story where bloggers helped force the resignation of Dan Rather after he and his producers used a piece of false evidence in a story about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard. There is an entire website deidicated to it titled

Conversely, I mentioned the Jeff Gannon story in the context of framing the White House news. This has not gotten even close to the amount of attention, partially because Dan Rather is a huge name in news and Jeff Gannon is, well, someone who I didn't even know of until about two weeks ago. That said, I think both The Daily Show (quicktime)(some mature content!) and this piece from Anderson Cooper do a good job detailing this issue. The issue really is about someone who seems like a fake reporter who was let in to ask "softball questions." Is this as bad as using fake evidence that you didn't properly check out? I am not certain. But that said, it's interesting that both sides are interested in framing the news.

By the way, if you are like me and are hypercritical of all media (hey it's my job!), you may want to see this video from The Daily Show (quicktime) (some mature content) on the "new journalism". It's fairly inciteful about how you should always question reporters and their motives. That does not mean you ignore reporters, rather you are always critical and you ask for evidence or question the questions they ask. Also, this is an interview that is very candid between Ari Fleischer and John Stewart of the Daily Show. Here he talks about managing the news and framing it. In many ways this is because I would like all of my students to become something of an iconoclast and thinking critically about all media images, sounds and expressions. This is what it means to be part of an active democracy!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Comm 200 and 226: Deepen your Blogs

I will be gone starting on Thursday morning until Monday morning and will be out of touch for the most part. So, you should still be posting your quality posts as I do plan on checking them out if I can find a connection. If not, I will do it when I return.

That said, many of your blog sites can improve and improve the quality of your in-class research experience and I want to suggest that you take the time to do just that in the next four days. Devote an hour and a half to working on your sidebar and your blog will become that much deeper. Allow me to give you a few examples of blogs that I feel have very deep and helpful sidebars. The first one is Baseballnews.Blogspot. Just look at the sidebar on the left-hand side of this blog. Any major league franchise and a blog about that franchise (official or unofficial) is just a click away. This makes thos blog an exceptional research resource not only for its reader, but also for its blog composers.

For another example of something that is even more specialized, look at, a blog devoted to Pakistani Music. It's links are a bit more limited, but they take you to sites that are of interest to this person and, ideally, the readers as well.

Finally, here's one blog that is very deep and useful for someone like myself who studies media. It is called Abu Aardvark and it deals with "Arab Media". The amazing thing about this is if you scroll down the blog and follow the right-hand sidebar you run into an amazing sidebar devoted to Arab Media links. How helpful! How convenient! To an outsider such as myself this is one of those blogs that I feel makes me want to learn more about these institutiuons and that is the point!.

So take some time and work on your sidebar and you will find that yoru project won't so much be an assignment but something that you find yourself getting further and further into.